Friday, June 7, 2013

Identifying landscape sprinkler and drip irrigation system problems

Curtis Swift, Ph.D., Irrigation Association certified Professional Landscape Irrigation Auditor

Identifying and correcting problems with your landscape sprinkler and drip irrigation systems can often reduce water use while improving the overall health of the plant material in your landscape. The services I provide are designed to accomplish these two goals. If you need further information please give me a call at 970.778.7866 or send me an email at

Inspection of sprinkler system and recommendations – written recommendations available.
  • Filtration
  • Pressure test of system
  • Placement of sprinkler heads
  • Head and nozzle check
  • Low head drainage inspection
Adjustment of irrigation controller frequencies and run times based on reported precipitation rate of nozzles

Irrigation audit –an in-depth determination of efficiency of the sprinkler system to fine-tune irrigation schedules and run times.
  • Conducted after correction of system problems noted above
  • Adjustment of irrigation clock based on: 
  • Precipitation and distribution uniformity 
  • Turf root depth 
  • Soil texture 
  • Exposure 
  • Condition of turf 
  • ET – evapotranspiration
Inspection of drip and micro irrigation system
  • Flow rate and distribution
  • Pressure check
  • Filtration
  • Emitter placement
Training of personnel on the above concepts and techniques.

Identification of and recommendations for turf, tree, shrub, and flower problems.

Soil sampling and testing for turf, trees, and flowers.
  • Recommendations specific to the plant material based on soil test results
  •  Nutrient needs
  •  Fertility schedule
  • Recommendations on other soil issues - soluble salts, organic matter content, pH, etc.
  • Hourly consulting fee- $75 charged in one hour increments.
  • Training fee – hourly fee plus $20 @ person when more than two.
  •           Outside, hands-on, and class room training (PowerPoint) available.
  • Soil testing – hourly fee plus $45 per sample collected and analyzed. Includes recommendations.
  • Mileage fee – $75 per hour travel time one way when consultation is outside the Grand Valley of western Colorado (Mack to Palisade).
  • Lodging and meals on multiday assignments or more than eight (8) hours (depending on return distance from Grand Junction).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Medical Marijuana – pesticides and patient health

One hundred and eighty thousand Colorado residents hold a valid medical marijuana registry card and two thousand one hundred and forty-five of those patients live in Mesa County. ( Many have designated a primary care-giver (someone who has significant responsibility for managing the care of a patient) which may involve the growing of marijuana as part of their responsibility.

Even though the medical use of Cannabis has been legal since Colorado’s patient registry was established on June 1, 2001, there are no pesticides labeled for use on this crop. In other words, you cannot legally treat these plants for the insect, mite, and disease pests that infest medical marijuana. Root aphid, powdery mildew, viruses, and botrytis are problems I’ve noticed in the facilities I’ve worked with and the lack of approved pesticides is a concern.

Without legal approved products growers use whatever is available. Some of these products result in contamination putting the patient’s health at risk. Growers in the know are using biopesticides, products that are relatively safe and should be labeled for use on Cannabis. These natural materials typically are very specific to the pest and of minor consequence to the patient due to their short residue and low mammalian toxicity. Some biopesticides are even approved for organic use and would be the best products to use when legalized for use in the production of marijuana. Thankfully there is an on-going effort to register some pesticides for use on Cannabis in Colorado.

In addition to the concern about the illegal use of pesticides and patient safety, growers also need to be aware of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Even if a pesticide is used illegally, WPS can still apply. Next time you pick up a bottle of a pesticide check the label to see if it mentions WPS on the label. While this does not apply to homeowners, it does apply to agricultural employers. Growers who hire workers to assist in the production of Cannabis or any other crop are required to abide by WPS to ensure their workers receive information and training on how to avoid exposure to pesticides and pesticide residues. While these standards exempt immediate family members of the grower, i.e. spouse, siblings, parents, or children, if an uncle is hired to assist in the business, he must receive this training or the grower is in violation of this requirement. WPS is a way to protect the unsuspecting from contamination and the grower from a lawsuit.

