CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Chickens in the Backyard

About six years ago, the tiny city I live in Western Colorado approved chickens within the Community Residential Zoning district.  They allowed 6 hens per dwelling unit or up to 12 per lot if more than one dwelling unit.  So my family decided we would get some chickens the following spring.  

Some of the benefits of having chickens in the garden include providing green fertilizer, insect control, compost materials, eggs and food, and psychological benefits of calming and helping with special needs such as anxiety and depression. 1  Maybe that answers why I sit on the back step and visit with the chickens after work J

Here is my daughter with our Cochins-Picture by SLC
My family did our research and wanted chickens that were good layers but docile and didn’t fly.  I remember having various breeds growing up and remembering having to clip a wing so they didn’t fly into trees or off our property.  So I ended up with 6 Blue Cochin hens.  Make sure you get your chicks from a reputable company.

We started them out in the garage with a heat lamp until they were old enough to move outside.  We introduced our Borador dog, that’s a Border Collie Labrador mix, to them every day so she knew they belonged.  So it came time to let them out of the coop to roam the yard.  Well, Izzy the Borador thought that she needed to herd them back into the coop.  So with a little training, she realized we just do that at night.
Izzy the Chicken Herder
By this time, we were planting our vegetable garden.  Since we have a moderated sized town lot, our garden borders our yard.  So I planted my cold crops or cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.  My husband and I left for work with the girls wandering around our fenced in yard.  That evening I came home to find nubs where plants had been.  My girls apparently really enjoyed the veggies.  Chickens, like humans, are omnivores, so they need a well-balanced diet.  My scraps from dinner go to the girls.  They are my replacement compost pile.

So up went some chicken fencing so they can get close to the garden but not into the garden.  The chickens seemed to do a good job eating different insects although they are a little wimpy about new things like when I threw a tomato hornworm at them.  They first ran away, and then finally realized it was food.  The one thing I noticed the first year after the City passed the ordinance was the amount of flies seem to greatly increase.  So we hung a few fly traps near the coop and clean the coop weekly.  Not sure if the food web caught up to the increasing fly population or if other people took steps like us to decrease them.  But they now seem to be under control.  Lime is also another way to control the flies within the coop and helps with others things like disease and ammonia.

Having cochins has been great in the sense that they are so docile that there is very little pecking from establishing a pecking order.  However, my sister has several different breeds of chickens and one ended up wanting to be queen of the chickens and picked on everyone else.  My sister also lives in a city that allowed chickens but unfortunately had an uninformed code enforcement officer and city employee.  Apparently someone complained about the egg laying noises and the officer came to take the chickens.  Well, my very large personal fitness trainer brother-in-law said “no you are not taking my wife's chickens”.  The gal at the city said “well you have a rooster”.  “No”, he said “I don’t”.  Her response was: “well, how do you get eggs?”  Lesson here is YES, hens lay without the presence of a rooster.   So, to not deal with the city, the chickens were moved to Dad’s house.  But the mean hen continued to pick on the other two hens and my dad threatened to throw her in a pot.  My sister said no, let me figure something out.  Well, she found chicken goggles that made it hard for her chicken to focus on the other hens.  And it worked so no stew pot for her.  I then had a Master Gardener with the same pecking order issue with her chickens and I told her about the googles.  And they worked for her. 
Here is a picture of Big Bertha with her goggles on.
There are certainly challenges to having chickens.  When we go away, we have someone open and close the coop, give them treats beyond what is in the basic feeder and fresh water 1-2 times a day.  Egg layers need a lot of water available to them.  Of course now and then they get in the garden and do some damage.  And they eggs are not cheaper but wow do they taste good.  We do let them get into the garden in late fall for cleanup.  They enjoy eating the leftover vegetation and any insects left in the garden.
My sister's Chicken, Picture by Linda Gular

Do your homework before you get chickens.  Select the right breed for your purposes and situation or support a local egg farmer.   Practice good research based techniques.  Chickens can pass on some illnesses like Salmonella so wash and read this link.

