Monday, April 9, 2018

Variety of salad greens to grow at home




We are quickly approaching cool season vegetable growing season. This makes me one happy camper! Even though we have lived here for five years, when it comes to growing seasons I am still on Oklahoma time. You have probably heard me say this before – we would put our cool season vegetables in the ground in mid-February. Sounds crazy to me now!

According to Colorado State University Extension, cool season vegetables can be planted outdoors two to four weeks before the last frost. The average last frost in our area is around Mother’s Day in May. If we count back a few weeks, then we can start planting in a week or two.

Cool season vegetables are plants like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, peas, radish, turnips and greens. With the seed catalogues coming in almost daily, I thought it might be fun to check out some different types of greens to grow.

Bonnie Plants has a Buttercrunch lettuce seed that was developed by Cornell University. It is a Bibb-type lettuce and has green leaves sometimes tinged with red. It holds up well under stress and is slow to bolt. It grows best in the sun, but will tolerate part shade.

Freckles Romaine is a very unique looking lettuce. I have personally grown this one. The bright green leaves are speckled with red. It also is slow to bolt and heat tolerant. According to Everwilde Farms, this plant was originally called “Forellenschluss” which means “speckled like a trout’s back”.

Arugula is in the brassica family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. This plant offers a peppery addition to a salad. Personally, I found the taste a little strong to make this a main staple in a dinner salad, but found it pleasant in small doses. Johnny’s Selected Seeds shares online that the entire plant, including the flowers and seed pods, are edible.

Malabar spinach has a mild Swiss chard flavor and is not a true spinach. From my experience, this plant will grow like crazy in the heat, but the leaves were a little rubbery and waxy for my tastes. Similar to arugula, a little bit goes a long ways. This red vined plant is great for growing up a trellis. I think stir frying the leaves would result in a better texture and flavor than eating them raw.

Mustard greens are another favorite of mine and there are a lot of varieties from which to choose. There’s an Asian one, a red giant, Southern giant, Florida broad leaf, and more.

One of my favorite greens to grow is mustard spinach. Botanical Interests shares on their website that this plant is neither a mustard nor a spinach. The Japanese call it Komatsuna. It is a leafy green that is easy to grow. Even though it’s not a true spinach, the young leaves certainly fool my taste buds. This plant is also slow to bolt and can tolerate cold, heat and dry conditions.

Before planting, always read the seed packet. It will tell you when to sow the seeds, if they can be started indoors, the number of days to germination, and most importantly -- harvest time.

Happy planning and planting! This is a printable vegetable planting guide you can use year round. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/720.pdf

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - April 8, 2018



Tulip mania


With all the hubbub about the future of social security and the recent ups and downs in the stock market, I have decided to invest in tulips. My retirement account currently consists of twelve different species of tulips. My hope is that nature will selectively produce a new, highly desired and expensive variety -- perhaps blue in color!

In case you are thinking I have taken leave of my senses - April fools! I recently watched Tulip Fever and found the history of the tulip industry utterly fascinating. Since it’s just about tulip time here in Colorado, I thought we would talk about this cherished plant.

The tulip is one of the most popular spring flowering bulbs. It comes in almost all colors, except blue. Apparently plant breeders are getting closer to a true blue, but right now the “blue” tulips are more purple or lilac in color. Regardless, they are fantastically beautiful.

The University of Missouri shares some interesting facts in an online article. Tulips are a member of the lily family and closely related to the onion. There are over 150 different species and 3,000 varieties of tulips. They were once the most expensive flower in the world. In the 17th century, the cost of a tulip bulb was more than ten times the average worker’s salary. And, did you know tulips are the only cut flower that will continue to grow in a vase? https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2016/10/Tulip_A_Brief_History/.

In the 1600s, tulip mania took over the Netherlands which resulted in a “crazed speculative buying of rare tulip bulbs. It was the first futures markets in history, and like those that followed, it suffered a dramatic crash”. The most highly prized bulb was the Semper Augustus “with its garnet flames vividly streaked on white petals”. You can see a picture here: https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/7-of-the-most-expensive-flowers-in-the-world.

The prices for the coveted bulbs were likened in similarity to the cost of a cow, a parcel of land or even a house at times. To put this into perspective, the average home in our area is around $400,000 according to Zillow. Can you imagine purchasing a flowering bulb for nearly a half a million dollars? I love tulips, but that is a lot of money for a plant infected with a virus.