Mycotrol O, an organic product containing Beauveria bassiana, is a great product for aphids. Beauveria bassiana is a soil-inhabiting fungus that feeds on insects. The Restricted Entry Interval (REI) is four hours during which time the grower, workers, and others should not enter the treated area unless they are wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Even though Mycotrol O can be applied up to the day of harvest, the Worker Protective Standard (WPS) requires anyone entering the treated area within thirty days of an application to have received training on decontamination, emergency assistance, emergency first aid, etc. There are eleven items required in the training. A record to keep track of everyone receiving the training is necessary. This requirement applies to caregivers who hire workers to help grow and process their products as well as every other agricultural producer.

To help keep agricultural growers legal, Jude Sirota and I will be conducting a workshop at the Country Inns on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction Colorado on May 9th 2013. Jude and I are certified as Qualified Pesticide Supervisors by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Jude holds license number 00759 while my license number is 00019. This workshop will provide the training required for you to be WPS legal, as well as training for Colorado pesticide applicator technicians, Certified Operators and Qualified Supervisors for several categories. If you want to receive a brochure about this workshop or you would like a personal visit to your operation give me a call at 970.778.7866 or drop me an email at

Friday, March 1, 2013

Industrial Hemp in Colorado

Hemp. I don’t know if I would suggest planting this crop this year, but it does seem like it might someday be another food and fiber crop that could be grown in our part of the country. The fibers from the stalks are used to make clothing often at a 55/45 hemp/cotton blend, hemp fibers are also blended with flax fibers to produce cloth and canvas. Hemp canvas covered the wagon carrying your ancestors across the plains and was used for the sails on sailing ships of old. The seed is pressed for its oil and used in soaps and shampoos, used in oil-based paints, plastics, moisturizing creams, and even for cooking. You can even buy soap made with a lavender/hemp blend. The seed was added to bird seed and I remember the old days when hemp/Marijuana would grow from seed birds kicked out of feeders. The seeds have a high nutritional value full of essential amino acids and fatty acids your body craves. You can toss them into salads and use them in place of nuts in cooking. How about adding them to your bowl of oatmeal or grinding them up and adding them to a smoothie to increase the protein content. They are reported to be a great source of Vitamin E, dietary fiber, and important minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. They are even recommended by registered dieticians. This sounds like the crop I should be growing. Except, it’s illegal. Right now! You might even be driving a car made in part from fibers from this plant. Hemp is being mixed with plastics for use in door panels, glove boxes, and other parts of cars and trucks. I’m not sure but some of the fibers in local newspapers could be from hemp. After all the old term of rag referring to newspapers came from the reprocessing of cloth rags to create the paper upon which newspapers were printed; some of those cloth rags most likely contained hemp fibers. Industrial hemp contains a very low content of THC, less than 1 percent, while the varieties of the plant used for recreational and medicinal purposes contains from three to over twenty percent. Countries that grow industrial hemp usually stick to varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC. The problem is distinguishing between the high THC varieties and those acceptable as industrial hemp. Years ago I was involved with research studies of onion diseases in the Brighton Colorado area. Industrial hemp was a common ditch bank weed due to the production of this crop in past years. Today, however, any seed you purchase for this crop is required to be sterilized to prevent growth. Some of the studies of fungi during my graduate school experience used hemp seed in the growth media. The professor reminded us the seed had been cooked in an autoclave to discourage us from trying to grow them. During World War II, the US Department of Agriculture promoted the growing of hemp for the war effort to manufacture rope, and cordage of all dimensions was needed. Every naval battle ship of the time required thirty-four thousand feet of hemp rope. Canvas made from hemp was needed and the supply of hemp from other countries was limited due to the war. Farmers were considered patriotic if they grew hemp, fifty thousand acres in 1943, and Extension agents from the land grant colleges like Colorado State University provided guidance on its cultivation. To grow hemp, farmers needed permission which they obtained through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Four hundred thousand acres of hemp were grown for the war effort between 1942 and 1945. You might have noticed the spelling on the Tax Act of 1937 is different than how we spell I today. Marijuana is the accepted spelling of today. Canada is one of the countries where industrial hemp is legal and heavily regulated and by July 1, 2014, Colorado should have regulations governing the “cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.” This is part of Amendment 64 Coloradan’s passed on November 6, 2012. Until the regulations are in place I would not suggest anyone get too excited about the commercial production of industrial hemp. The cost to abide by the regulations might outweigh the value of the crop. If however, you grow industrial hemp and create your own value-added products you might find this a profitable endeavor, unless the U.S. Attorney General gets involved. This article originally appeared in the GJ Free Press Article on January 11, 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Starting Vegetable Transplants under lights