By Susan L. Carter, Horticulture Agent and Chicken Momma
CSUE Tri River Area

1 information from Rutgers, M. Brimat, Green Chicken Lady, 2016

Oh, by the way, peach season is wrapping up so go buy some Colorado Peaches today!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hackberry Nipple Gall (the name alone describes it best)

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

When I first learned about hackberry nipple gall during my undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, I snickered. How could you not? We were in our woodies class (ha!) [woody plant materials for those of you who are more mature than me] and I'm fairly certain it was at the point in the semester where we were all looking for a good laugh.
Hackberry nipple gall in all its glory.
But good ol' hackberry. And its nipple gall. This year, I have never received so many calls and emails about, "This weird thing plaguing the leaves on my tree" and "What are the warts on my tree leaves?" It often seems that we have a "great year" for certain things...and it's the Year of the Hackberry Nipple Gall. We do see it every year, but this year it seems to be more common or more obvious.
Look at those galls!
Psyllids (sill-ids) are the cause. This insect is teeny-tiny and so small it can easily fit through the screen grids on your windows. Fortunately, the hackberry psyllid is only interested in hackberry. If you could zoom in on the insect, it would look like a miniature locust/cicada.
Adult hackberry psyllid on the tip of a pencil. Photo by B. Ogg.
Adult psyllids tend to overwinter in cracks of trees to survive cold winter temperatures, but they also snuggle in other crevices, like around windows and siding. If they wander indoors, they meet their fate, since our homes are not very accommodating to the insects.

In spring, the adults will lay eggs on emerging hackberry leaves and the young nymphs will feed on the leaf tissues. The tree responds by creating a gall, which is simply abnormal growth. The nymphs spend the rest of the summer sucking plant juices in the comfort of the gall until they pupate in the fall as an adult and emerge to overwinter and start the cycle again.
The gall is a comfortable cocoon for the hackberry psyllids to spend their summer.
I can see why people are concerned...not only by the leaf appearance, but also by premature shedding of the leaves on the ground. Fortunately, hackberry is one of the toughest trees we have in the landscape and it seems to be unaffected by the galls and early leaf drop--so there is no need to worry, apply insecticides or cut the tree down. (To me, what's even more fun is walking on the gall-ridden leaves--they "pop" under your feet!)
A hackberry tree that has shed many of the afflicted leaves in late August.
Interestingly, if you can prevent raking/destroying the leaves in the fall, a beneficial wasp overwinters in the galls that will parasitize the new nymphs the next spring. Nature does its best to help control pest populations.

Nipple gall would not be a reason to stop planting hackberry--this tree has so many benefits. As my co-worker Eric Hammond described: it's your friend with a truck. It's drought tolerant, has good yellow fall color and is tolerant of many soil types and urban conditions. The nipple gall just provides a great conversation starter when you have friends for dinner. "Hey Joe! Let me show you the nipple gall on my tree!"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

Posted by: Curtis Utley Jefferson County

This past weekend my family and I decided to brave the hordes and experience a solar eclipse in its totality. I must admit we were nervous about the trip being a huge waste of time spent idling in gridlock traffic due to all the media hype. I know this was the case for many Coloradans who ventured due North to Wyoming, but not for us. We woke up early on Saturday morning and drove northeast up I-76 to Ogallala Nebraska only slowing down once for the cone zone where I-76 merges with I-80 just past the state line. We camped at Lake McConaughy, my favorite beach in North America, where the sand is white, fine textured and wonderful for squishing between your toes and playing with Tonka trucks. I thought the lake would have been packed to the gills with eager eclipse watchers but alas, there was plenty of room to pitch our tent.
Plenty of room for more tents at Lake McConaughy
My favorite beach in North America, Lake McConaughy

On Monday, still worried about the hordes of people navigating toward the path of totality, we left the lake at 8:00 a.m. to travel 25 miles North to the town of Arthur to watch the twelve O’clock show. Traffic was heavy but moved at the speed limit. Once we reached Arthur we made a game day decision to press North another 2 miles where we could be away from the crowds.
Old Hwy 61 (Right) next to New Hwy 61 (Left)
Ipomopsis longiflora Growing along Hwy 61
We ended up parking and setting up our lawn chairs at the top of a hill on the remains of old highway 61. We then proceeded to test out or Eclipse glasses, lather on sunscreen, play yard games, and discuss the weather.
Christy and Calvin testing the eclipse glasses
Yes, I forgot to mention that we awoke Monday morning to 100% cloud cover. After enjoying 2 glorious bluebird days on the beach we couldn’t even see the sun when we really wanted it to shine! Luckily the clouds burned off around 10:00 a.m. and we had perfect conditions for the main event.
Our total eclipse viewing location

The total eclipse was amazing! One thing I learned is the sky does not go completely dark, more like 10 minutes after sundown, dark enough to see Venus, but not the milky way. What I found very impressive was the 360-degree sunset effect on the horizon, truly a site to see. If you missed being in the path of totality this time I encourage you to put it on your bucket list for the next total eclipse of the sun.     