Tulips typically only bloom for three to seven days. However, if you plant a variety of types with different blooming dates, you can easily have four to six weeks of tulips for your viewing pleasure. Iowa State University Extension shares a list of tulip classifications that can be helpful in planning a tulip garden. https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1998/9-4-1998/tulipclasses.html

Also, the University of Vermont Extension has a list of “time-traveling tulips”. You can actually purchase some of these heirloom flowering plants that ”inspired ‘Tulipmania’ in the 1600s and appeared in paintings of the Dutch Masters at that time”. http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/timetulips.html.

There is a classic scene from Meet the Parents when the father, played by Robert De Niro, after being presented a Jerusalem tulip from his future son-in-law says “from the Jerusalis tulipizius genus, yes, yes”. Funny stuff!

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - April 1, 2018


Plant based Easter egg dye


Hippity-hop-hop. Here comes the Easter bunny! I love watching the rabbits on our property. They are so fun to watch when they chase each other or tease the dog. Due to their high (and free) entertainment value, I try not to get too frustrated with them when they eat my plants. Besides, I figure they lived on this land long before I arrived here.

With Good Friday quickly approaching, I thought it would be fun to share ideas on dyeing Easter eggs with plants. Did you know that folks were dyeing eggs before Easter became a religious holiday?

According Penn State Extension, historians believe the Saxons who lived in northern Germany dyed eggs. They believed the “egg symbolized the rebirth of life in the spring and, therefore, was considered a symbol of fertility”. Catholic churches eventually adopted this tradition of dyeing eggs. Pope Gregory I (circa 540-604) was thought to have merged the “pagan spring festivals of the goddess Eostre with the Christian celebration of Easter”.

Now that we’ve gotten our history lesson out of the way, it turns out that dyeing eggs with plants is pretty easy. Egg shells are mostly made of calcium. When they come into contact with a mild acid, like vinegar, it slightly weakens the shell which then allows dyes to be absorbed.

The basic instructions for dyeing eggs remain the same regardless of the plant material you plan to use. Boil eggs in the same fashion you would to get hard-boiled eggs and set aside. We boil ours for 12 minutes. Then, place your plant material in a covered pan with two cups of water and bring to a boil for ten minutes. Strain and add one teaspoon of vinegar to the colored liquid.

Place the eggs into the colored liquid until the desired shade is achieved. Penn State Extension says this may take 30 minutes to several hours. Carefully remove eggs to dry on paper towels. You can rub a little vegetable oil on them after they are completely dry to enhance the color.

So here’s your shopping list for the grocery store. It’s too bad we aren’t doing this in the middle of our growing season, because it would be fun for young and old alike to go outside and gather material from the yard. For yellow dye - use saffron or turmeric. For blue – blueberries, grape juice or red cabbage. For pink – beets or cranberries. For red – pomegranate juice and red onion skins. For light green – parsley or spinach. For purple – red wine.

To make stripes, wrap rubber bands around your eggs before dipping them. For other designs, you can use flowers or other plant material with the help of pantyhose or cheesecloth. Check out these ideas: http://info.achs.edu/blog/diy-naturally-dyed-easter-eggs.

Here are some food safety tips regarding coloring eggs from the Minnesota Department of Health: http://www.health.state.mn.us/foodsafety/foods/eggs.html. And, don’t forget to compost your leftover plant material. Happy Spring!

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - March 25, 2018


Luck of the Irish


When I think about Saint Patrick’s Day, the first thought that comes to mind is the famous legend of him driving the snakes out of Ireland. I wish he would come and drive them out of my yard! I am not a big fan of those slithering reptiles, although I understand they have an important ecological role. I simply wish they would set up shop elsewhere to do their thing. I thought about erecting a statue of Saint Patrick in the backyard, but apparently there were never any snakes in Ireland at all. Thank you National Geographic for blowing up that idea.

I was curious why the color green was associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. Did you know traditionally it was blue? Apparently due to the popularity of Ireland’s nickname as “The Emerald Isle” and the clover that St. Patrick used in his teachings, the color green became more widely associated with this holiday.

Speaking of green, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension promotes eating green on this occasion and throughout the year. They state “green fruits and vegetables contain many health-promoting phytochemicals” that can help protect against certain cancers and maintain strong bones. They suggest corned beef with cabbage, adding avocado slices to a sandwich, making a dip for green apple slices, and even spinach noodles. https://food.unl.edu/go-green-st-patricks-day.

