Monday, May 20, 2019

Oh Look at that, I Stained My Shirt

By Curtis Utley, Jackson County Extension
For our school’s Earth Day celebration this year I was asked to provide a t-shirt for the 4th-8th graders. Being interested in STEAM education I thought to myself “Hmm, instead of giving the students a shirt I will provide the necessary materials to make a shirt”.
Application of blueberry blue with rubber mallet.

For thousands of years mankind has used naturally occurring materials to dye the clothing worn. Some of the materials are earth minerals but many of the dyes used are derived from plants. Not all plant-based dyes are very stable, but stability can be increased by pre-treating the cloth with a mordant. I pre-treated the t-shirts with potassium aluminum sulfate otherwise known as Alum, you know, that stuff you can use to make your canned pickles crisp.

The dyes we used were mainly fruit and vegetable based including blueberries, cranberries, carrots, grape juice concentrate, tomato juice, and coffee.
Application of Cranberry gray.

Even in nature colors are chemical, but everything is chemical right? yellow, orange and red are derived from the plant’s production of carotenoids. As dyes, carotenoids are best mixed with an oil carrier to help fix the color. Purple, blue, and pinks are derived from anthocyanins. As dyes, anthocyanins can be mixed with water to create a liquid.
Application of cherry red with rubber mallet. 

The best part of this project from the students’ perspective was the way in which we applied the colors to the t-shirts. Simple and brutish I let the students smash the fruit into the fabric with rubber mallets or paint their shirts with the liquid concentrates.

Isn’t is fun when expressionist art meets nature and science?
Finished product after laundering. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

They're Baaaaaaack! Voles.

Posted by Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension be honest...the voles may not be back so much as they never really left. We've blogged about voles before. Tony blogged about them in the lawn, and Irene blogged about them too--twice!
Meadow vole. Kinda cute, but crazy destructive.
Voles are small, mouse-like creatures with short, stubby tails. They are sometimes called meadow mice and we have eight (8!) species that live in Colorado. They are most active at night, but you will see them during the day--and like mice, they will run frantically when disturbed. You'll see damage in the lawn with their tunnels and also on landscape plants that they chew.
Vole tracks in the lawn.
The good news is that voles are a boom and bust species. We'll see huge populations one year, and the next season they will crash. Our state veterinarian once told me that some species of voles do their part to help control populations--male voles will become sterile when he has too many siblings. Fascinating.

They do have natural predators, like birds of prey, coyotes, and fox, but there seems to be so many voles and too few predators. Plus, voles love our landscapes where there aren't a lot of predators and it's a cozy, safe place to take residence. And that's where they are a problem. They like to live in tall grassy areas, and also in landscape beds--especially those with mulch and landscape fabric.
Voles love to live under landscape fabric, because it's safe from predators.
I visited a friend's landscape in Berthoud recently and over the winter, when voles were actively feeding on her plants, she ended up losing most of her roses, some lavender, and a few perennials. She literally just pulled the plants from the ground. Voles love to chew at the base of many ornamentals and fruit trees, girdling them. In the case of my friend, they chewed so much, the plants just broke off at the base.
All of her roses were killed this winter.
Girdled rose chewed by voles.
It's especially upsetting, since we all know that landscape plants are an investment. Losing this many can affect the budget--plus, the plants were mature and her landscape was beautiful last summer. The one that really got me was her fantastic dwarf blue spruce...which still looks perfectly healthy, but it's only a matter of time before it goes into decline. When you have the entire base of the tree that's been girdled, there's no way for the tree can move water and nutrients up and down the tree, since the xylem were damaged.
What looks like a perfectly healthy dwarf blue spruce...
The base of the spruce was girdled completely, approximately 2-3" off the ground.
Another sign of voles is damage to junipers. Voles love junipers--it must be their form of chocolate. I received an email earlier this week from a client who wanted to know what caused the browning in his junipers. I suspect it's voles and asked him for confirmation.
Potential vole damage in junipers.
Trace back the branches to the base and look for chewing where those branches attach to the shrub. The only remedy in this situation would be to individually (and painstakingly) cut out each damaged branch. Oh, and control the vole population.

What works best are unbaited mouse traps, placed end-to-end, near areas of activity and cover with a piece of gutter. Voles aren't smart animals and they will run, with free abandon, throughout the landscape. If you place the traps near active tunnels or near where they are actively feeding, you'll snap them, just like mice. Traps need to be checked and reset daily. There's lot of recommendations of baits that you can use (including Juicy Fruit gum!?!) but voles aren't motivated by baits--they are herbivores. Unbaited is best. They also don't seem to eat poison baits, which poses other potential issues for non-target animals.
Unbaited mouse traps, placed end-to-end, near active voles.
Cover the traps with a piece of gutter. Voles like the protection and shelter of above canopy, which is why they live under landscape fabric or in tall grass. They are less noticeable to predators.
Another tool that shows promise is using an organic fertilizer called Milorganite. This product has been around for decades and it's composted sewage sludge from the good people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Don't worry--it's been heat-treated to 1600 degrees and poses no harm to humans.) Voles and other mammals, like rabbits, groundhogs, and even deer, don't like the smell.

Apply this fertilizer to any area of the landscape, including the lawn, landscape beds, or vegetable beds, at a rate of 15-20 pounds of product per 1,000 square feet. The 40 pound bag will cover about 2,000 square feet total and runs about $20. Now, this product is a repellent. It will make the voles go elsewhere, so using it in the entire landscape may not be practical, but focusing on active vole areas can work (or where you have rabbit damage). Once you apply the product, water it in. You'll notice the "earthy odor" for a day or so, but voles and rabbits will notice it for perhaps three weeks. Plan on applying it every month. It's not sold at most box stores, so check farm and ranch stores, or local hardware stores. As a side note, it's an excellent fertilizer, so you can use this to fertilize your lawn too.
Milorganite has been found to work to repel voles and rabbits in the landscape.
I should also point out that Extension doesn't usually list specific products, but Milorganite was tested in several research studies at the University of Nebraska, which is why we're recommending it. We'd love to hear if it works for you--be sure to let us know!

It's always something, isn't it? If it's not voles, it's late spring frosts. Or hail. Life as a gardener is truly a test of patience.

Friday, May 10, 2019

It's Tool Time!!

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

It's no secret that this spring has been slow to get going and now in my area we've had another stall-out with a week of rainy, cool weather. So, what is an eager gardener to do while they have to wait for plants to wake up and the weather to clear?? Make sure their tools are in good working order so they can spring into action when the conditions allow!!

Just like the gardener, garden tools work hard. They are left out in the elements, dragged through the dirt, hung up wet, shoved in buckets, lost under garden benches, you name it! They get abused. So, if you set aside a little time to treat them right, they will serve you well for years to come.

Now, some might say this is a task for the END of the season when you're cleaning up and putting your garden to bed. I'm sure some people do clean and sharpen everything then, but I know not everyone does. In fact, I know that a lot of people don't do this on any regular schedule at all. Well, like any craft or tradesperson, a gardener's tools are an important part of their work so it's a good practice to make sure your loppers, pruners, shovels, rakes, tiller, mower, etc. are all set and ready to go for a successful season.

Image result for dirty prunersgarden tool maintenance, tools

Pruners and loppers:
Clean your pruners and loppers by taking them apart (if possible) and giving them a good scrub in soapy water. Steel wool will help remove any rust that might have built up. It's not a bad idea to soak them in a dilute bleach and water solution (1:10) to sanitize and then rinse and dry. Once they are thoroughly dry, rub them with boiled linseed oil to give them a protective layer from oxygen and moisture and then reassemble.

Sharpen your tools so that they are easier to use and they make clean cuts. You don't want to risk damaging branches by tearing or ripping them because your pruners didn't quite do the job. There are sharpening stones you can get for your pruners or you can take them to a local hardware store and they will often sharpen them for you. Farmer's Markets often have vendors that will sharper knives and tools so you can look for that option too.

Throughout the season, after you use your pruners and loppers, give them a quick clean. Get the sap, dirt and grime off and store them inside and they will stay in good shape throughout the season.

Shovels, rakes and hoes:
Give these a good clean by knocking, brushing or rinsing off any dirt that might still be stuck on them from the previous year. Shovels can be sharpened so that they are easier to dig with. You're not looking for razor sharp with shovels, but having them "just sharp enough" will make digging those new garden beds and transplanting and dividing much easier. They will also benefit from boiled linseed oil once they've been cleaned and dried thoroughly. 

If your shovels, rakes and hoes have wooden handles it's a good idea to check on those too. Over time they may start to crack, splinter and even break in two. If this happens, you can buy replacement handles and attach them to the head of the tool, rather than buying a whole new tool. For general care and maintenance you again want to give handles a clean, let them dry and rub them with linseed oil.

Tools with motors (mowers, tillers, etc.)
For these tools, you can certainly take them to a small engine shop and get a tune up, or you can check out the operator's manual for details on how to do it yourself. This will generally include changing out the oil, filling with fresh gasoline, changing an air filter, change spark plugs, and sharpen the blades.

