Vegetable gardening in Aspen requires tenacity and these three women offer some advice for the challenge.
Any farmer in the Roaring Fork Valley, from Glenwood Springs at 5,761 feet to 6,608-foot-high Emma, deserves respect. High-country farming, with its short and fickle growing season and unpredictable weather, requires more labor and financial risk than farming most anywhere else in the country. But the gardeners growing edible crops at Aspen’s nearly 8,000 feet face an accelerated version of those challenges and, arguably, a sweeter reward. Here, a few tenacious gardeners share their tips for growing veggies in Aspen. If they don’t inspire you to get your hands in the dirt, Fitzgerald Landscaping can help you plan, plant and maintain a vegetable garden of your own, just as it did for the Hotel Jerome, Aspen Elementary Schools and the city of Aspen.
Who: Allison Miller
Longtime Aspen local Allison Miller works in public relations, bookkeeping and catering, but it’s her work gardening that she finds most rewarding. “I hate what agrobusiness is doing to the planet and our diets,” says Miller. “I love the saying ‘Know your farmer; know your food.’”
What In her garden rows next to the Hunter Longhouse, Miller grows kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, sorrel and more—more than she can consume. She grows so much kale, she turns it into chips and brings it to the Music Tent to give away to friends.
How While many local vegetable gardeners adhere to the local rule of not planting until the snow melts off Bell Mountain, Miller gets her crops—which she says are as hearty as they come—in the dirt as early as possible. And in the fall, she doesn’t clean up the garden. “When you leave plants in the soil over the winter, it keeps the soil alive by giving it oxygen,” she says.
Who: Naoma Gleason
Fellow Hunter Creek resident and 30-year Aspenite Naoma Gleason grew up in Salt Lake City, where her family’s ¼-acre garden fed a family of 12. “We’d ask my mom what was for dinner and she’d say: “Go out and pick it,’” says Gleason.
What Gleason doesn’t have space for a garden near her condo, but she maintains three gardens around town, thanks to generous friends. She likes to grow things she can’t find at farmers markets, like purple green beans and mountain rose potatoes. “I love the pear-shaped tomatoes and crookneck squash,” she says. She also grows different varieties of lettuce and kale, snap peas, beets, carrots, spinach and more.
How Gleason plants early and plants every three weeks to create a steady crop of vegetables through the fall (when she protects her veggies with blankets draped over PVC pipe). “Building your soil is the most important part of gardening here,” says Gleason, who mixes 2 tons of compost from the Pitkin County Landfill with peat moss. “Once you have nutritious soil, anything can grow,” Gleason spends about 15 hours a week preparing the garden, five hours a week maintaining it through the season and then about 12 hours a week harvesting later in the season.
Who: Sarah T. Hopkins
Sarah T. Hopkins was inspired to start gardening because of her love for cooking and clean, fresh ingredients.
What This year, in her plot in the Aspen Community Garden, Hopkins planted onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, beans, carrots, beets and more. She already tends to raspberries and strawberries, which her kids have grown up eating off the vine (Hopkins founded the Aspen Community School garden in Woody Creek).
How Hopkins buys starter plants for tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, and grows her own squash sprouts. She cuts the bottoms out of yogurt containers and uses them as a collar around the plants to give them every chance to flourish. She plants seeds like lettuce, green beans and root crops. “Some places in the country, you can just plant some seeds, walk away and come back to plants,” says Hopkins. “Up here, you really have to cultivate—you have to amend the soil, protect your plants, fertilize them. ... I always feel really good when I produce something edible.”
Photography by: Photo by gabriel gurrola/unsplash