GROWING FOOD AT 9,000 FEET
Our High Altitude Vegetable Garden, at almost 9,000 feet, was started in the Spring of 2017. High Country Living highlights this garden. While our focus will be gardening at high altitudes, there will be a great deal of general gardening tips that will be applicable at any location. To start off, please read a little of our Gardening History.
Our new garden was in the planning stages for several months before we got started with the actual work of building. We had added a weather station and began recording weather stats in the fall of 2015. We did a lot of research, watched the sun and wind, and chose what we feel is the right location for the garden. We knew we needed protection from the intense sun, the wind, and the deer, rabbits & squirrels who make their home on our turf. We finalized our garden plan, set up a potting bench indoors and some grow lights for seedlings, and got seeds ordered. We began to start seedlings indoors. We began the garden grunt work during the nicer days later in April 2017.
The entire perimeter is lined with netting to keep the deer and bunnies out. Our raised beds are all 28″ high, making it easier to build up the soil as we please, and much easier to work in as we get older. To keep the ground squirrels & rabbits from digging under the beds, the bottom of each bed is lined with gravel, stucco netting and rocky soil. So far this has kept them out of the beds. The pathways are lined with thick plastic, to keep both the squirrels and weeds out. We think we’re covered.
Our first year we planted some perennials to get them started: asparagus, raspberries, goji berries, blueberries, strawberries and various herbs. We started an early “cold frame” with lettuces, kale, chard, spinach, various other greens, which was basically one of our garden beds with plastic kept over the hoops and ends at night. As it warmed up we planted various other veggies as weather allowed. We experimented with a few things we weren’t sure would grow well (corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers) along with other things that have been successful in other local gardens: summer & winter squash, beets, cole crops, bush beans, to name a few. Please read about our success and a few failures of the vegetables & fruits we’ve grown.
We have experimented with a variety of weather protection ideas to keep everything safe and happy. Each bed is covered with hoop framework. Attached to each frame is shade cloth, which can be rolled up or down at will. The shade cloth protects the plants from the intense sun and also from the small-sized hail we get here on occasion. As needed, any of these frames can be covered with frost cloth and/or plastic sheeting. In early spring each year I start one or two of the beds with cold-hardy greens covered with the plastic sheeting, which gets a great head start prior to the last snow storms of the season. Some plants (zucchini & winter squash) are covered most nights throughout the summer with plastic to keep them as warm as possible–the goal is to keep those plants above 50 degrees. Considering that very few of our nights are 50 or higher, this is important.
At the end of our first gardening summer we planned and Tim built our greenhouse, along with a solar collector to aid in heating it. This has allowed us to enjoy vegetables year-round. Additionally, since a few things don’t grow well outdoors here in the summer, it’s used in the summer as the extra protection needed for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and winter squash.
The fall of 2019 brought us cold frames in three sections, allowing us to grow some additional cold-tolerant greens without the added heat in the greenhouse. This allows us to have more space in the greenhouse for the things that really require the heat.