Letting The Growing Environment Educate You

We finally seem to be back into the “normal” summer on the high plains.  The weather is sunny and breezy.  Even if it isn’t hot, the sun at a mile above sea level will suck the moisture out of you without you even knowing about it.  I had some issues with dehydration the past couple of days.  It is very strange to be sitting in a chair, feeling a little delirious and be able to feel your heart skipping beats.  We have begun to make sure we check our exposure time outside and ensure we have enough liquids.  While I can’t stand Gatorade, having some bananas and orange juice helps to replace potassium.  Seems to have worked. Feeling fine now.  When your heart stops beating, even for only a beat or so….. probably not a good thing.

Zina and I went out this morning and pulled out the peppers and replaced them with the ones I raised from pups.  The spindly things we put in because of the hailstorm couldn’t stand up to the deluges they got hit with afterward.  The Heirloom Purple Beauties, Emerald Greens, Poblanos, Serranos, and Anaheims all started to show re-leafing.  Their stalks were much sturdier than the store bought  plants so in they went.  We’ll see if they recover.

Whenever you move into someplace new and want to plant, you have to keep your ears and eyes to the earth.  It will teach you the things you need to know about your surroundings, in sometimes not so subtle ways, and what can and cannot be accomplished.  I think, if I have to search for a reason to have to endured all of this violent weather, it was to learn a thing or two about gardening on the high plains.

The garden in the city gets winds as well, but it is surrounded by a fence, other houses, and the beds all have hoop huts built over them.  It is very well protected.  It is also made up of 50 yards of topsoil I wagoned in so I didn’t have to amend the “cement” masquerading as soil.  Out here at the farm however, the garden is an order of magnitude larger, it now has some fences but is still exposed to direct east and west winds, the soil is sand and clay which needs nursing, and the weather will pummel the plants and one’s spirits with reckless abandon.

What we have concluded is thus:  Plants that can be directly seeded in (Beans, corn, potatoes, onions, squash, strawberries, asparagus, etc) all seem to be pretty well suited for the environment.  Even the poor Black Beans that took a direct hit from the hail storm just as they were poking their heads above ground, seem to have recovered.  So as long as we keep amending the soil, and put in some timbers to help stem the erosion, that part of the garden is pretty well underway.  The potatoes are really growing well.  The dent corn for corn meal is coming up nicely as are the Kidney beans.  The transplanted onions got hit with the hail shotgun too but are now perked up and growing.  The beets have really come up and the carrots are starting to show their hair like sprouts.

It is the big leafed plants that grow fruit that seem to be a fools errand.  The tomatoes look like starving children from concentration camps.  The peppers were stripped bare and the eggplants look like they got hit with a 12 gauge.  Things like cucumbers and Zucchini are at the other place and it looks like that was a good idea.  So if you live in a place like ours with high winds, damaging storms, clay/sand soil, and want to grow more delicate plants what does one do?  1. Either give up and not grow (not in my genetic make up) or 2.  High Tunnels!  The location of the beds for the plants just named are on a flat, level section of the garden.  In order to protect the plants, one needs to keep the elements off of them.  Greenhouses are stupid expensive but high tunnels can do the same thing at a much lower cost.  As this is our retirement place and we want to be able to garden into our geriatric years, making the investment seems to be in order.  They look like this:




They can and need to be anchored into the ground to keep them solid against the wind.  They have galvanized steel framing, the doors roll up so I can get the tractor in and the sides will roll up to provide ventilation.  In the winter the plastic is taken off and stored.  In the event that there is hail damage, the greenhouse plastic can be patched – and when necessary-  replaced at a reasonable cost.

The high tunnels would fit over the existing beds and the plants grown just like one would in the garden but will have an umbrella over them.  The existing drip irrigation would be used as well.  Hoop high tunnels also can extend the growing season by a month on either end.  This will eliminate the danger we exposed the plants to by taking them outside to harden off.  They would simply go from the potting room in the basement out into the high tunnels and hopefully produce the kinds of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplants we have become accustomed to.

We will be looking into tunnels through FarmTek and Grower’s Supply.  I have seen some in the area and want to discuss the benefits and pitfalls.  My biggest concern at this point, although I’m sure there are more things to concern myself with, is making sure it doesn’t fly to Kansas when hit with its first good Colorado wind.  I am sure we  aren’t the first folks to do this, so I am all ears; this seems to be the most logical next step.  So live and learn.  The stuff close to the ground does well.  It is all coming up with no real issues save the erosion from the rains.  The fruiting plants….. they need protection.  So protection they will receive.  After all, its just a big version of this: