FCN Blog

From the kitchen to the garden

By Kathy Reid
Originally published October 2014

istock compost 4webI learned the phrase from my mother: “Garbage is gold.” The garbage she refers to isn’t just any old thing that ends up in the trash can. Her “gold” is the scraps that accumulate in the kitchen from the not-so-perfect leaves of lettuce to the stringy orange carrot peels and the used coffee grounds.

Yes, my mother is a composter and has been since long before it became a fashionable thing to do. As far back as I can remember, there was always some sort of receptacle under the kitchen sink filled with her soupy, sour-smelling accumulation. How often did she tell me over the years, “No, no. Not down the disposal. That garbage is gold!” For my mother is also a vegetable gardener and she learned long ago the magical power of the rich, black compost that she created from things that so often end up down the disposal or in the trash can.

As I washed the dishes the other night in my own kitchen, I contemplated the half-gallon milk cartons that line the space along the back of the sink, stuffed with banana peels, potato skins and apple cores. Nothing is wasted, for I, too, have learned the secret potential of what another might see as mere trash.

I don’t know where my mother learned the skill of turning kitchen refuse into a wonderful soil amendment, but I would guess it was from her own mother. The skill, no doubt, is as ancient as cultivation itself. Whatever the source of the knowledge, I am happy to carry on the tradition.

My mother has taught me so many things, among them the precious nature of garbage. I will think of her next spring as I marvel at the tender seedlings pushing up through the dark, rich soil of my garden. Thanks, Mom!


Oh Hail!

We garden in Colorado! We know the heartbreak of the 5 or 10 minute storm that can undo 500 hours of hard work.

When hail strikes—what’s a gardener to do?

  • Wait a day or two. Let the sun shine and the anger subside. The damage will be easier to evaluate after some time has passed. This is a good time to work on a new margarita recipe!
  • Remove debris that could encourage the onset of disease.
  • Prune selectively. Remove broken stems and leaf parts. Even parts of leaves can be removed. Make angled cuts for a more natural look.
  • Feed your plants with a gentle nitrogen fertilizer. We recommend Age Old Grow liquid fertilizer.
  • Watch for insect infestations. Bad bugs tend to pick on weakened plants.
  • Try Fertilome Triple Action, a blend of naturally occurring pesticides for your garden, or OMRI approved Safer Insect Killing Soap.
  • Re-evaluate plant choice and positioning. Fine-leafed plants generally tolerate hail better than those with large leaves. Many natives are well-adapted to hail. Position plants prone to hail damage under trees or on an east facing wall or fence.
  • Have a plentiful array of patio pots. Those that are spared can be moved into place while others recover.
  • This is why God invented ANNUALS. They can be purchased in full-bloom-and put in areas that need instant color and give INSTANT gratification!
  • Conclusion….Keep a hail-thy attitude, and say “What the hail-where are those margaritas?”


My 5 Favorite Foods to Grow

By Jesse Eastman

Humans have a long history of eating plants, and we’ve grown quite adept at cultivating certain plants that we find particularly desirable, whether because they’re easy to grow, nutritious, or just plain tasty. Being the opinionated creatures that we are, it would be nearly impossible to talk about the world’s top 5 favorite edible plants without lumping an awful lot of people into some pretty broad groups. Instead, I’ve put together a list of my personal favorites, those plants that I’ve come to love not only because I like to eat them but because I can grow them, and grow them well. You may like some of them, you may loathe some of them, but hey, it’s my opinion, and it’s not for everyone!

#5 – Carrots

Carrots are great for a number of reasons. They are easy to grow – all you need is good deep soil and lots of sun and they will generally thrive. There are many varieties that grow quickly, so you can sow successive crops for harvests from early summer until fall (longer if you have cold frames!) They store well, lasting nearly a month in the fridge or several months in a proper root cellar. They are versatile to cook with – eat them raw, plain or with peanut butter. Steam them, saute them, boil them, puree them, bake them in a cake, juice them, the list goes on. They are commonly known as these long orange things, but in fact come in many different shapes and colors, from stubby little spheres that resemble orange radishes to long slender deep purple spears. Best of all, they are great to share with friends. Even your dog will enjoy snacking on a garden fresh carrot with you!

#4 – Potatoes

Potatoes have many of the same perks as carrots – they’re easy to grow, they’re versatile, and they store very well. On top of that, there are some truly unique and bizarre varieties to choose from. From the small fingerling to the giant Russet, from the white-fleshed red-skinned Red Norland to the Purple Majesty potato whose skin and flesh are an identical deep purple color. Potatoes also have a certain air of excitement about them that carrots lack. With a carrot, you can be sure that each plume of green foliage is representative of a single carrot. One seed, one root. With potatoes, however, digging into the soil to see what you’ve grow is like unwrapping a great big gift-wrapped box, only to find a multitude of smaller gifts inside. As you sift through the soil, you get to experience a new little burst of joy each time your fingers discover one more tuber.

