CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Great Poinsettia Experiment (that failed)

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension

I’m sure you’ve all heard the warnings about poinsettias—don’t let them dry out, don’t let them get cold, be sure to buy them on a warm day so they don’t suffer from cold injury as you walk to your car. There are a lot of care instructions that accompany that gorgeous red, pink, white or bi-color holiday plant. But are poinsettias as wimpy as we think they are? Do they really wither with a slight cold breeze? Can they withstand freezing temperatures? This is what I wanted to find out, so with my $0.99 poinsettias I purchased after Thanksgiving (yes, it’s a deal and no, the grower doesn’t make any money), I essentially tested the limits of these colorful plants to see how far I could push them.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a member of the euphorbia family, which means they are related to leafy spurge (ugh), castor bean (highly poisonous), croton and the rubber tree. It also means they contain a milky white sap that oozes when plant parts are broken and discourages grazing animals. The scientific name comes from Euphorbus, named after the Greek physician who cared for King Juba II (50 B.C. to 19 A.D.) Pulcherrima translates to beautiful or handsome. Many of the euphorbia plants are attractive with colorful bracts (like the poinsettias) or leaves (croton).

But back to the experiment... Like you, I take extreme caution when transporting poinsettias from the store to my car and place them in my home in a non-drafty location. I water them regularly and make sure the water drains from the plastic sleeve surrounding the pot. The poinsettias do surprisingly well in my home, even though we keep our heat around 60 degrees, and last for several weeks past Christmas. Usually I get sick of watering and caring for them and they end up in the trash before they start to fade. But as I mentioned above…all those warnings! Do these plants need to be babied as much as we think?

So I bought 15 poinsettias and put them in the greenhouse and started the treatments: drowning (sitting in standing water constantly), drought (no water) and placed in a drafty spot. I looked at treatments using plastic sleeves when the plants are outdoors and no plastic sleeve (to try to determine if the plastic sleeve does anything when you walk outside). I put the sleeve and no sleeve plants outside when it was a balmy 21 degrees outside and left them there for 12 minutes (figuring that’s a long time for a person to walk from the store to their car).
The poinsettia treatments (3 reps per treatment)
In short, you can probably guess which ones looked the worst. Yes, the drowning and drought bit the dust, but it took them a few weeks. Clearly, water…either too much or too little…is not a friend of the poinsettia. The plants put outdoors looked fine. In fact, they showed no signs of cold stress at all. They didn’t even flinch! The plants put in front of the draft were also fine, but after four weeks, they were much smaller in size than their counterparts. Interesting!
'Nuff said. No water for 4 weeks.

Sitting in standing water for  4 weeks.
Plants in a drafty spot were much smaller in size.
Cold treatment (12 minutes at 21 degrees) did not affect these poinsettias.

Sleeve or no sleeve. Poinsettias appeared to be unaffected by cold.
Because I was bound and determined to see something on how cold weather affects poinsettias, I did another round with new plants. These were generously donated from the CSU student poinsettia sale (thanks Mike and Dr. Newman!). A couple weeks ago it was horribly windy and very cold. Perfect! The wind was howling at 30mph and it was 32 degrees outside. I left them outside in these elements for 20 minutes—much longer than I would have lasted…and I’m not a Zone 10 plant.
Experiment 1b,...wind and cold.
Again, nothing! No damage to the bracts from the wind. No leaf tattering. No signs of stress, except for maybe a bit of leaf tip burn.
Maybe tip burn? But this could be from fertilizer, water and/or cold.

