Dear Eartha, This wild spring weather has me confused! One day it feels warm enough to start thinking about my vegetable garden and the next day it is snowing again. What should I be doing right now to prepare for gardening season without getting ahead of myself?
Springtime in the Rockies can be a wild ride, indeed! There are absolutely some things you can start doing right now to prepare yourself for the warmer weather that is coming our way. My top two recommendations: have some fun educating yourself about high-altitude gardening possibilities and start buying seeds so that you are ready to hit the ground running once your soil warms up.
If you don’t already know, the High Country Conservation Center website contains information available to you at any time of day, whenever you feel the urge to grow your green thumb. When you check out HighCountryConservation.org, click on Community Gardening and find the button for Local Planting Dates. This document has been in development over many years, thanks to loads of high-altitude growing experience by the Summit CSA’s lead farmer, Kyla Laplante. It has all the information you need to plan when, what and how you are going to plant. This document will let you know whether a particular Summit County-friendly vegetable or herb is best planted by direct seed or transplant.
“Direct seed” or “direct sow” are the terms used when a seed is planted directly into the soil of your garden. You can direct seed once the soil temperatures are warm enough. The “Local Planting Dates” resource provides information about when the soil is warm enough. (Hint: get a soil thermometer or chef’s thermometer so you’re not guessing.)
“Transplant” is the term when a seed is planted inside your home or in a greenhouse before being relocated outside. Starting a transplant gives the seed some time to grow in a friendly, warm, cozy environment before relocating outside to fend for itself. In my mind, indoor seed starting is a slightly more advanced gardening technique. It involves some extra equipment, lots of sunny space and extra effort. Typically, I advise new gardeners to stick with direct seeding for their first growing season – but if you feel ready, go for it! A couple of my favorite veggies to grow as transplants are kale and Swiss chard. Don’t transplant radishes or carrots because their roots are too delicate to be moved.
The High Country Conservation Center website also has two High Altitude Vegetable Gardening videos for you to watch on a snowy, spring evening when you are longing for sunshine. Whether you are new to Summit County gardening or a seasoned expert who would like some additional ideas, these videos are a fabulous resource. Some of Summit County’s incredible gardening legends have gathered to give you the low down on how to turn your seeds into a bountiful harvest.
My next recommendation is to take advantage of the spring weather to satisfy your shopping itch by purchasing seeds. Most packages of seeds will be labeled as either “Warm Season” or “Cool Season” vegetables. In Summit County, choose the cool season varieties. If this feels limiting, remember that you have many excellent options of cool season veggies: lettuce, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy, kale, radishes, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, snow peas, and sugar snap peas to name a few.
If you are eager to grow tomatoes and basil outside, be warned that warm-season vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and peppers don’t like to get below 50 degrees at night. Even in our warmest summer months, our nighttime temperatures drop below 50. Advanced gardening methods such as greenhouses and cold frames make it possible to grow some of these warm-season vegetables, but a beginner gardener is better off keeping it simple. Seed packages provide all these details, so read them carefully. One of my favorite seed brands is Botanical Interests, and if you peruse their website, you will see that each variety has sowing information.
I hope you can strap yourself in for the wild ride that is springtime in the mountains while taking advantage of this time to prepare yourself for a prosperous gardening season.