After a beautiful morning working in the sun, I am now inside awaiting the next winter storm. It is May 20th, and waking up to snow in May is not uncommon. Regardless of how many beautiful, warm, dry days we experience in May, the unavoidable always occurs here in Summit County. While strange at first, I somehow have come to enjoy the unique May weather, even gardening and taking runs at the Basin in the same day.
When planning and beginning your garden here in the High Country timing can be tricky and unpredictable, changing with every season. If you have been traveling and recovering from a hectic winter season and feel behind in your spring prep don’t worry- the good news is there is still plenty of time to get prepared for a successful growing season. These tasks can be done between snowstorms and will give you an organized head start on your growing season.
Spring Cleanup- Time to make the garden neat and orderly
– Remove and dispose of all annual flowers from last year’s containers and beds into a compost bin.
– Perennial winter dieback can be cut back when new growth at the base has launched. Many Perennials will release the previous seasons’ growth when they are finished receiving nutrients. Simply give the dieback a pull after basal growth has occurred, and many will break off freely.
– Rake leaves and remove dead and broken branches from snow and snowplow damaged trees and shrubs. Combine with compost materials.
– Simplify and coordinate your tools and storage areas. Hand tools and pots should be sanitized (See recipes below) and organized. Donate or recycle defective or unused items from the previous growing season to make room for your favored tools.
– Amend your Soil with compost for a nutrient boost! Compostable materials can be taken to the Summit County landfill and turned into compost to put BACK onto your garden. Local, sustainable, and cheap!
Start Planting by Seed
Many plants can be seeded 4-6 weeks before the last average frost date (Father’s Day is a rule of thumb in Summit), and can handle the snow, actually benefiting from the moisture- so don’t stress if you seed your garden and wake to snow. Unless you have a considerable amount of free time and generous windows I would not recommend starting vegetable seeds inside. Most of the short season, cold loving plants that prefer Summit County conditions thrive from being directly sown into their territory, as opposed to being transplanted- which means less work for everyone.
When growing from seed look for varieties with 70-80 Days to Maturity. This will allow for multiple seeding and larger harvests throughout the season. I do not suggest growing warmer season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers unless you have a covered growing area or greenhouse.
First time planting by seed and intimidated? Don’t be- everything you need to know about your chosen seeds can be found on the seed packet.
– Best time to seed- each packet will list the correct time to start seeding- some stuff will be good to go now.
– Plant name and specific variety. Label rows with specific plant varieties and set aside packets and labels of successful harvested varieties.
– Days to mature. The lower the days the better chance of success with our shorter growing season.
– Organic / GMO free / or Conventional.
– Very important are listed preferable growing tips. Sun vs. shade, seed depth and spacing, cold or heat loving, and special instructions (staking, thinning, transplantable, resowing of seeds).
– Pictures of what you are growing.
Here is a list of some of the vegetables I have experience growing in Summit County by seed, with the days required to mature listed.
- Carrots- Baby Little Finger (57 days), Carnival Blend (65-75), Tonda di Parigi (65)
- Beans- French Filet (58), Trio of green, yellow, and purple (58)
- Beets- Early Wonder (48)
- Snap Peas- Cascadia (58), Sugar Snap (70), Oregon Sugar Pod II (60)
- Radishes- French Breakfast (28), Crimson Giant (28)
- Arugula- Rocket Salad Roquette (30-45), Wild Rocket Salad (30-45)
- Kale- Red Winter (50), Dwarf Blue Curled (55)
- Butterhead Lettuce- Marvel of Four Seasons (55), Speckles (55), Tom Thumb (50)
- Leaf Lettuce- Red Sails (45), Gourmet Baby Greens (21-58)
- Romaine- Freckles (55), Parris Island Cos (68)
- Spinach- Bloomsdale (28-45), Monstrueux (28-50)
- Summer Squash- Early Prolific Straightneck (45), Emerald Delight Zucchini (55)
- Herbs- Basil, Cilantro, Mint, Dill, Parsley, Chives, Sage, Thyme
- Rhubarb, Lovage, Asparagus- Perennial
There are several options for purchasing seeds locally. I recommend the Summit County Seed Library in Frisco, Botanical Interests, Alpine Gardens in Silverthorne, and Hydro Shack in Frisco. Another resource for plant lists includes www.summitcountygardenclub.org.
