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This summer is turning out to be more of a maintenance year than actually doing a lot of gardening.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still growing a couple of veggies and have worked on weeding and putting new plants in my perennial beds, but it’s not the all out gardening of years past.  In the perennial bed close to the deck, I planted a Charles Jolly Lilac and a Miss Kim Lilac.  I added another peony (white) to complement the magenta peony that is already established.  The Russian Sage I planted a few years ago is doing good this year…..amazing what weeding and some water will do for plants!

The big garlic bed was a no-show this year.  I think the voles that tunneled in ate most of the cloves or at least enough of the clove so that they could not produce new garlic.  I still have some garlic that I planted in another area that is doing well, in fact, today I harvested the scapes off of them.  The bulbs should be ready to harvest in another month or so.  I think I will try to plant the garlic for next year a little earlier so it has time to sprout and set roots before winter.

I still have 10 roses that have survived from the rose trial several years ago.  I noticed today that a couple of them have flower buds and a couple have produced some blooms.  Yay!!  The lupines by the greenhouse are going gangbusters.  At the start of the season, the lupines were covered in aphids and I wasn’t sure they would make it through, but a little help from some insecticide solved that problem.

The research potatoes seem to be doing well in the grow bags.  This weekend when I was watering, a few of the potatoes look like they got scorched by something.  I am not sure what is causing that.  It doesn’t look like a disease.  It might be insect feeding from the lygus bugs that I found on the potatoes or maybe since the deer have been in the garden nibbling on the potatoes, they peed on the plants??  Who knows?  I’ll keep an eye on the potatoes and hope it doesn’t get any worse.

Last weekend I watered the peas I planted this spring and was really excited as they had flowers so I knew I would get some peas.  This weekend…….I think the deer got in the garden and had a feast on my peas.  The peas had been eaten down to about a foot from the soil level.  Rat b**stard deer!  The good thing about peas is I can grow some more into the fall so I should still have a harvest, albeit a small one.

My big achievement this weekend was getting the first raised bed built.  I still have to fill it with soil, but it is in place and ready.  I found the bricks at the store that have slots to slide boards into and also a 1/2 inch hole in the middle to be able to put rebar or similar through to stabilize the stones.  The bricks take a 2″ x 6″ board (I used kiln dried–not treated), cut to any length you want.  I used 5 foot lengths to make the sides and 4 foot lengths to make the ends.  I had to level the area since we do live on a mountain and things are on a slope, but it wasn’t that difficult.  Because I had to level the area, I used the bricks 3 high so the bed is 18″ tall.  I don’t have to put soil up to that level, but wanted a sturdy foundation for the bed.  I laid down chicken wire before putting everything in place to prevent voles and ground squirrels from being able to tunnel up into the bed.    And it looks really nice!

If you live in town, the bricks in the middle of the sides probably aren’t necessary, but since there are large mammals, like deer and moose, making their way through my garden, I wanted to make sure the bed would survive.  The added bonus of the rods through the bricks is that next spring when it’s planting season, I can get some bendable poly tubing and place it on the metal rods and use it to make the bed a small hoop house with deer netting or row cover to keep the critters from eating the veggies.  I think this raised bed will work well and I might even be able to get another one built before winter.

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Well…….I did it. I got out the big guns yesterday and used a grass selective herbicide on the smooth brome in my garden. It will take about 10 days to 2 weeks to start seeing results, but I am hopeful. I got up early to spray and it’s a good thing, there was no wind yesterday morning. That doesn’t happen very often but it was perfect timing yesterday. I didn’t do anything else in the garden yesterday because I wanted the herbicide to dry before I went back out.

So, out I went this morning and I am hopeful once again. The potatoes are recovering from the freeze last week and are putting out new growth. They got hilled up again this weekend, which will be the last time this season. Now I just need to keep up the watering.

Frosted potatoes slowly recovering

Frosted potatoes slowly recovering

The cabbage and aspabroc that I put walls o’ water around last weekend are doing much better. Out of six plants, five of them have put on new leaves. They’re trying to make it. The peas are going gangbusters with the walls around them. Nothing is nibbling on them and the soil is staying moist so they have really jumped up.

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are trellised and are doing great. I have 4 pepper plants that were loaded with aphids this morning, but I washed most of them off the plant with water and crushed a lot of them. I hope they don’t find their way back on to the plants.

Something is eating my lupine. I thought they were deer resistant, but I don’t think this is deer damage. This lupine has been there for about 3 or 4 years and was starting to look fabulous. Don’t know if it will survive this.
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My bearded iris have nice flower buds and should be blooming in the next week or so. Looking forward to seeing the colors.

My next big project is to do something about the ground squirrels. They are out of control. They are now digging into my greenhouse, not just out in the big garden. Hopefully all the containers in the greenhouse are high enough off the ground to deter the little ^&^%^&$$%(*@#@#’s. I’m hoping that once the grassy weeds are gone and they don’t have the vegetation cover, they will move out of the garden to someplace else. We’ll see. As always, one can only hope.

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Let’s see what’s been happening in the garden……..the potatoes sprouted in the tubes and I have hilled them up with some more potting soil. I debated whether to use hay, straw or potting soil and ultimately decided to use potting soil so the tubers that would be forming would not dry out with the winds that seem to continually blow up at our house. I may have let some of the potatoes get a little high before hilling them up, but I think they will survive. I ended up planting quite a variety of potatoes. The red varieties are Colorado Rose, Desiree, Red Pontiac, Sangre. Purple Viking is a purple skin with white flesh that is supposed to be quite tasty. Bintje, Carola, Nicola, Yellow Finn, Kennebec, Crackled Butterball are all yellow flesh potatoes. Masquerade is one of the newest releases from David Holm, the potato breeder at the San Luis Valley Research Station in Colorodo. This potato was described to me as ‘looking like an anasazi bean’. I’m anxious to see it when I harvest.

All the tomato cages with walls o’ water are installed. I planted 4 varieties of tomatoes a couple of weekends ago, covered them with the frost cloth which I thought I had secured, and the wind promptly blew the frost cloth and turned a couple of the cages on their sides so I had to do some repair work to make sure things were stabilized. Once I had the frost cloth stabilized, I planted the remaining varieties of tomatoes. This year I planted Lizzano, Roma, Pomodoro, Yellow Brandywine, Brandywine, Indigo Rose, Green Doctors, Black Krim, Zapotec, Amana Orange, Lemon Boy, Cherokee Purple and Purple Calabash. I am also trialing a variety of “Mighty ‘Mato”, a grafted form of tomato that is supposed to be more drought and cold tolerant than a normal tomato. The variety of grafted tomato is Chocolate Stripe. I hope that the frost cloth will provide a bit more protection of the tomatoes so I can actually harvest some outside grown tomatoes this year.

Starting to stabilize the frost cloth over the tomato cages.  I used a 2 x 4 and cardboard strips to nail the cloth to the wood.

Starting to stabilize the frost cloth over the tomato cages. I used a 2 x 4 and cardboard strips to nail the cloth to the wood.

Both ends of the frost cloth are stabilized.

Both ends of the frost cloth are stabilized.

Frost cloth placed over the tomato cages.  The stabilized ends are at the east and west ends.

Frost cloth placed over the tomato cages. The stabilized ends are at the east and west ends.

A couple of long 2 X 4's are laid across the top of the frost cloth and tomato cages to keep it from blowing off.

A couple of long 2 X 4’s are laid across the top of the frost cloth and tomato cages to keep it from blowing off.

The eggplant is also planted. It seems to be doing much better under the frost cloth as well. It has new growth coming out and hopefully will have a few eggplants this year. The varieties of eggplant this year are Long Purple, Millionaire, Udmalbet, Listada de Gandia and Fengyuan Purple. Normally, all I plant is the Long Purple, but wanted to branch out and see if I could grow other varieties this year.

It’s been a productive couple of weekends. I’ll let you know what’s growing in the greenhouse in the next post!

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Winter decided to show up a bit late here, which of course, delayed spring. There were a couple of late season major snowstorms that dumped about 2 ft each of heavy, wet snow at our place. This is a good thing…….helps postpone the fire danger. Now if the summer will just bring the normal rains, we’ll be in good shape (I hope). But this means the gardening season has been delayed somewhat. I have some greens (lettuces, micro-greens and kale) started in the greenhouse. I see a few garlic tops poking out of the soil in the big garden, but not much else is happening. This year, I have decided to do something different with my potatoes. Last year, my harvest was poor considering the amount of potatoes I planted. So I am trying something I saw on a you tube video that might help me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GO-EHfWgh4o).

