Every Year Is Different

Before we started our garden we had seen a roadside stand not far from here and stopped in. We chatted quite a bit with the owner/gardener. One of the things I remember her saying was that “every year is different” and you just have to go with what you get, appreciating what does well and not fretting about what didn’t. That’s true in any location, to be sure, but especially in our high altitude. This year was rainy and cool, unlike the past couple of summers we’ve experienced.

This photo was taken Sept. 21, the first day of autumn, and the same date the photo for the logo shot was taken in 2016. See the difference!

I know I can’t presume that next year’s results will be the same as this year, but I will try to adjust my methods to take advantage of whatever weather conditions there will be.


Late August Progress

It’s time to update the progress in the garden, which I have been putting off because:

  1. I’m too busy working in the garden to spend time writing, and choosing & editing photos.
  2. I’ve thought that what anyone wants to see is results. Results won’t fully be in until the end of the season.
  3. It’s a big project and somewhat overwhelming.

But, I have several observations to share near the end of our first season of high-altitude gardening. Some things have gone well, others have not. I realize that even when I am a “seasoned” high-altitude gardener, every year will be different and will bring different results.



This summer, after some very hot days the latter part of June and early July, we have since had an extraordinary amount of rain and generally cooler weather. And I mean “extra-ordinary”; it has rained almost daily. We had 25 days with rain the month of July, and all but 4 days so far in August have had rain. We’ve had a total of 10.6” during the months June-August, which is a lot for our location. Last year we had 1.8” during that same time period. Some days are sunny and quite warm in the morning, then cooler and cloudy/rainy in the afternoon. Some days we’ve had close to 1” of rain in a day, occasionally with small hail. Other days are just a few spits. Needless to say, I have not had to water the garden much. This photo was taken just after a thunderstorm, showing the typical dark sky and that lush green pasture we have this year.



The garden beds are almost always covered with shade cloth. The sun is so intense at 9,000 feet, we felt it was important to provide protection. Think “sunscreen” for plants. One concern about the shade cloth would be, “can the pollinators get in?” Yes, the ends of each bed are open, and they should be able to get in and out easily. The birds certainly have figured that out! No worries about the plants getting enough rain, either. The rain still gets through and the hail does not. Some of the hail will sit on top, and as it melts, it drips through to the beds. The shade cloth has been a great addition, and the plants are certainly not suffering from lack of sunshine.



To some extent, I don’t know if we’re “on track” regarding timing. I think that most things are maturing much more slowly than they would in a warmer climate. I’m not yet sure if things will ripen before the temperatures dive in September. This is a photo of our tomatoes today. I just noticed that these had begun to turn orange yesterday. As an example of our timing here, this is a Glacier tomato, with days to maturity listed as 55. This is my first tomato with any color, shown 74 days after transplanting outside. I was already picking ripe tomatoes at this time where we used to live, although the bulk of them didn’t ripen until September. The only winter squashes I have on the vines are roughly the size of a golfball. At this point, I’m not thinking they will mature before the frosts begin in September. Just about everything is a month behind here, which makes sense, as our last frost date is also a month behind. For the most part I have chosen varieties that should mature as quickly as possible.



The only pests I have had any trouble with have been grubs, aphids, and a few cabbage worms. Not bad!

The grubs showed up in the soil in probably the thousands. As I was digging through one of the unplanted beds one day I began finding them. The more I dug the more I found. I counted as I removed them, and estimated 4-500 in the top 5-6” of just one bed. I threw them all in a bucket and fed them to the ducks a couple of handfuls at a time, and at least they liked them. Although I didn’t observe any obvious plant damage, I was concerned that all these grubs might become some kind of beetles that I wouldn’t want around (beetles that would lay eggs which would become more grubs next season and then more beetles). I wasn’t sure if they would eventually damage the veggies, or not. My best guess is that beetles laid their eggs in our pile of horse manure that had been aging for a couple of years—apparently they love that stuff, and I found that the remainder of that pile was also full of grubs. To get them under control I got some beneficial nematodes, and within a couple of weeks they were largely gone. There are still a few here and there, but they are no longer bothersome.

Bumble Flower Beetle

Just the other day I noticed a beetle buzzing by me, and remembered that during my grub research I had seen photos of a “Bumble Flower Beetle” that looked like this photo. I now think that the grubs may be these beetle larvae, and more beneficial than damaging. There were so many of the grubs, it’s probably just as well that they are under control, but it just may be that they never were that much of a threat.

