Monday, March 31, 2014

'Niwot' fall bearing black raspberry released

Niwot black raspberry (US PPAF) - Photo by Pete Tallman
There is good news for Front Range small fruit lovers this year. Black raspberries (note we are not talking blackberries, a different crop) have not been recommended for this area before now. Recommendations have been to only grow red and yellow raspberries because of cold hardiness issues with black raspberries.

Longmont amateur plant breeder, Pete Tallman, has released the first fall bearing black raspberry recommended for the Front Range. Niwot has at least zone 5 hardiness and possibly greater.

Why is this a big deal? Now we can grow black raspberries that will fruit on first year canes in the fall. Before now the black raspberries available fruited on second year canes (summer types) and those canes were not hardy enough to reliably survive into the second year here. With Niwot, you can grow and harvest all in one growing season, cut canes to the ground in late winter and repeat.

Niwot was selected to be self-fruitful (no second variety required for pollination) and have good production of large fruit with small seeds. Fruit ripen in late August to September. Unfortunately the plant does have thorns.

There is very limited 2014 availability from Henry Field's Nursery that is selling the plant under the name 'Sweet Repeat'. Plants of Niwot won't be widely available until 2015 from Nourse Farms, Inc.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring garden transplants

Front Range gardeners most commonly associate transplants with warm season vegetables such as tomatoes planted the end of May. Transplants are also useful in the spring, cool season garden for many of the same reasons.

The mid-March to mid-May period of cool spring weather is short. Planting out transplants as soon as soil and air temperatures allow enables you to mature crops before weather warms in May. This extends your cool season and maintains quality.

One family of plants best transplanted rather than direct seeded into the spring garden is the Brassicas or cabbage family. If broccoli and cabbage plants are large enough and exposed to several weeks of cold (under 50 degrees), they will produce flower stalks.

It is better to start broccoli and cabbage transplants in warmth indoors and plant them outside in mid-April when sustained periods of cold weather are less likely but temperatures are still "cool". It is a tricky concept to grasp.

Broccoli generally does well for gardeners here and if you have never grown it, the superior flavor far exceeds supermarket purchased heads. Early to mid-March is the time to plant seed to grow a 4 to 5 week old transplant ready for early to mid-April planting in the garden.

The photo shows seed of the Burpee broccoli variety 'Sun King' seeded to grow transplants. It's a 71 day variety new in 2013 that is advertised as having unrivaled heat tolerance, a useful trait in our area where warm days can come early. Did anyone living in Colorado's Front Range try it last year and what were your results?

Cabbage likewise grows well here and can be transplanted in the same manner. Cauliflower is much more sensitive to any cultural factor (temperature changes, moisture fluctuations, fertility, insect attack) and is a challenge to grow. Brussels sprouts are longer season plants best planted mid-summer for fall harvest on the Front Range. The spring cool period generally isn't long enough to grow them before hot weather sets in.

Note that most of the Brassica crops are perhaps easier grown as fall rather than spring crops on the Front Range. However they are worthwhile planting in your spring garden as well as later for fall crops.

Photo credit: Seeded broccoli transplants - Carl Wilson

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Time to plant hardiest seeds

The hardiest seeds (lettuce, onions and parsnips) can be planted out now that soil temperatures have reached 35 degrees F on the Front Range. Soil temperatures at the online Ft. Collins soil temperature website have been bouncing around between 36 and 39 degrees F since the beginning of the month. Soil temperatures warm on sunny, 50 to 60 degree days and cool in cloudy/snowy weather.

Parsnip seed is notoriously slow to germinate. It may work well to plant them with radishes to gain double use from the area. Quick maturing radishes can be harvested in 20 to 30 days and parsnips require the whole season (100 to 120 days depending on variety). 'Hollow Crown' is an heirloom variety (heirlooms are open pollinated varieties that have been in cultivation 50 years or longer). Other parsnip varieties are 'Lancer', 'Albion' and 'Javelin'.

Planting now means soil should have been fall prepped. Last season's dead plants should have been carted away or composted and the soil tilled and left rough to further break up during winter freeze-thaw. Any compost should have been added then. Note if you grew a winter cover crop, it will require 30 days after tilling under before you can plant vegetables.

Other spring crops require a 40 degree F soil temperature for seed to germinate. These include spinach, kale, beets, carrots, peas and more. Hold off on planting them for now. Of course if you have a soil thermometer and have reached forty at your Front Range Colorado location, proceed with planting.

Photo credit: Parsnip and Lettuce seed packets - Carl Wilson