High elevation gardening: Challenging, but not impossible

Community Garden | Slow Food Lake Tahoe

Tahoe is buried under feet of snow and the ground is frozen, but small signs of spring are trying to burst forth. Gardening is the farthest thing from some minds, yet, if you consider planting a garden, now is time to prepare.

Slow Food Lake Tahoe, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and UCEE Master Gardeners of Lake Tahoe collaborate on the Grow Your Own Program. They teach high elevation gardening and offer information on best practices for seedling starts, planting and managing a garden in the mountains. Gardening in Tahoe is a challenging and often difficult undertaking.

“Gardening here takes grit. Our mission is to teach California gardeners how to succeed in gardening, whether it’s flowers or vegetables and do it scientifically with proven methods on how it can be done,” says master gardener Annie Christy.

Start seedlings now
Although snow is on the ground, it’s time to think about starting seedlings indoors so they are ready to plant when the snow melts, say local gardening experts.

“You need to start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before you plant them. If you live in Glenshire, that day will be different than if you live up at the top of Tahoe Donner,” says Amy Fagel, president of Slow Food Lake Tahoe.

It all depends on when the snow melts. Fagel adds that planting is done at the end of May or early June locally.

“Gardening here takes grit. Our mission is to teach California gardeners how to succeed in gardening, whether it’s flowers or vegetables and do it scientifically with proven methods on how it can be done.”     –Annie Christy

“We have started seed selection for our community garden. Our garden team is researching which seeds have the shortest maturation length, which is how long it takes from planting to harvest,” says Fagel.

Regarding what grows well in the mountains, Fagel says that some vegetables do better than others.

“Leafy greens are always a standout. Beans, potatoes, garlic and squash do well. Tomatoes can be difficult if you have a greenhouse,” says Fagel, who adds that herbs tend to grow well.

The organic seed starts for the Grow Your Own Program are grown at The Greenhouse Project in Carson City, Nev., the University of Nevada, Reno Desert Farm Initiative and a private farm in Placerville.

“This year we are growing three different varieties of potatoes. Leafy greens, like mustard greens, kale and lettuces, are easy to grow. Peas and beans do very well, as do squash, onions and leeks. People have been successful with peppers, so we’re going to try them this year,” says Christy.

Order seedlings
Slow Food Lake Tahoe provides seedlings that can be ordered in advance on its website. Fagel explains that the organization is changing its format for ordering seedlings. Slow Food, TERC and the Master Gardeners are hosting three different one-day events in Truckee, Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe.

“People can order their seedlings in advance and we’ll grow them to a level where they’re ready to be planted outside. We’ll have Master Gardeners on hand giving information about each seedling and how to grow them, tips for deterring pests, harvest tips and watershed-friendly practices,” says Fagel.

Keep critters out
Keeping critters out of the garden is one of the top challenges every gardener faces. Deer, squirrels and rabbits love fresh vegetables. Fagel says keeping the garden enclosed is the best way to protect plants from being decimated by animals.

Christy suggests putting chicken wire under a raised garden as a good standard practice to keep animals from eating vegetables. Container gardens work well in the Tahoe area and can easily be animal proofed. Christy recommends using a combination of compost and native soil for raised beds and container gardens.

Slow Food Lake Tahoe has two gardens at Truckee River Regional Park. The food grown in the Food Bank Garden is donated to Sierra Community House. The garden program offers an opportunity for members in the community to rent a garden bed and grow food. Applications are available in April for people to rent garden beds. Fagel notes that the garden beds usually sell out quickly.

The Food Bank and Community gardens open in May with volunteers needed for Saturday Dig-Ins, Harvest Mondays and Workday Wednesdays. | slowfoodlaketahoe.org

Grow Your Own Community Festivals

June 2 | 3 to 7 p.m. | UC Davis TERC Field Station, Tahoe City

June 3 | 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. | Truckee River Regional Park, Truckee

June 10 | 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. | Tallac Historic Site, South Lake Tahoe

Register slowfoodlaketahoe.org

Workday Wednesdays

Mid-May to late-Oct. | Food Bank Garden, Truckee

Harvest Mondays

Mid-May to late-Oct. | Food Bank Garden, Truckee

Saturday Dig-Ins

Mid-May to late-Oct. | Community Garden, Truckee