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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gardening with the Master Gardeners

 

Gardening Tips

By: Nika Reininger

Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County

 

Tips for increasing biodiversity in residential landscapes:

  1. As Colorado’s human population continues to grow, maintaining areas of biodiversity becomes an increasingly important focus of conservation efforts. Biodiversity, or a variety of plant and animal species living in the same area, is a characteristic of healthy and sustainable landscapes. While critical at a state and county management level, biodiversity can also be encouraged by homeowners in residential landscapes.
  2. Diverse plantings are indispensable to attracting a wide variety of insects, birds and mammals to the garden. Avoid large expanses of monoculture plantings of a single plant variety, which can be subject to devastating pest and disease problems, and only offer resources for a limited number of species. Landscapes highlighting a variety of plants, especially those featuring flowers, seeds or fruit over successive seasons, will encourage a multitude of interesting garden visitors throughout the year.
  3. Native plant species are uniquely suited to our climate, often require little supplemental water after establishment, and are a great way to offer food and shelter for Colorado wildlife,
  4. To attract pollinators and beneficial insects, limit pesticide use and incorporate various flowering plant species. Interplant traditional vegetable beds with flowers, such as dill, to encourage butterflies and bees. Even some predatory and parasitic insects require flower nectar and pollen during certain life stages.
  5. Remember that birds require not only food, but also water, shelter and nesting areas. Even adding a small water feature can increase the number of different bird species seen in a given area. Dense evergreens are popular nesting spots for small birds vulnerable to predation by larger animals. Learn the feeding and nesting habits of native species to provide appropriate habitat.
  6. Visit the CSU Extension website (www.ext.colostate.edu) for more ideas to increase biodiversity in your landscape.

 

 

Gardening Article

By: Marissa Sutfin

Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County

Share a Little…Preserve a Little this Summer

We’ve been dreaming of homemade jams, juices, vinegars, oils, and herbs to share with our friends at the tastiest summer picnics. In addition, the array of homegrown drop offs for the food bank will be more varied and frequent with this year’s new garden plan. And there has to be something we can give the neighbor in return for the delicious smoked brisket.

Excitement for the many flavor combinations and gift packs we could create overcomes the anxiety that comes with an abundance of produce already flowing over the kitchen counter. Then there’s the looming question, “Can we keep up?” We can for now, at least until the peppers and tomatoes start to ripen.

Let food sharing and preservation begin! The time is now and the joy of sharing rises like a river. One of the most heart filling share opportunities I can think of is the Plant It Forward program. Now in its third year, this combined effort between the Gardens on Spring Creek and the Larimer County Food Bank has fought hunger with a stunning 10,000+ pounds of donated fresh goodies from local gardeners. They make it so easy with weekend drop offs.

We gather pounds of lettuce pulled from the understory of the fruit trees, humongous stacks of rhubarb stalks, all the herbs we can manage to fit in a couple grocery sacks, thinned beet greens, kale, radishes, chard, spinach, and pea pods to take to the Food Bank. Our smiles are so big we can barely see. There’s nothing like offering what we have to provide fresh and nutritious goodness to our community. We can hardly wait to drop off the tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, melons, beans, potatoes, peaches, grapes, and berries. The Plant It Forward goal is to collect 5,000 pounds of freshness this season. Could you throw a couple extra seeds or plants in the ground?

For the produce we don’t donate, the dehydrator and pressure canner are dusted off while the extra ice trays and cookie sheets emerge from storage. The anticipation of the hot season veggies taking over every available surface sends eyes in to a dream-like state. Innumerable possibilities are listed on the refrigerator door. We start with the most obvious of choices—the one already being used more often in our daily cooking—herbs!

While most herbs can be dehydrated or oven-dried fairly easily, they often dry too fast and can burn. However, dehydrating can be a wonderful method if you don’t have a cool, dry, and dustless place to hang them. Be sure to turn your trays/sheets to maximize drying time. If you use the oven, always leave the oven door slightly cracked. It’s often best to dehydrate herbs when you can be home for a few hours to supervise their progress. Remove herbs as they dry for a steady preservation flow.

Hanging herbs is the preferred method among many gardeners and culinary artists. Hang them away from the kitchen where temperature and humidity is more apt to fluctuate. Our dry Colorado air is perfect for fast drying and they can be left for a few days before needing to jar them. Use a simple paper bag to cover the rubber band-bound bundles to keep undesirable flavors and appearance from dust and sun at bay. We hang ours in a dark and well-ventilated corner of the house. A rarely used closet with the door ajar would also be just fine.

Whatever method you use, it’s best to leave dried herbs whole until moments before adding them to your favorite dishes. The larger surface area keeps their flavor longer. If properly dried, stored in an airtight container and in a cool dark place, herbs should retain their flavor for about a year.  For information on specific herbs:

Chives – Harvest tender and brightly colored chives before the flowers dry and they turn woody. Chives lose some of their flavor during drying but are a great addition to dressings, rice water, soups, stocks, and dips.

