Archive for August, 2009

Reader Anne has sent in a few tips for the Minnesota Twins, now that they’ve gotten their grass-filled stadium.  These tips are very good for all of us, not just the Twins, so I thought I’d pass them along to you (with a bit of editorial snarkiness from me):

 To remove unsightly grass stains from your uniform (or other apparel), try one of these suggestions from Cornell UniversityStart with the first tip, and if it doesn’t work, try the next suggestion, working your way through the list until the stain is gone. 

The older the stain the more you need to repeat some of the steps, but you don’t have to shop for ingredients unless you don’t have any of these on hand – use whatever ingredient you have available. 

 Use a metal spoon to work in the solution so that you don’t “fuzz-up” the fabric fibers as you would with a toothbrush.  You’ll probably have to go shopping for this, since stadiums don’t give you more than a plastic spoon with which to eat.

 1.  Remove baseball player from clothing.  Tell him to “hit the showers!”

 2.  Apply several drops of amyl acetate.  Blot. Flush with water, then repeat as necessary (amyl acetate is banana oil and sold in drug stores.  Use chemically pure amyl acetate.  Do not use oil-type nail polish remover).  Tell the baseball players that a team that smells fresh like a banana has a better chance of winning the pennant.

 3. Apply an ammonia solution.  Blot. Flush with water (use household ammonia without added color or fragrance.  Mix 1 tablespoon of ammonia with 1/2 cup of water or add ammonia to detergent solution).  If the players complain, sweetly tell them that ammonia is also used to kill slugs.  If they’re not fast enough off the plate, they could be considered slugs and ammonia-fied.

 3.  Apply a vinegar solution. Flush with water (use white vinegar.  May be diluted. add 2/3 cup water to 1/3 cup of vinegar or add vinegar to detergent solution).  This is best used on any players’ uniform after he gets caught in a run-down between bases, commonly called a ‘pickle’.

***Detergent solution: use a mild liquid dishwashing detergent; 1 teaspoon in 1 cup of warm water.


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Today’s post is a long one, but I’ve filled it with pretty pictures.  Twins marquis

Not many people would get up at 2 a.m. to drive a couple of hours to see sod cut, but hey, it’s summer and I didn’t have anything better to do.  Barreling along in my pickup east of Greeley and headed to Fort Morgan, CO, Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly added a touch of the surreal to an otherwise crazy trip.

 You see, I wasn’t on my way to see just any sod lifted; this was the cutting for the Minnesota Twins’ brand new ballpark, Target Field.  And though I’m a Rockies fan, I love baseball enough to want to see where the emerald carpets come from, here at Graff’s Turf Farms.

But it wasn’t easy.  Graff’s grows plenty of sod for major league ballparks – they’re one of the four companies nationally who provide high quality sand-based turf.  They’ve covered Coors Field, Invesco, Wrigley Field, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis.   James with roots

But it wasn’t until the Twins contracted them that Graff’s started having…visitors.  Apparently Twins fans aren’t normal; they travel great distances to get a peek of their teams’ sod.  Fearing that fans would try to yank a souvenir fistful, Graff’s hid that bluegrass the only way they knew how – in the middle of 440 acres of other lawn grass.

Getting a glimpse was near impossible until the day came – one year after seeding – to cut, roll, load and haul the turf to it’s new home in the frozen north.  Any media members crazy and willing to come view this at 4 a.m. were welcome.

 So there I was, crazy enough to go.  And what I learned out there is this:  it’s bloody dark at 4 o’clock in the morning.  Bouncing over a few fields to get to “location X,” we were handed reflective vests to wear, because sod cutting is all about the accessories.   HarvestingRoll offNetting roll

Dr. Tony Koski, my friend the Colorado State University Turf Specialist, had  trotted off into the darkness to follow the harvester and talk shop with the Twins’ bigwigs.

Dawn eventually arrived and by then I’d gotten to know the turf pretty well, having tripped and fallen face first onto it a few times.  This didn’t matter to the other three media folks – they were having their own darkness-negotiating moments, one involving a calling card left by an animal.

