Thursday, December 26, 2013

Norfolk Island Pine Care by Planttalk Colorado

Photo courtesy
Norfolk Island pine is a tropical evergreen tree that is adaptable to indoor conditions and is a favorite of many indoor plant enthusiasts. Often used as an indoor Christmas tree, It is not a true pine. In the landscape, it can grow up to 220 feet tall with a trunk as large as 10 feet across. Small trees grown indoors are uniform in appearance and have branches that are parallel to the ground. The Norfolk Island pine is a long-lasting houseplant that grows three to six inches annually.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebrate the Winter Solstice! by Donna Duffy

It feels like the days just can’t get any shorter, and it’s true. Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice officially arrived in Colorado at 10:11 am this morning, marking the moment that the sun shines at its most southern point. To the delight of many of us, this means that the days will start getting longer, however incrementally.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Spiders Paired with Unlikely Partner to Make Silk by Elaine Lockey

Spiders use their silk for building webs to catch prey, as a safety or drag line if they are spiders that roam, spider "dens" (think orb spiders) and more. Spider silk, a protein fiber, is stronger than steel. Humans discovered the benefits of silk thousands of years ago for fishing lines, the healing of wounds and blood clotting. In more recent years silk has been used in body armor, fishing nets, a thread for optical crosshairs such as telescopes in WWII, beautiful cloth, and violin strings!

However, as you can imagine, it is very difficult and time consuming to harvest enough silk for most applications. So researchers are looking at a host of other ways to extract silk or create silk more efficiently.

That's where goats come in. Yes, goats. Through biotechnology, transgenic goats can produce spider silk proteins in their milk. Amounts average 1-2 grams of protein per liter of milk. However, the silk still does not fully retain the properties of natural spider silk. The following video explains the science behind this strange pairing and should reduce any horrific images in your head about what this looks like.

The science is moving quickly as researchers have also had some success with genetically altering silkworms to produce spider silk and also using bacteria to produce spidroin, the spider's dragline.

top photo courtesy of

For more information on spiders and spider silk research, check out these links:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gardening With Children by Nancy Brant

Photo CSU Extension
One of the main reasons that children enjoy gardening is to spend time with someone they love.   It is a good time to experience the outdoors, talk over problems and bond.  If you love gardening, your children will probably enjoy it too.  Another reason children like gardening is that they love being outside and playing in the dirt.
You can plan the garden with very young children by talking about what you might plant, going to the garden store and picking out some fun seeds.  Choose seeds that are easy to handle, germinate quickly, and are tasty to eat.  Radishes are great because they germinate quickly.  Choose a mild variety if your children do not like spicy foods.  Radishes come in white red, pink, purple and black varieties.  There is even an Easter egg seed blend which is a blend of seeds in shades of purple, lavender, pink, scarlet and white radishes in one seed packet.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Enjoying Hardy Brassica Vegetables By Joyce D’Agostino

Collard Greens Photo by Joyce  D'Agostino
If you grow any vegetables from the Brassica family (Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Colza, Hanover Salad, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Rutabaga, Turnip) you may notice that even though the days are shorter and we have experienced some cold weather and even frosts, they seem to still be alive and well. 
As the summer started to wind down, I planted Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea) which quickly came up and despite a late season hailstorm which tattered some of its leaves, it is still doing well and ready for harvest even though we are well into fall.

In fact, most of the Brassicas improve in flavor once they have had a nip of frost. When you harvest these vegetables, some will winter over if some of the leaves remain and the roots are intact. Add a layer of mulch with leaves or pine bark to help protect the plant during the cold winter months. Many of these vegetables are considered to be nutritional powerhouses and are great to add to your fall and winter meals.
If you missed planting any of these for your fall garden, you can  add them in the spring. These hardy vegetables like cool spring weather too, so look for these seeds and plants as you plan your 2014 garden. Remember the seed catalogues for the new year will be arriving soon!
Here is a Planttalk tip sheet that gives you some information about growing and enjoying plants in this family:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Emergency Quarantine Issued to Protect Colorado Ash Trees by Christi Lightcap, Colorado Department of Agriculture

Emerald Ash Borer Photo Courtesy Cornell Extension
LAKEWOOD, Colo. – The Colorado Department of Agriculture has established an emergency quarantine in the Boulder County area related to the recent discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The quarantine is effective immediately. 
“The Emerald Ash Borer is a highly destructive pest to ash trees. In other states, it has caused significant economic impact to property owners and the nursery and landscaping industries. The quarantine is vital to limiting further infestation,” said CDA’s Plant Inspection Division Director, Mitch Yergert 
The emergency quarantine prohibits the movement of all untreated plants and plant parts of the genus Fraxinus out of the quarantined area. This includes, but is not limited to:
·         Logs and green lumber
·         Nursery stock, scion wood, and bud wood
·         Chips and mulch, either composted or uncomposted
·         Stumps, roots and branches
·         Firewood of any non-coniferous (hardwood) species

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Welcome New Master Gardeners! by Donna Duffy

On November 13th, twelve individuals were honored as Jefferson County’s newest Master Gardeners. To earn this designation, they went through a comprehensive application process and interview through Jefferson County CSU Extension. Once accepted as an apprentice, these dedicated people completed a minimum of 60 hours of college-level classroom instruction (including lectures, small group activities, and lab activities) focused on home gardening. On top of that, they contributed at least 50 hours of volunteer service in the past 7 months. 

