usdamap

GROWING ZONE FRUSTRATION

I do as much research & investigation as I can before I plant the garden. I want to be successful, and to do so I know I need to plant fruits and vegetables that will grow in my climate, and I also want to choose the specific varieties that should do the best. In my unique environment, this is very difficult! Many of the books we have read about vegetable gardening are based on the author’s personal experience in their own location. They don’t seem to have a clue about what it’s like where I live. Many websites are written with lots of suggestions, but often don’t even mention where the authors are located. This is incredibly frustrating. A short season, cold nights, warm days, just doesn’t fit with most gardening plans.

 

USDA PLANT ZONES

Let’s start with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You can enter your zip code on this page to find your growing zone, right? Wrong! I enter my zip code and it seems to think I am in Zone 5a. The map is not very precise. If I zoom in and look very closely on THIS MAP, I’m right on the border between 4b-5a. I realize that with various microclimates within a region, it’s still just a guess. I’ve decided to plan my planting based on Zone 4b. That being said, to be on the safe side, I choose perennials that promise to be hardy enough for Zone 3.

 Unfortunately, knowing the USDA Zone is not helpful. Most seed & plant catalogs, web stores and informational materials seem to rely heavily on USDA Zones to provide information for gardeners. But the USDA Plant Hardiness system is lacking and does not consider many other factors. Winter temperatures are only one part of the dilemma. There are a lot of other factors to consider, such as:

  • Are summer daytimes hot or cool? Are the nights warm or cold?
  • How long is the season? First & Last frost dates don’t coincide with the USDA Zones.
  • What is the latitude, and how many hours of sunlight are there in each day?
  • What is the altitude, and what effect does it have on the climate?

 

ZIP CODE MAPS & CHARTS

I’ve noticed that often there are maps & charts which attempt to determine your climate by zip code. These should be considered carefully! I am in a rural area, and climate charts that use zip code locations sometimes try to find the nearest city center to determine information. For me, they tend to default either to Colorado Springs (6100-6500 ft) or to Canon City (5300 ft). Colorado Springs is just about the same latitude as us, so that’s a bit helpful regarding daylength. However, Canon City is nothing like our location. The First/Last Frost Dates on almanac.com show me Canon City’s dates, which are nothing like ours. If you’re in a rural area, finding information for suitable plants can be challenging.

 

NORTHERN CLIMATES & LATITUDE CONSIDERATIONS

I find many resources that refer to colder “northern” climates that are Zone 3 or 4 on the USDA charts. Often, seed & plant descriptions will indicate when a variety is good for northern climates. I used to think that things that would grow there would grow well here as well. After all, it’s cold there, right? Perhaps so in winter, but northern latitudes have longer summer seasons, warmer summer temperatures and more hours of sunlight than we do here. Both daytime and nighttime temperatures are often higher than ours.

I spot-checked a few cities in northern Zone 3 & 4 areas to determine some of their statistics. I wanted to know whether my assumptions above were valid. I wanted to see the differences between one Zone 4 and another, or between Zone 3 and my own location. I selected these locations:

Home: These are my own observations based on collecting data the past 4.5 years.
Guffey: Our nearest town.
Minot, ND & Bemidji, MN: Just a couple of northern cities with information easy to find.
Wolcott, VT: High Mowing Seeds is located here. I know they grow a lot of vegetables there and it is not far from Ed Smith, who wrote “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible”.
Harborside, ME: This is where Eliot Coleman’s “Four Season Farm” is located. He has written several gardening books with lots of suggestions that work for him.

1Home – Actual Observations. Last & First Frost Dates are the latest and earliest I have experienced so far.

2USDA Zone Map: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/InteractiveMap.aspx

3Last-First Frost Dates found here: https://davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/  Determined from 90% chance of 32° Spring & Fall. Note: The first/last frost dates found at almanac.com may be very wrong!

