Di­ary of a Moun­tain Gar­dener

Catron Courier - - News - By Veronika Nel­son

When I first moved to the moun­tains of Datil, I ap­plied what I knew of gar­den­ing from what I did while spend­ing 20 years in Ok­la­homa and another 20 plus in Ohio. I knew about hot weather and I knew about cold. Life teaches us much, even when we do not ask for its lessons. How­ever, I never lived on a moun­tain and it had its own lessons to teach.

My first les­son learned was the soil. Be­fore you do any­thing to the soil, you must dig it up and re­move the rock. That is hard work. Then, you must nur­ture the soil with ma­nure (cow or horse), sand, and peat moss. It may take years be­fore you have soil wor­thy of your plants. That was my first les­son—the soil takes years to be­come rich in nu­tri­ents.

My sec­ond les­son was the lo­cal in­hab­i­tants. Ground squir­rels, chip­munks, mice, and other ver­min as well as the deer, elk, and rab­bits. They love the new deli de­lights. I do not mind shar­ing. I do mind it when those cute chip­munks and squir­rels only eat half a tomato and go on to the next. My sec­ond les­son— put up a fence to limit their ac­cess to your veg­gies. We put up a three-foot high bar­rier of some­thing smooth so they can­not climb in.

From these two lessons, I put in raised gar­den beds and fenced them in. My hus­band built four 8x4 foot ply­wood boxes. Each is wa­ter proofed on the in­side and out­side. They do not have bot­toms. Rather, we placed wire screen in the bot­tom so noth­ing can dig up into the boxes. Then we got in the truck and gath­ered rocks from the side of the road. We put them into those big white and black plas­tic five-gal­lon buck­ets to make it eas­ier on us to fill and later to un­load. Once home, we put the rocks into the bot­tom of each of the raised beds about six inches deep. Af­ter that, we put down a length of gar­den fab­ric fol­lowed by six inches of sand. Another layer of gar­den fab­ric and we topped it off with a mix of pot­ting and gar­den soil.

Next, we put up the fence. My hus­band dug holes for the fence posts and then set them in con­crete. We used all metal posts. Af­ter a few days, it was time to put up the six­foot tall cat­tle fence. A few friends helped string it. We have a metal fence door with a hinge that goes up and down to open and close it. Since we had left­over green­house film, we wired it to the fence to keep the ground squir­rels and chip­munks from climb­ing in and help­ing them­selves to our fu­ture crops. We were ready to plant!

I also learned not to rush plant­ing just be­cause the weather is warm and sunny. It can turn on you in a heart­beat. One of the things my hus­band and I did last fall was to build cold frames for each of the raised beds. I found a video on YouTube that was very help­ful at: youtube.com/ watch?v=YMAc­suPTC4. You can get the ma­te­ri­als at any hard­ware store. Rather than take the frames down and tear them apart, Robert se­cured each joint with screws. To pre­vent sun rot, he painted all the pvc black. We tried two dif­fer­ent cov­er­ings—one ex­pen­sive and the other not. The Les­son: Cheap is the way to go. The thicker mil­lime­ter plas­tic tore in strong winds while the lighter-weight plas­tic did not. Of course, the cold frames have to be at­tached on one of the long sides to the wood of the raised beds to pre­vent the winds from car­ry­ing them off. He used Cclamps to an­chor them.

At the end of March and first part of April, I planted cold crops such as let­tuce and spinach. I also planted onions. Be sure you wa­ter them a few times a week. I use a sprin­kling can to just wet the top layer of soil. You don’t want the seeds to rot from too much wet dirt.

The first week of May, we put our tomato plants out­doors into the re­main­ing raised beds. I learned they should be planted on the south side of the beds. By do­ing so, their shad­ows will not de­prive other plants of sun. That is a good les­son—put taller plants to the nouth side of your beds.

Once we put the plants in, we set the raised bed cov­ers over the plants to keep them warm un­til all threat of frost was gone. Be pa­tient. I wasn’t last year and lost ev­ery­thing I started in the green­house and had to re­plant. Another les­son learned. We do have a short grow­ing sea­son, but it be­comes even shorter if you have to restart your plants.

If you re­ally want to get a jump on out­door gar­den­ing, build some cold frames. This will take care of your need to get things grow­ing. The frames don’t have to cost a for­tune to build, just build smart. It is a fun pas­time and I en­cour­age all of you to try it.

There are more lessons I’ve learned. I hope to share them with you in other ar­ti­cles. I am still learn­ing and prob­a­bly al­ways will. My point in do­ing this is to share my gar­den­ing wis­dom with new­bies as well as sea­soned moun­tain gar­den­ers. Maybe my lessons learned will save you from hav­ing to learn them too.

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