CO-Horts

CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Philospher's Guide to Composting Condoms

Posted by: Derek Lowstuter, Mountain Region Extension

Can a likely made-up story about a famous Greek philosopher help us decide if something should be added to our compost pile?  The answer, much like the question, may surprise you. In a viral story about the Stoic philosopher, Socrates is credited with creating three questions we should ask ourselves before speaking. These “Three Filters” are: Is it True? Is it Good? Is it Necessary?  


These questions can help us understand the potential impact of what we say - before we say it. While this is especially important in an election year, the idea can also help us decide if we should add something to our compost pile. Just because something can be said doesn’t mean that it should be said. Likewise, just because something can be composted doesn’t mean that it should be composted. We can ask ourselves the three questions to help us make those decisions:

Is it True? / Does it decompose?

Is it Good? / Does it improve the compost? And,

Is it Necessary? / Does it need to be composted?

The title of this post wasn’t just to get your attention. I have been asked if all kinds of things can be composted: kitty litter, dryer lint, pet hair, cotton undies, and yes – even latex condoms. Many types of waste are biodegradable and can decompose naturally. However, that alone doesn’t make them good additions to the compost pile.


Let's look at dryer lint as an example of how we can apply the three questions.

Is it True? / Does it decompose? Dryer lint may decompose, depending on the clothes it comes from. Yes, clothes made from natural fibers, such as 100% cotton and wool, produce dryer lint that will decompose in home compost. However, synthetic (plastic) fibers, like polyester or nylon, produce lint full of microplastic pollution that does not decompose.

Is it Good? / Does it improve the compost?  Yes, dryer lint from natural fibers breaks down into organic matter and releases small amounts of plant-available nutrients. However, microplastics in lint from synthetic fibers can fill soil pores and even make their way into the food we grow.    

Is it Necessary? / Does it need to be composted? No, because there are usually other easy ways to dispose of dryer lint. If composting isn’t needed for disposal, then we shouldn’t compost it. Many clothes are made with natural and synthetic fiber blends, which can make it difficult to tell what is in dryer lint. Lint failed the three filters and should not be composted.   


Here are some other examples that could be composted – but should they?

Condoms made with natural latex can be biodegradable but are classified as medical waste, don’t benefit compost when added, and can be easily thrown in the trash. Practice safe compost. 

Wood ash has been used as a mineral fertilizer for thousands of years; however, it can harm compost and soil if overapplied – especially in Colorado’s alkaline soils. 

Animal waste from meat-eaters does decompose but can spread disease and complicate compost management. 

Cooked food waste decomposes quickly, but can attract pests, and promote anaerobic (stinky) compost conditions. 

Diseased plants (ex. tomato blight, powdery mildew) can be composted in active compost that is regularly turned and allowed to go through recommended heating cycles and curing. If you are lazy when it comes to turning your compost *sheepishly raises own hand* it would be safer to take infected plants to a commercial compost facility or create a separate static compost pile that isn’t used on annual crops. Nutrients and beneficial microbes in finished compost have been shown to help plants defend against pests and diseases, but care should be taken when potentially spreading diseases in compost.


To Compost or Not to Compost...

Composting is a simple, powerful tool for turning waste into value for our gardens. When well-managed, compost has been shown to improve soil and plant health, and even increase the nutritional value of produce. The “Three Filters” can help us boost compost benefits and reduce potential issues. 

Remember to ask yourself, 
Is it True? 
Is it Good? 
Is it Necessary?
                                       Happy Composting



Monday, February 5, 2024

It’s spring! (really!)

posted by: John Murgel, Horticulture and Natural Resources Specialist, Douglas County

Ever wonder why Groundhog Day is even a thing? It is one of a broad selection of holidays across cultures and times that mark the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. 

These holidays are known as “cross-quarter days,” and you can read more about them here: https://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/thompson.1847/161/time

 While most modern Americans consider the solstices and equinoxes to be the “first day of” whatever season we’re in, other cultures (rightly, in my opinion) consider those days to be the mid-point of seasons, with the cross-quarter days marking the beginning of seasons.

yellow crocus flowers
These crocus reliably bloom in February.