4 Daylength Determined from: https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/

5Temperatures found on Wunderground

6UV Index Mean found here: https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/stratosphere/uv_index/uv_meanmax.shtml

 

ALTITUDE

I have attempted to locate information for planting in high altitude, and I just can’t find much. I’ve checked out a few books from the library and have viewed whatever websites seem most appropriate for gardening in the Rocky Mountains. Most of these resources have a little bit of information about plants grown at high altitude, how to protect them from late and early frost and cold spells, and a lot of basic gardening information useful for any area. I haven’t found a good, informative resource yet to indicate what will or won’t grow at high elevation. There are a few relatively local people who do consultations, workshops & seminars, but they aren’t free and aren’t really in my neighborhood. There are local county and state extension offices, but their information isn’t usually very helpful either.

What difference does altitude make? In our experience, the major difference in addition to our short season is that our nights are very cool, while the days can be quite warm or even hot. Of course, “hot” for us means anything over 80°, which I suppose may not be considered hot at all for some people. We have daily temperature fluctuations that can span 50°. In mid-summer some days can be as low as 37° in the morning and 87° that same afternoon. I may like this is fine, but many plants just don’t! Additionally, our high elevation contributes to a more intense UV Index. This can scorch the plants if not taken into consideration.

 

MATURITY DATES

Seed packets will indicate how many days it will take for plants to grow and/or bear fruit under ideal or average conditions. It’s up to the gardener to determine how long it will take in their own climate. Here, some things (cool-loving plants) mature pretty close to the dates listed, others may take another 50% or more time.

 

WHAT DO I DO?

WHAT is my planting zone, really? I may be in USDA Zone 4 or 5 over the winter, but what is my summer zone? What I need to know is: how long of a season do perennial fruits need in order to grow and bear fruit? How warm does it need to be for the various annuals to grow successfully in the summer? Is it possible that some things will not grow here no matter how well I protect them?

It would really be nice to find a system or chart of some kind that takes all of these factors into account. Come on, USDA! Are you going to produce something useful, or continue to fool novice gardeners into believing your chart may actually be helpful?

For the most part, I’m doing the best I can by trial and error. If something doesn’t do well one year, I try something different the next. I’m passing along this information in case it may help others. Please refer to other pages explaining some of my experiences with various vegetables & fruits.

 

 

 

 

THE 2016 SIX-PACK HAS RETIRED

Coco & Whitey – the last two

Our “Six-Pack” of ducks from 2016 is no longer with us. For various reasons, we have culled the flock one by one. Most of them were removed because they had stopped laying eggs, or laid only soft-shell eggs. We began raising our small, 2019 flock of ducklings while we still had two remaining “big ducks” from 2016, but in short time they were culled because they were just too crabby and no fun to have around.

Coco (Chocolate Runner) spent most of her waking hours hunched up with her feathers ruffled, quacking-quacking-quacking. Most of the time she looked like the right photo. It was unbearable.

 

Coco–scrunched & unhappy

Our other adult, Whitey, had been our best layer and generally a calm duck. But, after we’d culled two others, leaving just Coco & Whitey, Whitey began to quack just as much as Coco. Thinking Coco had infected her with crabbiness, we got rid of Coco first and attempted to calm Whitey down. Tim would sit on the ground to feed her out of a bowl located by his lap. At first, she would continue to quack and go hungry, because she was unwilling to come near. We tried holding her in our laps until she calmed down. A couple of days after starting this process, she was much quicker to come and eat quietly. There was some improvement, and we hoped she would return to being her calmer self, but even after a few days it just didn’t help calm her down. Whenever we would walk nearby or past her even at some distance, she would still quack like crazy. It just wasn’t worth the effort to continue working with her, not knowing if our efforts would calm her down.

With the baby ducklings growing, we decided to cut our losses with the old, and bring up the new flock without their influence. We are hoping these new ducks will be happier, quieter, calmer.

 

 

IMG_7964 (2)

2019 FLOCK OF FIVE

Coco & Whitey, 2 Remaining Ducks

The six ducks we’ve raised since August 2016 had dwindled down to two good layers, so we recently decided to get a flock of new ducklings to start raising while the two were still laying. As we awaited the arrival of the ducklings and began to raise them in the brooder, the two remaining layers became quite crabby and no fun to have around—perhaps they missed their friends or didn’t like being a flock of two. Since we had the new ducklings growing fast in the brooder, we decided to cull the remaining adults and start over. We just didn’t want the kids to learn bad habits from the big ducks (quacking uncontrollably whenever we walk near). Hopefully this new crew will be happier, quieter, and more friendly. We will work on that from the start!

