Thursday, October 30, 2014

Missing Joan

Unknown Pink Roses, Normandy American Cemetery, France

I've been away for a couple of weeks. While I was out of the country, Joan Franson, a long time well respected gardener and master consulting rosarian passed away.  Joan was 82, a very young 82.  To coin Lou Grant in describing Mary Tyler Moore (TV show titled the same name) in one of the early episodes of the 1970s...she had "spunk."  Joan had spunk.

I met Joan and was introduced to all things roses at the first Denver Rose Society meeting I attended several years ago. It was a fall meeting and she gave a "beginner friendly" thorough and very helpful talk on putting your roses to bed, no visual PowerPoint needed by Joan. She was knowledgeable and immensely captivating to listen to, so much so that she could describe rose care A - Z to a tea (pun intended). Best of all, she had a sense of humor which was spot on and sprinkled throughout all her talks. And my, did she know how to grow healthy and beautiful roses. Joan even had a secret soil weapon - mixing in expanded shale to break up clay soils and conserve water. She recommended that everyone use it, and not just for rose beds.  Joan believed in it so much that a handful of area garden retailers started selling expanded shale, she even put them in touch with wholesale companies that packaged it. The Denver Post wrote an article bout it - Denver Post Garden Helper  Additional information - Got Clay?

Unfortunately I wasn't in Denver so missed Joan's memorial service on the 28th of October.  I was told that a handful of friends shared their memories of Joan and countless other gardeners, friends and professionals attended (200+).  Those who talked about Joan represented areas of her main interests and loves - gardening with a special fondness for roses and native plants, the Colorado Garden and Home show (she served over 20 years on their board), parliamentary procedure and shar-pei dogs.  The common theme was Joan's tireless commitment to serving and participating, plus her expertise on the subject, clever wit, and sometimes sharp tongue she always had close at hand. 

Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin
Joan will be missed. Collectively we'll experience more than missing her, we'll feel Joan's absence from being part of our lives and the organizations she loved so much and supported. We'll miss her friendship, her life in the room.  If we could name a rose after Joan Franson, it would have it all - continuous bloom ('Golden Wings'), pretty blooms ('Robusta'), extremely hardy ('Rosa glauca'), and a must have in every garden ('Carefree Delight').

"All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity."   
William Shakespeare

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Garlic Growing is Grand

The good word is out about home grown garlic.  And the one word is flavor.  Yep, think about it, when you buy a garlic bulb at the supermarket, what kind are you buying?  If you answer just one then you are correct.  Now there’s your lack of flavor and variety, we’re given just one type of garlic in a large bin to bring home to finish your favorite sauce.  Imagine if you could only buy one type of pepper or apple for the rest of your life…no jalapeno, are you kidding, no honeycrisp!!!

The only way you’ll have a wider selection of garlic, which means a broader range of taste and characteristics is to grow your own and fall planting is the best.

I grow a lot of garlic for a home gardener.  I mail order anywhere from 5 to 10 pounds.  Depending on variety, one pound of garlic can be 3 to 6 garlic bulbs.  Each clove on the bulb is planted which nets you a full bulb when you harvest next spring. Keep this easy math in mind when you order or purchase.  The local independent garden center is finally getting it and offering more garlic planting stock for sale in the fall.  They generally package them from one to three planting bulbs, very doable for small spaces.  You can also check local farmer’s markets.  Mail order availability decreases in the fall, so next year order early in the summer or as soon as you get their catalog in the mail or when they start taking orders on line. They’ll ship when it’s time to plant. 

It’s best to start with quality planting stock versus buying grocery store garlic to plant for two reasons.  You don’t know if grocery store garlic is treated to prevent it from sprouting or how it was stored, plus it’s only one type, again, the whole point is to expand your garlic palate. 

Garlic originated from central Asia thousands of years ago in climates that are very close to Colorado.  With fall planting we’re giving the cloves a full 8 to 9 months to grow and develop into nice, good sized bulbs.  There’s nothing more satisfying to a gardener than fall planting garlic as the icing on the entire planting season.

