We’ve just started thinking about our first outdoor crops of the year. This past week we started seeding our potatoes. Seeing kids planting and picking potatoes is a simple pleasure as they get their fingers dirty and discover wriggly worms and insects along the way. Since the snow continues, we’ll probably stagger the plantings out a few weeks apart just in case we get another hard freeze!

Beaver Ponds was lucky enough to receive a donation of seed potatoes and excellent quality potting soil this year and for that we are very, very grateful.

As all you gardeners know, right now is a good time to go over your seed stock and decide what to begin for the summer season. In the geothermal greenhouse we have many varieties of lettuce ready to pick, spinach started, basil babies, fennel ready to harvest, garlic chives to eat (which we found visiting kiddos devour), cilantro bolting and going to seed, the aloe is thriving, and the banana tree is alive (no fruit yet)!

Some of the plants to start early in our greenhouse include tomatoes, brussels sprouts, beans, carrots, onions, and basically any other plants that take over 70-90 days to finish. We will keep you posted on what varieties we get going this year, hopefully providing some agricultural shoulders on which the local community can stand. At 10,000 foot elevation, we are very lucky to have a geothermal greenhouse to start the plants in, and thanks to a Colorado Garden Foundation Grant we are putting up another greenhouse to accompany the hugelkulture [link here] and raised bed projects. We could still use some support from folks like you – please consider donating here. [link]

Our raised beds have been relocated closer to the alpacas and we utilized the same aeration and soil layering techniques that we have employed in the past. The soil in the beds is improving over time with amendments and special potting soils added. One of the four beds was left as a pure compost and topsoil mix without the extra potting soil. We will use this bed to assess the compost quality versus more amended soils. Stay tuned.

Colorado Mountain College Sustainability studies and business major Jeff Kepler has researched greenhouses which incorporate concepts of sustainable design such as passive solar, trombe walls (define) and thermal mass, a “climate battery” to circulate warm air under the roots, vermiculture, and other important elements for high country greenhouse design. This summer he is taking on an internship with us to write a short book or manual on building a greenhouse in the high country. The goal is to provide a simple resource explaining various options, costs, and challenges associated with building greenhouses in the Rocky Mountain high country.

What about your greenhouse and beds?

It’s a good time to give your greenhouse a thorough cleaning to prepare for the summer with a bit of pest and mold prevention.   Things you can do to clean the area and prepare include cleaning with a bleach/water solution, cleaning using vinegar/water, burning sulfur in a diffuser to kill fungal spores, and tidying up before the summer gets into full swing.

Other preventative measures can go a long way for success! Soils may be left outside during the colder nights to kill insect larvae. Placing the soil in direct sunlight can help sterilize it as well. Whiteflies and aphids are primarily what we have come across in the geothermal greenhouse; you always have to be on the lookout for preventive strategies, integrative models, and sustainable ways to react to new challenges.

As with any ecosystem there is a niche battle going on. By improving and encouraging beneficial microbial life in the soil we can influence this niche occupation to our benefit. Utilizing compost, and compost teas, keeping the area clean, pruning dead leaves, utilizing yellow sticky traps, implementing beneficial nematodes and ladybugs when necessary to eat larvae and eggs, vaporizing sulfur for fungal spores (be careful to not inhale vapors and spray the area down with water as the sulfur treatment begins), among other methods help influence the biodiversity towards the species we want in our garden, both in the soil and above the soil.