Ask Eartha: High Country veggie-growing 101
Dear Eartha: Is it too early to start my indoor seeds for a new garden I’m planting this spring and summer? Any suggestions for a novice veggie grower? – Jill, Summit Cove
As the days inch forward with more and more sunlight, my body starts craving soil! I try to remember what it’s like to walk on solid ground and to feel the earth bend just slightly under my feet instead of the crunch-crunch-crunch of the cold snow. It always helps to start growing veggies in my kitchen window as early as January and in some cases all winter long. If you are interested in windowsill herbs, dining table arugula and potted spinach, you can start your seeds anytime as long as you’re growing indoors. I’ve successfully grown indoor-only tomatoes at oddball times of the year with a south-facing window and a soil mixture of worm poop and coconut coir. If we’re talking about transplants and sowing seeds for an outdoor garden, you can definitely start too early and risk stunted and sometimes buggy seedlings just itching to get outdoors. In addition, transplanting can be downright traumatic for plants, especially root vegetables. Not only do we disturb delicate root systems, we often shock the plant with our High Country extremes between indoor and outdoor. Even though we have a short growing season, you may be surprised to hear transplanting isn’t necessary and may be a waste of time, energy and plants. With such strong winds, sun and cold nights, our poor babies have a hard time adapting from the protection of our heated homes to the harsh mountain climate. Many Summit gardeners have found seeds started outside in May and June adapt to our gnarly elements from day one and grow up healthier and stronger (and even faster) than those started indoors in March. For those who love to garden anytime and anywhere, like myself, indoor gardening fills the void and borderline impatience after a long winter. Ditch the transplant method and consider an indoor-only garden with herbs, tomatoes and greens. Indoor gardening is also great practice for beginner gardeners. With a sunny window you can grow all year round so you’re ready for the real thing come June. If you want to try transplanting, plant seeds like beans, peas, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. They are safer to transplant than root vegetables. Be sure not to leave them in their pots for too long as root swirling (roots growing outside of the soil and coiling under the root ball) can be detrimental to the plant. When the time comes, slowly harden plants off to the outdoors by shocking the plant one element at a time. First get them used to the wind by leaving them in their original containers in a sheltered, semi-shady place for several hours a day. Once plants have endured several nights, transplant them into the garden. Sherie Sobke from Alpine Gardens suggests using soil pellets for seeds you plan on transplanting. The individual pellets can be directly planted into your garden, minimally impacting plant root systems. I’ve also used cow pots and other biodegradable containers for this purpose. For indoor growing, you can recycle your butter tubs, egg cartons or clamshells into seed-starting containers. You can also purchase mini-hot houses and greenhouse kits that come with individual soil pellets, a dome lid and a tray for water collection. Alpine Gardens also recommends EarthBoxes for growing peppers, basil, and tomatoes in Summit. The boxes provide that extra warmth these particular plants need to survive. When searching for seeds, be sure to choose varieties that can endure our short growing season. Look for packets with an average of 60 days or less as a good starting point. If you are going by average last-frost days, Breckenridge and Keystone is around Father’s Day and the rest of the county is the first week of June. Regardless, frost can happen anytime!To find out how to plan and plant your next food garden, visit your local nursery like Alpine Gardens or attend Silvana’s Gardens “Edible Landscape” gardening class on Wednesday, March 23. For more info on the class, please e-mail SCGardenEdu@gmail.com. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, it never hurts to experiment, grow something, and if all else fails, sow, sow again. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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