Gardening in Southwest Colorado is frequently challenging.
We have deer, pocket gophers and voles. There can be frosts in June and September and rains that come down in sheets or just seem to “always miss us.” Our soils either never drain or seem to turn to concrete without any water. Most years we have more apples than we know what to do with, while our peach trees only produce fruit every four or five years. If this is gardening at its finest here – why even bother?
Well, for unknown reasons there are many of us – including myself – who seem to return to the garden space in this climate every year, reinvigorated during our cold and dark winter months. Perhaps this is because of those pretty pictures in the seed catalogs tempting us with their foolproof descriptions or realizing the last bag of 2010 tomato sauce was just pulled from the freezer. But maybe – just maybe – it's because we love to get our hands dirty, to carry on traditions and to know where our food comes from.
All of us as members of this community are fortunate to have – in addition to long days with plenty of sunshine, nutrient-rich soil and extended winters that help keep our pest pressure in check – many organizations and businesses that are here to help us succeed in our home garden pursuits. The Garden Project, Turtle Lake Refuge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, local nurseries and Colorado State University Extension are all here as valuable resources. Additionally, a new gardening blog, “Four Corners Farm to Fork” (http://duran gogrows.wordpress.com), has sprouted for all of you to share your advice and to help educate the rest of us.
CSU Extension teaches multiple courses and classes each year (in addition to the Colorado Master Gardener program) that are focused on your own backyard as a food source. Every year our “Backyard Gardening” course begins with a number of questions designed to help you define your own desires and expectations for your personal backyard garden such as:
b “Have you been in Southwest Colorado for at least 10 years?”
If no, please see scary climate descriptions above. Know the conditions in your yard – microclimates abound here.
b “Do you have space for a 15-foot-by-15-foot garden?” and the follow-up question “How many mouths do you plan on feeding?” For most of us 300 square feet is more than enough to feed a family of four, with extra for preservation or storage. If you plan on growing squash, don't forget about the neighbors.
b “Do you have the ability to store food and are you knowledgeable about food preservation?” Most likely, you will not be able to eat everything you grow fresh. Dedicate space in your garage – or another place as long as it stays cool but above freezing – as a root cellar. If you are a rookie at preservation, take a class with Wendy Rice and CSU Extension. You'll come out of it with a lot more courage.
b “What does my calendar look like this summer and fall?” Remember, when you go on vacation, or flee to the high country, the weeds keep growing, the plants still need watering and the zucchini won't pick itself.
[email protected] or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.