Ask Eartha: Learning how to garden at high altitude (column) |

Ask Eartha: Learning how to garden at high altitude (column)

Dear Eartha,

With spring just around the corner, I have been thinking of trying to grow my own food this year. However, I have heard that it is very difficult to do so at our high altitude and dry climate. Is this true? – Ellen, Frisco

Thank you for your question this week, Ellen. That is great that you are trying to grow your own food. It is true that Summit County has a shorter growing season. However, we can still grow many sought-after vegetables throughout late spring and summer. In fact, farmers have been growing lettuce here since the 1940s. Since then, there has been a growth of successful community gardens and community-supported agriculture in the county.

The growing worry of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and understanding where your food comes from is just one of the reasons many choose to take their food into their own hands — literally! Cultivating your own garden can give you assurance that you, and your family are eating locally-grown, healthy food. It can also be a great educational experience that the whole family can partake in. Over the past few decades, local family farms that once thrived throughout the country have been diminished by large, monocrop farms. Growing in a community garden can help bring back the aesthetics and benefits of small scale farming.

If this is your first season gardening, I would recommend joining one of the Summit County community gardens to help get you situated and comfortable with plot logistics. Joining a community garden allows you to connect with other local gardeners who can help provide you with the knowledge you need to start a garden of your own. If this is your first season gardening, I’d recommend starting with some easier crops that are known to do well at our elevation and climate. Additionally, utilizing a raised bed will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of having to amend your own soil. Leafy greens and root vegetables provide you with endless choices to help get your garden going and will give you the confidence you need to progress your gardening skills. Greens like kale, arugula, spinach, romaine and collard greens typically love our colder evenings and are super hardy in our alpine environment. Radishes are great and only take about 25 days to produce. Carrots, beets and potatoes also do very well in our climate and help to aerate the rocky soils.

If it is the warm weather loving plants that you desire to grow, season extenders may also be necessary, depending on the location of your garden. Props like water walls, milk jugs and plastic coverings are easily obtainable and act as a mini greenhouse around specific plants that may not be as suitable for the high elevations of Summit County. You could also create a small greenhouse over a raised bed.

If you are interested in joining the Summit County community garden network, visit to learn more about garden locations and applications. This truly is a great way to help boost your green efforts to connect and learn alongside other community members. If you are interested in educating yourself on high-altitude gardening before the season gets going, you can stop by any of the local libraries or the High Country Conservation Center’s Eartha Library.

I hope that you find this information encouraging as many individuals have lush, successful gardens throughout the summer. If you can grow in Summit County, you can grow anywhere! Happy gardening!

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff 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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