Mountain Gardening And The Challenges

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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When it comes to asking questions about high altitude vegetable gardening, I am not the person to ask.  Attached are two photos of how I garden in raised boxes that are fully enclosed on all sides with ½” hardware screen. I should have used ¼” hardware screen.  Somehow the field mice still get through the half inch screen and nibble at my zucchini.  We have become used to sharing our zucchini with the mice but most people like them as they appear in the grocery store.  Not ours; they resemble pock marked zucchini of the tiny variety.  We have several holes in the ground around the raised garden boxes where ground squirrels tunnel under the boxes but the most they can get at  is the tender ends of the roots that grow below the wire screen.  If they keep that up I expect one day my raised boxes will go to submerged boxes.  They will just sink down in the ground.  

Between the ground squirrels, short growing season and limited water we are thankful for what we get.  Spinach and lettuce grow well at this altitude so we usually harvest two plantings due to their being fast growing.  We try to stagger planting so they don’t all reach maturity at the same time. Sometimes we actually end up with more than we can eat in daily salads and have to freeze the remainder for later use.
This time of year the nights are cool, rain is infrequent, and the days are warm so growing slows down considerably.  It was 40 degrees this morning when I woke up and will get to the low 70’s later today. The zucchini may not ripen enough to harvest because of the short growing season.  Every gardener has their individual challenges but high altitude gardening

presents abnormal challenges.  Our mice grow fat and we harvest what is left for ourselves.  I keep hoping that they get so fat they can’t outrun the various raptors we have here, but they can get those little legs going pretty fast.  

We have a sizable raspberry patch but the chipmunks and ground squirrels end up with most of the fruit right along with the currents and the gooseberries.  If we get enough to have on one bowl of corn flakes that is what we consider a good year. Rhubarb is our strongest crop and we usually enjoy several nice pies each year.  
Our harvest is usually ongoing throughout the summer but if we get one good continuous harvest we consider ourselves fortunate.  We have seen bear standing on top of the garden boxes trying to figure out if it is worth while to rip them open or not.  The top of a couple of my garden boxes sag pretty good and I’ve had to replace staples to hold the screen in place. We have ruled out hiring 24 hour guards, digging a moat infested with alligators and laying a mine field.  If the field mice don’t get most of our crop, the occasional hail storms can do considerable damage.  We love fresh-grown vegetables and relish what we do get to eat ourselves.  Each year at this time I say to myself this is the last year, but then next winter when the seed catalogs start to arrive I forget that promise to myself.  Gardening at high altitude clearly has unique challenges but persistence pays a few dividends.  I have come to envy those photos of large zucchini, abundant lettuce and spinach and have come to the realization that just is not possible where we live.  If it is, I don’t have the answers to success yet.  
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