Extend your growing season

Six ways to fool Mother Nature

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— It might not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but in the Steamboat Springs area, she gives gardeners just 59 frost-free days to grow our green plants.

Unfortunately, many plants, particularly vegetables, take more than 59 days to mature.

So what can a frustrated gardener do? Extend the growing season using these techniques tested by researchers at Colorado State University. You can add up to eight weeks to the growing season here in high mountain country.

Start seeds indoors. Probably the most effective and least expensive way to give late-maturing plants the best chance to reach harvest time is to start seeds indoors. Then transplant seedlings to a southern exposure protected from our strong winds. C.J. Mucklow, our local cooperative extension agent, has a friend in Strawberry Park who successfully grows tomatoes each year this way.

Use covers. Sun warms the soil during the day. By covering your plants, you trap night heat, which allows warmth from the soil to rise into the plants. Use most anything: plastic jugs, bushel baskets, newspapers, straw, pine boughs or commercial plant covers, available from most gardening supply retailers.

Water walls. When water freezes, it releases heat. Really. So, by surrounding your fragile plants with plastic jugs of water or a product such as the "Wall O' Water," you trick Jack Frost and actually provide warmth to your plants.

Sprinklers. If you know it might frost, water your plants that day. In fact, some gardeners leave sprinklers on all night to cover plants with water. As the water freezes, it releases heat, which protects the plants even though they're coated with ice.

Heaters. Garden heaters and water heat sinks are products available to keep plants warm when the temperature drops. Some gardeners use wind machines combined with heaters to keep warm air flowing around plants on cold nights.

Solar cold frame. A plywood structure covered with glazed plastic is another way to keep plants warm when temperatures drop. Heat from the sun warms the frame and keeps the plants inside warm all night. Be sure to raise the cover occasionally on sunny days to reduce the temperature inside and provide ventilation.

Many gardeners like mobile cold frames that can be moved around the garden to protect different groups of plants. Cold frames can be easily constructed from simple materials around the house or purchased from garden supply retailers.

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