Soil Preparation at High Altitude
Gardening in good soil can make the difference between a bountiful harvest and plants withering and dying before producing anything. Soil provides vital nutrients and organic matter as well as support for the plants root system. Proper care and maintenance of your garden bed soil or container soil will continue your harvest year after year.
Whether you purchase large, more established plants or smaller starters there are many advantages to using them. The sense of pride resulting from starting from seed might not be present, but it is replaced by a sense of satisfaction in seeing a burgeoning garden appear almost instantly.
Starters, or transplants, have many advantages:
Reduce time to harvest. High altitude zones often have shorter growing seasons; getting a jump start on the season with starters maximizes that time, reducing the time to first harvest.
Spacing is more accurate. Correctly planning and spacing your garden becomes much easier – you can visualize the growth from an established plant much easier than you can with a seed.
Plants are hardier. Transplants are more likely to survive harsh weather than seedlings. Even starters that began life in a greenhouse have spent some time out of doors and have gone through their transition period.
Immediate gratification. When it comes to kids, starters feed the sense of immediate satisfaction and accomplishment by allowing them to do the work of digging holes and placing plants. Starters are easier to correct after the fact as well – they can easily be re-spaced or height adjusted once the little ones have left.
Locally grown plants are used to the conditions. Starters are a great option when you first start gardening in a new region as well. Look for locally grown plants to give your garden the best chance at a fruitful harvest.
Regionally established plants can be found. In recent years more varieties have become available as starters. If you visit local garden centers or search online you can often find heirloom strands and regionally unique plants.
Fewer materials are needed to plant starters. The trip from store to garden for starters should be measured in hours or days, not weeks. This means that there is no need for greenhouses, grow lights and other equipment necessary when starting from seeds indoors.
Disease and pests have less impact. Starters are less prone to the diseases and bugs which can sometimes plague seeds and young seedlings.
Multiple harvests may be available. Because they are already weeks if not months into the growth cycle, you are more likely to harvest multiple crops in a season from your starter plant.
While transplanting starters is a fast track to gardening, there are drawbacks as well:
Price. 1 bag of seed might run you anywhere from a dollar to three dollars and contain enough seeds to give you plants for at least a year or two – meaning your cost per plant is measured in cents not dollars. When it comes to starters you are looking at dollars per plant instead – which can quickly add up.
Plants may have existing issues. The time plants spend between being potted for transport and sale can have a great impact on their chances for success and yield. Be sure to watch out for root-bound starters and those with damage to stalks. Visit your preferred local garden center often and ask them when they receive new plants, where they are sourced from and when they are potted in order to help maximize your chances for purchasing the best starters.
You will inherit what the prior gardener has already put in place. You are getting someone else’s soil, fertilizers and pesticides. Large corporate farms, in an effort to maximize production, will often surround (or checkerboard) their “organic” fields with fields treated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This allows them to say that they did not treat the plants directly or intentionally, meeting the requirements for “organic” labeling. However, chemical laden water will feed from one field to the next and airborne pesticides drift with the wind onto plants they were not intended for. Knowing your seller and their source is the only hope of avoiding this when using starters.
Varieties can be limited. While more varieties have become available in starters, there are still limits. Don’t expect to find specialized heirloom plants in mega marts.
In our next post, we will discuss the impact of high altitude on plants and the growing season.