Aphids have found us and have been eating lettuces, kale and spinach. Not too badly, but they are there and laying eggs. I have sprayed them intermittently with neem and insecticidal soap, which seem to help. I had some calendula planted in a couple of spots, which I removed because they had gotten too big for their locations. When I pulled them up, I discovered that they were covered with aphids, so they may have acted as a “trap” for them, keeping them away from the vegetables to some extent. Off to the compost pile.

The cabbage worms have been present, but not in too many numbers. The same spray has been helpful to keep them at bay. I found one on my corn the other day, but none over there since then.



Our current project is building a greenhouse. I’ll add another post on that at a later date. Tim’s been working hard to plan and has begun to build our winter oasis. The greenhouse will be attached to the southern side of our house, under and out from the deck. It will have approximately 110 sq.ft. of bed space, and an area for starting seedlings. It will be heated with radiant heat in the concrete floor, and will have a pond inside for thermal storage and for fish–I’ll be able to use the fish’s water to water the plants. It should be enclosed (we think) in about 4-5 weeks, with the heating in the floor to come later . Therefore, I’m already starting some seedlings indoors that will be planted out as soon as I can. Wow! Can’t wait!



It is now 74 days after “last frost”, when most plants were planted outside, give or take a day or two.

The cold-hardy vegetables have all done very well up to this point (brassicas such as kale, cauliflower, mustard; lettuces, spinach, beets, radishes, onions). I’ve started a second batch of all of these to extend into the fall, with covered beds as needed.

Some other vegetables that I expected to do well haven’t met my expectations, such as peas & beans. The peas are there, but not in the numbers I had in our previous garden. The beans have lots of blossoms but very few beans.

The warm-season vegetables that I’m experimenting with are still questionable, such as corn, squashes, and tomatoes. Tomatoes have just begun to turn yellow and orange, the corn has ears that are small and don’t feel like they have much inside, the squashes are small and I doubt they will ripen in time.

Perennials in their first year of growth are (I think) slowly growing, as to be expected. These are asparagus, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

At the end of the summer I’ll post all my observations of everything I’ve planted, I’ll do a page for each vegetable or vegetable group to keep it a bit organized. Hopefully the information will help anyone interested.

April 2017 Garden Preparation

It’s springtime, and although there is certainly more snow to come, the garden process has begun! Tim is busy clearing the area where we will have our raised-bed fenced garden, and Laurie is busy planning and starting seedlings indoors, under grow lights. It’s a big, exciting year for us, and we look forward to planting, tending & harvesting!



For the past couple of months, I (Laurie) have been planning what to grow, where to put it, and when to start each plant. For the past few years I have been using the Garden Planner found on GrowVeg.com, which has been a handy tool for planning where I will put each plant each year. After several revisions, our garden plot will look something like this. Some beds will remain empty until mid-summer when we will plant for fall. One of the beds will be filled with cover crop plants, some of which will go to the compost pile. We’re going to call this a “learning year” and try not to go overboard. 🙂


The raised beds will be about 26-28” tall, . Because we need to fence out deer, rabbits, and other roaming critters, the garden will include an additional 4-6′ of fencing starting at the top edge of the perimeter bed and extending upward. Since the garden will be filled with the high, raised beds, we don’t feel we need a terribly tall fence, as the deer won’t want to jump over into a place with such unsure footing.

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

Each bed will be lined at the bottom with a layer of rocks and gravel (which we have a lot of here in these “rocky” mountains). We believe that this will not only provide some good drainage under the soil, but should also keep these prolific ground squirrels from burrowing up into the beds. They are everywhere around here: digging, burrowing, running across the roads. Some folks call them “picket pens” or “pocket gophers”, we just call them squirrels. We have observed that the squirrels are absent from the area behind our house where there is a lot of this rocky/gravelly stuff, and our assumption is that it’s just too heavy and thick for them to get through. At least, we haven’t seen evidence of them burrowing through it. Our second line of defense against these guys will be a layer of stucco netting, which is a LOT cheaper than the hardware cloth which is often recommended as protection from ground squirrels. Any long roots should still be able to penetrate both the stucco netting and the rocky bottom. Additionally, just to the inside of the perimeter beds, there will be a layer of plastic lining the walkway, to keep both the weeds and the squirrels out.


