Monday, February 12, 2018

Coffee with a little IPM

Posted by: Mary Small
Colorado Master Gardener Program Coordinator
One of the topics I teach in our Colorado Master Gardener program is Integrated Pest Management or IPM. It’s a multi-prong approach to managing pests and can be used in a variety of situations. I wrote about how I used IPM strategies to combat fruit flies in the kitchen last fall. Here’s another story.
Last year at this time, I was in Guatemala on a mission trip. On our free day, a group of us toured a coffee plantation near Antigua, situated at about 5,000 ft in the western highlands.  We were looking forward to the tour and sampling their product at the end.

And then… we wandered down a row of coffee plants, I became distracted when our guide pointed out rust disease on some leaves.  I just had to have a picture! (If you know me, this is no surprise. I like “weird stuff” as my children often have reminded me.)

Rust on coffee leaf
While I was angling for a good shot, the guide told us about the plantations’ disease management strategies.  Their practice was to treat only the plants that had the disease rather than treating the whole crop. Before they treated, they watched the outbreak areas to determine if sprays were really needed. Sometimes they were, sometimes not. In IPM, this is known as “spot treatment”. The purpose of a spot treatment is to minimize pesticide exposure of non target organisms as well as control costs. And this is done by only treating what is necessary – when it is necessary and according to specific threshold levels of the pest.
Trees shading coffee

One of our group asked about the large trees growing among the coffee plants. Why were they there? Didn’t that keep light from reaching the leaves and berries? Well, yes, it did. The light intensity is so high that it “sunburns” the coffee fruit, rendering it useless for the beverage market. The trees are there to decrease the incidence of berry burn. This is an example of a cultural IPM practice – altering the culture (manipulating the environment) to reduce the likelihood of “pest” (read: sun) damage.

Trees with fruit to attract birds
Our guide also pointed out newer trees (whose name escapes me) that were planted with a purpose. One of the plantation’s ongoing problems was birds swooping down into the coffee crop and taking the fruit. (If you raise anything that produces fruit, you can understand the frustration here!) The company tried different strategies until they learned this tree produces fruit that the birds really like. So the tree fruit acts to divert them from the desired coffee crop. Nothing is 100%, but it was more successful than anything else they previously tried. In IPM, we would call this trap cropping. (Think planting radishes to attract the western cabbage flea beetle, so they won’t decimate the broccoli.)
 Now, having raised fruit bearing plants, I’ve since pondered what happens when the birds “re-sow” the seeds of the tree fruit with a little bit of their fertilizer. Didn’t think of it. Too distracted by the wonders of viewing IPM in practice…and fresh-ground Guatemalan coffee!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Hydroponic Gardening

Posted by: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

Our growing season in Colorado leaves something to be desired, especially by those of us who have transplanted from other areas of the country. Coming from the Idaho Palouse, I am used to a longer growing season, better soil, and more moisture than we get here along the Front Range. One of the solutions to increasing the potential for food production is greenhouse gardening. Greenhouse gardening extends our growing season and greatly improves our growing conditions. Greenhouses also help protect against some of the environmental factors that can adversely affect our plants like wind, hail, or late season frosts.
One particular method of greenhouse growing I would like to talk about is hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics. Hydroponics is the raising of plants without soil. Nutrients are added to the water which replicates the nutrients present in soil. Aquaponics is the mixture of hydroponics and aquaculture so the fish water is used to feed the plants. And finally, aquaculture is the raising of fish. If you are growing plants hydroponically you need to ensure that your water solution contains all of the essential plant nutrients since there is no soil to provide these nutrients for the plants: Macro Nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium; Secondary Nutrients: calcium, magnesium; Trace Elements: iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. The grower is responsible for balancing all chemical and physical conditions surrounding the roots of your plants. Since the grower has total control over the environment in which their plants are growing, the production capacity can be maximized. Another way to maximize efficiency and production can be done with the use of climate controlling technology.
Greenhouses, regardless of their complexity, all help control the climate of the growing area. Hoop houses help increase temperatures to extend the growing season. If you are interested in a hydroponic system, a greenhouse with heating would be recommended because you are dealing with water flow. A frozen system can not only kill your plants, but it can also severely damage your system. If you do not want to invest in a heating system, you would have to shut down production when the risk of heavy frost and low temperatures come around.

