Category Archives: Produce Dept.

Posts about edible plants

How to Start a Strawberry Patch on The Cheap

Bare root strawberries sit in a pot in my garage, where they wait until early April, when it’s warm enough to plant them outdoors.

Who doesn’t love strawberries?  Those plump, juicy little chunks of goodness snatch our attention when we spot them in grocery stores.

Fortunately, strawberries are easy to grow in Colorado gardens.  All you have to do is clear a patch of land and amend the soil with compost before plunking those babies into the ground.

The least expensive way to start a strawberry patch is to buy bare root strawberries online or at your local nursery.  Early April is the best time to install bare root plants in gardens along Colorado’s Front Range.

I use golf tees to mark locations for the plants. Everbearing plants produce fewer runners than June-bearing plants, so I plant them 5 inches apart in rows that are 18 inches apart. Eventually, I’ll cut off the babies on runners and use them to expand my strawberry patch.

I buy my bare root plants in early March for the best selection.  Then I soak them in water overnight before planting them in potting soil in a large pot, which I keep in the garage.  I keep them moist, but am careful not to overwater them because I don’t want them to rot.  Within a week or two, the plants start budding.  Then in early April, I place them in the ground while they’re still semi-dormant.  You can also simply buy bare root strawberries in April, soak them overnight, and plant them directly into the ground.

Another option is to go out and buy potted strawberry plants for planting in late May, but for the price of one or two potted plants, you can buy 10 bare root strawberries.

Before inserting a bare root strawberry into the ground, simply poke a slit into the soil with a garden trowel and then insert the plant, snugging the soil around it.

There are three basic classifications for strawberries:  June-bearing, everbearing and day neutral.  Although June-bearing plants produce the tastiest berries, their flowers can be damaged by late spring frosts, causing low yields.  For that reason, ever-bearing plants tend to be a better choice for Colorado gardens because ever-bearers produce crops in both summer and fall.  As for day-neutral varieties, they flower and fruit more consistently over the summer.  Interestingly, though, I haven’t seen any day-neutral varieties in local nurseries, which makes me wonder if day-neutrals are as winter-hardy as June-bearing and ever-bearing plants.

Some recommended June-bearing varieties for Colorado include Honeoye, Guardian, Kent and Delite.  I’ve grown Honeoye successfully, but haven’t tried the others.  Preferred ever-bearing varieties include Ogallala, Fort Laramie and Ozark Beauty.  I grew Ozark Beauty last year and am adding more, as well as Fort Laramie this year.

The literature I’ve read indicates that strawberries need full sun to grow best.  I’ve found, however, that mine do quite well in part shade, given the intensity of Colorado’s sun.

When you plant bareroot strawberries in the ground, you may need to trim the roots back to about four inches.  Be careful not to bury the crown or leave the roots exposed.

As for strawberry planting patterns and cultivation, the directions become rather wordy, so I’ll refer you to Colorado State University’s Strawberries for the Home Garden fact sheet and Cornell University’s Strawberries fact sheet.

Concerning mulching, I tried using straw mulch, as recommended.  However, the straw produced so many weeds that I ended up donating the straw to a more weed-tolerant gardener and began using grass clippings instead.  This year, I’ll try putting down a couple of layers of newspaper (no colored inks) and leftover packing paper, holding them down with rocks until I accumulate enough grass clippings to anchor the paper.

In addition to providing fruit, strawberries function well as a groundcover to help keep weeds out of your perennial beds.

If you start growing strawberries, you may enjoy them so much that you’ll decide to branch out into other berries, such as Chester dwarf blackberries.

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Tomato Cages? Give me U-Posts Any Day

U-posts topped by a bamboo stick provide a framework for the trellis netting. You can then tie tomato vines to the netting or simply wind the vines in among the netting.

I’ve never liked tomato cages.

They sit there, neatly stacked in the garden center, promising to bestow order on snaking tomato stems. Some of them even come in vibrant colors, as though that might help. But it doesn’t.

IMHO, there isn’t a tomato cage alive that can contain multiple six-to-eight-foot vines without creating a tangled mess. I’m talking about vines of indeterminate tomatoes—the ones that sprawl all over creation.

