Mountain Gardening Advisories
Teller County Master Gardeners
Harvesting fresh vegetables in your own backyard can be a rewarding and healthful adventure. Vegetable gardening can be a challenge in Teller County, but with proper planning, you can be successful.
There are several difficulties the mountain gardener must be aware of to increase the chances for a bountiful harvest:
1. Our growing season is extremely short. Frost-free nights last only from about mid-June through the first week in September.
2. Even during summer, nights are cool (usually in the 40’s) and the soil warms slowly in the spring.
3. Additional irrigation is essential.
These special problems mean that we must be more selective about the types of vegetables grown, and more careful in the selection of varieties.
Weather is the determining factor not only in what we plant, but when, as most vegetable do not respond well to cold soils. In mid-May, Teller County is still experiencing very frost nights and an occasional snowstorm. So, while in some years we will be able to plant root crops, cole crops, and peas by May 15, there will be years when the soil cannot be worked until the first of June. Frost sensitive vegetable such as green beans and zucchini should never be planted before June1, and then only if the ground has warmed sufficiently to allow growth and if some protection is given to young plants until mid-June when frosty nights are usually no longer a problem.
Selection of seed varieties is much more important in a short-season garden. The backs of seed packets give the estimated number of days from planting to harvest. However, those estimated days to harvest are meant for lower altitudes and warmer areas. For this information to be accurate I our area add a couple of weeks. Plants requiring over 65 days to mature will be hard-pressed to provide a reasonable harvest before frost if planted in the garden as seeds.
There are several vegetables – possibly some of your favorites –, which should be tried only in protected areas under special circumstances. In this group are tomatoes, squash (except zucchini), cucumbers, okra, eggplant, all melons, corn, pumpkins, peppers, dried beans, and sweet potatoes. The short season usually will preclude a successful harvest of these crops.
The site you select for a garden is extremely important. A sunny spot with no trees to shade the soil is vital. The site should be well drained and a very slight south slope will warm earlier in spring. Be sure water is readily accessible, as vegetables need frequent supplemental water.
If you have a choice, select a site with good soil. If not, plant to amend the soil with organic material (compost, peat moss, or well-aged manure) and add an application of 5-10-10 fertilizer, according to the rates listed on the package. If you are working with subsoil or pure decomposed granite, consider the purchase of a truckload of good topsoil.
Starting from scratch with imported topsoil can be expensive. To reduce the expense and make the most of your garden area, build a series of small (4’ x 4’) raised beds with garden timbers 12 inches high and fill them with at least 8 inches of soil. Plant the entire 16 square feet in vegetables, flowing spacing requirements for the particular plants you are using, but not planting in standard rows. This type on intensive gardening will produce a very large harvest in a small area, and is easy to care for. Wee problem are negligible. However, it is even more important in intensive gardening to fertilize regularly. Raised beds will warm faster in the spring and are easy to cover during a cold spell or hail storm.
Many vegetables can be raised successfully in movable containers such as whisky barrels, redwood planters, or plastic buckets. Container gardening solves the problems of poor soil and lack of space. Also, it is easier to raise the warm weather crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers, as the container can be placed against a warm wall or on the south side of a rock pile, which absorbs heat during the day and then releases the heat at night. Containers can be brought inside on especially cold nights. Nearly all vegetables can be raised in containers, including lettuce and zucchini.
Mulch used in the vegetable garden can be beneficial in several ways as long as a few basic rules are observed.
Mulches preserve moisture. This is especially important in our area of low humidity and rapid evaporation, quickly drained and rocky soil, and high water costs. A deep mulch – at least four inches – will discourage weed from sprouting between rows.
Normally, any organic material may be used. However, because of our cool days and cold nights, the selection of mulch is more critical. A very light colored material, such as straw or newspaper will reflect sunlight sway form the soil and may actually prevent the soil from warming. Cool weather plants such as peas may not mind having cool, moist roots but warm weather crops may grow more slowly under the circumstance. If you use a light-colored mulch, be sure the soil has warmed thoroughly before you apply it to the garden.
For more information on mulches, see CSUCE fact sheet # 7.214 – Mulches for Home Grounds.
Insects are much less of a problem in our climate and altitude than you may have experienced in other areas.
Aphids, flea beetles, leaf miners, root maggots, and cutworms are the biggest garden insect problems. When treating for insects, use a variety of methods including barriers, mechanical devices, and cultural controls. If chemicals must be used, read the label and apply according to the printed directions.
This is a list of vegetables that can be grown successfully at an altitude of 8,000 to 10,000 feet.
Asparagus: A perennial vegetable providing a very early crop. Bed preparation is extremely important.
Beans: Plant in sunniest part of garden after soil has warned thoroughly, after June 1.
Beets: Can plant seeds early with few problems.
Broccoli: Set out well-started, hardened-off plants from mid-May to early June. Try early varieties.
Cabbage: Short to mid-season varieties.
Carrots: Deep soil preparation necessary/ can plant very early, will take frost in fall; can dig and time before ground freezes.
Cauliflower: Plant only well-grown, hardened-off plants, mid-May to early June. Must be blanched by wrapping leaves over heads. Self-blanch varieties are available.
Celery: Plant well grown transplants in late May or early June; plants will be small but can be used at any time.
Horseradish: Perennial vegetable that can be dug any time ground is not fro
Jerusalem Artichokes: Must have warm, sunny location; keeps in refrigerator or cool cellar.
Kale: Takes light frost. Plant early.
Kohlrabi: Start from seed or plants (use both for longer season) in May; keeps well after harvest.
Lettuce: All varieties possible; plant very early.
Onions: plant in warmest part of garden; plants or sets-no seeds; may not develop large bulbs; excellent as green onions.
Peas: all varieties are excellent; plant as soon as ground can be worked; edible pod varieties are very good; harvest lasts until fall freeze.
Potatoes: Plant in mid-May in sunny area; may be small-sized in some seasons.
Radishes: All varieties good; subject to root maggots.
Rhubarb: Good, long-lasting perennial; rich, organic soil needed; do not disturb once established.
Spinach: Most varieties good; plant early.
Swiss Chard: all varieties good.
Turnips: Easy to grow all varieties; plants seeds mid-to late May.
Zucchini: Plant after June 1 and protect from cold nights; very susceptible to frost. Use either seed or plants.