Which Varieties are Best for Colorado?

seed-catalogs_lah_2733Seed catalogs are beginning to arrive in our mailboxes. With all the brightly colored photos of perfect vegetables and flowers, it’s tempting to order one (or more!) of each. Most of us, however, have limited garden space. We need to make some hard decisions.

Which varieties should we order? What will thrive in Colorado? Which ones really taste the best?

Most catalogs have some sort of icon indicating which variety does best across the country. The problem is that we don’t live in the rest of the country. We live in Colorado. Our soils, weather, water, even the quality of light here are all different from most of the United States. When a company recommends a product that grows well in Pennsylvania, or California, or Arizona, there is no assurance that it will do as well here.

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Subscribe to Good Eating

264-wheelbarrow-of-veggies-closeup-nxMy daughter supports it in Idaho. My brother-in-law supports it near Denver. My friend supports it here in Colorado Springs—maybe it’s time I join the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement too.

Let’s say you’re eager to enjoy locally grown, organic produce but you don’t have the time or room for a garden (or you just hate yard work). Your first inclination is to head for the neighborhood farmer’s market. But there’s another option. You can buy a share in a farm.

This is how CSA works: one or more small, family farms grow a variety of produce. How much variety depends largely where they are and what will grow there. The growers estimate how much they’ll harvest over the season, and divide the yield into family-sized portions.

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Oh Hail!

hail_home_plh-1It was the house-shaking boom of thunder that first caught my attention. As my ears recovered, I heard a drumming on the roof, a steady beat that rapidly got louder and louder. More flashes of lightning. More thunder. I stopped chopping up celery for the stir-fry I was making, and looked outside. Sure enough, that wasn’t just rain I was hearing. It was hail.

Vicious icy balls almost an inch in diameter were pelting the house, bouncing on the driveway, burying the flower borders. I switched windows so I could see my veggie plot. That was a mistake. It’s such a helpless feeling to watch a lovingly tended garden, the beds I had so carefully weeded just hours ago, turn into lime sherbet.

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Grow Veggies, Save Water

community-gardens-bearcreek-lah-003According to a recent report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, “Extreme drought conditions exist from Colorado Springs and Pueblo to the San Luis Valley and over most of the plains to the southeast of the big metro areas.”

If you live here, this isn’t exactly news. The fields are turning brown months early, wildflowers are small and sparse, and even the most aggressive weeds are wilting.

Living in the low-rainfall west, we’re used to gardening with minimal water. Xeriscaping is a household word, and basic principles of low-water gardening are widely available. (I’ve written several posts on it too—just type “xeriscape” into the search bar.)

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Beautiful Edibles

733-lunch-1I love salads. Wash and tear some crisp, homegrown lettuce. Add a few sprouts, some mizuna leaves (mizuna grows exceptionally well in my garden) and other greens. Slice up some green onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, throw in a few flowers, and whisk together a light vinaigrette to pour over the top. Toss it all together, and yum!

Wait, you say. Flowers? You put flowers in your salads?

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Carrots

800px-Karotten-1Carrots 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.

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Plan Now for Spring Sanity

garden03-plan-lahAre you tired of gardening? We’ve had a longer-than- average growing season this year, and the weather is still warm enough to encourage flowers to bloom and pumpkins to turn orange. If your kitchen counter is piled high with zucchini, and you’re actually getting a tad tired of vine-ripened tomatoes, this is the perfect time to plan next year’s garden.

Most gardeners wait until spring to decide what to grow. This is a dangerous mistake. In spring, we’ve been staring at a brown and dead landscape for the past many months. Anything green seems like a miracle.

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Upside-Down Tomatoes?

tomatoes-greenhouse-2008sept08-lah-296We’ve probably all seen the ads for growing upside-down tomatoes, with the plants protruding from the bottom of a hanging plastic bag full of potting mix. They’re the Big New Idea in gardening. The question everyone’s asking is, does this work here in Colorado? After all, this isn’t exactly prime tomato-growing country.

Carol O’Meara is the horticultural extension agent for Boulder county. She has decided to find out for herself if growing tomatoes upside-down works in our climate, and is sharing the ongoing results of her experiment on her blog, Gardening After Five. Carol brings up a number of important issues; if you want to try this too, reading her article is a good place to start.

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Quick and Easy Coldframes

Panel bed vented LAHWe all want to plant our veggie gardens now, but winter hasn’t quite let go of the Rockies. While last week was in the 60s, it’s snowing as I write this, and snow and frost are distinct possibilities for several more weeks.

This is the time of year when we suffer most from greenhouse envy. Yet, for a minimal amount of money, time and effort, you can build a mini-greenhouse right over your garden beds. Here’s how I went about it.

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This Book Shouldn’t Be a Secret

“My zucchini plants produce flowers, but no squash. Why?”

“Every year my lettuce gets bitter, then blooms. How can I keep it from bolting?”

“I set out my broccoli two weeks before the last frost, when the books tell us to, but it never got big, and it only produced tiny one-inch heads. What did I do wrong?”

“I want to be a better veggie gardener. What book should I read?”

garden-secretsI’d just given a two hour talk on high altitude vegetable gardening, and a crowd of people surrounded me, anxious to ask questions.

Happily, I knew the answers to all those questions. That’s because I’ve read The Book of Garden Secrets. It’s the most helpful book on vegetable gardening I’ve ever read. Since I’ve read dozens of books on growing veggies, this is high praise indeed.

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