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High altitude gardening in Gilpin

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Local Extension knows the territory best – Part 2 of 2

By Don Ireland

There are several ways you can learn about growing flowers and vegetables in Gilpin County. One involves reading many gardening books, although they probably won’t focus on local growing conditions. You also could surf the internet, but that could lead you to a million places that aren’t relevant.

To save time and get the most accurate local advice and information, your best bet is to reach out to the Gilpin Extension Service of Colorado State University. The current pandemic requires appointments to visit the office at 230 Norton Drive (next to the Gilpin County Community Center). However, the Gilpin Extension Service website, https://gilpin.extension.colostate.edu, offers information around the clock.

Jennifer Cook, Extension Director and Agent for natural resources, horticulture and energy, says she is looking forward to another planting season with county residents. “You can come to us for lots of different things. For anyone not familiar with us, we’re the community arm of Colorado State University,” she said. “We offer research-based information. A lot of the topics people may find interesting is weed identification and management, and forest fire-wise management.”

For people new to Gilpin County, the Extension Service has a community garden for edibles adjoining its office. “We have about 10 regulars who come back each spring, but there still are plots available for 2021. That garden might be a good place for somebody new to get started with mountain growing,” according to Cook. “We have raised beds and in-ground planting beds, and a big water tank for irrigation.”

Municipal-operated water systems can be found in Gilpin’s two large towns, Black Hawk and Central City. Other areas of the county are served by wells. “There are many water-law issues here,” said Cook. “For example, my (home) well water is permitted for indoor use only. So, if someone wants to try gardening, they may be legally limited by their well-water use permissions. People can have rain barrels – two 55-gallon barrels are allowed per dwelling. We have fact sheets on rain barrels for anyone who wants to know more about them, including how to set them up. I can help people with information if they have questions about wells and water rights.”

Having proper fencing is important for those who want their own home garden. Raised planting beds can help keep most of the critters out,” said Cook. “The critter problems here are the voles, pocket gophers, and ground squirrels. Someone new to gardening would want to know about those three things. In addition to the little animals, there are deer, moose, and bears who might want to eat what’s in your garden. There’s a lot to contend with up here. We have information about these things on our website.”

The vegetable gardening season starts much later (weeks or sometimes a month behind Denver and the Front Range). Cook said the Extension Service has a chart for the best times to plant various veggies. Plants best suited for Gilpin County typically fall in the Zones 3-4 category of the United States Department of Agriculture Growing Charts. “It’s not always about the zone-it’s about how cold tolerant the plant is,” said the Gilpin County resident. “Even in the summer, we have some cold weather, especially at night. That’s why I encourage people to try cool-season vegetables. If you want to try warm-season crops, you’re going to have to do some extra work to protect them from the cold. If it’s someone new to this area, I tell them to stick with the cool-season crops: carrots, radish, turnips, snap peas, spinach, kale and lots of greens.” See the Gilpin planting guide, which also can be found on the website.

“We also have a native plant demonstration garden in front of our office. We are planning to have a demonstration garden at the new Gilpin County Human Services and Public Health Building. We have lists of native plants that grow well here on the website,” said Cook, who moved to Colorado with her husband in 2006. Prior to becoming the Gilpin Extension Service agent shortly before the pandemic struck, she previously worked on various agriculture projects with CSU.

The Extension service sells floating row cover for gardens in addition to grass and wildflower seeds. Each year, there is a sale for preorder trees, shrub seedlings, and native perennial flowers.

Gilpin Extension Service’s resource website also includes:

  • Factsheets on vegetable gardening in the mountains.
  • The Colorado Mountain Gardeners blog.
  • A list of mountain plant recommendations.
  • The link to an hour-long webinar on mountain gardening, recorded last year.
  • Information on fire-wise landscaping (what not to plant close to your house).

The same as other County Extension programs in the state, the Gilpin office also has a Master Gardener’s program.

For additional information, visit the website, email the Extension Agent at Jennifer.Cook@colostate.edu or leave a message at 303-582-9106.

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