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Advice for the New Colorado Vegetable Gardener

By Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture, Denver County

If this is your first year growing a vegetable garden in Colorado, you are probably beginning to realize the climate is not going to make this an easy task.

Welcome to the challenge of Colorado gardening! In moderate climates, gardening is a fairly predictable endeavor. In Colorado, my advice is to adopt an adventurous attitude. The accomplishment of growing a gorgeous plant here means more than growing the same thing in areas of the country where anyone can do it.

Here are some specific vegetable gardening hints. This year Front Range gardeners were rewarded with a hot summer conducive to growing great tomatoes, peppers and other warm season vegetables. Cool nights the previous summer produced less than stellar tomatoes but were better for the cool season vegetables.

Hedging your bets and realizing that the methods that result in great crops one year won't always work the next is key. For example, mulching to cool soil and retain moisture is critical in hot summers but is almost counterproductive in a cool summer.

Then there's the question of when the first fall frost will hit. While the average for the Denver area is the second week of October, we can vary as much as 30 days earlier or later. This is a big change from moderate climates that have a tight window around their average first fall frost date.

To cope, be prepared to cover plants or grow fall crops tolerant of frost. For example, kale is a wonderful fall vegetable that survives early frosts and even freezes. Tasty crops of curly
leafed, Russian kale have been harvested this year even when the leaves were frozen stiff in mid- November. Root crops like carrots and beets are still nestled in the ground safely mulched against the cold and available for harvest through the winter.

The best advice for a vegetable gardener new to the area is to be flexible, be adaptable to weather changes, try a variety of gardening methods and know why they are working for you, and to enjoy the challenge of it all.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010