As our travels around the sun begin again, we seem to be traversing through a very, very strange and dichotomous winter.
This week, we have winter storm warnings for Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina, while here in Southwest Colorado, we bask in the mid-50s.
It has gone from the humorous, snow dances and multiple washings of the car in hopes of enacting Murphy’s Law, to the surreal, brush and grass fires. This winter drought is no joke, and the implications next spring and summer could be the punchline that bombs. So we will continue to dance and look at long-range forecasts in anticipation that winter will arrive – this winter.
But if you are trying to grow plants/food with season-extension techniques, such as greenhouses, hoophouses, high tunnels, cold frames, etc., these warm, sunny days are ideal. With a relatively short growing season in La Plata County (typically 90 to 120 days), the use of season-extension techniques is an excellent way of prolonging it. From the simple, blankets and towels draped over tomatoes for protection from that early frost, to the complex, greenhouses with heating and cooling systems to create ideal growing conditions, we are seeing more gardeners and farmers implement mechanisms to gain a couple of degrees on cold nights.
In the backyard garden, I have found that a low tunnel, constructed of rebar, plastic conduit (or pvc or irrigation tubing) and frost cloth is an excellent and low-cost technique that can protect tender crops in the spring, keep out menacing insects in the summer and gain a couple weeks of harvest in the fall.
If you want to learn more about how to extend the growing season, the Colorado State University Extension Office will host a workshop from noon to 5 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Pine River Library, 395 Bayfield Center Drive in Bayfield. The workshop will be a primer, of sorts, to get newbies thinking about ways they garden in the backyard and will offer seasoned gardeners and farmers ideas about how to increase production and income.
Topics will range from basic techniques such as covering your crops with frost blankets to implementing larger structures like hoophouses, greenhouses and Grow Domes. We will look at how to control insects and diseases when growing under cover (if you build it, they will come) to relatively easy and cheap ways to convert a simple structure into refrigerated storage for your perishable fruits and vegetables.
For more information and to register, visit www.laplataextension.org.
And lastly, as this high-pressure ridge sits over the West, pushing cold and wet weather eastward, I highly recommend watering your trees, shrubs and even lawn while we are warm and dry.
I promise that if you haven’t, your plants and their roots are stressed. Young trees and shrubs and recently sodded lawns are most susceptible. Water during the heat of the day (must be above 40 degrees) and if the ground isn’t frozen or covered with snow.
Then, start dancing. We need all the help we can get.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter