Growing food at elevation provides its own set of challenges (short growing season, marginal soil, extreme weather, pests, etc.) But there are ways to overcome these challenges. Here are a few tips based on years of growing food in Nederland:
Soil is the foundation of growing food, so it is important to build and maintain healthy soil. Start by using local soil found in your yard. (I will screen the soil through some sifting device to remove rocks and other undesirable materials.) Beware some local soils may be high in heavy metals. You can always test your soil. Healthy soil should contain three basic macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). These make up the trio known as NPK. Other essential macronutrients include calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
From there, you can amend the local soil with nutrient-rich organic compost, mushroom compost, worm castings, or cured manure. There are other effective amendments: bat guano, humus, peat, fish compost, coco-coir. You can purchase organic soil amendments from local shops like “Grow in Peace,” “Ace Hardware,” and “Paonia Soil Company.” To build and maintain a healthy soil ecosystem, we recommend using non-till methods of gardening.
Because of our high elevation, our growing season is limited to about three months. This is much shorter than what our neighbors enjoy down in Boulder. The best way to extend the growing season at elevation is by growing food under the cover of a greenhouse, cold frame, or hoop-house (see “Infrastructure”). This will also protect against harsh sunlight, snow, hail, and high wind. Even without the cover of a structure, there are a number of crops that grow well at elevation (see “Getting Started”).
Depending on your location, a garden can be threatened by any number of animals: dogs, voles, aphids, birds, moose, deer, etc. Because voles can enter a garden from below, we recommend growing in raised beds that are at least 12 inches high and attaching wire mesh to the bottom of the bed.
To keep dogs, deer, and moose at bay, consider securing the perimeter of your garden space with fencing. Sometimes we encounter aphids growing in kale and other vegetables. These can be removed with your hand or by spraying water. One way to keep birds away is by using pinwheels or other kinetic devices. As for Bio-repellants, consider Dr. Bronner’s Soap, Peppermint Oil, Clove Oil, Neem Oil, Garlic Oil, or Castor Oil. If you don’t want to kill your voles, consider using a live trap. Greenhouses and hoop-houses protect your plants from a variety of threats, pests included.
The state of Colorado allows you to store up to 100-gallons of captured rainwater on your property. The best way to capture rainwater is by way of the gutters on your house, directing the water to a storage container at ground level. Also, don’t forget: the Town of Nederland provides a water bill discount if you are using water on your property to grow food.