FCN Blog

The Hawthorn: Rich with Color

By Julie Carlson

Edited by Jesse Eastman

Originally published in Vol. 1, Issue 4 of Fort Collins Nursery’s TreeTalk Newsletter

5fedac36-6c05-4ad1-ab4b-2b6062764e1cThis past fall, many of you came to the nursery seeking plants that add fall color to your yards. You’d seen it all around town – from the flaming rose-red of Burning Bush or the orange heat of Tiger Eyes Sumac to the brilliant yellows of Ginkgo or Honeylocust. These shrubs and trees offer up dramatic leaf color, but another plant can add even more richness to the landscape than mere changing leaves.

The Hawthorn is traditionally known as a shrub – many an English 0a2ae966-d0e1-4c88-b227-34462fcae45f-photocredithedgerow is comprised of Hawthorns. The English Hawthorns are also easily cultivated as ornamental trees and work well at adding interest to a yard as single specimens. Crimson Cloud Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata ‘Crimson Cloud’) is one such Hawthorn that has miniature maple-shaped leaves of glossy dark green and flowers of striking white-eyed magenta pink clusters. A close relation to Crimson Cloud is Toba Hawthorn (C. mordenensis). It is pearled with double white fragrant flowers maturing to a medium pink. Also remarkable about the Toba is its unusual tree trunk that develops seams over time and eventually looks like four or five trunks fused together.

f96f0f06-9555-4a7f-b35b-d07f4cf3e8dcThese two varieties of English Hawthorn are most showy in the spring because of their flowers, but other Hawthorns have an even more splendid color display in late summer and autumn. The Hawthorn is aptly named forbaaa8ec1-cf29-4235-8b63-7add43a8e96d its haws, or red berries that develop in late summer, and on many Hawthorns hang on the bush or tree into winter. These small red fruits are a profusion of color. On Russian Hawthorn (C. ambigua) they dangle like a wealth of rubies offsetting its sparsely-leaved twisting branches. Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn (C. crusgalli inermis) accentuates its widespread branches of shining rounded leaves with half-inch coral gems.

The Hawthorn genus does not disappoint those who are set on intense leaf change either. Some, like Thornless Cockspur and Russian offer up yellows and gold fading to russet, while Washington Hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum) turns a scarlet orange bordering on red.

154779fb-127f-449f-9174-e675aea4ff85Of course the leaves eventually drop, leaving behind bare thorny branches. The thorns add texture and silhouette, and berries on some hawthorns persist – continued color as we welcomed winter and begin to think of snow-covered landscapes and bedecked trees. The Hawthorn is naturally ornamental throughout our harsh winters.

Hawthorns are a truly visual treasure of flowers, interesting leaves, fruit, and structure. They are also very hardy, many of them tolerating and even thriving in Colorado’s poor soil, cold winter temperatures, and dry climate. Most varieties are disease resistant as well and supply a low-maintenance shrub or tree for someone looking for a plant that is unique. For those who are planning for years of color, look no further than the impressive Hawthorn.

What is a plant really worth?

By Jesse Eastman

We have a small note hanging on the wall in our office. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s been here longer than I have. It’s one of those things that’s funny but also incredibly true, the kind of thing that makes you smile to yourself as you knowingly shake your head. It reads: 

Pay-The-Price_ImageIf folks only knew how many –

Hours of thinking

Days of digging

Weeks of sunshine

Months of coaxing

Years of experience

Oodles of headaches

Bushels of rich soil

Gallons of water

Hundreds of backaches

Thousands of heartaches

– It takes to produce a pretty plant – they would gladly pay the price.

DSCN3581All humor aside, it pretty much sums up the process of growing plants. We take a lot of pride in the process, and it allows us to grow the best plants available. But it ain’t easy.

Thinking: Each plant we grow and sell starts with thinking. What plants do our customers want? Will they survive in this climate? How many should we grow? Once we’ve thought ourselves into convulsions, we move on to step two.

Digging: We don’t actually do much true digging anymore – most of our plants are grown in containers, so our equivalent is the potting process. Still, it’s pretty rigorous. In 2015 we put a staggering number of plants on our benches that were grown right here onsite. This includes over 50,000 1-gallon perennials, over 5,000 trees and shrubs, and almost 6,000 vegetables and strawberries.