 Why argue about the first day of seasons on a gardening blog?  Because I am here to tell you, nay to insist to you, that spring is here.  Beneath the foot of snow piled outside the Extension office, spring bulbs are pushing foliage and flowers through the soil.  Hellebores are happily flowering.  Tellingly, the tree buds are swelling prodigiously—aspens and cottonwoods are particularly noticeable because they also smell sweetly musty when they’re expanding.


White hellebore flowers
Hellebores ringing in spring on January 29.

 

What are some other spring signs to look for?

1.       Bleeding Trees—as deciduous trees begin to move resources from storage in the roots to the limbs, the surging sap will find any leaks in the pipes.  Frost cracks, old pruning cuts, and wounds deliberately inflicted by wildlife (I’m looking at you, squirrels), all provide escape channels for oozing or flowing sugary water.  Maples are famously leaky trees; this is why many people prefer to prune them in the summer.  As temperatures warm and the trees finish growing leaves, the sap flow will slow down and the leaking should cease; hopefully to be stopped before next spring by the trees’ natural wound response.

squirrel in damaged tree
It's hard to say if this squirrel or the damage it caused is more noticeable.

2.       

Cool season weeds—cheatgrass, henbit, cheeseweed, and prickly lettuce are examples of the many plants that get a jump on the season by germinating in the fall or winter.  Growing quickly when temperatures allow, they get the competitive edge on their neighbors and if you’re not careful, take over the garden.  Many are annuals, manage them while they’re small and before they set seed!

Cranesbill weed
Cranesbill, Erodium cicutarium, is a common "winter" weed.

3.       Geophytes – plants that hide during the summer heat like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are starting to grow underground where most of us won’t see them.  Other plants, though, like snow buttercup (Eranthis hyemalis) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis and other species), as their names imply, can already be seen gracing landscapes with their flowers. 

Snowdrops with a honeybee visitor.
This snowdrop is a welcome site for a cold gardener and a questing honeybee alike!

 

These spring signs, I grant you, are not the ebullient floral displays of May, but they are a sure sign that winter is over, and that should be welcome news for any gardener!

Monday, December 11, 2023

A Few New Vegetable and Flower Varieties for 2024

by Yvette Henson, CSU Extension, San Miguel Basin

It’s that time of year again!  That time when garden seed catalogues are arriving in our mailboxes, either in our post office boxes or in our email inboxes.  Most seed companies highlight new introductions for the year.  I recently attended a webinar hosted by a well-known seed company all about their veggie introductions for 2024 and so I thought it would be fun to write about some of the new varieties I have seen in catalogs that I am thinking about growing in 2024.  As a CSU Extension employee, I want to say that I am not recommending certain seed companies or varieties over others.  There are too many seed companies and too many new listings for me to cover in this blog.  Do your own research with your own growing goals, your own specific growing conditions, and your favorite seed companies in mind.  Try something new.

A local seed company that I get a lot of seeds from is High Desert Seeds.  Their seeds are all grown regionally.  I have grown a couple of seed crops for her myself.  This year, I want to try her ‘Blue Star’ mustard. I want to use it like a southern stewing green (my hubby’s request) but it can also be used young in salad mixes.  In the south, they grow mustard greens in the winter months, but I will have to grow mine in spring and fall.

Photo credit High Desert Seed

Johnny’s Seeds are popular with small farmers and gardeners.  They have many talented breeders on staff.  Each year, I like to grow something I haven’t grown before and this year I am planning on growing a variety of Asian greens.  I would like to grow two of their new introductions in the Asian green category: ‘Haku’(F1) Chinese cabbage and  ‘Green River’(F1) komatsuna green.  They are also offering what they claim is the first white Romanesco cauliflower called ‘Whitaker’(F1).  Baker Creek also offers a white spiraled cauliflower that is open pollinated called ‘De Jesi’.  The standard Romanesco has the equally beautiful and tasty chartreuse green spirals.  White is more unique. While I will give one of the white ones and a green one another try, I have found cauliflowers difficult to grow, especially the beautifully fractalled Romanesco varieties. 

