CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Behind the Scenes at the 2018 CO Garden & Home Show

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

Every year the Colorado Garden Foundation hosts the Colorado Garden & Home Show in Denver. From the website:

"Discover the Rocky Mountain region’s oldest, largest and most prestigious garden and home show – a nine-day spectacular event at the Colorado Convention Center– where you can find inspiration from the latest ideas and trends in landscaping, gardening and home improvement. Enjoy the multitude of fragrances as you stroll through more than an acre of professionally landscaped gardens – 11 in all.  Talk to representatives from more than 650 companies from 25 states and Canada. Visit with the region’s gardening gurus and home improvement experts about the best ways to move your home and garden projects forward." 

An acre of landscaped gardens inside the Convention Center?!? The effort that goes into creating all of those gardens is huge and this year I got to be a part of it. CSU Extension has an educational display every year, and every year a different area county takes over the responsibility. This year it was Boulder County's turn. Planning began in July and after monthly meetings and lots of brainstorming our crew came up with, what we believe is, a fun and educational display all about "Wise Water Harvesting". 

The focus of the display is on both active (rain barrels) and passive (landscaping techniques) rainwater harvesting. We created a miniature home landscape complete with a little house, veggie garden, rain garden and dry-creek bed (swale). The process of completing these indoor landscapes takes place over the course of three intense days. Upon arrival there were 5 large "garden beds" constructed of  concrete blocks that were filled with mulch. Aaaaah, the blank slate to make our vision a reality! 

We had a crew of CO Master Gardeners and a spousal volunteer who started unloading the materials and supplies. Once the plants arrived those were unloaded and staged awaiting their final placement. We all got to work sculpting the mulch, building the house, constructing the set, installing the fence, planting the plants and placing the signs. We were in our own world while the rest of the humongous exhibit hall was busy with other vendors doing the same thing: creating their worlds and getting ready to share their products and vision with the public. 

In addition to the miniature landscape there is a bed with a full size rain garden, and another with a mock-up wall with full size rain barrel. The final two beds include one with info on Plant Talk and the other full of Plant Select plants. 

Plant Select Display
Rain Garden

House Mock-Up

What a fun break from the norm and a good excuse to get dirty in the middle of winter. We all got a little bit of a gardening fix while it was snowing outside!! It was a real treat to see our vision become a reality and hopefully the many, many members of the public who go to the CO Garden & Home Show will leave with new ideas and inspiration for incorporating rainwater harvesting into their own landscape. 

These photos just don't do it justice so go checkout our display and all of the many, many others in person if you can! The show runs through March 4th. For hours and more info on attending the show go to: 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Sumo Citrus = Love.

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Oh, Sumo Citrus how I love thee.
Sumo Citrus. Awesome. Tasty. Incredible. And 1000 other adjectives that describe yummy.
Wait--you haven't heard of Sumo Citrus? Really?? Let me tell you--you're missing out. And you may actually miss out, since they have such a short season. I told a few of my co-workers about this incredible fruit and they went nuts! There was a flurry of text messages and dashes to the grocery store to buy them.

The Sumo Citrus, in short, is amazing. By far the best Mandarin orange I've had. Actually, the best orange I've had. Period. Seedless, sweet, easy-to-peel and a great winter treat.

I love when certain produce comes into season--think Bing cherries, Colorado peaches, Honeycrisp apples and the sweetest sweet corn. Sumo Citrus is no exception--when they arrive in the grocery store, I buy in bulk. It's not an inexpensive purchase (they are usually about $3/pound), but worth every penny. And then I hoard them. Protective of every juicy segment.
Both, sadly, have been eaten.
The Sumo Citrus was developed in Japan and is grown in the United States in California, on family farms in the San Joaquin Valley. The fruit is pretty distinct because they are large, bumpy and usually have a large knob on the top of the fruit (called the Sumo "top knot").