#3 – Tomatillos

Tomatillos, when grown in pairs (or more) are wildly prolific producers. A single plant will grow to a height and width of three to four feet. They produce very reliably with a second plant present for pollination, and even a pair of plants will provide a mountain of fruit. The fruit itself is something of a wonder. A papery husk develops, and for a long time it will seem like it will never fill in. Don’t give up, though, and you will be rewarded with a fruit that is crisp, slightly tart, and very refreshing. Tomatillos are most well known for salsa verde, but they can be so much more. I enjoy slicing them into a salad, they can be pickled, you can even find great recipes for tomatillos margaritas. My personal favorite, however, is sliced thin in a juicy pork belly sandwich. The acidity of freshness of the tomatillos balances the intense richness of the succulent slice of pork, and the resulting explosion of flavor in my mouth is pure bliss.

#2: Tomatoes

There is no plant that makes me feel like a more successful and productive gardener than a tomato. The plants themselves are barely contained dynamos of plant growth. I’ve had Sungold tomato plants that have reached the top of my five foot tall tomato cages and trailed all the way back down to the ground before first frost put a stop to their vigor. Each variety has it’s own unique characteristics, and the best ones exploit those characteristics in magnificent fashion. A thriving cherry tomato like Sungold will produce hundreds of small gems of juicy goodness. A good old reliable slicing tomato like Champion will produce enough 6 oz. to 8 oz. fruit that you will never need to forgo sliced tomatoes on your burgers or sandwiches. Choose the right paste tomato (I prefer Fiaschetto di Manduria) will set pounds and pounds of fruit all at once, so that your time spent sweating in a hot humid kitchen canning jars and jars of sauce will not be wasted. The gargantuan beefsteak varieties might not produce a great quantity of fruit, but those that it does produce will be record setters. I once grew a Mortgage Lifter tomato that weighed in at 1 lb. 11 oz. As the great Guy Clark once said, “There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”

 #1 – Apples

Let it be known from the start that I have a heavy bias in favor of apples. My grandparents moved to western Colorado in the early 1960s and started an apple orchard. I spent many fond seasons seeing the orchards in all different stages of dress and undress, from the bare winter twigs to the fruit-laden limbs of late summer and fall. There are so many varieties of apples to choose from, it seems there must be one for every taste and mood. The trees themselves are beautiful. Their broad branches invite tree climbers young and old to explore the modest heights of their canopies. Their glossy gray bark curls at the edges, giving the trees a sense of craggy and ancient history. Apple trees can live an astonishingly long time – on average a well-cared for tree will last around 100 years, but they have been known to live for as long as 200 years. I find a certain joy in knowing that a tree that I can plant and enjoy can give food and beauty to not just my children, but their children, and their children, and their children.

2017 Rock Garden Concert Series

On Thursday, we will conclude this year’s Rock Garden Concert Series at Fort Collins Nursery with a very special benefit concert featuring the Holler!  We’d like to share some of our favorite memories from past concerts and give you a taste of what’s to come.  Enjoy these photos and don’t forget to purchase tickets for the upcoming show!

  • The Holler!, August 17 (Benefit for The Matthews House)


Photo Gallery

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!


Win prizes from Gus!

Meet Gus The Gnome

Gnomes have a reputation for hoarding gold and jewels. Lucky for us, Gus is a little more generous than your average garden variety gnome. From May 20, 2017 through August 18, 2017 he will be giving away Fort Collins Nursery gift cards and other great prizes to people who are intrepid enough to find him! 

Who is Gus?

Gus is the coveted prize for the highest bidder at the annual CNGA Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association(CNGA) Industry Celebration, a fund raiser for the Colorado Horticulture Research & Education Foundation (CHREF). Funds raised from this annual auction play a role in developing new leaders and applied science for the nursery and greenhouse industry. CHREF has contributed more than $217,500 to research and more than $230,400 to scholarships since the mid 80’s.

Gus is said to bring good luck to whichever bidder wins him each year, and we feel very fortunate to have him hiding out at our beautiful nursery this year!

Get Started

It’s easy to win. All you need is a camera, a Facebook or Instagram account, and a sense of adventure!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Follow Fort Collins Nursery on Facebook or Instagram
  2. Visit Fort Collins Nursery and find Gus. He will be hanging out somewhere in our retail area. He will move around often, as gnomes are known to get curious and wander off. 
  3. Once you’ve located Gus, take a selfie with him.
  4. Share your selfie on Instagram with the hashtag #GusTheGnome or post them directly to our Facebook page.
  5. Win weekly prizes! 
  6. Enter again for more chances to win. Drawings will be held each Friday based on that week’s entries.

