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Dear MOTHER: Short Growing Season Solutions

Letters from our readers about overcoming climate and terrain obstacles to cultivate personal best growing practices, using coconut oil for canine hot spots, and more.

| August/September 2019

Cultivating Crops in Colorado

I read Editorial Director Hank Will’s “Obvious Solutions” (August/September 2018), and I want to share some solutions I’ve discovered.

I live in Black Forest, Colorado, up on the Palmer Divide in the forest. The soil here is sandy loam with pockets of clay and rock. Most people here have raised beds. I have them too because of the soil, and also because of my bad knees. But I’ve learned a lot in the years I’ve lived here. We’re in Zone 4, so our growing season isn’t long. We can’t put anything in the dirt until the last chance of frost has passed (generally the last week of May or first week of June). The only exception is garlic, which I plant in October and dig up the next July.

I’m always trying new ideas. I’ve learned that my garlic does best if it’s a cultivar that can handle the cold, such as 'Romanian Red,' 'Estonian Red,' and 'German White.' I also found out, after years of unsuccessfully growing onions, that I need to plant my crops only 1⁄2 to 1 inch in the ground. The soil has to warm them up, and it can’t if they’re too deep. So I never follow the seed packet instructions.

A local friend who consistently has a beautiful squash and pumpkin crop told me how to avoid fungus. He uses drip lines to water them, and puts old straw on top of the soil to keep it moist. As the plants grow, he adds more straw until it’s finally about 1⁄2 foot deep over the entire bed. I tried his approach, along with a shade cloth on hot days. His method works! I now have squash all over the place, and pumpkins. I planted too many squash plants, and now they’ve run amok. I learned to plant cosmos in the middle of the bed to draw the bees to the center, and, as a result, more of my squash are pollinated.

A year ago in January, I put some potatoes in the garage and noticed they’d started growing. So I ordered seed potatoes and got some cloth growing bags. I put a little dirt in the bags, followed by the potatoes, and lightly covered them with more soil. I left them alone, without water or light. They started growing like crazy. By the time June came around, I had a head start on growing. I put them in a galvanized water tank and covered them with more dirt. I watered when needed to keep the dirt moist, and had my best potato crop yet.

Every year, I’m learning how to do things better, and which cultivars work best at my altitude. My tomatoes grow great here too. If more people share what works for them in their areas, we’ll all be successful growers!

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