CO-Horts Blog

Monday, November 20, 2017

NJC and Extension Demonstration Hydroponic Project

By CSU Linda Langelo, Horticulture Program Associate

Hydroponic systems seem to be cropping up in different locations and in different venues throughout Colorado.  In Northeast Colorado, a cooperative venture between Northeastern Junior College (NJC) and Colorado State University (CSU) Extension was designed by Dr. Brent Young to “explore the possibility of using intensive, high value, vegetable production as a means to bring the next generation back to the family farm.  In turn, this would also allow for the creation of profitable small farms and provide locally produced, healthy food for our community.”  In this greenhouse, in order to keep this hydroponic demonstration operation running smoothly, Dr. Young and Brian Kailey with CSU Extension train and oversee three work study students from NJC.
There are two systems that makeup the fresh food production in this NJC greenhouse hydroponic demonstration.  The first system called Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) is a system, where the nutrient solution constantly recirculates through the system.  The trays slope slightly allowing a film of liquid to travel down the tray to feed the plants.  In the NFT system, they chose to start growing lettuce.  Why lettuce?  Lettuce is a crop that requires lowlight and low temperatures and for some lettuce types such as Bibb lettuce has a quicker turn around time for fresh food production.  The down side is that lettuce is a perishable crop.  The best types of lettuce for hydroponic systems are Butterhead, Loose Leaf, Leaf and Cutting.  The four varieties of Salanova used in the greenhouse are listed as follows:
  1. Salanova Red Sweet
  2. Salanova Green Butter
  3. Salanova Red Butter
  4. Salanova Summer Crisp
According to Johnny's Seeds, "Salanova® is higher yielding than traditional salad mix even though it is grown as single heads, the same way that head lettuce is grown.  It's unique core structure allows fully mature heads to be easily cut into uniform leaves once harvested, increasing efficiency."  There are many different varieties of Salanova which include both red and green, flat (oak) or frilly, crisp or butterleaf.  This lettuce has more leaves than a standard head all uniformly sized and growing in a rosette pattern.
At this time, the NJC cafeteria has all their lettuce needs met for their current menu.  This NFT system produces 72 heads a week.
NFT system, top left and plant nursery; Photo Credit: Young and Kailey
NFT system. Photo Credit: Young and Kailey
 NFT system with Salanova Lettuce. Photo Credit: Young and Kailey
Finished lettuce. Photo credit Young and Kailey.
The second system is called a Bato or "Dutch" Bucket system.  Vine crops are grown in these Bato Buckets.  It is known as a "feed to drain" system.  The delivery of nutrients is set on a timer for several times a day at short three to five minutes.  In a Bato Bucket system, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are grown.  The varieties used are listed below:
  1. Vertina F1
  2. Corito F1
  1. Golden Sweet F1
  2. Rebelski F1
  1. Sympathy F1
  2. Sprinter F1
Currently with a 24 Bato Bucket system, they are projecting 10 lbs of tomatoes, 14 cucumbers and 12 peppers per week of fresh produce. 
Bato buckets ready for planting. Photo credit Young and Kailey.
Bato bucket system. Photo credit Young and Kailey.
If you would like more information on this project please contact Brent or Brian as listed below:
Dr. Brent Young @ (970)491-4425
Brian Kailey @ (970)522-3200 ext. 3

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bring Cheer to your Holiday Plants

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

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of the holiday season are the traditional holiday houseplants that I always end up getting and giving as gifts. For most of us, this time of year is crazy busy and more often than not, those cheerful plants end up as cheerful compost food long before their time. Here are some tips for making your holiday houseplants last to their full potential:

Generally speaking, large houseplants in small pots dry out pretty quickly, so you should check the moisture level of your plants daily. The soil should be moist but never soggy. If your plant is wrapped in decorative foil, you should either remove it or poke holes in the bottom of it so you have good drainage.

Good lighting will extend the life of your holiday plants as well. Find a place for them that is well lit, but not in direct sunlight. If you don’t have a place with nice natural light, a grow light or a cool white fluorescent bulb combined with an incandescent bulb can work as well.