I’m impressed. And flummoxed. My conclusion to the Great Poinsettia Experiment? They appear to be much tougher than we give them credit for. And quite scrappy. It’s no wonder that they are so popular and over 34 million are sold in the United States each year. In fact, it’s the number one potted plant (take that, Easter lily). My hat’s off to you, poinsettia. 
Maybe snow would have been a good treatment...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cold Frame Corner: Part III

By Susan Perry, Larimer County Master Gardener

You know the saying, “What doesn't kill you will make you stronger”?  Well, I feel like this cold frame experiment is really putting us to the test.  Just when we feel like we've got a good system in place, we get another slap across the face as a wake-up call.
The cold frames bundled up and hunkered down.
We've improved the R-value of the cold frames in a more sustainable and storable way than rigid construction insulation – space blankets.  I can’t claim credit, other than finding CSU Garden Notes #722 written by Carol O’Meara and David Whiting.  Having made it through the brutal cold spell with our rigid insulation and our only 4 strands of incandescent Christmas lights in the lettuce/spinach boxes (2 strands/box), I ordered some space blankets and got more strands of incandescent Christmas lights from Craigslist.  I made 2 wickets for each box and we put one strand of Christmas lights in the beet box and one in the carrot box.  (The lettuce boxes already had two strands, as reported previously).  Then we laid the space blankets on top of the wickets inside each box, clip the space blankets to the wickets with clothespins (talk about high tech), and we have the lights on timers set to go on for one hour each night.  This keeps the cold frame temperature in the 30s and prevents the ground from freezing.  So this solution is a keeper.  We do realize that when nighttime temps drop lower, we have to keep the lights on longer to maintain our target 32+ degree temperatures, but we haven’t had any more brutal cold nights recently (though that will change soon).
Greens! Delicious and fresh greens!
One exciting result of our cold frame experiment was that this was the first time that Tom was able to make his homemade, from-scratch, holiday spinach, ricotta, and mushroom ravioli using home-grown, fresh spinach.  He was very excited by harvesting the spinach himself and I’m very excited by the thought of eating all that yummy ravioli.  Truth be told, I’m hoping the fact that there’s lots of spinach left will motivate him to make another batch.

I do have to admit, though, that we’re really scrambling for yummy recipes for the beets.  In theory, planting so many was a good idea but in practice, our recipes are a bit sparse.  So if anyone out there has a good recipe they’d be willing to share, I’d be very grateful.

But a few weeks ago, we had a spell of extremely windy weather that lasted a few days and nights.  It’s no big deal to keep the boxes covered in the day if the cold frames aren't getting too hot inside but with the wind, we had at least one mirror clip snap off and the polycarb top blow off and out into the yard during the day.  OK, so that afternoon, we just carefully put a 10lb piece of flagstone on the corners of the polycarb.  Sounds good, right?  Yeah, well don’t underestimate the power of a 70 mph wind.  Let’s just say it was lucky Tom was up late watching TV and heard the top blow off, despite the rocks.  We went out in the dark with flashlights (note to self:  future improvement is an outdoor light near the garden area), me in my pajamas (yikes!), and retrieved the polycarb top, piled more rocks on all the boxes, & told ourselves “Done.” 

Anchor's away!
Well, not so much.  About 30 minutes later, another top blew off.  So we retrieved it and decided to employ “the nuclear option” – a piece of redwood across each piece of polycarb with a cinderblock at each end of the redwood holding it down.  Talk about a pain.  Putting this in place every afternoon and taking it off every morning was a major endeavor, requiring two people. 

We’re hoping we have a better solution, suggested by our beekeeper friend Alfred – ratchet straps.  We’ll use two per box, running from end to end along the long (6’) side.  It did mean we had to gently lift the box up so we could slip the straps underneath.  But if it holds the polycarb in place, it could be an easy, one-person solution.  We have to get straps on the other boxes because we’re sure to have windy weather again sooner or later.
Strapped down. Take that, wind!

