Sunday, August 19, 2007

Vegetable Gardening in High Altitudes

A fellow gardener wrote to me wondering if I knew of any vegetables that will grow in high altitudes.

Well, let's see. For starters there's Beans, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Tomatoes...

Surprised? All of these yummy veggies will grow at high altitudes. Just give 'em a little TLC plus O.F. (organic fertilizer!)

AND! Time your garden differently.
* The heartache of a Memorial Day frost is pretty much guaranteed at altitudes of 6,000 feet or higher.

Garden shops advise April/May planting for vegetables and that's why we feel left out.
* We mountain gardeners need to plant on June 1st and expect a later harvest.
* May nights are too cold for little seedlings. Mature plants are much tougher. They can handle cool night temperatures in September.

Get creative. Most quality seed shops offer cold-hardy and fast-growing varieties. You won't find see this produce at grocery store and the names might not be familiar... But, there are many varieties of tomatoes that mature in less than 60 days. (Thank the hybridizing experts in Russia and Canada for these breakthroughs.)

Plant favorite veggies with a 90-day growing cycle. Experiment with root vegetables that mature in 120 days. The soils stays warm, protecting potatoes.

Raised beds help a great deal.
Soil warms faster in the spring, helping seeds to sprout quicker. With raised beds, you can easily amend the soil. Veggies need lots of soil nutrients to produce a good harvest and mountain soil is generally short on what's needed.

Good Veggie Choices for High Altitude Gardens
  • Bush and Pole Beans = 60 days
  • Beets = 50-70 days
  • Carrots = 90 days
  • Sweet Corn = 60 - 90 days
  • Cucumbers = 90 days
  • Lettuce = 70-90 days
  • Peas = 60 days
  • Potatoes = 90 - 120 days
  • Radishes = 30 days
  • Spinach = 45 - 90 days
  • Tomatoes* = 55 - 90 days
* Popular Beefsteak Tomatoes grow too slow but other varieties do very well. 90-day growth cycle or shorter: Alaskan Fancy, Aztec, Orange Blossom, Health Kick Hybrid, Abraham Lincoln Heirloom, Russian Heirloom.. and many more. Become friends with the folks at the Good Seed Company. They test their organic seeds on the Canadian border and they know what grows!


Anonymous said...

Can you give some names of the vegetable varieties you are growing right now?

Anonymous said...

I live in Estes Park, CO and purchased a tomato plant at our local Farmer's Market. I repotted the plant in a larger container, let it get plenty of sun on our deck, and keep it appropriately moist and fertilized. It is thriving with plenty of flowers. HOWEVER, something happens once the flowers dry up. The tomatoes do not grow and the bloom just drops off. I have only one good sized tomato. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

You must hand polinate your blooms by gently touching each of the flowers several time. I live at high altitude also and we have almost no bees, so all my plants need to be hand polinated...

rainajane said...

Great Blog! I have been high altitude gardening for 3 years- this will be my 4th year at almost 8,000 ft in Colo Rockies (also high mtn desert). Sharing your knowledge and experiences helps others (even myself as I am always learning) get advice they need to grow at such high altitudes with unique such needs. This is a blessing because many try and try- then give up! I do not have a garden specific blog but I do try to journal my experiences when i get a chance, feel free to check it out and thank you again for sharing your knowledge!


Gary said...

Park City is higher in altitude than Salt Lake, but I live in a much higher as well as More northern than you. Come to Pinedale ,Wyoming area and tell me how easy it is to grow a garden then. I grew up in Murray so I do have a knowledge of what I am talking about. But when you try to have a garden in an area like where I am at,7300ft, then you learn to have much perseverence when it comes to growing a garden.
Gary, Daniel, Wyoming.

R. Tyson Steele said...

I have a cabin in Wasatch county between Heber and Hanna and I am at 9000 feet. Do I dare try it?

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, Neighbor;
Never hurts to try. Find a protected, sunny spot. Lay flat rocks between your veggie plantings. They keep your soil warm at night. And, consider planting a circle of marigolds around the veggie garden -- that might keep the deer and elk from enjoying your bounty!

Thanks for the note. :)

alan said...

I am going to put in a 8x20 greenhouse, heat it and try and grow all winter.
I'm at 7000 feet in Summit county. Is it going to work?? Any advice would be well appreciated.

