Start Your Own Vegetable Garden
Tips for Growing Vegetables in Colorado
Growing our own food and living off the land is something that many of us no longer have the desire to do, yet it’s a great way to get back to nature and enjoy a relaxing hobby. Working in my vegetable garden is one of my favorite pastimes. While there is a plethora of advice available to help new gardeners understand how to start a vegetable garden, the process may seem like a lot of effort when you’re not guaranteed a healthy crop. However, with a solid understanding of the Colorado climate and its weather patterns, you’ll be on your way to finding your green thumb.
Understanding Your Zone’s Growing Season
Colorado is known for its mountains and valleys, and since the altitude and climate can vary from area to area, it is crucial to understand what crops will do well in your area. Planting the right crops at the right time of the year is important to get the most out of your garden. The best way to know the time to start planting is to know when to expect your first and last frost of the season. To know which zone you live in, find your city on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The Pikes Peak area is considered zone five.
Colorado Climate and Weather
With Colorado having such high altitudes, it’s important to understand how this can affect your growing season. When you garden at higher altitudes, the humidity is much lower, and the sunlight is much more profound. For every 1,000 feet above sea level where you live, you see an average temperature drop of 3.5 degrees; the exception is valleys, where the temperature can drop even more, especially at night. High altitudes also mean that weather changes are almost instant. It’s not uncommon to go from very wet to very dry or to see extreme hailstorms at the end of summer. These hailstorms are known for destroying vegetables that are close to being ready to harvest, so investing in row covers, tunnels, windbreaks, and shade cloths would be smart.
Planning Your Crops
According to UFSeeds.com, there are typically 120 days between the first and last frost each season, but you’re always encouraged to watch your local weather to exactly know what’s happening in your area. When deciding which crops to plant for your vegetable garden, look for specific seeds that are labeled as suitable for your zone. Here is a list of all the vegetables that are suitable for zone five and the right time to start planting each seed.
- March: Plant broccoli seeds indoors
- April: Plant beets, kale, peas, and spinach outdoors; move broccoli seeds outdoors
- May: Plant beans and onions indoors; carrots can be planted outdoors
- June: Plant Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, cucumber, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and squash outdoors
- July: Plant beans outdoors
- August: Beets, broccoli, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach are ready to be planted outdoors for a second season
Prepping the Soil
Once you’ve selected the seeds you want to plant, it’s time to prep the garden. As you’re preparing your space, keep in mind the wildlife in your area and select a spot that is less likely to have a deer or any other animal turn your hard work into a meal. If this is your first season gardening, you’ll want to start smaller to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed.
The first step in preparing your garden is to decide if you want to plant directly into the ground or do a raised garden. If you choose to do a raised garden, your crops will likely need extra water.
To prepare the soil, start by tilling the land and removing all vegetation. After the area has been tilled and the weeds removed, add compost or organic matter. The compost will add nutrients back into the soil. A good rule of thumb to follow is one inch of compost for every four inches of soil. Since the soil in Colorado can be high in alkaline and look like clay, you may have to add more organic matter to counter. The soil is ready when the pH is around 7.
Whether you live in the zone five growing area or find yourself in one of the other nine zones throughout Colorado, when you plan ahead, having a vegetable garden of your own is a great way to make use of your land.