This video uses hardware cloth, with 1/2 inch squares, formed in rounds or tubes and used as a vertical planting system. This weekend was all about getting the tubes made and set in place. I used tin snips to cut the hardware cloth and used hog rings with pliers to wire the ends of the cages together to make the tubes. Instead of using the stakes like he showed in the video, I used long metal pins through the cages and into the chicken wire underneath to hold the cages in place. The wire underneath the potato cages is some vinyl coated chicken wire (1″) that I had left over from another project. I am hoping that it won’t rust and will have small enough holes to impede any vole, gopher or ground squirrel from getting into the potatoes. I ran out of potting soil before I ran out of energy, so I haven’t planted the potatoes yet, which is just as well as I will be traveling for work in a couple of weeks and don’t want to have the potatoes sprout too much before I get back. Another thing I am contemplating is wrapping the potato cages in plastic to conserve moisture and heat. With our winds up here and the cool nights, I am thinking the potatoes need all the help they can get.

Here are some photos of the (almost) finished products:

Area where the potato cages will be placed.

Area where the potato cages will be placed.

Vinyl-coated chicken wire underneath the potato cages

Vinyl-coated chicken wire underneath the potato cages

Setting up the cages and starting to put the 6" of soil/compost mix for the base.

Setting up the cages and starting to put the 6″ of soil/compost mix for the base.

The cages after filling.  Filled as many as I could until I ran out of soil.

The cages after filling. Filled as many as I could until I ran out of soil.

Close-up of one of the tubes/potato cages.

Close-up of one of the tubes/potato cages.

Hoping to get all the spuds planted next weekend. And looking forward to a better harvest than last year. Oh, and by the way, the hummingbirds are here. I heard the first one today so I got the feeder all ready for him.

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Well, it has been a while since I posted, however, I did manage to graduate this year, so that is one huge accomplishment that is off my to-do list!  And now, to recap the year……………..

I planted the outside garden squashes too late this year and consequently, did not get any fruit.  I think it is just too cool during the summer for these plants outside.  The only recommendation I can make (and one I might try next year) is to create a hoop house over the area where I planted the squash.  This may allow for a longer growing season.

All things being what they are, for the amount of potatoes that I planted, my harvest this year was small.  I did, still, have more than I can personally use, but the harvest should have been bigger.  I blame the majority of this on the lack of water.  We did not receive any significant summer moisture and as a consequence, everything suffered.  Before planting next year, I will definitely have to remedy that situation.  The tomatoes under the row cover grew beautifully, but unfortunately did not produce that much fruit.  The row cover and walls o’ water did keep the heat in during the majority of the summer so the tomatoes could grow, but also reduced pollination so there was not much tomato set.  I also think that there was not enough heat early in the season to get them going.  Next year, I am going to try an insulated cover which should protect the tomatoes from early and late frosts at our altitude.

I also managed to weed almost the entire garden.  I still have about 10 square feet that will need to be weeded and mulched, but that is reduced significantly from the previous year.  And in all that weeding, I discovered another rose that made it through the trial bringing the total number of survivors to 13.  Pretty good, considering they are surviving drought and herbivore feeding.  The deer managed to eat most of the leaves on the apple trees, so we will see if they survive another winter.  And I think, in part due to the drought, the deer also managed to eat a lot of potato foliage, something they normally do not do.

In the greenhouse, I managed to get a fair amount of roma tomatoes harvested and they did make a great marinara.  The winter luxury pumpkin never did fruit, although it did produce a few flowers.  I did get a nice crop of basil, but the other herbs did not get harvested in time so they froze in the greenhouse once we got cold temperatures.

All in all, it was a pretty decent year even though we had to contend with drought conditions and increased herbivory.  And as always, I’m looking forward to next year and how to improve my garden.

