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Posts Tagged ‘high elevation gardening’

Well, The weather has finally warmed up a bit from the May snowstorms and rains so I finally got all of my potatoes planted. I put together 6 more tubes/cages so I would be able to plant all of them. I planted the first variety a month ago, then it got cold for a weekend, I went to visit my mom and sister over Memorial weekend so finally last weekend, I was able to get my gardening on. I wanted to clean out an area that was on the east side of the greenhouse to put the new tubes. Digging up all that grass was tough!! But I got it all out, chicken wire laid on the ground (to keep the ground squirrels from digging into the tubes from underneath) and tubes staked in and wrapped. Then I put mulch on top of the exposed chicken wire. Wrapping the tubes in plastic helps keep the soil from drying out and, as I have discovered, makes a slick surface so small critters can’t climb the wire of the hardware cloth tubes.

The grassy area that needed to be cleaned.

The grassy area that needed to be cleaned.

End of day 1 digging grass

End of day 1 digging grass

Finished!!

Finished!!

I must admit that I am an over-achiever when it comes to potatoes. I planted 19 varieties total this year. That’s really too many. Next year, I’m scaling back on the potatoes (she says now). But if you are a gardener like me, you just want to try them all. Most of the potatoes I planted are considered short season, meaning they can be harvested in 60-80 days. That’s just about right for this elevation since I figure we have an average of 90 frost free days a year. Once they are ready, I can leave them in the tubes even after frost (but not freeze) which will help set the skins for storage.

In other veggie news…….this year, I did plant carrot seeds in three of the tubes (not with the potatoes) and they are starting to germinate. My parsnips overwintered, but I am not sure how they will taste. They might be rather bitter. I harvested the first round of greens from the greenhouse today and those will go in the salad for dinner. My peas that are planted in the walls o’ water are growing well. They have not been discovered by critters. And all my garlic is finally up. I’m looking forward to scapes on the garlic soon……..they are wonderful in stir-fry dishes.

Next weekend I’ll plant the tomatoes and herbs that I’ve started. Those will go in the greenhouse. I changed up my tomato varieties a bit this year, using determinate and cold-hardy/short season varieties. I have several different varieties of basil, which will help make marvelous marinara in September. I also want to try some broccoli rabe, rapini and a purple broccoli, but I have to figure out where to plant it. I’m glad the weather is (mostly) nice enough to be able to get out into the garden now.

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I thought this next post should be something about the gardening conditions at 8600 ft.  On average, we get, maybe, 75-90 frost free days a year.  Along the Front Range of Colorado (I-25 corridor from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs), the average frost-free date is May 15th, after which you can feel fairly safe about planting vegetables and tender annuals.  Up here, the average frost-free date is June 2nd and even then I wouldn’t count on it.  I have planted outside on June 2nd and the next day we got snow.  I should qualify that statement by telling you that I am very fortunate to have a small greenhouse where I can grow vegetables that require more than 90 frost-free days or that cannot tolerate the cool night temps of summer (usually in the 40’sF).  I purchased a used, 6′ x 8′ aluminum frame greenhouse from a friend of mine and it has served me well.  I put a portable electric heater that has a thermostat in the greenhouse, and run heavy duty electric cord to the house for electricity to power it.  This helps early in the season when the temps are still going below 32F.  During the summer, it is unplugged as the daytime heating in the greenhouse compensates for the chilly nights.  The average daytime temps during the summer are between 75-80F.  If it gets above 80F, it’s a real heat wave.  The temperatures at this elevation are generally about 20 degrees cooler than along the Front Range, so planning your garden accordingly is a must.

The soil, is as expected, rocky.  After all, these are the Rocky Mountains.  The gardens that we use most frequently have all been cleared of big rocks which are then used as accent stones or borders.  The soil is mostly sandy loam which is a welcome change from the heavy clay soils of the Front Range.  The gardens that have are using have also been amended with aged horse manure to help with drainage, texture and fertility.  Thankfully, due to the elevation, diseases and insect pests are at a minimum.  Aphids and whiteflies have, on occasion, found their way into the greenhouse but the plants outside have been disease and insect free.  The main concern in high elevation gardening is herbivory.  The deer love the roses, the chipmunks love the pansies and most other flowering plants and the rabbits will eat most anything.  And, there are also the moose that love to trample anything they happen to walk through. 

This offers a pretty good idea of the conditions of gardening at high elevation, so future posts will be more about the plants.

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So……………..having lived up in the mountains for several years now,  people ask me what is working, what doesn’t work and how do I do it.  A blog is the perfect way to get information to all those who are curious about what is going on up there. 

Here’s the background 411………my husband and I purchased a home with 10 acres at 8600 ft. elevation about an hour NW of Fort Collins almost 10 years ago.  I knew that I could never have the garden that I had previously, but was determined to grow something.  I transplanted a few shrubs but those died within a few years.  I reclaimed an area close to the house and planted some hardy perennials (or so I thought) and some of them have survived despite my best efforts to kill them.   I am trying to grow vegetables, flowers and perennials.  In addition I have a rose trial for EarthKind (TM) roses. I’ll expand on all these topics in more detail with future blogs.  It has been quite interesting and I have learned a lot about gardening at this elevation.

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