A New York transplant to Colorado Springs, I was a bit naive about local gardening. Let’s just say my early forays into deck gardening here at my second- floor condo were total flops compared to my previous growing experiences. “Gardening in New York is just cheating,” says Larry Stebbins, local gardening guru and director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens. Since growing up with lush Midwestern growing conditions, Stebbins has mastered the art of growing in Colorado—and sharing the benefits and know-how of growing your own food. Following his tips can make your garden—and mine—grow.
1. Choose a sunny location. “Not just any sunny location,” Stebbins says. “You want eight or more hours of direct sunlight daily.”
2. Plant in rich, loose, organically amended soil. Stebbins recommends independent garden shops where you can seek a local opinion on the best organic amendments and plant choices.
3. Hydrate! “Hydrate your beds or planting area down 8 to 10 inches prior to planting anything,” Stebbins says. “Think of it like baking: To get your dough ready, you must add a little water at a time, then mix.” He recommends the same depth for watering throughout the growing season.
4. Plant in shallow trenches, not on mounds. “In Colorado Springs, it’s too dry, and it’s difficult for the water to get down to the roots,” he says.
5. Don’t overcrowd. “We plant carrots 1 inch apart, so we don’t have to thin,” Stebbins says. “Plant tomatoes and zucchini 3 to 4 feet apart and broccoli, cabbage and peppers 18 inches apart.
6. Stay connected. Visit your garden daily to check on water needs and bugs.
7. Debug safely. “Spray them off with a stream of water, or handpick them off,” Stebbins advises. “You don’t want to use a substance that could kill the good with the bad.”
8. Protect your plants. The plants I struggled with—tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers—need warmth and protection from harsh winds. “Use small hoop tunnels with UV-treated plastic to do both,” Stebbins says.
9. Harvest when your crop is ready. “Don’t delay!”
10. Scale for size. For apartment and condo-dwellers like me, Stebbins advocates planting in cloth potting bags, such as Smart Pots, ranging from one to 25 gallons. “They are easy to carry upstairs even when filled with good, loose, organic soil,” he says. Place those pots in full sun, and do not overcrowd. If planting tomatoes in a container, opt for patio or bush varieties.
What and When to Grow
Plant roots, such as carrots and onions, in early spring. By May 15, you can plant some lettuces and greens outside. “Plants that fruit, that is flower—such as peppers, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes—should be planted in late May or early June,” Stebbins says.
Do you have limited yard or deck space—or simply want some growing camaraderie? Consider joining a community garden. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens lists and links private and public community gardens all over El Paso County from their interactive map at ppugardens.org. They even offer tips for starting your own community garden, and if it’s public, PPUG provides free consulting to help you get started.