Extending the Harvest

With the summer harvest season in full swing, the last thing you may be thinking about is planting more vegetables. But why give up popping out the back door to harvest fresh veggies just because summer is drawing to a close? Smart gardeners know that late summer is the ideal time to plant another round of crisp, fresh, cool-season veggies to extend the harvest just a little longer.

Late summer is prime time for sowing seeds! The soil is still warm from summer temperatures, so seeds germinate more easily. By the time seedlings are up and growing, the air temperatures will have begun to cool as autumn weather settles in. Warm soil & cool air —you couldn’t ask for better growing conditions!

Autumn gardening offers a few advantages over spring & summer as well. Spring planting problems (like bolting because of heat and pesky garden pests) aren’t an issue in the autumn. Even though frost is a necessary consideration, some vegetables are even sweeter after a light frost. So if you’re thinking of squeezing in a little more gardening before the season truly ends, grab your favorite cool-season veggie seeds and a calendar, and get sowing!

Successfully extending the vegetable season depends on a little careful planning. Begin by learning the average date of the first autumn frost in your area. Once you know this, consult the seed packet to find the days to maturity for each particular crop. For the peas in the seed packet to the left, it will be 62-75 days from sowing seed to mature peas. Armed with this information, count backwards on the calendar to find the date you should sow the seed. Simple!

TIP: You may want to pad your planting estimates with an extra couple of weeks. As the days grow shorter, there will be less sunlight for growing, and daytime temperatures will also be cooler. What may have grown quickly in the warming soil and lengthening days of spring, may take just a little longer in the autumn.

As you remove fading summer vegetable crops from your garden, it’s easy to plug in a frost-tolerant, cool-season crop in its place. Begin by adding a soil amendment to replenish essential micro-organisms, provide nutrients, and improve the overall condition of the soil. It takes healthy soil to grow healthy plants!

Lastly, be prepared for those early autumn frosts! Though there are a number of frost-tolerant crops that will laugh at a light frost, sometimes Mother Nature does something unexpected! It’s wise to be ready to give your plants an extra bit of help if necessary. Make sure to keep frost cloths & blankets, fleece tunnels & jackets, etc. at hand and ready to go on short notice. Keep a close eye on weather forecasts and forecasted overnight low temps. Protect your plants, and they’ll be able to keep right on growing in the Indian Summer that inevitably follows a first frost event.

Now … what to plant and when? With an average frost date of mid-October for our Zone 5 Colorado gardens, try planting these popular cool-weather loving crops in late August to early September. They are reliable favorites.

Go ahead and enjoy another round of leafy greens like spinach, chard, watercress, kale, and lettuces. Peas are another favorite for the autumn garden.

Root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes are popular choices that also do well in cool-season Colorado gardens.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi will enjoy sunny days and cool nights in the autumn garden. They can all tolerate a light frost.

Autumn gardening can be rewarding and fun as long as you’re knowledgeable and prepared. Why not get just one more vegetable harvest in before winter arrives? Those late-season veggies will taste mighty good in soups & stews come January!

Harvesting Summer’s Sweet Rewards!

Knowing when and how to harvest is an especially important part of growing your own food. Why? Because it affects the quality, flavor, and nutritional value of your homegrown produce! But how do you know when something is fully ripe, and what’s the best way to harvest? Scroll through, and check out our tips on how to harvest popular crops in Colorado.

Let’s start with the jewels of the garden — tomatoes! For the best taste and the highest nutritional value, you’ll want to leave your tomatoes on the vine until they’re fully colored, then gently twist and pull from the vine. The trick is in what “fully colored” looks like. Gone are the days when you could wait for a tomato to be a rich, vibrant red before confidently plucking it from the vine.

Nowadays tomato varieties comprise a rainbow of colors — yellows, oranges, greens, stripes, and even sprinkles! It’s particularly important to know what your ripe tomato should look like. If in doubt, a ripe tomato will give slightly to the touch. It it’s not ripe, it will still feel quite hard. Another tell-tale sign is how resistant the tomato is to being picked. If it hangs onto the vine for dear life when you try to pluck it, it’s not ready yet! If you’re growing heirloom varieties, you should pick them just shy of full color because they generally ripen before their color deepens.

When to Harvest Root Vegetables?

Beets … Most beet varieties are ready to pull about two months from planting. For baby beets, you’ll want to harvest earlier, when the roots are 1½” across. Letting beets stay in the ground too long will yield tough, woody roots!

Carrots … Carrots may be harvest young (at about ½” diameter) for baby roots, or allowed to grow to full size for storage. Not sure if they’re ready to harvest? Pull a few carrots for a quick taste test. If they’re crisp and sweet, they ready to eat. (TIP: loosen the surrounding soil before attempting to pull up a carrot. Carrots are notorious for breaking off when they’re pulled.)

Potatoes … After the potato plants have flowered, you may dig some of the potatoes to enjoy as “new” or “baby” potatoes. If you want to harvest full-sized potatoes, allow the tops to die back in the autumn, then dig up the tubers.

Check These Heavy Producers Daily!

Cucumbers … Harvest when they’re firm and smooth. Check on them often! If they’re left on the vine & become too large, they can become bitter and pithy. Use your garden shears or pruners to neatly clip these from the vine. This will prevent possible damage to the vine caused by twisting or pulling. Cut the stem approximately ¼” above the cucumber.

