Seminars next week address extending the growing season and brewing batch beer |

Seminars next week address extending the growing season and brewing batch beer

Speaker Michael Thompson knows how to stretch the growing season

Speaker Michael Thompson knows how to stretch the growing season, whether it's in Glenwood Springs at 5,763 feet in elevation or at Elkstone Farm in Strawberry Park, pictured above at nearly 7,000 feet.
John F. Russell

— Permaculture expert Michael Thompson will tell a Steamboat audience next week at Elkstone Farm in Strawberry Park how he uses kitchen scraps and $40 worth of horse manure every year to help him produce enough salad greens from a small garden plot in Glenwood Springs to serve a dinner party every night of the week from spring through autumn.

"By composting and building the soil that way, I've enriched my 150-square-foot garden to the point that I can get enough salad to feed six people a night from the end of May until Thanksgiving," Thompson said.

Not that he entertains that often. But Thompson is determined to stretch the growing season, whether it's in Glenwood at 5,763 feet in elevation, Strawberry Park at nearly 7,000 feet or the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute at 7,200 feet.

"I want to give people a little better understanding of how you can use nature like an orchestra and see what diversity of crops you can get and how healthy you can make them," he said.

Thompson is scheduled to give two very different talks in Routt County next week, showing one audience Monday at the Hayden Granary how to brew its first batch of beer and giving another group (already filled up) a garden tour at Elkstone. There, the emphasis will be on how to armor a diverse collection of food crops against the harsh local climate using everything from row covers and greenhouses to a climate battery that will store solar heat.

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Both presentations by Thompson are hosted by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

Permaculture is a approach to sustainable agriculture that involves grouping plants that fit together in much the same way that different plants fit together in a natural ecosystem.

The pervasive industrial model of growing food in the United States is in a monoculture where sometimes vast fields are devoted to a single crop, Thompson said.

"In a permaculture, instead of fighting against nature and trying to create the next pesticide or herbicide, you accept nature and plant your food in nature's patterns," he said. "You look for her patterns and raise plants and animals accordingly."

Thompson calls his colleague Jerome Osentowski, who founded the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Carbondale three decades ago, a shining example.

"He's got a wonderful little acre up there full of food in the most unlikely pinon/juniper forest," he said.

Osentowski and Thompson have a business together, Ecosystems Design, and collaborated with Elkstone Farm owners Terri Huffington and Ralph Dittman on the design of their gardens and greenhouses.

The other side of Thompson's personality is the fun-loving nature of a dedicated home brewer. He is the founder of the Roaring Fork High Altitude Mashers Homebrewing Club.

Participants in the Hayden presentation will get to watch Thompson brew a batch of ale through the simplified malt extract brewing process. Openings for the presentation were still available Wednesday for $10.

Thompson said the availability of a home-brewing club in small cities liked Glenwood and Steamboat are a great advantage for neophytes.

"I'm interested in seeing if your community has a home-brewing club," he said. "Our club started as a party in my house and grew to be too large. Out of our home-brewers club, three members have left to start brew pubs in Gypsum, Carbondale and Rifle."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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