Sunshine: Colorado is a very sunny state, yet somehow rarely sunny when we really need it. For example, if we get a long stretch of cloudy cool days in May like we did in 2015, tomatoes quickly develop edema, where they get water-filled blisters along the stem. We like the sun. We need the sun.

Coaxing: It takes a lot of coaxing to grow plants. You hope for conditions to be perfect. You talk to them, encouraging them to be vigorous. You tinker with fertilizer, hoping to give them that extra little boost.

DSCN2886Experience: Thankfully, we have some very experienced people behind the wheel, and that experience is key to producing a plant that not only looks good, but is healthy and strong. We learn from past mistakes and amplify past success.

Headaches: Our experts gets the lion’s share of the headaches. The saying “ignorance is bliss” exists for a reason. The more we know about potential problems, the more sleep we lose worrying about them.

Soil: Good soil is a key component to our process. The potting soil we grow our plants in is mixed locally by Organix Supply, and it is formulated specifically to create the best possible growing conditions for our plants in conjunction with the fertilizers we use and the specific mineral contents of our well water. In one year, we use 240 cubic yards of soil. That’s 5207 bushels, in case you’re counting.

Water: To go along with all that soil is a lot of water. Plant in pots get thirsty – a lot thirstier than they’d be if they were growing in the ground. One of my worst dreams is for our water systems to fail and us not to notice. On a hot day in August, that could be the quick death of thousands and thousands of innocent plants!

Backaches: Caring for all of the plants is a physical job. We have to move them from here to there. We have to haul hoses all over the place. Our nursery is an 11-acre property, and we go darn near everywhere on foot.

Heartaches: The backaches are abundant, and when things don’t go right, they are accompanied by equally painful heartaches. When the floods of September 2013 struck, thousands of plants washed away. All of that time, that thought, that backache just swirled away in
a torrential mess.

And yet we continue. It doesn’t make us rich. It’s never easy. But it is a joyful work, and an important one. And if we keep our focus on the pleasure plants bring, it will always be worth it.

What to do with old Christmas trees

According to the National Christmas Tree Association,  between 25 million and 30 million real  Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. If the average height of a Christmas tree is 7 feet, that means that in the next month, 37,000 miles of Christmas trees will be disposed of in one way or another. The Earth is only 24,900 miles around at the Equator. To put it lightly, that’s a lot of trees!

Most municipalities in the U.S. offer some kind of recycling program for dried out Christmas trees, and the variety of uses for those tired old trees is truly astonishing. Probably the most common way trees are recycled is via the wood chipper, producing mulch that is then distributed to residents or used in city projects (this is what the City of Fort Collins and Larimer County do). Here’s a few other neat ways that Christmas trees are reincarnated:

  • Take your tree out back and let it dry out. The needles make a great mulch, and can help acidify our alkaline Colorado soil. Use the wood in your fireplace. If you don’t have a fireplace, ask around. I bet you know someone who would be happy to have some free firewood.
  • Stake your tree upright in the yard and string it up with popcorn or other bird treats for a wonderful winter wildlife feeder.
  • On beaches where sand erosion is a serious environmental problem, old Christmas trees are used along with short sections of fence to create windbreaks, allowing the natural rebuilding of sand dunes, a vital ecosystem for many delicate species of plants and animals. This is especially useful in areas damaged by hurricanes, such as the Gulf Coast in Alabama following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
  • Old Christmas trees are used in a number of different ways to create habitats for animals. They are  sunk in the shallow waters of lakes and ponds to provide nursery habitat for young fish. Under the guidance of the Division of Wildlife, they can be bundled together and placed in forest areas where they provide cover for small animals like birds, rabbits, ground squirrels, and the like.
  • Old Christmas trees are used for fuel in biomass heating systems and power generators.

