Building a sustainable community through gardening
May 2, 2011
It’s really spring now, and the snow has almost melted from the valley floor. That means it’s time to start turning those garden beds where you plan to plant vegetables. Don’t have a vegetable plan? Well, consider planting an edible landscape. It can be almost as decorative as a flower garden, if properly planned. And for all your efforts, you get a lot more nutrition.
New data shows that the simple act of planting a garden may be one of the most important and effective ways that an individual can help save the planet and reduce your “Carbon Footprint.”
Today, with corporate American agriculture, the average food product purchased at a supermarket travels over of 1,500 miles from where it is grown. And a pound of beef takes about 35 gallons of oil to produce. One fifth of this nation’s oil goes to producing and transporting our food. But if each individual grew just 10 percent of what they eat, we would save more than 400,000 barrels of oil a day. And since each barrel of oil makes 23 gallons of gas, that’s 9.2 million gallons of gas each day. America now produces the most expensive and ecologically damaging food in earth’s history. I believe that learning to grow some of your own food is an important step to a sustainable community.
Starting just a small garden and growing some of your own food is easy, and it’s fun. And there is no better way to improve your diet, plus save money on your grocery bills. Vegetables that are grown and consumed locally (within a few days) are shown to have 5 to 10 times the nutritional value of produce that is shipped from across the country. Backyard gardening is one of the fastest growing activities in the country, even if you only have a small yard, or just a sunny balcony or deck.
Most of what you need to know is this:
• You need at least six inches of good, enriched topsoil.
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• You need at growing site that gets at least six hours of sun a day.
• You need a regular water source.
Then you put the seed in the dirt, water it and watch it grow. There are many vegetables that do well and even thrive at the high altitudes of Eagle County. And you can mix in many vegetables and herbs with flowers and make a very decorative, edible landscape. High altitude gardening presents many challenges to growing with our very short season. But this can be managed with many tricks like learning which plants to grow, amending the soil properly, and creating protective enclosures.
At our altitude, you can get a good jump on our short growing season by starting now. As soon as the snow has melted, and the ground can be worked, mix in three inches of compost to your garden (any bagged compost purchased at a garden shop will due) and then cover the gardens to be planted with clear plastic for a few weeks. This creates a small greenhouse effect and pre-warms the soil so the seeds will sprout earlier. Otherwise a cold May or June can delay your crop’s germination (seed sprouting). Seed sprouting is more dependent on soil temperature than air temps. This also helps pre-sprout any weed seeds in the soil, plus kill off any fungus that might jeopardize the new seeds.
There are many “cold-tolerant” vegetables that can be planted starting in April or May, with a little monitoring, and some protections. Peas, lettuce, radishes, arugula, bok choy and spinach all do well in cold temps of 40 to 50 degrees. Even down to 26 degrees, they will just sit dormant at night, and then continue to grow well as soon as the sun shines on them and temps get above 45. Most other vegetables need to wait until early June (depending on your elevation) to be planted, when all frost has passed.
I have found that there is not a lot of good information on high altitude gardening out there. Most garden books are written for the much larger audiences in warmer climates of the mid-west and east. So much of what you read must be altered for our colder, drier climate.
You can learn more about high altitude gardening, plus many other tips like how to improve your composting, and how it will help build a more sustainable community, in my organic gardening class at Colorado Mountain College, Edwards campus, which starts May 11. Call CMC at 970-569-2900 for more info on course number 58205. Or call Lori Russell at 970-328-5324
Lori Russell is a local gardener and teacher of high altitude gardening techniques at Colorado Mountain College. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.