CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Help Fight Hunger in Your Community

 By Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

  Lingering impacts from a disrupted world are hitting our community, with hunger a growing problem. Last year, gardeners responded to the crisis by reviving the Victory Garden movement, growing and donating over 23 tons of produce to food banks and pantries across Colorado through the Grow & Give project.

Victory Gardens have been cultivated throughout our history as a country, popping up when events take a toll on our collective wellbeing. During economic crashes, depression, and war, people sow, grow, and share. As spring warms the soil and the itch to plant consumes us, gardeners are being asked to plant extra to help combat a rise in hunger. The numbers from this aspect of our shared catastrophe are grim.

Hunger Free Colorado  conducted quarterly surveys in 2020, mapping the increase in hunger due to heightened effects from the pandemic. Their third statewide survey, conducted in December, found almost 38-percent of Coloradans are food insecure, lacking reliable access to nutritious food. This is more than two times what Colorado experienced during the Great Recession.

The survey found that more than half of households with children are struggling to have regular access to nutritious food, while 19-percent of children are not getting adequate nutrition because there is not enough money for food.  Twenty-five-percent of adults reported having to cut back or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money to buy food.

Gardeners, we give advice, seeds, and plant divisions freely to anyone who’ll take them.  We joke about too many zucchini or the year cherry tomatoes buried us.  Let’s plan for that bounty this year in order for others to eat, and plant an extra hill or two of zucchini or pop another cherry tomato vine in the ground. Let’s sow for our community as well as ourselves.  

Want to grow food but need a bit of advice? Check out the new Grow & Give website to find short how-to videos, longer webinars, or information sheets on growing fruits and vegetables in your garden. You’ll find information added weekly, but if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered, send me an email with your suggestion.

Sign the pledge to donate part of your harvest and join a community of concerned gardeners who want to make a difference. The website has a map of food pantries and locations for drop off, along with information on days and times they’re accepting donations.

You can help. Plant extra and donate it to pantries, to your neighbors who need it, or friends who have seen a decrease in income. Whether it’s a dozen carrots or a hundred tomatoes, it doesn’t matter. Grow, and give.

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Wasp-Benefit Analysis – Part II: Social Wasps

Posted by: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

In case you missed it, click here to read Part 1. We covered the purpose of wasps in the ecosystem and answered questions on the Asian giant hornet that made headlines in 2020. Part II will cover social wasps, their role in the ecosystem, and possible control methods if they become a nuisance.

Wasps sometimes get a bad reputation because they can sting and are sometimes a nuisance. We have one species of wasp that can be particularly aggressive: the western yellowjacket. Don’t let one or two species of nuisance wasps ruin your opinion of all wasps. Wasps are a diverse group of insects that provide important ecosystem services such as pest control.

Social Wasps

Social wasps are probably the most familiar wasps to people because they are easily seen in the yard and landscape. Social wasps live in a colony together. They have a similar lifecycle to a bumble bee (Bombus spp.).  A new colony is started each year by a fertilized queen that survived the winter. She will lay several generations of female workers throughout the season. Towards the mid-to-end of the summer, she will lay eggs that are male wasps and potential queens. The males and potential queens will leave the colony to find a mate. Once cold temperatures arrive, the current colony will die except for the newly mated queens. The cycle will repeat and the following spring, when the new queens begin a new colony. Social wasps always build a new colony each year. They never reuse old nests, which is important to note if you’re looking to control nuisance wasps. Social wasps make their nests out of chewed up wood, creating a paper nest. Social wasps also feed on insects like caterpillars, providing important pest control in our backyards. The western yellowjacket is a scavenger feeding on carrion and human sources of food such as trash.

Let’s discuss five species of social wasps that are found in Colorado. Understanding the life history of social wasps can help you control them if they become a nuisance in your landscape, and build appreciation for their complex social biology, along with the pest control services they provide.