There are probably many other creative ways to recycle Christmas trees. If you have a great idea, we’d love to hear about it! If you just want to drop your tree of somewhere and be done with it, The City of Fort Collins and Larimer County are offering free tree recycling until January 18, 2016. Here’s what to do:

  • Remove all decorations, including tinsel, lights, tree stand, nails, and plastic bags.
  • Take your tree to one of the following free drop-off locations:
    • Edora Park, 1420 E. Stuart St. (Tennis court parking lot)
    • Larimer County Landfill, 5887 S. Taft Hill Rd. (Monday – Saturday, 8a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
    • Rolland Moore Park, 2201 S. Shields St. (Parking lot, S.E. corner)
    • Streets Department, 625 Ninth Street (S.W. corner of Lemay Ave. and E. Vine Dr.)
    • Fossil Creek Park, 5821 S. Lemay Ave.
    • Wellington Recycling Drop-Off Site (corner of 6th Street and Grant Ave.)
  • All free tree recycling ends on January 18, 2016, so don’t wait. Besides, the longer you wait, the more dried needles you’ll have to dig out of your carpet.

Poinsettia Clearance Sale

  • Poinsettia_NL6.5″ poinsettias only $5.00 (Reg. Price $17.00)
  • 2″, 4″, 8″ and 10″ poinsettias 50% Off
It’s the season of giving so we are offering huge savings on all poinsettias through Dec. 24th!  These colorful winter bloomers will brighten your home for the holidays or make perfect gifts for family and friends. Click here to see our complete list of current Holiday Specials.

Christmas Ornaments 50% Off!

Ornaments_NLAll of our 2015 Christmas ornaments are 50% off through Dec. 18!  Click here to see a complete list of our current Holiday Specials.

“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…”

You know Christmastime has truly arrived when the tree is up and you sit back in the warm glow cast by the lights, breathe in the beauty, and admire the ornaments you’ve collected over the years. To help create such a moment, we at Fort Collins Nursery can provide you with the ideal fresh-cut or living Christmas tree.

tree shoppers

Cut Trees

For a cut tree, you can choose from Colorado-grown Alpine Fir and Lodgepole Pine, or from Fraser Fir and Scotch Pine grown on tree farms in Minnesota.

 Native Trees

Alpine Fir and Lodgepole Pine are cut from the Rocky Mountains in an ecologically sensitive way, selectively thinned from thick tree stands. Small trees are never topped from larger trees. Because they are not grown on farms where trees are sheared, native trees are not always perfect, but they always have character. You may choose the graceful symmetry of our most popular tree, the silvery, short-needled Alpine Fir, or you may prefer the longer-needled Lodgepole Pine with needles that green up after the tree is brought indoors and placed in water. Both will fill your home with the evergreen freshness that characterizes Christmas.

 Farm-Grown Trees

Scotch Pine are one of the fastest growing varieties of Christmas tree available. Because they grow so quickly, they cost less than both wild-harvested trees and other farm grown trees and provide a great option budget-savvy tree shoppers. For folks who will settle for nothing less than the perfect Christmas tree, Fraser Fir is for you! It is the Mercedes of cut trees – the fullest that we carry – with thickly-clustered branches, deep green and silvery needles, and a sweet scent.

 All cut Christmas trees are fully guaranteed. If your tree drops needles prematurely, just bring it back with your receipt, and we will replace it or issue a store credit for the original price.

Cut Tree Care

When you purchase a Christmas tree from Fort Collins Nursery, we will remove ½” from the trunk base so that it is immediately ready to absorb water. If your tree will sit outside for a few days, you’ll need to saw it off before bringing it indoors. Place your tree in an area free from drafts or excessive heat.

tree preservativeCut trees must have a steady supply of water in order to stay fresh. Some folks swear by using preservatives in the water. You can make preservative yourself by mixing 1 cup corn syrup and 3 tablespoons chlorine bleach into 1 gallon of warm water. For those of you who do not want to fiddle with a preservative, just make sure your tree is placed in warm water, not cold, when you first set it up, as this helps soften the sap that otherwise can seal the cut end of the trunk, allowing a better uptake of water.

For trees that you want to keep up a long time or for trees in a warm or drafty spot, we also sell Wilt-Pruf, a preservative which you spray on the needles to preserve freshness. One warning, though: Wilt-Pruf can fade the bluish color on Fir and Spruce.

As for discarding your tree when the season is over, many cities provide tree recycling programs where trees that are taken to designated locations are shredded and used for mulch in public areas. Trees must be completely stripped of all ornaments, including tinsel. Check your city’s website for drop-off points and dates.

