Routt County’s newest Master Gardener likes a challenge | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County’s newest Master Gardener likes a challenge

Through the course of 24 years, Hayden resident Richard "Festus" Hagins has learned to work with Routt County’s tricky climate to create a thriving garden.





Through the course of 24 years, Hayden resident Richard “Festus” Hagins has learned to work with Routt County's tricky climate to create a thriving garden.

Matt Stensland

— Do not tell Richard “Festus” Hagins something is impossible, because he will prove you wrong.

After buying his house in Hayden 24 years ago and building a garden, he wanted to grow corn, but everyone told him it was not possible with the 79-day growing season in Hayden.

"I took it as a challenge," Hagins said.

It took 16 years, but Hagins finally was able to grow a crop of Northern Extra Sweet Corn that took top honors at the Routt County Fair.

He planted seeds four weeks ago in his greenhouse and already has some corn in the ground. His crop consistently produces ears of corn 9 inches long.

Hagins wanted to share his gardening knowledge with others and was recently certified as a Master Gardener by the Routt County Colorado State University Extension Office.

"I did it, because I wanted to help people garden," Hagins said. "It kind of gives you a little more credibility."

Hagins is one of about 45 Master Gardeners, but he is the only one within Hayden town limits.

Routt County Extension Agent Todd Hagenbach said Hagins was a perfect addition to the Master Gardener Program, because, not only does he have a green thumb, he is also good with people.

"He was just an ideal person," Hagenbach said.

The mission of the volunteer Master Gardener Program is to extend knowledge-based education throughout Colorado communities to foster successful gardeners.

Becoming one involves a rigorous application process, with letters of reference and a background check.

The gardeners attend 11 all-day trainings, then perform 50 hours of volunteer work before becoming a certified Master Gardener.

At Hagins' home, on Hospital Hill, he is already harvesting rhubarb and asparagus.

He said to avoid the potentially devastating impacts from a frost, it is best to wait until about June 10 to plant outdoors.

His main garden is already tilled and mixed with a crop of spring rye grass that adds nitrogen to the soil.

Hagins makes his own compost in an area constructed with recycled cinder blocks and old tires.

His greenhouse is also built with mostly recycled materials, including old windows from a house in the Tree Haus neighborhood near Steamboat Springs.

Another garden is dedicated to tomatoes and peppers.

"I always said, there is nothing better than a ripe tomato from a garden," Hagins said.

To protect his crops from deer, Hagins uses sprinklers with motion detectors to frighten the animals away. His dog Riddick also sometimes helps.

Being a Master Gardener does not mean you are guaranteed to have a stellar harvest of fruits and vegetables every year, especially in Northwest Colorado's tricky climate.

"Last year, it was my cucumbers," Hagins said. "The year before, I had 80 cucumbers. It could have been the seeds. It could have been a lot of things."

Hagins also has had trouble with heirloom tomatoes.

"I was growing plants, not tomatoes," Hagins said.

Hagins and his wife work Sarah in the garden together and enjoy the food year-round by freezing and canning it.

Last year, they made a tomato butter.

"We don't sell any of it," Hagins said. "The idea is to grow your own and eat your own."

Hagins and other Master Gardeners will be sharing their knowledge from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Bud Werner Memorial Library in a session titled Gardening 101/201.

Demonstrations will include an introduction to gardening in Routt County, common pests and weeds, seed selection, transplanting, soil information, container gardens, season extension and water-wise gardening.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland