What grows at 9K feet? Not much

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It sneaks up on you; the altitude, that is.

Most people that have come up to work at the Bar B feel the effects of the altitude in both summer and winter. Thinner air, less protection from the sun and fast-paced dehydration all make people sick pretty fast.

The same is true of plants. Now, the dirt at the Bar B won’t grow nuthin’. There’s very little “soil,” it’s mostly pink-tinged ground-up granite that only grows weeds and wood. You can pour as much fertilizer, compost or magic fairy dust into the ground and it resolutely hangs onto its depleted state.

The only way to grow things up here is either in a greenhouse, in raised garden beds or in containers. I love to grow tomatoes and last year I got a big container and planted one plant and the yield was one single tomato. This past summer I planted one plant and got 50. I’m getting smarter about this although I made a mistake in choosing Early Girl tomatoes, I should really go for cherry tomatoes. They take less time to ripen and there’s more of them.

The other problem is the late-night marauders that steal ripened tomatoes from the stalk. I would find half-chewed tomatoes on the deck, sad little tomato guts drying in the sun. The little thieving bastards don’t even eat the entire tomato – they just take a few bites and move onto the next offering.

I plan on a double cage system that would allow me to get access to the tomatoes but would limit the marauder’s snack time. If that doesn’t work I may resort to wiring the cage with an electrical charge. That’ll get their attention.

Tomatoes on the deck are a seductive lure because only dandelions and raspberries grow in the yard. I get plenty of raspberries but they’re small and will grow only if they get a bounty of watering. Not so much when you can buy a carton of them for $1 at King Soopers.

All my petunias and tomato plants have been put to bed and are cooking into fertilizer for next year’s crop. Along with compost I use Miracle Grow dirt and every Friday I water with Miracle Grow fertilizer. I’ve always had a lot of success with with that combination, especially when I had four raised garden beds at the house in Denver. I would yield hundreds of tomatoes of all kinds. It didn’t matter if they were beefsteak of any other specialty variety.

I had one packet of seeds I used for many years. They’ll keep for 20 years if they’re stored properly and kept dry. I would start my tomato seeds, green peppers, onions, cosmo flowers and anything else I wanted to grow in a makeshift greenhouse window in my bedroom. I’d start them at the end of March and move them outside near the middle of May, kept cozy by water greenhouses. I had a blanket handy to toss of the cages should we get a typical Colorado snow just weeks from the first weeks of summer. One secret I had is to plant marigolds near the tomatoes to attract bees and help with pollination. My neighbor would complain about the ‘golds and he’d explain, between sneezes, that they were making his life miserable. Whatever.

February was and is always a great month – my birthday, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries (marriage AND divorce) and the arrival of the Burpee Seed catalog. There was magic in looking through those glossy pages, dreaming of summer days, green grass and super crops of tomatoes.

For summer 2013 I plan on two plants – one a regular tomato, probably another Early Girl and a cherry tomato. I’ll start the seeds in my garden window and have them ready to move outside during at the start of growing season, somewhere around the end of June. After all, this altitude is great for growing trees but not for much else.

Geraniums, petunias and tomatoes. Those are my crops because that’s about all that’ll grow at the Bar B.

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