You can also extend the use of your tree by removing the branches and placing them over tender plants, or in windy exposed gardens where they serve as an extra layer of mulch throughout the winter. Just don’t forget to pick them up in the spring!

Living Trees

For those of you who want to enjoy your Christmas tree for longer than a single holiday season, consider a living Christmas tree. You can choose from a wide selection of fir, spruce, and pine varieties depending on what your landscape needs are. Fort Collins Nursery has a variety of sizes from small coffee-table trees to large landscape sized trees.

living xmas treeOnce you’ve chosen your living tree and taken it home, keep it outdoors in a cool shady location, protected from severe winds. Living trees are dormant, and must not be kept indoors for longer than 5 to 7 days; otherwise they may break dormancy prematurely and begin to grow, greatly reducing their chances for survival after planting. Once indoors, decorate with mini lights or LED lights, not large incandescent lights that produce lots of heat.

Plan to plant your living tree outdoors right after Christmas if you were able to pre-dig the planting hole and cover the backfill soil with burlap or plastic to prevent it from freezing. We’ll give you planting instructions when you purchase your tree. If the snow is too deep, or the backfill soil is frozen, place the tree, still in its container, in your pre-dug hole and cover the area around the base with a thick layer of mulch until it can be properly planted in spring. Or you can put the tree in an unheated building or a protected location outdoors, preferable with a nice pile of mulch around the container. You can then plant the tree when the soil has thawed in spring. In any of these situations, water the tree once a month if the soil in the root ball is not frozen.

Fort Collins Nursery guarantees hardy living Christmas trees for one year. If your tree does not live or grow to your satisfaction, we will replace the tree or issue credit for the original amount paid.

norfolk island pineAnother living Christmas tree that doubles as a houseplant is the Norfolk Island Pine. It can be decorated and kept inside indefinitely since it will not survive below-freezing weather. Come visit our warm greenhouse and see our selection of Norfolk Island Pine, and while you’re here, find the perfect poinsettia or Christmas cactus to add some holiday color!

Now you just have to decide which type of Christmas tree with grace your home this year. We’re here to help you with the decision and wish you Happy Tree Hunting!

By Julie Fair. Originally published in the TreeTalk Newsletter in Winter 1994, updated for 2015.

Micro greens: A Leaf for Any Season

(This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 edition of Edible Front Range magazine)

China Rose Radish. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

China Rose Radish. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

By Jesse Eastman

Even though they have been around for years, chances are good you’ve only recently heard of micro greens. These tasty treats are just what their name implies – tiny little leaves. Used for years in high-end restaurants, micro greens are making waves with a broader audience thanks in part to the many different “grow-your-own” movements and the popularity of “locavore” cuisine. With winter coming soon, finding a way to get garden fresh greens to the table presents a challenge for the health conscious cook, or anyone who likes the taste and feel of spring. Micro greens might just be the solution.


What are micro greens?

The term “Micro greens” applies to a wide variety of leafy plants and herbs that are harvested at a tender young age. According to Kathy Hatfield of Raspberry Hill Farm, micro greens are harvested either as soon as the cotyledon (baby) leaves emerge, or once the first full set of true leaves emerge. A few popular varieties include:

Red Choi. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Red Choi. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

  • Arugula (Nutty/peppery flavor; not as intense as mature arugula)
  • Beets (Very subtle beet flavor; gorgeous red stem)
  • China Rose Radish (Sharp radish flavor; rosy pink stems)
  • Cilantro (Intense cilantro flavor)
  • Italian Basil (Same basil taste you love, but more subtle)
  • Kale (Much sweeter in its micro form than its mature counterpart)
  • Kohlrabi (Similar to the flavor of broccoli stems)
  • Komatsuna (Mustard flavor; milder than standard mustard micro greens)
  • Lemon Basil (Zesty citrus flavor)
  • Mizuna (Spicy, but much milder than mustard micro greens)
  • Mustard (Gives a spicy bite!)
  • Red Amaranth (Mild flavor; bright red color)
  • Red Choi (Mild flavor; deep burgundy color)
Beet Kale Mix. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Beet Kale Mix. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Micro greens can be distinguished from sprouts in several ways. first, sprouts typically do not have leaves. Second, sprouts consist of the entire juvenile plant, including roots, whereas micro greens consist of only the leafy tops. Third, sprouts are grown in water or in wet “sprouting” bags, with no light necessary. Micro greens, on the other hand, are grown in soil under bright light. Finally, sprouts are almost always very pale, almost white in color. Micro greens have a rich variety of colors depending on the type of plant being grown.


