FCN Blog

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!

(Archives) Xeriscapes: Fantasy vs. Reality

XericWildflowersBy Jesse Eastman

As I sit down to write, I check the 10-day weather report and see ten daily high temperatures at or above 80 degrees and very little moisture. I love the heat, and this is looking like a classic hot Colorado summer to me.

Of course, the plants in our gardens may have a slightly different opinion. They will get thirsty. Although we are not subject to the watering restrictions faced during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, being water-wise is no less important. The good news is that a xeriscape (pronounced ZIR-a-scape) garden doesn’t have to look like a desert.

A well-planned xeriscape can incorporate all kinds of plants, even those typically considered to be “thirsty” plants. Sure, plants like Russian sage, yucca, potentilla, and hyssop will thrive in sunny dry conditions, but if you have shady flowerbeds, even plants like hostas and ferns can thrive without a huge amount of irrigation.

Before planting in your yard, pour yourself a cool drink and take a day to watch how the sunlight hits your yard. Afternoon sun is hotter than morning sun, so pay attention to the time of day sun is hitting a particular flowerbed. The more sun an area gets, the more xeric the plants in that area need to be.

Another factor to consider in creating a beautiful and lush xeriscape is the way water moves through your yard. The next time we get a heavy rainstorm, grab an umbrella and see where water puddles. Areas where water collects, including where your gutter downspouts pour out, make great locations for any of those must-have plants that aren’t officially drought-tolerant.

Of course, we still must consider using plants that are actually well suited for hot dry locations. All too frequently first-time gardeners, and even some seasoned pros think drought-tolerant plants can be planted and never watered. Unfortunately, this is not true. You wouldn’t take a child with the potential to be a great sprinter and match him against an Olympic athlete. Like a child, even drought-tolerant plants need some care and guidance before they can truly excel.

A majority of plants that exhibit drought tolerance are able to survive dry conditions thanks to extensive root systems that reach deep into the cool moist soil below the surface.

Now consider the size of the root system on a plant at the moment you pull it out of the nursery pot. Not a lot of room for roots to grow is there? Because potted plants start with a relatively small roots system, initial supplemental water is critical in helping them get established your garden.

Water with a slow feed of water over an extended period to allow the water to soak in and reduce surface runoff. When the water soaks in deep, the roots follow it and will soon be able to seek out deep water for themselves.

Additionally, using a product to promote root growth such as Age Old Root Rally with Mycorrhizae, Hi-Yield Bone Meal, or Fertilome Root Stimulator will help establish a healthy and vibrant root system.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone to explore the wonderful world of drip irrigation. It is a great way to get just the right amount of water to your plants without wasting any on over-spray and evaporation. By keeping overhead water off leaves, a number of fungal problems can be avoided.

Drip irrigations systems are easily customizable to each individual yard. Basically, drip irrigation is amazing and deserves it’s own article. Suffice to say, a well-planned drip system can improve plant health and reduce water bills.

The single most important part of any low-water garden is planning. Hopefully the tips in this article provide a good starting place, and remember: our experienced and helpful staff is always here to help you plan for success. Our goal is to help you turn your drought-tolerant garden into a thriving xeric wonder!


Native Plants for Colorado Wildlife


By Matt Edrich

It probably comes as no surprise that Fort Collins folks place a high value on the often exquisitely beautiful nature surrounding our city. Vast, open plains to the east; soaring, river-cut canyon prairies north and south; and of course, the towering, jagged Rocky Mountains to our west.

Our town sits at the confluence of a number of ecosystems, and as such, life in Fort Collins provides ample opportunity to interact with a huge variety of wildlife in an enjoyable, responsible manner. In honor of cultivating a healthy relationship between our society and our world, I’ve prepared a synopsis of plants and trees available at Fort Collins Nursery that help support local wildlife – because who doesn’t dream of spotting Bambi in their yard just once?

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi)

Also known as kinnikinnick (which really does roll right off the tongue), bearberry is groundcover shrub that can be found in dry shaded areas all over Colorado – it’s native! Many animals rely on bearberry: caterpillars, butterflies, and hummingbirds feed on its nectar; the berries themselves are a staple for animals including robins, thrushes, waxwings – and yes bears too; grazers such as deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep feed on the leaves. On top of all that, bearberry is well adapted to handle drought conditions, making it a great landscaping plant to add some coverage to bare areas. Its deep evergreen leaves and contrasting red berries make it a great addition to any yard!

Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)

We all know this beautiful and beloved symbol of the Colorado wild. You’ll find it growing in light shade everywhere from the low plains up to tree-line in the alpine ranges! Did you know that its nectar is an important food source for a whole slew of animals, from crucial pollinators (bees, butterflies, and moths) to hummingbirds? Native to Colorado, its soft blue and white color patterns are sure to bring that little extra something to your garden – whether you’re in it for beauty or for bees!

Giant (Tall) Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Another native perennial, giant goldenrod is just one of many goldenrod species native to Colorado. Usually blamed for hay fever, the pollen of the goldenrod flower is not actually airborne – it relies mostly on butterflies to spread its pollen, so if you plant some in a sunny spot in your garden you can expect a few pleasant visitors! Goldenrod blooms later in the summer, so its addition will keep the colors in your yard beautiful well past the summer solstice.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

The quaking aspen, a tree so beautiful and prolific that we’ve named cities, resorts, mountains and more after it, is probably one of the most iconic trees native to Colorado. Named for the way its leaves “quake” in the wind, aspen is browsed by beavers, squirrels, rabbits, porcupine, pika, deer, moose, black bears, and elk, to name a few. Aspens are great shade providers and make for truly dramatic backdrops during the fall color changes. Considering that you can get a whole aspen grove from just one tree….well…need we say more?

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

The serviceberry is a large shrub native to the foothills of Colorado. It is extremely well-suited to handle hot and dry conditions, and tends to thrive in rocky places where many other plants would struggle. Its fruits are attractive to deer and elk, as well as both resident and migrant birds, and its distinctive yellow color in the fall makes it a neighborhood favorite, both with your neighbors and your neighborhood critters!

Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus)

Mountain snowberry is a shrub commonly found in montane areas of Colorado. They do well with little moisture, and tolerate full sun to nearly full shade. Their loose open habit makes them great background plants. Snowberries attract small mammals and browsers, as well as songbirds – meaning that one of these outside your window could be a great way to wake up to three little birds outside your doorstep!

Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii)

Woods rose is a native wild rose that can grow up to 5’ tall and produces large thickets of thorny stems. Don’t let its prickly demeanor fool you, though, this woodland shrub is quite charming. Bearing pink single-petal blossoms in late spring and early summer that bees love, this plant is enjoyed by foraging animals in the autumn because of the orange-red rose hips that develop after the blooms fade.

If you’ve ever found yourself gazing into your yard, thinking something might be missing from all the beautiful colors, have you ever thought it might be the birdsongs or squirrel chatter, or perhaps animal tracks that are such an inseparable aspect of Colorado flora? This list is a great starting place, but remember that there are many options for you to explore if you wish to strengthen your connection with the environment.

May your roots reach deep and your petals stretch wide!


Planning for Pleasure in the Garden

GardenPlanIn the past I’ve written about the importance of developing a detailed plan prior to the start of the gardening season – measure your beds, track sunlight, review your carefully compiled notes from the previous season, etc. Here’s the thing about all that: I was wrong. This detail-oriented approach is just one way to plan, but that doesn’t make it right. Don’t get me wrong, charts and diagrams are a great method, but only if that’s the way you want to do it. Gardening should make you happy.

When I was a student at Rivendell Elementary School, a great deal of emphasis was placed on “individualized” learning. This approach recognizes the importance of discovering each child’s learning style and adapts his or her educational program to fit. This allows each child to be successful in his or her own unique way. Similarly, a garden plan should be adapted to fit the gardener’s unique style, and success should be measured by each individual gardener.

Perhaps meticulous note-taking and a tape measurer are your weapons of choice in the garden. You look at the space available, consider past successes and failures, and break down the yard into sections to be analyzed and optimized like a high-performance vehicle. The idea of winging it makes you shake your head and feel sorry for those scatter-brained gardeners whose approach you might consider to be cavalier. If this you, embrace the comprehensive approach, and while you’re at it, develop contingency plans in case of bad weather or unforeseen pest problems. Your desire for order will thank you.