We originally ordered four ducklings online from Metzer Farms. Metzer Farms now accommodates folks like us who only want a small number of ducklings. There is an extra fee for shipping small orders, but since we really don’t want 10 ducklings, we were willing to pay the extra shipping. We were able to get them sexed, and ordered females only.

Sadly, one of our baby ducklings didn’t make it through the first night at home. She was scrawny right out of the box, and not as active as the others. We had doubts she’d make it. Fortunately, Metzer Farms offers either a refund or replacement when ducklings do not survive the trip. They are unable to safely ship just one duckling, so she needed a companion duckling. They offer to send a “mystery” duckling free of charge, or one of our choice that we pay for. We chose a female of another breed we were interested in. They hatched just one week after the first 3, and we received them last week. Now we have 5 baby ducklings, growing fast in our care.

Metzer Farms’ website provides a nice comparison table of the duck breeds they sell, so we made our decision based on these observations. Our criteria for choosing duck breeds are:

  1. We want ducks that will lay the most eggs.
  2. We prefer calmer ducks that don’t quack too much.
  3. We want ducks that will forage and find their own food. We have 40 acres for them to explore, although they don’t go any farther than 1 or 2.
  4. Different colors. We want to be able to tell them apart at a glance. And Laurie likes pretty ducks.

We have chosen these five:

White Layer. One of the ducks we currently have is a white layer from Metzer Farms. She has been our most consistent layer and has a calm demeanor, even though she rates 6.7 on the temperament scale. (10 is high) She forages right along with the rest of the ducks, rated “Good” for foraging, and her all-white feathers make her easy to spot.

 

Golden 300 Hybrid Layer. Also bred at Metzer Farms, this duck promises to lay 200-290 eggs per year. She rates high on the temperament scale at 7.7, but we hope that the other calmer ducks will keep her in check. She should also be a “Good” forager, and will be a brownish color.

 

 

Silver Appleyard. This breed rates 1.2 for the calmest temperament, and “Very Good” at foraging. She won’t lay as many eggs, 120-175 per year, but hopefully her calm demeanor and foraging will encourage the others to follow suit. She will have mixed colors of white and brown.

 

 

 

Black Swedish. This should also be a calm duck, 2.3 on the scale. She should lay 130-180 eggs per year and be a “Good” forager. She will be predominantly black with a white chest. This is the one that didn’t survive, and we will receive a replacement next week.

 

 

Rouen. These ducks are known to be on the calm side, a 4.5 on the temperament scale. She should lay 140-180 eggs per year and should be a good forager. She may lay blue-green eggs, and should be a nice looking, dark brown duck.

 

 

This will be our fourth time to raise ducklings. We hope to pay more attention to their care than we have for the past couple of flocks, and keep better track of things like lighting schedules to promote better egg production. We also intend to pick them up  and hold them more often, particularly right at first, which may keep them a bit more friendly and calm. At this point (two weeks in) we have a happy little brood of ducklings!

 

 

 

kohlrabi2018

WHAT GROWS HERE & WHAT DOES NOT

This will now be my 3rd year gardening at 9,000 feet. After some trial and error, I’ve chosen only to grow the things that will grow well in the outdoor garden, and use my limited greenhouse space in the summer for a few favorites while saving some room for early fall planting there. Some of the vegetables that grow very well have not been my favorites (kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabagas) but since they do grow well here and are good for us I’m learning to like them more and cook them in new ways.

Our last frost date in spring to the first frost date in the fall is about 92 days. I carefully select only the varieties that boast the shortest maturity period. Nothing grows as fast as promised. If the seed packet indicates 60 days, in most cases it will be 80-100. For example, I planted Masai Hericots Verts bush beans with a maturity range of 58 days. I harvested them about 88 days after planting. Often, seed varieties boast that they are well-suited for northern climates. I’d thought that those would also work well in high altitudes, but no. We do not get as many sunshine hours in the day as do northern areas in the summer. I believe that this, in addition to our cool nights, slows down the growth of many plants. Here is a list of what grows well and what does not.

