Know your Winter Squash

Now’s the time to stock up on squash for the winter cooking season. Sugar pie pumpkins are plentiful at the markets, but they won’t last for long. If you want to stuff one for Thanksgiving, get it now and store it through the season.

What’s to love about winter squashes? Everything! These fruits have a low calorie count, but they’re high in fiber. They’re loaded with beta-carotene and other important vitamins and minerals. And, they’re delicious whether roasted, stuffed, simmered or sautéed. Don’t forget the seeds are perfect for roasting, too.

The market bins are bursting with mature winter squashes to enjoy now and keep for later. These are the colorful squashes with a tough outer skin and nutritious inside. When shopping for a winter squash, be sure to avoid any that have soft spots or are too lightweight for their size.

Winter squash varieties will store for an extended period of time when kept out of the sun and in a cool, dry space.

Here are eight great winter squashes in order of size – from biggest to smallest – and some tips for putting them to use in your kitchen:

Blue Hubbard is a huge blue-gray winter squash with a lot to offer. Some people aren’t sure how to prepare such a monster, but these are especially tasty when cut in half lengthwise and baked for 45-60 minutes at 375 degrees, flesh side down in 1/2 inch of water. The soft insides then make for a delicious side dish or the start for squash soup. When pureed, the flesh is so sweet it can replace pumpkin for pies.

Butternut squashes have a long neck connected to a rounded bottom. These squashes can be tough to cut, but they get soft quickly in a microwave. Use a knife to cut vent holes in the skin and microwave until the skin is slightly soft. Cut into rings or chunks to use the bright-orange flesh in casseroles, soups, breads or muffins.

Spaghetti squash are more popular now than ever before because they’re a good substitute for regular pasta. These winter squashes have a nice smooth skin with an interesting texture inside. The easiest way to prepare a spaghetti squash is to cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and bake it cut side down for 30-40 minutes in a 450-degree oven. After it cools, scrape the strands of squash with a spoon and top with your favorite spaghetti sauce.

Acorn is known for its nut-like shape and dark green outer skin. Choose acorn squashes with a deep yellow grow spot that shows where it was in contact with the soil. Acorn squashes are good for cutting in half, stuffing and baking.

Delicata is a favorite winter squash because of its colorful yellow and green markings and oblong shape. Delicata’s thin skin makes for easier slicing, dicing and roasting with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of herbs.

Red Kuri is the winter squash that shaped like a large onion. These red winter squashes are small, but they pack a lot of flavor. They make for delicious soups when roasted and pureed until silky smooth. Fancy restaurants often serve the soup in small pumpkins or other cleaned gourds as a seasonal bowl.

Carnival squashes are small speckled squashes that are a cross between Acorn and Sweet Dumpling. They have a slight acorn shape and can be orange, yellow and green with speckles. The flesh is yellow with a mlld taste that pairs well with maple syrup.

Sweet Dumpling is as delicious as it sounds. These small-size squashes are a good size for cutting in half and baking. They make cute side dishes when served individually with butter and brown sugar.



Tips for Protecting Trees from Hammock Harm

hammockIs there anything better than lazing away a summer day in a hammock under the shade of two beautiful trees?

The only thing to complete that relaxing picture is making sure your trees don’t suffer for your enjoyment.

If your idealized vision of hammock surfing includes tying a rope between two trees, it’s time to rethink your tree-tying strategy.

Tree damage is especially likely if you use a thin rope when setting up the hammock.

Rope ties can cut into the bark of even the sturdiest of trees, opening it up to attacks of insects and diseases. Ropes can also strangle or girdle the tree making it difficult for it to access water and necessary nutrients to remain healthy. When tying ropes to smaller tree trunks, you can weaken the tree so much it won’t be able to recover.

If you’re intent on doing some hammock-swinging this summer, make sure you have the right trees and gear.

Choose Your Trees Carefully

Some people joke about hanging the hammock on the smallest tree possible, just in case it falls on you. Others say to set the hammock to the height you could easily fall without hurting yourself.

