I have long tried to grow food in challenging conditions, from my first apartment in DC and my failed windowbox tomatoes, to our pest-ridden peas in our LA patio garden, and now to our challenging climate in Truckee.
To paraphrase this post from last April, here in Truckee:
- We can get frost any night of the year, and usually have fewer than 80 frost-free days each year
- We have no natural topsoil
- We have lots of wild animals who masquerade as pests and make a salad bar out of any garden
- We are technically in hardiness zone 6, but can only really depend on plants that are hardy down to zones 1 and 2, which means: forget about ever growing a tomato or cucumber at home
On top of that, our lot is super shaded, thanks to some beautiful old Jeffrey pines.
But I'm still determined to create our own micro farm, even if it means lots more frustration to come. (I didn't even post about our garden travails last year, because we had so many visits from the local mule deer to our all-you-can-eat salad bar.) I have already learned a thing or two along the way, and here's what I will act on from now on:
- Our best garden real estate (that is, sunshine) is in the front yard, and we just have to carpe diem and use that space for growing food. Some of our neighbors park cars in their front yard... our pretty little garden certainly won't look worse than that.
- We need to grow most of our herbs indoors, to protect them from both the cold and the deer.
- I just need to give up on warm weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and most beans. I'll focus instead on what are "cool season" or "spring and fall crops" in most places, like greens, carrots, peas and some herbs.
- It's also time to think about fruit bushes and trees, including some apples that are extremely cold hardy. I have already begun the PR campaign against the underperforming and non-food-producing trees currently standing where I want the fruit trees to go. ("Look at that slacker tree, Mark. You know it never even put on a full set of leaves last year. Don't you think it's a waste of space and water?")
- In the long run, I definitely want a greenhouse, like the one in this amazing story.
I've got lots of planning in the works...
...like mapping out an annuals raised bed in the front yard and a perennial bed in the back yard...
... and I have most of the seeds to get started on a heat mat, under some grow lights, in the kitchen window. They'll meet the soil come March.
Once the herb seedlings get big enough to transfer, they'll find themselves in new homes in EcoForms rice hull pots. (We're all trying to banish plastic from our kitchens these days, so why grow our food in plastic pots?)
I'm also considering adding some cold frames to our second floor deck so that we can grow some salad greens and herbs outside without risking them getting chomped by deer, and while providing them a little more shelter from cold nights.
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