Green Beans … Pick them when the pod has filled out, but before you can see the seeds bulging. Simply grasp the bean pod firmly up near the top where it connects to the vine, then use your thumb to gently pinch it loose.

Zucchini … There are two things to remember about harvesting zucchini — pick young and pick often! These can quickly become too large. Zucchini is at its most tender and flavor when it’s about 5″-7″ long and you can easily poke your fingernail through the skin. Use a sharp knife (or your pruners) to cut from the vine. (TIP: you can also harvest those delicious yellow flowers! Enjoy them raw in salads.)

Harvest this summer favorite after the silks become brown and dry. The ear should be completely filled out, and the end should be rounded instead of pointed.

Peppers, Peppers, Peppers

Bell Peppers … These grow in a range of colors including green, red, dark purple, yellow, and orange. In general, they’re ready to harvest when they are the full color of the variety planted. You can harvest bell peppers when they’re green. If you allow them to stay on the vine to ripen further, green peppers may turn red, then orange, then yellow! Purple varieties will turn from green to a dark purple to nearly black. Bells can be eaten at any stage during this ripening process, however the longer you leave them on the plant, the sweeter they become and the higher the Vitamin C content will be. To harvest, use a sharp knife or scissors to cleanly cut peppers from the plant to ensure the least damage to both pepper and plant.

Chile Peppers … Both mild and hot peppers can be harvested when they reach full size and are fully colored. They can also be harvested as soon as they reach a usable size. Chiles can be eaten at just about any stage of development. Mild peppers commonly get sweeter as they mature, while hot peppers get hotter the longer they’re left on the plant. To harvest: cut peppers from the plant with pruners. Leave a short stub of stem attached to the fruit. Do NOT pull peppers from the plant by hand — this can result in broken branches.

With eggplant, slightly immature & smaller fruits are tastier and will contain less seeds. Eggplants should be firm and shiny when fully ripe. Cut with a knife or pruners rather than trying
to pull from the plant.

Winter squash … such as acorn, spaghetti, buttercup, butternut, and Hubbard are ready to harvest when you cannot puncture the skin with your thumbnail and the stems are dry and begin to shrivel. Use pruners to cut cleanly from the vine.

Harvest pumpkins when they’re fully colored and the skin is hard enough to resist a fingernail puncture. They should sound hollow when thumped. Use a sharp knife or pruners to cut the pumpkin from the vine. Leave about 2″ of stem, and handle carefully. Any nicks or bruises will accelerate decay.

After the Harvest
Look for signs of trouble, such as yellowing leaves, rotting fruit, or unwanted pests. Be sure to put any plants that have disease or insect infestations into the trash — not the compost pile!

Healthy plant foliage can go into the compost pile after removing any seed heads. Remove any weeds from the vegetable garden, then improve the soil with compost, or plant a cover crop in the bed to overwinter.

Remember to Share the Harvest
If you find yourself with an overabundance of anything (we’re lookin’ at you, zucchini!) always remember to share the harvest with friends, family, and neighbors. If their cupboards are full, donations of fresh, homegrown vegetables are welcomed at your local food bank! After all, the summer harvest should be a season of plenty for everyone.

Itching to Plant

Peas in the garden

The calendar says spring, but the weather isn’t quite ideal for most garden veggies and annuals. While planting seeds indoors for later transplant is fun, it’s not exactly scratching our itch to plant in the garden. So what can we plant? Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Strawberries are the earliest veggies to plant. We’ll focus on 3 of the most popular early vegetables – peas, asparagus and strawberries.

Peas in inoculent

Peas are among the easiest vegetables to grow. It’s a great choice for beginning gardeners of all ages. They can usually be planted around the first week of April. Here are a few tips. Dampen the seeds and cover them with inoculant for legumes before planting, then plant. Peas and other legumes benefit from inoculation, which adds bacteria to the host plant seed prior to planting. The bacterium attaches to the root system and creates a symbiotic relationship with legumes, making it easy for your peas to obtain and use nitrogen.

Asparagus crown

Asparagus takes a little effort and time, but the reward is oh, so tasty. ‘Martha Washington’ is one of the most popular varieties. However it produces both male and female plants. Female plants produce attractive red berries in the fall, but fewer edible spears. ‘Jersey Giant’ is a contemporary hybrid of all-male plants, which is more productive and has greater disease resistance. ‘Purple Passion’ produces purple spears which dress up the dinner plate and often entice children to eat their veggies.

It’s best to wait a year after planting asparagus, before making a harvest. This allows the plants to develop a healthy root system. In the second season, harvest spears larger than a pencil. The third season, and thereafter, harvest as you choose. Allowing the plants three seasons to fully establish themselves insures a long lived patch for years to come.

Strawberries are another popular perennial edible. It’s best to provide a separate planting area for them, outside your normal vegetable beds, because plants spread rapidly. There are 3 types of strawberries: June bearing, Everbearing and Day Neutral. We skip the June bearing plants because we want strawberries more than just one month each year. Everbearing strawberries provide two crops of strawberries, making them ideal for canning and freezing. Fort Laramie, Quinalt and Ozark Beauty are some of our favorites. Day Neutral strawberries produce fruit from spring to fall, making them a great choice for enjoying fresh from the garden throughout the summer. Our favorite is Eversweet, with its large, deliciously sweet flavor. It’s also the best choice for container growing since it doesn’t require pinching of runners or flowers to establish.

