In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
Vigorous, healthy transplants will grow into productive vegetable plants.
Growing Veggies at Home
Do you know what it's like to harvest fresh-ripened fruits and vegetables? Their delicious flavors can't be matched by storebought produce. Growing your own lets you maintain this quality control. It's nice to know whether or not chemicals, pesticides, or other additives have been used to grow your vegetables. Homegrown fruits and vegetables can be allowed to ripen on the vine for peak flavor. Nutritional value is also maximized since you control the time of harvest and preparation. You can start the water boiling just before you walk out to the garden to harvest a few ears of 'Peaches and Cream' hybrid sweet corn.
Choosing the Best Location
Successful fruit and vegetable gardens are a result of planning and selecting varieties that will grow in our region. Choose your garden location carefully. Though full sun is ideal (6 to 8 hours of direct and uninterrupted light), gardens in our region have an advantage because of the high light intensity at higher elevations. Even dappled shade allows you to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits.
When planning your garden, consider wind patterns. Grow living windbreaks such as asparagus to reduce wind damage to weaker plants like beans, tomatoes, peppers, and other non-staked plants. Even sweet corn, popcorn, or ornamental corn can be planted to take the brunt of the wind and protect the interior of your garden. You may even want to construct a fence, if your budget allows.
Basic Soil Prep
Soil conditioning and preparation of the garden spot is as important as its location. This is where the plants will settle down with their roots anchored in the soil. Don't skimp on this aspect of gardening. If you are removing sod for a garden, be sure to get as much of the roots and spreading rhizomes as possible. Otherwise, you'll be troubled with invaders.
To prevent damaging the soil structure, don't work the soil if it is too wet. To determine if the soil is dry enough to work, squeeze a handful of soil into a tight ball and break it apart with your fingers. If the ball crumbles easily, it's ready to spade or rototill. If the soil clings together like modeling clay and is sticky, it is still too wet to work.
You can add copious amounts of organic matter in the spring if you select a quality, weed-free material or use your own homemade compost. Don't use fresh manure in spring as this can add weed seeds and soluble salts. Work the organic material uniformly and as deeply as possible. This will improve drainage and the porosity of the soil. Roots grow best with a balance of air and moisture. Vegetables and fruits don't grow well with soggy feet.
The best time to plant depends on what you're growing and your climate. Cold-hardy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and onions can usually be planted four to six weeks before frost-free dates. Beans, sweet corn, squash, and tomatoes can be planted one week after your average last frost date. Cucumbers, eggplant, melons, and peppers should be planted one or more weeks after the last average frost date.
Voracious birds, rabbits, and squirrels can pose a threat to tender young plants. Though scarecrows may work for a while, these pests will soon catch on and realize that the fake figure won't hurt them. Rabbit or chicken fencing around your garden will help ward off rabbits, though it should be buried a few inches into the soil to thwart the varmints from digging a pathway underneath the fencing.
Use floating row covers to drape over the young seedlings or transplants for additional protection. These lightweight fabrics allow light and water to reach the plants but provide protection from the wind, small insect pests, and frost. Just be sure to secure the fabric edges with rocks, boards, or bricks to keep the cover from blowing away in high winds.
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