Horizontal shot of dirty lawnmower in overgrown grass Stock Photo - 12887206
Now that you have everything in tiptop shape and are ready for the season to really start, remember that it is best to clean as you go. That way, many months from now when the leaves start to change and there is a chill in the air, your tool maintenance won't be such a big job and you can knock it out at the end of the season!! I should say, big kudos to those of you who do your tool maintenance early and often!!! To the rest of us, now is a great time too tackle it. Happy gardening!!!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Most Insects are Beneficial!

Posted by Abi Saeed, Garfield County Extension

Did you know that 99% of all insects are either harmless or benefit us in some way?

Beneficial insects fall into 3 main categories:
  • Predators / Parasitoids: Insects that feed on other "critters" providing an important source of pest control in nature. This group is responsible for keeping pest populations balanced, otherwise herbivorous insects could easily deplete our flora.
This Robber Fly (Family: Asilidae) is an excellent aerial predator!
(Photo: Abi Saeed)

  • Pollinators: Insects that provide the vital service of pollination, by moving pollen from the male to the female part of flowering plants. 1/3 of all the food we eat depends on pollinators (including almonds, berries, apples, squash, and even chocolate!).
Bees, like this Honey Bee (Family: Apidae) are the most efficient
pollinators on the planet, in-part because of their anatomy:
They are covered with tiny branched hairs throughout their body
making them extremely efficient at transporting pollen!
(Photo: Abi Saeed)

  • Scavengers / Decomposers: Insects that feed on dead animals, decaying living matter and waste, assisting in the breakdown of organic matter, and returning nutrients to the soil. Without them: waste would pile up, nutrients would not recycle, and life as we know it would cease to exist!
Carrion Beetles  (Family: Silphidae) such as this one
feed on decaying animals (as their name suggests).
(Photo: Abi Saeed)

Without these vital services, the planet would be a completely different place than what we see today!

Pests actually only make up 1% of insects, so it is always a good idea to identify the critter you are looking at, before you decide to get rid of it! Insect identification services are often available through your local Extension Office, or through Ask an Expert: where you can upload photos and ask questions about insects, plants, soils, and more! 

For more information:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Mulching in the month of May

Posted by John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension

April Showers Bring May Flowers or, as some may call them, weeds.

Flowers such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Clover (Trifolium repens), and Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), are important sources of energy for pollinators; Dandelions are especially important early in the spring. But their presence is not always wanted and managing these stubborn plants can be fraught with difficulty and challenging decisions. 

Mulch can be an excellent tool for managing weeds and can improve a garden’s overall productivity. A proper mulch can help to conserve and stabilize soil moisture, moderate soil temperature, control erosion, and in some cases promote soil microorganism (to the benefit of plants!).

A single mulch type does not fit all scenarios. Vegetable gardens, perennial flower beds, and trees can benefit from mulch, but specific types can be better for specific scenarios. This blog post offers a few tips and tricks for 3 common types of mulch: wood chips, black plastic, and grass clippings. In-depth information for mulching can be found in the links at the bottom of this post.

Perennial Flower Beds:
In a perennial flower or shrub bed, wood chips can help maintain soil moisture and reduce the need for watering. With wood chips, as with most mulch types, depth matters! Wood chips should be left on top of a soil. Wood which has been worked into a soil will eventually break down, but the process of decomposition can reduce a soil’s oxygen levels and tie-up soil nitrogen (to the potential detriment of plants)! While mulch can help to conserve water, watering regimens should be adjusted after laying down mulch, as prolonged periods of overly wet soil can lead to root rots! For wood chips of smaller sizes, 1-2 inches of depth should suffice for general weed control and water conservation; for larger chips of wood, 3-4 inches should do. 

Wood chips can make annual cultivation quite difficult (and can result in wood being mixed in with soil) and so generally, wood chips are not recommended for vegetable gardens or annual beds.

Vegetable Gardens:
Black Plastic

The use of black plastic, weed barriers, and fabric mulch is a challenging topic. Generally, these are NOT recommended for perennial beds, trees, or any areas with plants to be mulched longer than a single growing season. In a vegetable garden, during only a single season and mainly for warm-season crops, this type of mulch can really shine. Black plastic mulch can work very well with drip irrigation systems (beneath the mulch) in vegetable gardens, though care to not overwater should be taken. Black plastic can warm a soil, allow for earlier planting, and result in more rigorous early growth for certain plants (it is particularly great for tomatoes and other plants in the Solanaceae family). 

