For more information about which vegetables grow best here in the Yampa Valley, stop by the Master Gardener booth at the downtown Farmers' Market on Saturday. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your plant questions.
Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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Even though our growing season is pretty short here in the Yampa Valley, there are many vegetables that can be grown from seed. This includes most root vegetables, many leafy vegetables, some herbs and a few others.
The key to success in growing vegetables here is to select a planting spot that will get lots of sunshine and is protected from the wind. This helps keep the soil warm and moist since wind will dry out your soil quickly.
Also, because much of the soil around here has high clay content and low amounts of nutrients, you will want to amend it with compost or aged manure. This helps keep the soil loose so that roots of your vegetables can move easily through it.
Amendments also help the soil hold moisture and add nutrients as the amendments decompose further.
Cool season vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, beets, radishes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas and carrots do best at our altitude since they can handle our cool nights better than warm season vegetables like many varieties of squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans and melons.
When choosing which vegetable seeds to purchase, some things to look for are the days to maturity number on the packet as well as terms such as "cold tolerant," "hardy," "vigorous," and "fast growing." Personally, I try to find seeds with maturity dates of 60 to 70 days or less.
Since our last average frost date is around June 10 and our first average frost date is mid-August, it's best to get seeds in as soon as the soil warms up and can be worked so that the plants mature and produce edible food for you before the first frost.
You can extend the garden season somewhat with plant covers, walls-of-water, cold frames and other forms of protection that hold cold temperatures at bay. This is especially important for those longer growing vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and beans.
Many of our favorite herbs come from the Mediterranean area and cannot handle our cool evenings. One solution to growing them here is to surround them with water-filled plastic bottles or commercial products that you fill with water.
The chemistry of cold temperatures and water cooling down after taking in the day's heat causes the area inside the wall you've created to stay warm through the night, protecting your tender plants. Some of the hardiest herbs that grow well here include French tarragon, horseradish, most mint varieties and chives.
Most cold-tolerant vegetable seeds such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots and beets can be planted outdoors two to four weeks before our last frost date.
Other vegetables with longer days to maturity such as squash, leeks, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be started indoors and then brought outside to the garden when the weather warms up.
Really determined gardeners can try tomatoes here, but be aware that they will take a bit of work. You'll likely need to start them indoors, and then keep an eye on the nightly temperatures so that you can bring them inside (if planted in a movable pot) or protected from the evening cold with a cover of some sort.
Look for the fastest growing varieties and those that can handle the coolest temperatures.
For more information about growing vegetables in the Yampa Valley, visit the Master Gardener booth at the Farmers Market any Saturday or log onto the CSU website for fact sheets at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/pubs.html#garden.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener with the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email CSUMGProgram@co.routt.co.us with questions.