Then, of course, there’s the storage problem, if you can wrench the cage away from the tomato without destroying the structure at the end of the season. I usually manage to scratch myself with the bits of metal extending from the bottom of the cage.

Regarding storage, folding cages take less room, but usually cost a princely sum. Often, though, they’re still not tall enough to contain unruly vines.

So I’ve tried other approaches. I’ve created a trellis from electrical conduit, securing the corners with nifty 90-degree connectors, then tying trellis netting to the top and sides. This worked until the weight of the vines caused the trellis to fall against my privacy fence. If you’ve got a fence as backup, that’s fine. But don’t rely on electrical conduit for a free-standing structure.

Then there are U-posts. I’ve found that these are much sturdier than electrical conduit. You can install a couple of them in the ground, secure a crossbar up high, and tie trellis netting to the posts and crossbar. As for the crossbar, I’m currently experimenting with a bamboo stick. It’s light, but strong. I tied the stick to the tops of the U-posts, but found that the connection was tenuous. So I placed gorilla tape over the top of the bamboo stick, then wrapped gorilla tap around the tops of the U-posts, securing the top strap of gorilla tape in the process. It seems to be holding well.

If you anticipate an unusually heavy crop, you can add a third U-post in the middle to make your trellis sturdier. I like the 6 1/2-foot posts which, by the way, are easy as heck to store.

Or you can just leave the posts in the ground for next year. It’s a good idea, though, to rotate your tomato crops, so you may end up supporting a different vegetable with those stakes the following season.

Gently tie your vines to the trellis netting with a stretchy material, such as pantyhose or elastic.  That way, the ties will expand as the plant stems grow larger.

So far, my U-post/bamboo structure is working. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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Filed under Garden Maintenance, Produce Dept.

Ready, Set, Plant!

Strawberry Delizz F1 is an ever-bearing variety that is the first strawberry in AAS history to be chosen as a winner. However, it may not be widely available until 2017. You can plant strawberries in early spring. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

Strawberry Delizz F1 is an ever-bearing variety that is the first strawberry in AAS history to be chosen as a winner. However, it may not be widely available until 2017. You can plant strawberries in early spring. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

It’s early April, and the weather still can be cold and blustery at times. But even so, it’s about time to plant your cool-season crops along Colorado’s Front Range. Some of you ambitious types may already have a few crops in the ground.

One of the best ways to determine whether to plant is by checking the soil temperature. To do this, stick a soil or meat thermometer four inches into the soil in four areas of your garden plot. If you’re growing beans stick the thermometer down six inches. Record each temperature. Do this for a few days. If your readings average 40 to 50 degrees, it’s time to plant.

You can even warm the soil faster by covering it with black plastic. It’s not cheating.

Or you can simply check daytime temperatures to make sure they’re not dipping below 40 degrees.

Which are the hardiest cool-season crops? Peas, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and onions, to name a few. I’m not talking about tomatoes and peppers here—those are warm-season crops, which we typically don’t plant until late May or early June after the risk of frost has passed. But you can go ahead now and plant seeds indoors for those crops.

Warm-season crops need outdoor soil temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees.

Candyland is the first currant-type tomato selected as an All-America Selections winner in AAS history. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

Candyland is the first currant-type tomato selected as an All-America Selections winner in AAS history. (Photo courtesy of All-America Selections)

For more information about when to plant various crops, check the Colorado State University Extension website.

If you’re wondering which varieties to plant, take a look at All-America Selections (AAS).

Each year, the folks at All-America Selections carry out rigorous trials on flower and vegetable varieties to determine the best performers. Then AAS posts the winners each year on their website.

It’s a big deal in the green industry for a variety to be chosen as an AAS champ.

For the first time in AAS’ history, the judges have selected a strawberry and a currant-type tomato for 2016. The strawberry variety is the ever-bearing Strawberry Delizz F1, and the currant tomato variety is Tomato Candyland Red.

Often the newly named varieties are difficult to find in garden centers because the seed companies and growers haven’t had time to ramp up production on the winners.

So if you can’t find the 2016 champs this year, simply buy selections from earlier years. You can bet that by next year, seed companies and growers will make the 2016 winners more widely available.