If, on the other hand, the suggestion of a meticulous and measured methodology sends you into a fit of anxiety, you might prefer a more “freehand” approach. Maybe there is a certain peony you’ve seen, and you want it in your yard. A more fastidious gardener might say “too bad there’s no space in my yard for that peony,” but not you. You will gladly accept the challenge, pruning a tree branch to allow more light, removing a tired daylily, and ultimately finding a way to squeeze that plant you’ve always wanted into your landscape.

Even still, this might be seem like a very organized approach compared to what you’re comfortable with. Your approach might be more…primal. You feel the need to plant something, but don’t have any strong idea what that something should be. You shop impulsively and ride the winds of fate like a leaf in the breeze. Sure, you might suffer some devastating failures, but you’ll also experience some dizzying successes that would leave more data-driven gardeners scratching their heads, wondering how on earth you managed to grow that plant in that spot.

For me, gardening is about enjoying and celebrating life. I fall somewhere in between the strict planner and the freehand gardener. I like knowing what to expect and I love optimizing my landscape, but I realize there are certain things I can’t live without and I will bend over backwards to find a way to make them thrive. This is the approach that brings me the most pleasure, but that that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for anyone else. Some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever encountered are works of chance and folly (after all, nature is a tinkerer, not a designer). Therefore, I offer you a full and unconditional retraction of my suggestion that the best way to garden is with graph paper and a ruler. The best way to garden is the way that makes you happy, and you are the only person who knows what that looks like!

5 Tips for Successful Vegetable Gardens

VeggieBoxRGBSpring is here, and that means it’s time to shake off the winter cloak and get outside. Here’s a few tips to help you get your garden underway for a successful season filled with delicious homegrown food:

  1. Plan ahead
    As with many things in life, a good plan is the foundation for success. Measure your garden space, learn how much sunlight reaches your garden, and design your irrigation system. Research how many plants you’ll need of each variety to satisfy your family’s appetite. Figure out which plants can be sown directly into your garden from seed vs. started indoors or purchased as starts.
  1. Work in stages
    Reduce the stress of spring – don’t wait until the day you’re ready to plant to start preparing your garden. Pick a day to clear away any dead plants left over from last year, another day to prepare the soil, and another to make repairs to your irrigation system. By spreading out the work load, you can enjoy the pleasure of planting without the chaos of being unprepared.
  1. Plant diversity and crop rotation for garden health
    Crop diversity prevents pest problems by encouraging strong populations of beneficial predator insects. Add some flowers to your garden – not only will it make your garden more colorful, but it can improve vegetable production by attracting a broad range of pollinators. Choose varieties that make good cut flowers, such as zinnias, gladiolas, dahlias, larkspur, and sunflowers, and enjoy blooms in your garden and in your home all season long. Crop rotation reduces the potential for soil-borne diseases and viruses to get a foothold. Don’t grow the same plants in the same beds year after year and keep those pests guessing.
  1. Mulch
    Mulch is a huge benefit to a garden once plants have started to grow. It blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, which prevents weeds from germinating, reduces water loss due to evaporation, and prevents soil erosion in windy climates. Sterile straw makes a great veggie garden mulch because it decomposes easily in your compost at the end of the season.
  1. Don’t let failure lead to defeat
    This is probably the most important tip on this list. Some people are musicians, some are analysts, some are cooks. The same can be said of gardeners – some are great at growing flowers, some at growing tomatoes, some at growing apples. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 known plant species in the world. With that many choices, which is more likely – that you aren’t good at growing plants, or that you haven’t found the right plants yet? Instead of feeling let down when only two out of seven different veggies you plant succeed, focus on the two that performed well. Your local garden center can help you figure out why those two were successful, and what other options might also succeed under your care.

March of Progress

MarchTreesMarch in Colorado is a season of rapid and dramatic changes. We enter the month in a world that is, by all appearances, void of plant life, and we will bid her farewell surrounded by tulips, daffodils, and leaves popping from buds so fast it makes your head spin. While all this is going on, Fort Collins Nursery is experiencing a whirlwind of change, too.

