Have you failed at growing vegetables in high mountain terrain? Call me! We're destined to be great friends! All kidding aside I was prompted to write this post after I overheard someone at the local nursery say... no, you can't grow veggies this high up in the mountains. I've tried, failed, and also had some good success. So, if I can do it, you can, too.
Here are a few things I've learned along the way:
Mountain growing seasons are very short so we gardeners need to get creative.
√ The veggies we need to grow are rarely, if ever, featured in nurseries. So, it's easy to get the impression that vegetable gardening is not possible in the mountains.
When I first started gardening, I began by searching online for Russian hybrid tomatoes. Why Russia? Well, if they can grow tomatoes in Siberia I imagine we can grow tomatoes anywhere ~ wouldn't you think? :)
I've discovered that most every vegetable variety has a quick-growing cousin that reaches harvest in short order and tastes terrific. The key is to start with veggies that can handle our short growing seasons.
Tips & Tricks:
Time your garden differently.
* The heartache of a Memorial Day frost is pretty much guaranteed at altitudes of 6,000 feet or higher. Nurseries advise April/May planting for vegetables and that's why we feel left out.
* Plant veggies in the soil on June 15th, or raised beds on June 1st - cover on an exceptionally cold night. The very best time to plant your veggies is the day after I do. (I'm pretty convinced that Mother Nature is lurking behind me, no matter what day I decide to plant, scheduling a late season freeze in my honor.)
Raised Beds & Containers can improve your odds.
Soil in raised beds warms faster and stays warmer during our cool nights. This is particularly important for tomatoes as they need to stay above 50 degrees in order to produce great fruit. With raised beds you can also easily amend the soil. Veggies need plenty of soil nutrients in order to produce a good harvest. Mountain soils are generally low on nutrients and - quite often - the dirt in our Park City yards is poor quality top soil trucked in after construction.
Quick-Growing Heirloom Veggies that do well in mountain gardens:
- Bountiful Bush Bean - this easy-growing small vine bean reaches maturity in about 50 days. (Heirloom)
- Bull Nose Sweet Bell Pepper - a crisp, crunchy bell pepper bursting with delicious, earthy flavor. Matures in about 60 days. (Heirloom)
- Red Cored Chantenay Carrots - a sweet, tender variety, ready to harvest in 70 short days. (Heirloom)
- Four Seasons Head Lettuce - as beautiful as it is delicious, with colorful, reddish brown leaves. Matures in 45-55 days. (Heirloom)
- Brandywine Tomato - this yummy Amish heirloom has a neat habit of producing tomatoes that mature at different times, on the same vine, throughout the season. (80 days, Heirloom)
- Cocozelle Bush Zucchini - has a fresh, nutty flavor that is particularly delicious when roasted on the grill. Matures in 55 days. (Heirloom)
Boring but Helpful:
- When shopping for seeds, look for vegetables that mature in 70 - 80 days. (You might be surprised how many options you see!)
- Check the 'days to maturity' on the seed packet or planting guide. Harvest days are measured from transplant time. Allow an extra 10-15 days, if planting outdoors, by seed.
- Heirlooms are available in most vegetable varieties, not just tomatoes. These goodies are easier to grow and infinitely more flavorful than grocery store 'fresh' produce.