 

While we offer strawberry transplants in packs, you may find it easier to start from dormant bare root stock. When planted in early spring, once night temperatures are consistently above 25°F, they establish quickly. Be sure to stay on top of weeding around your strawberries. An ounce of prevention goes a long way when it comes to the strawberry patch. Mulch will help keeps weeds in check, making it a little easier on your knees. When it comes to June bearing and Everbearing varieties, it’s a good idea to remove the flowers and runners for the first season in favor of growing a healthy root system. We know it’s a lot to ask, but a little self-control now will provide you with a bigger harvest the second season. Container grown strawberries won’t over-winter here, so there’s no need to pinch off flowers or runners.


To get started, amend the planting area with compost. Soak your strawberry roots for about half an hour, to rehydrate them, before planting. Plant them so that the soil level is level with the crown of the plant. Be ready to cover with netting to keep birds and small animals from snatching your strawberries as they grow. Drip irrigation is the best way to water strawberries. If you water overhead, do it in the morning. This will allow the fruit and foliage to dry before nightfall, reducing the risk of disease affecting your plants.

When Can I Plant?

Here comes the sun! With it and the warm day temperatures of spring comes one of the most frequent questions we hear. “Can I plant this now?” The answer depends on the plant and particularly, on the nighttime temperatures. Our early spring days are often beautiful and daytime temperatures may reach well into the 70’s. It’s the night temperatures that really tell us when it’s safe to plant. Our last frost date is generally considered to occur around May 20th. While some years the date arrives earlier, there are occasional years when it occurs as late as June 1. We’re eager gardeners and antsy to get plants in the ground, but if we aren’t mindful of the night temperatures, we can do more harm than good.Image result for gardening in snow

Before I get carried away talking about plants, I should mention the value of hardening off your plants before you plant. What is hardening off? It’s a process that acclimates plants prior to transplanting in order to reduce the risk of transplant shock. The process takes a few days, but it’s worth the investment of time, particularly in early spring or late summer heat. Day one, place the plants in a shaded area outside and move them indoors or into a garage that night. Day two, place the plants in partial sun for the day and move into the garage or indoors at night. Day three, place the plant in a sunny spot for the day and move to a protected outdoor location, like against the house or under a porch, for the night. Day four, move into the sun for the day and leave them in the exposed location for the night. Day five, plant. In late summer, when the temperatures are well over 80°F, I often use the same process, but shortened to 3 days. This helps prevent sun and wind burn to the young plants. Hardening off plants increases successful transplanting.Using a Cloche to protect plants
Hardening Off Plants

Now back to what we can plant and when we can plant it.
Hands down, the most common plants asked about are tomatoes and peppers. Tomatoes and peppers, two of the longest season garden vegetables, prefer night temperatures to be above 50°F for about a week before they are planted. The ground needs to be consistently warm for them to do well. If we plant too early, and the night temperatures are still cold, plants set less fruit and are often more susceptible to problems like blossom end rot later in the season.

Blossom End Rot

There are helpful tools like Season Starters that can be used to warm the ground earlier than traditional planting would allow. They should be set up for 7-10 days to warm the soil, before they are planted with your seedlings. Once planted, the plant protectors act as insulators against cold temperatures, much like a mini greenhouse. Generally, Season Starters can give you a jump start by several weeks. Set them up about April 15 and you can plant inside them a week later.

Season Starter

We hope this Frost Hardiness list will help gardeners know when it is safe to set out their plants. The actual dates vary, of course, with each area, but the principle is the same. Perennials that are not hardy in Colorado are listed as annuals. The hardiness of perennials is based on coming out of a protected climate.

To obtain maximum frost hardiness, HARDEN PLANTS OFF gradually by exposing them to sun, wind, and cold, but above freezing temperatures for a few days.

These dates are approximate for the Denver area. Safe dates vary from year to year, suburb to suburb, and even from one location in the garden to another. Covering plants on unusually cold nights will help protect them. On extremely cold nights it may be necessary to dig plants up and bring them inside.

Very Hardy Plants–Plant Out up to 7 weeks before last frost.
(April 1 in Denver, April 10 in Golden & Parker)
Annuals:
Alyssum, Anchusa, Centaurea, Dracaena, Dusty Miller, Larkspur, Nigella, Pansy, Snapdragon, Sweet Pea
Perennial Starts
Achillea, Aegopodium, Ajuga, Aurinia, Arabis, Armeria, Aubretia, Basket of Gold, Bishop’s Weed, Carnation, Creeping Phlox, Gayfeather, Hardy Hibiscus, Lavender Cotton, Liatris, Lobelia, Primrose, Primula, Rock Cress, Purple Rock Cress, Red Hot Poker, Santolina, Sedum, Thyme, Torch Lily, Tritoma, Viola, Yarrow
Vegetable Plants
Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potato, Radish, Strawberry

Asparagus

Hardy Plants–Plant up to 5 weeks before last frost.
(April 20 in Denver, April 30 in Golden & Parker)
Annuals
African Daisy, Arctotis, Baby Blue Eyes, Calendula, Carnation, Dianthus, Diascia, Flowering Kale, Lobelia, Osteospermum, Phlox, Twinspur, Vinca Vine
Perennial Starts
Alstromeria, Anemone,Baby’ Breath, Bachelor Buttons, Bellis, Campanula, Candytuft, Centaurea, Cerastium, Columbine, Coral Bells, Coreopsis, Daylily, Dianthus, Digitalis, Doronicum, English Daisy, Erysimum, Festuca, Feverfew, Flax, Forget-Me-Not, Foxglove, Galium, Garden Mums, Gloriosa Daisy, Gypsophila, Helianthemum, Hemerocallis, Heuchera, Hollyhocks, Hosta, Iberis, Lavender, Lenten Rose, Lupine, Lunaria, Lysimachia, Maltese Cross, Matricaria, Mexican Feather Grass, Missouri Primrose, Money Plant, Myosotis, Oenothera, Painted Daisy, Penstemon, Tall Phlox, Pincushion Flower, Poppy, Pyrethrum, Roses, Rudbeckia, Scabiosa, Shasta Daisy, Snow-in Summer, Statice, Sweet William, Sweet Woodruff, Veronica, Violet
cauliflower
Vegetable Plants
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Pak Choi, Perennial Herbs, Radicchio, Rhubarb, Spinach