A western yellowjacket. Photo: Lisa Mason

Western Yellowjackets

Western yellowjackets (Vespula pensylvanica) are a native, social wasp that you will find at your family BBQ, picnics, trash cans, etc. They are very common in urban landscapes and can become a nuisance. Like social wasps, they create a new colony each year. The paper comb nest is usually underground or in a cavity that is well-protected. While yellowjackets are commonly seen, their nesting site can be difficult to find.

Yellowjackets can be aggressive, especially when defending their nest and are responsible for 90% of the insect stings in Colorado. They are scavenging insects feeding on carrion, dead earthworms, garbage, human foods including meats, and sweet, sugary foods. They also will feed on honeydew, a sweet substance excreted by aphids and soft scale insects.  Scavengers are the clean-up crew for ecosystems and play an important role in the food web. Yellowjackets tend to get more aggressive in the fall as food can be harder to find. 

If yellowjackets tend to be a nuisance in your landscape, you can purchase a yellowjacket trap available at hardware and garden stores. The traps contain heptyl butyrate which yellowjackets are attracted to. Traps will be most effective if they are placed outdoors in the early spring to capture the overwintering queens before they start their new colonies. Nest removal can be a dangerous task and difficult because their nests are so well-protected. Insecticide treatments often aren’t effective because it is difficult to get the insecticides inside the colony. Hiring a professional is often necessary. Remember, the colony will only last for one season.

An underground entrance to a western yellowjacket nest. Photo: Nancy Bonita

European Paper Wasps

European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) are much less aggressive, but they often build their nests close to human activity. They are a non-native insect that has become well-established in Colorado. They first appeared in Colorado in the late 1990s/early 2000s. They prey on caterpillars and other insects and feed their young live insects. Common prey includes hornworms and cabbageworms. They also will feed on honeydew secreted from aphids. The papery comb nests are often found under house eaves, overhangs, sheds, pipes, and other hollow spaces in human infrastructure. 

If the paper wasp nest is located in an area that won’t be disturbed by people, the nest can be left alone, and the wasps likely won’t be a nuisance. The current colony won’t survive when temperatures cool in the fall. If the nest is close to human activity, there are insecticide treatments to destroy the nest. Following instructions on the insecticide label is critical. Insecticides should be applied at night when most wasps are present at the nest. The nest should be destroyed afterwards to also kill the capped larvae in the nest. The location of the nest site should be thoroughly washed to prevent any remaining wasps from building a new nest. 

Traps that attract yellowjackets will not attract paper wasps. There are no effective trap methods for paper wasps.

A European paper wasp. Photo: Lisa Mason

Baldfaced Hornets and Aerial Yellowjackets

Baldfaced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) and aerial yellowjackets (Dolichovespula arenaria) are common in Colorado but are less likely to be a nuisance around human activity. They are only aggressive when their nest is threatened. They develop a large papery comb nest usually high in large trees and shrubs. They feed on caterpillars, other insects, and honey dew. If you find a nest in your tree or shrub, it may look intimidating, but the nest can likely be left alone if the nest can be left undisturbed. These two wasps can be common visitors in our landscapes but often go unnoticed by people.

A baldfaced hornet. Photo: Joe Boggs, Ohio Sate University Extension

A baldfaced hornet nest. Photo: Joe Boggs, Ohio Sate University Extension

Western Paper Wasp

The western paper wasp (Mischocyttarus flavitarsis) is a native paper wasp in Colorado and the western US. They have a similar biology to the European paper wasp. They are capable of building paper nests close to human infrastructure and activity, but they are not nearly as common as the non-native European paper wasp. They can sting if their nest is threatened, they often prefer to “ram” into the person or animal that is threatening the nest (Snelling, 1953). Like other paper wasps, they prey on caterpillars, flies, and other pests, bring the prey back to the nest to feed the young wasps the live insects. Adult wasps may also forage for nectar on flowers.