Cilantro. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Cilantro. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Are micro greens nutritious?

The answer is resoundingly “Yes!” According to a study done by researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park (Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens), micro greens are a packed with nutrients like ascorbic acid and beta- carotene when compared to the nutrient content of mature leaves of the same varieties. Despite this promising data, many people believe more research is needed. The nutrient content of any plant can vary dramatically depending on the light it is exposed to, the soil it’s grown in, ambient temperature, and many other factors that were not covered in the University of Maryland Study. Nonetheless, these little leaves are no nutritional lightweights.


Micro greens in flats. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Micro greens in flats. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Are micro greens easy to cultivate?

Micro greens only take an average of 10-14 days to grow which makes them very simple and easy to grow, even in your own home. Because they are harvested at such a young age, they do not develop the deep extensive root systems that would necessitate deep planting containers. At Raspberry Hill Farms, seeds are planted directly into standard nursery flats (11” x 22”) filled with about an inch potting soil, although any container will do. Hatfield describes the process as being identical to starting seeds indoors before the growing season. The only difference, she says, is that these plants are harvested while they are still tiny, instead of being allowed to grow to maturity. As with any recently germinated plants, consistent and even moisture must be maintained; a moisture dome can be helpful in this regard. Grow micro greens in an area with lots of light – in areas with inadequate light, micro greens will get leggy and not develop the nice strong colors for which they are so popular. Once the young plants reach proper size for harvest, use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the plants off at the soil surface. The soil, with roots and all can be composted and reused.


Beets. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

Beets. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hatfield, Raspberry Hill Farm

You’ve harvested, now what?

Optimally, micro greens should be harvested immediately before use. Wash them in a salad spinner. If your micro greens are ready for harvest but you’re not ready to eat them just yet, store them in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer without washing them. If you wash them before storage, they will get slimy very quickly. Most varieties of micro greens will keep for 5-7 days if properly stored. As with any greens, it is best to consume micro greens as shortly after harvest as possible, with minimal, if any, storage to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

There are many different culinary uses for micro greens. The most common use for micro greens is as a garnish in virtually any dish. They are frequently used to top salads, adding crisp sharp flavors and bright colors. They can also be used in sandwiches or wraps for a surprising bit of freshness any time of year. Micro greens are finding their way into sushi, where their flavors interact very well with wasabi and soy sauce. They also turn up in soups, added at the last minute so they don’t become soggy in the hot broth.

More and more, it seems that consumers want food that is locally grown, organic, and nutritious, and with the ever increasing popularity of cooking shows on television, awareness of the visual presentation of food is at an all-time high. The positive psychological effect of harvesting fresh greens through the winter months is significant. With micro greens riding such a groundswell of popularity, there’s really only one question that remains: What are you waiting for?


Special thanks to Kathy Hatfield from Raspberry Hill Farm for all of her advice and wisdom.

Raspberry Hill Farm is a family owned northern Colorado  farm specializing in specialty cut flowers.

The Strange Allure of Largeness

By Jesse Eastman, Owner & General Manager

AllureOfLarge_NLWith our Giant Pumpkin Contest only days away, this seems an appropriate time to talk about size. Of course, there are plenty of jokes about size, and why it does or doesn’t matter, but the fact is, humans seem obsessed with things that are big. Like really big. Things that shouldn’t exist in that size. But there they are, the country’s biggest rubber band ball, the world’s tallest building, the largest pizza ever made – these all have a way of capturing our attention in a way nothing called “normal” ever can.

I’m sure there’s a psychologist reading this who could explain the reasons we love things that are abnormally large, some deeply seeded need to connect with something bigger than ourselves, but I don’t much care for that. After all, I make my living growing and selling plants – what do I know about the human psyche? No, to me, it is much simpler than the complexities of the mind and the human condition. To me, it is simply an escape into the world of fantasy where I spent so much time as a kid.