March starts with the entire outside area of the nursery neatly tucked away for winter. Our bigger trees are stacked closely together, trunks wrapped in protective sleeves, and root balls buried in soil and woodchips to insulate them from the freezing winter air. Smaller trees, shrubs, and perennials are loaded into hoop houses where they are watered and covered with thick frost blankets to wait out the cold. Disassembled fountains wait patiently beneath tarps, pottery moves indoors, even our wagons are stacked neatly together to wait until they are needed.

As we progress through the month, spring creeps in. Days lengthen noticeably, the air gets a little warmer, and the wettest month of the year gets into full swing. Soon, we are digging out trees and setting them in rows. Tractors circulate with trailer after trailer of perennials and shrubs, carrying them to their temporary homes where they will wait to be discovered by a loving gardener. New loads of pottery arrive to join the holdouts and they all mix and mingle as they drift back outside. Likewise, fountains move back outdoors to meet their new arrivals, prepared for another season of splashing and gurgling their way from our yard to someone’s patio. Our wagons spread out across the property, but not before taking a quick stop at the service station where their handles are checked and wheels are repaired.

In so many ways, Fort Collins Nursery is its own little world. Tucked away along the banks of the Poudre, surrounded by the noise of the highway and the rough and rugged atmosphere of the surrounding industrial parks, we are blessed by the soothing elements of nature that make up our daily existence. Seemingly idyllic, but far from paradise, we bounce along through the seasons just like the trees that so resiliently go dormant and awaken each year without fail, keeping our world a little greener.

Greening up the Indoors

By Cathy Gladwin

Each year at this time, I redirect my horticultural interests indoors to my houseplants. They become the focus of my nurturing instinct until next spring. Right now they need to be dusted to improve their cell function, they need to have their dead and unhealthy leaves removed, and some plants need a different light situation to compensate for the shorter days and changing angle of the sun during the winter months. But my favorite part of this annual attention to my indoor greenery is adding a few new plants.

Perhaps this year I’ll add some refreshing fragrance to my home with a jasmine vine or a species of indoor citrus. Or I might soften my décor with a graceful fern. I have such a range of choices in the nursery’s greenhouse that it’s hard to decide, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to a few.


The sweetly aromatic flowers of indoor citrus (Citrus sp.) are definitely worth the effort. Perhaps I’ll try a grapefruit or a kumquat tree. The glossy green leaves will enhance my indoor forest, even when not in bloom. Either needs the sunniest exposure possible in a spot away from any drafts. Well-drained soil which is allowed to dry out between waterings is essential. Towards spring I’ll feed it with a high nitrogen houseplant fertilizer. In the summer it will enjoy a location outdoors with bright indirect sunlight.

A gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) would provide very fragrant creamy white blooms set off by dark shiny leaves. This plant requires frequent watering to keep the soil evenly moist. If it dries out just once, the leaves and developing buds will drop. A humidity tray (a plastic saucer filled with gravel and shallow water not touching the pot bottom) helps prevent bud drop. Bright indirect light is best – an east window is ideal as long as the plant is checked for water daily. Cool night temperatures (60-65°F) and weekly feedings with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants will promote blossoming.

Jasmine, a relative of the gardenia, might also freshen my home with its fragrant delicate blossoms. The jasmine vines at the nursery include Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum). Both need support for the dark green vines that yield delicate sweet smelling white flowers. Both require bright light with some direct sun, similar to the gardenia. (Aha – these two would make great companion plants for my east kitchen window!) Also, like the gardenia, the jasmines need constantly moist soil, the benefit of a humidity tray, and weekly feedings with fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

Some new lush green foliage plants would make my house feel cozier. An old-time favorite, Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) has always appealed to me. Its graceful arching habit makes it the perfect plant for hanging baskets or an elegant stand. Light from the north window in a cool room suits this plant (the perfect addition to my bedroom). It needs a well-drained fibrous soil, watering when the soil surface is dry to the touch, and extra humidity. Ferns are shy feeders, only needing monthly feedings at half the recommended rate of a balanced houseplant fertilizer. In the summer a protected shady location outdoors will spur lush new growth.

I’m looking forward to a few newcomers to enrich my home during the long winter months ahead. They will satisfy my need to putter with plants until the outdoor growing season arrives in spring.

This article was originally published in the Winter 1994 edition of Fort Collins Nursery’s Tree Talk newsletter and has been modified and updated.