As the sun crested the horizon it lit up one of the biggest trucks I’ve ever seen sitting mammoth-like, waiting for its load.  Roll after roll of sod, 4-feet wide by 75-feet long and 2,200 pounds each (just over a ton!) was placed gently onto the trailer by forklifts.  The huge machine pulled the rolls up the hill to refrigerated semi-trucks, pre-chilled to a perfect 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Waiting for pickup

No ordinary trucking company was contracted to haul the dreams of Twins fans.  To do that, Fortune Transportation (Windom, Minnesota) was selected, mainly because they carry the good things in life:  beer, pizza, and ice cream.  “We know they’ll keep their reefers on,” said James Graff, who owns the farm with Marty Thiel, “plus this company is willing to park 18 trucks in order to double up the driving crews.”

Doubling the driving teams was the only way to keep those 18 wheels rolling from Ft. Morgan straight through to Minneapolis, which they had to do without stopping, because the contract called for cut-to-laydown within 24 hours. 

Those crazy Twins.   trucks

But it happened:  sod that left at 6 a.m. on the first truck – driven by Dave Bockelman and Dave Jorgensen (the 2007 Minnesota Truck Driver of the Year) – arrived at 10 p.m. that evening at Target Field.

laying sod rollmoving sod to fit snugBecause Minnesotans seem to like the dark, the turf was immediately unloaded and installed in the outfield along the 3rd base line.  Portable lights flooded the field, allowing the sod installers to put down perfect seams.  To protect the sand-based ground, donkey forklifts were brought from Graff’s for the job; they spread the weight of machine and sod out so it doesn’t form ruts in the soft surface.

My buddy, Alison Stoven O’Connor, was there, helping to cover the event from the standpoint of a native.  She’s crazy too.  Her notes, sent at the unholy hour of 2:30 a.m. this morning, read:

“I entered the stadium through the basement or ground level.  Then I snaked my way up to the first level and walked down to the seats on the 3rd base side.  They were padded.  Nice chairs.

The only thing lit up, aside from the portable lights on generators, was the Twins marquis. 

The Twins beat the Orioles tonight, 2-1.  A good omen.”  James in action

 Dave St. Peter, President of the Twins, spoke of the future of the field with Alison.  “Year one will focus on getting the turf healthy and fair for play; in future years the field will be customized to the players.  Over time, the field will be shaped.  At the end of the day, we want a field that fielders feel good about.”

The Twins hired Larry DiVito as Head Groundskeeper, who oversaw the installation of the Washington Nationals stadium last year.  To deal with glacial winter temperatures, DiVito will take this tender sod and coddle it this fall.  Once temperatures chill and the grass goes dormant, he’ll tuck it in with specialty blankets; underground heaters will keep it, and the clay infield, from freezing.  In spring, the warmed field will lift the sleeping grass out of dormancy for opening day on April 12.

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“What’s wrong with the tree?” is a question frequently asked in our office at this time of the season.  And for the most part, the answer is:  tree scorch and symptoms of lack of winter water.   Scorch

 Winter is a tough time for folks to think of watering trees, what with all of that chilly weather and bare branches.  But roots dehydrate in dry soils and this past winter was bone dry.  Here’s the surprise for most people: the result of no winter water is seen in mid-summer, when trees struggle with scorched leaves.

 Yes, it seems counter-intuitive, but if you don’t have the roots to support a lush canopy, the leaves lose water faster than the stunted root system can replace.  This means leaves brown for seemingly no reason, and drop from the tree.

maple scorchLook for evenly discolored spots on leaves, typically from the tips inward but not always.  The discolored area have no rings, halos or fruiting bodies – if you see any of those things, you should suspect fungus or bacteria. 

On pines, the needles will brown with no rings or banding, becoming brittle and dry.  Deciduous trees may loose a bit of canopy at this time as well, in response to high heat and low water.  This is normal, but if the tree loses a lot of the canopy it’s probably under too much stress.

Other culprits besides lack of winter water are low relative humidity, wind, soil with high salt concentrations, compacted soil, new construction near the tree, and plastic weed barriers.  In short, anything that interferes with the tree getting water.  Scorch on one side

Don’t forget the effect of heat reflected from bright surfaces, especially on conifers.  Light-colored siding gets hot, particularly on south or west sides.  Symptoms become obvious following hot, dry weather in late summer.  Evergreens may have tip dieback of needles, progressing from the tree’s top downward and from outer branches inward. 

