Saturday, April 30, 2011

X Gardening in the High Country of Colorado

At The Essential Herbal this issue (May/June) we were thrilled to not only get an amazing cornucopia of articles that caused us to add extra pages, but Kristie Nackord of Spirit Horse Herbals sent this article with gorgeous pictures that we wanted to share with you here.

Growing Medicinal Herbs in the High Country

We call it X-Gardening!

Warning… it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sure, doing back flips on a snow board, jumping out of airplanes, or screeching around on a skateboard up and down half pipes can be thrilling indeed! But for me, nothing compares to the Extreme Gardening experience of growing herbs at 8300 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado! With a cool growing season of 90-days or less, coupled with mid-summer hail storms, unexpected freezes, and gale force wind, nothing keeps me on my ‘growing toe’s more than Mother Nature herself.

The good news is you can live in the majestic mountains and still successfully grow herbs. In fact, there are many inexpensive and sustainable techniques you can utilize to extend your season and protect your plants to produce a bounty of highly potent and nutritious herbs each year.

Site Selection: Proper site selection applies to whether you live at sea level or in the mountains of Colorado.
Place your shade loving plants in the shade and place those sun worshipers, well, in the sun! For those plants that like to take over the world, place them in their own designated area where they can’t encroach on other plants, or put them in containers. Here in the high country there are very few plants I have to do that with but there are some like stinging nettles and any members of the mint family including lemon balm that I am mindful with.

Plant Selection: Bottom line is that I grow fast growing herbs that like it cool, high and dry. I’ve got a 90-day window to grow within, so when I am choosing plants or seeds I am always careful to select varieties that fall within these requirements and that are hardy to zone 3. Most importantly, find a local seed lending library or purchase your plants and seeds from companies that offer varieties that are already adapted for the high country. For example, I grow a variety of basil sold by Seeds Trust called Italian Mountain Basil. It is a fast growing variety that comes from the mountains of northern Italy that is more tolerant of cold climates. Some of my other all time favorites that thrive in the high country include: Calendula, Cilantro, Thyme, Motherwort, Mugwort, Self Heal, Arnica, Borage, Nasturtium, Bee Balm, Stinging Nettles, Chamomile, Dandelion, Mullein, Red Clover, Alfalfa, and Comfrey. Sadly, this does not include tropical loving or temperate loving herbs such as lavender, rosemary, lemon grass or passion flower. You can grow these beauties as annuals or if you have cover such as a greenhouse.

Grow bio-intensively: This is THE key for growing herbs successfully in the mountains. Originally developed by Alan Chadwick in the 70’s and now evolved by John Jeavons, growing bio-intensively has many benefits. By double digging your beds two feet deep and spacing your plants equidistantly, you are able to pack in 2 to 3 times more plants in half the space of traditional row gardening. For numerous different reasons this method of sustainable growing offers heat and water retention and weed suppression. For more information on Growing Bio-intensively please visit John Jeavons website

Compost and Mulch: It’s free! And it works. In addition to compost, I use what is available to me and that also includes aged horse manure turned into my beds. For mulch on my beds or in the aisle ways of my garden, I use spoiled hay or straw and I pack it on thick. Leave room around the crown of your plant and you will be pleasantly surprised how much water retention and weed suppression this little bit of effort affords.

Cover: There are many different types of cover you can use. One of my favorites is the ‘American Bell Jar”. Also known as a plastic jug with the bottom cut off! If you have a small, tender herb that is struggling or newly transplanted, place a plastic jug over it with the lid off. Once your plant is healthy and strong attempting to burst out of the jug, remove it! Hoop houses, cold frames, and greenhouses are other forms of cover and they not only protect your plants from hail, wind, and freezes, but they also extend your season. They also allow you to grow some of your tender or heat loving herbs.

And the most important elements you can bring to your garden whether you live in the mountains, desert, or near the ocean, is love, joy, and gratitude for the miracle of creation.

Good growing to you~

Originally from northern California, Kristie is entering her fifth season growing in the high country in Westcliffe, Colorado. Kristie is the herbalicious herb girl behind Spirit Horse Herbals, a boutique producer of medicinal herbal products.

If you have enjoyed this article, The Essential Herbal is available by subscription. The print magazine will come to your door every 2 months, filled with great herbal information.

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