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Gardening for Drought, Fire, Cold and Flood

| 7/30/2019 10:11:00 AM


Photo by Bob Walters 

Gardening weather has been crazy these past twenty years. You could almost count on four-foot snowstorms in mid-September here in the Rockies back in the day, marking the end of harvest. Over the last two decades we gained two extra gardening months, May and October. Official charts hopped us from Zone 4 to 5. Back then summer afternoons used to rain like clockwork in the mountains. Dry, unremitting heat took over; long-timers worried the forest-floor duff would combust. When it rained, we ran to count the drops.

In the past decade, more surprises have been the norm: 3.5 feet of freezing snow at May's end destroying fruit blossoms, freezes at June's end decimating crop leaves but not stalks, fall blizzards icing unharvested, but salvageable, apples. To our befuddlement, this past year has been overcast, humid. Colorado snowpack was over 751% typical of mid-June. I'm wearing a bug net when gardening, an unthinkable “first.”

In September 2010 a wildfire swept our land several times, baking apples on the trees, turning pasture and meadow into black sand. The gardens survived without water for a scorching month until we were able to harvest as usual. The kindling-dry pioneer cabin with holes in the flooring sadly succumbed to the flames, but the antique yellow rosebush snuggled near it survived unscathed.

Our fire chief told us the gardens, which roughly encircle our house, had saved it because they held more moisture than the surrounding vegetation. The take-away: our efforts to build soil moisture in the gardens over the previous years had paid off in these particular circumstances. (Following fire mitigation recommendations, around the house we had also left no flammable trees or bushes, scalped the non-garden vegetation, cleaned the gutters.)

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