What you can win:

  • We have gift cards, concert tickets, and merchandise! Each Friday we will randomly select from the previous week’s entries, so visit often, find Gus, and increase your chances of winning. See Official Rules for details.


Landscape: The Ride

By Jesse Eastman, Owner of Fort Collins Nursery

Last fall my wife and I had the pleasure of purchasing our first house together. It’s on a good sized lot, nearly ¼ acre, with lots of room for a vegetable garden, room in the back yard for the dogs to play, and a small and manageable front yard. Beyond that, there’s not a lot I can say about it. The front yard is almost all lawn, with a gigantic linden and a small silver maple. The back is mostly weeds, and the garden area was buried in four inches of dyed red mulch. Needless to say, the landscape was not the key selling point. 

If you’ve been in a similar situation, you may be familiar with the rollercoaster of emotions I’m currently on. Even before you’ve gotten to the front of the line, you see how big that rollercoaster is and you wonder if you’re actually brave enough to buckle up and take that ride. At first I feel overwhelmed, daunted, absorbing how dull and basic my property looks and what it will take to make it special. Just removing all that red mulch will be a monumental effort, and who knows what’s underneath it.

As winter sets in, the sheer joy of having committed to the ride takes hold. My imagination runs wild, and I grow increasingly excited about the possibilities. I’ll start with the front yard. Tear out the lawn. Get the linden professionally pruned. Cut down the silver maple and replace it with something smaller, but what? Fantasies about redbuds, hawthorns, and all other manner of small ornamental trees float through my mind’s eye. Replace a retaining wall with large staggered blocks of stone. Design my own xeriscape. I can picture the whole thing.

Along comes spring, and the cart crests the apex and I am hurtling down the tracks towards madness. The realization that I won’t have a vegetable garden is looming large. I try hard to convince myself that it is ok, that this is a process, this will be a building year and next year I’ll grow a garden. Alas, my urge to grow food is too strong, so the front yard will have to wait. Scrape out the red mulch in the garden area (I’ve removed nearly two cubic yards and there’s still more). Install a garden fence to keep the dogs out. Figure out irrigation. Control the weeds. It’s already May, and I don’t even know what I’m going to grow. Mental fatigue is starting to set in, but I’ve nearly got the fence built, and even if I only manage to grow one decent tomato, I should be content.

An unexpected loop in the track has me once again reevaluating my choices. If I leave my front yard for later, my house will be frustratingly bare. What’s a home without a little bit of color? I’ve still got my nice big clay pots, already filled with soil, waiting for some showy annuals to brighten my entryway. That’s an achievable goal, and isn’t that what success is, a series of short achievable goals that just keep adding up until you’ve accomplished something great?

Soon the cart will pass through its final twist and coast back into the station, my adrenaline will be spent, my heart rate will return to normal. Maybe this summer I’ll get back around to working on the front yard. But then again, I’ll need time to recover, maybe a vacation. Plus I know once I’ve started down the path of veggie gardening, I’ll get tunnel vision and won’t be able to focus on anything else until harvest.

Good thing I’m an adrenaline junky who loves feeling I’m just beyond my limits. Maybe this rollercoaster of a landscape isn’t so bad after all.

Healthy Soil is the Foundation of a Vibrant Landscape

By Jesse Eastman, Owner of Fort Collins Nursery

 While there are many steps to creating the perfect landscape or garden, none is more essential than caring for your soil. Many people add an all-in-one fertilizer every spring, applying once and moving on. This is certainly easy, but can actually build up nutrients to levels that are toxic to many plants.

Before adding anything, it’s a good idea to know what’s already in your soil. Basic at-home test kits available at your local garden center can tell you your soil pH, which is a start, but to really know what your soil needs (or doesn’t need), I recommend a Colorado State University soil testing lab kit. The kit is free and available at most garden centers, and for a small fee (usually $40-$50), CSU will run a complete diagnostic for the exact breakdown of your soil’s nutrients and deficiencies.

A complete report is issued, detailing pH, salts, lime, texture, organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals. They also recommend specific steps to take to balance soil. This information can help you determine exactly what steps are needed to cultivate the right conditions for your landscape or garden. For additional help interpreting your soil report, visit your local nursery – they can help you determine which products to apply to achieve the soil you aim to develop.

Of course, what you add depends largely on what plants you want to grow. If you’re working on your vegetable garden, a rich loamy soil with a good balance of nutrients, neutral to acidic soil, and good drainage may be your goal. On the other hand, if you’re installing a xeriscape with hardy native plants, you’ll want to emulate the native soil, which throughout the Front Range tends to be alkaline, low in organic matter, and often with a high clay content. Remember, not all plants want lush rich soil!