Monday, August 21, 2017

It's Melon Season!

 Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County

As the grocery stores begin to fill their produce aisles with bins of melons in all shapes and sizes, there has been much discussion in our office about the "right" way to choose the perfect melon. It seems everyone has their own technique and they vary widely. Carol O'Meara recently wrote a delightful piece about just that for some of our local newspapers. I'm telling you, the topic is HOT!!

Well, last week my husband and I decided we were going to take a little road trip to the "Sweet Melon Capital" (of the U.S.? The world? We're not sure, but it's their claim!) and drove to Rocky Ford, home of the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes and watermelons. Nestled smack dab in the very open and expansive south eastern plains of the state, you see fields of melons growing as you begin to approach the tiny town of roughly 4,000. Melon fields are an unusual site coming from the Front Range where we are used to seeing corn, sugar beats, wheat and development.

We decided to pull in to the first farm stand we came across and it was impressive! As soon as we opened the car doors we could smell the almost sickly sweet aroma of all those melons. We were practically giddy with melon anticipation.

We walked through the bins of freshly picked produce (most had been picked that day) and tried to narrow down what to get. Not an easy task! However, once we did figure out what we wanted, then came the even more difficult task of finding just the right ones.

I decided to call in the experts. I spotted a woman who clearly looked like an employee and might know a thing or two about finding ripe fruit. I felt slightly sheepish about bothering her, it looked like she'd had a long day of melon slinging, but asked her if she wouldn't mind given me a quick tutorial. To my delight she gave us an extremely thorough and rather chipper tour of all the melons and what to look for. When I complimented her knowledge she said, "Well, I've been doing this for 50 of my 55 years on this planet, it's what I know!!"

Here is what she told us:
  • First, you don't thump or push the ends of cantaloupe.
  • A ripe, ready to eat cantaloupe will have a nice white netting or webbing with golden yellow beneath. 
  • If it is greenish below the netting it may still be ripe (if other criteria are met) but will have a longer shelf life. 
  • "Full slip" indicates that the melon was fully sugared when picked and is recognized by there being no stem left on the fruit. The stem "slips" off the fruit when ready. If there is a piece of stem still attached, the melon has not fully sugared and never will. 
  • If you shake the melon and you hear the seeds, this means the melon is too ripe.
White netting, golden below (ready to eat now)

White netting, green below (it will be ready in a few days)

Left didn't reach full slip stage (it was a mistake to pick), the right did

Rocky Sweet and Dove Melon (hybrid cantaloupe/honeydew)
  • On the bloom end of the melon (opposite the stem side) give a light push with your thumbs. It should go in slightly and spring back. If it goes in a lot, too ripe.  
  • These are both hybrid melons and have a very high sugar content. Because of this they don't store particularly well so eat 'em if you got 'em!

  • She said you can do the blossom end push test on these too, but her preferred method is feeling the rind/skin. It should feel waxy. There was a bin of honeydews that had be picked that day and they were not waxy. After bringing one home and waiting for 3-4 days, it started to feel waxy!! 

And finally, watermelons
  • These are the melons you want to thump. That can be with an open hand or give a light knock with your knuckles. As Carol explains in her article...there is no need to abuse the melons, a light thump will do. 
  • Should sound hollow. 
  • If it sounds dead or thuddy, too ripe. (clearly this is pretty subjective, but I figure with practice and a few good/bad melons we can all get the hang of it.)
  • You can also look for red or brown ooze coming out of the ends or anywhere, really. This is sugar so it means your melon will be super sweet.
  • If there is still stem on a watermelon, that is fine it just means it was recently picked. They eventually dry up and fall off. 
"Thump a Friendly Melon at Knapp's Farm Market"

Reddish brown ooze signals high sugar and ripeness

More ooze coming from stem end

So, with all of our new found knowledge we loaded up the car with melons and were on our way. It was such a great experience getting to learn from someone so close to the actual process. As we left the farm stand, tractors were driving through with bin after bin of freshly picked melons. On the drive back home we saw pick-up trucks cruising down the highway with those same bins loaded on trailers taking them across the state to expectant customers eager to dig into the famous Rocky Ford melons. 