Starting and growing transplants under lights
Curtis Swift, Swift Horticultural Enterprises, LLC


Transplanting is the process of shifting of plants from one place or growing medium to another. If done properly plant stress will be minimized and the production of flowers, fruits, and foliage can be enhanced.

Starting your own transplants (seedlings) indoors under lights or in a greenhouse where adequate light is available avoids problems with direct seeding into garden soil where seedlings often have to battle their way through soil crusts. Starting your own transplants can result in higher quality plants and cultivars that are not available at local greenhouses or garden centers

Starting plants indoors under lights the seeds germinate under ideal conditions. Starting them at the proper time can extend the growing season and create earlier harvest when compared with direct seeding in the field. Transplants you grow are typically not exposed to the myriad of virus, fungal or insect problems commercially-grown transplants may be exposed to.  While it is often difficult to pinpoint when a transplant was exposed to a problem, the timing of symptom development often leads one to suspect the origin of the infection was the commercial greenhouse. Your goal is to produce vigorous and healthy plants ready to be planted in the garden when conditions are appropriate.

Not all vegetables are worth the effort to start as transplants. Even though you can grow them from seed in the home or greenhouse, it is difficult to successfully transplant these to the garden. These include carrots and beets, leafy biennial herbs (dill), heading types of Chinese cabbage, and cucurbits (cucumbers, pumpkins, squash); they don’t like their root systems disturbed.

Radish, leaf lettuce, and spinach develop so quickly when seeded in the garden starting them as transplants is not worth the effort. Radishes are often ready to eat in fourteen days from the time of seeding.

Vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, head lettuce, and broccoli are typically started as transplants and that is where I would suggest you focus your efforts. Sweet potato grown from rooted cuttings is another vegetable that would benefit from being started in the home.

Age affects transplant quality:

Smaller, stocky plants that have not started to bloom and/or set fruit adapt to the garden more easily than leggy transplants or plants with small fruits. Tomato plants four to five weeks old grow and produce a higher yield than older transplants. The younger transplants often develop healthy root systems which helps avoid problems with the splitting of the fruit and blossom-end rot common when older transplants are used.  Using younger plants does not guarantee these problems will be eliminated but helps control these problems. The ideal plant is short and stocky, which for many transplants will be about six inches tall and six inches wide. The table at the end of this article provides the recommended age for vegetable transplants when planted into your garden. Since transplants are more susceptible to cold than plants direct-seeded to the garden, transplants are usually planted after the average last spring freeze unless some form of frost protection is provided. If you know that date, count back the number of weeks indicated on the table, add the number of days needed for germination, and plant the seed accordingly.


Problems you need to avoid:

Low light, excessive levels of nitrogen, and high temperatures during transplant development causes excessive stem elongated.  Such stems are more susceptible to diseases and breakage. In most cases the diseases that attach young seedlings are the result of using soils (planting media) that have not been properly pasteurized.  If you insist on mixing your own planting media for seedlings, it should be placed in the oven and cooked to eliminate all the water-molds and other plant pathogenic organisms that live in that soil. Pasteurization occurs when the soil is moist allowing heat to reach every bit of soil. Forty-five minutes in a two-hundred degree oven usually does the trick. If you have a temperature probe insert that into the center of the soil mass and when the temperature reads one-hundred and eighty degrees for thirty minutes the soil has been properly pasteurized.  Exceeding that temperature for longer than thirty minutes is not recommended.