But personal safety isn’t a laughing matter, so look for two mature, healthy trees with trunks that can support your weight. Trees should be standing about 12-15 feet apart. Be sure to look up to check for any dead or hanging branches. Then look down to see what will be underneath the hammock.

Use Tree Saver Straps

Instead of cloth or plastic rope, protect your trees with special tree saver straps that minimize tree damage. These wide straps (at least 1 inch wide) are made from nylon or polyester webbing that will go around each tree’s trunk. Because of the wide webbing, they’re designed to reduce tree girdling and prevent damage to the bark and underlying layers.

As an alternative to tree saver straps, you could pad the rope with rope covers or lengths of garden hose that keep the rope away from the bark.

Never pound nails, screw bolts or fasten any kind of attachment directly into the tree.

Hang the Hammock

Find the thickest part of the tree’s trunk, about 4 ½ feet from the ground and wrap the strap around the tree. Straps will have a loop or ring for looping around the tree until it’s snug. Use heavy-duty S-hooks to connect the hammock to the strap and repeat on the other tree.

For safety’s sake, make sure the lowest point of the hammock is about 18 inches off the ground.

If you plan to leave your hammock up all summer, be sure to check the straps every time you use it. Make sure they haven’t become over-tightened on the tree or loosened in between use.

If you want to avoid damage to your trees altogether, enjoy a portable hammock on a stand instead of one that hangs. You’ll still get to swing in the shade, without putting any stress on your trees.



Attract Pollinators with Perennial Herbs

Bronze fennel is a perennial plant
for many seasons and many reasons.

The bronze fennel that guards the abandoned herb garden is a testament to the power of benign neglect. This tall and hardy herb has stood like a sentry for years without any care, yet it grows feathery green foliage every spring and yellow umbrella-like flowers in summer. The licorice-scented leaves turn from green to dark copper-bronze as the season matures.

Because of the fennel’s perennial nature, it returns year after year. Its ability to reseed itself ensures more spring foliage for hungry caterpillars, more delicious flowers for bees and other insects and more seeds for wild birds to enjoy through fall and winter.

Perennial herbs, like this tough fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. rubrum), have always played an important role in gardens. Over the centuries they’ve continuously provided food, medicine, fragrance and beauty. These days they’re becoming even more important by giving pollinators another reliable source for nectar and pollen.

While many familiar culinary herbs draw pollinators to the garden, there are other lesser-known herbs that offer unexpected benefits. Early-blooming perennial herbs from the onion family give bees, flies, wasps and other insect pollinators a boost before ornamental trees, shrubs and annuals start their season of flowers.

All in for Alliums

Chives are just one kind of allium with flowers that are a boon to hungry insects in spring. Winter onions or Egyptian walking onions (Allium X proliferum) are another perennial herb that shows up when soil temperatures start to warm. These unusual onions are also called topset onions because they grow small onion bulbs or bulbils at the top of their leaf stems.

Tiny onion flowers often emerge alongside the topsets to offer an early food source for pollinators before other perennials start to bloom. These small topsets are self-sufficient by replanting themselves each season. When the stems can’t hold the bulbils upright, they fall to the ground and the small bulbs take root where they land. This “walking” means these hardy onions will grow new leaves, flowers and topsets each year.

The tiny onion bulbs can also be transplanted to containers or a different part of the garden, shared with other gardeners or used fresh and cooked into recipes.

Ornamental alliums are a perennial pollinator option with a variety and size to fit almost every garden space. Alliums, distant cousins to garlic and shallots, look like exclamation points in the landscape. These perennial ornamentals are sometimes called flowering onions and their perfectly round flowers attract bees and butterflies whenever they’re in bloom. The globe-like flower heads provide plenty of nectar for bees, and it’s common to see a few working their way around each onion flower at the same time.

Ornamental alliums are adaptable and can grow just about anywhere, including dry gardens. For maximum pollinator impact, plant a large selection of alliums that have different stem heights, flower sizes and bloom times.