A western paper wasp visiting my cup of tea earlier in April. Photo: Lisa Mason

A Note About Insect Stings

Western yellowjackets are responsible for 90%+ of all stings in Colorado. When someone says, “I was stung by a bee,” they were likely stung a yellow jacket.

Both bees and wasps can sting. A stinger is a modified ovipositor (the egg-laying mechanism in insects), so only females have the ability to sting. The purpose of a stinger is defense, and in some species, predation. Generally, insects will only sting if they are provoked or their colony is disturbed.  Both social and solitary wasps and bees can have the ability to sting, but social insects are more likely to sting because they need to protect their colony.


Honey bees prefer to forage on flowers and go about their business in their hive, but they can sting if they need to protect their hive. Honey bees can sting only once. They have a barb at the end at the end of their stinger that stays in your skin. The barb is attached to the internal guts of the bee, so when the bee tries to fly away, the guts are ripped out of the bee’s body, which kills the bee.

Bumble bees have the ability to sting but will only sting if their colony is disturbed. They can also sting more than once unlike honey bees. Bumble bees are not aggressive and prefer to forage on flowers and go about their business. Many native bees are not able to sting or will only sting if handled.


Wasps can sting more than once. Solitary wasps will only sting if they are pressed up against your skin, or you try hard to provoke them. They prefer to fly away and stay away from human activity. Social wasps can be very defensive if their nest is disturbed. They also can sting if they are away from their nest and provoked. The western yellowjacket is much more likely to sting because they are scavengers and attracted to human foods sources. They tend to get more aggressive in the fall when temperatures cool down and food is harder to find. Other social wasps including the European paper wasp are generally not aggressive unless their nest is disturbed. The European paper wasp tends to build nests close to human activity on buildings, sheds, and other structures, which can increase the chance of nest disturbance.

Learn More

Western yellowjackets and European paper wasps can be a nuisance to people and often attract attention, but these wasps and other social wasps represent a small part of wasp diversity. Look for a future post on the CO-Horts Blog about solitary hunting wasps. These wasps often go unnoticed in the landscape, but provide valuable pest control services! 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Protecting your plants from wild weather this spring

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension
Spring weather in Colorado can be temperamental, it can sometimes feel like we experience all of the seasons in a single day. This past weekend, if your garden was located around the Front Range, it likely experienced warm springtime weather ripe for growing; but later this week, forecasts predict cooler temperatures and even a possibility for snow! These erratic fluctuations provide challenges for our gardens, but CSU Extension has put together some techniques which can help gardeners to extend the growing season and to protect plants against some these drastic weather patterns.
In this post, I have highlighted some techniques and provided references with more information for managing your garden with our spring weather in mind.
Seedlings purchased from a garden nursery may need to be hardened off before they are planted in your garden [click here for more information on this topic]. 

One of the most important factors to consider in vegetable gardening is when to plant your garden, and the length of your garden’s growing season. If planted too early, some vegetables can encounter challenges with frosts which can kill tender plants; but if planted too late, crops may not mature by the time fall comes around. By planting the right plants at the right time you can help to cultivate a successful crop.
Planting Guides can help you decide
when to plant certain things.

Cool, hardy season crops can often tolerate minor frosts and thrive in cooler weather conditions which dip as low at 40°F, some examples are broccoli, spinach, and onions. Warm season crop are much more sensitive to frost and should not be planted until all danger of frost has past. These plants do better in temperatures ranging from 70°F - 95°F, some examples are tomatoes, peppers, and watermelon. A longer list for these plants, and more details on this topic can be found in the following link to CSU Extension's vegetable planting Guide:
There are a range of techniques which can be used to extend our growing season. These include things such as planting gardens on south-facing slopes, providing windbreaks, mulching, and even covering plants when frosts are suspected. Sheets and blankets can be used to trap heat from the soil around young vegetables at night; these covering should be placed low to the ground and secured. In the morning after using sheets, if this fabric has become damp it should be dried before being used for this purpose again.