The world of oversized produce is familiar to anyone who enjoys fairy gardens. It is a strikingly similar landscape, seen through a fun-house mirror of sorts. With fairy gardens, you create a magical world where fairies and gnomes may roam. You are the architect of that entire microscopic universe, and it is empowering and exciting. However, when you encounter a softball-sized tomato or a 1200 lb. pumpkin, you are no longer on the outside looking in. You have stepped through the looking glass and entered the world of fantasy as a participant rather than an observer.

I grew up in Waldorf schools, where the idea of living in a mushroom cap was just as reasonable as riding a bicycle, and some of my favorite literary friends rode massive eagles to visit their grandparents. When I was young, my dad used to take me and my sister to the arboretum at CSU where we would race around madly, chasing the elves and sprites that only we could see hiding beneath the drooping limbs of the shrubs and trees.

At some point in my life, that imaginary world lost its appeal, or at least, I lost my intimate connection to it. For me, that is a big part of why big fruit is fun. It’s an opportunity to lose myself in a world of magic that a reasonable adult would say is impossible. A zucchini as long as my leg? Not likely. A pumpkin that weighs nearly as much as a VW Bug? Only in your dreams. And yet, come Sunday, if you join us for our Giant Pumpkin Contest, you just might get to witness, nay, experience a ridiculously joyous encounter with hugeness in a manner usually reserved for a child’s imagination. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The Hopefulness of Bulbs

By Jesse Eastman, Owner & General Manager

“I long for the bulbs to arrive, for the early autumn chores are melancholy, but the planting of bulbs is the work of hope and always thrilling.”

– May Sarton

Bulbs2_NLLike a time-worn leaf drifting lazily down to the ground, I feel myself drifting into autumn feeling the exhaustion of a long summer settling deep into my bones as I prepare for the crisp cool mornings and brilliant yellow and orange hues of fall. I know the gardening season is drawing to a close, a transition that I greet with both relief and sorrow. No more fresh bouquets of zinnias, cosmos, and dahlias. No more weeding. No more stuffing my mouth full of juicy cherry tomatoes straight off the vine. No more frustrating destructive pests damaging my plants before I get to enjoy them. It’s a mixed bag, so I’ve learned to find pleasures in the garden wherever they may hide, and often that means finding ways to get excited for next year.

Bulbs are, by far, my greatest gardening pleasure in autumn. Wrapped in the dull papery husk of each bulb is the potential for something truly magnificent. A tiny crocus bulb waits through winter, and by early spring it is so impatient that it bursts forth, often when there is still snow on the ground, and reminds us that winter will soon end. It may be tiny, but it is a shot across the icy bow of winter. Other bulbs soon follow, until we inundated in a deluge of pink, yellow, red, purple, and white.

Garlic3_NLAt the same time, a less flamboyant but equally magnificent bulb is kicking into gear. Garlic, best planted in fall, begins as a single clove on its purposeful march to maturity. It multiplies and divides, and soon an entire head of garlic can be found beneath its fragrant, understated green stalks. Soon, those of us wise enough to have planted garlic are successfully fending off vampires and personal space invaders with little more than a well-aimed waft of this deliciously pungent plant.

All of this is reason enough for me to power through my fall cleanup. Sure, I could let my garden languish all winter until I am forced to manically clear dead plants to make way for new ones in spring, but I would miss out on all the joys that bulbs have to offer. So instead I resolutely, if not mournfully, pull on my gloves yet again and step outside to clear dead tomato plants, pull corn stalks, and cut back perennials, all with the knowledge that the bulbs that will fill these spaces will make my life more thrilling, more colorful, more fragrant, and more hopeful.

Bountiful harvest: Don’t let it go to waste!