'Haku' Chinese cabbage
Photo credit Johnny's Seeds


'Green River' Asian green
photo credit Johnny's Seeds

'Whitaker' romanesco cauliflower
photo credit Johnny's Seeds

There is a cost for the Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek but it may be worth it to you because it contains interesting articles with history, growing conditions and recipes for a select number of crops.  The regular printed catalog is free, and they have a website where you can find all they offer.  Most of their seeds are open pollinated so it makes it easier to save your own seeds!  In this year’s Whole Seed catalog, one of the featured plants is Couve Fronchuda, a Portuguese semi-heading kale, Brassica oleraceae var. viridis.  It is more closely related to sea kale than to the kale we generally think of.  It is traditionally used in soup.

photo credit Baker Creek Seeds (Rare Seeds)

When we go visit our grandsons in California, I often go to a local health food store.  There they have a seed rack for Redwood Seed Company.  I usually buy 1 or two packs of seeds and have had success with them.  This year they are offering Japanese indigo, Persicaria tinctoria, a dye plant.  I live at 8,200’ with cool nights but I think it is worth a try since it is the leaves that produce the dye, and it is supposed to mature in 80 days.  It can also be started early indoors and planted out when it’s warm enough.  This may give it a jump on the season.

Photo credit Redwood Seeds

Floret Flowers is a cut flower/seed business that has gotten into breeding some lovely flowers in atypical colors.  They have their own lines of celosias, dahlias, and zinnias.  I want to try growing their ‘Limonata’ celosia.  It is another warm season variety that may be a bit difficult to mature in my garden.  I will start them early and grow them outdoors as well as in my high tunnel greenhouse. 

photo credit Floret Flowers

Check out this beautiful ‘Mission Giant Orange’ marigold introduced for 2024, exclusively by Burpee Seed company!

Photo credit Burpee Seeds

I would be curious to know what you are planning on growing in the coming season.  Be sure to check out all the new introductions in the catalogs, both in print and online!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Ripening Tomatoes Indoors

by Denyse Schrenker, CSU Extension, Eagle County

The temperatures are consistently below freezing at my house and I am ready to put my gardening tools up for the season. Now I need to decide what to do with all of my unripe tomatoes that have been stuck in purgatory for most of October; not progressing under their frost blankets but also not dying. I can only handle so many fried green tomatoes and green tomato relish and salsa so I sort my tomatoes into those that will ripen off the vine and those that will not.


Some of the green tomatoes I separated for relish.

Tomatoes that are starting to develop a pink blush will ripen off the vine without any loss of flavor; this is called the breaker stage. Tomatoes that are a shiny green and have a white to light green star shape on the blossom end of the fruit have reached the mature green stage. These fruits will ripen off the vine but their flavor will not fully develop - a small sacrifice I am willing to make to eat fresh garden tomatoes well into November. Tomatoes that are a more matte green have not reached the mature green stage and will not ripen off the vine, these tomatoes can be used for green tomato recipes.


Tomato starting to develop blush color.

Once I have separated out the tomatoes I want to ripen, I remove any stems and wash and air dry the fruit on a clean paper towel out of direct sunlight. The dry tomatoes are then placed in layers 1-2 tomatoes deep in a covered box or a container with newspaper or cardboard covering them. I keep them in a dark cool location out of direct sunlight to ripen. Store the tomatoes at a temperature between 70°F and 55°F. Tomatoes stored closer to 70°F will ripen in a couple of weeks and tomatoes stored closer to 55°F will ripen in about a month. Tomatoes ripened below 50°F will be bland.


Washed, dried and ready to store for ripening.

Humidity can cause issues when ripening tomatoes indoors. Too much humidity causes the fruit to mold and too little humidity causes the fruit to shrivel. I typically have more trouble with too little humidity. To help increase the humidity, the tomatoes can be placed in a strainer or blanching pan and then placed in a covered container with water at the bottom. Make sure the tomatoes are not touching the water though. I check the tomatoes every couple of days and remove tomatoes that are ripe or nearly ripe. If I want the tomatoes to ripen more quickly I will add a banana or one or two red tomatoes to the green tomatoes.

Ripening tomatoes indoors does not need to be reserved for last ditch end of the season efforts! I try to pick most of my tomatoes when they develop that light blush color. I find that I get better yields harvesting them at this stage and then ripening indoors because I do not lose as many tomatoes to sunscald, critters, or simply missing them before they become over ripe. It may be the end of the gardening season but I am looking forward to having tomatoes all through the fall!