Half-Hardy Plants–Plant out up to 3 weeks before last
frost date.
(May 1 in Denver, May 10 in Golden & Parker)
Annuals
Anagallis, Angelonia, Angel’s Trumpets, Bacopa, Bells of Ireland, Blue Lace Flower, Calibrachoa, California Poppy, Campanula, Clover, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Creeping Zinnia, Datura, Dichondra, Didiscus, Fountain Grass, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gerbera, Gloriosa Daisy, Gomphrena, Lotus Vine, Ornamental Grasses, Petunia, Pennisetum, Phlox, Purple Bell Vine, Regal Geranium, Ruby Grass, Rudbeckia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Pimpernel, Stocks, Strawflowers, Steirodiscus, Sutera, Sweet Peas, Sweet Sultan, Transvaal Daisy, Trifolium, Verbena, Xerianthemum


Perennial Starts
Artemesia, Hardy Asters, Astilbe, Balloon Flower, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart, Delphinium, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Felicia Daisy, Geum, Gladiolus, Hibiscus, Hypericum, Monarda, Peony, Platycodon, Purple Coneflower, Roses, Salvia, Sagina, Saxifraga, Verbena
Vegetable Plants
Artichoke, Celery, Leek

Tender Plants–Plant outside after almost all danger of
frost has passed.
(May 20 in Denver, May 30 in Golden & Parker)
Annuals
Abutilon, Achimenes, African Daisy, Ageratum, Argyranthemum, Alternanthera, Alternaria,amaranthus, Asparagus Fern, Asters, Axilflower, Balsam, Banana, Begonia, Bidens, Black Eyed Susan, Bloodleaf, Blue Throatwort, Bougainvillea, Bower Vine, Brachycome, Browallia, Brunfelsia, Caladium, Calla Lily, Calliopsis, Canna, Cardinal Flower, Catharanthus, Celosia, Chrysanthemum, Chrysocephalum, Cigar Plant, Cleome, Coleus, Copperleaf, Crassula, Crossandra, Cuphea, Dahlberg Daisy, Dahlia, Dallas Fern, Dipladenia, Elephant Ears, Evolvulus, Fanflower, Fiber Optic Grass, Flowering Maple, Flowering Tobacco, Fountain Grass, Four O’ Clock, Fuchsia, Geranium, Gloriosa Lily, Firebush, Guara, Hamelia, Heliotrope, Hibiscus, Impatiens, Iresene, Jasmine, Lantana, Livingstone Daisy, Lisianthus, Lithospermum, Marguerite Daisy, Marigold, Mecardonia, Melampodium, Millet, Mimulus, Monkey Flower, Moon Vine, Morning Glory, Napa Valley Fern, Nasturtium, Nemesia, Nicotiana, Nierembergia, Nolana, Oleander, Oxalis, Painted Tongue, Pampas Grass, Pentas, Perilla, Periwinkle, Plectranthus, Polka Dot Plant, Polygonum, Portulaca, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Runner Bean, Scaevola, Scutellaria, Schizanthus, Skullcap, Statice, Stoneseed, Streptocarpella, Sunflower, Swan River Daisy, Sweet Potato Vine, Thunbergia, Tithonia, Torenia, Trachelium, Trailing Portulaca, Tropical Hibiscus, Tropical Water Plants, Zinnia

Vegetable Plants
Annual Herbs, Cantaloupe, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Okra, Peanut, Bell & Chile Peppers, Pumpkin, Squash, Sweet Potato, Tomato, Watermelon

 

Favorite Cherry Tomatoes

assorted cherry tomatoesPicking the “best” cherry tomato is an impossible task, but we can make some recommendations based on plant size, fruit color, and flavor. The first consideration is size of the plant—how much space do you have available for each tomato plant? An indeterminate variety can become an enormous, sprawling vine of 6’ or more. A determinate Tumbling Tom or semi-determinate Lizzano can spill gracefully from a hanging basket or off the side of a raised bed. If you need a very compact plant, try a red or yellow Sweet ‘N’ Neat, which will stay under 16” high. They do best when they can trail a bit, though. They are so short that the fruit can hit the ground in a traditional planting.

PT3
PT3

Fruit color is a fun factor for many tomato lovers. Combining yellow tomatoes with purple basil is a colorful twist on traditional Caprese salad. Cherry tomatoes come in red, orange, yellow, purple, brown, and black. Fruit can be anywhere from traditional grape shapes to 1” orbs or pears. Not –red varieties include Sunsugar, SunGold, Yellow Pear, Black Cherry, Brown Cherry, Indigo Rose, and Sweet N Neat Yellow.sungold tomato

Cherry tomato flavor is generally quite sweet in comparison to other types of tomatoes, which makes them great for snacking and popular with kids. If you are overwhelmed by your cherry tomatoes (which can happen in August) consider a tomato exchange with an equally overloaded friend or neighbor. You may not have fewer tomatoes at the end, but you’re likely to have a mix of varieties and flavors.

Hybrids, Heirlooms, and GMO

Selecting varieties of vegetables can seem daunting when all you want is a slicing tomato and there are nine slicer options on the shelf. How to choose? Why should you pick one variety over another, and what’s the difference between hybrids and heirlooms, anyway?Tomato

Hybrids: Plants are a cross between varieties as a result of pollination & selective breeding. Each parent plant brings different characteristics to the table (just like people!) and the resulting plants have a combination of desirable traits. Generally, hybrid plants have increased disease resistance, increased yield over other varieties, and their fruit ripens more quickly than heirloom fruits. They may also be bred for unique colors, shapes, or sizes. Keeping in mind that it took two different plants (with specific traits) to create the hybrid, it makes sense that seed saved from these plants will not produce the same “children”– just as a child is not a clone of either parent. Humans have been hybridizing plants for nearly as long as we have been planting them and it is a very natural way to produce plants that match our current needs.heirlooms

Heirlooms or Heritage: Plants meet specific criteria to qualify:
1) Variety has been in production for over 50 years or was grown prior to 1940
2) Plant can be open-pollinated to create viable seed (many hybrids produce sterile seed, since the resulting seed creates undesirable traits)
3) Seeds produced will create a plant that is similar to the parent plant
Heirlooms are maintained for many reasons, and the foremost of these is flavor. Fruits often have a shorter “shelf life”, generally take longer to ripen, and the plants have less disease resistance than hybrids (which have been bred to combat these challenges). But, oh! The sweetness and flavors are amazing, and it is well worth including them in your garden. It is also nice to know that you are experiencing flavors and colors that your ancestors would recognize.corn

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO: Plants (as well as animals & bacteria) have had genes added or subtracted to their DNA by means of genetic engineering. This is done to increase yield, pest/disease resistance, herbicide resistance, or to create otherwise desirable traits. It is extremely rare for the home gardener to encounter GMO plants or seeds. The breeding is expensive, and consequently most of the research is centered on commercial cash crops such as corn, canola, soy, or cottonseed. Studies have shown both positive and negative impacts of this engineering and public opinion remains mixed.  GMO crops are grown as large scale, commercial farming crops.  It is extremely unlikely for the home gardener,  or even your local garden center, to have the option to purchase a GMO plant or seed, a concerned gardener can opt to purchase only seed that specifies that it is non-GMO.

Back to the original question— why should you choose one type over another? Most of us here at Echter’s grow a mix of heirloom and hybrid varieties. Those growing in containers will probably select hybrids, as there are varieties that have been bred to stay petite and won’t take over a patio. Gardeners with a lot of space and the willingness to wait until late summer for fruit will likely choose heirlooms. Mountain gardeners need plants can handle a chill and fruit quickly. Most of us fall somewhere in between and want some early hybrid fruits and a smaller, later crop of heirlooms. Mixing and matching your varieties will give you a steady stream of fruit throughout the summer and encourage you to try something new each year.

Seven Easy Gardening Activities for Kids

We all know that kids and dirt go together like peas and carrots, which makes gardening an easy activity to encourage. It can be an amazing journey of discovery to realize that sun and water will create sunflowers and watermelons, and there are a lot of wonderful activities to investigate year-round. Young children can help with seeding and planting, and older children can take it a step further by learning how plants grow and trying experiments in the garden. After all, much of gardening is experimentation, and that’s what makes it fun!

seeds-1217133_1920
1) Try starting some seeds indoors! Choose larger seeds like beans, peas, or marigolds that are easy to handle and count. Even if these aren’t plants that make it into the garden, it’s fun to count the number of days until they come up and watch them grow. Older children can measure how tall they grow in a week, or how long it takes for each set of leaves to form and expand.

2) Direct seeding of easy annuals—we’ve all encountered plants that seem to grow of their own accord every year. Cheery pink or white cosmos are quick to start, as are marigolds, sunflowers, and pumpkins. Zinnias come in a riot of colors. Bachelor buttons and nasturtiums can be tucked in to fill out bare spots.

3) A plot of one’s own—foster a sense of responsibility by creating a small plot for each child. A 3’ stretch along the fence can be a trial garden for different kinds of flowers or vegetables, and can be decorated with painted rocks or other handmade garden-themed crafts. Let each child choose their plants or seeds for a garden that is their own creation. Take picbean-tipitures of the progress and help behind the scenes as needed.

4) Living playhouse—it’s easy to grow a sheltered play space with either giant sunflowers or pole beans. Simply plant seeds in a circle big enough for two (or more!) people and be sure to leave a section that will eventually be a door. Once the plants are up, add tall stakes and tie them together at the top to form a cone shape. The seedlings will grow through the summer and create a shady nook by summer’s end.

5) Plant a fairy, gnome, dinosaur or toy garden! Miniature gardens are all the rage right now and they can easily be planted in the ground or in a container (to bring in for the winter months). Select small groundcover annuals and perennials for outdoor gardens. Wee houseplants in 2” pots are perfect for indoor landscapes. Miniature gardens can also be planted in a terrarium or former fish tank. The possibilities are endless! If toys end up in the garden, be sure that they are plastic, wood, or resin to stand up to the weather.