In the early season, a few extra degrees can really help plants get started; in mid-summer however, depending on a garden’s location, this warming factor can harm plants by overheating the soil. Some types of black plastic can also degrade in full sun. If plants are started early enough, they may grow large enough to shade the plastic and prevent this overheating; in other cases, other types of mulch can be placed on top of black plastic, though piling on too much additional mulch can reduce soil oxygen, so take care to not over do it! 

It is very important to the long-term health of a soil that black plastic or fabric mulch be picked back up after a growing season. Black plastic is not recommended as a permanent or even year-round mulch. Black plastic and weed barrier fabrics, even those with “pores for oxygen exchange”, can become clogged after a season of use, especially in clay soils. This leads to an environment where water and air are unable to penetrate a fabric. The problems just seem to mount when these types of mulch are used for more than a single season, without being picking up and removed between growing seasons. As an aside, these types of mulch can also girdle (“strangle”) trees as they grow, prevent air exchange (something tree roots need), and hamper a tree’s water supply.

All this is not to say these types of mulch are horrible choices. They can be extremely effective at controlling weeds and conserving water in vegetable gardens. Gardeners should just be aware that this mulch has fairly unique use requirements.

Grass Clippings
Grass clippings can be a great mulch for vegetable gardens. They can be mixed into a soil at the end of a season and will add nutrients to a soil as they breakdown. Grass clippings should be dried before application or they can become matted which can lead to a whole host of other problems. Recommendations for depth are around 1-2 inches. Multiple applications of grass clippings may be needed as the grass decomposes throughout a season.

One major consideration for grass clipping, especially for clippings obtained from third-parties, is whether herbicides might be present in the clippings. Herbicides are often applied to lawns, and the residual presence of an herbicide can greatly affect plants grown under herbicide-laced grass clippings.

A more thorough discussion on plastic mulch, wood chips, and a few other mulch types can be found in this factsheet on ‘Mulches for the Vegetable Garden’:

Additional Resources:
CSU Extension has put together a wonderful overview for many different mulch types (including newspaper, crushed corncobs, straw, and pine needles) which can be found here:

More general information on mulch, specifically wood and rock mulch, can be found here:

For Trees:
Wood mulch can work well, but care should be taken to avoid mulch volcanoes and mulch should be placed 6 inches away from the trunks of trees! Here is a great blog post on this very topic:

For further reading on Mulching Trees, here is a link to a document on this exact topic:

Lastly, in case it may be of interest, here is a great blog post on garden irrigation systems:

May your May be filled with gardening success!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Guided Tour of a Basic Drip System

Posted by Sarah Schweig, Broomfield County Extension

Drip irrigation is one of the most efficient ways to water the home garden. The slow rates of water application reduce water loss through evaporation and runoff, and the ground-level water application reduces the risks of foliar diseases that can be spread by splashing water.

There are many, many systems and uses for drip irrigation out there.  CSU Fact Sheet 7.402 gives a great overview of the range of options and considerations for each. This flexibility is an advantage of these systems, but the options for equipment and design can be overwhelming if you’re starting from scratch. This post will take you through the basic equipment from water source to garden using an example system based on my own garden. So you can follow along, here are the assumptions I'm working with: This is an add-on system, designed for a home vegetable garden, using municipal water from an outside faucet as a water source. In the garden, I’ll use 1/4 inch drip tape, also called drip tubing, drip line, or emitter tubing.

Drip line is polyethylene tubing with emitters, where water is dispensed, at regular intervals. Typical emitter spacings for 1/4 inch tubing are 6 inches, 12 inches, and 24 inches. Emitters that are spaced up to 12 inches apart can provide consistent moisture along the drip line. 

Photo by Penn State Extension
If you’re using an outside faucet as your water source, you can add a Y-connector and reserve one side for a garden hose. The faucet will serve as the valve and can be opened and closed manually, though automated controllers are also available.

Next, you’ll want a backflow prevention device. These devices allow water to flow in one direction only, which prevents contamination of potable water. This is especially important for drip systems because they lie on the soil surface and can be used for fertigation, both of which are potential sources of contaminants. A good first step in selecting a backflow prevention device is to contact your local water provider, as many municipalities have minimum requirements for backflow prevention devices. The most simple and often cheapest option is an anti-siphon device, also called an external or hose vacuum breaker. As their names indicate, these devices prevent backflow due to siphoning (vs. back pressure). For this minimal backflow prevention approach to be sufficient, make sure you’re using an above-ground connection to the water source located 6-12 inches above the height of your emitters.
Rainbird Faucet Connection Kit

Next in line is the filter. Even if your emitters are clog-resistant, a filter will increase the longevity of your system. If you’re using municipal water sources, 150-200 mesh filters are usually sufficient. The higher the mesh count, the greater filtration provided.

