With Spring around the corner, gardeners are dusting off their gloves and shovels and prepping for the growing season. In honor of this time of preparation, ACES is celebrating gardening this month at the Hallam Lake Visitor's Center and Nature Preserve.
What’s so great about gardening, you ask? Among gardeners, the sentiment is the same -- it simply feels good to know exactly where our food is coming from and to pull it from the ground with our own hands. Gardening connects us to our roots -- after all, access to supermarkets is a luxury that’s only been available in the recent past. Perhaps most importantly, planting, growing, harvesting, and eating food directly from the Earth fosters a respect and appreciation for the natural world and all of the incredible things it can produce with a little water and help from the sun!
In keeping with growing farm to table and local food trends, the last few years have happily seen an increase in green thumbs throughout RFV. Green houses and other growing structures are also gaining popularity as an effective way to extend the short growing season in our area. The Roaring Fork Valley sees great variety in the number of frost-free days that are garden-friendly, depending on the garden’s location, elevation, and weather changes. Up in Aspen, the growing season typically falls between June 15th and August 15th. Gardening at high altitude can certainly be challenging, but many RFV residents happily take on the task, doing their best to cultivate a healthy and productive garden during our short and sweet growing season. ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch, for example, grows over 100 varieties of vegetables each summer, demonstrating that it’s not only possible, but can be highly productive to garden in high altitude climates.
ACES at Hallam Lake also has a garden, which is one of our favorite teaching spaces. The garden faces some challenges, yet over the years we have successfully grown kale, cilantro, chives, chard, collard greens, lovage, potatoes, lemon balm, mint, fennel, basil, and more. This month, we’re hosting the Hallam Lake Garden Volunteer series to help prepare the garden for the summer season! This is a perfect opportunity to get your hands dirty, familiarize yourself with high-altitude gardening practices, and to lend a hand during the off-season. Volunteers are invited to join us each Wednesday in May at 5:30PM, we’ll provide cold drinks including Aspen Brewing Company beer.
Another great opportunity to get involved with gardening is by reserving a plot at a community garden, and there are several in the RFV. I spoke with Anna Scott, manager of Aspen’s Community Garden, who told me a bit about the garden’s history and how to get involved. The Aspen Community Garden was created in 1978 at the Marolt Open Space. Last year, the garden expanded to 83 total plots thanks to the City of Aspen Parks Department. While there is still a waiting list for plots, it has grown smaller since the expansion. Anna explained that the most successful crops in the community garden are cold weather plants that can flourish in a short growing season. She also offered a few tips for budding gardeners: The key is planting seeds in mid to late May or early June and making sure plants get plenty of water and sunlight since the growing season is short and frost-free days are limited. Anna recommended planting high altitude variations of plants that have higher success rates during the two-month growing season. What follows is a list of plants that Anna recommends for gardeners at high altitude, many of which can be purchased at local garden shops: Lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, cilantro, sage, oregano, carrots, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, asparagus, peas, beans, radishes, beets, cabbage, broccoli, fast growing squashes like yellow and zucchini, nasturtium, sunflowers, raspberries, tomatoes, and peppers (if you plant the early-fruiting varieties and use walls of water). For more information about the Aspen Community Garden, or to be added to the waitlist for a plot, e-mail [email protected]
ACES is also partnering with the City of Aspen and Pitkin County to host the first ever Vegetable Garden Competition and Tour in an effort to encourage increased local food production and demonstrate that bountiful food gardens can be grown right here in the Aspen area. Businesses, homeowners, landscapers - anyone who plants at least 25% of their landscaped space with vegetables and herbs are invited to enter the competition, and winning gardens will be featured on the tour on August 5th. Gardens will be judged by creativity, variety, and productivity - whether your edible cultivars are in a planter, a raised bed or lining your walkway, any planting of food is encouraged! Click here to enter the competition by July 31st, and click here for more information about the tour.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating gardening this month! Head down to Hallam Lake to learn more, open Monday - Friday from 9AM - 5PM.
~ Emily Chase, Hallam Lake Programs Coordinator