“It’s too late to build a garden this year” is a statement we hear over and over again at The Urban Farm Company of Colorado. Having installed hundreds of raised bed vegetable gardens for homeowners and businesses along the Front Range, we’ve realized the statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Our goal is simple: to help people grow their own food in their backyard in an easy and fun way. We believe that the best time to install a garden is actually in the mid-Summer or Fall.
Step 1: Garden in the Fall
It sounds crazy, but planting most cold season vegetables—such as spinach, radishes, lettuce, kale, chard, broccoli, sugar snap peas—in the fall yields abundant harvests as the weather cools in September and October. A fall garden is also perfect for those who like to impress friends with more exotic non-grocery vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, mache, sorrel, and Hon Tsai Tai—greens that thrive in cooler temperatures.
Every Colorado gardener has experienced their leafy greens “bolting” in June and July as the summer heat stops the plant’s leafy production. If you plant these same vegetables in August and September the warm weather in late summer allows seeds to germinate quickly and then mature as the weather cools down. The soil structure and ecology is also given time to develop over the course of the winter, setting the stage for the prized purple heirloom tomatoes, beans, and kohlrabi planted in the spring.
Step 2: Use a Raised Bed
At The Urban Farm Company, we’ve found that the key to easy and successful gardening is the raised bed. By gardening in a raised bed, you can avoid the Colorado clay by creating 12 inches of soil high in organic matter that doesn’t take years to create with constant soil amendment. We create our soil mix with topsoil, high-quality compost, worm castings, rice hulls, composted pine bark, and biochar. Also, adding sand and peat can help with drainage and provides more oxygen to the plant roots.
Step 3: Try Using a Cold Frame
Raised beds will also allow you to attach a cold frame to your garden—an easy trick to extend the season even further into the winter (and to start your gardening earlier in the spring). The simple frames with greenhouse plastic create an insulated micro-climate for plants. Nothing is more exciting than harvesting a salad of premium greens in the middle of December with a foot of snow on the ground. The frames also let you beat the farmers’ market by several weeks, by producing the first salad greens of the year in March.
More and more, people are realizing the benefits of homegrown food—taste, health, sustainability and fun. Don’t wait until next spring to start a garden. If you plant now, harvesting your own backyard veggies is only a month away!
Bryant Mason is the founder of The Urban Farm Company of Colorado.
The Urban Farm Company is offering a FREE Cold Frame with a purchase of a garden.