Vail Garden Talk column: Radishes will grow in early spring
If you go …
What: High Altitude Gardening class, with Lori Russell. Learn how to construct raised beds, build healthy soil and more to help build a more sustainable community.
When: 6-9 p.m. Part 1 is Wednesday, May 4; Part 2 is Thursday, May 5; and Part 3 Friday, May 6.
Where: Colorado Mountain College, 150 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.
Cost: $75 per class.
More information: View full class descriptions at coloradomtn.edu. To register, call CMC at 970-569-2900 or Russell at 970-328-5324.
That’s me in the picture, picking a bunch of early radishes last May. That’s right, harvesting in May, when there can still be snow in the air on some years. If you get an early start on your garden, in March or April, you can be harvesting early-season vegetables by May and certainly in June.
My favorite radish variety is the German or crimson giant. It will consistently produce golf ball-sized globes. You say you don’t like radishes; well, you can learn to like them when you see how easily they grow in our mountain climate and know how nutritious they are. They are members of the turnip family, and if you steam them like turnips, the hot spice cooks out of them and they taste marvelous with a little butter.
But radishes can also be grown any time of the summer in just about any kind of soil, since they are so hardy, and they are the fastest growing vegetable, maturing in about three weeks. You can steam or saute the green tops, just like kale or spinach, so there is no waste. I always leave a few of the smaller globes to go to flower and seed, so there are early flowers in my garden for the pollinating bees.
There are several considerations to getting an early start on your garden. You don’t have to wait for the warm days of summer. Any nice spring day is a great day to start the vegetable garden. By prepping and planting now, and using some protections such as plastic covers or cold frames (glass covers), I can have fresh, organic radishes ready to harvest by June 1. Higher elevations such as East Vail and Wildridge may be one to two weeks later.
Garden beds can be ready to plant as early as April 1 in Eagle or Edwards, and there are many veggies that don’t mind the cold and spring snow through May. Depending on your elevation, any of the hardy, leafy greens, such as arugula, kale, spinach and bok choy, can be planted when the snow is still falling in May. As soon as the days are consistently warmer than about 50 and nights stay warmer than 25 degrees, these hardy veggies will sprout, and grow as the days get warmer.
The key is to pre-warm your beds. This is easily done with raised-bed boxes that we talked about in a previous article. If the ground is still frozen, even if it is still covered with snow, you can speed up the warming by spreading compost over it. Then cover the box with Visqueen to hold in the heat. The dark color will absorb the sun faster, melting the snow and warming the ground. The target is to maintain the dirt temperature above 50 degrees.
The next trick is to keep the soil evenly moist, watering during the warm days without freezing your hoses at night. I have my hoses rigged so I just unhook them and drain them after watering each time. Then go ahead and plant cold-hardy seeds in the ground. Be careful to remove the plastic covers during the warm days so you don’t cook your new sprouts and cover again at night.
Lori Russell is a local gardener, professional landscaper and teacher of high-altitude gardening techniques at Colorado Mountain College. She lives and gardens in Eagle.
Heroes look like these guys: Bill “Sarge” Brown, Bob Parker, Pete Seibert, Sandy Treat, Dick Over, Hugh Evans and so many others from the 10th Mountain Division who helped win World War II and, while building the peace, also built the ski industry in the United States.