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hort Peeves (Tree Edition): Planting to Kill

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

I started my career in horticulture working at Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota. I was a high school student who needed a job, never once thinking how the nursery industry would shape my future. Because of this...and because my brother, Jeffrey, works for Bailey's, I have a deep appreciation and understanding of nursery practices and what's required to produce landscape plants. This is why my blood boils when I see trees mistreated, carelessly maintained or poorly planted--I understand what it takes to produce healthy trees.
Burlap and twine left on the tree at planting. Remove all root ball coverings! Or as much as you possibly can.
Think about it. To help supply the landscape industry, trees are produced at wholesale nurseries throughout the country. The majority of nursery production is on the west coast--California, Washington and Oregon, because they have ideal growing conditions. These states have consistent moisture in winter and long summers perfect for growing ornamental plants. You can produce plants more quickly when you have an optimal growing environment. But that doesn't mean a tree can be grown overnight--in fact, most trees take years to grow.

And then these young trees are delivered to a job site and left to die. Or they are planted wrong, neglected and left to die. Or they are just mistreated and left to die.
Tree planted at the new CSU Medical Center on campus. This tree died within two weeks of planting, likely due to drought stress. It has since been replaced, costing additional time and money.
That's not to say that all nursery trees don't make it--most do. Most of this is preventable. We can prevent tree death if we step up to care for the trees in the first place. I don't have a solution for how to fix this problem, but in true Extension fashion, perhaps a little education is necessary:

All trees start out as a seed or a cutting. It just depends on the type of tree and how it's typically grown. Most named cultivars are vegetatively propagated through asexual reproduction (cuttings, budding, grafting). Some trees, like oaks and redbud, are grown from seed (though they may be grafted later). Seeds are typically fall-sown and cuttings are taken throughout the summer. Regardless, either seeds or cuttings will be sown outdoors or stuck in a greenhouse, nurtured and maintained.
A greenhouse full of maple cuttings.
The young trees (often referred to as "liners") are harvested once they are ready for the next stage of their production cycle, generally after six to 12 months of care.
A maple tree liner.
Trees are dug from the greenhouse and outdoor seedbeds in the fall and transported to cold storage facilities to be sorted and graded during the winter months. The trees are sorted by size, caliber and quality. The following spring, the liners are "lined out" in the field, generally between March and May.

After planting, multiple things can happen. The tree may be budded the first growing season in the field. It may be left to grow for one year so it develops more roots. It may be grown (with regular pruning and training) for a certain period of time (no budding or grafting). Some are even grown in the field for awhile and then transplanted into containers to be grown for an additional year.

But what's important to know is that from seed/cutting to a 1 1/2" to 2" caliper tree may take anywhere from three five years. It will take even longer for bigger trees. That's a long time for the nursery to invest in a product. And that's why it hurts to see these trees dead in the landscape.

For example, if a maple cutting was initiated in the greenhouse this summer, it would be dug in the fall of 2017. It's then planted into the field in 2018. It's grown for another season (2019) and by 2020 it's considered to have a "three year top". The tree may be dug that season or grown for one more and harvested in 2021 (four year top). So after the initial planting of the cutting in the greenhouse, it grows for another four full growing seasons--about five total years, give or take.

This is also why trees are an expensive investment.
If you stop watering (or don't water) the turf, young trees will likely suffer. Remember trees and turf are sharing the water.
Though the industry has recovered quite a bit from the Great Recession, you may have noticed that there was a short supply of trees available for purchase. Calculate back to when those trees would have been started as seeds or cuttings--it would be the late 2000s. Many nurseries stopped producing trees, not knowing if the industry or housing would recover. Things are starting to improve and nurseries are back on track. But there was a definite decrease in supply for a few years.

When you buy a tree or you're planting a job site, make sure you have everything ready to plant. Get the utilities marked. Mark where the trees will be planted. Have water readily available. Make a plan for maintenance following planting. This is far easier for homeowners, who only have to take care of one or two trees. It gets more difficult if you have a large site with 100 trees. But it's not impossible.

So does the grower care what happens to the tree after it leaves the nursery? ABSOLUTELY! Nursery employees spend a lot of time growing trees and want to see their product be successful. We all do.

Monday, August 7, 2017

My Grandpa's garden put baseball in the dugout

Posted by: Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County Extension

As a kid, my memories of a backyard garden are somewhat vague, and honestly, none too pleasant.

