Grow a Garden at High Elevation



Here in Nederland, if you’re growing outside, it is wise to grow vegetables and herbs that have no more than a 90-day season. We recommend planting high-altitude, non-GMO, certified organic seeds. We recommend the following local seed companies: Botanical Interests and Bounty Beyond Belief. When planting, follow the package directions carefully. Depending on temperatures, you can plant seeds outside beginning in May or early June. Keep an eye on the germination process. Some seeds can rot if the soil remains too wet and cold, or they can bake in hot conditions. Store left-over seeds in a cool, dry place where they may remain viable for years.

To get a jump on the growing season, you can grow “starts” indoors from seeds as early as March or April. You can do this in small pods. Use good soil and be sure there is adequate warmth and light. Wait for the starts to grow to 3-4 inches. You want them to look vibrant. At that point you can “harden” them off by taking them outside for short periods of time before planting them in the ground. Keep an eye on them. At first, keep them outside for only two hours a day. Then gradually increase the time they are outside. Bring them inside at night if there is a threat of frost.


The nutritional value of the food you grow depends on healthy soil. You can amend local soil with nutrient-rich organic compost, mushroom compost, worm castings or cured manure. We recommend non-till farming methods in order to nurture a healthy soil ecology. The healthier the soil, the less water is required.

Some varieties of greens—including arugula, Swiss chard, spinach and kale—can be planted and harvested up to three times per year. Grow in a hoop house or greenhouse, if possible. This will lengthen the growing season, slow evaporation, and protect against hail, wind, and harsh sunlight.

Other vegetables, herbs, grains, and fruits can be grown as well (currants, apples, quinoa, barley, carrots, turnips, cabbage, beets, borage, etc.). A big part of the fun of growing is discovering what different crops you can successfully grow. Every year we try to grow something new just to see if we can do it successfully.

To protect against voles, attach strong wire mesh to the bottom of your 12-inch high (or more) raised bed to prevent access from below. To protect your garden against dogs or browsing deer, circle your growing area with fencing, if possible. Pinwheels and other kinetic devices may help against birds.


There are a number of ways to grow food at your house: in container gardens, raised beds (hoop house optional), cold frames, greenhouses, or inside on a windowsill. A windowsill garden is simply a small growing space you set up inside on a windowsill or somewhere that gets sunlight. Another way to grow food is in individual containers. Even when they are filled with soil, containers are typically light enough that they can be easily moved by hand. This is useful, for instance, if you want to bring the plants inside at night.

Raised Beds

A raised bed can be built to any size. The raised beds we use are 4’ by 8’ and at least 1’ deep. The beds are built with 12 x 2 untreated pine boards. We fasten wire mesh on the bottom of the bed to keep the voles out. Because burrowing voles seem to be a constant problem in the area, growing food in raised beds is perhaps the most cost-effective way to have an outside garden.

Hoop Houses

We cover some of our outside beds with a small hoop-house made with PVC pipe and a permeable white fabric that can be purchased at Ace Hardware. Our hoop-houses are domed-shape and stand no more than 4’ high, so it can be a little uncomfortable to work inside of one. Of course, you can design a hoop house that fits your specific needs from a variety of different materials.

Covering your garden with a hoop-house is very effective in keeping voles and other critters out, plus it traps heat that can be useful when temperatures get cold. A hoop-house can also protect against hail, harsh sunlight, snow, and torrential rain. If you don’t have a hoop-house covering your outdoor raised bed, you can cover the bed with a sheet of plastic, especially at night when there may be a frost.

Cold Frames

Another way to protect your plants is to grow them under glass in a cold frame. A cold frame is simply an enclosed growing space (perhaps 3’x 3’) that can be covered by a framed piece of glass or plastic that can be opened or closed depending on the temperature, either by hand or automatically by way of a mechanical device.


Perhaps the best way to grow food at elevation is inside a greenhouse where the climate is tightly controlled. Again, there are many designs to choose from. Among the Colorado companies that sell greenhouses, we can recommend Namaste (Boulder), Ceres (Boulder), Growing Spaces (Pagosa Springs), and Penn and Cord’s (Westcliffe). The greenhouse can either be attached to your house or not. You’ll need to consult the specific building code that applies to you before constructing a greenhouse. Among other benefits, a south-facing, attached greenhouse can add to the square footage and energy efficiency of your house.

What to Grow

Here is a list of vegetables and herbs that we have successfully grown outside in Nederland:


  • Arugula –
  • Carrots –
  • mesclun
  • Radishes –
  • Garlic –
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce heads
  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Kale -Spring mix -Onion
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Beets
  • Swiss chard
  • Zucchini
  • Snow peas
  • Tomatoes


  • -Basil –
  • Thyme
  • -Cilantro –
  • Rosemary
  • -Mint –
  • Parsley
  • -Chives –
  • Sage