Gardening on the edge of the desert is a task to not be entered into lightly. Being a mile in elevation, the sun is certainly something to contend with. What I have found is that most books on gardening are written for low elevation, relatively high humidity, “regular” rainfall, and a somewhat consistent cloud cover. NONE of that applies out here. We have seriously intense sun, very high temperatures, most often we are on the edge of, or (like now) in a deep drought. Constant hot wind desiccates everything, the clouds are mostly non-existent and if we do get rain, it is violent, windy, full of hail, and can level anything you plant. I should write a book on how to eek out a garden on the High Eastern Plains. We live on the geographic edge of where the dust bowl took place and have a profound respect for those who came before us. Only two percent of the arable land in the U.S. is used to actually grow vegetables at scale. I can assure you, out here, ain’t any of it.
As you have seen previously, we have covered our raised beds with hail guards and shade cloth. However, the harsh weather wreaks havoc on greens no matter what you do. Most salad plants like lettuce and spinach will do ok in the early spring, but as soon as they realize that they are living on Mars, they bolt up, go to seed and thus endeth the salad crop. We did have a pretty good crop this spring, but in the last couple of weeks we have torn out the bitter stuff and fed it to the chickens, pigs and the worms in the worm bin. Now that our Cauliflower has headed (it did awesome this year), I will be starting another lettuce patch to go into the fall. But! We strive to grow virtually all of our own food! What does one do for the rest of the time? … after all, those crops, if bought in the grocery store are covered in antibiotic laden manure sprayed on them from factory farms! ICKY! For those of you who don’t follow such things, Spinach CANNOT get eColi. It comes from the bacteria of animal gut. The reason Spinach gets recalled for eColi, is from having sh.. sprayed on it as fertilizer so they can get rid of the manure from confined feeding operations. So we want to grow our own salad year round.
The answer we are currently using is a rolling greenhouse table. I can grow 60 heads of lettuce on this contraption. When the weather is too hot and or too violent, I have it under my seedling lamps (Like you can see below). When the weather is nice outside, I roll it outside and let it use the real world. This way nothing gets destroyed or over heated or blown all over the back yard. Previously, I was using hydroponics tables to grow the lettuce, but I have found that to be much messier and not nearly as consistent as good ol’ dirt. In fact, we may start growing some crops in the basement throughout the year, because, ya, that’s how we roll. So going into the fall we will have some lettuce and spinach growing in the greenhouse. The first frost will take out the lettuce unless I catch it with row covers, but the spinach always over winters. The rolling table will take over with the lettuce and we should have virtually all we need. We froze 2 bushels of Spinach and Kale this past spring and use it a lot in spinach, mushroom and Swiss omelettes for breakfast.
They say out here in Colorado that if you can ski back in the northeast – where ice is really ice, not hard pack – you can ski in Colorado. I don’t ski anymore, but when I did, I would say that that is a truism…. except of course the dizziness you will feel from the wind you will be sucking from the much higher altitude. Likewise, I would say that if you can garden here on the plains, not only can you garden blindfolded anywhere else, you should get the Olympic Garden Gold as a result. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome. After all, it appears, life may depend on it sooner than later.