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, Alan!
If you'll build me an 8 x 20 greenhouse I'll give you all the tips you need!! Just kidding. :D

I think you'll do fine. Put the greenhouse in a protected area, away from wind. Hopefully you'll get deep drifts of snow and that will provide insulation and warmth, outside the greenhouse. Placw half-moon curved wire over the raised beds. Drape plastic over those hoops to retain more warmth.

IF we have a crazy winter like last year (-8 degrees in November before deep snows provided insulation) you may need an electrical cord and heat source to avoid frozen seedlings.

Thanks for the note. Keep me posted on your progress!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate!
Great home page!
I live at 9300 feet in Bolivia SA (after living my whole life in CO).I once rode my mtb on the Wasatch trail- awesome area!
I want to plant herbs in containers on my patio, but have the intense sun all day, some winds and a 3 month rainy season (rainstorm every day). What herbs would you suggest and other growing hints you can give?
Muchas gracias! Anna

Gail said...

Im at Pine Valley were 6500 feet...this will be my first garden here. Will Asparagas grow here?

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, Gail;
Yes, asparagus does well here (USDA zone 5) However -- it takes 2 years for your asparagus plants to reach maturity and provide you a first harvest. Amending the soil with organic compost is a big help for this veggie. :)

Anonymous said...

I have been veggie gardening at 9000' in Crested Butte, Colorado for 10 yrs. I have great success overall.

Some things I plant from seed, others I transplant starts. I do not ever attempt to grow tomoatoes. Unless you plan on taking them in at night, or if you absolutely will not get frost in August, then go for it. Otherwise, don't bother.

Raised beds are a MUST for cold climates. I suggest cider block raised beds.

Multiple frost blankets in various weights. I cover my gardens most nights in summer and during long dry windy periods I cover also, this helps greatly reduce moisture loss. Creates some shade from intense high altitude sun, and provides a stable microclimate under the blanket that the plants thrive under.

Reduce plant stress as much as possible by diligent thinning and appropriate watering.

Encourage bumble bees and other pollinators by planting lots of flowering shrubs etc. Our bumble bee population was diminshed last year.

check our out community garden page at facebook: Crested Butte Edible Gardens!

Daleann said...

Hello, I'm here in Grand County, Co. Been gardening ten years at 8,400 feet.
I found the flux of temp. From morning, noon, night is too drastic for tomatoes to set a fruit.
A green house or dragging it in and out or using both frost cloth and shade cloth through out the day is about your only option.

I use shade cloth on almost all my vegetables, it multi purposes as climate control, water retention and protects the plants from the inevitable hail and down pours!

Ralph Reagan said...

Hey just wanted to pop in... I've planted gardens in Rico, Colorado, Telluride, Colorado and Leadville, Colorado most of these tips are for lower than those areas. In Rico you can get a fine crop of undersized carrots that taste out of this world, small potatoes, and leaf lettuce.

Angela said...

Hi, I live at 7500 ft( HIGH DESERT) and have grown: yellow squash, lettuces, spinaches, kales, broccoli, corn, bush beans, climbing beans, cantelope, tobacco, onions, peppers, chiles, tomatoes. For me, mulch is key. I water every few days and its fine. Its the intense sun I have to worry about. SHADE ROWS this SUMMER :-)

Anonymous said...

We live at 8200 ft. in NW New Mexico. We have a small green house and all tomatoes do very well. Romaine and red leaf lettuce do well as do cucumbers and carrots. I put basil and rosemary in pots with at least 6 hours of sun a day. They seem to like the cool 40 degree nights outside the greenhouse. As soon as my spinach sprouted in the greenhouse I put it outside and it too seems to enjoy the cool nights. mountaingirl

Anonymous said...

I am at 7000 feet in AZ and this year is awful - Winds and now with the 80's during the day and 40's at night plus really low humidity. Should I adjust my watering time. I have been watering in the early AM - would 4:00 to 5:00 pm be better (would still leave about 4 hours of sunlight). with the cost of our water and being on water restrictions for several years, I can't water 2X a day. Would a shade cloth help? Have never used one. Thank you!

Sarah L said...

Planting Early and sprouting in a greenhouse is the best ,, we started mosr of our seeds that like the warmth early -indoors- (aka heated greenhouse :}) right now we have an assortment of things sprouting flowers and small fruits on the tomatoes and cucumbers too!! we made sure to use all Heirlooms Seed - They tend to be Heartier <3 Happy Tending <3

Anonymous said...

Can you grow fruit (trees & bushes), & what kind at 7,000 ft elevation? Would a greehouse help? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I grow fruit trees at 6,500 ft. With a warm spring, they all produce produces fruit. Even peaches--if you use the Reliance typ. I think they may grow a little smaller.

