Serene Karplus, Nederland. “Everyone in the mountains can grow at least a little of their own food up here,” says Wendy Monroe. Putting their energy behind their beliefs, she and Jim McVey operate a nonprofit called Ned Victory Gardens. They offer advice, management, and maintenance to individuals, schools, businesses, and towns installing garden projects, from small containers of kitchen herbs on a windowsill to greenhouses and outdoor gardens. Providing seeds or produce from their own growing operations provides another layer of outreach.
Several options are available to us as small gardeners. Container gardens provide year-round growing indoors. These can range from a single windowsill to an area dedicated to multiple troughs or shelving with pots we can wheel outdoors during summer. Many up here live on large lots and may find a suitable spot for a four-foot square summer garden. This typically requires building a raised bed with wire mesh along the bottom and up the sides to keep the burrowing critters out and lined with weed cloth. A lumber frame defines the perimeter and some will build a five-sided box with chicken wire above it to keep out the taller browsing critters. Most of us will need to import amended soil unless we have been composting every leaf and kitchen item generated for the past five years to accumulate sufficient good soil.
Structures can make gardening a little easier in all winds and weathers. Hoop houses can be custom fit to an existing growing bed or built to the dimensions of an installed bed. These protect against hail, harsh sunlight, and wind, slowing evaporation of precious water. They can also extend the growing season by up to a month. Cold frames are transparent-roofed enclosures built low to the ground to protect plants from adverse weather. The transparent top admits sunlight and prevents heat from escaping, especially at night. A cold frame functions as a miniature greenhouse to extend the growing season. A greenhouse can be attached or detached from existing structure and custom designed for efficiency suitable to the location.
All successful local gardeners recommend amending the soil with compost, cured horse manure, or mushroom compost. Wendy and Jim add the advice that we select vegetables and herbs that have no more than a 90-day season and plant certified organic seeds when possible. Ultimately, saving seeds from successful plants generates strains of mountain-hardy plants instead of starting anew each year with seeds grown in different conditions elsewhere.
Some plants that succeed at higher elevations include: arugula, beans (purple, yellow, and green), beets, bok choy (plant between collards, harvests in 28-30 days), cabbage, carrots (plant with radishes to help thin the carrots), collards, fennel, garlic (plant in the fall, harvest in late summer), Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mesclun, mustard, onions, patty pan squash, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, strawberries, Swiss chard, turnips, and zucchini, along with herbs such as: chives, cilantro, lavender, lovage, mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
A summary of Ned Victory Gardens tips for spring growing:
– Amend soil with nutrient-rich organic compost, mushroom compost, or well-aged manures.
– Choose high-altitude, bee-friendly, non-GMO, organic seeds and starts.
– Start small with proven high-elevation crops such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, snow peas, bok choy, and radishes.
– Plant indoors in March so plants are already established by late May.
– Harden off all starts by letting them sit outside for 2 weeks before planting. Bring them inside at night if there is a threat of frost.
– Plant outside between the new moon and full moon in June.
– The better the soil and garden design, the less water is required.
– Protect the garden from sun, wind, hail, and critters; a hoop house with ground protection does this.
– To protect against rodents such as voles, attach strong wire netting to the bottoms of raised beds; pinwheels and other kinetic devices may help, too.
– To protect an outdoor garden from dogs or browsing deer, circle it with tall fencing (deer can jump seven feet high).
– Have fun!
– Contact Jim and Wendy at email@example.com or 303-547-7801 for assistance.