The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) selected ‘Millenium’ allium as the top perennial for 2018. These oniony plants grow in tidy bunches of bright green foliage to 15 inches tall and bloom profusely in summer with rosy-purple and long-lasting flowers. The nectar-rich flowers attract continuous attention from pollinators and cause bees to linger longer in the garden.

A Silver Foliage Surprise

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) are known for their soft, silvery foliage, but that’s not what attracts pollinators. It’s the small, two-lipped rose purple flowers that grow on the wooly flower stalks that shoot up each spring. Although not a must-have flower for gardeners, these little blossoms offer a nice source of nectar for bees and tiny insects.

This appealing foliage plant likes to spread on its own in broad clumps of tightly-packed silvery leaves. Because it grows close to the ground, it looks lovely planted along the front of sunny borders or as a complement to other ornamentals. While gardeners and pollinators can appreciate Lamb’s ears, deer seem to resist browsing the fuzzy leaves giving bees a chance at the flowers.

Feed the Bees Needs

Lemon balm is an aromatic perennial herb that draws bees into the garden. Although lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) could overtake a garden space, it’s worth it to be able to give bees such a long-season of flowers and nectar. Its spreading nature can be contained by planting in patio pots or reserving a separate bed to allow the bushy herbaceous plant to spread its fragrant leaves.

Lemon balm is sometimes simply called balm for its medicinal qualities or bee plant because it’s often planted specifically to feed the bees. However, the plant called bee balm (Monarda) is a separate member of the large plant family that also includes mint.

Some believe lemon balm got its Melissa officinalis designation because of its close association to bees in Greek mythology. Melissa is thought to be the name of the nymph who discovered honey and taught people how to enjoy it before she was eventually transformed into a honey bee.

Others say the name of the genus Melissa comes from the Greek word meaning “bee” or “bee leaf.” Whichever legend gardeners choose to believe, it’s clear the ancient Greeks recognized the value bees placed on the plant’s delicious and nutritious flowers.

Because of this bee-magnetism, many believed lemon balm’s scent kept bees close to their hives and helped them find their way home if they strayed too far. Some beekeepers even rubbed lemon balm leaves on empty hives to entice honey bees to return.

The honey bee’s close connection to the scent of lemon balm is still strong today. The herb’s bunches of little florets are the perfect size and shape for bee browsing and foraging, just like it’s been for hundreds of years.



6 Ways to Reuse Halloween Pumpkins

pumpkin pile

Check out my 6 Ways to Reuse Halloween Pumpkins on the Fine Gardening magazine website.




Growing with Colorado YOGA + Life magazine

 I never thought of myself as Colorado’s Gardening Guru, but I could get used to that title!

Thanks to Sandy Ferguson Fuller and Colorado YOGA + Life magazine, I’m included in the Summer “Grow” issue. The magazine is part of the YOGA + Life family of magazines and is filled with profiles of yoga teachers and studios, fitness and wellness articles, lifestyle inspiration, recipes and ideas for adventure in our beautiful state.

I’m especially pleased to be in the same issue as the feature on the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. Not only is it one of my favorite botanical gardens, but it’s one of the special gardens I recommend in my book, The Colorado Gardener’s Companion.

Sandy’s interview asked a lot of good questions about my background, some of my favorite things to grow in my garden, simple tips for growing prize-worthy fruits and vegetables, and ways to create a sustainable relationship with wildlife in our gardens.

She touched on how passionate I am about helping people learn how to grow their own food. And she asked me how I continue to grow in my life.

You can find all of that and more in the summer issue!



What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Tree

Lightening strike on treeIf it’s summer in Colorado, it’s time for thunderstorms. The best advice is to head indoors as soon as you hear thunder and before you see lightning.

Because lightning is attracted to tall objects, trees are a likely target. When lightning strikes a tree, damage can range from minimally invasive to explosive.

