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The New Falcon Herald
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
– Anne Bradstreet  
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  Volume No. 11 Issue No. 4 April 2014  

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Feature Stories
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Jason Gray
  Growing food in the frigid Falcon winter
  By Jason Gray
  Photos by Jason Gray

   Winter temperatures aren't stopping some hardy local gardeners from enjoying fresh homegrown herbs and vegetables. While most outdoor soil is frozen solid and gardens are resting for the winter, some growers are using creative methods to keep their green thumb active year round.
   Fresh vegetables and herbs can provide the nutrients the body needs to withstand the impacts of cold weather and fight off winter illnesses, according to WebMD. Out-of-season vegetables sold in Colorado supermarkets are often shipped from Central or South America, resulting in long shipping times that could reduce the amount of nutrients. Extending the growing season at home means fresher produce, lower grocery costs and control on what goes into food, said Darlene Klaholz, who continues growing food in the winter months at her Colorado Springs home.
   Klaholz had a large geodesic dome greenhouse built in her backyard. The dome features a fish tank that helps keep temperatures steady because of the thermal mass effect of the water. The fish also naturally provide nutrients in their waste that helps feed the plants. Klaholz had ripe tomatoes growing on her plants in the dome in November, and she said she expects to be able to pick them well into January. The dome was a significant expense to the family both in construction costs and permitting with Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. However, she said she expects to save a substantial portion of that expense through decreased grocery bills.
   In a sunroom attached to her home, Klaholz also grows herbs. The window-garden method is easiest for people who have large south-facing windows, she said. Shade-tolerant plants like kale, lettuce and spinach do well in indoor window-sill containers.
   Costs to set up and maintain winter gardens are the main drawback for those who try it. Gardeners in cold weather regions like the Pikes Peak region should focus on extending the growing seasons in fall and spring rather than trying to grow throughout the winter, said Stephanie Schneider of Harding Nursery. “People think they want to do it, but it's costly to grow all through our winters due to heating costs,” Schneider said. “And you can end up with a lot of insects without really good ventilation in greenhouses. There's a lot to it.” Harding Nursery focuses on helping people start seedlings early in the spring instead. Gardeners can start seedlings indoors for tomatoes and other warm weather plants as early as February or March, she said. March is the beginning of the seminar season for vegetable gardening at the nursery, which up to 100 people attend.
   Greenhouse growing during the off-season is difficult because of the wildly changing weather during a typical Colorado winter, said Gabriel Diaz of Hydro-Grow Supply on Peterson Road. “Indoor soil or hydroponic growing is way more efficient but not as easy,” Diaz said. “You can't fully duplicate the sun, but indoors you can control the environment much better than in a greenhouse.” Heating a greenhouse with propane heaters can create too much carbon monoxide and other gasses, which can suffocate your plants, he said.
   “Someone who wants to start out can go to Walmart and buy a couple T-8 lights and some reflectors for 10 bucks a piece and start growing,” Diaz said. “But to do it productively, I suggest a $500 to $1,000 investment. It's a matter of how much they grow and how much they save from the food store to say how much they want to reinvest to increase their garden.”
   Cool-season vegetables are ideal if someone wants to try growing outdoors in winter with either a greenhouse or row cover or indoors in a basement, Schneider said. The Colorado State University Extension program suggests broccoli, cabbage, onions, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach and turnips as hardy vegetables that prefer cool growing temperatures.


Darlene Klaholz is growing tomatoes in her geodesic dome greenhouse. She expect to be picking them through January.


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