Garlic is in the allium genus, same as onions. There are two subgroups of garlic, commonly called hardneck and softneck.  You’ll want to plant some of both.  Hardnecks will send up an attractive flower stock which is called a scape next spring (I’ll talk more about scapes in a later posting). Hardnecks have outstanding flavor, and highly recommended for making salad dressings and pressed fresh over vegetables. They are also delicious when baked or eaten raw for health benefits. Hardneck bulbs have fewer cloves and are easy to peel (much appreciated by gourmets including yourself). Hardnecks have a much shorter shelf life than softnecks, ranging from 3 to 6 months or so after curing. 

Softnecks do not flower, which makes them better for braiding.  Softnecks have a longer storage than hardnecks, up to 9 or 10 months (this is the type you find in grocery stores).  Softnecks can be mild in taste or have quite a bite. Just as hardneck you will be able to taste the differences the more you grow.  There are many cloves on softneck bulbs, so when planting use the largest cloves.  Save the smaller ones for cooking or plant them in a pot indoors and grow them like onion chives (snip off the greens to use in dishes).  The largest cloves will produce the biggest bulbs.

When shopping for your bulbs, keep in mind that there are several variety options in both the hardneck and softneck groups.  I’ll expand on which ones I like and why in another blog posting.  But what you plant this year can be planted again next year, so you don’t have to purchase planting stock each and every year unless you want to try new varieties.  

I plant in raised beds in a sunny location.  Sun is important.  You can plant cloves in part shade right now, just as long as after the winter solstice the area starts getting more sun, then full sun by the June or July harvest.  You can tuck them through the landscape if you have good soil, sun and no competition from other plant roots.  Just remember where they are planted so you can water them through the winter if moisture is scarce.

My soil is loose and well amended. They won’t grow in heavy clay or icky soil.  I add a balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10 a few weeks before planting.  Garlic isn’t a high nitrogen feeder, but it does need nitrogen.  Too little nitrogen may produce yellow plants, less vigor and smaller bulbs.

Gather your materials prior to planting - bulbs, planting labels, trowel, and mulch.  Remember that one bulb will grow from one clove so plan accordingly. 

I place the cloves on top of the soil spaced 4 to 6 inches apart with the rows 10 or 12 inches apart.  Plant 2-3 inches deep.  I take my trowel and create the planting hole, often the soil is so workable that I can just push it down into the soil.  Be sure to label each row or group. OR you can dig a 3-inch trench and place the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart, then cover with soil. 

After planting I place a 2-3 inch layer of mulch over the bed and water it well.  Through the winter I will renew the mulch and water once or twice a month if it’s been dry.  If spring is very rainy I’ll remove the mulch so the growing bulbs won’t risk getting mold. 

Check back with me through the winter as I discuss more growing garlic tips. Next spring I cover will how to harvest, cure and store garlic.  

"Shallots are for babies; Onions are for men; Garlic is for heroes."  
Author unknown

Friday, October 10, 2014

Home Grown Preservation Pointers

The days are about numbered for any remaining tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other very tender edible vegetables.  If you're still covering at night and they are ripening, keep harvesting but preserve the extras. The quickest and easiest way I preserve peppers and tomatoes is to blanch and freeze. Some people skip the blanching and just toss chopped peppers into a freezer bag, same for tomatoes, but they don't need chopping. I find that blanched peppers have no bitterness when used later in chilis, stews or other dishes. 

Earlier in the week I blanched several peppers. Blanching simply means scalding vegetables in boiling water.  It took me about two hours from start to finish to boil the water, add the seeded, chopped peppers, cool, transfer to a drying towel, then freeze.

Below are the exact directions for blanching from the National Center for Home Preservation from the University of Georgia.  This is an excellent site to learn about all forms of food preservation and food storage for home grown fruits and vegetables. Check it out - National Center for Home Food Preservation  Add an extra minute boiling time for high altitudes.  

A couple of other sites to check out are - High Altitude Food Preparation and Food Safety Publications from CSU 


Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. It also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack.
Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size. Underblanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching. Overblanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals. Follow recommended blanching times (pages 229-230).