Did you know that there are 140 certified Master Gardeners in Jefferson County? If you are a gardener, you’ve probably interacted with these Master Gardeners around the county – at Farmer’s Markets, on the phone, in the Plant Diagnostic Clinic, leading youth programs, providing educational programs…they seem to be everywhere in the summer months. In fact, during 2013, the Jefferson County Master Gardeners donated 5,941 hours of volunteer service to benefit residents of all ages. Those hours are the equivalent of almost 3 full-time staff, and are valued at $131, 533! The Jeffco Gardener blog and Facebook page had almost 172,000 hits this year. These are busy volunteers who make a difference in Jefferson County!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Carbon Farming with Jatropha by Elaine Lockey

photo courtesy of

There has been much recent press about the desert shrub Jatropha curcas and it's potential to soak up carbon monoxide emissions. A team of German scientists, publishing in the international science journal Earth System Dynamics, analyzed data from Jatropha plantations in several countries and found that approximately 2.5 acres of Jatropha can capture 17-25 tons of carbon monoxide per year, over a 20 year period. 

According to the study’s lead author, the plants can lower desert temperature by as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit as well as increase rainfall in these regions. Scientific states that if the 1 billion hectares of suitable land was to be used for growing Jatropha, it would be "enough to offset the annual CO2 pollution of China, the U.S. and the E.U. combined."

This poisonous scrubby plant grows as a shrub or small tree and can handle low-nutrient soils. It can live for over 50 years and has not shown to be invasive. The benefit of growing Jatropha is that it grows well in the most arid of regions where it is difficult to farm for food.  Instead, it is grown for ‘carbon farming’. Ideally this plant would be grown in coastal regions where it can receive some minimal irrigation.  The cost of planting these plants if you use existing desalination devices would be more cost effective than higher-tech practices.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Elaine Lockey

In my search for plant ideas to help in my heavily deer-foraged garden, I came across the book 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants by Ruth Rogers Clausen.  The premise of the book is that “you can still have a lush, thriving garden by making smart plant choices. Many stunning plants are unpalatable to deer because of their poisonous compounds, fuzzy or aromatic leaves, tough, spiny or bristly textures, and for a variety of less obvious reasons.”

The author stresses that there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant.  During times when deer are hungriest they will try to eat most anything. You might also notice that one group of deer leave your asters alone while another group or individual browses it any chance she gets. Plants that are considered “deer candy” and not recommended are hostas, lilies, daylilies, tulips and roses (except Rosa rugosa which deer leave alone).  Clausen offers a more complete list of these favorites to avoid. But she lists in depth many more plants that you can happily grow without feeling you need to keep watch over your garden.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn Composting-Seize the Moment! by Mark Woltkamp

Photo by Carol King
As avid and dedicated gardeners, we all spent this year’s spring and summer seasons working diligently to create natural beauty, to provide a hospitable environment for our bird and insect friends (both good and bad), and hopefully to successfully grow some edible crops.  But autumn is already upon us, signaling that it is nearly time to finish up our harvesting, weeding and transplanting activities and put away our beloved gardening tools for a well-deserved rest (for us too!).  
But we are not done yet!  Autumn is the opportune time to take advantage of this season’s abundance of available organic materials for composting.  This includes the products of your year-end clean-up of vegetable, perennial and annual beds, the kitchen waste of your recently-harvested vegetables, and, most importantly, all those dry leaves falling from your trees or that inevitably blow into your yard from seemingly every other tree in your neighborhood.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fall Needle Drop Is Normal in Evergreens by Mary Small

Photo by Carol King

Spruce trees are getting a lot of attention this fall. Their inner needles are turning yellow or brown and dropping off. To put your mind at ease, it’s not unusual for these conifers to shed interior needles beginning in late summer and continuing well into fall.  This is normal evergreen behavior. 

In fact, all conifers (“evergreens”) including spruce, pine, fir, juniper and arborvitae lose their oldest needles every year. Contrary to what the name implies, “evergreens” are not really green forever. Their needles generally have a 2–4 year life span, although spruce trees live about 5-7 years. 
While needle loss occurs every year, the process is usually gradual, over a period of several weeks or even months, depending on species and weather. It’s so gradual, that you might not even notice the needle drop. Some species can shed needles in a fairly short period of time, making it look as though they’re in serious trouble. And environmental problems, like drought, can make needle drop happen more quickly than it would if the tree was healthier.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Three Girls, Three Gardens, Thirty Days by Jennifer Verprauskus

