Nursery News

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.

2015 Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off a Huge Success!

PumpkinContest2015_13Our 7th Annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off is now in the books.  Contestants from all over the region worked hard all summer to grow some of the largest fruits imaginable.  This weekend, they loaded their enormous entries into trucks, and trailers and made their way to our nursery grounds.  We received 26 entries in multiple categories including heaviest pumpkin, heaviest squash, prettiest pumpkin and longest long gourd.  All of these entries were extremely impressive and thanks to them all for putting on a wonderful show!  The days top honors went to our 2014 pumpkin weigh-off reigning champion, Pete Mohr.  Pete’s 2015 entry came in at a whopping 1306 pounds, tying his personal best and setting a new contest record for Fort Collins Nursery.  Here is a list of all of this year’s winners:

Heaviest Pumpkin

  • 1st Place- Pete Mohr (1306 lbs)
  • 2nd Place- Gary Grande (1246 lbs)
  • 3rd Place- Andy Corbin (1094 lbs)
  • 4th Place- Chad New (972 lbs)
  • 5th Place- Tim Hanauer (901 lbs)

 Heavy Squash

  • 1st Place- Jim Grande (828 lbs)

 Howard Dill (Prettiest Pumpkin)

  • 1st Place- Tim Hanauer

 Longest Long Gourd

  • 1st Place- Chad New (95.25″)

Are your evergreens looking yellow or brown? This might be why…

Extreme temperature changes over short periods of time during winter months can leave evergreen trees looking a little yellow and sad. There are a number of different reasons an evergreen tree might be turning yellow/brown and/or dropping needles this time of year. Sometimes it’s perfectly healthy, other times it’s not. How do you tell the difference, and what should you do? Here’s a few tips:

This pine is showing needle cast. Notice the brown needles are lower on the branch while the healthy green needles are closer to the tip.

This pine is showing needle cast. Notice the brown needles are lower on the branch while the healthy green needles are closer to the tip.

Needle Cast: If your conifer (pine, spruce, fir, or juniper) is dropping needles, it may be a perfectly normal and healthy occurrence. If the needles that are dropping are only on the interior part of the tree while the needles toward the ends of the branches are still flexible, green, and firmly attached, then your tree is going through a process called “needle cast.” This process is kind of like deciduous trees casting off their leaves every fall – the needles deepest inside the tree no longer receive much in the way of sunlight as they are shaded by the newer exterior needles, so the tree drops them. This is totally normal and you should not be alarmed.

Sun Scald: If the needles on one side of the tree are showing yellow or brown coloration, but the other side of the tree still looks healthy, it could be suffering from sun scald. The exceptionally dry winter air combined with low soil moisture and intense sun causes the needles to dry out. The damage is often only present on the most exposed parts of the tree where prevailing winds or southern sun can have the greatest impact. Often, only the tip of the needle will be discolored while the base of the needle remains green.

Some of this damage may be inevitable, depending on the location of the tree, but it can be mitigated by good winter watering (click here for more on winter watering). For particularly sensitive evergreens like boxwoods, arborvitae, and oriental spruce, to name a few, a permeable fabric like burlap can be used to wrap the plants, providing a little extra protection. Trees can also be treated with Wilt-Pruf, a product designed to give evergreen plants an added layer of protection on their needles and leaves. Generally, this type of damage is only short-term. Only in extreme cases do we start to worry about the overall health of the tree.

Freeze Damage: If your tree is dropping needles or yellowing/browning uniformly around the entire plant, there’s a chance the recent deep freeze caused such a shock to your tree that the needles were damaged.

Fort Collins Weather Nov. 2-15, 2014

Extended periods of warm weather followed by rapid temperature drops is the perfect formula for evergreen freeze damage.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is present on the tips of branches while the interior needles remain green.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is present on the tips of branches while the interior needles remain green.

When plants go through such a rapid change in temperature, they don’t have time to undergo the physiological changes that help them tolerate the cold. Cell walls can rupture when they freeze and the dry air can cause damage more easily than would otherwise be the case. In instances like this, the damage will be most prominent on the outer parts of the branches, causing the tips to discolor and lose needles while inner needles that weren’t as exposed during the freeze remain green.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is not limited to just one side of the tree.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is not limited to just one side of the tree.

In these cases, the only thing to do is wait and see. It is possible that in the spring, the buds that have already formed on the tips of those branches will still produce a new candle (the  growth from which new needles emerge). We encourage you to wait to prune until you are certain a branch has died, as cutting a branch that has a healthy bud on it will result in no growth next season. You can gently pinch the buds on damaged branches to find out if they’re still healthy – a firm bud is a healthy one, while a dried out dead bud will crumble between your finger tips. In this case, as with sun scald, the best treatment is a good deep watering 2 times a month through the winter when possible.

Come spring, even if no new growth emerges, if the remaining needles are still green, you’ve still got a healthy tree. Prune away the dead branches to expose the inner needles to light, give your tree a feeding with Jirdon Tree & Shrub fertilizer, and be sure to tell your tree how much it means to you and how happy you are that it’s still alive!

Out of sight, but hard at work

mini-poinsettiasby Jesse Eastman

As days grow short and Mother Nature slips into her frosty slumber, we get a lot of questions about just what it is that we, nursery employees, do during the winter. In spring we are caught up in the crush of customers seeking the perfect plant for their yard and the vegetable that will grace their table in summer. Through the summer it is all we can do to keep all our plants watered and looking good. Autumn is consumed with end-of-season sales and putting away plants for a long winter rest. But what happens when the plants are in bed and the snow comes?

Lots of desk work
Between analyzing this year’s sales numbers, budgeting, and placing orders for next year, we spend a lot of time sitting at our desks. For a group of hardcore plant nerds like ourselves, this is a challenge. Greenhouse manager/gift buyer Troy says “since I have to spend more time at my desk it means I spend a lot less time with the plants.” On top of that, we are generally a pretty active group of people, and the slowdown during winter can be a blessing and a curse. “It’s a time to let my mind and body heal so they are ready for spring” says Brendan, the production manager. On the other hand, as Ashley, the assistant production manager points out, she really misses the exercise she gets throughout the rest of the year.

Holiday sales
It’s no mystery we sell a variety of holiday merchandise, but do you know what it takes to pull off a good Christmas season at the Nursery? We have to reorganize our store and greenhouse, set up a work area where we can decorate wreaths, build and stock our Christmas tree lot, and decorate everything. Scott, who does buying for nursery stock and garden supplies, says his favorite part of winter at the Nursery is the transformation from nursery into holiday wonderland.

Decorating wreaths is a major process every year. Did you know we sold nearly 400 wreaths last year, each and every one decorated by hand? That takes a lot of skill, patience, and hot-glue burns.

We also sell lots of poinsettias during the holidays, and they are a time-consuming plant. They break easily and must be handled with great care. They balk at cold air (why are they such a popular plant in the dead of winter?), so we have to wrap each plant before it goes outdoors, even if only for a moment. Kristen, our garden shop manager, will tell you that the most time-consuming thing she has to do during the winter is carefully wrap tropical plants. “A lot of people will say ‘It’s OK, I am going straight home.’ These people are usually wearing a jacket and forget the plants are not!”

Business as usual
Perhaps the biggest misconception about how our nursery works is that we get to just kick our feet up and sit at our desks. In fact, we have to do all the things mentioned above while maintaining a warm and welcoming retail experience for our hardy customers who still visit us throughout winter.  According to Bobby, a sales associate, in spite of everything else going on this time of year, sales and customer service still takes up a lion’s share of his time. In spite of the obvious lack of plant activity outdoors, we still keep ourselves very busy through the winter with indoor plants, gifts, décor, books, and more. We are always receiving new plants and merchandise, and it is constant effort to keep our store looking fresh and exciting.

Winter often feels like the longest season, dragging on as we slowly freeze to death. Here at the nursery, though, winter is often too short. With all the activity going on behind the scenes, spring has a way of creeping up on us. Scott has some good advice for those of you who, like me, fear spring may never return. “Spring seems so far away one day, and then suddenly it’s right around the corner.” So enjoy the winter, do your planning, decorate for the holidays, and start fantasizing about spring. It’s what we do, and it keeps us happy!

Get your holiday greenery at Fort Collins Nursery

HOH_WinAWreath_webWhether it’s fragrant garland, a Colorado Christmas tree, or a hand-decorated wreath for your door or that of a friend, Fort Collins Nursery has what you need for holiday decorating. We pride ourselves in carrying the freshest holiday greenery including…

  • Wreaths
  • Garlands
  • Sprays
  • Centerpieces
  • Boughs
  • Cut & live Christmas trees

Customize your wreath by visiting us in person, or order one of our beautiful wreaths from our online store. We ship wreaths anywhere in the U.S., so you can send a fresh, Colorado wreath to your loved ones – wherever they live!


From the kitchen to the garden

By Kathy Reid

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!


2014 Great Pumpkin Contest winners

And the winner is … Pete Mohr with a 794-pound gourd. Mohr surpassed all other entries in Fort Collins Nursery’s annual event, taking the top prize of $500. Other winners are Margie Davis with a 350-pounder; Julie Bonneville, 307 lbs; Don Shelly, 301 lbs; and Oliver McCalmount, 199 lbs. Thanks to all who participated – we hope to see everyone back next year for more fun and an even bigger contest.

Pete Mohr took top prize with his 794-pound gourd.

Pete Mohr took top prize with his 794-pound gourd.

What’s Blooming? photo contest winners announced!

What's-Blooming-Winners-web-250x250Winners have been announced for the What’s Blooming? photo contest!

Click here to see who won

No such thing as “gardening season”

HerbPatioPot1by Jesse Eastman

This time of year I often hear the phrase “gardening season is almost over.” I hear it from friends, family, customers, and employees. Daylight is beginning its retreat as we slowly march into autumn, nights are cooler, and even the leaves are beginning to change colors before they succumb to the irresistible force of gravity. It truly does feel like the end of something wonderful.

The problem with this phrase is that nothing is ending. Does your passion for homegrown vegetables also end in autumn? Do roots stop growing? Does all of nature come to a screeching halt just because it will soon be too cold for petunias to bask outdoors in the summer sun? There is no end to gardening season – in fact, I would argue there is no such thing as gardening season, simply four seasons in which we garden. We do not speak of parenting season, eating season, or music season. These are things that are perpetual, ongoing, and even when we aren’t actively “doing” them, they are never far from our mind. Likewise, gardening is not a discrete period of time – it is a journey. As the external display of foliage and flowers draws to a close, the internal effort kicks into high gear as plants prepare for spring.

Every plant that goes into the ground in September is a testament to the never ending cycle of gardening. When their roots are gently lowered into the ground, they begin their own journey outward and downward, seeking out the elements of life – water, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium – and they start the hard and strenuous work of storing these nutrients for spring. Without the sharp deep cold of winter, many bulbs would not know when to awaken in the spring. It is not an end, but rather the next step in a cycle.

Not all gardening disappears underground in the fall and winter. Perhaps it is just time to move indoors. Houseplants help us cope with the apparent desolation of winter, and many people like to grow herbs on their windowsill in the kitchen. While we sit inside dreaming of warmer days, we are engaging in the unintentional act of mentally preparing for spring. We think about our successes and failures from last year and imagine ways to improve in the year to come. Classes are a great way to keep participating in the joyful progression of gardening – Fort Collins Nursery offers a wide range of Winter Workshops in January and February for just this reason. Just as plants grow, so too grows the gardener, and that in itself is a form of gardening.

No matter where you choose to enter the flow of the eternal river of gardening, you are never too late because there is no season. All that is needed to stay afloat is the awareness of what stage of the cycle you are in, and you will easily find your way to a life full of plants, beauty, and contentment.


Down the walk and into the woods

GatherStrength_PlantYourHistory_WEBby Gary Eastman , Retired owner of Fort Collins Nursery

The Front Range communities of Colorado and Wyoming are set at the edge of the cold, arid high plains. This relatively treeless dry country supports a wide variety of plant and animal life, but outside of a few scattered groves along the rivers, it is hardly woodland.

Despite this treeless nature, we transform our cities into woods – the urban forests. When I step out of my Old Town Fort Collins home, I am surrounded by mature trees. As I go down the sidewalk, massive trunks, some more than a century old, flare outward as they enter the earth, cracking and heaving the walk in places. The branches meet overhead to from a nearly complete canopy above my neighborhood. I live in the woods.

As I travel outward from the center of town I pass from older to younger woods: over one hundred years from Grand View Cemetery to Old Town to the old Fort Collins High, fifty years old in Circle Drive and South College Heights, twenty in Village West, until I reach the newest additions where I observe a family, parents and children all helping to plant a tree in their front yard.

Planting a tree is hard work. Choosing the right tree and the right spot, digging the hole, mixing compost into the soil, wondering when this little tree will be big enough to climb, looking for worms in the clods of earth – everyone has an important role.

Looking around this new neighborhood I see many other newly-planted trees, starting out as small saplings on their way to becoming new additions to our urban forest. Someday these trees will shade the streets and harbor woodpeckers and owls, chickadees and squirrels.

I feel a debt of gratitude to all the men, women and children who worked so hard over the last one hundred years to make my neighborhood into woods. I, and countless others, for a hundred years to come will feel the same about this family planting today.