It’s time to update the progress in the garden, which I have been putting off because:
- I’m too busy working in the garden to spend time writing, and choosing & editing photos.
- I’ve thought that what anyone wants to see is results. Results won’t fully be in until the end of the season.
- 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.
UNIQUE HIGH ALTITUDE TIMING
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’S BEEN 74 DAYS: HOW ARE THE VEGETABLES DOING?
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.