 

WHAT GROWS WELL OUTDOORS

  • broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, bok choy & all brassicas
  • lettuce, spinach, chard and a variety of other greens to be eaten fresh or sauteed
  • root vegetables such as beets, rutabagas, turnips, radishes and carrots
  • potatoes
  • garlic
  • peas
  • herbs such as parsley, cilantro, thyme, sage, oregano, dill

WHAT GROWS SO-SO

(I do still grow these outdoors, but they’re not the best)

  • onions (they don’t get big and the season is too short & cool for them to bulb well, but after a successful experiment last year I’m giving them another try)
  • summer squash (they need covering early on when it’s cold, and help with pollination)
  • winter squash (So far I’ve had only one variety that actually produced squash, Gold Nugget, and it did not taste good. I’m determined to get some winter squash to grow based on the success of some other local gardeners, so I am trying two new varieties this year.)
  • bush beans (a smaller yield than in warmer climates, but they are suitable)
  • celery (got some thin celery last year, am trying one more time)

WHAT I PROBABLY WON’T ATTEMPT OUTDOORS AGAIN

  • tomatoes or peppers (they just began to ripen when the fall frosts began, even though they were faithfully covered each night)
  • corn (tried an Alaskan variety bred for short, cool seasons, but it did not produce)
  • dry beans (it froze before I had a chance to harvest these)
  • cauliflower (grew very spindly, did not make a good head)

WHAT I GROW IN THE SUMMER GREENHOUSE

  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • cucumbers
  • basil
  • winter squash – still on trial one more time outdoors

 

 

ORGANIZATION, PLANNING & RECORD KEEPING

I’m kind of a nut when it comes to organization and planning, and it may border on overkill. Sometimes I think I may spend more time with this than I do in the garden. I do most of this organization work during the winter when I have the extra time on my hands. When garden time comes, all I need to do is minor updates & notes. My methods for organizing and planning are not specific to high-altitude gardening, but are extra helpful when planning a garden that only grows in a short season, or for making full use of limited space in the greenhouse year-round.

SEED SELECTION

When I begin the process of seed selection for the year, I begin an Excel spreadsheet. Mine looks something like this. I start this process in January, and get seeds ordered in February, before the varieties I’ve chosen are no longer available (which has happened before).

I begin by deciding what types of plants I plan to grow, and make a list. The first 3 columns show whether I will grow them in the greenhouse, the cold frame or the outside garden. Then I begin looking at various websites and books that I have, to determine what varieties I might like. I add notes about whether they are organic, how many days to harvest, the vendor, price and miscellaneous notes about the varieties. I start with a BIG list, then begin to delete those I decide not to order. Eventually my list looks something like the one above, which I can sort by vendor, then go to that website and use this as my order list. The varieties with blank spaces indicate seeds I already have on hand.

KEEPING NOTES

After this, I have plenty of time to add information about all these seeds to my notebooks, and to look up information regarding when to plant the seeds, whether to start them indoors or in the garden, etc.

For this process, I use Microsoft One Note. I prefer the Microsoft Office desktop version, but it is also available as a free app, available for Windows or Apple operating systems, or online with any browser. I use this extensively for all my garden planning and note-taking.

These are the main sections (Tabs) I use:

  • PLANNING: links to websites I refer to, companion planting information, seed companies, etc.
  • BEDS: information about what treatments have been given to each bed in my garden
  • GREENHOUSE: general planning information for the greenhouse
  • HI-ALTITUDE: various information about high-altitude gardening, my weather and frost date information, best types of vegetables for high-altitude, etc.
  • FUTURE: ideas to explore in the future
  • NATURE: I keep logs of when I view various birds, squirrels, deer, elk, antelope, various wildflowers, etc.
  • PESTS: pests I see, what I do about them, information about pest control
  • SOIL & AMENDMENTS: information about fertilizers, soil amendments, etc.
  • PLANTS: This is a group section with sub-sections including: Alliums, Beans, Beets, Brassicas, Carrots….you get the idea.
    • Each of these sections contain pages of what I’m planting, including all the varieties I’m planting, dates started, transplanted, harvested, days to harvest, notes about how they did, etc. I also include growing information here.