As soon as lightning strikes, water in the tree’s cells can start to boil causing steam to form. The expanding steam can explode causing bark to crack or strip off the tree.

If the lightning strikes deep within the tree, it may blow up.

The amount of damage depends on how much water is in the tree and the location of the water — either between the bark and the wood or in the tree’s center.

Evidence of a lightning strike may be obvious from shattered pieces of bark to charred areas of the trunk. But some symptoms may be hidden deep inside the tree or even in its root system. This wide range of indicators has to do with the type, structure and health of the tree; the strength of the strike; and the amount of moisture in the tree’s cells.

If your tree is struck by lightning, it may survive the hit, especially if just one side shows damage. Prune out any obviously damaged branches and remove hanging pieces of bark that can’t be put back into place. Increasing the amount of water for the tree helps with uptake of nutrients from the soil.

Then start your watchful waiting for signs of tree stress. Experts recommended waiting 2 to 6 months before major corrective pruning or removing the tree. Most times it’s not the strike that kills the tree, but the resulting injury that exposes the tree to the environment, diseases and insects. Keep up with good tree care, such as watering, fertilizing and watching for insects.

It’s better to protect trees from a potential lightning strike than it is to repair the damage afterward. Lightning protection systems can be installed to protect especially valuable or vulnerable trees. These systems protect trees by slowly releasing the electrical charge and letting it dissipate before it becomes dangerous.

Consult with a certified arborist about the pros and cons of installing lightning protection systems on your trees. Although these systems can be expensive to install for tree protection, they can also help protect nearby property. A system consists of an air terminal placed in the top of the tree, a copper cable conductor, and a ground-rod system placed a safe distance away. If lightning should strike, the system directs the electrical current along the cable, away from the tree, and to the ground.

Lightning can strike whenever there’s a thunderstorm, and the temperature of a lightning flash can be five times hotter than the sun. While it’s important to protect your trees from a lightning strike, it’s crucial to protect yourself first.



The Vertical Vantage to Gardening for Success

My “Vertical Vantage” presentation at the Gardening for Success Conference in Cheyenne is coming up April 15. Here are the main points to inspire the Laramie County Master Gardeners to grow up:


• Maximizes garden space
• Solves design dilemmas
• Hides problems and eyesores
• Frames or directs a view
• Tames a large landscape
• Unlocks a garden’s potential



simple bamboo trellisKEY VERTICAL ELEMENTS

Arbors and trellises

Walls and fences


o Layer up, not out
o Create top, bottom, middle layers
o The middle layer is the most important
o Don’t rely on flowers alone


Garden Art


• Match plant form to function: vines, attractive flowers, climbing roses, exclamation points, tall and small perennials, skinny trees, shrubs and container plants.
• Visit and search the database for plants by type, height, hardiness, flower color, flowering season and more.




How to Grow Microgreens Indoors

Here’s a delicious indoor gardening project to keep you busy until it’s time to plant outside.

It’s easy to grow a container of microgreens indoors. If you start today, you’ll be eating fresh microgreens in about two weeks.

You’ll need these materials

  • 1 packet microgreen mix or sprouting seeds like broccoli or pea
  • 1 shallow plastic container with holes punched in the bottom (like a clear lettuce or spinach container, minus its lid)
  • 1 tray or second container to catch any excess water
  • Loose, well-draining seed starting mix or potting soil

Get growing instructions

  1. Punch holes in the bottom of the shallow container for drainage; place on tray.
  2. Fill container with several inches of soil (about 2 or 3 inches).
  3. Moisten the soil and allow excess water to drain.
  4. Scatter seeds over the top of the soil; cover with a thin layer of soil.
  5. Water gently to keep seeds from moving around in the soil.
  6. Place container on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights placed several inches above the top of the plants.
  7. Keep soil evenly moist, but not overly saturated; don’t let seeds dry out.

Look for seedlings to sprout with their first leaves in about a week.

When plants are about 2 inches tall and have one or two more sets of leaves, use scissors to clip greens.