You can’t cure the tree, but you can help it be healthier next year.  Try deep watering to a depth of 12 to 18 inches once a month in summer and winter.  Organic mulch under trees helps reduce moisture loss, but avoid polyethylene plastic under mulches – use porous weed fabrics instead.   For more info, check out CSU’s leaf scorch fact sheet.

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Occasionally we all find them, those oddly shaped vegetables in the garden.  Taking on strange twists, they resemble faces more than fruit, animals more than plants, or fuse to become beautiful flower-like sculptures.  Carrots are well known for this, and I’ve pulled a few twins entwined in an embrace suggestive enough that I stand there wondering if I should tuck them back into the soil to give them some privacy.

They’re fun.  And we can’t help parading them around the house to show off to loved ones, sharing a chuckle over Nature’s sense of humor.  On the threshold of the big harvest season, where we spend every spare hour picking and preserving, we all need a good laugh.

A friend of mine, Jodi Torpey, is holding a contest with a wacky twist:  she wants to find the weirdest growth in the garden.  Jodi’s a writer – you may be familiar with her book, The Colorado Gardener’s Companion, or her articles in Horticulture magazine, American Gardener, or the Denver Post.

Blogging her way through the challenges of Colorado gardening, Jodi’s celebrating her 100th post by hosting a Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit Contest, offering as grand prize a signed copy of  “Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities,” by Amy Stewart.

All you have to do to enter is send her a digital photo of your strange veggie or fruit before September 4.  For more information, check out her blog.

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Are your melons sizing up big and bodacious, so appealing that’s the first place your eyes dart when you step into the garden?  Go on, admit it (to yourself if not to me) – you couldn’t keep your hands of the first one or two, plucking them from vine in anticipation of the sweet taste of summer.


Then you bit into it, and that bland tasting melon left your hopes dashed in the realization that appearances can be deceiving.   Muskmelon


You’re not alone in wondering how to tell if your fruit is ripe.  Pick a melon too soon, and their sugars never reach full potential, leaving your taste buds disappointed.  Pick too late, and your melon is a mushy mess, so soft your fingers push through the rind when you lift it.


You could check your seed packet for an idea of how large the melon will be at maturity and go with the textbook descriptions of readiness.  But gauging ripeness takes finesse and all of your senses – touch, smell, sight – before you reap the rewards.  And practice makes perfect.


A better technique is to count the days.  Roughly one month after the plant flowers, melons begin ripening.   Young watermelon


Look for melons to be full-bodied and heavy for their size; some changes in fruit color to yellow or tan also can occur.  They should be neither firm nor soft on the blossom end (opposite the stem) when pressed lightly. 


Muskmelons develop a wonderful fragrance and slip from stems easily when ripe.  If you look closely at your melon as it nears ripeness, you’ll see a crack develop around the stem as it attaches to the fruit.   Go with melon color first for a ripeness indicator, then slipping from the vine.


Honeydews, canary, and watermelons have subtler signals and don’t slip from the vine on their own, so plan to cut them.  Look for a slight shift to yellower color with honeydews and canaries. 


Watermelons tell you they’re ripe when their belly turns cream or yellow and the two tendrils closest to the fruit have withered.  Devotees of the tapping method listen for the sound of a full, drum-like resonance, with high pinging notes indicating under ripeness and lower-sounding thuds over ripeness.  Train yourself to hear the sounds by watching the tendrils and belly color, tapping as the fruit ripens.  mature watermelon

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Want an outstanding rose that wins your heart with beauty and scent?   Fall planting is just around the corner and if you have a spot for something special, plant the rose lovers across the globe have at the top of their list:  Graham Thomas.   Rose Graham Thomas

 This David Austin rose is officially the World’s Favorite Rose, according to rose aficionados in the 41 member countries that make up the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS). Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ (Ausmas) becomes only the 14th rose in 33 years to win what many consider to be the rose world’s highest honor.

Triumphing over thorny competition, this stunning yellow bloomer was inducted into the Rose Hall of Fame and will proudly wear the crown for the next three years.  To reach this honor, a rose must progress through a nomination and voting process that involves all of the 41 national chapters.   Swimsuit competitions, modeling eveningwear, and talent contests were optional. 