Swallowtails_love_the_Butterfly_Garden_(7373525610)

6) Create a habitatforbutterflies by choosing flowers and plants that either have a lot of nectar or tasty leaves. Butterfly larvae feed on specific plants (such as milkweed for monarchs) and adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Try tracking the different types of butterflies you see in your yard.

7) Make a garden collage (or several over the season) to document what was spotted in the yard. Collect leaves, press flowers, and draw pictures to tell the story of this year’s garden. Older children can keep a garden journal and little ones can be prompted to chime in with an adult scribe.

Blossom End Rot Isn’t the End

Most gardeners have heard of blossom end rot, or experienced it firsthand. The telltale sign is a big brow/black soft spot developing on the bottom of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. It can also be seen on other vegetables, although it tends to offend us most when it happens to our tomatoes. After all, we’ve spent a lot of time growing and anticipating those luscious, juicy fruits. The disappointment to our taste buds is nearly inconsolable. Fear not, there is no need to throw in the trowel. A little bit of TLC can prevent it from affecting later fruits.

Blossom end rot on tomatoes
Blossom end rot on tomatoes

So, what is it? Blossom end rot is technically the result of calcium deficiency. Now, I know you probably think I’m off my rocker. After all, our soils have plenty of calcium. But there are a number of factors that can inhibit the plant’s ability to translocate the calcium. In other words, it’s not really the lack of calcium, but that the plant is unable to make use of it.

Blossom end rot on squash
Blossom end rot on squash

The most common causes for blossom end rot is entirely related to environmental and cultural conditions. When there is excessive moisture, as in our recent rains, followed with an increase in temperatures and a quick dry out, it’s the perfect storm, so to speak. Voila! Soft, water soaked brown patches appear on the bottom of the fruits.

Ferti-lome Yield Booster
Ferti-lome Yield Booster

Ferti-lome Yield Booster is a handy spray that staves off damage to future fruit set. While those that already show the damage cannot be saved, Yield Booster can protect those fruits yet to come. So there’s no need to worry. We just have to exercise a little more patience. It’s easy to use. A word of caution…spray in the cool of the evening or in the very cool morning hours, allowing enough time for the spray to dry before the sun hits it. Plants sprayed in the heat of the day, in the peak of the sunshine, often suffer foliar damage. This is true, whether you are applying foliar fertilizers or other chemical treatments. Be sure to amend the soil further this fall and next spring before planting to improve drainage, as well. Soil that compacts easily tends to hold excessive moisture levels longer than the plant can endure.
Rest assured, there’s no need to give up on your dreams of delicious, tasty tomatoes!

When Can I Plant?

Here comes the sun!  With it and the warm day temperatures of spring comes one of the most frequent questions we hear.  “Can I plant this now?”  The answer depends on the plant and particularly, on the nighttime temperatures.  Our early spring days are often beautiful and daytime temperatures may reach well into the 70’s.  It’s the night temperatures that really tell us when it’s safe to plant.  Our last frost date is generally considered to occur around May 20th.  While some years the date arrives earlier, there are occasional years when it occurs as late as June 1.  We’re eager gardeners and antsy to get plants in the ground, but if we aren’t mindful of the night temperatures, we can do more harm than good.

Before I get carried away talking about plants, I should mention the value of hardening off your plants before you plant.   What is hardening off?   It’s a process that acclimates plants prior to transplanting in order to reduce the risk of transplant shock.  The process takes a few days, but it’s worth the investment of time, particularly in early spring or late summer heat.  Day one, place the plants in a shaded area outside and move them indoors or into a garage that night.  Day two, place the plants in partial sun for the day and move into the garage or indoors at night.  Day three, place the plant in a sunny spot for the day and move to a protected outdoor location, like against the house or under a porch, for the night.  Day four, move into the sun for the day and leave them in the exposed location for the night.   Day five, plant.  In late summer, when the temperatures are well over 80°F, I often use the same process, but shortened to 3 days.  This helps prevent sun and wind burn to the young plants.  Hardening off plants increases successful transplanting.

Now back to what we can plant and when we can plant it.

Hands down, the most common plants asked about are tomatoes and peppers.  Tomatoes and peppers, two of the longest season garden vegetables, prefer night temperatures to be above 50°F for about a week before they are planted.  The ground needs to be consistently warm for them to do well.   If we plant too early, and the night temperatures are still cold, plants set less fruit and are often more susceptible to problems like blossom end rot later in the season.

There are helpful tools like Season Starters that can be used to warm the ground earlier than traditional planting would allow.

 

They should be set up for 7-10 days to warm the soil, before they are planted with your seedlings.  Once planted, the plant protectors act as insulators against cold temperatures, much like a mini greenhouse.  Generally, Season Starters can give you a jump start by several weeks.  Set them up about April 15 and you can plant inside them a week later.   

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We hope this Frost Hardiness list will help gardeners know when it is safe to set out their plants. The actual dates vary, of course, with each area, but the principle is the same. Perennials that are not hardy in Colorado are listed as annuals. The hardiness of perennials is based on coming out of a protected climate.