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Filed under Plant Geekiness, Produce Dept.

Let Vegetables Spice up Garden with Bright Colors and Flavor

NuMex Easter ornamental pepper brightens a border or patio. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

NuMex Easter ornamental pepper brightens a border or patio. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

This morning as I walked to the library, I noticed that a neighbor had covered her shrubs with white sheets to protect them from last night’s below-freezing temperatures.  Her front yard resembled a collection of spooky trick-or-treaters.

Now that temperatures are forecasted to warm up, the plant covers can come off, and we can install warm season vegetables in our garden beds.

This year, why not make your garden more enticing with vegetables that are ornamental, as well as flavorful?

NuMex Easter pepper, a 2014 All-America Selections winner, is a compact plant with small clusters of cute, hot ornamental peppers in Easter-egg shades of lavender, yellow and light orange.  Although this beauty won’t tolerate frost, it will tolerate normal to dry soil conditions and deliver solid performance as a container plant or low-growing edger.

Lemon cucumbers, with their fresh, mild taste, are a delight in the garden.  These round fruits with their lemony-yellow color reach about three inches in diameter and can be eaten like an apple.  I grew these last year and dubbed them a favorite for both appearance and flavor.

Calliope eggplant is a small, oval Asian-style eggplant so attractive that you'll want to display it before eating it. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Calliope eggplant is a small, oval Asian-style eggplant so attractive that you’ll want to display it before eating it. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Calliope eggplant provides a stunning display with its white-striped purple skin complemented by soft green foliage.  At maturity, the fruits are three to four inches long with a diameter of about 2.5 inches.

Lizzano F1 semi-determinate cherry tomato offers a continuous crop of fruit to perk up  containers or hanging baskets.  As the one-inch fruits mature from green to bright red, they display color rivaling that of many flowers.  Lizzano is a 2011 All-America Selections winner.

To see more delicious and attractive vegetables, visit the National Garden Bureau website at





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It Feels Like Oklahoma! in Colorado

Harris Seed Company's new Frilly F1 sunflower variety makes a strong statement with its architectural form and impressive blooms.

Harris Seed Company’s new Frilly F1 sunflower variety makes a strong statement with its architectural form and impressive blooms.

I feel as though I’m in the cast of Oklahoma! with all of the sunflowers popping up in my backyard.

Earlier this year, the Harris Seed Company in Rochester, New York, sent me several seed varieties to test in my garden as part of the company’s seed trials.  I’ve been testing Kruger MTO Romaine lettuce, Bonanza Deep Orange marigold and Frilly F1 sunflower.  All three varieties are impressive.

Kruger MTO Romaine is tasty, attractive and uniform.  I particularly like its resistance to bolting.  Granted, like other lettuce varieties, it eventually bolted (sent up a flower stalk that went to seed), but only after enduring several weeks of over-90 –degree temperatures.

Bonanza Deep Orange is a French marigold with a compact growth habit, deep green foliage and vivid, long-lasting blooms.

Bonanza Deep Orange is a French marigold with a compact growth habit, deep green foliage and vivid, long-lasting blooms.

The marigolds began blooming at the end of June and are still pumping out 2-inch-wide, plump orange blossoms atop their lush, deep green foliage.  The long-lasting flowers are knockouts.

My favorite, however, is the Frilly F1 sunflower.  True to its name, it lends a playful air to the garden with its six-foot stalks and an explosion of vibrant flowers.  Its brown-and-yellow faces, up to 8 inches wide, began showing up just last weekend.

Watch for these varieties in the Harris Seed catalog.


Filed under Plant Geekiness, Produce Dept., Whimsy

Enter Now to Win Gift For Tomato Lovers!

2013-Calendar-CoverHave you or a tomato-loving friend ever wanted a calendar that would tell you what to do at the right time to successfully grow tomatoes?  If so, then Laura Taylor at has developed just the gift for you.  Her beautifully illustrated wall calendar, 2013 Tomatoes: A Month-by-Month Guide to Growing Tomatoes, provides tips (color-coded by region) for preparing beds, buying plants, staking and other tomato-related activities.  So no matter where you live in the US, you’ll know what to do when.   In addition, the calendar features tempting recipes, such as one for Tomato and Sweet Onion Crisp.