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So today was spent evaluating the damage from the cool nights we have had this past week.  And by cool, I mean it’s getting into the low 30’s.  The potato tops were toasted this week so some harvesting was on the agenda today.  Not all of the potatoes were harvested, I’m hoping if I cut water to the potatoes, the skins will set and they will store a bit longer than freshly harvested.  I pulled up the Red Sangre, Russian Banana Fingerlings and Mountain Rose potatoes.  All together, it was probably close to 35-40 pounds of potatoes.  Since I know we cannot eat all of those potatoes, I have been providing one of our local restaurants (The Wandering Moose) with fresh potatoes for their menu.  It’s not every restaurant up here that can say they source local produce.  After harvesting, I pulled all the weeds and put some pine mulch on the part of the potato patch that was harvested.  All summer, I have been lamenting the fact that none of my Colorado Rose, Yukon Gold or Red McClure potatoes came up.  But it pays to weed the garden…….there are 7 Colorado Rose and Yukon Gold plants coming up and one Red McClure.  Now, I do know that it is quite late in the season for these to just be starting, but I am hoping that with the thick layer of mulch that was put down today, they can overwinter and produce next spring/summer.  Last weekend I harvested all the volunteer potatoes from the garlic/allium bed and had quite a haul from just the volunteers that had overwintered under the mulch.

Toasted potato tops

The tomatoes under the floating row cover were doing well, but with the cold nights, the tops of the tomatoes did get a bit nipped even under the row cover.   The row cover is not insulating, but rather protecting.  And it did protect the plants from total ruination.  I am hopeful that I will still be able to get some tomatoes off of several of the plants before Mother Nature puts her cold hand on them.  There are still quite a few flowers and last week when I checked, there has been some fruit set.  The fruit set is on the lower portions of the plants, so we’ll see if we can get them to ripen soon.

The bottom photo is of the potato patch after harvesting, weeding and mulching.

Tomato tops frostbit under the row cover

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I started this blog as a way to inform folks of plants (edible and non-edible) that will do well at high elevation.  This is also a way to help me remember what works and what does not, because if you are like me, I don’t often remember from year to year what I have done because I simply don’t write it down.  Living in the mountains, there are other considerations and concerns to having a garden.  The availability of water (or lack thereof), wildlife and, of course, fire.  For the past two weeks, I have watched the High Park Fire grow from a mere 50 acre fire to over 75,000 acres, encompassing over a hundred square miles.  As of this writing, it is only 45% contained.  Last weekend I was working in the garden and saw a plume of smoke that looked much closer than it actually was.  This is a bit disconcerting when you live in the mountains, in the middle of a drought and in an area that has seen the forests decimated by the Mountain Pine Beetle.  And even though the fire is a good ten miles from our house, to a fire that is nothing, as evidenced by yesterday’s events.

I was on my way home yesterday afternoon only to find Red Feather Lakes Rd closed at mile marker 7.  The fire had crossed Hwy 14 to the north and was threatening the Hewlett Gulch and Glacier View Meadows subdivisions.  The authorities were evacuating both subdivisions so traffic was only going east, they were allowing no traffic to go west. I took this photo as I was coming up to mile marker 7.

Another unintended consequence of a fire of this magnitude is the increase of wildlife in our area.  They are migrating to higher ground to escape the fire and find food.  Of particular concern is the increase in the bear population.  We’re lucky in our area.  The Division of Wildlife has established a volunteer program here called ‘Bear Aware’.  They educate folks on how to avoid bear confrontations, how to deter bear break-ins to residences and campers and provide information on who to call if they spot a bear.  These volunteers teach people how to keep trash from being bear bait, that feeding bears (or any other wildlife, for that matter) is actually detrimental to the animal and can provide simple steps to keep bears from being able to gain access to structures.  If a bear becomes habituated by being fed by humans or finding easy sources of food around homes, it usually ends badly for the bear.

So you might be asking yourself after reading this post, why am I trying to grow a garden up here?  Am I not just providing food for the wildlife?  And the answer to that is yes and no.  For the majority of the years, the wildlife is not a problem as we do not have huge populations of any one species and there is usually an ample food source of the native berries and grasses that they eat.  This year, with the influx of wildlife fleeing the fire, it will be different.  The natural flora and fauna may not be enough to sustain the populations.   But, my garden is enclosed by a 7 ft. electric fence to deter the large wildlife from gaining access to the garden.  I grow a lot of Alliaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceous plants which are, for the most part, not palatable to the wildlife due to compounds the plants produce or the texture of the leaves of the plants.  And I am vigilant about harvesting and storing the produce so that it is not accessible to wildlife.  I will continue to garden, but will be careful to make sure it is not food for wildlife.

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