Barbara Lawlor, Peak to Peak. July is the month that the lettuce, the spinach, the peas and most leaf vegetables are ready to harvest. Yellow squash begins to peek out from the under the leaves they have nested under.
For local gardeners, it is a time of triumph and in some cases, when the voles hit, when the elk show up for breakfast and when hail rips holes in the plant, it is a time of seasonal tragedy. It makes one glad they are not farmers, not depending on a mountain crop for their sustenance.
At the Nederland Community Center, the Food Bank is abundant with vegetables from its own garden, grown in the greenhouse next to the food bank space.
Each week bins of fresh produce are offered to clients who relish the summer treats. Laura Fisher of Eldora is the gardener who brings in the plants she started at her home, dozens of tomatoes of all kinds, kale, turnips, beets. All of the seeds gathered and saved from each crop to be used again next year.
Laura’s garden in Eldora could feed the town. The green leafed plants are plentiful and healthy and the surrounding flower gardens make visiting the garden a respite from the restless world.
Les Karplus owns a large property in the Sherwood Road area that was ravaged by flames last year in the Cold Springs Fire. Instead of weeping at the charred mess his forest had become, he turned a tenth of an acre into a quinoa field and expects to reap at least 80 pounds of the nutritious grain.
“I started the garden last year but then the fire came through, so I took it out. It will go to seed flower and then to seed and then I’ll harvest it, probably in October,” says Les.
He said he read that the United States was buying these crops from Lima and Peru and he knew people who were trying to introduce the product to US gardeners. He was given a pound of seed after the fire and a group of people came over to help rototill the soil and add manure.
“Now we are up and running. The great thing is the critters don’t eat the plant. What was once a forest is now a garden and a pasture and soon to be an orchard.”
Quinoa is an ancient grain, hardier than wheat and known to do well in the mountains. Les says he wrestled for six months trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the burned forest on his property and slowly he’s coming up with the answer to that question.
In town, at Salto on Wednesday afternoons, a farmer’s market offers vendors of fresh organic vegetables a place to sell their produce. Todd Randall brings in vegetables from From Yard Urban Farmer located at 65th and Nelson. Last year Todd began bringing in produce, the likes of which cannot be found in grocery stores.
Krisan Christenson brought in her brilliant orange, red display of rainbow carrots and bouquets of sunflowers. She said she grows only open pollinated food, allowing her the option to save the seeds. This is her second season of bringing up crops and says she has gained a bunch of regulars and is grateful for their support.
Local resident Erin O’Brien also sells her homemade goods at Salto, including bread whose ingredients have come from people who live up here.
“My mom used to live up here and remembers there was a co-op back then, in the mid-70s. I grew up here, going to first grade at the old school, that is the community center now.”
This is Erin’s fourth season to farm at her home on CR 68. She also brings in her extraordinary eggs of all colors.
And if it’s flowers you are looking for, take a hike in your own backyard and wallow in Nature’s garden, the wildflowers that are going crazy in the high country, up Caribou which has terrific wildflower shows every summer.
Visit these gardens and farmer’s markets and talk to the people who have experimented and tested what works and what doesn’t work and if you start a garden, summer will take on a whole new meaning.
(Originally published in the August 3, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)