Gardening At High Elevation and Volunteerism

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Challenges of High Altitude Gardening

Growing our own vegetables at 9,800’ elevation is difficult. I have written blogs on this before but seem to forget just how difficult it is in subsequent years. Last year for example I had to start the garden three times because the weather would be ideal with temperatures in the 70’s and a few days later it would be freezing and snowing again. This year I resisted being tempted to plant early but still we had two late incidences of cold and 4-5” of snow.

Fortunately the seeds had not germinated yet so I did not have to replant. It is the end of May and the seeds are just now peeking up out of the ground. In September the nights will start to be cool again and the growing will slow down dramatically. We are able to grow leaf vegetables but root vegetables rarely mature. We have tried hot boxes and starting seedlings inside; however, nothing has worked very well. Possibly a greenhouse would give an extended season but our community is a covenant community and they are not allowed.

As can be seen in the photo we grow in fully enclosed garden boxes which are surrounded on all sides with ½” hardware screen. (see photo) In addition to a short growing season and unpredictable weather we have voles, moles, chipmunks, ground squirrels and deer that will eat vegetables. Even our earth boxes that we put on our elevated deck have to have hardware screen over them to keep the critters out. Gardening at this elevation takes perseverance, patience and lots of determination.

We have grown carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli and occasionally beets. The carrots do not grow to full size but are delicious and flavorful but immature in size. The cauliflower and broccoli are the same. The beets are small and tend to lean to the stringy side but the top greens are delicious steamed and lightly sprinkled with apple cider vinegar


This is a two subject blog and the second half is about volunteering to help others. We have for the past several years invited a local charity to come out and cut up the dead trees on our property. This past winter we had hurricane strength winds and some of the heaviest and wettest snow we have ever experienced. We calculate that we have lost 50+ trees to the harsh conditions (see photo). With some favorable breaks in the weather they brought one of their volunteer groups out last week.

This particular charity gives temporary housing to the homeless, runs a local food bank, feeds those who are unable to provide for themselves and has a program that provides for free firewood for those who either can’t afford it or are unable to get it for themselves. If they did not take our dead trees they would just lie on the ground and rot. This way people receive them that truly need them and the wood will keep them warm when the temperatures dip down to negative 20 degrees.

In the past both Carol and I have found ourselves in situations where we did not have the money to purchase food and there were no charities available like our local one to help out. For someone who has never had this experience it is hard to describe the feeling you develop from not being able to help yourself or your family. There is overwhelming despair, hopelessness, panic and a loss of self worth. You have nothing nor any way to provide and it is a truly helpless feeling. In both of our cases we were working but simply ran out of money to provide for our families. In one case an unexpected anonymous envelope came in the mail with money to get to payday and the other instance was a family member who sent a gift of $20.00 which in turn bought formula for my son.

I hear people say that there are those who are too lazy to work or simply scam the system but I know how easy it is to unknowingly and suddenly find ourselves in dire straits. There are certainly those who take advantage of the system but there are those who unwittingly fall into need too. Back when it happened to Carol and me there were no federal or state agencies that we could go to because then those agencies were for the unemployed. We both know the feeling and we both vowed never to let that happen to either of us again.

Therefore, when we have good firewood available we want it  to go where it is needed and when we have slightly used clothes or workable property we donate it to the charity who will sell or disburse it according to need. A total of $120.00 got both Carol and myself back to self sufficiency and having a good charity available to screen and disperse needed goods is to us something worth supporting.

The group that came last week to cut and haul off about two cords of firewood came from Fordham University in New York City. The local charity gets volunteers from all over the country to help with their efforts to help the needy. This is the 4th year we have been providing firewood and we have had groups from all over to help people they don’t even know. When I witness all the hatred and anger on television and those violent protests and then see these people use their time and money to come help those in our community I know that our future is good and we still have outstanding young people and volunteers.

The media and politicians would like us to think that we are doomed with all the bad things we are bombarded with daily. We however get to see the younger generation coming forth to help those they don’t know and never will know. These young people are our future leaders and it seems to me that their heart and minds are in just the right place. Their parents have done a good job and we are privileged to see end product. We should not listen to the naysayers as their opinions are not the entire picture. From what we see from these volunteers in our remote location is the future looks bright and healthy.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyles with their four German Shepherd dogs to

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