Water Blanching

For home freezing, the most satisfactory way to heat all vegetables is in boiling water. Use a blancher which has a blanching basket and cover, or fit a wire basket into a large pot with a lid.
Use one gallon water per pound of prepared vegetables. Put the vegetable in a blanching basket and lower into vigorously boiling water. Place a lid on the blancher. The water should return to boiling within 1 minute, or you are using too much vegetable for the amount of boiling water. Start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. Keep heat high for the time given in the directions for the vegetable you are freezing.

Steam Blanching

Heating in steam is recommended for a few vegetables. For broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash, both steaming and boiling are satisfactory methods. Steam blanching takes about 1½ times longer than water blanching.
To steam, use a pot with a tight lid and a basket that holds the food at least three inches above the bottom of the pot. Put an inch or two of water in the pot and bring the water to a boil.
Put the vegetables in the basket in a single layer so that steam reaches all parts quickly. Cover the pot and keep heat high. Start counting steaming time as soon as the lid is on. See steam blanching times recommended for the vegetables listed below.

Microwave Blanching

Microwave blanching may not be effective, since research shows that some enzymes may not be inactivated. This could result in off-flavors and loss of texture and color. Those choosing to run the risk of low quality vegetables by microwave blanching should be sure to work in small quantities, using the directions for their specific microwave oven. Microwave blanching will not save time or energy.


As soon as blanching is complete, vegetables should be cooled quickly and thoroughly to stop the cooking process. To cool, plunge the basket of vegetables immediately into a large quantity of cold water, 60ºF or below. Change water frequently or use cold running water or ice water. If ice is used, about one pound of ice for each pound of vegetable is needed. Cooling vegetables should take the same amount of time as blanching.
Drain vegetables thoroughly after cooling. Extra moisture can cause a loss of quality when vegetables are frozen.

Blanching Times*

Vegetable Blanching Time

Artichoke-Jerusalem 3-5
Small Stalk
Medium Stalk
Large Stalk

Beans-Snap, Green, or Wax 3
Beans-Lima, Butter, or Pinto

Beets cook
(flowerets 11/2 inches across)

Brussel Sprouts
Small Heads
Medium Heads
Large Heads

Cabbage or Chinese Cabbage

1 1/2
Diced, Sliced or Lengthwise Strips

(flowerets, 1 inch across)

Celery 3
Small Ears
Medium Ears
Large Ears
Whole Kernel or Cream Style
(ears blanched before cutting corn from cob)


Eggplant 4
All Other


Whole (steamed)
Buttons or Quarters (steamed)
Slices steamed)

3 1/2
Small Pods
Large Pods

(blanch until center is heated)

10-15 seconds
Peas-Edible Pod 1 1/2-3
Peas-Field (blackeye) 2
Peas-Green 1 1/2
Strips or Rings

Potatoes-Irish (New) 3-5
Pumpkin cook
Rutabagas 3
Soybeans-Green 5
Squash-Chayote 2
Squash-Summer 3
Squash-Winter cook
Sweet Potatoes cook
Turnips or Parsnips

*blanching times are for water blanching unless otherwise indicated.

This document was extracted from "So Easy to Preserve", 5th ed. 2006. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Roses Need Tucking In Too (not all of them)

Just about every garden has a rose shrub or two.  If you have brand new rose plantings or hybrid types that need some special winter care, be sure to attend the next Denver Rose Society meeting.

The meeting is October 9th at 7:00 pm at the Plant Society Building located on the northwest side of the Denver Botanic Gardens.  It's as far west as you can drive when entering the employees parking lot north of the main building. David Ingram will be presenting a program on putting your roses to bed for the season and why winter and fall care keeps roses healthy from year to year (blooming too). Dave will also cover tips on preparing new rose beds for spring planting as well as tips on transplanting and rearranging the rose bed.  Dave is a delightful and knowledgeable speaker, you'll enjoy his talk while learning the ropes to winter rose care.  Several consulting rosarians will be on hand to answer your rose care questions. 

For more information and a map to the Plant Society Building, click here The Denver Rose Society