Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Vanilla Bean Orchid by Vicky Spelman

Did you do a lot of baking with vanilla this season?  Ever wonder why it was so expensive?

The plants themselves don't even start producing vanilla beans until after three years. The cultivation of vanilla is extremely labor-intensive.

Vanilla is a genus of orchids that contains roughly 110 species that span the tropical regions of the globe.  They are vining orchids, climbing trunks of trees in an attempt to make their bid for the canopy.  Some Vanilla orchids have lost their leaves entirely, relying solely on their green, photosynthetic stems and roots. The species that gives us the highly coveted vanilla flavor is Vanilla planifolia from Central America and Mexico.

--> Creative Commons License

Vanilla planifolia produce very short-lived flowers.  They open up as the sun begins to rise and are mostly closed by the afternoon.  Vanilla is not self-fertile so if the flower has not been fertilized by afternoon, it will simply wither and fall off.   In the wild, Vanilla relies on stingless bees for pollination.  In most cases, Vanilla growers do not rely on the bees, because, if they are present, fertilization rates are often extremely low.  And, if the bees are not present, the plants will not reproduce on their own. Because of this, Vanilla growers must hand pollinate all of the flowers individually.

This is a labor-intensive process that must be done at just the right time if it is to work.  This is harder than it sounds considering the flowers are opening every day at different times.  It takes nine months for the seed pods to mature enough to harvest and every pod matures at a different rate requiring workers to harvest daily for three to four weeks at a time.  Following the harvest, the seed pod curing process takes another three months. 

There is no rushing the production of pure vanilla extract, which is why this spice remains so expensive.

Sources:  In Defense of Plants, 09/14/15 via Extension Master Gardener 12/13/19


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When Frost Threatens – Take Action by Patti O'Neal

Frost can signal that the end of the gardening season is near – but not necessarily over.
I have a good friend who recently said “I am sick of the garden – I just want it to be over.”  If this is you, then when frost threatens, by all means do a final harvest of the tenders and call it done.  If it’s not you, there are many measures you can take to protect your crops from a killing frost incident, as more times than not, such an incident is followed here by an Indian Summer and at least another month of flower and vegetable enjoyment and harvest.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fall Gardening Tips Video

Colorado State University Horticulture faculty and graduate students share their best inside information you can use in your garden.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Facts, Traditions and Folklore of the Autumnal Equinox

Photo courtesy
Facts about the autumnal equinox: 

  • This year's autumnal equinox is on Monday, September 23, 2019 at 1:50 am MDT in Colorado, marking the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The sun crosses the Earth's equator at the time of the equinox, from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern Hemisphere.
  • During the autumnal equinox, day and night are balanced to about 12 hours each all across the world.
  • In the far north, the autumnal equinox signals peak viewing of the aurora borealis or northern lights.The celestial display of brilliantly colored lights happens when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to light up. These light displays peak around the fall and spring equinox. That’s because disturbances in Earth’s atmosphere—known as geomagnetic storms—are strongest at these times.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Summer Dragonfly Activity By Joyce D’Agostino

Photo by Joyce D'Agostino

You may have noticed them – large flying insects that look like miniature airplanes traveling back and forth through the air. Their size and shape may make some think that they could be an insect that could be harmful to people but in fact Dragonflies are very active and important insect predators and are not found to be harmful to humans. They prefer to spend a lot of their time catching flying insects including ones that are annoyances to humans such as houseflies and mosquitos. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Time to Plan and Plant the Fall Vegetable Garden by Patti O'Neal

Swiss Chard by Carol King
Colorado is well suited to fall gardening and winter harvest. While weather often dictates the length of the season, eleven months is not out of the question for Front Range gardeners. Imagine harvesting spinach for a great salad in November!

If you’ve never tried fall gardening, here are 5 reasons why you should.

1.  Gardens can be any size – So anybody can do it.
Fall crops are primarily greens and root crops, so they are very well adapted to container gardening, table top raised beds, and raised beds of all kinds.  Start with one container of spinach this year, you’ll catch the bug and increase it next year.

2.  There are many vegetables that thrive in fall Front Range gardens and can be planted now.
Beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale and chard can all be planted now.  August is the best time to plant arugula, cabbage, endive, spinach, cilantro and in September you can plant bush peas, radishes, Chinese greens, more spinach and lettuce and the list goes on. My fall garden has no fewer than 5 varieties of spinach, 10 varieties of lettuce and 4 Chinese vegetables, like Pac Choi and Bok Choi  and 3 kales to name a few. September or October is the time to plant garlic.

3.  Fall crops thrive in cooler weather and many fall crops are frost tolerant.
Cool crop vegetables develop their prime flavors when the ambient temperatures are cooler.  Get them germinated and up now so it is cooler when they begin to mature. 

4. Fall crops do not need a full 8 hours of sun each day.
Crops still require sun to photosynthesize these leafy vegetables are designed to thrive in less than 8 hours of full sun.  If you did not have the right place for tomatoes, you may have the perfect place for a pot of spinach, lettuce or chard which all will do well with 5-6 hours of light.

5.  Season protection is easy to obtain and apply.
There are many ways to protect your crops whether they are in containers or raised beds or even in ground that can be left on and removed for harvest or quickly applied if a frost happens.  These can be frost blankets, horticultural fabrics, cloches and even having a supply of old sheets handy if applied correctly. 

Why not try your hand at fall gardening? Having a fresh organic salad grown in your own garden for Thanksgiving will be a real treat! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Five Things to Know For a Successful Fall Vegetable Garden by Patti O’Neal

Plant Lettuce now for Fall Harvest photo CSU Extension
Front Range weather has been especially challenging to gardeners this season.  After a fairly dry winter, spring presented with cold nights, freak snow storms, scorching heat and pounding rain and hail – and all of a sudden it’s mid July and we have had scorching heat!  But take heart.  One of the nicest growing seasons is yet to come; fall. 

There are many vegetables that will happily germinate from seed in the warm summer soil and thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall once they mature, and even taste better after a cold snap. This includes about 20 varieties of leaf and head lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, kale, about 6 varieties of spinach, many oriental greens, onions, cilantro, peas, beets, turnips, arugula, carrots, kohlrabi and collards.  Even better news is that thinnings of all of these vegetables can be used in salads or soups.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Gardening Power to the People: Insect Hotels Pt. 1-Getting Started (Video)

Insect hotels are all the rage in gardening now in honor of National Pollinator Week. don't you want to make one? Jefferson County CSU Extension Colorado Master gardeners show you how! Here's a link to part two:

Happy Summer Solstice 2019! by Carol King

Photo Paintless Dog
Welcome to the longest day of the year!  Friday, June 21, 2019 at 9:54 am in Denver. In terms of daylight, this day is 5 hours, 38 minutes longer than on December Solstice. In most locations north of Equator, the longest day of the year is around this date. The Summer Solstice is an astronomical event that happens when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer. This day has more hours of daylight than any other day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, Solstices occur on June 20th or 21st each year.

 It is also known as Midsummer’s Day as it occurs in the middle of our summer. Summer Solstice is considered to be halfway through the growing season for gardeners above the Equator. It marks the 1st day of summer and is celebrated by various cultures, and customs around the world. Celebrating Summer Solstice dates backs thousands of years. It was celebrated by the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and the Celts. Summer Solstice is associated it with good harvests and fertility, and abundance in your garden. 

Happy Summer Solstice to one an all and here’s to an abundant harvest! Here’s more information: Astronomy Facts About June.