This is a shot of the garden site, the morning of April 19, 2017. Although we have 40 acres, most of which is pretty flat with no trees, we are placing the garden here, in a protected spot from wind, and where plants may get a little shade in the afternoons. The area gets full sun from the E-SE all morning into early afternoon. We feel this site will be best, to protect them from the full effect of the intense sun at our elevation. It is also relatively close to the water hydrant. Tim has begun clearing the area and is building the raised beds. The garden itself will be 41 x 35 feet in size, a little over 1400 square feet. The actual planting bed space will be 740 square feet. There is some slope on this site, so it will be terraced a bit along that slope. The entrance to the garden will be wide enough for the tractor to fit through, which has been and will continue to be a big help. The beds will be filled with a soil combination of natural soil, well-aged horse manure, used duck bedding, some additional organic matter and compost.


In addition to planning the physical garden, Tim has put together a potting bench area and grow lights under the house in our crawl space. It’s not real pretty down there, but functional. The sink and potting area are helpful for me to mix and prepare the soil blocks I use to start seedlings. Under these lights, I already have started several things; mostly greens for the cold frame section which will be planted mid-May, onions and a few other things which take a long time to get started. The lights can be raised as the plants grow. If necessary, we have more lights that can be placed on the lower side of this bench.  (See more about my soil block approach HERE. Soil blocking supplies can be found at GrowOrganic.com or JohnnySeeds.com.)


Our official “Last Frost Date” is about June 9. The closest listing is for an area about 500 feet lower and 20 miles away, as the birds fly. Our frost date may be a bit later. In the past couple of years our June lows ranged from 33°F (June 14th) to 50°F. Our USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is officially 5a, but I don’t believe it. Most locals say that we are at least in the Zone 4 range, and some suggest not planting anything that can’t survive Zone 3. I’m generally considering we are Zone 4, and that if I want to try warmer season plants, they will need considerable care and protection from the cold. Our highest low temperature the past couple of summers was 50 degrees, and only for a couple of days each summer. Yes, I will try to grow tomatoes! They will be covered EVERY NIGHT and will be surrounded with jugs of water to keep them cozy and bricks around the base for added soil warmth. Almost all the beds will have the ability to be covered, and anything that requires more warmth will be covered most nights. It also hails here, so I will be prepared to provide cover leafy plants from those icy pellets which are sure to descend.


This year I will be planting several things, to see what will grow and what won’t. I’m even planning to try things that may not make it, just to see what happens. I’m sure that cool-season vegetables shouldn’t have a problem. It’s the warm season ones and those that need a longer season that are in question. By starting things indoors ahead of last frost and protecting them against the elements, I am hopeful for success!

Rhubarb Spring Growth

Here’s my list: alliums (a variety), beans (bush & pole), beets, brassicas (kale, mustard, cauliflower for now), carrots, herbs (annuals & perennials), corn (a cold-hardy short-season variety), greens (including arugula, lettuces, endive, radicchio, spinach, swiss chard), peas, peppers, rutabagas, squash, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberries, goji berries, and finally, rhubarb, which has been in the ground since late 2014 or early 2015. Later on I may provide a list of the specific varieties I’ve chosen.


Choosing The Garden Site

We’ve begun planning for our new garden, which should be well in place and ready to go in Spring and Summer 2017. We have been reading up on high-altitude gardening, looking for information about what to grow, where to grow it, when to start and how to do it. We want to know what to plan on and what to be prepared for.

South side of the house

Conventional thought suggests that gardens should be on the south side of the house in full sun. That’s what all the books & websites will tell you, right? So, this is where it was going to be–beds primarily in front of the house (facing south) and terraced down on the left (west) side of the house. The greenhouse is planned to be in front of the deck on a southeast section.

Looking West from Black Mountain

However, after observing what the summer conditions have been like the past two summers, and reading of some of the challenges faced by other Colorado Rocky Mountain gardeners, we’ve changed our opinion and won’t be putting the garden directly on that south facing slope. We also have observed that on most of the slopes around here, the south facing sides are often quite barren of trees and vegetation, while the northern facing slopes are lush and green. The photo on the right shows several north-facing slopes full of vegetation and little on the south sides. Shouldn’t we pay attention to that? 

We have decided to place the garden to the east of the house with some trees around to provide afternoon shade. Although the summer temperatures don’t get incredibly high (85 is a rare, hot day here) the intense sun bakes the vegetation, and it has less of a chance to survive. Also, when the winds pick up it dries out the soil quickly, and would do so in front of our house where it is so exposed. At the east it will be a bit protected from the brunt of the wind.

