As I write this article on a gloomy and cold Tuesday, waiting for the forecasted storm to come in tonight and bring 3
to 5 feet (okay, maybe 3 to 5 inches - but it never hurts to wish) of snow, the weather provides an opportunity to
look back at the growing season of 2009.
It was strange and unpredictable.
Wow, that was easy.
For those of you who wish to remember, the last week of December 2008 was incredibly snowy; January was freakishly
cold (16 nights with temperatures at or below zero); and then toward the end of February, our warm and dry trend
started and didn't seem to conclude until the end of May.
In Durango, our last spring frost in 2009 was technically May 1, which is very early. Our first fall frost was Sept.
22 (normal), giving us a growing season of 144 days. But if you were brave enough to plant tender vegetables in May, then I don't think I would want to play poker with you.
As June rolled around, temperatures remained cool and we had above-average rain (2.4 inches). So if you did put
plants in the ground, they didn't really seem excited about growing.
July was hot with an average high of 88 degrees, which is 2 degrees above normal. We also had 14 days above 90
degrees. Those are the 14 days of the year I wish I had air conditioning.
To top it all off, during the second week of August we had a cold snap where temperatures dipped into the upper 30s, and in some locations around the area, a light frost was reported.
So, for those of you who believe that the growing season for 2009 was 144 days, I have a bridge in Brooklyn ...
When you take a class from me, you will realize that I put very little emphasis on frost dates because they are all
over the board. Our season is variable - between years, between locations and between microclimates. That is what
makes growing fruits and vegetables in our area so difficult.
Our "growing" elevation in La Plata County ranges from 6,000 to roughly 8,700 feet; precipitation can range from
just over 10 inches near the New Mexico state line to 28 inches at Durango Mountain Resort; and because of our
canyons, valleys, river bottoms and hillsides, microclimates abound. So if you are really serious about growing
edible crops, then pay attention to what is going on in your backyard.
If you really want to feel more comfortable about growing in our challenging climate, I would strongly recommend
taking the Colorado Master Gardener course. I will talk more about it in my next column, but I wanted to mention that
we are currently accepting applications for the 2010 class, which will start Jan. 21 and goes for 10 consecutive
weeks. You will learn a ton, and I would guarantee that you will be much more confident when it comes to the growing
season of 2010. Contact me if you are interested.
Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.