Here’s a look at my “Brassica” section (under the “PLANTS” group) as an example, showing the page of 2017 Greenhouse Brassicas:

This year I’ve made a separate One Note Notebook, I call “Guffey Veggies”. I used to keep all this information in one notebook, but it got too full of stuff and hard to organize. Now I’m using this “Guffey Veggies” notebook to keep notes on all the seeds I choose. Since I order most of my seeds online, it’s easy to copy and paste this information into the notebook for future reference. Those pages look something like this:

PLANNING & PLANTING

One more thing I did this year was to create a spreadsheet to help me know when to start each vegetable for the greenhouse, the cold frame and the outside garden. It looks like this:

Let me explain this!

  • WHERE: Greenhouse, Cold Frame, or Outside
  • SPECIES, VARIETY: vegetable to plant
  • DAYS: Days to maturity
  • HOW: whether I will start this inside in soil blocks, or direct-sow outside
  • START: the day I will start the seeds. This is automatically calculated from the columns that show when I plan to transplant out, and the number of weeks/days the plant will remain inside before planting.
  • WEEKS INSIDE, DAYS TO TRANSPLANT: weeks, days from sowing to transplanting out.
  • TRANSPLANT OR START OUTSIDE: gathered from growing information I’ve collected
  • OUT ETA: The date I plan to transplant or sow outside
  • HARVEST ETA: This is the date transplanted out + the number of days to harvest.
  • 2018 ACTUAL HARVEST: to be filled in as the summer progresses

This spreadsheet can be sorted as desired: by coldframe, greenhouse, outside, by start date, etc. Right now I’m finding it most handy to sort by start date, so I know what I need to be doing in the coming weeks. As you can see, I’m planning to plant outside in the coldframe sometime around May 15. This will depend on the weather—some things may go out sooner or later than the 15th.

Hopefully all of this is helpful to anyone reading. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and others may do just fine without all this time-consuming organization. If you just “wing it” you may be just as successful, but I find it helpful to do all of this and keep track of what I’m doing so I can go back the next year to determine what worked and what didn’t.

For instance, last year I started my fall plantings of beets, cabbages, broccoli and a few other things too late. They just didn’t have time to grow before fall. I also found that starting most things in the ground last year wasn’t successful. I am glad to have all of these dates & information written down from last year. This year I will start almost everything indoors and plan to transplant them out after they’ve sprouted and gained a little growth. (I will still start carrots & peas outside, but that’s about it.) I know that in my cool weather, the harvest dates for almost everything will be later than expected, but I used the published “Date to Harvest” anyway. I will compare this with my actual harvest dates.

kg23-growing-onions-01

ONIONS – 2017

Along with tomatoes, I love my onions. Onions for everything: soups & stews, sauces, salads, eggs & quiches, you name it. The onions I had grown in our previous garden all did well. I had no reason to believe they would not do well here at 9,000 feet. I’d read on a local county resource list that other gardeners had success with some of the same varieties I’d grown before, and I still had some seeds, so I tried those. I expected success in my high-altitude garden. Well…the leeks and scallions did well, but the bulb onions did not. I planted around 40-50 of them. Dang.

I always start my onions from seed, and have always had good success with this method. I started them all 10 weeks prior to the last frost date, and expected to be able to plant them outside at that time or a bit sooner. These were all started in soil blocks, and I ended up transplanting them outside at about 7 weeks after starting, I had intended to keep them inside under lights the full 10 weeks, but the weather had been so nice, I planted them out, kept them covered at night, and I thought they would do fine. No. Too cold? Too soon? They didn’t die, but did the colder weather stunt their growth? By the end of the season, a few of them had bulbs that were maybe 3″ across. The rest were smaller, some with no bulbs. The stalks never really fell over. I ended up bending them over myself. I kept them mulched well and in the garden until finally, in October, before it seriously froze (but after several nights below 32), I pulled them all out of the ground to cure on racks in the greenhouse. Very few of them cured as usual–the tops never dried up. The thick stalks remained green and some continued to grow. I was able to cook with them–since they were so small it didn’t take long to use them up before they spoiled. Unfortunately, I somehow lost a lot of photos taken near harvest time. The photo above was taken earlier in the season.

As I mentioned earlier, the leeks and scallions all did well. I was very glad to have them! I used the leeks until I was afraid they might go rotten, and before they did I froze the remainder. I still have those ready to make a soup or something. Most of the scallions I planted were “Evergreen Hardy”, a multiplier onion. I left most of them in the ground all season, and they really multiplied! I ended up with too many all at once. I’ve left some of those in the ground, well mulched, to see if they will survive the winter.

DAY LENGTH

Some thoughts about day length. This can be a bit confusing. The best “day length” here for onions is apparently “Intermediate Day.” We are at latitude 38.77. Some sources suggest that we can successfully grow either Intermediate-Day or Long-Day onions. Our former location in Wellington was latitude 40.73, where I grew both long-day and intermediate-day onions. According to Dixondale Farms, all of Colorado should be growing intermediate-day onions, and suggests that both daylength and temperature trigger the transfer of forming leaves to bulbing. Garden.org suggests that anywhere above latitude 35 degrees should grow long-day onions, and that “day neutral” or “intermediate day” onions are bred to be less sensitive to day length. Other sources suggest that anything north of either the 37th or 38th parallel should be “long day”. So, it’s a bit confusing, but for the most part, I’ll try to stick with “Intermediate Day” varieties.

I planted 35 of the variety, “Clear Dawn”, from Fedco Seeds. They indicate that these are a “Long Day” variety, for latitudes 37 degrees and north. These were a substitute for the “Copra” I’d previously had good success with but were hard to find this year. These were the most successful of the onions I did this year. The others I did were a few each of: Southport White Globe, Sedona F1, and Red Torpedo, along with some Zebrune shallots. Here are the results:

 

IMG_6788

TOMATOES – 2017

Who doesn’t love homegrown tomatoes? I think most of us do, and I’d say they are my favorite thing to grow. Every time I buy a tomato from the grocery store I tell myself it isn’t worth the bother and tell myself never do it again. But, there always comes a time I don’t have a garden, there’s red tomatoes at the store, and I cave in and buy them anyway. Even if they are organic and have a nice color, they’ll end up having no flavor. The first tomato I picked from the garden this year reminded me once again of the magnificent flavor of homegrown! It certainly is worth it to grow your own.

That said, I knew from the get-go that growing tomatoes at this elevation would be a challenge, and may not be productive. I’d heard that it is possible to grow tomatoes here with special care and extra warmth at night, so I planned ahead. They were planted in a bed that would be covered every night with plastic. On the coldest nights, frost cloth would also be laid over the tomatoes as a blanket for added warmth. Dark colored plastic bottles filled with water could soak up warmth from the sun during the day, to be released at night inside the plastic dome.

First tomato to ripen – August 28, 2017

June 15th (approximate last frost date, the day I planned to transplant) to September 15th (first frost date) is 92 days, so the tomatoes I chose were listed with 65 days or less to maturity, and considered cold-hardy. I thought those would work well for us. I started them indoors, under lights, 6 weeks prior to transplanting outside. In my former garden, 6 weeks was plenty of time for my starts, and I felt that pushing to 8 or more weeks just made the plants taller and leggier—there was no advantage to starting them any earlier than 6 weeks, which made a good, healthy plant.

So, all that being said, I was a bit surprised that the first tomato wasn’t ready to eat until a full 79 days after transplant. That was only one tomato, 24 days after the 55-day estimate. I was able to harvest quite a few tomatoes, but September 23, the night before our first expected frost, we harvested the majority of the tomatoes, which were green to yellowish-green at the time. I was able to ripen many of them indoors, but some of the greenest ones just weren’t that great. The indoor ripening made them mealy and with little flavor (kind of like the ones you get at the store).

2017 RESULTS:

All of these tasted good, I would plant any of them again. One odd thing: the Glacier tomato was supposed to be red, but two of these plants ended up being yellow tomatoes—that was a surprise! Somehow I’ve lost most of the photos I took of tomatoes, but what you see here is what I have.

MY THOUGHTS:

Tomatoes planted in the future will be grown in the greenhouse, even in the summer months. There, I will be able to start some earlier and others later, in succession, to keep a small supply on hand for several months. I won’t be planting large numbers of tomatoes for canning, but will only keep a few for eating fresh.

ghfeature

We Have a Greenhouse!

