Extension Spotlight: A return to the Teller County gardens

After a year of events being canceled due to Covid, it was exciting to be able to host a Teller County greenhouse and garden tour on August 28 and 29. The collaboration between the Colorado Master Gardeners of Teller County, the Woodland Park Harvest Center, and Community Partnership Family Resource Center resulted in fourteen community members opening their greenhouses and gardens for the community to view and ask questions.

It might not seem like a big deal to have a garden tour, after all, a lot of cities do this type of thing. But those of us who live in the mountains know that any trick or idea that can improve the odds of harvesting the desired vegetable is worth any effort. The elevation of the gardens on our tour ranged from 7,000 feet to over 10,000 feet.

We have a lot of transplanted people from around the country who are used to gardening near sea level where you can throw seeds on the ground and, with very little work, have more produce than you know what to do with. Obviously, that’s not the case in the mountains where we battle low moisture, winds, hail, poor soil and daily temperature variations of up to 50 degrees. Even once you learn how to mitigate these challenges, the deer, pocket gophers and ground squirrels will remind you that you’re not in control! No, in the mountains you have to be tenacious and take care of your plants like a protective parent with a newborn.

So, when we have a greenhouse and garden tour, it isn’t just for people to stroll through and admire what others have done. It’s a full-blown investigation to determine exactly what others are doing to achieve results. Though we certainly promote the Extension research-based fact sheets, the old adage “necessity is the mother of all invention” leads to a lot of creative ways that people have solved their problems that we just don’t have research to support. We’re pretty much all MacGyvers in these seemingly inhospitable environments.

Glass Bottle Greenhouse
The Teller County Extension garden tours invited community members to explore 14 local gardens.

True to our mountain nature, we made the tour free because we already have enough issues with gardening and didn’t want to create another barrier. We also allowed participants to choose where to start and how many sites they wanted to check out. Somehow this potential bottleneck never manifested and we had between 50-60 people at each of the 14 sites, except for one, our County Commissioner Dan Williams, whom I was able to get on the tour. His property is at 10,100 feet and he has a few raised beds and four greenhouses, a couple from purchased kits and a couple built the old-fashioned way using scraps of wood from other projects. Perhaps it’s because he is at 10,100 feet or perhaps it’s because he’s one of our commissioners, but he had almost 200 visitors over the five-hour tour!

What I heard over and over from participants is how much information and creative ideas they received from all those who volunteered their time and knowledge. After all, isn’t that what Extension is built on: the best research and the best evolving ideas? If you’re interested in what some of these gardeners are doing, you can check out some of our videos from last year’s virtual tour on the Teller County Extension website.