Today, we harvested everything that was outside of the boxes.  Let’s just say the results were mixed.  Carrots were fine – we’d covered the shoulders with an inch of home-made compost.  But the only beets that were OK were the ones that were also completely covered.  More experienced veggie growers than we would know that any with exposed “shoulders” were rotten.  Oh well, c’est la vie.  We lost many of the leeks because we didn't have a cold frame for them in time and we lost any of the beets whose “shoulders” were exposed.  But we still have loads of lettuce, spinach, carrots, and beets inside the cold frames and that’s more than we had at this time last year.  And after all, it’s an experiment … we’re learning, evolving, and modifying our approach.  Hopefully, we can hone things so that next year we have more successes and fewer failures (or shall I call them “opportunities to learn”?)
Garden fresh carrots in December!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Frozen 2: The tree edition

Posted by: Jane Rozum, Douglas County Horticulture Agent

It’s a bad omen for plants when the weather changes from the relatively mild temperatures we received in October and early November into the flash freeze the Front Range of Colorado experienced the week of November 10, 2014. Plants that weren’t snow-covered and subjected to the bone-chilling winds and below zero temperatures were the worst-hit.
We’ve heard from Tony Koski on the effects of the November ‘Polar Vortex’ on grasses and weeds; Alison O’Connor reported on the plight of roses subjected to the extreme cold. What about those plants that live more than a few feet above ground? What about the trees?
In a typical year, landscape plants can handle the below zero temperatures we routinely receive every winter.  However, the biggest problem with this year's November chill was timing. Plants acclimate well to slowly- declining fall temperatures as we approach winter. When plants experience a rapid drop in temperature following mild weather which doesn't allow for proper hardening,  significant plant tissue damage may result.

We are already seeing the effects of this cold snap on our evergreen trees and shrubs. Austrian, Bosnian, and Norway pines and other non-native evergreen trees are exhibiting brown tip foliage, especially on the south, east and west sides of the tree. The north sides of trees may exhibit less damage because that side of the tree likely acclimated to a greater extent than the sides more exposed to full sun.  Brown, brittle buds, if present, may indicate severe cold injury and death of the growing point.  

Deciduous trees were affected by the cold-snap as well. Some trees never dropped their leaves because the cold-snap interfered with formation of the abscission layer that allows the leaves to fall from the trees. Retention of leaves by deciduous plants in the fall is called "marcescence"; leaves die and wither, but do not fall from the tree. For some tree species like oaks, this is a normal, genetically built-in occurrence. Many of our maples and ornamental pears exhibited marcescence because of the November freeze. This leaf retention won’t hurt the tree, but with the leaves still present, heavy wet snow may cause excessive snow loading and lead to broken branches. The full effect of the November freeze on deciduous trees, however, may not be exhibited until this spring and beyond.
Calllery Pear with  marcescent leaves

What can one do about potential damage caused by this rapid onset cold weather?  CSU Extension recommends winter watering trees every so often when we get relatively warm days (40-50°F) and there isn’t any snow cover. A mulch ring around trees, especially around newly planted trees, is always a good practice. No fertilizers should be provided during the winter season.   At this point, we’ll have to wait and see what happens this spring with our woody plants.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Community Garden Success With Season Extending Techniques

Posted by Linda McMulkin, CSU Extension-Pueblo County, with input from Colorado Master Gardeners and Miracle Community Garden members Cindy Rains, Deric Stowell, and Rhonda Sierra.  Photos by Deric and Rhonda.