The main thing where I live in Colorado is heavy clay content in the soil. The trees struggle more with water issues, it seems, than temps.

HisZarina2011 said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this blog. My husband and I will finally be retiring from the military within 4 years and since we will be stationed in the Springs shortly we are thinking of purchasing land and staying in Colorado for good. However, I haven't had much luck finding good news about gardening there or homesteading and I was beginning to lose hope.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to find this blog! We live at 8500 feet in South Park county, high desert but in a protected valley. We are planting our first vegetable garden this year. I have gardened all my life in PA but have been frustrated since moving to CO. Did a lot of research this winter. We are going to try a hoop house with raised beds. The suggestion of flat rocks to hold heat is much appreciated. Will check your blog often. Thank you one and all!

Megan Montague said...

Try checking out vegetable seed companies in the U.K., they often sell varieties that are meant for very short seasons & that are cold hardy. :-) The challenge is half the fun! Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I live at 8700ft in Conifer area, Hot Beds work well, last years celery is growing again in mid-march, some spinach, onions , and perenial herbs, chives and thyme, parsley was planted last year is growing now, hot beds can be closed easily on cold nights and covered when the sun is too much. extends growing season.

Chief said...

I’m surprised you didn’t include Painted Mountain Corn in your article. It produces reliably in marginal soils at 5,000+ feet within 80-90 day growing seasons and is tough enough to shrug off the typical Rocky Mountain summer storms.

My family and I have been growing Painted Mountain Corn seed for a few years now, always encouraging our customers to save their own seed and develop it for the their micro-climate and share with family and community. But I think whatever we grow this summer, we’re going to keep to feed the family.

We like Painted Mountain Corn for its nutrition and calorie content, but it sure is the most beautiful thing I have ever grown. Every year for harvest we try to get as many new people and kids involved as possible. Opening the shucks is like revealing a purse full of jewels. I never tire of the looks of amazement on the faces of both children and parents as they discover the joy of growing this crop.

I’m a 25 year old farmer, entrepreneur, physicist and writer born and raised among the snow-capped mountains of Montana. I grew up on an off-the-grid homestead with my brother, raised by my dad–a scientist, historian, entrepreneur, farmer, author, alternative energy expert and passive solar pioneer (he’s never one to brag, so I’ll do it for him). My brother and I went off on scholarships, first to the east coast then to the south for college, but we have since returned to our wild mountains to build our lives.

I know a lot of people only think of sweet corn when corn is mentioned–but sweet corn is a summer vegetable. You can’t sustain your family through the winter on summer veggies, no matter how vitamin-rich and tasty they are.

My family has been working towards total food independence for years and with my dad we have the cumulative experience of decades of trying to grow food in extreme climates. When you are forced to rely on what you grow for your food year round, the bottom line is calories. Farming your food takes a tremendous amount of energy and anything you can do to reduce energy input and increase calorie output MUST be top priority.

“Forget those romantic notions of a nineteenth century life illumined by the cozy glow of the family circle around the fireplace at night. Been there – done that. It’s OK for a time and a season but I don’t want to repeat it unnecessarily as long as I have a choice. You don’t have to spend all your time and energy scrambling in bare subsistence. In that state, you have no time or energy for anything else…” –New Ordnance “The Secret Weapon” (RockyMountainCornDOTcom)

For my family the bottom line is grain, legumes, potatoes and winter squash. Add in carrots and turnips and onions for some variety. Plants that work well for organic farmers and seed growers in Maine are not the best varieties for a high mountain micro-climate in the northern Rocky Mountains. It seems obvious, but we’ve learned the hard way. Buy seed grown in your region or you are courting disaster.

The tried and true garden for my family at 5,000 feet in Montana is (1) Painted Mountain Corn for our grain (Fukushima-free, Non-GMO, non-hybrid, open pollinated, high protein, micro-nutrient, soft starch – go to our website RockyMountainCornDOTcom for more info), (2) Progress #9, Early Frosty, and Dakota shell peas & Black Coco, Golden Rocky Bush Wax, and King of the Early dry beans for our legumes, (3) our own local cross between Squisito spaghetti squash and Eight Ball Zucchini that turns out to be a decent tasting winter squash that keeps well and produces incredibly fast and heavy in a short, harsh summer, and (4) Purple Viking potatoes that produce reliably in spite of late and early frosts and poor, gravely soil and constant high wind.

