Ask Eartha: How to Prepare Your Vegetable Garden for the Spring Season

Turnips, parsnips and other root vegetables grow well in Summit County’s mountainous climate.
Louie Traub / High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha, this wild spring weather is baffling me! One day it’s warm enough to start thinking about my vegetable garden and the next day it’s snowing again. What should I do right now to prepare for the gardening season without worrying?

Spring in the Rockies can be a wild ride, indeed! There are absolutely some things you can start doing now to prepare for the warmer weather ahead. My top two recommendations: have fun learning about high altitude gardening possibilities, and start buying seeds so you’ll be ready to go once your soil warms up.

If you don’t already know, the High Country Conservation Center website has information available any time of the day, whenever you feel the need to develop your green thumb. When you leave, click on “Community Gardening” and find the “Local Planting Dates” button. This document has been in development for many years, thanks to the extensive high-altitude cultivation experience of Kyla Laplante, Lead Farmer of Summit Community Supported Agriculture. It contains all the information you need to plan when, what and how you will plant. This document will let you know if a particular Summit County vegetable or herb is best planted by direct seeding or transplanting.

“Direct seed” or “direct seeding” are the terms used when a seed is planted directly into the soil of your garden. You can direct the seed once soil temperatures are warm enough. The “Local Planting Dates” resource provides information on when the soil is warm enough. Tip: Get a floor thermometer or chef’s thermometer so you don’t have to guess.

“Transplantation” is the term when a seed is planted inside your home or in a greenhouse before being moved outside. Starting a transplant gives the seed time to grow in a friendly, warm, and comfortable environment before moving outside to fend for itself. In my mind, starting seeds indoors is a slightly more advanced gardening technique. It involves extra gear, lots of sunny space, and extra effort. As a general rule, I advise new gardeners to stick to no-till for their first growing season – but if you feel ready, go for it! A few of my favorite vegetables to grow when transplanting are kale and Swiss chard. Do not transplant radishes or carrots as their roots are too delicate to move.

The High Country Conservation Center’s website also has two high altitude vegetable gardening videos you can watch on a snowy spring evening when you’re longing for the sun. Whether you’re new to Summit County gardening or a seasoned expert looking for some additional ideas, these videos are a fabulous resource. Some of Summit County’s incredible gardening legends have come together to tell you how to turn your seeds into a bountiful harvest.

My next recommendation is to take advantage of the spring weather to satisfy your shopping urges by buying seeds. Most seed packages will be labeled as warm season or cool season vegetables. In Summit County, choose cool-season varieties. If that seems limited, remember that you have plenty of great cool-season vegetable options: lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, collard greens, bok choy, kale, radishes, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips , snow peas and sugar snap peas. to name a few.

If you want to grow tomatoes and basil outdoors, be aware that warm season vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and peppers don’t like to go below 50 degrees at night. Even in our hottest summer months, our nighttime temperatures dip below 50. Advanced gardening methods such as greenhouses and cold frames make it possible to grow some of these warm season vegetables, but a novice gardener has better to keep it simple. Seed packets provide all of these details, so read them carefully. One of my favorite seed brands is Botanical Interests, and if you browse their websiteyou will see each variety has sowing information.

I hope you can get attached to the wild ride that is spring in the mountains, while using this time to prepare for a prosperous gardening season.


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