Today I want to assist many of you who are wondering how to extend your growing season for a few more weeks. For some it may be too late, as in Eagle Mountain, where it was 27 degrees one night this month, but most of the lower elevations are still frost-free as I’m writing this column.
How can you deal with the special challenges of living in these mountain valleys? Several difficult weather conditions make successful vegetable gardening an “iffy” proposition, unless you learn how to protect your plants against them. Let’s discuss what they are, and how you can successfully mitigate their negative effects.
First off, we have late spring frosts, which keep us from getting started in our gardens – often until mid or late May. Second, many of us have strong winds throughout the growing season that buffet our plants and dry everything out. Third, living in a desert we always face the scarcity and cost of water. And finally, we often have early crop-killing frosts, followed by several weeks of mild weather that could support continued growth and harvesting.
So how do you handle the shorter growing season with unseasonable frosts, the constant drying winds, and the lack of water? Let’s deal with the wind first, since the solution to that also helps reduce the other problems. To protect your garden’s tender plants, build solid fences or plant trees and shrubs between your garden and the prevailing winds – but put them far enough away that you do not shade your garden! Always remember that growing vegetables need direct sunshine all day long. This means that you also want to place your shade trees so as to leave the garden in full sun.
Some of you grow in small containers, or raised boxes. When these are subjected to hot winds they are difficult to keep cool and moist. Consider either larger Grow-Boxes – we recommend 4′ wide and up to 30′ in length – or growing in the regular soil. Many will remember that Thanksgiving Point’s fabulous vegetable gardens were grown in some of the worst clay soil we’ve seen anywhere, and Dr. Mittleider promises “a great garden in any soil, in almost any climate.”
Next is watering. You will save ½ or more on your water usage by following these procedures. And it’s amazing how much heat and wind plants can handle if they are properly fed and watered. First, make certain your Grow-Boxes or raised Soil-Beds are accurately leveled, and that Soil-Beds have a 4″ ridge around them. Then apply 1″ of water right at the soil surface (not by sprinkling!) before your soil becomes the least bit dry – even every day in the heat of summer if needed. This will place the precious water right at the plant roots, and waste none. Finally, automating your watering using ¾” PVC pipes, with 3 tiny #57 holes every 4″, will make watering fast, easy, and efficient.
Extending your growing season is accomplished in two ways. Next February and March I’ll show you the first, which is how to grow healthy seedlings in a protected environment and transplant them into the garden after the danger of frost is past. The second thing you can do, even right now if frost hasn’t already killed your garden, is to make “Mini-Greenhouses” for covering your plants. By themselves they are good, but with a small heat source they can extend your growing season in both Spring and Fall by 4-6 weeks. PVC pipe, bent as shown in the picture to fit your bed or box, and covered with 4 or 6 mil greenhouse plastic, provides some protection against frost at night, and will warm the plants on cold days. Cover the edges with dirt all around when frost threatens, and open up when it gets warm. More details are at www.foodforeveryone.org in the Gardening Techniques and FAQ sections.