Damping-off is caused by fungi or fungal-like organisms which attack the base of the stem next to the planting medium. Non-pasteurized planting medium, the use of dirty flats, trays, or pots, and dirty tools are often the cause. Fungus gnats can also carry some of these plant pathogens from contaminated house plants to your seedlings.
The best planting medium for starting seedlings are the soil-less mixes.  They are usually free of pests, have good water-holding capacity, are well aerated and drain properly, and are low in salts.  Some even have fertilizers added to help keep your young seedlings perking along in a healthy condition.  This doesn’t mean however, you don’t have to fertilize.
 Transplants can be started in individual pots, cubes or open flats. When started in open flats, the young seedlings will need to be pricked out (transplanted) and repotted in individual pots when the seedlings have their first true leaves. Some gardeners will do this by pulling the tiny plant out of the flat of planting media by their seed leaves. This is a fast and easy way to do transplant a large number of seedlings but can be damaging to the plant. Some gardeners remove the tiny seedlings with sharpened Popsicle stick.  


 Plants grown without sufficient light are yellow or lighter green than they should be.  These plants are said to be chlorotic. They stretch for the light, have thin stems, and in general are not as healthy as plants grown with adequate light. Gardeners who depend on natural light for the proper development of their seedlings cannot produce quality transplants.

The light used by plants comes in different frequencies and the packets of energy carried by the different frequencies energize different responses in the plant. Exposure to red light increases seed germination while far-red light increases legginess. Since regular incandescent bulbs produce more far-red light than fluorescent lights, the latter are preferred for seedlings.  To ensure adequate light reaches all parts of the seedling, fluorescent lights should be placed no more than four inches above the top of the plant. The plants need to be spaced far enough apart so shade is not a problem. Full spectrum grow lights are recommended if you have fixtures with only one tube but if you have a two-tube fixture one cool-white and one warm-white tube provides the same spectrum of light.

If you decide to use incandescent lights for your seedlings, they need to be placed between one foot and three feet from the top of the plants even then you might burn your seedlings unless you use bulbs specifically designed for plants. The Spot Grow type incandescent bulbs are said to provide the proper plant growth enhancing light characteristics. Plastic sheeting is available designed to reduce the amount of far-red light and is an option for those growing transplants with incandescent bulbs.


Plants placed on the window sill, while not providing adequate light, also are subjected to large temperature fluctuations between day and night and sunny and cloudy days. Temperatures cooler than optimum often increase disease problems and can cause the development of rough fruit in tomatoes and bolting (i.e. development of a seed stalk) in onions and other biennial vegetables. Warmer than optimum temperatures can cause weak and spindly seedlings.

Fertilizing your transplants:

Nitrogen (N) is what your seedlings require to develop into healthy transplants and different types of vegetable seedlings require different rates and frequencies of applying nitrogen. Tomato seedlings need to watered with fifty to one-hundred parts per million (ppm) of N or once a week with water supplemented with two hundred and fifty to three hundred ppm of N. Peppers prefer a daily watering containing one-hundred ppm of N, while cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) prefer one-hundred to one-hundred and fifty ppm of N per week. The vine crops (squash, pumpkin, etc.) need two to four applications of one-hundred to one-hundred and fifty ppm of N per week.

Ok, now that the amount of N these transplants require has been provided, how do you mix up a solution containing one-hundred ppm of N?

When you purchase a granular or liquid fertilizer at a garden center it will most like give the percentage of N along with the percentage of phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and other nutrients.  The container may also give the parts per million but this is seldom the case. The percentage of N in the product is easy to convert to ppm as follows:

10% = 100,000 ppm
12% = 120,000 ppm
15% = 150,000 ppm
20% = 200,000 ppm
and so forth.