In 2013, with help from community and church members of the Milagro Christian Church, the Miracle Community Garden was developed into a productive community resource.  In 2014 the garden was expanded and currently contains 24 beds ranging from 4’ x 4’ to 4’ x 12”.  The gardeners donate extra produce to the local Care and Share Food Bank, with community gardener, Deric,  reporting that he delivered over 500 pounds of food on behalf of the garden in 2014.
Above: straw bale cold frame built around a 4' x 4' hot bed. 
Below:  Season Extending structures participants install
hoops on a bed that is currently home to a thriving  winter crop.
                On September 6, 2014, CSU Extension-Pueblo County held a Season Extending gardening class at the Miracle Community Garden. Participants built a wooden bed  and installed the hardware needed for hoops, built cold frames with straw bales and concrete blocks, and bent conduit for covers for different sized beds.  They also learned how to build a hot bed by burying fresh manure  under the garden soil and then constructing a cold frame around the bed.
            After the class, most of the materials were donated to the community garden.  The gardeners have put the new materials to good use.  The new wooden bed was installed in its winter location along the south wall of the church (to the right of the door in the photo above).  Hoops were installed and used for shade cloth while greens and root crops germinated in the heat of September.  By October, nighttime protection in the form of clear plastic was added.  And while the crops were doing very well with limited protection in October, the community gardeners prepared for the cold weather to come.  Tarps were purchased and Christmas lights were installed to protect the young crops.
Photos taken the day after the nighttime temperature reached -9
degrees on November 11, 2014.
          On November 10, the weather forecast predicted snow and below zero temperatures that would last for several days. Even with the covers, lights and south facing location, the community gardeners were unsure that the crops would survive. But the lettuce and other greens not only survived the negative 9 degree nights but were thriving on November 15!  Community gardener, Cindy, said that she harvested greens on Thanksgiving Day and thinned the thriving carrots that weekend.

         In mid-December, the community gardeners report that their crops continue to thrive, providing fresh salads for members of the garden and the Milagro Christian Church. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do It Yourself Home Energy Assessment

Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Jack Frost nipping at your nose…During this season of sharing, maybe you think about giving yourself a gift.  How about a gift that can keep repaying you for years to come!  Did I mention this gift for you is available at no charge?

Many Colorado State University Extension Offices have a new set of tools to loan out to aid you in conducting an audit of energy use (and waste) in your home. Part of our Home Energy Audit Loan program (HEAL), these tools include:
·         thermal leak detector that can help you find air leaks and gaps in insulation; 
·         Kill-a-wattTM power monitor to measure excessive appliance electricity use or find ‘phantom loads’ that use electricity even after the appliance is turned off;
·         ‘flicker checker’ that detects the presence of inefficient magnetic ballasts in long fluorescent tube lighting (commonly found at commercial locations or in shops).

These HEAL program kits can be borrowed for free for up to two weeks (depending on demand). Although the tools can be used individually, results will be even more powerful if used in conjunction with CSU Extension’s online Do-It-Yourself home energy audit worksheets and supporting online videos (

The home energy assessment worksheet is mobile device-friendly, so you can carry the device (smart phone or tablet) around the home as you objectively evaluate the energy efficiency of your home, or you have the option of printing the blank worksheet, conducting your energy evaluation, then completing the online version after your assessment.  Following the evaluation, you can email the results to yourself to help you plan future energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades.

The worksheet will give you an overall score (based on 100 points) for your home, and offer suggestions for improving your energy efficiency.  There are many low-cost or free modifications that may be appropriate for your home, and additional resources for further evaluating the high-cost items such as window replacement or furnace replacement.  While this self-evaluation does not replace a professional home energy audit, it can provide the homeowner with valuable feedback for their homes.

Another program that will be coming up is the Colorado Energy Masters’ program in March and April, 2015.  More information and registration is available at

Other CSU Extension energy resources include decision tools to help you determine if your property is a good candidate for solar or wind energy, fact sheets, and other publications.  Workshops can be scheduled for local groups, organizations, and teachers on energy efficiency, solar, wind, and a standards-based curriculum for Colorado middle and high schools. Visit to learn more.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

O’ Christmas Tree, O’ Christmas Tree…How are you grown?

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension
Photo credit: Bert Cregg, Associate Professor, Dept of Horticulture, Michigan State University

Ahhhh…the holiday season. There’s nothing quite like it. Crazed shoppers, long lines to mail packages, cookies and eggnog, family and friends, and the pillar of many homes—the Christmas tree in the living room.