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Very Hardy Plants–Plant Out up to 7 weeks before last frost.
(April 1 in Denver, April 10 in Golden & Parker)

PansyAnnuals
Alyssum, Anchusa, Centaurea, Dracaena, Dusty Miller, Larkspur, Nigella, Pansy, Snapdragon, Sweet Pea

Perennial Starts
Achillea, Aegopodium, Ajuga, Aurinia, Arabis, Armeria, Aubretia, Basket of Gold, Bishop’s Weed, Carnation, Creeping Phlox, Gayfeather, Hardy Hibiscus, Lavender Cotton, Liatris, Lobelia, Primrose, Primula, Rock Cress, Purple Rock Cress, Red Hot Poker, Santolina, Sedum, Thyme, Torch Lily, Tritoma, Viola, Yarrow

Vegetable Plants
Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potato, Radish, Strawberry

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Hardy Plants–Plant up to 5 weeks before last frost.
(April 20 in Denver, April 30 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
African Daisy, Arctotis, Baby Blue Eyes, Calendula, Carnation, Dianthus, Diascia, Flowering Kale, Lobelia, Osteospermum, Phlox, Twinspur, Vinca Vine

Perennial Starts
Alstromeria, Anemone, Baby’ Breath, Bachelor Buttons, Bellis, Campanula, Candytuft, Centaurea, Cerastium, Columbine, Coral Bells, Coreopsis, Daylily, Dianthus, Digitalis, Doronicum, English Daisy, Erysimum, Festuca, Feverfew, Flax, Forget-Me-Not, Foxglove, Galium, Garden Mums, Gloriosa Daisy, Gypsophila, Helianthemum, Hemerocallis, Heuchera, Hollyhocks, Hosta, Iberis, Lavender, Lenten Rose, Lupine, Lunaria, Lysimachia, Maltese Cross, Matricaria, Mexican Feather Grass, Missouri Primrose, Money Plant, Myosotis, Oenothera, Painted Daisy, Penstemon, Tall Phlox, Pincushion Flower, Poppy, Pyrethrum, Roses, Rudbeckia, Scabiosa, Shasta Daisy, Snow-in Summer, Statice, Sweet William, Sweet Woodruff, Veronica, Violet

Vegetable Plants
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Pak Choi, Perennial Herbs, Radicchio, Rhubarb, Spinach

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Half-Hardy Plants–Plant out up to 3 weeks before last
frost date.
(May 1 in Denver, May 10 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
Anagallis, Angelonia, Angel’s Trumpets, Bacopa, Bells of Ireland, Blue Lace Flower, Calibrachoa, California Poppy, Campanula, Clover, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Creeping Zinnia, Datura, Dichondra, Didiscus, Fountain Grass, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gerbera, Gloriosa Daisy, Gomphrena, Lotus Vine, Ornamental Grasses, Petunia, Pennisetum, Phlox, Purple Bell Vine, Regal Geranium, Ruby Grass, Rudbeckia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Pimpernel, Stocks, Strawflowers, Steirodiscus, Sutera, Sweet Peas, Sweet Sultan, Transvaal Daisy, Trifolium, Verbena, Xerianthemum

Perennial Starts
Artemesia, Hardy Asters, Astilbe, Balloon Flower, Bee Balm, Bleeding Heart, Delphinium, Echinacea, Euphorbia, Felicia Daisy, Geum, Gladiolus, Hibiscus, Hypericum, Monarda, Peony, Platycodon, Purple Coneflower, Roses, Salvia, Sagina, Saxifraga, Verbena

Vegetable Plants
Artichoke, Celery, Leek

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Tender Plants–Plant outside after almost all danger of
frost has passed.
(May 20 in Denver, May 30 in Golden & Parker)

Annuals
Abutilon, Achimenes, African Daisy, Ageratum, Argyranthemum, Alternanthera, Alternaria,amaranthus, Asparagus Fern, Asters, Axilflower, Balsam, Banana, Begonia, Bidens, Black Eyed Susan, Bloodleaf, Blue Throatwort, Bougainvillea, Bower Vine, Brachycome, Browallia, Brunfelsia, Caladium, Calla Lily, Calliopsis, Canna, Cardinal Flower, Catharanthus, Celosia, Chrysanthemum, Chrysocephalum, Cigar Plant, Cleome, Coleus, Copperleaf, Crassula, Crossandra, Cuphea, Dahlberg Daisy, Dahlia, Dallas Fern, Dipladenia, Elephant Ears, Evolvulus, Fanflower, Fiber Optic Grass, Flowering Maple, Flowering Tobacco, Fountain Grass, Four O’ Clock, Fuchsia, Geranium, Gloriosa Lily, Firebush, Guara, Hamelia, Heliotrope, Hibiscus, Impatiens, Iresene, Jasmine, Lantana, Livingstone Daisy, Lisianthus, Lithospermum, Marguerite Daisy, Marigold, Mecardonia, Melampodium, Millet, Mimulus, Monkey Flower, Moon Vine, Morning Glory, Napa Valley Fern, Nasturtium, Nemesia, Nicotiana, Nierembergia, Nolana, Oleander, Oxalis, Painted Tongue, Pampas Grass, Pentas, Perilla, Periwinkle, Plectranthus, Polka Dot Plant, Polygonum, Portulaca, Salpiglossis, Salvia, Sanvitalia, Scarlet Runner Bean, Scaevola, Scutellaria, Schizanthus, Skullcap, Statice, Stoneseed, Streptocarpella, Sunflower, Swan River Daisy, Sweet Potato Vine, Thunbergia, Tithonia, Torenia, Trachelium, Trailing Portulaca, Tropical Hibiscus, Tropical Water Plants, Zinnia

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Vegetable Plants
Annual Herbs, Cantaloupe, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Okra, Peanut, Bell & Chile Peppers, Pumpkin, Squash, Sweet Potato, Tomato, Watermelon

FROST HARDY PERENNIALS, ANNUALS AND VEGETABLES
To obtain maximum frost hardiness, HARDEN PLANTS OFF gradually by exposing them to sun, wind, and cold, but above freezing temperatures for a few days.