Here’s where the garden will go. This photo was taken on an October afternoon, so there won’t be as much shade in the summer as there is in the photo, when the sun will be higher in the sky. Our garden will get full morning sun and filtered light in the late afternoon. Things that require the most sun will be in the sunniest spots, as much as possible, keeping crop rotation in mind.

This garden won’t be nearly as large as our previous garden, probably less than half that size. (That garden was about 24 beds, about 1400 square feet of planted surface.) We’ll grow a lot of cool season vegetables, and as many short-season varieties of summer vegetables as we feel we can, including some tomatoes. We’ll have to be especially careful to cover the tomatoes nightly, as they’ll need all the warmth they can get. We will be making hoop covers to guard against frost as well as shade/hail covers to guard against the intense sun and occasional hail. Of course, we will have a 7-8 foot fence surrounding the entire garden, lest the deer get into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I’ve been gathering weather statistics from our weather station the past two summers. Here are my stats for July-August, 2015 & 2016.
The morning “lows” ranged from 34-51F. 
The afternoon “highs” ranged from 52-92F.
In those two years, there were only 7 days with lows of 50 or more. In those same years there were 6 days with highs of 90 and up–all of those were 2016; in 2015 there were none. The average all-day temperature for the summer months has been 59-64F. So, as you can see, many of the plants will require frequent covering, to prevent being too cold in the morning and too hot in the afternoon.

It’s fun to get into gardening mode again. Now that the garden site has been chosen, we have lots of designing and planning to do, and the work will be rewarding.

Sourdough English Muffins

I’m not taking credit for creating these Sourdough English Muffins–I found the recipe on KingArthurFlour.com. I just wanted to pass along that they are delicious and quite easy to make. I added cranberries to mine.

Usually I just do a half batch. The first time I used a 3″ biscuit cutter as recommended, but thought they were a bit small. I added some cranberries before the first rise, and that was a nice touch–similar to some that are typically available only around the holiday season.

The second time (today) I used a 3.5″ round cutter, and they came out great. I omitted the yeast this time, as I didn’t feel it was necessary because of the altitude. I fed the yeast the night before, so it was quite active, and I found that the yeast was not needed. (In higher altitudes, less yeast is necessary.) I also forgot to add the cranberries prior to the first rise as I did the first time–I added them while rolling out the dough, which worked out better. This time I was also more careful to keep the heat on my griddle on the lowest setting, and I moved them around during cooking to even out the hot spots. I also put a pan on top after turning, as the recipe suggests in the “Tips” at the bottom.

High Altitude Adjustments: Omit the yeast, but be sure to use freshly active starter.

Squash and Eggs: A Great Combination

We have lots of eggs from our ducks. I love butternut squash and onions, and grow as many of each as I can. How’m I going to use all these? Butternut S’Quiche! This is a savory butternut pie, perfect for dinner, especially in the fall when winter squash is readily available. It’s a great way to use leftover squash after cooking one that’s just too big to eat at once. 

Butternut S'Quiche

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Servings: 6-8 servings

Butternut S'Quiche

I love butternut squash and quiche. The result? Butternut S’Quiche! This is a savory butternut pie, perfect for dinner, especially in the fall when winter squash is readily available. A great way to use leftover squash after cooking one that’s just too big to eat at once. This includes caramelized onions, toasted pecans and optional diced bacon. The prep for the squash, onions, bacon and piecrust may be done a day ahead, or the morning before the planned event to make the big day and cleanup more relaxing.


  • 1 unbaked, 9" deep dish pie shell (homemade or purchased)
  • 1 (2-2.5 lb) butternut squash, or leftover squash to equal 2 cups pureed
  • 1 Tblsp olive oil or butter
  • 3 cups onions, sliced vertically
  • 3 Tblsp cooking sherry
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and diced (optional)
  • 4-5 beaten eggs-from ducks or chickens (about 1 cup total)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning (salted or salt-free)
  • 6 oz white cheese, shredded: divided (farmer, jack or swiss)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans


    Prepare the Butternut Squash
  • Start oven to 400F.
  • Cut butternut squash in half. Remove seeds. Spray lightly or brush cut side with olive oil.
  • Place on foil-covered baking pan, cut side down.
  • Roast in oven about 60-90 minutes until squash is soft. Remove from oven and cool a few minutes.
  • Scoop the squash out of the shell and puree, by hand or in a blender. Set aside.
  • Keep in refrigerator if preparing squash the day or morning ahead.
  • While the squash bakes, prepare the piecrust, onions and bacon.
    Make the Pie Crust
  • Make pie crust according to your favorite recipe. (Or thaw, if using frozen piecrust.)
  • Line 9" deep dish pie pan with the crust. Set aside.
  • If preparing the day or morning ahead, cover well with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
    Caramelize the Onions
  • Heat large skillet to med-high heat. Add olive oil or butter, then add the onions. Saute until onions are limp and begin to brown.
  • Deglaze the pan with sherry and continue to cook onions at medium heat until brown and translucent but not burned. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Refrigerate if preparing ahead of time.
    Prep the Bacon, if using
  • Fry or microwave the bacon until almost crisp. Dice. Set aside.
  • Refrigerate if preparing ahead of time.
    Prepare the Pie
  • Preheat oven to 375 F.
  • In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk, thyme, poultry seasoning and 2 cups of the pureed squash. Blend well.
  • Add the caramelized onions and the diced bacon, if using.
  • Pour half the squash/egg mixture into pie shell. Sprinkle 4 oz of the cheese onto this mixture, then top with remaining squash mixture.
  • Sprinkle top with remaining 2 oz of cheese and chopped pecans.
  • Bake at 375 F. for 60-70 minutes, until pie appears set and inserted knife comes out clean.
  • Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.


Other favorite winter squashes may be used if desired, such as pumpkin or Lakota. This recipe works well at 9,000 feet. If cooking at a lower elevation, everything will cook more quickly.


Winter Ducks

Our ducks fare well even in the winters here at 9,000 feet. Our temperatures can range from roughly +60F to -20F. The other day it literally started out at -5F and reached +60F in the afternoon! Most often the sun is out at least a portion of the day, occasionally not. Sometimes it’s quite windy, other times not. Sometimes there is snow on the ground, other times not. No matter the weather, the ducks will usually spend most of the day outside, and often out foraging for whatever tidbits they might find. Only on the coldest days they might spend a good portion of the time in their house, outside of the wind and cold.

Ducks are quite well adapted for the cold. As water birds, the rain and snow are no problem for them. Their feathers shed off the water, and their down keeps them quite warm. I guess that’s why we make coats out of down with water resistant outer shells for ourselves!

With these cold temperatures the water does freeze, and winter adjustments need to be made. There are different ways of keeping the water liquid. My best solution is to keep a water heater in the bowl. It is on a timer, and usually turns on around 3am, so they will have water to drink in the morning. I turn it on occasionally during the day if the water is freezing, just for an hour or two off and on. The timer we have makes it easy to adjust like that. We keep our bowl on a raised platform over a hole in the ground, covered with hardware cloth. Normally the water will slowly drain from the hole into the earth. In winter this hole fills up with ice and never melts, so I need to be careful to empty the bowl without spilling more water into (onto) this hole. Recently I got out the flame thrower, melted the ice under the bowl as much as I could without burning the frame, then raised the bowl off the frame with an additional support to keep it from freezing onto the frame. I’ve found it’s helpful to keep all snow cleared from around the bowl as soon as possible. If not done, it quickly ices up and makes it nearly impossible to lift the bowl for emptying and refilling.

Notice the wire frame over the top of the bowl–this is not only to hold the electrical wire up (it goes upward to the framework of the pen), but also to keep the ducks out of the bowl. I keep this deeper bowl for them in the winter so they my dip their heads into deep water and keep their eyes clean, which is important. On occasional warm days I will fill a pool for them to bathe, but that doesn’t happen often.

Inside their house (the duckagon), I keep a heat lamp for the coldest of nights. It is on a thermostat and also a timer. The timer is set for the thermostat to come on at about the time we usually lock them in the house at night, and goes off around the time I usually let them out in the morning. The thermostat is now set for around 28F. I don’t want it running all the time, just on the coldest of nights, and often I find that even when it’s pretty cold, it’s in the 30’s, probably due to their own body heat keeping the house warm. When they were younger and it was getting cold, it was used more often and set at a higher temperature, but they are big girls now and can handle more cold. I keep one of the vents (under the roof edge) open most of the time, only closing it on the coldest of nights, maybe when it’s under 10 or so.

What’s New

Hi, folks. This is our new blog. Hopefully this website will be more than just a “blog”, but a site where y’all can come to learn about high-altitude living, gardening and animal-keeping through our experiences.

After building our home and developing the property, we are finally ready to begin planning our garden for the 2017 season. With the winter to plan, there will also be time to put together this website, which will include tips we’ve learned in the garden, with our ducks, and how to cook and preserve our bounty.

Please visit the sections listed above to discover what we have to offer.