Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains -- by Tulsi French

Gardening in the mountains has its challenges, but is a great opportunity to grow fresh vegetables for your mountain home.  I have been gardening for the past three years at 8,700 ft at Shoshoni in Rollinsville, Co. The community I live in owns a spring and has water rights to a pond.  The run-off or pond water serve all our gardening needs during Colorado’s dry season.
Greenhouse gardening has many advantages in the mountains.  One of the advantages is that you can grow year round if you have a warm place for seeding. Shoshoni has two cold houses -no heat added- and one warm house -heated by subterranean heating, and wood boiler-.  We grow hardy veggies such as kale, collards, arugula, spinach, beets, claytonia, mizuna, onions, carrots, winter variety lettuces, pak choi, and other asian greens from fall to mid January.
There are many green house designs you can use to grow in the winter. The design we use is a double-layered greenhouse with a fan that blows air between the two layers of plastic.  It is nice to have a metal frame and good foundation due to intense winds.  Our cold houses are in a valley.  They get the most wind during the winter.  We use a thick row cover
over the plants in the green house.  The plants will freeze during the cold periods.  During these times, its best not to water, harvest, or touch the plants.  They thaw out due to our lovely sunny days.  Its during these warm parts of the day, you can tend to them.  One of the great things about gardening in the colder part of the year is that you do not have to water nearly as much as you need to in summer. Depending on the snowfall, there have been times where we only watered once a week!

           At Shoshoni we use row cover on our crops outside of the green houses in the late summer through fall.  This helps to extend the growing season for crops that handle cool weather.
Some challenges we have had in the green houses during the winter months are voles and pocket gophers. We placed traps in there runways outside their holes.  This was a success.  Voles have a path or runway they like to use to enter and exit the garden.  If you ever see a vole, watch where it runs!! It is likely that they will run the same route over and over. We tried using bubble gum on the trap and they seemed to find it irresistible.  Then we tried nothing on the trap and that worked as well.  The key is to place the trap in the right place. 
Pocket gophers are more challenging. They only live under ground. Evidence of pocket gophers includes fluffed dirt and your plants suddenly missing.  Last year one 30 ft row of kale went suddenly missing due to the pocket gopher.  This summer we built an 18-inch deep fence around the garden.   Hopefully, this year we will have better luck at keeping them out.
At Shoshoni, we rotate our crops through the seasons so that the dirt always has a chance to replenish.  Green manures such as clover, vetch, winter rye, and the legume family have been successful for us at this altitude.  Green manures can be used after crops that take a lot of nutrients from the soil such as the brassica, cucurbit, and the allium families.  It is best to grow green manure for a full season in order for the soil to be replenished. 
Composting and worm-composting are also great ways to enrich the soil.  Our compost piles exist in a field protected by an electric fence. The piles are surrounded by hay bales, which minimizes the smell.  We layer our compost with food or plant clippings, hay, and dirt. 
Gardening with green houses has shown me what is possible in the mountains.  Green houses are a great way to extend the garden and possibly grow year round.  Fresh vegetables from the garden can help enrich your life with good health and taste satisfaction.