One of the more common things we see in reports brought in by customers is an excess of nitrogen, especially in established landscapes. This is largely due to high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers being applied for years without consideration for what nutrients still remain from previous applications. Yards with poor drainage and heavy soil are the most likely to develop this issue. In instances like these, the landscape can actually benefit more from easing off the fertilizer than from adding more. Excessive nutrients can be toxic on their own, and can also inhibit a plant’s’ ability to uptake other critical nutrients, causing rapid decline.

Ultimately, healthy soil is the key to a strong landscape or garden. More often than not, our customers who struggle keeping plants alive have neglected the soil. They may be doing everything else right – water, pruning, light, mulch, etc, but without good soil, all those other things don’t matter much. You don’t build a house without ensuring a stable foundation. You can’t make a good meal with rotten ingredients. So why try to grow your plants in poor soil?

Maximum Yield: How to make the most of a $100 garden budget

I’m going to share a secret with you, one that is well known in the green industry, but not often talked about publicly: You don’t save money by growing your own veggies. Sure, there are exceptions – you can save your seed year after year, collect manure from a friendly farmer, diligently compost every scrap of food waste, collect rain in a barrel, and camp out in the garden to fend off wily pests and invaders. But let’s face the facts, those of us who will willingly give up the many other aspects of our busy lives are few and far between.

So if not for savings, then why? By and large, we do it because we enjoy the crisp snap of a carrot that was pulled from the soil only moments ago. We find something strangely meditative about pulling weeds. We appreciate the convenience of having fresh herbs growing right outside the kitchen. We are enlivened by the connection it gives us with the earth. We love gaining access to obscure varieties of heirloom lettuce that will never grace the produce department of your local grocer. We care about controlling the inputs that ultimately end up in our families’ meals.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very noble pursuits, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop worrying about the nickels and dimes we spend on the food we grow. Here are my “insider’s tips” on how to stretch your money for maximum yield. We’ll work with a $50 budget.

What to grow from seed

Use seeds for crops which require you to plant lots of plants for a good continued harvest: radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, etc. Also use seeds for plants that should be directly sown into the garden. This group includes squash, melons, cucumbers, beans, peas, corn, and any root crop (a crop where the root is the harvest like carrots or onions – transplanting disturbs the roots, which has a magnified effect in root crops). Basically, the idea here is to leave no seeds wasted. Bear in mind that seeds that are started early indoors often require additional materials – grow lights, seedling heat mats, humidity domes, seed starting soil mix, the list goes on.

What to grow from a starter plant

Most home gardens do not allow space for 20 tomato plants, meaning that pile of tiny seeds inside the seed packet will produce far more plants than you need. On top of that, many plants are difficult to start from seed, and even when successful, home-started plants aren’t as sturdy as those grown in commercial greenhouses. For starters, I’ll pay a premium for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, as well as brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts).

What to buy at the farmer’s market

As I mentioned above, space is often a premium. Some crops take a massive amount of room to grow, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the real estate in my garden for the sake of one crop. In my case, that’s corn. I’ll happily pay a farmer for some good ears of corn, because to successfully grow it at home require a minimum of 16-20 square feet of space. I can harvest an awful lot of carrots and tomatoes from that same amount of garden bed. The same can be argued for aggressive plants like zucchini, pumpkins, and other squash. It all comes down to what a certain crop is worth to you, and what space you can commit to each plant.

My $100 garden

We need to make a few assumptions up front, as everyone’s garden is a little different. Let’s assume I’ve already got four 4’x4’ raised beds with soil from last year’s garden. Here’s my shopping list:

And here’s what my planned layout would be:

Schematic made with Seed Savers Exchange Garden Planner. Visit Seed Savers Exchange to try it out.

It’s fairly basic, no big surprises. We are going to assume I’ve done a soil test and determined I need to add some organic matter (Sheep, Peat, & Compost) and my soil is a little nutrient-poor (Happy Frog All Purpose fertilizer). I tried to combine plants that will work well together: potatoes can happily grow underground while beans and peas climb upwards on trellises. The bed with lettuce, kale, and spinach will appreciate cooler temperatures, so a shadier section of the garden is ideal for this bed. Tomatoes are very hungry plants, so I can fertilize the tomato bed a little heavier than I would any of the other crops without causing any nutrient stress. I always include flowers in my veggie garden. Not only is it easy on the eyes, but it attracts pollinators, who will also visit my veggies like tomatoes and peppers, increasing my yield.

As you can see, it’s possible to pack your space on a budget. The amount you spend will depend on your tastes and space. Plus, there are always additional auxiliary costs – pest control, irrigation, paying the neighbor to water while you’re on vacation – but the benefits are huge. Exercise, fresh air, a safe space for kids to learn about nature, and of course, some tasty produce!

Reasons to Invest in Your Landscape

Find out how we can turn your home landscape into a beautiful investment!