Photo of Y-shaped mesh filter by Berry Hill Drip
The faucet connection kit pictured above has an inline mesh filter pre-installed within the backflow preventer. While these kits are simple to set up, you’ll need to disassemble them to clean the filter. A Y-shaped filter (right) allows the filter alone to be removed for easy cleaning or replacement.

15 psi pressure regulator

Next in the assembly is a pressure reducer, also called a pressure regulator. To select an appropriate pressure regulator, first determine the ideal pressure for the drip line and other components you’ve selected by checking details from the manufacturer. Then, keep in mind any elevation changes from water source to emitters. For every 10 feet in elevation gain in the downstream direction, add 5 psi (pounds per square inch) to your desired pressure.

On the left side of the pressure regulator pictured here, 15 psi indicates the water pressure downstream of the pressure reducer; this number should match the desired pressure for your drip line. On the right side of the pressure reducer, 1/10 - 7 gpm (gallons per minute) indicates the required flow rate for this particular device.

In a home vegetable garden set-up, you’ll likely want multiple drip lines that will correspond to multiple rows of plants. In this case, a header line that feeds multiple drip lines will be connected to the downstream end of your pressure regulator. To connect the header line, you’ll need an adapter, which come in a range of sizes.

Adapter for connecting to 3/4" thread to 1" header.
A typical adapter for this set-up is threaded on one end to fit the pressure regulator; the other end of the adapter is inserted into your header line and secured with a clamp. For a home vegetable garden using 1/4 inch drip line, 1/2 inch polyethylene tubing is usually sufficient for the header, but 3/4 inch and 1 inch tubing is also available.

Header line connected to drip lines with valved couplers.

Finally, you'll need to connect your drip line to the header. You may be able to find 1/2 inch header tubing that has holes at regular intervals that work for your layout; if your tubing is thicker than 1/2 inch, or the available intervals don't work for your design, you can use a hole punch, often called a punch gun, to make holes in the header at your preferred intervals, and use couplers to connect the drip line to the header. One end of the coupler should be fitted to the hole you punched in your header, and the other end should be fitted to your drip tape (1/4 inch in this scenario). Couplers are available with or without valves and can be used as inline connections as well. If you've ever made the mistake of forgetting to install a pressure reducer, you've probably had your drip line burst. When replacing the drip line isn't practical, the damaged section can be snipped out, and a coupler can be used to repair the line. 

These basic components and flow (water source, valve, backflow preventer, filter, pressure reducer, header tubing, and emitter tubing) are the foundation of any drip system, but there is room for great variation. If you're thinking of making the change from hose-dragging, here are some additional resources:

Planttalk Colorado 1621: Watering Colorado Soils
CSU Extension Fact Sheet 7.402: Drip Irrigation for Home Gardens
CMG Garden Notes: Watering Efficiently

Thursday, April 18, 2019

When a Houseplant Outgrows its Home...

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

    It’s spring time and everything outside is starting to green up and get growing! The outdoor plants aren’t the only ones gearing up for a growth spurt, your houseplants are waking up from their winter snooze and starting to grow more as well.

    Give your houseplants a little spring cleaning, as dust tends to settle on the leaves. With more active growth, also comes a greater need for water and fertilizer. Your plants will also benefit from a breath of fresh air on warm days, but don’t forget to bring them in during our still chilly nights.

Some supplies you will need
    One spring time houseplant chore I needed to get done was dividing my peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.). This is one of my favorite houseplants, because it’s very resilient and can handle the extreme neglect it receives from me. Dividing is done when the plant has become too overgrown for its container. One sign that a plant has outgrown its home is that it is difficult to keep it watered, and the plant wilts often between waterings. When you pull the plant out of its pot, you will likely see many crowded roots. Dividing is best done in spring, since the plant is actively growing.

The split plant with cleaned and teased roots
    To divide a houseplant, first, place your hand over the top of the pot and invert it. Give the pot some gentle squeezes or taps to dislodge the plant. Gently lay the plant down on its side on your work surface. Tease and loosen the roots, removing the soil from them. If the roots are very thick and overgrown, you may have to use scissors or a knife (sterilized) to help you separate the plant, otherwise just gently pull it apart, and split it into two or three smaller plants. Cut out any roots that have died. Each new plant should have a good amount of roots and at least a few leaves.

Two plants!
Crown placement

    Fill your new pots up about a third of the way with soil. You want the new plant to be positioned so that the crown is a couple inches from the top of the pot. Spread the roots out and set the plant in place. Fill soil in around the plant. The crown should be at or just above soil level. Water the plant until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Now you have two plants that will be much happier in their new digs!