Just in case you were wondering -- putting green food coloring in your beer, as my husband likes to do on this momentous day, does not count towards your veggie intake for the day.

Shamrocks are another icon associated with this day. One of the most popular stories of how this clover became associated with this celebration is that Saint Patrick used one to symbolize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to his congregation. Have you ever grown one? According to University of Vermont Extension, they can be easily grown indoors.

A member of the Oxalis (wood sorrel) family, shamrocks grow from either small bulbs or tuberous roots. This time of year, you can easily find one at the local florist or grocery store. Their leaves are small, dark green and triangular. These plants grow to a height of about six inches.

Shamrocks like cool air, moist soil, and bright light. Due to the lack of an extensive root system, they prefer crowded pots. Care includes fertilizing them every two to three weeks while they are actively growing or flowering. Word of caution so you don’t toss the little booger in the trash – shamrocks go through dormant periods a few times a year causing them to look sick and lose their leaves. For more information: https://www.uvm.edu/pss/ppp/articles/shamrock.htm.

If you got pinched yesterday, then perhaps you weren’t wearing green. Green makes you invisible to the leprechauns. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! I will leave you with this Irish blessing Xavier University shared online.

“May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you,
Wherever you go.”

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - March 18, 2018

Is it spring yet?


I feel like I have been asking this question a lot lately. When is it going to be spring? And more importantly, when can I start planting something? It looks as though the spring equinox is March 20, so we are getting close. But being from Oklahoma where we would have put our cool season vegetables in the ground a month ago, it’s not close enough for me. Feeling this intense need to get my hands dirty and plant, I thought we would talk a bit about seeding some herbs indoors this week to try and hold us over for the time being.

The first thing you will need are some containers. I would recommend small pots or seed starting trays. Pick up some soilless potting media or rooting cubes. Now for the best part, do some seed shopping.

I would look at different varieties of basil, since I have had much success growing them indoors. There’s cinnamon basil, which would make a lovely tea. Holy basil is one of my personal favorites due to its clove-like aroma and flavor. Both lemon and lime basil would make nice additions to your meals. And don’t forget about large lettuce leaf basil which is a great lettuce substitute on sandwiches.

Mints are another easy addition to your indoor garden. Flavored varieties in the mint family include pineapple, chocolate, lemon bergamot, apple, and even banana. Banana? Now there is one mint I am going to have to try.

Chives also reportedly do well indoors, but may take several weeks to germinate. You might want to skip parsley, if you are in a hurry like I am. This plant seems to take forever to sprout.

Here are a few seed starting basics. Read the seed packet. I cannot emphasize that enough. The seed pack will tell you how deep to plant the seeds, as well as the light requirements and average days for germination. It will also give you information on seed spacing and days to harvest.

Cover your seeding trays with a humidity dome or use plastic wrap on the top of your pots just until the seeds have sprouted. After germination, make sure your plants are receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight, so place them near a sunny window. A preferred location would be near your kitchen for easy access. On really chilly days, move them away from the window. You can also use two 40 watt, cool white fluorescent bulbs 14 to 16 hours each day placing them about a foot from the top of your plants.

If you aren’t interested in something to eat, then think about picking up some petunia, marigolds, or snapdragon seeds. These could easily be transplanted outdoors in May. My motto this week is just plant something. . . anything to remind us that winter won’t last forever.

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.

Originally published in the Broomfield Enterprise - March 11, 2018 


Root beer tea


Well, not exactly. But that was my intention when picking up a bag of loose leaf rooibos tea the other day. I used to love drinking root beer when I was kid and was especially fond of root beer floats. Recently, I tasted some root beer tea at a convention and thought it was quite delicious. Since I gave up drinking soda pop over a decade ago, I thought I would try to recreate this wonderful tasting concoction. I remembered that rooibos was the main ingredient.

I hurried home, boiled some water and poured it over one teaspoon of rooibos. The steep time is ten minutes for this herb, which seemed like forever at the time. Finally, the tea was ready and I took the long awaited sip.

The results? Nice tea. Smooth and slightly sweet, but tasted nothing like root beer to me. Wondering where I went wrong I searched the internet and found out that rooibos is, indeed, the main ingredient, but the second and only other ingredient was sarsaparilla root. Just in case my taste buds were askew, I saved some for my husband. Unfortunately, he concurred. We were not transported back to our childhood days and would not be making root beer floats.