I’ll be holding a drawing Sunday, December 16, 2012 to select the winner of a 2013 Tomatoes calendar.  To enter, just send an email to, suggesting an idea for a garden-related story you would like to see posted on this blog in 2013 and beyond.  Entries must be received by 2pm EST December 16, 2012 to be eligible.

Don’t delay!  Enter today!

December 16, 2012 update:  The winner of the 2013 Tomatoes calendar is Sian Miletich of Denver, Colorado!  She suggested a story on winter interest.  Congratulations, Sian, and thanks to everyone who entered!

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Try these Killer Recipes for Your Harvest

Cherry tomatoes & zucchini

Cherry tomatoes and zucchini are just two of the healthy ingredients in these harvest recipes.

Last year I spotted a chicken stew with roasted ratatouille recipe in USA Weekend that looked intriguing.  Up to this point, I had never tasted ratatouille and had no particular desire to do so.  But when I reviewed the nutritional information and saw that a serving of the stew yielded 33 grams of protein and only 11 grams of carbohydrates, I decided this recipe was definitely worth a try.

Man, is it good!  I’ve shared this recipe with co-workers and friends, who rave about it as well.  So now I’m sharing it with you.  Check out the Summer Chicken Stew with Roasted Ratatouille recipe at  The online version of the recipe doesn’t contain nutritional information but you’ll probably surmise from the ingredients that this stuff is good for you.

As a result of this recipe, I grew zucchinis, eggplant, sweet onions and peppers for the first time this year.

Another recipe that I love for zucchinis and such is the South Beach Diet Cheesy Frittata recipe at  It’s a great breakfast dish with 21 grams of protein and only 16 grams of carbohydrates per serving.

Also, take a look at the Recipes link at  You’ll find gourmet recipes for your produce.

Dishes like these make growing vegetables worthwhile.  If you have favorite harvest recipes, feel free to click the Comment button and share.


Filed under Produce Dept.

What’s that White Stuff on My Zucchini?



When powdery mildew attacks your zucchini, it can decrease the plant’s production and even kill its host.

Do you see a coating that looks like powdered sugar on your zucchini leaves?  Well, don’t lick it.

You most likely have powdery mildew.  Get rid of it before it kills your plant and infects other plants in your garden.

When powdery mildew shows up, I spray my zucchini every couple of days this concoction:  a gallon of water, a tablespoon of baking soda and a squirt of dishwashing soap.  The soap acts as a binding agent.  I just mix the solution, pour it into my hose-end sprayer and spray my zucchini plants thoroughly.

To discourage the growth of powdery mildew, avoid overhead watering and, when you do water, do it early in the day so any drops that end up on the plant evaporate by nightfall.

Zucchini is destined to attract powdery mildew as it matures.  One way to deal with the issue is to plant a second zucchini plant elsewhere in the garden a few weeks after planting the first zucchini plant.  So when the first plant starts mildewing, the second plant likely won’t have reached that phase yet.


Filed under Produce Dept.

Share your Harvest with the Hungry

Zucchini blossom

A blossom announces the upcoming birth of another zucchini.

This morning I delivered 15 pounds of zucchini to a nearby food bank.  Given that zucchini is now in season, I thought there would be a plethora of zucchinis at the food bank.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I arrived, I noticed mostly canned and processed foods on the tables.  I also spotted two flats of store-bought peaches.  But other than my zucchini, there were no fresh vegetables.

Jodi Torpey at is a coordinator for Plant a Row for the Hungry in metro Denver.  I haven’t participated in the past, partly because planting a row sounded like a little more structure than I could handle.  But this year I decided to plant a couple of zucchini plants and an extra tomato plant for the hungry.  Once my zucchini plants started producing, I contacted Jodi for a list of local food pantries.

Don’t make the mistake that I did and assume that a few fresh vegetables won’t make a difference at a food bank.  If you live in metro Denver and have some extra produce in your garden, contact Jodi on her website.  She’ll send you a list of local food banks that may be surprisingly close to your home.

If you outside metro Denver, do a Google search for Plant a Row for the Hungry followed by your city or state to find a coordinator in your area.

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