Preserve1_NLBy Jesse Eastman, Owner & General Manager

So you’ve put in work all spring preparing your garden, selecting plant varieties, fertilizing, protecting plants from late freezes, fending off pests, and watering wilting plants in the heat of summer. Finally that hard work is starting to pay off. Tomatoes are turning red, peppers are getting spicy, herbs are growing fast, and food seems abundant. But for many gardeners, this presents a challenge – suddenly your garden is producing more food than you can eat before it starts to go bad! Don’t let your early season zeal for homegrown food turn into harvest guilt over food that is rotting on the vine or shriveling up in your kitchen. Here’s a few ideas on what to do with all that delicious juicy bounty:

Donate it

There are a number of different programs that let you donate extra garden produce to help feed people who don’t have reliable access to food. A great program here in Larimer County is Plant It Forward, a collaboration between the Food Bank for Larimer County and the Gardens on Spring Creek. Gardeners can drop off extra produce at the Food Bank or at the Gardens, as well as at many neighborhood drop-off locations. In 2014 they did just that, to the tune of over 37,000 pounds of fresh produce!


Basics for canning include jars, tongs, and a funnel

Preserve it

If you’ve never preserved food before, you’re really missing out. Preserving produce is the best way to get homegrown flavors in the heart of winter when grocery store tomatoes taste more like flavorless gelatin than healthy vegetables. To get started, figure out which method will work best for you. A good book can be a huge help here, and our staff pick is Keeping the Harvest: Preserving Your Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead (available at Fort Collins Nursery). Additional food preserving resources are available on the Colorado State University Extension website.

There are a few different methods for preserving, each with its own pros and cons.


Freezing produce is the simplest and easiest way to preserve food. It’s a great place to start for beginners, as it doesn’t require any special equipment other than freezer bags. Depending on what you’re freezing, it can be as simple as a little bit of processing (skinning, coring, slicing, etc.) and then packing it away in the freezer. You can even freeze loaves of zucchini bread for a rich sweet winter treat. Frozen produce typically has a shorter storage life than properly canned produce, so be sure to enjoy it by midwinter.


Canning requires a little bit more work in preparing and processing veggies for storage, and a few basic pieces of equipment, but it’s a simple process that pays dividends. From canned whole tomatoes and sauces to pickles to jams and jellies, there are a multitude of ways to pack that summertime flavor into a jar for later. Properly canned food can have a very long shelf life, so keep this in mind when you need your food to last until next March or beyond! Check out our tip page on preserving food.


Drying or dehydrating certain produce and herbs brings a whole new level of versatility to your preserved food game. Dehydrated tomatoes ground into a powder can be used as a flavoring, or reconstituted with water to make tomato paste, juice, or broth. Drying herbs is a wonderful way to make sure your pantry is stocked with flavor, and as I’ve mentioned on our Facebook page, drying herbs is one of the few places where you can really save money vs. buying dried herbs at the store. Don’t forget about your fruit either – dried apples are great for teething infants, and dried berries can make that bowl of cereal in January taste like July!

Save Seed

Depending on what type of vegetables are in your garden, saving seed can mean saving money.

Not all seed can be saved and replanted, at least, not if you want the same veggie next year as you grew this year. This is why heirloom varieties are so special. Hybridized plants (non-heirloom) are developed by carefully cross-pollinating plants with desirable characteristics until the propagator decides they’ve got a winning combination. The seeds from these plants are not likely to produce the same fruit as their parent plant because pollen from another plant may have muddled up the genetic mix. Even carefully preventing cross-pollination will sometimes fail to produce seed that is genetically identical to the parent. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, are by definition “open-pollinated,” which means their seed can be collected and planted year after year, regardless of whose pollen has gotten mixed in during the pollination process, and the plants grown with that seed should always match the previous generation.

Now that you’ve determined whether you have seed worth saving, it’s time to make sure you are saving the seed in such a way as to ensure its viability for next year. Here’s our tip page on seed saving. Harvest your seed too early, and it may not have matured enough. Harvest it too late, and it may have already dispersed itself allover your garden. Every type of plant has unique needs when it comes to properly harvesting seed, and fortunately there are some great resources available to help. In particular, take a look at the Living Seed Library, a Colorado organization dedicated to community prosperity and health through the collection and preservation of seeds. They have a great section on saving seed with how-to guides and an extensive list of resources and references.

Whatever you choose to do with your harvest, there’s no reason to let it go to waste. Dry it, freeze it, can it, donate it. When the earth gives you so much, it’s only fair you use it all!