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

Yield: 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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

    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.

Notes

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.

http://www.highcountryliving.net/squash-and-eggs-a-great-combination/

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.