by Susan Simons
Planting early season crops is always a gamble in areas where there may be frost or snow in April. I’ve been told that the date of the last frost in Huerfano County could be as late as June 1. But there are delicious vegetables that just won’t thrive in the heat. And when June arrives, it is suddenly hot here.
The most frost-hardy vegetables are the ones we featured in March: peas, fava beans, spinach, leaf lettuces, scallions and radishes. These can be planted six weeks before the last frost (or as soon as the ground can be worked) and mulched with straw. And we forgot to mention rhubarb, a perennial which likes at least two months of cold weather and a moist, cool spring. Next in the line-up of cool-season vegetables are those which can be planted roughly four weeks before the last frost: beets, broccoli, cabbage and carrots.
As you consider when to plant, consider the different microclimates on your property. If you study your property, you will find a variety of natural microclimates. Native plants thrive near large rocks, downed branches, and shallow depressions. They seek the conditions that provide warmth, shelter and moisture. The northeast side of a house provides morning sun and shelter from wind but protects from hot afternoon sun. A south- or west-facing wall can provide long hours of sun and extra warmth for cool nights. You can translate what you learn to your gardening area or areas, identifying hot spots, sheltered spots, and spots that will hold moisture.
Then you can enhance these microclimates. Put straw bales around your garden for wind breaks and to help conserve moisture. Use the mulch of your choice to hold in warmth and moisture. Row covers are inexpensive fabrics that let in sun and moisture but protect young seedlings against frost and wind. If you have planted early, you can cut the bottom out of a plastic gallon jug, and bury it in soil to form a mini-greenhouse for new plants. Leave the top off unless there is a hard freeze and remove the jug after a few weeks.
My short experience planting here at 7,000’ suggests that you will get a better crop of the early vegetables if you plant early and provide extra protection.
For example, I am going to plant beets next week and mulch. Beets like temperatures of 60-65 degrees. They like full sun and deep, loose soil. Each seed is like a fruit and contains up to eight seeds, so when seeds sprout, you will have clusters. Thin to one seedling per cluster, water deeply and regularly, mulch, and weed. For quick growth, fertilize every couple of weeks with an organic fertilizer like kelp. As you thin the beets, be sure to enjoy the greens in salads.
If you have tips for our next column about early varieties of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower or any other early season crops, please send them to be included in the column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.