Hydroponic systems are closed systems that recirculate water throughout the system continuously. There are a variety of growing medias that can be used in a hydroponic system such as expanded clay, rockwool, or gravel. However, when growing hydroponically, water is the most important component. Maintaining water quality, pH, and nutrient availability will greatly affect the production and health of the plants being grown in the system. Depending on the type and size of your system, water should be changed or added to on a weekly basis. If you are utilizing an aquaculture system (combing fish production with plant production), one of the main things you will want to monitor is the ammonia levels in the water. Adding water weekly to these systems help lower these levels. You will also lose water because the plants are utilizing water to complete the process of photosynthesis. In a temperature controlled environment, it will also be warm enough to have potentially significant water loss to evaporation. Water levels not only affect the growing environment for your fish and plants, it can also affect your system. A hydroponic, aquaculture, or aquaponics system all rely on at least one pump to circulate water throughout the system. If the water levels get too low, you run the risk of burning up your pump or damaging other equipment used in the system. 

Hydroponics and aquaponics can be a great way to increase your production capacity and extend the growing season here in Colorado. Initial startup costs are quite a bit higher than traditional gardening methods, but the return you get in being able to grow your own food all year long can help recoup those costs.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Super Bowl LII: Minnesota "nice" in so many ways

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The Super Bowl is Sunday, February 4. Because my beloved Vikings missed playing in the game due to an unfortunate showing in Philadelphia (it still stings), I couldn't care less about the two teams competing for the Vince Lombardi trophy. But since the great state of Minnesota is hosting Super Bowl LII (52), I am super excited for many reasons.
Yes, I'm a proud Minnesotan, now living in Colorado. My roots run deep and am I fierce to defend anyone who remarks about our northern accent, hotdish or how we play Duck, Duck, GRAY DUCK. For those who need a Minnesota primer, read this blog posted by Surly Beer. It's a great state, filled with great people...and mediocre sports teams. But the entire state seems to be a'buzz with excitement over the Super Bowl. Even the Minneapolis mayor, Jacob Frey, has gotten into the action (all in good jest, Eagles fans!).

My family and I have been texting all week about stories and facts about the Big Game. It's supposed to be the coldest Super Bowl on record (Sunday's high is 9 degrees), so it's a good thing it will be a balmy 70 degrees inside the U.S. Bank Stadium. No worries about Tom Brady further injuring his fingers or hand due to frostbite.
U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis
A couple weeks ago, my brother, Jeffrey (the one who works at Bailey Nurseries), casually mentioned that one of Bailey's introduced plants, the Endless Summer BloomStruck hydrangea is the official flower of the Super Bowl. Say whaaaaat!? How cool is that! It's the first year for the "official flower" status.
Endless Summer BloomStruck hydrangea (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)
Bailey's headquarters are in Newport, Minnesota and it's a fifth generation family-owned business. While they have nurseries in Oregon (where Jeffrey works), Washington and Illinois, they have been a stable contributor to Minnesota's horticultural economy for 110 years.

Alas, bigleaf hydrangeas, like BloomStruck and Endless Summer, don't grow very well in dry Colorado, but it is a fantastic plant in its own right, with pink or violet-blue flowers, depending on pH. I love that the Super Bowl is using this plant, because the purple flower color is also a nod to Minnesota's favorite musical son, Prince. (Did you know there are Vegas odds on whether Justin Timberlake will perform a Prince song during the halftime show?)

The Nord Farm crew in Cottage Grove grew 3,500 BloomStruck plants to place around the stadium. There's even a rumor that there will be a living plant wall, stacked high with purple and pink hydrangeas. The plants were delivered earlier this week, after weeks of being babied in the greenhouse to get them to flower perfection. They look great!
BloomStruck hydrangeas at the Nord Farm production greenhouses
So whether or not you cheer for the Eagles or Patriots, or simply watch just for the commercials, pay attention to see if you can spot BloomStruck among the crowds. And if you want to bake a hotdish in addition to your guacamole, I can provide you with recipes. Yay Minnesota!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Adventures with Weird Seeds from the Internet

Cassey Anderson- Adams County Extension

All of this warm weather has been starting my gardening itch early. Intuitively I know that we still have months of winter left and that getting the garden going should wait at least another month even for starting seeds indoors. With that in mind, we were inspired in my office to think about what you can start in January. Ornamental plants can take much longer to germinate and grow when started inside, so they are excellent candidates for satisfying that early (or even pre-) season itch.

Coincidentally, last year on a whim we ordered iris seeds off the internet, the seeds were cheap, the picture seemed very unique (and possibly photoshopped so the hue saturation was way off) so we decided to take a try. When the seeds arrived we could not decide if they were actually iris seeds or not, there are definitely a solanaceous seed and a grain seed mixed in the bunch, whether it was tomato or some weedy member of the nightshade family remains to be seen.

The picture from the advertisement for Iris we ordered.
Iris seeds we received, notice how one seed is not like the others...
Since obviously one small batch of iris seeds didn’t seem sufficient we decided to branch out further and found some more unlikely seeds: a set of succulents called bunny ears, once again possibly victims of photoshop as the plants are supposedly vivid baby blue, a color I personally have not seen on any plants. The shape also very unique, a small round stem with two “bunny ears” sticking up.

Bunny Ear Stone Flower  
In an effort to grow something practical we also ordered a few other sedums, particularly a mix of various cold-hardy sempervivum as a way to experiment. If these grow successfully we can plant them in our demonstration gardens

Tiny Seeds!
With the seeds decided it was necessary to create a good setup for starting seeds. So we purchased a heat mat, complete with temperature control, and two lovely LED grow lights. The lights are definitely becoming a conversation starter in the office.

We have hung the lights from our ceiling with some string (with plans to upgrade to a chain at a later date) over the seeding trays which are placed over our heat mat. We got the heat mat on sale so the set up cost us just under $50.

We planted each type of seed in its own flat. The sempervivum seeds are extremely tiny so we just covered them very very lightly. The iris seeds we dibbled in with a pencil (including the errant mystery seeds!). Each tray has been labeled so we can remember what went where.  To wrap it up we covered the whole thing with a clear plastic cover. This retains both heat and moisture to aid in germination.

If we have any success in our office seed-starting adventure we will post later in the year! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Spanish Greenhouse Tour

By: Sherie Caffey, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

A sea of green...houses
Late last year, I was lucky enough to help facilitate an educational tour of the agriculture industry in Spain. On this tour, we visited many interesting facilities ranging from stud farms, to feed lots, to wineries. For me, one of the most impressive facilities that we visited was operated by a company called Bio Procam. This company cultivates, packages, and markets organic vegetables and subtropical fruits. They crank out over 15,000 tons of produce every year, using farmers that belong to the cooperative, and 25 acres of company owned greenhouse land. They have 26 full time workers that keep their greenhouses going. White plastic greenhouses stretch as far as the eye can see in the area where their operations are located.

Organic produce
43% of the company’s production is cucumbers, tomatoes and avocados each account for 20%, zucchini is 9%, and subtropical fruits are 8% of their total production. 28% of what they grow gets exported to Germany. This is followed by France getting 22%, 21% stays home in Spain, the UK gets 8% and the other 21% is spread throughout the rest of Europe. The success of this company is even more astonishing when you consider that they only grow and distribute produce during the fall and winter months. They have found a niche growing all winter long until April or May, when competition becomes too much.

Bio Procam is committed to being 100% organic. For this reason, everything is grown in the soil, no hydroponic production is done. There cannot be any kind of organic contaminants presented into the system, so the workers cannot live on the site. To keep things clean and working well, they replace the plastic on all of the greenhouses every three years. They have a company that recycles the used plastic for them.

Food for beneficial insects
Bumblebee box
 In front of the vegetable crops, they grow wheat and barley to feed beneficial insects that will feed on aphids and other pests in the event that they arrive in the greenhouse. In the summer, the greenhouses are taking a break from vegetable production, but they grow radish and mustard seed for bio fumigation. These plants will help to rid the greenhouse of things like nematodes and fusarium wilt. They also use sticky traps to control whiteflies, and sulfur dust to keep spiders at bay.


This one is ready to pick
             To pollinate the vegetables, the company buys bumblebees. They live in a box in the greenhouse, and come out during the day to do buzz pollination. Our guide described to us how they harvest the tomatoes when the ends just start to turn red. He showed us how at this point, the inside is already red, as they ripen from the inside out. They use moisture meters to know when the tomatoes need watered. After February, the humidity will be lower and they can prune the tomato plants without the concern of disease. They clean up the bottom of the plant up until the first large branch. The company practices crop rotation, after the tomatoes are all harvested they will plant dutch cucumbers. They purchase all of their seedlings from another great company we toured, Saliplant, but that is another blog…

Monday, January 22, 2018

Avoid Leafy Office Follies

By Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Keeping green and growing houseplants as office companions?  Spending long days in cubicles and offices can make the hardiest gardener pine for leafy companions.  But not all offices are ready for green thumbs; I’ve heard tales of well-meaning employees locked in battle with supervisors.  One side thinks plants need round-the-clock illumination, the other views plants as energy gluttons draining the world in a vampiric thirst for light.

