by Carol Dunn and
WALSENBURG- An overflow crowd of 91 people packed into the meeting room at the Huerfano County Community Center Saturday afternoon for a high-energy talk on Mountain Food Growing. Penn and Cord Parmenter have been gardening vegetables and edibles at 8,100-feet near Westcliffe for 17 years, and their four-hour talk was packed with advice- general, practical, and specific.
Penn laughs at the challenges of growing high and dry in Colorado. Instead, she says we’re lucky to have so many favorable conditions like intensive sunlight, clean air, fewer insect pests and cool nights. Once we realize how full the cup is, we can adapt and learn to work with the environment. The Parmenters specialize in corn, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, cabbage, and squash. Penn raises 61 varieties of tomatoes and gave the audience some sobering news – if the temperature drops below 50-degrees even once in a tomato’s life, it will not ripen. Mystery solved.
“No year is the same,” Penn reminded the audience. We may never see another late killing frost like 2008. The Parmenters suggested creative ways to raise additional food. Tuck a pepper plant in with your flowers. Raise lettuce in hanging baskets. Plant an extra squash hill next to your house in case of hail.
Penn suggests creating microclimates for starting seeds and giving plants a head start using bottomless milk jugs, bell jars, clear plastic umbrellas, and wooden or straw bale cold frames. Plants will also grow better when planted near thermal mass, for instance milk jugs filled with water. Heat is absorbed during the day and provided to the plant during cool nights.
The Parmenters are also advocates of using mulch to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. “If your hay mulch sprouts weeds,” Penn advises, “use more mulch.” When asked about insects, she said, “Insult them. Use the shop vac.” Her overall advice is, if all of this seems overwhelming, “Work on what you can do.”
In this article, we also want to kick-off a gardening column sponsored by the Huerfano Journal which will focus on vegetables, edibles, and perennials. We’ll do our research and pack in as much practical advice as we can, but we’d like to hear from you. If you have had luck in a particular spot with a particular crop or planting, please let us know so that we can talk to you and publish your tips. For example, a certain Walsenburg gardener grew beautiful eggplant right at the curb of her street last summer. And a certain La Veta resident regularly grows rutabaga. Who knew either veggie would grow here? And gardening talk is so much more fun with a crowd. We’ll put our e-mail at the end of each article and hope you’ll help to spread the wisdom around. Next week we’ll discuss soil. E-mail us at: email@example.com.