The Trials & Tribulations of High Altitude Gardening

The Trials & Tribulations of High Altitude Gardening post thumbnail

This spring I had grand plans of thoroughly documenting my use of the Fantastic Farm and Garden Calculator to plan my small (100 s.f.) garden here in Eldora, Colorado where I am a bit below 9000 feet altitude. Mother Nature and some garden loving critters changed my plans.

In previous years I had been lucky enough to start seeding in late April or early May. While we had a fairly mild winter this year, the spring was a different story. Every time it seemed I could seed the hardier varieties, it would snow or freeze. That is mountain life for ya!  I didn't start seeding until May 25th, and then we had a cold spell after that. Almost nothing seemed to be germinating well, so I reseeded many items in mid-June.  Towards late-June things were finally starting to grow, and then the deer remembered my garden.  

Ah, the deer!  Yes, they need to eat too, but given my current economic slump, I was hoping to save money by growing my own food. In the past I tried some expensive deer "repellents" and they didn't work at all.  What works is a very tall fence, or a rabid dog tied out by your garden.  After the deer chowed on my baby spinach, kale, snow peas, and other goodies, I broke down and spent some money on a bird netting type of deer fence.  It was so thin I never thought it would work, but it has, and it was fairly cheap.

Everything was growing slowly, very slowly. I gave a boost here and there with some organic liquid fertilizers and that seemed to help a little.  I had in mixed about 30 gallons of llama manure before starting the garden, but that obviously wasn't enough. Time for a real soil test next year.)

One day I noticed that 4-6 garlic plants were missing. Right next to the deer fence, and the fence looked like it had been pulled down. Deer? Deer don't eat garlic. A person?  Now who would steal from a garden?  A couple days later, 4 more garlic plants were missing. Oh come on! I didn't think any animals ate garlic, so I was back on the human thief theory, as impossible as it seemed for my mountain neighborhood. A couple weeks later I noticed yet more garlic had been taken and one Egyptian Walking Onion. Hmm... Only a small hole in the soil was left, about the size of the garlic stem. Not like the bulb was yanked out of the ground. Maybe it was being pulled underground? I grabbed a shovel, and dug in. Ah ha! Tunnels!  Obviously it was pocket gophers or a similar critter. But do gophers like garlic?!  A quick search on the web told me that gophers love garlic!  So I harvested the garlic a couple weeks early before it was all gone.  They had eaten one quarter of the 75 or 80 plants I had!  (And ate 7 out of 8 Red Russian Kale plants!)

Between some fairly serious germination and growth issues due to the weather, and the critters, my garden has been far less successful than it has been in previous years. In past years I never used and season extenders like cold frames or even floating row cover, yet I had a fairly productive garden. Perhaps it was a bit foolish of me to think I could make it through another year with out those things at this altitude. After starting a farm at a lower elevation and doing it right, I knew better.

I recently acquired enough 3/4" double wall polycarbonate to build a modest greenhouse, perhaps 6' x 8' or even 8' x 10' so I can get started earlier next year (or extend this season). Or at the very least I will build some serious cold frames before fall.