Getting a Jumpstart on Your Garden

April 12, 2023

Gardening in Southwest Colorado takes more patience and preparation than in many other warmer and wetter states. The area is susceptible to unpredictable frosts, drought, smoke, and a shorter growing window, yet it is still possible to have a highly productive garden. Mountain Roots Food Project has a spring gardening guide to help better understand the challenges and planning needed to succeed in our gardens this summer. By Connor Shreve. This story is sponsored by The Payroll Department and Serious Texas BBQ

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April is National Gardening Month. But as temperatures begin to warm up in the four corners area, April can really be a test of patience for gardeners, having to wait out at least another month of possible freezing temperatures. But it is still possible to have a healthy and productive garden. This edition of the Local News Network is brought to you by Payroll Department and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q. I'm Connor Shreve. As many of our fellow gardeners around the country are deep into their spring gardening season, we are stuck waiting for an outdoor gardening window that starts at the end of May. But that does give you some time to do your homework and learn about the challenges you'll face growing in Southwest Colorado.

It's definitely a process that takes more time. You know, there's a lot of other parts of the country where you wouldn't need to do that and it's just a lot easier. So it's just, if you can grow food in these high elevations and really get down a system that works with balancing cold temperatures and then really high temperatures, you've kind of made it in terms of figuring out how all this works together 'cause it is tricky here. It's really hard here.

Roni Pasi is the director of regenerative agriculture at Mountain Roots Food Project and says Colorado growing challenges include everything from drought, smoke, and sun damage, to unpredictable freezes and a shorter growing window. She says one way to get around that is to be smart about what you plant

Especially at our elevations, I think people get really excited, understandably, about tomatoes. I love tomatoes, and peppers, and all these crops that love heat, that take a long time in terms of these maturity to produce fruit. I think the idea would be more of a mind shift and say, "Okay, here's where we're living. What crops do well here?"

That can actually be an advantage. Colder temperatures create sweeter flavors as the plant's starches convert to sugars.

Your carrots do wonderful here. Your radishes, turnips, beets, your hearty leafier greens, your chard, your kale, a lot of alliums, onions and leaks, and such. So just really kind of adopting our pallet to what we can grow well here.

Pasi cautions against growing plants that are particularly susceptible to frosts. Fruits like melons, for example. She says you'll also need a plan for wildlife. Growing in the high desert and mountains means you'll need to be prepared for everything, from big game to small rodents.

I think people can kind of overlook the damage that these critters will do just based on nesting in the ground, and also just when they see a beautiful head of lettuce coming up in the garden, and you're so excited to go out there and harvest it. And then you get out there the next day and it's gone. So this really prepping and being aware that wildlife is going to love your food just as much as you will. So what is your plan going into a season?

Those protections can be game fence, wire cages, and row cover, which Pasi says can insulate against both overly cold and hot conditions. With grow lights and heat pads on the market at relatively affordable prices, you can get a head start on our short growing season by starting seeds indoors, and look for seeds that have been adapted to our local climate.

It's so easy as a grower to log on to the internet and support these larger seed companies, which are doing great things too. But there's also, they don't have as much say in really what regionally adapted seeds can do for gardens. So that's not a gimmick. And I would totally recommend to gardeners to get out there and support those seed companies that have saved seeds that do a lot better in these areas.

Local companies like High Desert Seed and Gardens and Pueblo Seed Company specialize in these adapted seeds, but Pasi encourages beginner gardeners to consider buying plants that have already been started at your local nursery. So even though it might feel like our gardening plans are stuck in the mud right now, the time to put plants in the dirt will come sooner than you think. And smart planning now could make all the difference in getting the most out of your garden this summer. Thanks for watching the Local News Network, I'm Connor Shreve.


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