If you’re a diehard fan of the fresh-cut Christmas tree, have you ever really thought about how it’s grown? What it takes to go from seed to tree to living room? There’s a lot to the process, which may surprise you. As much time and effort goes into producing your Christmas tree (which you keep for about a month) as the linden you planted in your front yard.
Christmas trees growing for a future holiday season
(Photo by Bert Cregg)
In the United States, most Christmas trees are produced in Oregon and 92% of the trees grown in the state are exported. Other top producing states are North Carolina and Michigan. In 2013, Oregon harvested 6.4 million trees growing on 63,000 acres of land. The predominate species grown in the Pacific Northwest are Douglas-fir and Nobel fir, with their gorgeous, soft, green foliage and perfect pyramidal shape (after some pruning, of course). Sadly, our state tree, the Colorado spruce, while beautiful, is not a great Christmas tree specimen, since its sharp, stabby needles make decorating painful. (Trust me on this. I once made a wreath from spruce branches. The wreath looked fabulous, but bleeding during the holidays is not fun.)
A field of Douglas-fir (Photo by Bert Cregg)
Here’s the thing…to produce a 6’ tree it can take as long as 12 years (concolor fir) or as short as 7 years (Douglas-fir). So that means trees planted this summer will not be ready for harvest, at the earliest, until 2020. That’s a long time for something that you can purchase pretty inexpensively and only keep for a month.
Balsam fir trees (photo by Bert Cregg)
It also means that for the 7-12 years your tree is in the nursery, it’s being pruned, fertilized, sprayed, watered and weeded—all of which takes labor. Christmas trees are like any other agriculture crop and are fairly high maintenance. And growers carefully plan their harvests and planting cycles to ensure they have trees to sell each year. Sadly, one grower in Washington may have lost up to 20% of their annual income due to a workers’ strike at the Port of Tacoma. Two thousand Christmas trees, bound for Hong Kong, were stuck in a shipping container at the port to make the 23 day journey across the ocean. And the Tillmans, who grew the trees, know a thing or two about it, especially since their farm provided the tree to the White House in 2004.
Young seedlings, 3-4 years old (photo by Bert Cregg)
The best seedlings are selected to grow the nicest trees. A lot of research has gone into seedling selection and development—not only for the overall look and shape of the tree, but also for resistance to insects, disease and pathogens. The most labor intensive part of growing Christmas trees is shaping and shearing. Shaping helps create a straight central leader (important so your angel or star isn't crooked!), symmetrical form, dense foliage and proper taper. There are USDA standards for Christmas tree shape and size. Shaping generally begins in the tree’s second or third growing season. Some growers start earlier as they feel it leads to less work in the future. Shearing is so important, that if a grower misses a cycle, it may lead to culling the entire crop.
Using mechanical means to shear the trees
(Photo by Bert Cregg)
And then the day comes to harvest the Christmas tree and make it the centerpiece of your holiday season. Harvesting any crop is often hectic, but for growers in the Pacific Northwest, rainy weather can often impact harvest time….plus, think of equipment driving on water-logged soils. Compaction! Growers in Washington have actually enlisted the help of helicopters to pull trees from the ground to reduce traffic on saturated soils. Trees are harvested, sorted and baled…and then shipped to a store near you. Generally the first trees arrive before Thanksgiving.
"Sling loading" Christmas trees near Olympia, WA
(Photo by Bert Cregg)

So as you sniff the fresh evergreen aroma of your Tannenbaum, take a moment to thank the hard-working grower who made sure your tree was the most perfect one in the lot. I’m reminded of the movie “A Christmas Story” and Ralphie’s dad searching for the best one…and the salesman repeating several times, “This here is a TREE!” Happy Holidays!
Replanting a seedling next to a harvested tree
(Photo by Bert Cregg)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Little Round Worms

Posted by: Curtis Utley, Jefferson County Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic

Have you ever seen an established pine in your neighborhood just up and die? I received some branch samples last week from a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestrus) that “just died this fall”. Now this is alarming to a homeowner and a diagnostician alike. There are many possible causes for woody plants to die outright.

Dead Pinus mugo.