Household temperatures can also have an impact on the lifespan of your plants. Avoid places where the plants will be exposed to hot or cold drafts. 60° F to 75° F is usually a good temperature for most houseplants. Our dry Colorado air can make our holiday plants lose cheer as well. You can use a humidifier, or place the plant on a tray with pebbles and water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the pot.

Poinsettias are the epitome of the holiday houseplant. To keep those colorful bracts looking great for months, bright indirect light and frequent watering is key (but don’t overwater!). You can keep a poinsettia all year and re-bloom it next season, but it is quite the process and a different blog in itself. If you want to give it a shot, you can find detailed instructions in CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.412.  And one more thing, don’t believe the myth that they are poisonous, they aren’t!
         Christmas cacti are from a group of jungle cacti and don’t look like our native cacti at all. These plants can be very long lived when cared for properly. Let the top inch of soil dry out between waterings. They can go outdoors in the summertime, but they should be in part shade and should be brought inside when temperatures start to drop. Fertilizing can be done in the spring and summer with a standard houseplant fertilizer. You can help your cactus to re-bloom starting in September by controlling temperature and the amount of light it gets. You can find more information on this process here.

Amaryllis are beautiful additions to the home during the holiday season. Provide them with bright but indirect light, and keep the soil evenly moist. A cooler room temperature will prolong flowering. Once the blooms die, remove them. Keep the leaves actively growing through the summer. In the fall, you will want to cut water back until the leaves die, and then you will store it in a cool dark location for a couple of months. You can then resume watering and you will have buds in a few weeks! Click here for some detailed information on the process.

Norfolk Island pine trees are nice houseplants and can be used in place of a traditional large Christmas tree. They will appreciate a sunny bright location, and will respond well to being rotated weekly. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and try to keep the humidity up. These trees ideally like 50% humidity. Daytime temperatures of 60° F to 72° F are optimal, with nighttime temperatures being just a bit lower. With good care, this plant can last all year long. Keep in mind, these are not true pines and are not cold hardy in Colorado.

I hope you have been inspired to be a great holiday plant parent, and maybe even to try and keep some of this year’s plants for 2018. Happy Holidays to everyone.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lessons From A Fruit Fly Infestation

Posted by: Mary Small
Colorado Master Gardener State
Are tiny flies driving you buggy? Several kinds are common indoors, so it’s really important to capture and identify them. It helps you figure out why they are there in the first place, how long they might stay and most important - how to manage them.

The Small household recently had the un-delightful company of fruit flies. I knew they were fruit flies because I’d captured a couple and identified them.  The insects are attracted to fermentation odors, such as that found with over- ripe or decaying fruit, beer, wine and sugary drinks. Fruit flies are quite small (1/16”), often have red eyes and are very annoying!

I observed they seemed to be concentrated around the ripening bananas on the kitchen counter. “Okay,” I thought, “once the bananas are gone, they will be too.” I even took the peels outside immediately after eating the fruit, thinking that would quickly decrease the fruit fly population. Nope! Bananas gone, still finding fruit flies. 

Next I constructed a funnel trap. This consists of a jar with either cider vinegar or a piece of ripe fruit in the bottom.  Set a funnel (metal, plastic or one made from a small piece of paper) over the opening to the jar, narrow side down. Make sure the outer edge of the funnel fits the opening of the jar fairly well. Then tape the funnel to the jar along the junction where the two met. You don’t want anybody escaping!
By Downtowngal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
 Fruit flies are attracted to the fermenting fruit/vinegar and crawl or fly down the funnel to get to the prize. But then they can’t get out and die, falling to the bottom of the jar. My trap worked like a dream – I was trapping quite a few every day. My hope was that the trap would collect the remaining flies (assuming they arrived on the bananas) and the infestation would be over. 