The rind seems to be naturally separated from the fruit, so it's very easy to peel and almost just falls off once you get it started.
Sumo is so easy to peel!
And the taste! Exceptional. Sweet, but not too sweet, great orange flavor and when you're finished, you want to eat another (but you don't because they are too special).
Yum yum yum.
Growers claim the Sumo Citrus is around from February to May, but I think I only saw them into March last year. Maybe there are more growers and we'll have a longer season. But I am already sad for the day they'll disappear from the produce section and will patiently wait for 2019. Until then, I have my stash and will enjoy every bite!
Maybe the short growing season is what makes them so special?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coffee with a little IPM

Posted by: Mary Small
Colorado Master Gardener Program Coordinator
One of the topics I teach in our Colorado Master Gardener program is Integrated Pest Management or IPM. It’s a multi-prong approach to managing pests and can be used in a variety of situations. I wrote about how I used IPM strategies to combat fruit flies in the kitchen last fall. Here’s another story.
Last year at this time, I was in Guatemala on a mission trip. On our free day, a group of us toured a coffee plantation near Antigua, situated at about 5,000 ft in the western highlands.  We were looking forward to the tour and sampling their product at the end.

And then… we wandered down a row of coffee plants, I became distracted when our guide pointed out rust disease on some leaves.  I just had to have a picture! (If you know me, this is no surprise. I like “weird stuff” as my children often have reminded me.)

Rust on coffee leaf
While I was angling for a good shot, the guide told us about the plantations’ disease management strategies.  Their practice was to treat only the plants that had the disease rather than treating the whole crop. Before they treated, they watched the outbreak areas to determine if sprays were really needed. Sometimes they were, sometimes not. In IPM, this is known as “spot treatment”. The purpose of a spot treatment is to minimize pesticide exposure of non target organisms as well as control costs. And this is done by only treating what is necessary – when it is necessary and according to specific threshold levels of the pest.
Trees shading coffee

One of our group asked about the large trees growing among the coffee plants. Why were they there? Didn’t that keep light from reaching the leaves and berries? Well, yes, it did. The light intensity is so high that it “sunburns” the coffee fruit, rendering it useless for the beverage market. The trees are there to decrease the incidence of berry burn. This is an example of a cultural IPM practice – altering the culture (manipulating the environment) to reduce the likelihood of “pest” (read: sun) damage.

Trees with fruit to attract birds
Our guide also pointed out newer trees (whose name escapes me) that were planted with a purpose. One of the plantation’s ongoing problems was birds swooping down into the coffee crop and taking the fruit. (If you raise anything that produces fruit, you can understand the frustration here!) The company tried different strategies until they learned this tree produces fruit that the birds really like. So the tree fruit acts to divert them from the desired coffee crop. Nothing is 100%, but it was more successful than anything else they previously tried. In IPM, we would call this trap cropping. (Think planting radishes to attract the western cabbage flea beetle, so they won’t decimate the broccoli.)
 Now, having raised fruit bearing plants, I’ve since pondered what happens when the birds “re-sow” the seeds of the tree fruit with a little bit of their fertilizer. Didn’t think of it. Too distracted by the wonders of viewing IPM in practice…and fresh-ground Guatemalan coffee!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Hydroponic Gardening

Posted by: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

Our growing season in Colorado leaves something to be desired, especially by those of us who have transplanted from other areas of the country. Coming from the Idaho Palouse, I am used to a longer growing season, better soil, and more moisture than we get here along the Front Range. One of the solutions to increasing the potential for food production is greenhouse gardening. Greenhouse gardening extends our growing season and greatly improves our growing conditions. Greenhouses also help protect against some of the environmental factors that can adversely affect our plants like wind, hail, or late season frosts.
One particular method of greenhouse growing I would like to talk about is hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics. Hydroponics is the raising of plants without soil. Nutrients are added to the water which replicates the nutrients present in soil. Aquaponics is the mixture of hydroponics and aquaculture so the fish water is used to feed the plants. And finally, aquaculture is the raising of fish. If you are growing plants hydroponically you need to ensure that your water solution contains all of the essential plant nutrients since there is no soil to provide these nutrients for the plants: Macro Nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium; Secondary Nutrients: calcium, magnesium; Trace Elements: iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. The grower is responsible for balancing all chemical and physical conditions surrounding the roots of your plants. Since the grower has total control over the environment in which their plants are growing, the production capacity can be maximized. Another way to maximize efficiency and production can be done with the use of climate controlling technology.
Greenhouses, regardless of their complexity, all help control the climate of the growing area. Hoop houses help increase temperatures to extend the growing season. If you are interested in a hydroponic system, a greenhouse with heating would be recommended because you are dealing with water flow. A frozen system can not only kill your plants, but it can also severely damage your system. If you do not want to invest in a heating system, you would have to shut down production when the risk of heavy frost and low temperatures come around.