One of the causes of rapid death I screen for in exotic pines is the presence of pine wilt nematodes (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus). Exotic pines are those species not native to North America such as: Scots (P. sylvestrus), Austrian (P. nigra), mugo (P. mugo) , and red pine (P.densiflora).The nematodes are vectored to perfectly healthy pine trees during maturation feeding by the pine sawyers (Monochamus spp.); long horned beetles which carry the nematodes within their bodies from an infested pine tree the beetles, as a grubs, called home the year before.
Wood chips bubbling in a beaker

 The screening process starts by taking branch samples cut close to the trunk, or better yet, trunk wedge samples. These samples are cut into ¼” inch cookies. These cookies are then cut into tiny blocks. The cubes are then put into a beaker full of distilled water and air is bubbled through the water and chips overnight. The next morning I pour the wood soup through a #45 sieve stacked on top of a #325 sieve.

Wood chips poured on top of a #45 sieve stacked on top of a #325 sieve.
Material trapped by #325 sieve.

Petri dish containing material trapped by #325 sieve.
All of the larger wood material is captured on the #45 sieve while the nematodes, if present, are washed through and captured on the #325 sieve.
All of the material captured on the #325 sieve is then transferred to a Petri dish and observed microscopically. If nematodes are present they can be seen swimming through the aqueous saw dust. Pine wilt nematode is confirmed by the structure of the male genitalia.

Pine wilt nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus. Sandra Jensen, Cornell University,
Check out the following links for more information on this little round worm.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Cold Frame Corner (Part II)

Posted by: Susan Perry, Master Gardener in Larimer County

Well, a lot has happened since my last blog post.  All seemed to be going well in October/early November, although we noticed that the temperature in the lettuce/spinach box was no warmer than the outside air temperature.  Further study revealed the first (of several) flaws in our plans – the R-value of all the materials used in the cold frame really matters.  So, culled (bent) wood that doesn't have tight corners plus polycarbonate tops weren't going to do a darn thing toward keeping temperatures in the cold frames warm enough. 
Lots of good spinach and lettuce
So toward the end of October, we decided we had to revisit the use of rigid construction insulation to line the boxes.  We did that, but still no joy because (we finally figured) that all the heat was escaping via the polycarb.  Even though it is twin-wall polycarb, it just doesn't have any insulating power.  Yikes!  By now, it was Monday November 10th & the forecast said weather was moving in – a “polar vortex” that would cause daytime temps in single digits and nighttime temps below zero.  Uh oh ….. when I left the house for a salvage company east of Loveland that had some Styrofoam on Craigslist, the temperature was in the 50s.  By the time I was loading a few pieces of Styrofoam into my car, the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees and the wind had picked up, and by the time I got home, it was even colder. 
Beets inside and outside the cold frame.
We shifted into almost panic mode – we needed to do whatever necessary to keep the lettuce/spinach alive.  The ground around the carrots, beets, & leeks would not freeze in a week of cold temps so we focused on the two lettuce/spinach boxes.  We lined each box with two strands of incandescent indoor/outdoor Christmas lights, covered the lettuce/spinach w/floating row cover, put the polycarb tops on, put a flannel sheet, then a quilted moving blanket, then a sheet of plastic weighed down with rocks.  Then we went inside.
Using Christmas lights to increase the heat inside the frame.
The two strands of Christmas lights per box worked.  At the highest, before we figured out how to make best use of the lights, the temp in the box got to 70 degrees.  We needed to be sure the air temp didn’t drop below about 30 degrees.  With the lights, it didn't seem like a precise approach, so we just made sure to keep the cold frame temps in the mid-30s.  There were a couple of middle-of-the-night temperature checks.  Finally, we noticed a pattern:  the box would heat up rapidly till it got close to it’s maximum temperature, then even with the lights still on, it just wouldn't get warmer; and when we unplugged the lights, the temp would drop to 50 degrees, then take 8 -10 hours to get down to 39 degrees.  This led us to conclude that we could plug the lights in before going to bed & unplug them in the morning.  Even better was when we got the lights on a timer, because we could have the lights turn on an hour or two after we went to bed & go off an hour before waking and all would be well.