Oregano and Thyme – Harvest both oregano and thyme as their flowers are barely open. Be sure to leave some for the pollinators. When marinated with oregano and thyme, barbecue chicken finds a new friend.

Sage - The earthy flavor of sage is most alive about a month after the top blossoms bloom. Don’t wait for the holidays to use this versatile herb. Sage butter on grilled veggies will send your friends swooning. Add some dried leaves to a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water with a little lemon zest for an inexpensive household disinfectant.

Basil
– Harvest basil before the plant sets flowers and do so often to increase your harvest. Everyone loves basil and it makes the perfect gift for winter time festivities. Until then, use it in and on everything while reserving some for your homemade tomato juice and tomatillo salsa. It’s lovely frozen in ice cube trays and added to summer sun tea.

Dill – The delicate leaves are best harvested before dill flowers. The flowers can be harvested later before they seed. There’s no match for fresh dill in homemade pickles. Add dried dill to rice, fish, and veggies with any citrus.

Enhancing vinegars and oils are a fun way to be daring and do something different. They’re particularly awesome to have on hand for those last minute invites to potlucks. Fresh berries, tender peas, kale or cabbage, and slivered carrots tossed with chive oil and basil vinegar hooks even the youngest of picky eaters in the crowd and takes little effort.  Enjoy your spring harvest and preservation while sharing with those you love and those in need!  To learn how to do this, visit the CSU Extension website at www.ext.colostate.edu and read Fact Sheet #9.340 “Flavored Vinegars and Oils.”  For information on drying vegetables, read Fact Sheet #9.308.

 

Plant It Forward

*The Food Bank for Larimer County accepts donations from 8-4 pm Monday through Friday at 1301 Blue Spruce; www.foodbanklarimer.org
Contact: Karen McManus at (970) 567-1643 or email kmcmanus@foodbanklarimer.org.

*The Gardens on Spring Creek accepts donations from 9 a.m. to 4 pm on Saturdays and noon to 5 pm on Sundays at 2145 Centre Ave.
http://www.fcgov.com/gardens/get-involved/plant-it-forward

For a full list of the 2013 Food Preservation and Preparation Workshops visit: www.larimer.org/ext

Are you new to dehydrating? Don’t miss the Art and Science of Dehydrating Foods workshop on Wednesday July 24th from 6-8pm at the CSU Extension Larimer County Office. The cost is minimal at $20. Pre-registration is required; class size is limited.

To register, contact Edie McSherry, Larimer County Extension at (970) 498-6000 or http://larimer.org/extension/food/

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Gardening Q&As

By: Allison Level

Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County

Q: We are new to Fort Collins and would like to see some flowers in bloom, to decide what we might want to plant next summer. Do you have suggestions?

A: You are in luck—there are several great gardens in Fort Collins and a few just a short drive away. The Gardens on Spring Creek is the closest garden for most people (http://www.fcgov.com/gardens/) . They are located at 2145 Centre Ave in Fort Collins and the phone number is 970-416-2486. Some of the special gardens include the Garden of Eatin,’ a three-quarter acre edible garden and a great place to see vegetables and herbs growing in Fort Collins. There is also a Rock Garden, Sustainable Backyard, Daylily Demonstration Garden, and more. Remember to bring a camera/phone to take pictures so you can remember the names of plants you want to grow in your own garden.

If you want to drive a bit further, consider visiting the Cheyenne Botanic Garden (www.botanic.org) or the Denver Botanic Gardens (www.botanicgardens.org).

Q: I was talking with my neighbor about xeriscape plants and they said, “Oh please don’t plant brown and boring xeric plants where I have to look at them”. Is there a good place to go to show my neighbor some of the xeric plants?

A: Yes, the City of Fort Collins has a Xeriscape Demonstration Garden (300 Laporte Avenue in Fort Collins) that has actually been around since 1986. The garden has over 100 species of plants including trees, shrubs, ground covers, and more. This summer, the open-to-the-public Xeriscape Garden Party takes place on Thursday, July 11 from 5 to 7pm. Stop by with your neighbor and take a guided tour with gardening professionals.  For more information, visit: http://www.fcgov.com/utilities/residential/conserve/water-efficiency/xeriscape/demonstration-garden .

Another great place for xeriscape information is from Colorado State University Extension. The Fact Sheet “Xeriscaping: Perennials and Annual Flowers” can be found online from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07231.html . This fact sheet includes quick facts, pictures, and a grid with common and botanical flower names, flower color, boom period, height, and comments. There are some very colorful examples of xeriscape plants including native blue Penstemon, yellow Redbeckia fulgida, and others.

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The authors have received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and are  Master Gardener volunteer fors Larimer County.

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Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting.  For more information about CSU Extension in Larimer County, call (970) 498-6000 or visit www.larimer.org/ext

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Looking for additional gardening information?  Check out the CSU Extension Horticulture Agent blog at www.csuhort.blogspot.com for timely updates about gardening around the state.

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Visit PlantTalk Colorado ™ for fast answers to your gardening questions!  www.planttalk.org  PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.

 

 

 

 

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