Now that you know the ppm of N in the product you purchased, you need to dilute with water to obtain the ppm of N needed by your seedlings. This is quite easy to do with a liquid fertilizer as you are adding a liquid (the fertilizer) to a liquid (the water). With a granular product you have to turn the fertilizer into a liquid.  This is done by adding it to water. Measure out a measured amount of water and add sufficient dry fertilizer to double the level of the water in the container.  This will reduce the percentage of the fertilizer by half; a 20% N dry fertilizer will then contain 10% N.

You will need a pipette, eye dropper, or small measuring cup like those that come with cough syrup to dilute the fertilizer product to what is needed by your seedlings. These are usually marked in milliliters and that is what you need.

The formula you need to use is Ci x Vi = Cf x Vf where

C = ppm
V = volume in milliliters
i = initial
f = final

If you have a product that contains 12% N (120,000 ppm) and need a final solution of 100 ppm of N, plug 120,000 into the formula at Ci. Let’s make one gallon of this mix. One gallon is 3,800 ml so the formula Ci x Vi = Cf x Vf will look like this:

120,000 ppm x Vi = 100 ppm x 3,800 ml. When you do the computations you receive the number of milliliters (3.2) that need to be added to one gallon of water to create a N solution of 100 ppm.

If you want to make less than a gallon, plug the following into Vf:

1 quart = 950 ml
1 pint = 475 ml
1 cup = 240 ml

To make one gallon of a 100 ppm N fertilizer solution it will take:

3.8 ml of a 10% N fertilizer product
3.2 ml of a 12% N fertilizer product
2.5 ml of a 15% N fertilizer product
1.9 ml of a 20% N fertilizer product

Hopefully this article helps you grow healthy vegetable transplants.

Table 1

Soil Temperature for seed Germination 1
Time Required
for growing Plants
for Field Transplanting 4
Optimum Range
Day 2
60 - 85
70 - 80
65 - 70
8 - 10
68 - 86
60 - 70
50 - 60
5 - 7
Brussel Sprouts
60 - 70
50 - 60
5 - 7
45 - 95
60 - 70
50 - 60
5 - 7
45 - 85
60 - 70
50 - 60
5 - 7
60 - 70
65 - 75
60 - 65
10 - 12
Corn, Sweet
60 - 95
70 - 75
60 - 65
3 - 4
60 - 95
70 - 75
60 - 65
3 - 4
75 - 90
70 - 80
65 - 70
6 - 8
40 - 80
55 - 65
50 - 55
5 - 7
75 - 95
70 - 75
60 - 65
3 - 4
85 - 95 3
70 - 75
65 - 70
4 - 6
50 - 95
60 - 65
55 - 60
10 - 12
65 - 95
65 - 75
60 - 65
6 - 8
Squash / Pumpkin
70 - 95
70 - 75
60 - 65
3 - 4
60 - 85
65 - 75
60 - 65
5 - 7
70 - 95
70 - 80
65 - 70
3 - 4


1. Adjust temperatures slightly to alter growth rates.
2. Select the lower temperature on cloudy days. Daily fluctuations to 60o F. or lower at night is essential for some vegetables.
3. A hard seed coat prevents good germination. Treatment of seeds with concentrated sulfuric acid for 2-3 hours or soaking seeds in hot water (113 o F) for 1 1/2 hours improves germination.
4. Transplants older than recommended suffer more shock when transplanted to the garden and often produce less of a crop over the course of the growing season than transplants of the proper size and age.

References used:

Lorenz, O.A., and D.N. Maynard. 1988. Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Third Edition. Wiley-Interscience Publications
Splittstoesser, W.E. 1984. Vegetable Growing Handbook, Second Edition. AVI Publishing Company, Inc.
Yamaguchi, M. 1983. World Vegetables; Principles, Production and Nutritive Values. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.