Augmenting this garden with deer, elk and trout, we are able to have a balanced diet with enough calories to sustain a high level of activity.

For folks who need a little more info on Painted Mountain Corn, what it is, how to grow it, etc. check out RockyMountainCornDOTcom "12 Tips for Planting" and the Crop Reports under "News"

Anonymous said...

I live in Cheyenne, WY. I have found that my grow light really helps in starting seeds in the house and then moving the plants into our raised vegetable garden. I do that with onions, pole beans, tomatoes and bell peppers. I also use "Walls of Water" around the tomato and bell peppers. It is amazing how just 4 weeks inside the Walls of Water and the plants grow so fast.

Anonymous said...

We hope to plant a large perennial garden at a new Vail Colorado condo.
I have a list of perennials ok to plant above 8500 feet.
I wonder if I can plant as late as August 22nd?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone had any success getting rid of gophers? I feel like I am playing Wack-a-Mole in the garden sometimes. Finally built raised beds with wire bottoms. But the gophers have moved to the flower bed and everywhere else. Like your pics of the kitty varmit wrangler - have one and he catches one once in a while. Found this site to better figure out how to grow tomatoes at 7300 ft in New Mexico. Thanks for the tips.

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi ~
Plant Marigolds, Daffodils, Alliums and Castor Beans.

The best way to rid yourself of moles is to plant flowers they don't like. Moles rarely use the same holes twice... that's why they're such a nuisance! And, that's also way any chemical treatments tossed down the hole won't sway them from messing up your garden.

MissJeeves said...

I am at 10,000 feet in Summit County and we are starting our first vegetable garden this year. We are planning a raised bed hot box with recycled windows. I was under the impression we had very limited growing options - mostly lettuces and greens, radishes, beets and herbs. Does anyone know anything about growing things from the cabbage family (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) or squashes (pumpkin, zucchini, hubbard?)

LyNel Gross said...

I have been growing vegetables for three years now in South Park, Colorado, at 9,758 feet. I don't have dirt, just rocks. My solution; build RAISED beds. One is 6' W x 24' L x 3 FEET HIGH. It's 2x4 construction. Corners are 4x4's & it's wrapped in corrugated metal. That's so the critters can't get in. The bottom has steel wire mesh wrapped up the sides so the critters can't dig in. A layer of small rocks & purchased dirt from a neighbor, amended with organic compost & old cow fertilizer. Flexable propane hose attached every 3' for high hoops. Garden cloth with tons of clamps. I grow lettuce, peas,chard,kale,carrots,beets, parsley,celantro,onions & radishes. I plant on Mom's day & when the temps. are high enough I roll up the sdes & ends. I water with a soaker hose early in the morning. Don't seem to have an insect problem & lots of bees.

LyNel Gross

Drea said...

We are currently leaving our home in the Denver Metro area to begin a desperate attempt to save our families organic farm in Yellow Jacket, Colorado. I’d love to speak to you about applying your needs to our land and vise-versa. Any insight would be greatly appreciated for your expertise outweighs my desire. Please feel free to contact me with any information you have available. I will checkback often. Thank you!

Tawni said...

Great info thanx! Moving west in a month or two

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Anonymous said...

I live at 9000 feet in Hartsel, CO and have been gardening successfully for 16 yrs. I grow carrots, asparagus, rhubarb, potatoes, beans, onions, garlic, shallots, zucchinni, spaghetti squash, cabbage, brussell sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, beets, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill chives and basil. I grow cherry tomatoes in pots that we bring into the house when it gets too cold in the late fall so we harvest all winter. The only plant I have problems with are peppers, the fruits never get more than an inch or 2 so I just gave up trying any more with them. I plant in the ground and also in raised beds and have good luck with both.

Darcey said...

So glad I found your blog, we are going to be moving to Lake County next year & the land we bought is at 9476 ft. I have grown veggies all my life in Ohio & have been researching how to adapt to high altitude growing your blog has been extremely helpful, thank you. Have you ever tried growing berry bushes- raspberries, blackberries, or bluberries? Just wondering if the bushes would survive & produce.

Kate/High Altitude Gardening said...

Hi, Darcey;

Thanks for the kind words! Yes, you can grow them --it really depends upon the soil. Blueberries, in particular, need acidic soil - our western soils are alkaline. I grow all 3 - not a huge harvest - by the time the birds, elk, and moose take their share :) -- not a lot left over. I have the best luck with strawberries. Happy gardening!