Colorado Master Gardeners: Tending the home ranch garden
As someone who likes a long winter break from gardening, I’ve never considered greenhouse gardening. Yet, I was inspired by an article in Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine (Summer 2016) about a farm-to-table operation thriving in Clark, complete with high-altitude and extremely short gardening season and tended by Routt County Master Gardeners.
The article “Chef Clyde’s Farm Kitchen” details Home Ranch Executive Chef Clyde Nelson’s dream of creating a “garden and farm capable of producing local, sustainable, high-quality vegetables to feed guests and staff.”
The project, which started as a small kitchen vegetable garden, is now a 4,000-square-foot planting space, complete with greenhouse and additional areas for fruit trees, chickens and pigs. Implementing Nelson’s dream was Master Gardener Adele Carlson. She, along with Master Gardener Allison Mecklenburg, took a break from their greenhouse work last month to talk about the project.
Carlson, a longtime Clark resident, tended beautiful flower and vegetable gardens for years. She enrolled in the 2007 Master Gardener program with no plans to run a farm. Rather, she focused on rangeland management and weed control so she could be more actively involved in the ranch her family operates.
When a Home Ranch executive asked her to run Chef Clyde’s garden project in 2011, she became a student again, repeating the Master Gardener classes on vegetable gardening and supplementing her education with online research. A greenhouse was purchased, raised beds were built and the planting list was prepared. When it was time to plant, Adele said, “Failure was not an option.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work and Mother Nature, the project has been quite successful. Adele was able to comfortably step back last fall and, while still helping out, has turned the project over to another Mecklenburg.
Mecklenberg (Master Gardener Class of 2015) moved to Routt County in 2013 after receiving a degree in nutrition. Early in her career, she discovered she was more interested in growing healthy food than in talking about healthy food, and she gained valuable horticulture experience through varied work experiences. The Home Ranch garden project position is “a dream come true,” she said.
Some of the following tips, which I gleaned from our conversation, may benefit the Routt County gardener.
- Keep a journal detailing when crops are planted and harvested.
- Plant flowers among the vegetables to encourage beneficial insects (echinacea, borage) and to discourage pests (marigolds, garlic).
- Remember that companion planting can minimize insect problems (radishes under cucumbers) and improves growth (carrots and tomatoes).
- Observe which plants return the following season (providing early greens to the kitchen), and experiment with ways to keep them happy during the winter.
- Keep the growing crops properly thinned for a healthy environment.
- Plant cucumbers — fresh from the garden they are delicious.
- Try something new. Mecklenburg is currently growing artichokes.
- Learn from others.
Both Carlson and Mecklenburg are often amazed by what they learn from others. Carlson found her seasonal interns — college students interested in horticulture — to be valuable resources. Both said that their favorite learning experiences are with preschool visitors, who come excited to plant, harvest and share their gardening knowledge.
As we wound up our conversation (shivering in winter coats on a sunless morning), I looked around in the greenhouse and out in the garden area and was amazed to see so much growth this time of year — herbs and vegetables and flowers. Two tubs filled with delicious-looking lettuce were the result of an early morning harvest, proof that Carlson’s devotion and hard work has paid off and that the project will remain in good hands.
And, while I may never take up greenhouse gardening, I envied the person who would be enjoying that early season fresh salad.
A long time Steamboat resident and casual gardener, Vicky Barney is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.
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