Ask Eartha: How does your garden grow? (column)
I’d like to grow some of my own food this year, but I don’t have much space, and I’ve heard the conditions here can make gardening really difficult. What can I do?
— Alex, Breckenridge
Thanks for your question, Alex. Growing your own veggies has so many benefits beyond adding delicious, healthy food to your plate. Working in the dirt can have antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects and can be a fun educational experience for you, your friends and family. Plus, at a time when our food is often transported hundreds or thousands of miles and produced on large, monoculture farms using toxic pesticides, organic gardening can help reduce those environmental costs and increase biodiversity and community resilience.
It’s true that a short growing season, high elevation and plentiful wildlife make gardening in the mountains more challenging. But Summit County gardeners are rewarded with summer and early fall harvests of typical cool-season foods — like lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, kale and root vegetables. I don’t know about you, but the thought of watching green shoots appear and collecting bounties of rainbow carrots and candy cane beets helps me make it through the end of winter.
The snowy spring is the perfect time to start planning your garden and Summit has two wonderful resources that can help you succeed.
Summit is home to four community gardens, which are ideal for those without much growing space at home or anyone wanting to take advantage of the raised beds, compost and tools provided. Community gardens welcome all experience levels, and beginners can learn valuable techniques — like using onions to deter critters and companion planting to multiply your harvest — from seasoned pros. Food isn’t the only thing growing at the community gardens, either. They are often incubators of new relationships between neighbors, co-workers and strangers.
Plus, the gardens offer an opportunity to give back through the Grow to Share program, which donates excess produce grown by community gardeners to local families in need through a partnership between High Country Conservation Center, the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, and the county’s Women, Infants and Children program. Last year, the program supplied more than 1,450 portions of produce for families across the county.
Another way to ensure success in Summit’s unique environment is to use seeds from the Summit County Seed Library. The seed library is inside the county’s main library in Frisco, and anyone with a free local library card can check out seeds.
The idea is that you return the seeds you checked out after the growing season by setting aside a plant or two, letting those plants grow to seed, and then collecting the seeds to return. Like our ski slopes, seed packets at the library are rated with green circles, blue squares and black diamonds to show the difficulty level required to collect the seeds.
As gardeners return seeds over time, this creates a freely available, diverse collection of plants that thrive in Summit and even in specific microclimates within the community. While some seed packets at the library were donated by organic seed companies, most were returned by local gardeners, so you know those seeds will do well in Summit.
Keep in mind that some veggies grow better when started indoors and then transplanted, and others don’t like to be disturbed once they’re planted. The seed packet will tell you what works best and if you can lengthen the growing season by starting some plants inside several weeks before the snow stops falling.
If you’re interested in the community gardens, know that they have become so popular that many fill up when applications open in the spring. Keep an eye on HC3’s website for updates on community garden applications, free gardening workshops and other local food news. In the meantime, happy garden dreaming and seed starting!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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