For me, summer was meant for baseball. Every day in June and July, the script was already written: wake up, grab the glove, bike to the baseball fields at the old Fairgrounds in Durango, then play, practice and pull weeds (this was pre-child labor laws, apparently). After the game, I’d go to a buddy’s house for a good two hours of Wiffle ball, and be home by evening for a round of catch with dad.

That was it. My world consisted of a ball, bat and glove.

The garden was merely an obstacle to the game. If the batted ball reached the tomato plants, then it was a ground-rule double; the makeshift greenhouse was a foul ball; and if it was wacked to the raspberries, well, then the game was usually over and it was time to find a new ball.

But in 1981, it all changed.

The family took a vacation to grandma and grandpa’s house in Beulah, Colorado. Not too long after the fluids had cooled in the Oldsmobile Omega my parents kissed our foreheads, waved and headed back to Durango. Maybe they wanted to subject us to a week of “granny boot camp,” or maybe they needed a vacation from my sister and me, or perhaps it was simply them wanting us to experience something new during our summer break. Regardless, I was not too happy about being away from my friends or baseball. The thought of drinking grandma’s diluted Kool-Aid from an aluminum glass for a full week still makes my teeth hurt.

After my sister and I got settled, I soon learned that a) Grandpa knew how to play baseball (what a relief!), and b) behind the house, next to the tire swing, was grandpa’s garden. Man, that garden was big, and that soil was black. As children, the dirt was best used to paint our clothes, but as a gardener it was pure gold, and grandpa knew it. It was in this garden where he was always happiest.

He was proud—proud of his space behind the house that he bought, in the town he helped support. He would talk while the kids darted in and out of the two-story corn. Not sure what he was talking about, or whom he was talking to, but I still remember the excitement in his voice. I recall sitting on his knee, shucking beans, him smiling and kidding me about my (lack of) technique. And for once, baseball sat in the dugout while vegetables took to the field.

Baseball continued to be there every summer until I was 17, and I am pretty sure that the week away when I was 9 didn’t set my skills back that far. Grandpa Mickey died a number of years later, and if my memory serves me, so did the garden. There are no photos or journal detailing the crops behind the house. For all I know, the garden may not have been big at all.

photo courtesy of

Fast forward 35 years and gardening - and baseball - are still in our lives.  Ask Beth or Elena, it's way too much baseball; ask Asher and it's not enough baseball and who cares about gardening. Me? I want a bigger garden - you know, the kind you lose baseballs, and hours to. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making the Grade: CSU's Annual Trial Garden Evaluation Day

Posted by:  Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

If you have yet to visit Colorado State University's Annual Flower Trial Garden, you must put it on your lists of things to do! This is a garden that is truly like no other place in Colorado, where research and education meet beauty and community. The mission of the garden is to provide education, research and outreach to students, community members, industry professionals and anyone who wants to learn about how various landscaping plants grow in our unique Rocky Mountain environmental conditions. And while accomplishing that mission, the garden is also a favorite place for lounging, meeting up with family and friends or leisurely strolling through on your way around campus. 
Sun beds of petunias and other annual flowers near the gazebo at the CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden
Earlier this week, over 100 selected industry representatives, staff, faculty and Colorado Master Gardeners from the front range gathered at the Annual Flower Trial Garden to evaluate this year's entries. There were over 800 plant varieties to evaluate for 2017 that were sourced from 19 different companies; including annuals, perennials, patio-type vegetables and novelty varieties. Those evaluating were asked to rate the plants and remark on various traits such as plant vigor, uniformity, flower color and number, unique flower traits, tolerance to environmental conditions and susceptibility to disease. 

Evaluations of sun-loving annuals

Each person involved was given a section of the garden to judge which included approximately 200 of the 800 entries located in both sunny and shady bedding sites, as well as, plants grown in large containers. This year, participants could log their results electronically with a smartphone or tablet by using a website tailored toward each person's list of plants. If I might interject my personal opinion here..the website worked seamlessly and was super easy to use! I love seeing new ways that we can use technology in the garden! 

Evaluations of container grown plants in full sun

Kudos to the students, staff, and faculty who coordinate and maintain the's simply amazing! It makes it hard to scrutinize the flowers when they look so beautiful!
Once the data is tabulated from the day's event, a summary of the results will be published in a Garden Performance Report that will be available for use by the horticulture industry and the public.

If you are interested in learning more about the Annual Flower Trial Garden or view the results from years past, the website can be found here:

The Annual Flower Trial Garden is located at 1401 Remington Street in Fort Collins, Colorado (80523) on CSU's campus.