The Mile-High Club: Short-season gardening in Denver

For whatever reason, Denver maintains a reputation as an agriculture-centered cowtown set in the heights of the Rockies. The reality is that we're set just out of the mountains on the plains along the front range. It's quite a drive to ski, and any agriculture other than the oft-forgotten stockyards is way out of town. That said, we are at a mile elevation - the statehouse steps mark the 5280' point, meaning very dry air and for goodness sake, don't forget your sunscreen.

Our house is actually in the northwestern part of town so we're pretty close along the foothills, but Denver has any number of micro-climates which can be experiencing vastly different weather at any given moment.
What we all share is a short growing season: around four months long, with our last frost date around May 15, and the first frost of the winter expected mid-September. We've usually got good snow coming around October 1. Through the summer the thin, dry air brings temperatures regularly breaking the 100 degree mark and cooling off significantly at night; this makes for great flavor in tomatoes and, if you can manage it with the very short season, melons.

My husband and I both grew up gardening and have truly enjoyed sharing it with our little ones, now five, two and a half, and six months old. Our oldest daughter really became interested a few months ago when she planted a few pea seeds in a bare patch in the lawn. It quickly became her garden and was carefully mowed around. She ate all the peas straight off the plant and we spent hours watching the bugs and digging for worms in her tiny plot. Now the five of us share a good-sized vegetable plot - maybe 15' by 8', with an additional 15' by 2' patch along the brick wall of our garage where we grow melons on a trellis to take advantage of the heat from the wall to try and extend the season a bit. We also grow perennials and plant bulbs, but that's become a secondary interest since the children get so much enjoyment out of the vegetables.

This year I was ambitious and had most of our cool-weather vegetable seeds in the ground by late-February. I've been very pleased with how it's turned out, and maybe a bit surprised. So far we have sugar snap and snow peas, mesclun, 'heatwave' lettuce blend, beets (a family favorite), gai-lan/broccolini, rhubarb, and a chartreuse and purple flower mix.

We'll be adding haricots verts (filet beans, or french green beans), along with cantaloupe, pumpkins, mini yellow bell peppers, and alpine strawberries we've started inside. This is my first time starting seeds indoors and I didn't plan very well in that the pumpkins sprouted in about four days, the cantaloupe and peppers in five or six. But the alpine strawberries germinate in (get this) thirty days. I'm not sure how I'm going to work this out, but for now I've taken the cover off of my mini-greenhouse and am using cling film to keep the strawberries' cells moist. Oh, and fingers crossed!


Anonymous said...

I was SHOCKED to learn recently that the state of Colorado actually makes illegal the use of a rain barrel!!!!