Simple hoops over a garden can provide great
fastening points for hail cloth and shade cloth.

More techniques and helpful tricks to extend the growing season can be found in the following link to a factsheet on this topic:

Frosts and cold snaps are one challenge, but hail can be one of the greatest risks to our gardens.  Hoop houses or high tunnels can both extend the growing season and offer protection from hail. Hoops can also provide structures to which tightly woven ‘hail cloth’ can be fastened for added protection; hail cloth can also be placed over tomato cages or other structures available in your garden.

Walls of water and gallon milk cartons (with the bottoms cut off) can be used to protect new seedlings. If you leave the cap off of these cartons, they can even be left over seedlings until the plant outgrows this structure. Your imagination is the limit! Before a hailstorm, cardboard boxes, plastic buckets, and even sheets can help prevent some of the most extreme damage from occurring; however, you should never risk personal safety to protect your garden and should only implement these methods if you are able to get out far enough ahead of a storm for it to be safe.

A seven minute video on Hail Mitigation and cleanup can be found in the following link to more information provided by CSU Extension staff:

A factsheet on this topic can be found on the following link:

Sometimes it isn't possible to protect our gardens from a rapidly developing hailstorm. If you don’t find yourself with enough notice that a potential storm is coming or perhaps find yourself away from your garden when this weather occurs, you should know that our plants can recover! They want to grow.  To include a direct quote from our Plant Talk page on this topic:

For perennials with foliage intact but stripped, remove flower stalks and cut them back leaving as many intact leaves as possible. Lightly cultivate the soil, and apply a light dressing of low-nitrogen fertilizer.­  

Flowering annuals with no remaining foliage probably won’t recover after a hailstorm. Petunias usually survive if there is at least some foliage still on the plant. Clean the plants of ruined foliage and apply a light application of fertilizer to help them recover.  

Early vegetable root crops with no remaining foliage will not recover. They need the green leafy foliage to produce energy for the roots to grow. Leafy vegetable crops may recover; replant if you see no signs of new growth after a week or so.


The reality is that Colorado's climate and weather patterns are challenging for gardens. But, CSU Extension is here with specialized knowledge to help you grow successful gardens of abundance. To get started, check out the following two links to the Colorado Vegetable Guide: 

en Español

and In English

For a wealth of information on gardening, I would also highly encourage you to check out our 'Growing' resources at 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Consider Grow and Give this Year!

Alright, everyone, I have a gardening confession to make. I’m over vegetables. Well, maybe not over them. But at least tired of growing them. The watering, the fertilizing, the hailstorm perfectly timed for ruination. Fighting verminous squirrels and hungry insects…and the watering! Yes, it’s true that like so many others, I got my start gardening with vegetables. I still grow them, but my heart is with my prized xeric posies, eagerly ordered, collected, and gathered with great effort and expense, and propagated with nail-biting and sometimes limited success. 

 Tomatoes difficult? As if.
Penstemon, Dianthus, and other rock garden plants
Things I'd rather be growing...

And yet, my vegetable garden persists, if unenthusiastically. One possible reason is the feeling of self-sufficiency and satisfaction one has when eating vegetables produced steps from the back door. Add food preservation into the mix and one could almost pretend not to need “the grid” at all. Certainly, bare grocery store shelves at this time last year led to many people stepping up or starting up vegetable gardening efforts. CSU Extension was among organizations who did the same—launching Grow and Give, the Modern Victory Garden Project, about a year ago, in order to help fight food insecurity during the pandemic. 

 In the combination of inspiration and boredom familiar to many of us at this point in history, I decided to register my garden with Grow and Give and dug my shovel into the vegetable patch with new verve. I am very glad I did. My vegetable harvest and subsequent donations were modest. My harvest in charity, community, and purpose was more than I imagined. Most food pantries in my area weren’t taking fresh produce, so I donated mostly to neighbors. Our conversations about the neighborhood, cooking, weather, and of course, vegetables, were cherished moments of sanity and connection. My few visits to the food pantry were appreciated and fulfilling.
A large squash surrounding a kitchen knife.
Tromba squash--these are fun to donate!

