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Growing vegetables in the Northern Colorado Mountains

Winding Mountain Trail

Growing vegetables in the mountains of Northern Colorado can be challenging due to a number of factors like a shorter growing season, wind, cool nights, critters, and some watering restrictions,

One of the most significant factors to consider is the relatively shorter growing season. Temperatures in the region drop by an average of 3.5°F for every gain of 1,000 feet in elevation, which means it can reach below freezing during the spring and early fall.

Those growing vegetables in lower elevations will have an extended growing season and the ability to grow a wider variety of vegetables. Gardeners situated in valleys however, experience cooler temperatures because cool air sinks down to the bottom of the valley in the evening. While valleys are situated in lower elevations, they tend to offer cooler growing conditions compared to surrounding hillsides.

Cool season vegetables

Many types of cool season vegetables thrive in mountain gardens. Some of the best vegetables to grow in the mountains include:

  • Root vegetables – Beets, leeks, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabaga, radishes, kohlrabi
  • Leafy greens – Arugula, beet greens, collards, cabbage, endive, garden cress, kale, spinach, mâche, radicchio, lettuces, Swiss chard, turnip greens
  • Herbs – horseradish, French tarragon, chives, and some mints. Some perennial herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay laurel can be planted in pots and brought indoors during the winter. Annual herbs like borage, parsley, calendula, and dill can be direct-seeded into beds.
  • Other vegetables – Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas

Choosing a site

Locations that get about six to eight hours of full sunlight daily are ideal. Slightly sloped areas that are south-facing are great for warming soils during the spring and remaining free of frost in the fall.

If you’re in a windy area, consider putting up windbreaks, or look for a site on the lee side of your house. For warm season vegetables, the warmest microclimate near your house (typically on the south side) or sites close to your home or a rock wall are ideal as plants can benefit from the thermal mass.

Selecting the right varieties

Vegetable and herb species have different sub-varieties. Some are more ideal for the climate and the mountain environment compared to others. Look for information on the seed packet or catalogues for the number of days to harvest, and choose varieties that require the least number of days, as these will typically require fewer Growing Degree Units or GDUs.

Keep in mind that the actual number of days a plant might need to mature is usually longer when they’re grown in the mountains, as the number of days displayed in the packet/catalogue is typically based on warmer climates.

Other characteristics to look out for when selecting varieties include “easy to grow,” “vigorous,” “reliable in cool weather,” and “cold-tolerant.”

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