29 April 2012

Organic gardening in arid, mountainous regions

The elevation of your growing zone impacts not only the length of your growing season but the amount of rainfall and oxygen your garden has to work with.

A recent trip to an Arkansas garden proved the point. We are the same horticultural zone but they are 1300 ft elevation and we are 300 feet. They are in the hills and we are in the foothills. Their season begins later, their soil is different and their rainfall is greater.

Colorado (and other) gardeners can be in one of a few cold hardiness zones and also have unique microclimates from each other due to creeks, mountains, soil type, etc. One thing all arid area gardeners have in common is lack of or very little rainfall.

The publisher and editor of Colorado Gardener magazine, Jane Shellenberger, has a new book out to help Colorado gardeners succeed. Shellenberger points out that "permaculture, working with nature and using its patterns as models to design functional ecosystems, offers a solution for turning this situation (the damaging effects of large agriculture) around...."

The premise of this lovely book about sustainable gardening is that you, as individuals can contribute to improving the ecosystem.

How? By growing a chemical-free garden of fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs in soil that you are building.

The book starts with a discussion of the variations of conditions across the west and other areas of the world with similar conditions.

Chapter 3 helps understand soil and how to build it. "Western soils are typically lean, with very little organic material compared to more humid woodland climates where lots of native deciduous trees and shrubs grow." The connection between healthy soil and soil bacteria, earthworms, organic matter, compost, manure, and green manure, are presented. Soil nutrients are next, followed by pollinators.

Chapter 6 is how to create a vegetable garden, Chapter 7 is how to extend the growing season, Chapter 8 beneficial insects, Chapter 9 covers all the undesirables: weeds, wildlife and destructive insects.

Water is the crucial topic of Chapter 10. The remaining 60 pages are "What to Grow". Not just names of plants but days to maturity, which varieties succeed in the arid mountains, nutritional importance, and how to succeed with hints, tips and guidance based on Shellenberger's experience.

Shellenberger covers all the basic information a new gardener needs. The depth of her knowledge and her discussion of the complexity of the issues and importance of gardening at home sets the book apart from most others. You will find a good read on organic gardening, agricultural history, weather and geology.

If you garden in an arid climate, this is the book for you. $25 from Fulcrum Publishing and $17 at online booksellers.

Other resources for Colorado gardeners are readily available online at Colorado Gardening.

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