It’s hot, dry and windy out here, and feels more like late July than early May. We seem to have skipped straight from a parched winter into an equally arid summer, missing the soft green lushness of spring entirely; the peas and radishes survived frost damage only to turn bitter and pithy from sun scald. Last year we had rain almost every single day in May, and this year it’s unlikely we’ll see any. Early reports indicate that the mountain snowpack is melting far too quickly, thanks to this premature summer, and our primary focus these days is on keeping all of our plants irrigated. Here are a few more things we’ve been up to recently.
Our gated irrigation pipe at work.
All of our irrigation water comes from snow on the Grand Mesa. When the snow thaws each spring, the snowmelt makes its way down the mountain through an intricate series of ditches, headgates, creeks and pipes. We’re focused this year on regenerating our pasture, so have started flood-irrigating our land to see what grows. Later this season we’ll remark our pasture (cut channels that direct the water) and hopefully seed it with perennial grasses, too. Eventually we’ll use the land for rotational grazing, likely a grass-fed steer or two. Flood irrigation requires a lot of work – the water has to be “moved” by opening and closing valves and gates along the pipes – but it’s the system we have, so we’re learning how to use it to the land’s advantage.
Cool, fresh and crisp.
This week we harvested our first sizeable quantity of salad greens, and they were an absolute delight. Like potatoes, the difference between freshly-harvested greens and month-old plastic-bagged storebought greens is dramatic. I thought we’d be swimming in greens by now based on how much I planted, but that unexpected freeze we had a few weeks back really slowed everything down, and I wish I’d had more starter lettuces in reserve to boost the direct-seeded beds. Most salad greens don’t love hot weather, so we’ll plant the tomatoes and peppers and other warm-season crops on top of the lettuces in these beds and hopefully provide the greens with a little cooling shade; we also have a smaller north-facing bed which doesn’t receive nearly as much intense sun, so we can typically keep greens thriving here throughout the summer.
Keep growing, little tree! You’re doing great!
Out of the fifty fruit trees we planted last spring – native plum and Nanking cherry – we are thrilled to see new spring growth on every single one. Never having grown bare-root fruit trees before we were quite apprehensive as to their survival rate, especially because we weren’t sure they were getting enough water. But as we’ve mentioned, we live in the heart of Colorado’s stone-fruit region and the area is well-suited to fruit trees. We were also very careful to double-fence the trees, protecting them from both rabbits and deer (though not grasshoppers) and are hoping that all our efforts will bear fruit, metaphorically and literally.
From left: peppermint, spearmint and lemon balm, with flowering catmint in the background.
This is the time of year when perennial herbs really start to come on, and I love being able to use them in abundance, rather than rationing the sad, expensive little plastic packs from the supermarket. We grow a lot of different perennial herbs and are planting more every year; whereas some gardeners might be scared of the mint family’s rapacious nature, we let them run wild. The bees love the purple catmint flowers, and I use the culinary mints in hot and cold drinks and salads throughout the summer. Lemon balm is delicious steeped in iced tea, especially when actual lemons are both scarce and expensive. As always, any useful, productive plant that can survive our tough environment without supplemental water is given free rein.
The deer have been especially voracious this year, presumably because food is in short supply; like our other tulips, these were gone almost immediately after the photo was taken. I’ve planted some test beds outside the game fence with “deer-resistant plants,” although I don’t believe in that label at all – except for mint and alliums! – and we’ll see how they do. And with that, we wish you a calm and healthy week ahead.
P.S. If you’re in the Surface Creek area, we’re having an appointment-only plant sale (to maintain appropriate social distancing) starting May 18! Starter heirloom tomatoes, peppers, herbs, pollinator plants and lots more, all organic, non-GMO and locally grown for our harsh climate. Contact us if you’d like more information. We’d love to help you get your garden started!