PlantTalk: Ripening Tomatoes Indoors

Thursday, October 5, 2023

How to Squirrel-Proof Your Bulbs

 by Angela K. Nickerson, Colorado Master Gardener - Broomfield County

I have one neighbor who feeds the squirrels – daily putting out pounds of peanuts for them which I find buried in my garden blocks away. Another neighbor is absolutely at war with the squirrels doing everything she can to discourage them from entering her yard. Me? They are a bit of a nuisance in my opinion, but we are largely friendly with one exception: bulbs. It's infuriating to find my freshly-planted spring bulbs scattered about the yard, the remnants of a bacchanalian rodent feast. However, last year I was determined to outwit the squirrels, and of all the bulbs I planted last year, the squirrels ate exactly ZERO. 


I was a little late in planting my bulbs last fall, and I happened to hear an interview with Dr. Lucia Jacobs, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies squirrel behavior. She said that squirrels watch each other bury nuts, and then go to dig them up in a competitive game of hoarding each fall. They also watch us when we are planting bulbs, and freshly-dug earth is like an X marking the spot for a squirrel. 


I thought a lot about that. And then I devised a plan to outwit my squirrely neighbors. And it worked!


Squirrel-Proof Bulb Planting Materials:

  • burlap yardage or squares

  • landscape staples

  • mallet or hammer

  • trug or bucket for collecting leaves

  • fallen leaves

  • bulbs

  • trowel


1. Plant the bulbs in bunches of 5-6 bulbs (or more depending on what you are planting). Plant them according to the species and at the appropriate depth. Cover with soil. For more information, check out this resource


2. Cover each planting area with a trug-full of fallen leaves. This is a great mulch and insulation. 


3. Cover the leaves with a square of burlap. Secure the burlap to the ground with landscape staples – drive them in with a mallet or hammer. 


Water each spot well, and continue to water on warm days during the winter when we haven't had recent precipitation or snow cover – generally 1-2 times per month on a day that is above 45°F.


Uncover your bulbs in early March (or even February if you planted very early bloomers). Chances are early bloomers will be emerging under the burlap. There's no need to clear away the leaves. They will have begun to decompose over the winter and will provide a little insulation from cold temperatures. The burlap can be washed and stored away or composted.


I planted tulips in these containers and used the same method to cover them. It worked perfectly!

Spring bulbs bring cheer and promise in those early days as we emerge from a cold winter, and they provide early food for some insects as well. Many including daffodils, muscari, and crocus are perennial, and since they aren't dug up year-to-year, you'll only need to cover them the year they are first planted to outsmart your squirrelly neighbors.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Some Superior Annuals from 2023



 


Some Superior Annuals from 2023

Colorado State University

J.E. Klett

 

The following annuals are some of the top picks from both public and industry evaluations.

The public evaluations were held on August 5, 2023 and industry evaluations were held on August 8th, 2023.

Official winners will be posted in late September on our website: https/www.flowertrials.colostate.edu

 

Begonia Hybrid ‘Stonehenge Rose Bronze Leaf’ from Benary®

This plant can go everywhere- sun, shade, ground, and containers! It has performed really well and will just keep getting bigger and better until a killing frost. In addition, the breeder is planning to release more of these into the Stonehedge series but with different color onto the market in the next couple of years!


Centaurea ‘FanciFillers Chrome Fountain’ from Westhoff

The silvery-white foliage makes a dramatic statement all by itself but combines well with many other plants. Heat loving, drought tolerant has an impressive uniform and mounding growth habit. It makes a great thriller in potted or hanging combos as well as a subtle touch in ground displays.


Coleus ‘Flame Thrower Sriracha’ from Ball FloraPlant


Dark red leaves are highlighted with a pop of lime green edging that help create a great looking plant. The overall look is enhanced by its very uniform growth habit. It had almost no flowering which is desirable for Coleus since it is primarily grown for its colorful foliage. It thrives in sun and shade.


Dahlia ‘Dahlegria® Apricot Tricolor’ from Syngenta

This Dahlia was a strong favorite due to its impressive combination of dark foliage and large, colorful flowers. Blooms had a unique blend of three colors that really stood out against the very dark leaves. The single petalled flowers were also a magnet for pollinators. The attractive plants had a nice upright growth habit and size that would work well in both the landscape as well as a container.


