Cool Crops

misting-lettuce-seedlings-lahAt 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.

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Gardening Advice You Can Trust

Growing one’s own food is back in vogue. Community gardens are springing up in cities, suburbanites are trading lawns for lettuce, and even the White House is cultivating everything from arugula to heirloom tomatoes.

If you’ve never grown vegetables before, the task may seem daunting, but it really isn’t that hard. For one thing, there’s plenty of advice available. However, not every suggestion deserves a place in your yard; some sources are more reliable than others. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of plain hogwash being circulated as garden advice.

If you are planning on growing vegetables—or fruit, or any kind of garden, really—I highly recommend you do some research before beginning. It’s a good idea to look for local sources of information, as growing conditions vary so much from place to place. Generalized gardening books and magazines are helpful, but most tend to be slanted toward the eastern part of the country. Growing anything in Colorado is a much different challenge.

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Taking Stock of the Garden

The gardening season is over, at least for us here in Colorado. Our September snowfall put an early end to beans,  tomatoes, and summer squash. Hardier veggies (and, unfortunately, most weeds) survived, but haven’t grown since the weather turned cool. Carrots are waiting under their mulch layer for winter harvesting; garlic has been harvested and next year’s crop replanted.

With much shoveling and sneezing (I’m allergic to chickens), the broken-down, soiled straw in the chicken coop has been distributed over my garden beds and dug in, adding nutrients and organic matter to enrich my soil. A thicker layer of newer straw mulch keeps my earthworms happy and protects against insect pests that are waiting lay their eggs underground.

It’s finally time to lay down the shovel, step back and take stock. How did the garden do this year? What did we have too much of (not zucchini, for once)? What were we lacking? How did the new varieties I trialed compare to my tried-and-true favorites? What should I do the same next year? What should I change?

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