Pests and problems of the garden can also fluctuate from year to year. This year the Vole damage has been prolific. If you are unfamiliar with the small mouse-like creature you might be one of the lucky few to not be affected by them yet. Voles love to tunnel through the ground and eat the roots of flowers. They also reproduce at a rapid rate. Here are some suggestions when dealing with Voles.
- Keep grass and natural areas cut down, eliminating areas to settle down.
- I use mousetraps around my raised bed and in my greenhouse.
- Organic and natural deterrents like Biosoil fertilizer and other pest deterrents found at your local nursery,
- Bury small coffee cans or containers in the ground with water, they will fall right in and drown.
- Solar rodent repellers can be placed around beds to deter them from settling.
- Encourage other animals to hang out. The dog at my house is definitely interested, as are the birds I feed. It also seems that the Voles are happily eating the uneaten sunflower seeds instead of my flowers at the moment. If possible, borrow or adopt a cat.
I am 100% open to suggestions when dealing with Voles. I do not recommend using any sort of poisons as this can affect the food chain and the predators of Voles. I also recommend trying multiple defenses at the same time. I am patiently waiting for the County to ship in a large population of cold hardy, non-poisonous snakes and/or mountain lions.
Dandelion season is also here, but before you kill or remove them all consider a few of these factors:
– Dandelions are one of the first nectar sources for bees and other beneficial insects that have overwintered.
– Long, ornery taproots help with soil aeration and the movements of nutrients underground.
– Great in salads and stir-fries. I might even try to make a batch of Dandelion wine.
– While beneficial they are still invasive. I always keep them out of my planting beds, but have a naturalized area where I contain them. There are great options for earth-friendlier weed sprays (see recipes below). I do not recommend using Herbicides like Round-up in most situations.
Be prepared yet patient
Spring season in Summit County is complex and delicate. Big box chains begin to ship in standard plant orders before the frost danger has passed, confusing consumers into purchasing annuals too early. Keep an eye on nighttime temperatures and hold tight until around June 15th to plant annuals and veggie plants. If you are anxious for color now Pansies and Violas can handle the snow and frost. Also consider planting spring bulbs this fall. Bulbs have been blooming for weeks now.
New projects are also a great way to stay busy in May. Start building a new garden or cold frame for a covered bed. Check out some favorite home remedies for your garden and yard below, and stay tuned for tips on annual and perennial planting timing, purchasing, and selection.
Listed below are some of my favorite home tonics from Horticulturist Jerry Baker to be used in spring.
– Cleaning and Sanitizing solution for pots and tools
– 2 tablespoons bleach
– 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap
– ½ gallon warm weather
– Scrub pots and tools with rough scouring pad
– Weed Wipeout
– 1-tablespoon gin
– 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
– 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap
– 1 quart very warm water
– Mix together in a bucket and use a hand sprayer
to apply on a dry day. Be careful to only spray weeds.
–Disease Defense- Wet, snowy weather is ideal for fungus on your perennials and annuals in spring. This defensive spray can help prevent fungus and disease like Powdery Mildew.
– 1 cup chamomile tea
– 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap
– ½ teaspoon of vegetable oil
– ½ teaspoon of peppermint oil
– 1 gallon warm water
– Mix together in bucket and spray plants a week before warm weather sets in. Tonic is strong, so testing on a few plants and checking damage a few days later is recommended.
– Year Round Refresher- Can be used spring through fall biweekly to keep plants happy and healthy.
– 1 cup of beer
– 1 cup of baby shampoo
– 1 cup of liquid lawn food
– ½ cup of molasses
– 2 tablespoons of fish emulsion
– Mix in 20 gallon hose end sprayer, fill to balance with ammonia and spray away.
More recipes can be found at www.JerryBaker.com