Black Beauty Eggplant

One hot summer day I went to visit my former client’s organic garden and she said to me, “One day I want to eat just from my garden. I wonder if I could do it for a month?” I quickly responded that I loved the idea and wanted to try it. Our friend, who is an organic urban grower, wanted to take this challenge as well. The three of us planned to live off of our gardens from September 1st- September 30th. Since the beginning, our goal has been to promote the awareness of affordable organic gardening through education to empower individuals to make changes to their health and life. In this challenge, the rules were simple. We could share our food, use oils & seasonings, and drink liquids (I was not about to give up my wine for the month as well!) but we could not have any fruits or vegetables we didn’t grow, no flour, quinoa, barley, wheat, rice, pasta, meat, lentils, beans, fish, soy, candy, chips, nuts, chocolate, ice cream, or cheese!
Although I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I was excited. None of us planned our garden to sustain this challenge, but we figured we could be creative with what we had.  In my backyard, just over 1,100 square feet, I was growing over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Kathleen had a smaller back yard and Barb had a much larger yard with vegetables growing everywhere. Between the 3 of us, we had every green imaginable, peppers, tomatoes, acorn squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, hens and much more. It should have been easy, right? 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Colorful and Curious Gourds Provide Fall Garden Interest By Joyce D’Agostino

Photo by Joyce D'Agostino
Every year when I plan my garden, I try to add a few items such as gourds, pumpkins and ornamental corn that will add some end of the season color and fun. Gourds are easy to grow and can be functional as well as decorative. 
Gourds fall into several types, such as the hard shell gourds which are grown to make dippers, birdhouses, baskets and bowls. These gourds have very durable shells and can be carved or cut into a variety of functional shapes. Luffa, which are often used as bath sponges, are also a gourd and there are a variety of other gourds of all shapes, sizes and colors that belong to the Cucurbita family. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Care of Flood Damaged Lawns and Turf by Tony Koski, CSU Extension Turf Specialist

Flooded Lawn Photo courtesy North Dakota State University

Lawns that are covered by flood waters, even temporarily, may be subject to various types of damage. In general, most turf species will tolerate a few days of flooding without any negative effects. However, turf that remains flooded for more than a few days (especially when it is hot) can rapidly decline due to lack of oxygen and light. Substantial turf loss can be expected after 4 days of continued submersion. Other factors associated with flooding of turf include: soil coverage, water contaminated with petroleum or pesticides, high water temperature and algae scum. The most significant long-term effect of flooding is the deposit of sediment (“muck”), primarily silt and clay, over turf surfaces. This can lead to serious soil layering problems and even death of the existing grass.
Short-Term Care of Flooded Turf
Once flood waters have receded, pick up any debris, such as wood, glass, stones, nails and other metal objects deposited on lawn areas. This debris could pose a safety hazard to mower operators and damage power mowers or other equipment later used to maintain the lawn, as well as to people and pets who may use the lawn for recreation. Remove leaves or any other material that may smother grass.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Post Flood Vegetable Gardens Can Be Risky by Carol O’Meara, CSU Extension Boulder County

Photo by Dawn Madura, The Coloradoan/AP
If you’re cleaning up your vegetable garden after the flood waters recede, consider the safety of eating produce from the garden. If rain, and only rain, fell on the garden everything is fine, but if it was touched by or near flood water, your produce is risky-to-dangerous to consume.
Flood waters can contain sewage, pollutants such as oil, gasoline, solvents, etc., bacteria and parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Shigella, Hepatitis A, and a host of other unsavory contaminants. Young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk for serious effects from consuming contaminated food and should not eat any produce that was in or near floodwater.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Heavy Rainfall Causes Tomato Problems by Mary Small

Fruit Splitting Caused by Too Much Water photo by Mary Small

There are some strange things happening to my tomato plants. They are wilting, some have blossom end rot and some fruit is splitting open.  Don’t plants wilt when they need water? Isn’t blossom end rot due to irregular watering? Well, yes, but………
Plants can wilt when there’s excess water around, like the 6 inches that fell on my garden. Soil contains pore space between the mineral and organic particles, some holding water and some holding oxygen.  But when a lot of water is applied to the soil, it drives the oxygen out.  Soil oxygen is needed by plants to perform various functions.  No (or low) soil oxygen damages or kills roots and these damaged roots can’t absorb nutrients and water.  So plants wilt. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Peaches on the Grill by Elaine Lockey

photo courtesy of

Grilled Balsamic Peaches

Yes, you read it right: grilled peaches. The sweet and tangy combined taste of grilled peaches is like no other.  I was skeptical until I tried this and now it’s my favorite summer side dish.  Use fresh peaches for this. It’s a great way to use up peaches that need to be eaten right away.

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)
4 peaches, halved and pitted (don't need to skin)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste   
1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (can decrease this amount)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 teaspoon chopped Italian flat leaf parsley


1. Preheat grill for high heat for 10 minutes

2. Place olive oil in a bowl. Add peach halves and toss to evenly coat with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Cook the peaches, flesh side down, on preheated grill until slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and dust with Cajun seasoning. Cut halves into slices or leave as is. Put peaches into bowl and toss with vinegar and parsley if desired.

4. Serve warm. Great side dish.

(Recipe adapted from and originally submitted by user Shock)