Lantana ‘Passion Fruit’ from Ball FloraPlant


Selected for a combination of prolific flowering and great multicolored flower with tropical fruit colors, it is also known for having consistent flowering through the season and not cycling in and out of bloom. Dark green foliage really helps the flower colors “pop”. The uniform habit makes a great groundcover for the garden. Plants are very tolerant of heat and drought.


Ptilotus ‘Joey’® from Benary®


Few flowers in the garden have a form as unique as this one. The large conical spikes of feathery flowers have a great lavender color and are very long lasting. The original species comes from central Australia and have thick silver green foliage which helps make it very tolerant of drought and heat.


Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia® Luna’ from Flamingo Holland/Bull Breeding


Few plants have the flower power like this one which caught the eyes of almost everyone, even from across the garden. The large flowers are very showy by themselves, but the sheer number of blooms is also very impressive as the foliage is virtually obscured by yellow blooms. The flowers are long lasting for a great display lasting late into the season. Sunbeckia ‘Ophelia’ had the same ranking and had impressive flowers but with a green eye.


Salvia ‘Black and Bloom’ from Ball FloraPlant


Deep blue flowers and a black stem made a great visual combination which was extremely popular. Plants were noted for a larger flower and darker stems than similar varieties. The breeder noted that it was developed to thrive in drought and heat as well as humidity.


Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ from Ball FloraPlant


This was a standout with its ever blooming, well branched plant and prolific flowering. Its massive and sturdy stems add great substance to the garden. The hummingbirds are nearly constant every hour of the day. They are easy to grow, reliable for color and have moderate drought tolerance (but preform best with fertilizer and regular watering).

 

You should plan to plant some of these “best of’s” next year in your gardens. They should perform well along Front Range of Colorado and elsewhere.



Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Native Fruits of the San Miguel Basin

 by Yvette Henson

Last Thursday I led a native fruit field trip that we call Native Fruits and Nuts of the San Miguel Basin.  This is a local class I developed and have taught several times over my years with Extension.  I enjoy it very much!  I thought I would share a little about the day and what we learned.

The San Miguel Basin refers to the San Miguel River watershed.  It is also what we call the area covered by my Extension Office, San Miguel and West Montrose counties.  For this class, we visited 4 locations from 9800' feet elevation in the mountains to 6800' elevation along the San Miguel River. At each location, we looked at plants that produce edible fruit and learned identification characteristics. we also talked about poisonous plants and the importance of being sure about your identification. The class was also given a booklet that gives identification keys, plant habitat and uses, including recipes.  We even harvested several kinds of fruit to make something yummy to share with each member of the class.

I will start with a photo of this year's class participants.

2023 SMB Native Fruit and Nut class participants

Some of the plants we saw in fruit were gooseberries (Ribes inerme), mountain currants (Ribes montigenum), Oregon grape holly (Berberis repens), blueberries and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus and Vaccinium cespitosum), raspberries (Rubus idaeus), chokecherries (Prunus virginiana), buffalo berries (Shepherdia argentea), lemonade berries (Rhus trilobata) gamble oak acorns (Quercus gambelii) and service berries (Amelanchier alnifolia).

Gooseberries are tart.

Mountain currants are sweet.

Grape holly fruit make an excellent jelly.


These are bilberry flowers.
Blueberry and bilberry fruit look just like tiny versions of the blueberries we buy at the store.  


Wild raspberries are tart/sweet and are so yummy just to snack on. 
They can also be used mixed with other fruit in almost any recipe.


Chokecherries have a distinct flavor that causes your lips to feel puckery. 
They make the quintessential jelly and syrup of the western states.

Leigh Ann, a class participant, picking buffaloberries.


Buffaloberries are full of tart-sweet flavor!  They get sweeter when dried.


Lemonade berries, when soaked in water make a lemony flavored drink. 
They are refreshing to suck on when out hiking.


Gamble oak acorns are low in tannins and so aren't as bitter as most acorns.


Serviceberries are the sweetest native fruit I know of.  They make excellent juice that can be added to other beverages like tea or lemonade to sweeten them.  The fruit is so good eaten fresh!


I hope you enjoyed this picture blog of native fruits.  I would love to know your favorites, and how you prepare them!