Farmers who avoid the outdoors

Written Aug 25:

We have become a family of urban farmers who only emerge in the early morning and dusk to harvest, weed, plant a few winter greens, give the garden a little extra TLC where needed, and then retreat back into our “cave” to escape the heat. It has been blastin’ hot for weeks. I’m talking 90s. And in Colorado, we don’t have the humidity, but the sun here is intense at higher elevations and just bakes our skin. I’ve even managed a few sunburns this year when I wasn’t being particularly careful about sunscreen.

I don’t like that I’m not getting outside, but the kids don’t even want to go out until we get afternoon shade. And believe me, I’ve tried to shoo them out the door because they’re driving me flippin’ insane being inside all of the time. Most of our outdoor activities like taking a walk or a bike ride have been reserved for the evening. 

I know if we were “real” farmers, this outdoor avoidance simply would not be an option, but as long as I have a 2-going-on-3-year-old, I kind of have to be where the kids are unless I want to re-enter the house to find the furniture in shreds or that the kids have decided to make a “mixture” in the living room from accessible pantry ingredients that will most decidedly include food coloring. So, I do a bit of gardening here and there when the kids are preoccupied in the house, but honestly, not much. 

Something positive must be said on my behalf, however. I have been much better this year about using everything I grow. I’ve put away  a few things for winter – frozen green beans, frozen tart cherries, canned apricot jam, dehydrated local peaches and apricots. Our potatoes are about ready for harvest and I’ve got to come up with somewhere to store them. What I wouldn’t give for a basement!!!

Our garlic harvest was magnificent and I’m making plans to expand our crop and maybe even sell some in the future. The garlic I see at the farmer’s markets is pretty puny and unappealing. I could probably make a little extra money with dried flowers and garlic if I had access to a bit of land. We’re starting to give some serious thought to buying a couple of acres and a house, but so far haven’t found anything even remotely in our price range. I may have to enlist the help of a real estate agent. 

Other decent-sized crops: beets, lettuce, raspberries (fabulous), potatoes

Crop failures: squash and pumpkins – all varieties. You would think that a woman who has gardened for about a decade now could manage to successfully grow a zucchini, but not this year apparently. I’ve hear the same from a few other experienced gardeners. The heat? Too much potassium in my soil? I don’t know. I’m going to have my soil tested for the first time this year. I’ve always just amended the garden with a couple of inches of compost and sometimes manure, or top soil. I occasionally use organic fertilizer, but not more than once or twice in a growing season. Who knows? The climate here in Denver can be pretty harsh on vegetable gardens – extreme sun, usually drought, extreme temperature changes. 

More crop failures: greens – collards, kale, broccoli, various asian greens – first eaten by cabbage moths, then infested with aphids in clumps so thick they could not be washed off. Cabbage – eaten by tiny pests I don’t recognize. Most could not be salvaged and were composted. Next year, I’ll use floating row covers. I’m trying fall plantings to see if they fare any better, but so far, after two plantings, my seedlings have failed to emerge (weather still unseasonably hot!). Tomatoes – small harvest. Enough for fresh eating, but nothing else. Even with 13 tomato plants! The plants are all pretty small in comparison to previous years, so I’m a bit perplexed. Bad batch of compost?

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