Now that the winter’s first hard freezes have arrived, fresh homegrown produce is in short supply. The season my be over for frost-tender summer squash, vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, but with some preparation, you can enjoy at least one crop that can be harvested from mid-summer through fall and winter, until the days start to warm again. There’s nothing like going out to the garden in December, brushing off some snow, carefully digging into the cold soil, and pulling up some crisp, bright orange carrots!
Carrots thrive in my garden. I have sandy soil that is dug and amended about 18 inches deep. The sawdust I added years ago is now dark humus. The roots are safely underground, and when hailstones pummel the ferny foliage it bends rather than breaks.
Growing carrots is easy, once they germinate. When planted in cool soil, the seeds can take three weeks before sprouts appear. Yet, if you wait too long, it’s very difficult to keep the seedbed damp as the weather warms. My solution is to plant around May 1 – 15, then use a drip irrigation mister attached to a timer to keep the soil from drying out.
At last! After a long winter wait, it’s finally time to get outside, crumble some soil in our fingers, and dig in. Yes, it’s finally time to plant our vegetable gardens—or at least the first crops. While we need to wait a bit longer for frost-tender plants, there are many cool season vegetables that can handle cold nights and a bit of frost. Here are some crops that you can transplant or direct seed into the garden right now.
There are three types of peas, and this is a great time to plant all of them. They prefer cool weather, and need to mature before the heat of summer stunts their growth. Select varieties that mature quickly. Most grow on dwarf vines, two to three feet tall. They will need some support—try some chicken wire or netting stretched along a fence or between two posts.
Peas and carrots are a classic couple in the kitchen, but what about the garden?
Normally, peas are sown in early spring. The traditional date is St. Patrick’s Day. While that may work in gentler climes, at 7,000 ft. elevation I would need a drill to create holes in my frozen ground. I usually plant a month later, on Tax Day. At least it gives me something to enjoy on that date.
This year, weekly snowstorms have delayed all my gardening chores. I finally got my peas into the ground on May 6. I don’t have great expectations for the harvest. Maybe we’ll have a cool start to the summer, and my husband will get to enjoy his Sugar Snaps. Maybe not. That’s the gamble of gardening in Colorado.
Carrots, on the other hand, are usually planted a week or two before the average last frost date. The cool temperatures and snow-damp soil help keep the seeds from drying out during the three weeks it takes them to germinate.
This year, I sowed carrots on the same day as the peas. At least they’re right on schedule. I took the time to arrange the seeds in blocks of 16 per square foot, so I won’t have much thinning to do later. In my 4 x 4 foot carrot bed, that gives me 256 carrots—plenty for our needs.