Veggie Gardening in the High Country
When I was about 10 years old, my brother took a narrow strip of dirt between two citrus trees and planted a garden.
The only thing I remember from that urban Los Angeles miracle was the zucchini squash he grew. But after that, I was hooked. Gladiolas in the window box, sunflowers by the front lawn, and year after year, summer squash. I don´t remember him taking the time to actually teach me anything, he was my Older Brother after all. But somehow I learned the basics.
After that, anytime I had a patch of dirt I tried to garden. A kindly neighbor in Tennessee offered to roto-till a patch for us. That summer I taught myself to can: tomatoes, squash pickles, jams, whatever I could water bath. The neighbor would also sit on his back porch and, after a few too many beers in the afternoon, shoot beebees at the crows, but that´s a different story… In Escondido I carved out a strip next to a fence and had the same, plus a fig tree that just wouldn´t quit. Then in Carlsbad I actually made a garden plan and had cherry tomatoes that climbed past the roof. I had started reading some gardening magazines and purchased an early version of the Sunset Gardening Book. I thought I was Mother Nature herself!
But none of that prepared me for the adventures in gardening I have had since moving to Twain Harte! My own home for the very first time, not a rental! Almost two acres of land! Woohoo! Ok, so most of it is pitched like a black diamond ski run covered with oaks, pines, and cedars that I wouldn´t dream of touching. Oh, and the soil looked a little, well, hard. Undaunted, I picked out what looked to be a sunny spot, got some soil amendment, fertilizer, and a six pack of tomatoes from a home store. It didn´t work. I was amazed! I watered, I staked, I fertilized. But then I noticed that the water just pooled, the sunny spot only got about 4 hours total a day (darn tall trees!), and Bambi showed up about September when a few straggly stems were trying to grow.
So what have I learned? Organic matter. Lots of it, dug in. Better yet, raised beds with good top soil and lots of compost. And fencing. My veggie gardens are now in a much sunnier spot behind the house on the high side of the slope (duh!), surrounded by cedar split rail fence to keep the dogs out, and then 5 foot welded wire around the whole area to keep the dogs in and Bambi out. I don´t set anything tender out without cold protection until after Memorial Day. I start seeds indoors, looking forshort season” varieties. Then I harden them off for a few weeks when it is pretending to be warm and sunny (but I keep a watchful eye for late frosts). I have discovered the joys of fall vegetables and am still amazed that lettuce and spinach survive even after being snowed on. Every year I learn what works and what doesn´t. Melons, nope. Tomatoes, beans, beets, peas, lettuces, carrots, the occasional Japanese eggplant, and lots of squash; yep. Bell peppers have been iffy. This year I may try some more adventurous things like okra. Soaker hoses work great for me; I´m too lazy to figure out what size drip irrigation to use and how long to run it.
So if you want to try to high garden veggies this year, go for it! Amend the soil generously, fence it in, and look for the sunniest area you have. If the only spot you have that gets eight hours of sun is on your deck, use containers. A number of smaller sized vegetables have been developed just for containers. Remember that if it gets as hot as last year, you may have to water twice a day. And mulch, mulch, mulch to conserve as much water as possible. Then sit back, enjoy, and maybe throw Bambi a cucumber or two. She´ll love it.
Anne Robin graduated from last year´s Master Gardener training program in Tuolumne County. She gardens at about the 4000´ elevation level.