 The first World’s Favorite Rose winner was the famed Peace rose (Rosa ‘Peace’), the 1976 inductee to the Rose Hall of Fame.  David Austin Sr.

English rose hybridizer David Austin is internationally-known for his introduction of new types of fragrant, full-bodied English Roses that have the plump form and heavy perfume of Old Roses combined with the broad color range and repeat-flowering of modern roses.

R. ‘Graham Thomas’, introduced in 1983, sport cup-shaped blooms with a strong, fresh tea rose fragrance. Their color is an unusually rich, pure yellow, which is not found in the Old Roses and is rare even among modern roses.

 R. ‘Graham Thomas’ forms a bushy shrub sized five feet high by four feet wide. Its upright habit makes it well suited to planting in tight groups of three in the garden, which can then be pruned to form a single shrub shape. R. ‘Graham Thomas’ is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9.   

Photos courtesy of David Austin Roses.Graham Thomas in border

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Gardeners, get out your love apples, because when it comes to tasty tomatoes, Colorado has a lot to be proud of.  Our prowess in pasting the competition is so good that, for the past six years, we’ve been chosen to host the NatureSweet Homegrown Tomato challenge (naturesweettomatoes.com).   heirloom tomato

This year the throwdown takes place August 22 at King Soopers, 15200 West 64th Avenue, Arvada. Contestants will vie for top honors in two categories – large and small – to see who has the sweetest tomato.  Winners walk away with a $2,500 first prize.  All you need you need to do to enter is bring three large or ten small tomatoes (all the same variety) to the contest.

Go to their website to download the registration form, but you can also just show up with your tasty toms and enter them.  I’ll be there to judge, but not to enter, so stop by and say hello.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

There was zucchini on my desk when I came in to work the other day, a gift from a gardener desperate to pawn her squash off others.  The two dark green logs – a bit larger than I like to harvest them – lay beached alongside post-it notes and memos for the upcoming day.

Shocked to receive this anonymous summertime calling card, I turned to the secretaries for who done it.  They averted their eyes and muttered “no comment,” refusing to rat out the culprit.

I haven’t planted any zucchini this year, although I love them, because my family got tired enough of the cylindrical squash to organize a rebellion.  Just mentioning planting the seeds had them forming a human wall between the garden and me, and it was only after I promised not to plant ‘the horror’ that they let me through.

Thus, this is my first year to be squash-less, which makes me vulnerable to clandestine gifts.  Vegetable gardeners get this way in August because eating too much of one thing makes you crazy.  So we begin giving the squash to friends, move on to co-workers, and eventually end up stopping strangers in the street, begging them to take some.

Once the neighborhood watch starts looking for us instead of for burglars, plans for delivering squash start looking more like covert operations, because payback’s a drag, and usually in the form of fruitcake in December.

If you’re in this boat, some of the more creative ways to divest yourself of zucchini include the classic ‘ding and dash,’ abandoning the squash on a doorstep.  More novel ideas involve popping bigger squash into the toilet tank to help it reduce water, or joining a parade and handing out the fruit along the route like it was candy.

Larger, thick-skinned zucchini make perfect rolling pins if you don’t happen to have one handy.

And anyone who’s purchased a ‘gotta have them’ pair of leather shoes, despite the fact that they pinch, will love this.  Pack shredded zucchini into a sturdy plastic zip-close baggy.  Stuff the baggie into the too-tight shoes and put the shoes (along with the zucchini) into the freezer.  As the squash freezes, it expands, stretching the shoes one-quarter to one-half shoe size.

Like cucumber, zucchini is a quick pick me up for the eyes, reducing puffiness. First, finely chop the vegetable, then mash it to a pulp with a fork.  Smear this concoction on your eyes, and leave it for up to five minutes.  By using it slightly cooled, but not ice cold, it’ll be more effective.

Now, take a word of warning from an older gardener, friends:  once you’ve gotten desperate enough to try these off-the-beaten path ideas, your family will think you’re nuts.  Use this to your advantage – wait until an annoying relative visits to zucchini-stuff your shoes for deep-freezing, smear squash over your eyes, and pound away at biscuit dough with a huge green fruit.  They’ll leave in a hurry, and you’ll be left thinking that zucchini is a gardener’s best friend.

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