The Veggie Gang


Many gardeners in the Pikes Peak area have been complaining of undersized tomato plants, underperforming basil, wimpy peppers, etc. As usual, weather challenges us when we garden here, and this year, we have a rather unusual combination – chilly temperatures and (at times) over-abundant moisture. The last few summers have been warmer than average, so we’ve been caught off guard by conditions that are pretty comfortable for the gardener, but not so much for the warm-season vegetables and herbs!

A fellow Colorado gardener that I know of who gardens (with wild success) above 8000 ft always says “A tomato never wants to go below fifty degrees in its life – maybe even sixty!” (She, of course, uses cold frames, hoop houses, green houses, etc for all her gardening. To learn more about her garden, visit her web site here: I suspect that the minimum-temperature rule for peppers is even ten degrees warmer than for tomatoes.

So, what’s the big deal? We’ve been over sixty degrees since the middle of June, right? Well, we have been for day time highs. But you have to also consider night-time temperatures. Even at the lower altitudes, night-time temperatures in our region dipped below fifty degrees several times in the past few weeks. This has helped keep our houses cooler, but it has definitely affected those hot-weather loving plants like peppers, tomatoes, and basil.  


Irrigation is a super important part of vegetable gardening, and in our arid area, we tend to pay even closer attention to it. A vegetable garden left to be watered by Mother Nature here is not much of an option (though efforts can be made to maximize the benefit of any rainfall). But the vegetable gardener is going to have to supply extra water, so let’s look at a few different irrigation possibilities for vegetable beds:
1) Handheld Hose-End Sprayer
2) Overhead Sprinkler
3) Soaker Hoses
4) Drip Irrigation (more…)

“Freckles” is an heirloom lettuce that performs well in the Pikes Peak region.

“Heirloom seeds are better, right?” It’s a question I hear a lot when I’m teaching classes on growing your own veggies. Just the term “heirloom” makes us think of precious family treasures, fine antiques. “Heirloom seeds” is a phrase that sells and many seed companies take full advantage of it.

Heirloom vegetables (or flowers) are varieties that have been in cultivation a long time—decades, if not centuries—and are still being grown today. They’re what your great grandmother would have sown in her garden. They’re the antiques of the gardening world.


Now that the winter’s first hard freezes have arrived, fresh homegrown produce is in short supply. The season my be over for frost-tender summer squash, vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, but with some preparation, you can enjoy at least one crop that can be harvested from mid-summer through fall and winter, until the days start to warm again. There’s nothing like going out to the garden in December, brushing off some snow, carefully digging into the cold soil, and pulling up some crisp, bright orange carrots!

Keeping carrots fresh and edible all winter isn’t hard. The trick is to keep them from freezing. Here along Colorado’s Front Range, it takes a two-foot thick layer of straw laid over the carrot bed. Top the straw with a moisture barrier such as a small tarp or large trash bag. This keeps it dry when warm days melt a recent snowfall. (You could also use autumn leaves, as shown here; any form of light-weight insulation works well.)


peas_packet.jpgA visiting friend from Nashville (recently upgraded from Zone 6 to Zone 7 on the new USDA hardiness map!) reminded me of how different spring planting can be all around the country. She’s been gardening for weeks back at home, while things are just barely getting going here. But this certainly is the time of year that people start to want to plant.

So, what can we plant? Here is an easy summary of spring vegetable planting dates in our Zone 5b Colorado Springs area based on information from Colorado State University Extension (those in Monument, Black Forest, etc may want to add a week or so): (more…)

How many times do we read a description in a seed catalog, order the seeds, and then find ourselves disappointed with the results? Our Colorado climate and soil conditions make for some challenging gardening, and varieties that thrive in other parts of the country just don’t do as well here.

Thankfully, we have a state university providing us with research-based information especially suited to our high and dry gardens. From 2004 through 2008, CSU trialed an assortment of potential commercial crops, comparing varieties to discover which, if any, do well here. The results are available on their website under the heading “The Rocky Mountain Small Organic Farm Project.”


seed_packet_juliet.jpgA friend asked me a question last summer that kind of blew my mind. “If we can’t expect seeds from hybrid tomatoes to ‘come true,’ then where do they get hybrid seeds from year after year?”

Now, I definitely knew (or thought I did) what a hybrid was, and I had a canned answer for anyone who asked how hybrid varieties were made (well, breeders cross two varieties to come up with a new one). But I realized I hadn’t really ever understood the nitty gritty of hybrid seed production. I intended to hunker down and do some research, but it kept falling way down on the to do list until I started perusing this year’s seed catalogs, considering the varieties I wanted to try. When I order Sungold seeds each year, the seed company doesn’t have to continually grow the parent plants and cross them to get new seeds, right? That would be terribly labor intensive and it seems the seeds would be ridiculously expensive! Well, as it turns out, that is exactly what they do. If you’re curious to learn more, read on! (more…)

It seems that only yesterday we were picking our first ripe tomato of the season. Now we’re looking at vigorous vines still full of green fruit and wondering… how long will the warm weather last this year? Is there will time for these to ripen? If not, when should we pick them? How should we store them?

It’s early October, with warm, golden days and crisp nights, and frost could come at any time. In fact, October 10 is the average first frost date in Colorado Springs. (If you live higher than downtown, subtract one day for every 100 feet in elevation over 6,035.) This means that in any given year, your garden has a 50% chance of seeing a frost by October 10.



Winter Rye

Those of us who contribute to this blog have been learning quite a bit about working with Colorado soils this year! We no longer feel confident (well we probably never did) picking up bags of “top soil” or manure or compost and adding them to our garden soils. (If you missed it, see Leslie’s terrific post on this topic: New Advice on Soil Amendments.)

Most gardeners feel pretty good about adding compost they’ve made themselves to their vegetable garden soils. In our area, though, we rarely encounter gardeners who have tried out another homemade soil amendment, cover crops or green manure. A cover crop is a plant that is usually seeded in early fall (mid-September is best in our area but you can plant through mid-October) and then watered so it sprouts and grows before the first hard freeze. If it gets tall, it is mown to keep it from going to seed. It goes dormant (or even dies) after a hard freeze, and it then provides mulch over the bed during winter and the roots provide aerated soil next spring when it is time to plant. (If it did not die and greens up in spring, it may have to be treated with herbicide or removed so it does not compete with your vegetables in the growing season.) Green manure is simply a cover crop that is hardy enough to survive the winter and is tilled into the soil in the spring. (Note that both cover crops and green manures can be planted in the spring if you have enough space in your garden to give up an area for the growing season to allow the cover crop or green manure to grow over the spring and summer.) (more…)

For all you die hard gardeners next month Larry Stebbins the director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) will be giving a class entitled “Fall Veggie Class”.  This class is the first in a series of six classes Larry will present throughout the winter.  The “Fall Veggie Class”  will not only cover Fall Veggies, but also what worked and what did not work in the garden this year.

Just like the rest of the U.S. we have had some unusual weather to deal with this past summer.  First our May was cold and damp then came the heat in June followed by the rain in July.  It was a challenging year to be a Colorado Gardener.  Larry is a great speaker and just full of knowledge about growing vegetables here in Colorado.  Go to to register and attend the class.

Next Page »