Hydroponic systems are closed systems that recirculate water throughout the system continuously. There are a variety of growing medias that can be used in a hydroponic system such as expanded clay, rockwool, or gravel. However, when growing hydroponically, water is the most important component. Maintaining water quality, pH, and nutrient availability will greatly affect the production and health of the plants being grown in the system. Depending on the type and size of your system, water should be changed or added to on a weekly basis. If you are utilizing an aquaculture system (combing fish production with plant production), one of the main things you will want to monitor is the ammonia levels in the water. Adding water weekly to these systems help lower these levels. You will also lose water because the plants are utilizing water to complete the process of photosynthesis. In a temperature controlled environment, it will also be warm enough to have potentially significant water loss to evaporation. Water levels not only affect the growing environment for your fish and plants, it can also affect your system. A hydroponic, aquaculture, or aquaponics system all rely on at least one pump to circulate water throughout the system. If the water levels get too low, you run the risk of burning up your pump or damaging other equipment used in the system. 

Hydroponics and aquaponics can be a great way to increase your production capacity and extend the growing season here in Colorado. Initial startup costs are quite a bit higher than traditional gardening methods, but the return you get in being able to grow your own food all year long can help recoup those costs.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Super Bowl LII: Minnesota "nice" in so many ways

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The Super Bowl is Sunday, February 4. Because my beloved Vikings missed playing in the game due to an unfortunate showing in Philadelphia (it still stings), I couldn't care less about the two teams competing for the Vince Lombardi trophy. But since the great state of Minnesota is hosting Super Bowl LII (52), I am super excited for many reasons.
Yes, I'm a proud Minnesotan, now living in Colorado. My roots run deep and am I fierce to defend anyone who remarks about our northern accent, hotdish or how we play Duck, Duck, GRAY DUCK. For those who need a Minnesota primer, read this blog posted by Surly Beer. It's a great state, filled with great people...and mediocre sports teams. But the entire state seems to be a'buzz with excitement over the Super Bowl. Even the Minneapolis mayor, Jacob Frey, has gotten into the action (all in good jest, Eagles fans!).

My family and I have been texting all week about stories and facts about the Big Game. It's supposed to be the coldest Super Bowl on record (Sunday's high is 9 degrees), so it's a good thing it will be a balmy 70 degrees inside the U.S. Bank Stadium. No worries about Tom Brady further injuring his fingers or hand due to frostbite.
U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis
A couple weeks ago, my brother, Jeffrey (the one who works at Bailey Nurseries), casually mentioned that one of Bailey's introduced plants, the Endless Summer BloomStruck hydrangea is the official flower of the Super Bowl. Say whaaaaat!? How cool is that! It's the first year for the "official flower" status.
Endless Summer BloomStruck hydrangea (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries)
Bailey's headquarters are in Newport, Minnesota and it's a fifth generation family-owned business. While they have nurseries in Oregon (where Jeffrey works), Washington and Illinois, they have been a stable contributor to Minnesota's horticultural economy for 110 years.

Alas, bigleaf hydrangeas, like BloomStruck and Endless Summer, don't grow very well in dry Colorado, but it is a fantastic plant in its own right, with pink or violet-blue flowers, depending on pH. I love that the Super Bowl is using this plant, because the purple flower color is also a nod to Minnesota's favorite musical son, Prince. (Did you know there are Vegas odds on whether Justin Timberlake will perform a Prince song during the halftime show?)

The Nord Farm crew in Cottage Grove grew 3,500 BloomStruck plants to place around the stadium. There's even a rumor that there will be a living plant wall, stacked high with purple and pink hydrangeas. The plants were delivered earlier this week, after weeks of being babied in the greenhouse to get them to flower perfection. They look great!
BloomStruck hydrangeas at the Nord Farm production greenhouses
So whether or not you cheer for the Eagles or Patriots, or simply watch just for the commercials, pay attention to see if you can spot BloomStruck among the crowds. And if you want to bake a hotdish in addition to your guacamole, I can provide you with recipes. Yay Minnesota!