CO-Horts

CO-Horts Blog

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:  https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/720.pdf
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:
 https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/722.pdf

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ9G6S4ODtA

A factsheet on this topic can be found on the following link: https://elpaso.extension.colostate.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2017/05/May-27-2017-Hail-mitigation.pdf

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 http://growandgivecolorado.org/ 

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 GrowAndGiveColorado.org.

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.