TELLURIDE – Living at 8,750 feet doesn’t mean you can’t raise food. With a little forethought, determination and attention, at least some of the food on our tables can be produced locally.
Today, a host of green-thumbed residents of the Telluride region grow their own – and done right, it’s a whole lot fresher and healthier than what lines the supermarket shelves. Ask Kris Holstrom, of the high-altitude off-the-grid Tomten Farm, about growing your own food, and she points to food safety and security.
Holstrom says, “People want more connection with food, even if it’s only salad.”
Growing your own doesn’t necessarily mean buying a farm, and options range from container gardening to signing on for a plot in the community garden to bigger commitments like building a greenhouse or buying and installing your own growing dome.
Suzan Beraza and Ashley Boling’s Lawson Hill home was designed with towering windows that rise up two stories on its south side. At the base of those windows, lining one entire kitchen wall, are soil-beds with a myriad of greenery.
Even in densely packed Lawson Hill, their grow-space is filled with sunlight year-round, enabling them to experiment with growing a range of vegetables.
They dedicated a portion of their yard to gardening, as well, until, “Last year, the day I was going to pick the chard, the deer had mowed the whole thing down,” explains Beraza, who now gardens only inside.
“I have to say that my tomatoes are heads-and-tails above store-bought ones, red and juicy,” she says. “I’ve had enough of sawdust tomatoes.”
Besides tomatoes, Beraza grows herbs and green beans; she affectionately points to her one “pet beet,” which continues to provide greens.
She has learned some techniques for keeping her indoor garden flourishing. For example: “We don’t have bees in here, so I have to go through with my paintbrush” to pollinate the tomatoes. Using castings from worm-composting on the soil, she says, has helped her tomatoes “really take off.”
Because “you are what you eat,” Beraza, who orders from two Community Supported Agriculture organizations year-round, prefers to grow her own and spend a little more on locally grown goods. “I try to support local farmers, bakers and dairies, because closer food is healthier and has more nutrition.
“Plus it’s important to support local farms. They’re our future.”
Beraza also wants her young son, Lachlan, to be part of the process. “He’ll pick and eat things straight out of the garden,” she says. “I want him to know where food comes from.”
The Community Garden
Telluride’s community garden, offering 20 terraced plots on three levels on the hillside behind the middle/high school, is now in its second year. “They’re all sold,” says garden manager Ashley Rieger, citing “an overwhelming amount of interest.” For those interested in getting on next year’s list, contact Rieger at 708-0683.
A few days into summer, and its subscribers are already growing peas, lettuce, kale, and chard – as well as tomato plants, some ingeniously surrounded by plastic water containers to prolong the sun’s heat.
Last year’s perennials are also sprouting – Rieger points to “some hops from last year” on the terraced walls.
Community gardens offer a great opportunity for people to experiment with growing their own food, especially when land is not available for gardening due to space or shading. A recent article in the Denver Post indicated the popularity of community gardens, with most of those in Colorado being sold out, just like Telluride’s. Most also have long waiting lists for next year.
At a yearly cost of $50 each, the garden’s five-foot by 10-foot plots come with water. Rieger thinks the popularity of the community garden is a good sign. “People need to be more connected with and know where their food comes from,” she states.
For those who commit themselves to growing more of their food, the next step may be a greenhouse extension or a season-extending grow dome, like the ones sold by Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs. Designed by Udgar Parsons, following his experience with Windstar Foundation in Snowmass, these domes are based on geodesic dome principles “to create an affordable dome greenhouse for backyard gardeners,” according to Growing Spaces’ website.
The domes range from 12 feet to 51 feet in diameter, and in cost from $4,350 up to just over $40,000, installed. They come with a host of features like water tanks for thermal mass, glazing, north-wall insulation, and user-friendly automatic vents.
Given the number of grow domes sprouting in the region and in other harsher climates –two years ago, Holstrom estimates, there were 80 grow domes just in the Pagosa area – they serve their purpose well.
“They’re sturdy,” says Holstrom, but they “take some management and training, as well as some different pest management.”
What It Takes
For instance, a planting schedule must be established so that you have food year round and the raised planting beds have to be designed into the round space. Creativity abounds in determining how to lay out the space, with local grow-domers employing mazes, straw bale or metal roofing sides and other expressions of their personality.
Pests, both insects and mice, are yet another tricky and unwelcome surprise for some grow dome owners. Once inside, the visitors can feast on the abundance of greenery and, if not controlled, wipe out a crop. Aphids and whiteflies flourish in the warm moist spaces if not managed vigilantly.
Pollination is something most of us take for granted. But in an enclosed growing space, you immediately learn which plants are self-pollinating and which rely on bees, butterflies and other pollinators for their existence. Some indoor growers leave the doors open when it’s warm enough so that cucumbers, squash and tomatoes attract bees. Others import their bees (yes, bees can come in boxes).
It doesn’t rain inside growing domes or greenhouses, so an irrigation system, or religious hand watering, is necessary for crops to survive.
The type of soil crops are grown in can make all the difference between luscious and ho-hum flavors; testing and enriching the soils, preferably with compost, is critical. Since all the soil for raised beds is hauled in, it’s best to know the source and have it tested first.
But those committed to indoor gardening understand the responsibilities required to grow the crops, and like any relationship, it takes time to learn about the other’s needs. The payback for this attention is a bounty of healthy and tasty food year round, well worth the extra time and energy.
©2008 Amy R. Levek