Snow and ice are everywhere. The sun may be out but everybody knows to wear layers and it’s below freezing every night. However, Boulder County’s legion of home gardeners are busy dreaming of warmer days and growing tasty things. They are plotting and starting to order seeds.
According to a Boulder expert, the seeds and plants you decide to plant, nurture and grow during the 2022 season matter a great deal to having a healthy garden this summer.
Richard Pecoraro helped launch Seeds of Change, the nation’s first 100% organic, non-hybrid seed company, and Abbondanza, a regional seed organization based in New Mexico, before creating Boulder’s Masa Seed Foundation and opening Masa’s 75th Street farm.
During the season, Masa is a farm stand offering fresh vegetables, plant starts, seeds and a ton of free advice for gardeners along with volunteer-taught kids’ educational programs.
While almost every big box, hardware and grocery store sells seeds and plant starts, Masa only sells locally grown, locally sourced, non-GMO seeds, sometimes called “heirloom.”
“We like to bring the garden plants and the great plants of human history back into popularity. Our seeds and plants are adapted for local growing conditions. We also work with our own compost and soil. If you have good seeds and soil, chances are you’ll have a good result,” Pecoraro says.
“It’s like genetic history from generations of farmers—families pass on seeds. Gardeners and farmers can grow these crops, harvest the seeds and plant them again,” he says. Some conglomerates like Monsanto own patents on GMO seeds prohibiting farmers and gardeners from collecting and replanting them.
Pecoraro knows that gardening in Boulder County’s fickle climate can be challenging, especially for newcomers. Here are his tips on managing the major factors determining whether you’ll get great crops of arugula, tomatoes and chilies.
Planning: “When you’re thinking about what to put in your garden this spring, look at the plants you really want to grow and what is their optimal season here. Think in terms of three seasons: your spring garden, summer garden and fall garden.”
Soil: “Get real soil in your planters, not just potting soil. That’s fine for starting, but it needs more substance for growing healthier plants. Soil is the important part, not the supplements. It’s pretty easy as a home gardener to over-fertilize, to grab a bag of high-potency nutrients. I tell people to pay more attention to plants and how they react when they are growing and feed them appropriately.”
Spacing: “Each plant comes with spacing needs and they compete for food and water and sun. Tomato plants shouldn’t be any closer than one-and-a-half feet apart. If you plant cabbage six inches apart, you wouldn’t get cabbage.”
Sun: “Observe your garden space and see how much sun each part of it gets. Pick some plants for full sun and others that like some shade.”
Watering: “Water is the big one and it’s the most complex one for home gardeners to understand. You’re really dealing with the breathing system, the uptake of the plant, on a daily basis. They drink different in the morning. They drink different in the middle of the day. They drink different under partial shade. Most people overwater. They water every day and the plants becomes over-dependent. On the farm we water heavily every three days, even in the middle of the summer. How you water also matters. Overhead watering tends to compact the soil which can turn to cement here. That’s tough on young plants. Drips lines and mulch helps. You won’t pound the soil as hard.”
Corn: “Honestly, unless you can dedicate 100 square feet to sweet corn, it won’t yield enough ears to feed a family. You can grow clumps of heirloom corn like Hopi pink corn six feet apart and have the traditional Three Sisters. That’s companion planting with corn, squash and beans, which support and nourish each other.”
Until spring plant starts are available, Masa’s 2021 crop of locally produced seeds are available for order online at masaseedfoundation.org. This includes heirloom varieties of corn, dried beans, fresh beans, arugula, watermelon radish, carrots, onions, beets, herbs and much more.
“Spring’s all about dreams. In June, the plants want,” Pecoraro says. “They are taking from you. Always reserve part of your garden to finish up in the beauty of autumn. You’re not chasing it any more. The garden is giving.”
Local Food News
Boulder’s Ska Street Brewstillery recently announced that it is going into “hibernation” and will be closed until further notice. . . . Opening soon: Jeannot’s Patisserie & Bistro, 2770 Arapahoe Road in Lafayette, former home of Lunada Cantina, which has moved to Longmont. . . . If you order food delivered in February from Boulder’s restaurant-owned Nosh delivery service, the City of Boulder is paying all fees for delivery and also restaurant commission fees. . . . The remodeled King Soopers Table Mesa store will reopen on Feb. 9. . . . Denver’s Maria Empanada will open a shop at 2609 Pearl St., former longtime home of Salvaggio’s Italian Deli.
Words to Chew On
“Food matters to us whether we know it or not, from memories of childhood to food waste, from being homesick for familiar food when you are far away to the impact of agricultural practices on climate.” —Paul Freedman, Why Food Matters
John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s food editor. He hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.