What food can grow here?  That is a great question for a town at 8,600 feet that supposedly has 64 frost-free days.  USDA states Fraser frost risk from August 28 through June 25. However, on Tuesday we woke to 30 degree temperatures, making that about a 35 frost-free day season for 2018.  Grandma Miller’s is at the bottom of a hill where cold air drains and lingers, so other locations may not yet have frosted. A short growing season is one of the challenges for local gardeners.  

There are other challenges too, the intense sun, the hail, the wind, the dryness especially this year.  Because of the lack of precipitation, we have had an increase in rodents and insects helping themselves to our bounty.  In the future, I will write about the strategies to protect against pests, but for this week I will focus on varieties of plants that can thrive here and nourish our body and soul.  

I am still new to growing food in the valley, but I have had success with little infrastructure.  We like greens and they grow well here. Kale varieties, lettuces, bok choy, chard, collard greens, arugula, cabbage, etc. all do well.  They are highly nutritious, and are easy to grow. The bounty of greens come from the leaves so you aren’t waiting for the fruit to form or ripen.  Broccoli also does well, but I have not had good luck with cauliflower yet. These foods pack a big punch in nutrients, protein, and fiber. Green super foods, like kale, have many health benefits including detoxifying the body, providing valuable nutrients with over 14 vitamins and minerals, and fighting cancer with high levels of anti-oxidants.  

Herbs are another one of my favorites to grow at high altitude as they are also just the leaves, not requiring fruiting for harvest.  They add amazing flavor to foods, and are also packed with anti-oxidants and nutrition. Herbs, like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, among others, are considered medicinal, and aid in healing, detoxification, and are anti-inflammatory.  Some say the more intense the flavor, the more intense the heath benefits. These can be grown in pots so you can bring them in during the winter, offering the beauty of house plants with the benefit of medicinal and culinary goodness.

In fact, you can grow all greens in containers if space is an issue or you want to try spinach indoors over the winter.  Other helpful hints are to provide consistent water, preferably rainwater. Let the soil dry a bit in between watering, but not too much.  Place a garden shade cloth over the plants to protect them and the soil from the harshest of sun, and minor protection from frost and hail.  

the last thing is don’t forget to harvest.  Build that into your gardening time schedule.  I can get frustrated looking at a ton of garden waste even though it is still beneficial as compost material or chicken feed.  The time and effort put into the food should be your benefit year-round, so do not forget to harvest greens and herbs often and process the food for later in the year.  

You may end up with a bunch of greens with these gardening tips, but it is easy to process them into something that you can save.  I dehydrate kale chips, which is washed kale, tossed in oil, tamari, and herbs. I also freeze a lot of greens and mix them in all of my recipes throughout the year.  To freeze them I just wash, dry, cut, and stuff into freezer bags. Some blanch the greens before freezing, but I enjoy skipping the step and have still enjoyed eating the greens all year.  Herbs should be cut, washed, remove the stems, and allowed to air dry, or put into the dehydrator and stored in air tight jars. Then there is canning. Maybe that subject is best saved for the next column.

Provide good soil, water, and love, and with proper planning you can grow nutritious food in the Ice Box that provides for you all year.  Nothing is more satisfying than bringing home your harvest for dinner.

Robyn Wilson has degrees in International Business, Sustainable Communities, and Bilingual and Multicultural Education.  She teaches permaculture design at Colorado Mesa University. Robyn returned to Grand County to manage the cabin community of Grandma Miller’s New Horizons.  Contact her at: robyn@loudexample.com