Grow and Give continues this year with new resources and a streamlined online presence. I am redoubling my efforts—filling seed trays with starts of varieties with high production and good storage potential, perfect for donations. Perhaps you, like me, left the vegetable garden behind for other gardening challenges at some point. I encourage you to revisit the veggie garden for bounty beyond merely the food you produce.

 Learn More and Register your garden at

Monday, April 5, 2021

Time to clean the coop!

 Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

'The Girls' are so happy the snow has gone;
and they love the holiday tree in there for 'fun,'
per suggestion of Alison O'Connor's
January Co-Horts post.

In Northwest Colorado, winter is long. Even with a mild winter like we've just had, one can count on snow covering the ground for at least four months. You dig out where you absolutely have to, but for the most part, the landscape just stays covered in piles of that legendary Champagne Powder.

That snow has advantages other than providing a surface to ski and snowshoe on and creating storage for water we’ll use this summer; my grandpa always used to say, “That snow covers a lot of work!” But now that the snow has receded, work is being uncovered, and this weekend the Hagenbuch kids got after it.

The first task we handle once a wheelbarrow can navigate the backyard is to clean the chicken coop. We use the ‘deep litter method’ in our coop, which means over the winter we add fresh shavings every week or so to keep things clean. Over four of five months of doing this, we end up with a foot or more of dense litter on the floor of the coop. Not only does this help us mange the manure we couldn’t otherwise deal with, it also helps provide a nice layer of insulation to the floor of the coop.

Look at that beautiful litter!

Having all of this litter is a real gift for the garden, given its level of organic material. Others who agree call me and ask if they can just incorporate litter into their garden, and I’m quick to answer, “NO, it must be composted first.” This isn’t because it’s too ‘hot’ for your garden, but instead because it could be introducing bacteria and other unwanted problems into your garden…and potentially onto the veggies you’ll be eating this season. No one wants their lettuce to cause anyone to get sick.

Composting or aging chicken litter can be a way to help reduce the chances of spreading bacteria or disease. The litter also helps create good microbial action in the compost pile, which might otherwise not break down as well without the shot of nitrogen it provides. While it’s challenging to get our compost as hot as I’d like due to our short summers, cool nights, and long winters, a three-year process helps ensure that things are broken down well enough to be relatively safe.

The green arrow shows last year's
compost in bin #2; the red arrow
is what the kids put in this weekend.

We have a three-bin compost system, and compost is ‘rotated’ in the fall, right before snow-up. Current year yard waste, veggie waste from the kitchen, and the chicken litter get layered in the first bin; the second bin has the waste from last year that was rotated into it last fall; and the last bin has items from two years ago, breaking down more this summer before it is put into the garden this fall.

Warmer areas of the state can do this process more quickly, but in the mountains of NW Colorado, I find the ‘go slow’ approach gives me a much better (and safer) product. I occasionally incorporate some additional nitrogen into the process in the summer, adding commercially-produced fertilizer made with Dehydrated Poultry Waste. I will also soak the bins with water a few times each summer to help break down the materials, especially if we are experiencing a dry summer.

If you have a coop and are looking for a way to use the litter, take the time necessary to make sure it’s safer for your garden. CSU Extension has good resources on composting, including Fact Sheet #7.212, Composting Yard Waste. Also, if you’re in doubt about the safety of the compost, use it in your flower gardens and forego the potential issues of using it for food-producing gardens. Either way, take advantage of this resource for your yard if you have it.

Oh, and let me know if you enjoyed this blog post, too; that way, I can tell my kids their work this weekend wasn’t just to torture them, but instead an effort that inspired gardeners across Colorado.😉

Looking good! These clean shavings will
be ready to put into the compost bin within
the next month or two.