Saturday, April 22, 2017

Choosing tomato varieties

The Front Range has varied topography, elevations, location in relation to nearby mountains and microclimates. Every season is different as temperature and rainfall vary through the growing season. A tomato variety that performs well one year may not the next.

For example last season (2016) many people complained that they had few ripe tomatoes by late summer. Summer heat was likely to blame for poor pollination and fruit set. Denver had 44 days from June through August with temperatures over 85 degrees F, temperatures where blossom drop is likely. Greeley had 68 days.

Fortunately we had a fall with extended favorable temperatures so gardeners had time to ripen late-set fruit.

Not only temperatures too high to set flowers but also night temperatures too low are a factor. Our neighbors to the north in Cheyenne had 52 nights in the June to August 2016 period with temperatures under 55 degrees F, poor conditions for pollen viability and pollen tube growth to set flowers. Denver had 16 nights in the same period and Greeley 33.

While it's challenging to choose tomato varieties to grow in our Front Range conditions, the good news is that there are lots of varieties out there and more every year.

My recommendation is for short season varieties (80 days to maturity in Denver, 70 days or less in Cheyenne). Varieties with northern adaptation are also good candidates. These might include Russian heirlooms such as 'Azoycha', 'Aurora', 'Anna', 'Alaska', 'Paul Robeson', 'Black from Tula' or German 'Gardener's Delight' , 'Blondkopfchen' and 'Bloody Butcher'.

Also hybrids such as 'Northern Exposure', 'Juliet', 'Parks Whopper', 'Big Beef', 'Summer Girl' and 'Fourth of July'. New this year is an All America Selection winner 'Midnight Snack', a cherry type that is touted as an advance in flavor for purple types.

Hybrids from crossing heirlooms are also gaining popularity and include 'Brandy Boy,' 'Big Brandy', 'Genuwine' and 'Perfect Flame'.

I also recommend a mix of varieties including both heirlooms and hybrids. Chances are that if one doesn't perform well under this year's weather conditions, another will.

Photo credit: Windowsill tomato starts - Carl Wilson

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spring freezes and fruit trees

Peach bloom April 1, 2017
A recent look showed peaches in full bloom in Denver during a week in which night temperatures are expected to drop to the mid to low twenties F.

Spring freezes during bloom are the biggest concern for home fruit growers.

While a dry March had few cold nights, April is shaping up to have much more variable weather. This includes rain/snow storms followed by cold nights due to radiational cooling after storms pass and skies clear.

USDA Hardiness Zone 6 or better yet Zone 7 (Colorado's West Slope) are better areas to grow peaches than Zone 5 Denver. While there are Zone 5 peaches, many backyard growers don't hunt for and plant them.

Yellow Delicious apple
bloom April 1, 2017
Peaches aren't the only trees with blossoms out now. This Yellow Delicious apple tree is well on its way to having flowers out during this week's expected cold nights. Yellow Delicious is a medium chill apple (600 to 700 chilling hours), fireblight susceptible and not on my list of recommended varieties for the Front Range.

Honeycrisp is a medium to high chill apple (800 to 1000 chill hours) that is more fireblight resistant and on my recommended variety list. As you can see in the photo, it breaks bud later than Yellow Delicious.

Honeycrisp apple branch
March 30, 2017
What can you do with a tree in bloom when frost is expected? Homeowners with young (short) or dwarf trees can throw a plastic cover over them and use a heat source underneath. While there may be some heat in the ground to trap after a warm March, you will have to supplement as soils aren't that warm yet.

Lights with old-style incandescent bulbs or any bulbs that produce heat will work. Do be mindful of fire safety when using lights under covered trees and remove tarps the following morning to avoid overheating trees on sunny days.

See the CSU Extension Garden Note 722 "Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season" section on Lights for Addtional Heat for a description of using plastic covers and Christmas lights for warmth. Does anyone have another favorite way to provide supplemental warmth under a covered fruit tree that they want to share?

Photo credit: All photos Carl Wilson