Biologist Edward O. Wilson describes “biophilia” as the connection between people and living, growing things, encouraging us to be a part of the web of life. Finding your natural connection to the earth and finding your specific role is necessary for your self-care during all of the erratic changes around us. Vitamin D and fresh air contribute to a better mood, increased self-esteem, and reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and blood pressure.
Read a book in the sun, go for a walk with pets, immediate family, and quarantine roommates. Go for a bike ride, cross country ski, sit in the sun on your deck or porch. Keep it local and low key.
Beneficial bacteria Mycobacertium vaccae found in dirt, has been studied and found to be favorable in several ways. The bacterium connects with immune cells to discourage inflammation and expand adaption to stress. Somewhat controversial, the “hygiene hypothesis” (circa 1989) states that with the modernization of cultures and movement from farms to cities, we have created a sterile environment, lacking exposure to beneficial organisms, causing allergies, asthma, inflammatory diseases, and stress related psychiatric disorders, leading to mental health issues. (A little dirt, don’t hurt.)
Exaggerated inflammation on the brain advances the risk of trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A group of men and women in their 60’s spending time in a garden each day have shown a %36 less chance to develop dementia with repetition, exercise, and social interaction.
Bring the Outdoors Inside
Houseplants have many great benefits to your health and well being including:
- Air purification and increased Oxygen levels
- Boosts moods, productivity, creativity
- Benefits mental health and reduces stress and depression
- Gives you a sense of accomplishment
- Enhance your immune system
When purchasing or choosing your indoor plants, sun exposure is the most important element. Since climate and temperatures can be controlled indoors, think about how much direct sun your area receives. If you have lots of windows with South and West exposures, choose full sun plants, while an area with minimal windows and sun needs low light plants.
Sun: Jades and succulents, Rubber Trees, Ficus, Spider, Aloe, Umbrella, Palms, Shamrock
Low Light: Chinese Evergreen, Philodendrons, Orchids, Prayer Plants, Ferns, Peace Lillies, Begonias, Diffenbachia, ZZ, Spider, Pothos, Snake, Dracaena, Tillandsia.
Stay busy with projects including rearranging and rotating plants, transplanting, fertilizing, and cleaning leaves. Divide and propagate overgrown plants to share with friends and neighbors to share the love.
Seed Starting and Planning
Regardless of where you live, what better time to try and grow some vegetables to supplement your family’s food intake this summer. Gardening in Summit County is challenging, with a dry, short growing season, and low temperatures. Growing the proper crops is essential. Undulating weather extremes can bring snow too late and too early. Nonetheless, many vegetable crops actually prefer our unique growing environment. When choosing your seeds, look for crops with lower days to maturity (how many days from planting to harvesting). In our climate, I would not recommend anything over 75 days. Here is a list of cold/short season crops that I have had success with in Summit County in ground beds and containers.
- Snap Peas
- Summer Squash
- Rhubarb (perennial)
- Asparagus (perennial)
- Lovage (perennial)
- Herbs (Thyme, Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Terragon, Parsley, Oregano, Chives, and Bay)
Timing and When to Plant
On average, the last chance of spring frost is around mid June. Obviously in Summit County the weather has a mind of its own, so this is not a guarantee. This is the goal date for planting out tender annuals and plant starts. Assuming our first snow arrives sometime in mid September, our growing season is around 90 days. When planting from seed (vegetables or flowers), many crops are planted before the last frost. Many of our cold season crops are directly sown outside 2-4 weeks BEFORE the last frost date (mid May-early June). They like the moisture from the snow and cold temperatures.
Many of the food crops that thrive in Summit County prefer to be directly sown into your vegetable beds or containers, however, starting some seeds inside this season is a great way to get motivated and stay connected to nature while stuck inside. It can be a fun family project and educational for kids. Egg cartons, empty food containers, seed trays, and jiffy-pots work great with potting or seed starting soil. Place seeds in a sunny window and enjoy! Your seed packet will give you all the information you need for sowing including timing, seed depth, spacing, thinning, days to mature, and special instructions. Vegetable crops for our climate that can be started inside 4-6 weeks before last frost date (beginning of May-mid May) include:
- Swiss Chard
- Tomatoes (small variety, cherry or roma)
- Herbs (Thyme, Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Terragon, Parsley, Oregano, Chives, and Bay)
Prep for Summer
As much as I love the snow, I would really enjoy spending my extra time at home outside in my gardens. However, there are a few things to do in the next month as the snow drifts begin to melt. Remember, our goal dates to begin directly seeding are Mid May to Early June, and to start planting are mid June. That gives us plenty of time to prepare.
- Stock up on Seeds and Soil (the Hydro Shack in Frisco, Botanical Interests online)
- Invest in a good organic potting soil, you can typically use for 3 seasons. I prefer Foxfarm and Happy Frog Brands
- Clean and organize your pots and tools
- Cutback old growth and remove debris from ground beds
- Build new beds for vegetables or flowers, expand existing gardens
- Add 2” compost to your beds (HC3 SCRAP program at the landfill)
- Add 2” untreated wood mulch to beds for moisture retention and deter weeds
Starting Fresh- Tips for newbies mountain gardeners
Use Containers/Raised Beds
Containers are great for small spaces such as condos, apartments, and decks. Containers are easy to find with several options and varieties available. Use different heights when dealing with a physical disability. Visit a thrift store and drill some drainage holes in just about anything. Cleanliness is key, especially when growing vegetables. Make sure to clean and sanitize containers first. Involve your kids by allowing them to pick a small container and plant to take care of.
Raised beds provide good drainage, less soil compaction, fewer weeds, and minimal bending. Warmer soil temperatures in spring and fall allow for a longer growing season. Raised beds can be built with rot-resistant wood, rocks, bricks, or straw. Be creative: my raised bed is an old sandbox from a neighbor’s yard. Containers and beds should provide at least a 12-inch depth. When placing containers and raised beds, be aware of your sun exposure, water sources and irrigation options.
Use Organic Soil and Local Compost
For raised beds and large containers I would suggest using a 70/30 blend of soil to compost. You can purchase in bulk from Neils Lunceford in Silverthorne, or if using bagged soil a 3 topsoil, to 1 compost ratio. If planting right into your existing soil, add 2 inches of compost. For smaller containers I would recommend using Happy Frog or Fox farm organic potting soil only. I would not suggest using any Miracle Grow soils or any medias with additional fertilizers.
Support your local small businesses. They need us more than ever. Buy your plants and supplies from garden centers and nurseries.
Start Small, Relax, and Have Fun!
When planning and starting your mountain garden, remember to come up with a realistic plan that you can commit to. While difficult to provide the entire family with all required vegetable servings all summer, supplementing your family’s lettuce and spinach intake is. Perhaps you over planted and are having trouble consuming everything you planted. Sharing your harvest with friends and neighbors is a great way to connect and possibly spread the gardening bug.
Maybe a couple flower containers on your deck provide you with a bright area to relax and recharge. Start small, get outside, and have fun with whatever you choose to grow.
With the chaos and uncertainty currently around us, it is vital to remain positive and surround ourselves with nature and positivity. Iam hopeful to see how the planet’s environment has positively reacted to a slower pace of living. With decreased transportation and less human interaction, air pollution is improving. The muted cities are seeing more birds and wildlife. The ocean is benefiting from our disappearance. While it may appear the earth just became overwhelmed and needed a reset, think about how much of an impact we could make it we actually tried.