High Mountain Gardening: Plant in the Fall for an Early Spring Harvest
Gardening in the mountains has a life of its own. The deep snow cover keeps the ground from freezing hard, allowing perennials from zone 5 to grow heartily, assuming it is only the roots that must survive the winter cold. Low temperatures allow root crops, greens and peas to preform marvelously well all season long. Summer squash and beans do well, as do many types of herbs.
High Mountain Gardening
Living in the mountains is thought to be a simpler life, free of worries and stress.
However, gardening in the northern Rocky Mountains is not as simple as putting seeds in the ground and keeping them watered until harvest time. The little charts on the back of seed packages do not tell the whole story. The growing season is short, but it is not the only factor to consider.
- The ground is made of alkaline clay and full of rocks.
- Sixty frost free days, according to the county agricultural office, does not give a person much time to grow most garden goods.
- Temperatures, that rarely reach 95* F, make it nearly impossible to grow tomatoes and peppers without creating a micro climate.
- With snow, still occasionally falling in mid June, and light frosts as early as the second week of August, it is hard to know when to plant! Let alone what to plant.
When to Plant
In gardening, there are three types of annual crops, based on when to plant:
- Sow seeds when the weather is warm and all danger of frost is past.
- Start seeds indoors ___ weeks before transplanting.
- Sow seed as soon as the soil can be worked, while the weather is still cool.
High in the northern Rockies, that magical frost free date arrives around June 1st. Gardeners in my region often plant their entire garden the week before June 1st. They set out seedlings in late June. The first salad is ready to harvest by mid July.
Why Planting in the Fall Works
I began experimenting with fall planting several years ago, reasoning that the annual wild flowers were often done blooming by the time my garden had its first green leaves. I found that fall planting can extend the growing season by a month or more.
The deep snow, melting in early spring waters the seeds, causing them to germinate, while the ground is still too wet to work. Anything that says to plant while the weather is still cool will take to fall planting.
What to Plant in the Fall
Carrots: For a spring crop of carrots, plant in early - mid August. This gives the carrots enough time to come up, but not develop. In the spring, as soon as the snow has melted off of them, they will be ready to harvest.
Greens: Spinach, mustard, turnips and some lettuces can be planted in mid August, allowing the plants to leaf out before it freezes hard, and will often hold over the winter, for picking in early May.
They can also be planted just before the snow begins to fall in late October. The seeds will lay dormant until early spring. When the snow begins to melt, and temperatures are just over 40* during the day, they will begin to grow.
Peas: Peas planted in late October will begin growing when the temperatures reach 50* F, during the day, and begin flowering by mid June. Imagine, fresh sugar snap peas for a Fourth of July picnic!
Radishes: Radishes will be ready to harvest by mid June, if planted in October.
Winter Squash: Though the package says to wait until all danger of frost is past, it doesn't seem that the seeds are harmed be the cold. Those that I have planted in late October are the only ones who have ever had a long enough growing season to produce a crop at all.