Rinse and toss on salads, use instead of lettuce in sandwiches, sprinkle into stir fry dishes, add to omelets, or create your own special recipe.



How to Show Wild Birds Some Love

bird seed heartLove is in the air and it can swoop into your landscape with a little creative planning.

All it takes to attract wild birds to your garden is a little creative planning, especially if you can think like birds and know what they like.

I can’t imagine my garden without wild birds hopping along the path, chirping from tall trees or flying full speed across the yard.

In addition to filling feeders with different kinds of wild bird seed, I’ve planted many fruiting shrubs and perennial flowers to attract my feathered friends.

Some gardeners try to prevent sunflower seeds from sprouting in the garden, but I encourage it. Once the weather warms, masses of sunflowers spring up practically overnight–the result of filling feeders through winter. The bright yellow flowers light up the garden all summer and when the flowers fade, birds appreciate the small dried seeds that are left behind.

The seeds, fruits and flowers I plant attract a diverse group of birds. Of course there are sparrows, but I’ve seen blue jays, blackbirds, doves, finches, flickers, rock pigeons, juncos and even hawks. But each time I catch sight of a hummingbird at the Sunset hyssops (Agastache rupestris), my heart simply soars.

The tube-shaped orange flowers are a main attraction from mid-to-late summer. These hardy perennials can tolerate a dry garden once they’re established and they offer a nice root-beer like fragrance, too.

Serviceberry is a favorite shrub for the birds, especially robins. This tidy shrub is one of the first to bloom in spring and the first to provide a feast of berries. Robins also fall for the dried berries on the Virginia creeper and honeysuckle vines, too.

Another shrub that grows beautifully in my Zone 5 garden is Nanking cherry. This cold-hardy shrub features fragrant white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators in early April. Later, after the shrub is thick with green leaves, the birds and squirrels enjoy all the small sour cherries that cover the branches.

Even if your garden is a small space, like a patio or balcony, you can plant a mini-backyard habitat. Simply fill containers with a high-quality potting soil, plant with several varieties of long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers, and add a small birdbath. It won’t be long until birds start stopping by.



Happy Healthy New Gardening Year

happy face made from vegetables

January is the time of year when many folks promise they’ll change their eating habits. They resolve to make fewer stops at the fast-food drive-thru, limit the unhealthy snacks kept in the cupboard, and add more fruits and vegetables to the grocery shopping cart.

Most vegetable gardeners will tell you the easiest way to keep those promises is to plant and grow a vegetable garden.

And research backs that up.

Results from community gardening studies show that a majority of community gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners. They’re more active, too.

I learned about the “Gardens Growing Healthy Communities” research project when writing an article for the February issue of Colorado Gardener newsmagazine. In that article I interviewed researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and at Denver Urban Gardens. The research project, funded by the American Cancer Society, will help answer the question, “Can community gardening prevent cancer?”

My interest in the relationship between planting vegetables and good health continues to grow. My most recent gardening articles include planting purple vegetables for good health on the blog, growing winter onions for Out Here magazine, and planting for the health of it for GreenView’s Gardening How-to website.

This gardening season, I’ll be busy with more gardening + health related content, and you’re invited to come along to my Incredible Edible Yard class at the Denver Botanic Gardens, January 20, 2018, 10:30-12:00.

You’ll discover how to transform an ordinary yard into a beautiful and delicious foodscape. My class includes the simple steps for beautifying your landscape by adding fruits, vegetables and herbs in unexpected ways. You’ll learn how to integrate edible plants into flower beds, small spaces and other gardening places, as well as ways to replace conventional ornamental plants with appetizing alternatives. The dozens of design ideas, for yards of all sizes, can transform any ordinary landscape into a garden of eatin’.


Watch for the inaugural issue of Edible Denver magazine when it hits news stands in March. Look for my article with ideas for planting and growing a garden filled with healthy spring vegetables.


contact us Disclaimer
© Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved