Ask Eartha: Extend the life of your garden |

Ask Eartha: Extend the life of your garden

Eartha Steward
special to the daily

Dear Eartha,

After a ton of fresh veggies this summer, I am curious if the chilly nights are going to bring an end to this year’s garden and its fresh produce?

– Jane

Summit County’s recent, chilly nights have a ton of folks dreaming of fresh powder. While it may be a few weeks till we get to ride/ski, it is certainly not the time to pack up the trowel. There is still harvesting, fertilizing, winterizing and even seed sowing to be done.

Take a stroll through any of the community gardens and you will witness a plethora of produce in season. The peas are a constant temptation, so easily plucked and popped into your mouth. Kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are all members of the Brassicas vegetable group and a late harvest should yield a bounty of Brassicas. After weeks of patiently waiting, the potatoes, carrots, onions and leeks are ready to be pulled from the earth and thrown into a delicious soup. However, if you are one of the many who had a late start this season you may still be anxiously hoping for peppers, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers to ripen. Fortunately, there is no need for concern since there are measures a persistent gardener can take to extend their harvest.

If your deck is crowded with planters growing herbs and vegetables, the simple act of bringing your plants inside when it gets chilly can lengthen their life. While the mountain climate can be particularly challenging for outdoor gardens; hot caps, row covers, and cold frames help to maintain a warm temperature. In addition, they protect plants against pests and the elements. Hot caps are used to protect small, individual plants from frost. The wall-o-water or a plastic milk container cut in half work as great hot caps. There are two basic types of row covers. The plastic row cover is supported by hoops and shaped like a tunnel. By cutting thin slits in the plastic you allow for rain to fall through; rather than gather and weigh down the structure. As an alternative to plastic, floating row covers are lightweight, permeable, “garden blankets” and require no supports. For the more ambitious gardener, you can construct a cold frame. These small greenhouse structures have a windowed top to provide sunlight to your plants. The sides of the cold frame can be built from sustainably harvested wood and lined with stones for extra insulation.

The cool-season of a vegetable garden takes place when night temperatures stay above 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the days feel colder in comparison to the summer at high altitude. The length of a cool-season varies from 60-100 days based upon where you live in the United States. It helps to plant cultivars that naturally thrive in your geographical hardiness zone. These zones are determined by the annual average of cold temperatures. According to the USDA Hardiness map, Summit County is located in Zone 4. For comparison, parts of Alaska and Vermont are also classified as Zone 4.

Seed sowing should be staggered by 10-14 days apart to ensure a steady supply of cool-season vegetables. Another way to measure time in between sowings is to plant the second set of seeds once the first seedlings reveal their true leaves. You should also consider planting cover crops during this time of year. Fast-growing grasses and wheats (i.e. barley, oats, rye, vetch, and clove) will protect against weeds and soil erosion. Cover crops also improve soil quality and aid in water retention. Even at the end of its lifecycle, a cover crop can be plowed under and used as a “green manure.”

The ideal time to apply fall fertilizers occurs when the soil is still warm. During the flowering and vegetable growth phases of my plants, I like to apply Bio Thrive Bloom by General Organics. For my ornamental shrubs and flowers, I use fertilizers with potassium and phosphorous. These nutrients will help young plants establish their root systems and mature plants can use the nutrient boost. Adding a top layer of mulch will help to sustain soil temperature.

As the temperatures begin to dip, we all crave those robust fall meals. Just remember the key ingredients to any sustainable dish are organic and seasonal. If you haven’t had success growing your own food, never started your garden, or just want a delicious local meal all is not lost. The High Country Conservation Center will be hosting its Third Annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday, Sept. 29. The event will be held at Vinny’s Restaurant in Frisco. Their kitchen will prepare a four-course meal of healthy dishes, all locally grown and produced.

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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