The brutal cold finally moved east so we were able to make some additional modifications.  We’re not keen about using rigid insulation, but we made tops for the beet & carrot boxes just until we got something better worked out.  And the leeks …. well, we never got them protected at all & despite having the most cold tolerant variety possible, well they were toast (or should I say mush?).  We've salvaged what we could, sautéed & froze it for future use in soups.  But that was a disappointment, but not really a surprise.  The height of the leeks, even if we trimmed the tops off, was still an obstacle to constructing a decent cold frame that would work.
Root crops during "polar vortex".
Where are we now?  We’re testing space blankets in the lettuce/spinach boxes instead of floating row cover plus flannel sheet plus quilted moving blanket plus plastic sheeting.  So far, it looks like it’s a great alternative.  The space blanket reflects the heat from the (now) single strand of Christmas lights in each box.  We've devised wickets for each box & have tried to make tabs on the space blankets so we can attach them to the wickets and slide them open & closed in morning and evening.  Attaching the space blankets to wickets makes them easier to deal with on windy days, and means we can just leave them in the box, slid open, all day before sliding them back in the evening when we close the cold frames up.  We also were able to purchase proves for our wireless thermometers so that the foil on the rigid insulation would not disrupt the signal. 
Adding wickets and space blankets to the cold frames.
We still need to make wickets for the beets and carrots so we can use space blankets in those boxes.  We also need to get a better sense of what combination/number of Christmas lights are necessary in the lettuce/spinach boxes to keep the temps between 35 – 45 degrees regardless of how low temps go in the next “polar vortex”, which is sure to come back.  We also need to harvest all of the remaining root crops (carrots, beets, & leeks) that were outside of the boxes – always planned to be harvested first while the cold frames would be harvested last.  We’re just hoping that there’s something to salvage …. we’ll see.
We survived the cold!
So, except for the leeks, the experiment is working.  And we already have ideas for future modifications to improve the process.  Just too bad the “polar vortex” arrived so soon, before we were really ready, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Next week:  home-made ravioli using spinach from our garden!  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Tony Koski
Extension Turf Specialist

No, Elsa, this isn’t about you..

A very frozen dandelion...still alive
Some have asked, on the heels of the recent “polar vortex” (not really…it was just a sign that winter is about that here) and temperatures hovering near zero, about how the early and abrupt cold snap might affect turf pests – weeds, fungi, and insects? The short answer (in case you want to leave now and hear Elsa sing…again) is that it likely had little effect on any turf pests – and is unlikely to affect turf pests in 2015.

There were plenty of signals (fewer hours of daylight, cooler temperatures, frost) this fall to
encourage our lawn grasses (the good ones…and the perennial weedy ones as well) to ready themselves for winter. Insects that overwinter as adults, larvae, or pupae likewise were readying themselves for diapause (insect “hibernation”). Perennial weeds like dandelion, thistle and beloved bindweed were preparing themselves for winter dormancy well before last week’s chill arrived. The spores and mycelium of fungi (it was a good fall for powdery
Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), a summer annual,
still alive after subzero temperatures!
mildew and rust on turf) are so resistant to temperature extremes that the arrival of 0 F went unnoticed by them – so they will be back next year, without question.

Seedling downy bromegrass (aka cheatgrass) thriving in
our chilly pre-winter cold snap
Even the seedlings of our winter annual weeds - species that germinated this past late summer/fall and will complete their life cycle in the spring – appear to have been completely unaffected by the week of extreme cold. The henbit, annual bluegrass, chickweed and cheatgrass I’ve looked at in the past few days appear perfectly healthy. So, I'm sorry to dash any hopes you had about any potential benefits that the recently departed cold front might have had on the pests in your lawn. They really didn’t notice. If you had any hopes of the misnamed polar vortex eliminating some of next year's turf pests, all I can say is … let it go…let it go……..