Since I already purchased the tea, I decided to do a little research. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is not a true tea as in tea grown from Camellia sinensis plants. It is an herbal tea though. The name rooibos means “red bush”. In South Africa, this tea has been used “by some tribes for medicinal purposes and by white South Africans for treatment of hay fever symptoms, asthma, eczema and to soothe heartburn, ease the pain of stomach ulcers and relieve nausea”. https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/tea-red-green-or-black/.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, rooibos is caffeine-free, low in tannins, and contains minimal amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and magnesium. It also contains antioxidants and may have similar health benefits of green tea.

On Dr. Josh Axe’s website, he lists nine potential benefits of drinking rooibos tea. Everything from improved heart health and weight loss to cancer and diabetes prevention and even bone support. Dr. Axe states that rooibos has 50 percent more antioxidants than green tea. Dr. Weil was not as big a proponent for rooibos’ antioxidant potential and recommended staying with the proven benefits of green tea, at least until more research could be completed.

As with most things in life, too much of a good thing may be harmful. There are a few precautions Dr. Axe lists on his website. If you are going to be drinking large amounts of this red tea, then talk to your physician first. Some healthcare providers believe rooibos can negatively affect patients with liver or kidney disease and certain hormone related cancers. Check out the entire list here: https://draxe.com/rooibos-tea/.

Even though the taste of rooibos did not even remotely remind me of root beer, I think I will incorporate it into my regular tea rotation. It was delightful and a little fruity. Now, if I can just find some sarsaparilla root.

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Winter watering




Do you need to water the landscape in your yard during the winter? Absolutely yes! Just because some of your trees, shrubs and turf may look dead, they are not. They are dormant. Big difference.

I liken dormancy to when we sleep -- an analogy that would probably make my plant physiology professor cringe. There are still activities going on in our bodies while we slumber. We don’t temporarily die each night then wake up alive again the next day. There are two types of dormancy with woody plants. To learn more, read this online article by Michigan State University Extension: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/winter_dormancy_and_chilling_in_woody_plants.

Our average annual precipitation in this area is around 14 inches. Hailing from northeast Oklahoma where we average over 40 inches annually, the climate here was quite the shock. Unfortunately, for the past two years we are even drier -- accumulating just under 12 inches of precipitation annually. If you have lived here long enough, I am sure you have heard we are in the high desert. Well, technically we are semi-arid but if the precipitation continues to wane, we may be bone dry desert in the not so distant future.

When my husband and I first moved here, I could not wrap my head around the fact that the Denver metro area receives almost five feet of snow every year. How could we only get 12-14 inches of precipitation when we get nearly 60 inches of snow? I have since learned from weather enthusiasts that it depends on the snow ratio. If you are shoveling your sidewalks, you will likely have noticed that some snow -- the light, fluffy kind – results in less back breaking effort to remove. On the flip side, if you are into making snowmen, then the powder will leave you frustrated because you need the heavy, wet stuff for your creations.

The University of Wisconsin discusses snow ratios and states they can range from 9:1 to 15:1. This means you could have anywhere from nine to 15 inches of snow that results in one inch of precipitation. http://sanders.math.uwm.edu/cgi-bin-snowratio/sr_intro.pl.

Since we have determined our plants aren’t dead and our climate is quite dry, let’s look at some information on supplemental watering during the winter. Colorado State University Extension notes that adding supplemental water to your landscape in the winter can help prevent root damage. They also remind us that “affected plants may appear perfectly normal and resume growth in the spring” but that those plants “may be weakened and all or parts may die in late spring or summer when temperatures rise”. They have a detailed Fall and Winter Watering fact sheet here: http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/fall-and-winter-watering-7-211/.

Basically, moist soil provides a better insulating barrier than dry soil. Water only when the temperatures are above 40 degrees and do so during the middle of the day. Never water when snow is on the ground.

For detailed instructions on the number of gallons needed per tree diameter, check out the CSU Extension fact sheet mentioned above or this PlantTalk Colorado information sheet: http://planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/trees-shrubs-vines/1751-fall-winter-watering-drought/.

Remember to water the entire drip line of large established trees. Their root systems are typically spread out to an amount equal to or greater than the height of the tree. A healthy plant is its own best defense against insect and disease issues, so water regularly during the winter to have happy plants in the summer.

Kelley Rawlsky has an M.S. in horticulture and is the director of Bringing People and Plants Together, an organization dedicated to bringing horticulture education and therapy to the community. For more information: PeopleAndPlantsTogether@gmail.com or follow us on Facebook.