Cruising through Alamosa on the main highways in the San Luis Valley will not yield finding a special community garden a few blocks from US 160, south on State Ave to 11th Street. All visitors and locals are invited to stop by the Boyd Community Garden and pull a weed or many, and pick a handful or two of their favorite fresh veggies and fruit in season. Garden therapy, highly recommended by gardeners everywhere, is a way to appreciate the love plants give us when watered and nurtured as if they were a part of the family - because they are! Eat well, live weller!
Human history in the SLV is one example of how humans discovered if making a living in the SLV region was possible. People had questions, one to another, or a lone explorer asking himself - 'Wonder if there is any mineral wealth here?' 'The mountains are purdy - Wonder if the climate is hospitable year round?' Or, 'Place looks kinda dry, wonder if there is any water here besides this big river? - (the Rio Grande)' And another big question on their minds - 'Wonder if there is anything to eat around here?' Had the early Spanish and American explorers asked nicely, the Ute Indians, who had been hunting and gathering seasonally in the SLV for 1500 years or longer, could have told them, 'Yes, it can be done, because we are doing it.' Men would hunt animals for meat and hides and women would gather the nuts, seeds, roots and plants that had food value and medicinal qualities to balance out their diets. Mother Nature was the 'farmer' in those days. The Utes were the harvesters.
As the Spanish arrived to start communities, they brought with them the skills to channel water in irrigation ditches to grow the hayfields and gardens that would sustain them and their domesticated animals. Soon, they would discover, through trial and error, what vegetables would grow in the high desert climate of the SLV. The growing season was short, the nights were cool, the days were warm, the high altitude sun intense, the rainfall, often scarce, but sometimes came in buckets via the summer monsoons. (Each summer, starting in early July and lasting into September, on average, airflow patterns pull moisture into the mountains and big thunderstorms light up the sky, thunder echoes across the mountains, and heavy rain can swamp the ground.) Let the growing season begin and continue...
BOYD COMMUNITY GARDEN - Matching vegetables to climate and soils = VEGI
VEGI is the Valley Educational Gardens Initiative providing educational opportunities to kids, adults, and families by teaching about gardening and nutrition while also producing healthy food to benefit the community. How great is it for kids to have a garden camp in the summer to learn about gardening, learn the source of food, how to care for a garden, from weeding, to watering, and to harvest and take home, or pick for the local homeless shelter?
I've stopped by several times since mid May and the garden was already in progress. Some green leafy plants do well in cold weather. Spinach that had over wintered was ready to go in a salad or be sautéed for a stir fry. Tasted okay raw also, as I needed my iron and folate fix. A few other veggies were also good to go but for the most part it was time for pulling weeds and planting. On one visit, a group of Fordham University students (a private university located in the Bronx!) was in Alamosa to get the garden going, with clean up, soil preparation and planting. The three students with whom I spoke were enjoying the change from being in New York City. And their majors were not even closely related to gardening. But they shared what many people share, the desire to be of service and work on worthwhile projects.
The VEGI program at the Boyd Community Garden has specific goals:
- Education about gardening in the high desert and the conditions under which plants can grow.
- Food production and giveaways
- Seed saving (critical for 'down the road' planting from season to season
- Grow a variety of healthy vegetables and fruits. Fruits to include strawberries and raspberries, while a large diversity of both above ground and root vegetables are planned. The 'underground garden' includes leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, radishes, carrots, both the orange and the colorful red and yellow varieties.
Above ground veggies will include more spinach, several varieties of lettuce, dwarf Siberian kale (the name seems to suggest cold hearty!), tomatillos, tomatoes, mostly cherry tomato varieties because they can mature quickly in the short growing season, though they are experimenting with a Russian moskvich variety, described as; early, deep red, and cold tolerant with a rich flavor. Jalapeños and other peppers will be grown to spice things up, and basil, for flavoring those tomatoes or making pesto will also be in the mix of herbs.
This lineup of goodies to be grown should make people hungry. Want to help or contribute? Call VEGI at 719-589-4567 ext. 102 and speak with Claudia, Autumn, or Alli and find out what you can do. Or go to the website lapuente.net and read their story. Ongoing updates about the Boyd Community Garden will continue throughout the summer. Stop by anytime and check out what's growing or stop by on Tuesday evenings for Garden night - 5-7 PM. Socialize, help pull the dreaded bindweed, kidnap a few veggies for taking home and a secret - if you have never tried a Sun Gold cherry tomato - you are missing out on the finest candy that can ever grow in a garden...