Before your workplace engages in a war of wattage, clear up confusion on how much, and how long, plants should be illuminated.  Here are a few tips on lighting your foliaged office mates:

Light is essential for plant growth, and for your plants to be happy, keep three things in mind: intensity, duration and quality.  

Intensity, or brightness of the light, governs the manufacture of plant food, stem length, leaf color, and flowering.  Plants kept in low light rooms, as many offices are, tend to be spindly with leaves light green in color. In very bright light the plant would be stockier, with better branching and larger, dark green leaves.

Houseplants vary in their light needs: high, medium and low light. Control intensity of light by placing the plant closer to, or farther from, the light source, keeping in mind that light decreases rapidly as you move away from the source.

Southern windows have the most intense light, followed by eastern and western exposures.  Those receive about 60-percent of the intensity of south-facing windows, while northern exposures receive the lowest light levels of approximately 20-percent.

Duration of light received by plants is of some importance, but generally only to those houseplants that use day-length to stimulate bloom, such as Poinsettia, kalanchoe, and Christmas cactus.  Many flowering houseplants are indifferent to day-length; they respond to other factors so be sure to talk encouragingly with them. It may not inspire the plants to bloom but your co-workers will give you a wide berth; you’ll get plenty of projects done in that time.

  If you’re in a low light office, help your plant survive by increasing the length of time it gets artificial light.  This longer period of light during the day gives the plant more time to photosynthesize, producing food for itself. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that at least one thing in the office isn’t on a post-holiday diet.    

If artificial lights are to be used as the only source of light for growing plants, the quality of light (wavelength) must be considered. For photosynthesis, plants require mostly blues and reds but for flowering, infrared light is also needed. Fluorescent lights vary according to the phosphorus used by the manufacturer. Cool white lights produce mostly blue light and are low in red light. Foliage plants grow well under cool white fluorescent lights and these lights are cool enough to position quite close to plants. Blooming plants require extra infrared which can be supplied by incandescent lights or special horticultural type fluorescent lights.

However, plants require some period of darkness to grow; they should be illuminated for no more than 16 hours. Too much of a good thing is as harmful as too little.  Protect plants by turning off your lights as you leave for the day or put the lights on a timer.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Arthritis and Farming

Arthritis and Farming
By Linda Langelo, CSU Horticulture Program Associate
Arthritis is a debilitating disease that afflicts some 54 million citizens in the United States.  This disease does not discriminate across age, gender or race.  Farmers are among the afflicted.  Being a farmer is a massive job where you need your body to be flexible and in minimal pain to farm effectively. This is not to exclude ranchers and gardeners.  Unfortunately, farmers are at a higher risk for arthritis according to the Arthritis Foundation.  Yes, all types of farming operations and farmers can be in this group.  Beyond the main types of farming operations of corn, wheat, millet and potato farms, the photos below demonstrate the varied types of farms which include tree nurseries, watermelon/cantaloupe farms and organic farming just to name a few. 
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit:
Osteoarthritis is the arthritis that most commonly affects farmers and ranchers.  This is when the cartilage –the gliding surface of a joint- is destroyed.  Then, the joint rubs bone on bone creating bony overgrowths called “spurs”.  Osteoarthritis is a heredity disease.  Being overweight can cause this as well.  How?  According to the Arthritis Foundation for every pound you gain adds four pounds of additional stress to your knees.  Worst of all, this translates to six times the pressure on your hips. 
As with gardeners, farmers do frequent heavy lifting and repetitive motions, such as constantly bending and kneeling.  The average age of our farmers in the United States is 58 years.  If those farmers have been bending and kneeling for 30 or 40 of those years, it sets the stage for arthritis.
The best thing to do is go to a doctor or visit a rheumatologist for a correct diagnosis.  Then, there are many options such as exercises which help with strength training, range-of-motion, fitness and endurance.
The Arthritis Foundation states that resting during the day is beneficial.  They also state that a good night’s sleep goes a long way to resting the joints.  Pacing yourself through the day by scheduling and taking breaks.  Changing the type of repetitive motion that you do over a twenty minute period.  This sounds like a lot of work even for a gardener.  It is more about rethinking what you do because you are learning a new habit.  It is not always possible to hire someone or pass tasks along to other members of the family.  Taking the time to rethink and invest in yourself helps you preserve the business you have worked your entire life.  You are worth investing in your health.
If you wish to research more information go to .