Extreme Gardening


This time of year I’m usually busy getting the garden in. The following picture I took this morning will explain why I’m writing about gardening instead of actually doing it:
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Growing your own food above 6000 feet in the Northern Rockies is a challenge. I figured I’d be alright. Hell, I direct sowed tomatoes and hot peppers at almost 8000 feet where we use to live, even though everyone said it wouldn’t work.

Here is the history of gardening in Goat’s Gulch. Our first spring I ordered several hundred dollars worth of plants from Gurney’s, I broke sod on two 4X10 beds and planted two types of asparagus in them. I also planted over a dozen blueberry bushes, several currants, raspberries, and rhubarb plants and four apple trees. None of these plants are still alive. Even though I planted the domestic raspberries within feet of some of their wild cousins on our property they didn’t reappear the next spring. The Blueberries all died even though 70% of our 30 acres are covered with wild Huckleberries and Alpine Whortleberries both relatives of domesticated Blueberries.

The second year I dug a third bed and planted a bunch of Jerusalem Artichokes which a friend had traded me for some Whortleberries plants. Now these relatives of the Sunflower are always described as having a weed like ability to take over a garden. They all died the following year.

I dug another garden bed the second year to start running vegetables trials in. I planted all the types of root crop seeds I had. We had our first success with the Turnips, Rutabagas, Radishes and Beets. Our first (and only to date) root crop failure was with the Parsnips.

The next year I dug a fifth bed specifically for garlic that year I fall planted it; the following year I spring planted it. The Garlic hasn’t been a complete failure however it hasn’t been a complete success yet either. I will continue experimenting with it.

That third year I planted five different types of Radishes, Turnips, Rutabagas, and around six different types of Beets. Because the garden beds were so small I really pushed the limits of intensive gardening that year. My rows were spaced six inches apart and everything was planted one inch apart. I would pick “baby” beets, etc. every couple of days so there would be enough room for the others to grow. This spacing would end up screwing me with no mature roots the following year when I didn’t harvest nearly so often, but worked great this year. The third year we also had our first success with a non-root crop; lettuce. However, the cabbage we tried that year failed.

The following year (last year) we planted everything we had had success with so far; Turnips, Rutabagas, Beets, Radishes and lettuce. We also added spinach, mustard greens, several oriental greens, peas, carrots, onions and potatoes. All of these did well except the potatoes needed more time (we planted two weeks earlier this year) the peas failed to climb the lodge-pole saplings we provided for them (they are now planted along the interior fence,) and the Bok Choy bolted almost immediately. The onions did better than any other crop we have tried so far. We had a failed experimental run of green beans last year as well.

Last year I also built a separate hot bed (in a different location) for growing corn, sunflowers, and members the Cucurbitaceae Family (melons, squash, cukes.) I had huge hopes for all of these, everything had emerged in about a week and the corn was already 4 inches high when the local chipmunk population found the beds. The death toll of my baby plants in two days was only beaten by the death toll of the local chipmunk population the following week. For most of my life I’ve killed animals to eat, or to end their misery. However, never before this time had I really enjoyed the actual kill. It was like Lord of the Flies, with a lawn chair, a .22 rifle and beer.

This year we combined five of the six lower beds, and expanded them towards the south by about 12 feet. The goal is to eventually (this spring) run this area all the way to the south to the unused Jerusalem artichoke bed. I had hoped to try the upper hot bed again, but since the chickens have been scratching in there every day (the goat hay was stored in that area over the winter) I will need much more chicken wire than I current have to keep them out. We have already planted 7 rows of colored potatoes (seed we saved from last year,) five rows of onion sets (including a trial run of eight shallots,) and two rows of peas (snap, garden, and snow.)

In a few days (after this damn snow stops) we will be planting an experimental row of Fava beans (I have high hopes for this cool weather bean,) two rows of beets (mostly canners,) three rows of carrots, one row of turnips and rutabagas, and three rows of spinach.

In about a week we will be inter-planting (with the spuds and onions) experimental runs of Cabbage, Kale, Kohlrabi, and Brussels Sprouts.

On or around June 7th we will be planting our last experimental runs for the year. These include several rows of green beans inter-planted with the potatoes, two hills each of five different types of early C. pepo squash, several different types of cucumbers and four different types of corn.

A lot of people say a person can’t grow a garden up here. In a sense they are right; if a person thought they’d just throw some seeds in the ground after some sort of SHTF scenario, those people would starve. However, we have proven that if a person spends the time necessary to find out what works and what doesn’t, growing a garden here is possible.

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