In the planning stages of building our house here at 9,000 feet, we had always thought we would eventually build a greenhouse. At our former location in Wellington we had a small, non-heated greenhouse, which provided us with cold-tolerant things like spinach, kale, chard, lettuce and beet greens throughout most of the winter. It also provided a place to finish and harden the seedlings I had started under lights indoors. It was attached to the south side of our house, under our deck, so the north side of the greenhouse was protected by the house. (See photos of this one below.) It was a great addition to the garden there, so we planned to do it again.

We mulled over whether to attach it to the house or build a free-standing greenhouse. Here are some of the pros & cons:

Attached to the house:

  • Water and electricity readily available
  • North side protected by house
  • Easily accessible in winter

Free-Standing:

  • More available space for a larger greenhouse
  • More available light for the plants
  • Would be farther from the house; less accessible
  • Water and electricity would be more of a challenge
  • Would require insulation, particularly on the north wall

December 3, 2017

We chose to attach the greenhouse to the house, under our deck on the south faces. (I say “faces” because with a 14-sided house, we used two of the sections.) We also decided we would like some sort of heat source, to allow for more growing throughout the winter. While thinking through the options, Tim decided we could have radiant heat in the floor, with a solar collector to provide that heat as well as enough capacity to provide hot water for the house.

November 8, 2017

The greenhouse is now complete! It is full of beautiful, growing vegetables. Tim is now working to complete the solar collector and the system for heating. The solar collector is standing to the left of the greenhouse in the photo above. Inside the crawlspace, at the back of the greenhouse, is the mechanical room, which houses the water collection tank and controls. Tim is in the process of writing a detailed document of how the greenhouse was built, which will be included when complete.

Since the greenhouse is attached to the house, water and electricity are readily available. The glazing is 5-wall polycarbonate, about 5/8″ thick. It includes approximately 100 square feet of raised bed space 28″ deep, radiant in-floor heating, concrete floor to maintain thermal mass, a pond filled with about 200 gallons of water

Pond, filled with water for thermal storage

 (for thermal mass), a lighted grow-bench area for starting seedlings. Currently the pond (left) is topped with a shelf–eventually it will likely house water plants and fish.

Venting is provided by two large ceiling vents equipped with automatic openers, in addition to the door which may remain open as needed. In the future we may add fans and cooling, but we will wait until summer to determine how much cooling will be necessary.

Nighttime Insulation

 

Tim has devised a way to put down insulation over the glazing at night to keep the cold out and the warmth inside.

We are very happy with the result and plan to enjoy it for years to come.

 

Here are photos of our former greenhouse, which served us well, but our new greenhouse is 10x better!

Wellington, CO – 2011

Wellington, CO – 2011

Living Off The Land

Last night we had Venison Tenderloin for dinner, and boy was it good!

Typical scene from our house

One of the perks of living in the high country is being able to harvest food from our own land. In addition to the garden and ducks we keep for eggs, we are able to hunt game on our property. Recently, Tim was able to shoot a deer, which provides us with roughly 65 lbs of healthy venison to eat.

This is all new to me. I do not come from a hunting background. I grew up in a suburb in Northern California—not a country girl there by any means. But, as I migrated over the years to areas that have become more and more rural, my city upbringing has long been left behind. Tim keeps asking me if I ever dreamed I would be doing some of the things that are normal for me now. I actually used to dream of living in a cabin in the woods (ala “Little House In The Big Woods”). I thought I would have a garden and a dog, and live happily ever after. I just didn’t know what all that kind of rural life might entail.

With all the deer in our area, and there are a lot of them, we’ve long thought we would like some venison. This year Tim was able to get a license for a buck, so during his hunting week we were on the lookout. He was able to shoot this buck just after dinner one evening. Peacefully grazing, the buck went down with one clean shot. We did all the cleaning and butchering ourselves; the first time for both of us, thanks to some YouTube videos. After some research, we decided to let the meat age in the refrigerator, vacuum-sealed. We’d heard that the tenderloin would not need as much aging, so after 3 weeks, we had that for dinner last night. My next project will be to trim and package the meat for the freezer. We look forward to many meals of this nice venison over the next few months.

Some would argue that it’s cruel to hunt, or that for some reason it is wrong. Are these people all vegetarians? If not, where do they think their meat comes from? I guess they prefer grocery store meat that comes from animals raised in horrific conditions—small corrals or pens, tumbling over each others’ feces all day long, given unnatural hormones & antibiotics, fed grains they wouldn’t normally eat, driven through chutes to slaughter. I would rather eat meat from animals that lived a natural, happy life, and that died happily grazing. Ya can’t get more natural than this—no food additives, just natural vegetation for food. We do appreciate watching our wildlife, and are always on the lookout, not just for food, but for the enjoyment of seeing the animals on our turf. But there is a balance: with plenty of deer around and our need for food, we are grateful for the opportunities we have here to eat more naturally.

One at a time, I will need to learn to cook each cut of the venison. Some will be roasted, some stewed, and some ground for burgers or sausage. I’m sure all will be a treat, and a great savings on our grocery bills.

2017 Garden In Review

The 2017 Garden Season has ended and winter is on its way in. 

The garden is in “hibernation” for the winter. Overall, we were very pleased with the garden in our first year of growing vegetables at this elevation. We were able to grow, eat and preserve many vegetables in this first year of gardening at this altitude. It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work, and very satisfying. Some things did very well, others not so well, and everything we observed and learned will help us in planning for next year.

In general, almost everything took longer to reach maturity than expected. For instance, I picked the very first, 55-day tomato on day 74. I finally harvested the “100 day” onions, even though they could have had more growth, on about day 150 and later. Since the tops never really fell over on their own, they’re not curing properly, and they won’t last long in storage. Many other things took a lot longer than expected as well. I will detail those along with my observation of each vegetable family.

Most things were at least successful in that I at least had something to harvest. Cold-hardy things such as lettuces, spinach, and brassicas such as kale, mustard and cauliflower all did very well. Root vegetables did well (beets, daikon radish, carrots, rutabagas). Summer squash did well, although came later than expected. Bush beans did reasonably well, although all the blossoms did not produce beans. Peas did well. The leeks did well and I am still enjoying them. One of my new favorites is daikon radish, which grew extremely well and fast—I was able to ferment some and they are delicious. I was glad that I planted more kale, mustard and chard than I would eat—the ducks appreciated the greens and I was able to give them less of their expensive feed.

Other things I would not call successful. Knowing that it may not grow well, I had planted corn; Yukon Chief, a cold-hardy, short-season variety, as an experiment. This corn should have been ready for harvest at 55-70 days, per the packet. I did harvest some corn at about 95 days, but the ears were small and many of them had incomplete rows of kernels. Ten huge winter squash plants produced nothing, nada, no squash–just lots of leaves and lots of blossoms. The pepper plants had a few peppers, but they were far from ripe by the first freeze—I picked them but they did not ripen well inside. Tomatoes were somewhat successful in that I enjoyed some nice tomatoes, but not many, and most had to be ripened indoors as they were picked prior to a freezing night in September.

I have lots of notes and ideas about how I might do better next year. For instance:

  • I will try winter squash again, but will keep them covered overnight and on cool days. I will hand pollinate them, and will only plant varieties with shorter maturity dates. I will have them grow larger indoors before planting them outside.
  • I will start everything indoors under lights—the things that were started outside either did not germinate or didn’t germinate as quickly or as reliably (with the exception of daikon radish, which did VERY well).
  • I will grow more of the cold-tolerant things in the perimeter beds, which aren’t as easy to cover, and the vegetables which require more warmth on the interior beds of the garden (easier to keep covered). This may make crop rotation a little more challenging in the future, but I’ll do the best I can.
  • I will leave some beds unplanted at the beginning of summer to leave space for later plantings. I may put some quick-growing cover crops in these beds which can be turned in prior to planting fall crops.
  • I will start my fall crops earlier than I did this year.
  • I will try not to plant too many lettuces at the same time, but leave room for successive plantings! (I always mess up with this.)
  • I will start a spring cold frame a little earlier than last year, but with fewer plants, leaving room for more later on.
  • Now that we have the greenhouse, the plants that require more warmth will be planted there rather than outdoors, such as tomatoes & peppers.

I am pleased with our first year, and would call it a success. We’ve enjoyed lots of good eating, and had a lot of fun. We sure enjoy doing “good work”. Even though many days have produced sore feet and exhaustion, it’s a good thing, and keeps us busy.