While the trap was in place, I checked for and wiped up anything that looked like a spill from the pantry shelves, counter tops and refrigerator. I was also fanatical about taking empty drink bottles outside to the recycle bin right after consumption. I hoped this would reduce potential food sources, but instead I had an annoyed family along with the fruit flies!

One day while hunting up a particular spice, I noticed an odd smell coming out of a cupboard that I apparently hadn’t searched very well.  I’d caught a whiff a couple of times before, but it was very faint. This time, it was stronger and so a more thorough search ensued. Shoved into the far back corner in a plastic bag, I found three small rotting potatoes. In addition to being disgusting, they turned out to be the source of the fruit flies. After disposing of the culprits, it only took one trap refresh to take out the remaining flies.  

And now, there’s a new location to store and readily observe the condition of potatoes so we don’t have unwanted company again. So far, so good!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Native plants support insects (the bottom of the food chain)

Mark your calendars for the 3rd annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference!  This year, it will be at the Denver Botanic Gardens on Saturday, Feb 10, 2018.  We will have two main tracks, filled with great speakers:  New to Natives and Knows the Natives.  Registration should be open Dec 1 at  We have sold out the last two years, so get your registration in early (maybe Santa could give you a seat in the conference?)

And here is why it is so important to plant more natives:
A study from Germany just came out ( , and it has scary implications for both insect populations and the entire food chain.  The authors found that in just 3 decades, flying insect populations in German nature reserves have plummeted by more than 75% (as measured across all taxa by biomass). The authors state that this “loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services”. The reasons for the decline aren’t clear, but the pattern is consistent over a swath of western and northern Germany, from the region around Bonn and Cologne to the countryside south of Berlin.

The scientists speculate that climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation (including agricultural intensification), and deterioration of habitat quality may some of the prime suspects responsible for the decline.  

For you fellow birders out there, the implications of the loss of insects to bird populations is more than a little distressing. Many bird species eat flying insects for their entire life cycle, and almost all birds (even frugivores or seed eaters) must raise their chicks on soft-bodied insects. Indeed, the German environmental organization Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) estimates that more than 25 million birds disappeared from Germany over the past 12 years (about 15 percent of the country’s total bird population), and while the causes are not well-studied, habitat loss (including the insects that sustain them) is the most likely reason.  It is not just limited to Germnay; we are seeing similar losses to our bird populations- A study ( by Canadian biologists, published in 2010, suggests that North American bird species that depend on aerial insects for feeding themselves and their offspring have suffered much more pronounced declines in recent years than other perching birds that largely feed on seeds.
Don’t despair, however. Restoring the bottom of the food chain by planting native plants can do a lot of good. The effectiveness of planting native plants is demonstrated by years of research by Doug Tallamy, whose published work ( He has shown that native plants host many more caterpillars than non-native plants, and that yards with more native vegetation host more native-bird species. His work (and of course, that of his grad students)  (, shows that yards filled with native vegetation offer more food for nesting birds than non-indigenous species. Another study of suburban properties in southeast Pennsylvania found that there were eight times more Wood Thrushes, Eastern Towhees, Veeries, and Scarlet Tanagers (all species of conservation concern) in yards with native plantings as compared with yards landscaped with typical alien ornamentals.

The good news here is that we can make a difference in our own backyards by adding native plants. And there’s no need to be a purist. No need to rip out all of your non-natives, just add natives!  Also, consider raising your tolerance level for insects and holes in your plants. For the most part, these are not a problem, and rarely get to the point of needing any action. And, viewed from a distance, it’s hard to see a couple holes. As one person puts it, “if there aren’t holes in your plants, you’re not feeding the birds!”  I have many birds in my most-native garden, and I never see intolerable levels of insects (probably because the birds are eating them all). If all of our yards helped to replace lost habitat and supported pollinators and birds, we may help reverse the tide of extinction. That gives me some hope.

For planting guides and ideas, here are some good places to start:
o   You’ll find a guide to help you (even includes some designs!) for the Front Range, the mountains, the Western Slope, SE Colorado, and the Plains and Prairies.