Very Hardy (After April 1st)

Flowers: Achilles (Yarrow)
Aegopodium Bellis Iberis (Candytuft) Roses,Bare Root
Ajuga Carnation, Grenadin Iris Santolina
Alyssum Cerastium (Snow in Summer) Liatris Sedum
Arabis (Rock Cress) Columbine Lobelia, Cardinalis Thyme
Armeria Creeping Phlox Myosotis Tritoma (Red Hot Poker)
Aubrietia Euphorbia Penstemon Viola
Hibiscus (Purple) Euonymus Primula (Primrose)

Vegetables: Asparagus Chives Rhubarb Strawberries

Hardy (After April 15th)

Flowers: Alstromeria Helianthemum Scabiosa
Anemone Hemerocallis Shasta Daisy
Campanula Hollyhocks Statice
Centaurea (Bachelor’s Button) Hosta Sweet William
Coral Bells Lavender Veronica
Coreopsis Lupines Violet
Daylily Lunaria (Money Plant)
Delphinium Lysimachia
Dianthus Lythrum
Doronicus Maltese Cross
Festuca Myosotis (Forget-Me-Not)
Flax Oenothera
Foxglove Phlox, Tall
Galium Poppy
Garden Mums Pyrethrum (Painted Daisy)
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath) Rudbeckia (Gloriosa Daisy)

These dates are approximate for the Denver area. Safe dates vary from year to year, suburb to suburb, and even from one location in the garden to another. Covering plants on unusually cold nights will help protect them. On extremely cold nights it may be necessary to dig plants up and bring them inside.

Seed Starting Basics

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and said oh my 4 dollars for 4 sprigs of basil. Well there is an easy way to get what you want and help you save a bit of cash, as well. Not only will starting your vegetables, herbs, and flowers from seed help the pocket book, it is a wonderful thing for the whole family to watch a plant grow from a tiny seed, and there is nothing more rewarding than harvesting a crop that you grew.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first thing to do is determine where you plan to plant your garden outdoors. Most vegetables require full day sun to mature properly. There are only a few that will grow in partial sun, mostly leafy greens. Knowing your available light will determine what you can successfully grow. It’s also a good idea to have a basic soil test done to determine the big three nutrients available in your soil – Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. The information will let you know what amendments may be needed.

Read the seed packet. There should be a description of plant characteristics, giving you an idea of what to expect. Look for information about the preferred season to grow, seed sowing depth, days to germination, and days from transplant until harvest. There should also be information about preferred light and whether or not the seed will do best if started indoors or directly sown into the outdoor garden bed. Often there is information about the disease resistance of the variety, too. In the case of tomatoes, there should be a notation of the plant being determinate or indeterminate. Some seed companies provide additional information inside the packet. If you prefer to use organic seed, look for the USDA organic symbol on the front of the packet. You won’t find GMO seeds at Echter’s. In fact, GMO is primarily used on commercial farms and is rarely seen in the garden center or home garden.

Why is the information on the packet important? All of that information allows you to select the right varieties to grow in your climate and those that suite your both your needs and taste buds.

Is the plant warm season or cool season?
This will help you decide when to plant said crop for instance things like spinach, kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, are all cool season crops. Meaning you can start those 4-6 weeks before the average last frost. Whereas things like peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, need to be started after the last frost. I know it can be confusing but on most seed packets you will have that information of cool season or warm season right on the front.

What is days to emerge?
This is how many days it will take that seed to as we say crack or germinate. It is when you will see the first sign of life the first little showing of green.

How many days until harvest?
This means how many days it will take from the time you plant in the ground or container, till you will be able to harvest said crop, or see blooms on flowers.
Should I start my seeds indoors our outside?
Most seed packets will recommend whether to start inside or outside. For instance it is a good idea to start your tomatoes and peppers inside since Colorado has such a short growing season. Whereas things like corn, leafy salad greens and root crops like carrots prefer to be directly sown into the ground.

Now that you can identify what and when to plant there is no stopping you! You will have a few other needs to get started. You’ll need seed trays and seed starting mix or Jiffy pots. It’s also helpful to have some plant labels so you can note the date the seed was sown and the variety. A heat mat is helpful, particularly if your home temperature is on the cools side. It will heat the soil evenly, providing optimal conditions for seed germination. Humidity domes can help keep the necessary moisture around the seed to aid in germination. If the light on your windowsill is inadequate, try adding indoor grow lights. Most are energy efficient and you’ll use them for years to come. If you are starting indoors it will be important to have additional pots on hand, usually 3”-4” diameter. Once seedlings have established, they will need to be potted up until it is time to transplant outside.

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It’s a good idea to keep the empty seed packets for a couple of reasons. The first is that it can be a few months before your plants reach maturity. In that time, it’s easy to forget details that may be handy to know as harvest time approaches. The second is that you may find out you love that variety and having the seed packet will help you remember what to buy the following season.

It is important to remember that gardening involves some trial and error, and there is no fool proof method. Mother Nature has her own ideas sometimes. It never hurts to try new things. If you are successful you will not only reap the benefits of tasty veggies, aromatic herbs, and beautiful flowers, but the confidence that, yes, you can grow something from a seed.