At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
TwoInTents Blog
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A difference of altitude, change of attitude

Farming in high altitude up on the Palmer Divide at 6000 feet and delivering in low - well, Denver - altitude at 5000 feet requires an understanding of the effects of altitude if you're not going to get a bad attitude.

High altitude is good for crops.  Cool nights and hot days means high sugar for crops, less pests, less disease and clean air.  Not to mention clearer stars, but I am still not sure that affects crops very much.

But high altitude means a later start in the spring and an earlier end in the autumn.  Guess you can’t have it both ways, high quality and long lasting.

We keep fields in Denver also so that we have a very long season.  For example down in Denver right now, the apples are in full blossom, but up here, they are actually just starting to bud.  So, we harvest the apple blossoms down hill and by the time that season is nearly over, we are in season up here!  So, instead of two to three weeks of delicious teas, we can offer three to six weeks!

The tricks of making greenhouses and hoop houses to extend seasons works well, but is expensive.  More expensive than employing an extra 1000 feet of earth’s atmosphere.  Down hill, our greenhouses and hoop houses work two to five weeks later on average than our greenhouses and hoop houses up hill.

With global warming, we are now able to grow bamboo and other delicious, nutritious crops that we couldn’t dream of growing even ten years ago.  But we are also no longer able to get a satisfactory fava crop or other crops that like the cold.  Up hill, these crops are still possible, but it is becoming difficult at best down hill.

Down hill, where we are, also means more pollution.  The city is quite polluted by vehicles, factories and, quite frankly, even medical marijuana facilities.  From the dust made by raking leaves to the children running through dusty baseball diamonds, the human beings down in town make a lot of pollution.  This isn’t to say that the animals and plants don’t also.  Pollen is a big pollutant, but generally affects food less than our human pollution, which goes into the soil and into the plant easier.

The soil is different downhill than uphill, the water tastes different: these affect flavor too.  Some of the best water in the world – by taste tests – can be found in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder.  City water tastes different than natural waters, but while Denver Water can’t compete with the natural waters of Eldorado, it is still renowned for its flavor.  Our well water up on top of the hill imparts a flavor to the food that is different.  Maybe better, maybe worse (depending on your tastes), but different.  Our animals like the well water better than the waters in town, for what it matters.

But before you think we spend too much on gas, I’ll tell you that our downhill crops are on automatic watering systems, and require less attention: we only see them on delivery days.  We plant, and stay out until it’s time to pay the rent.

But we do, much better, enjoy owning land.  Ownership means no landowner to mow your crops on accident or on purpose, no landowner to steal your tools on purpose or… well, she knew they were ours.  It is easier to protect against folks grazing their animals on your land at night.  A thousand horrors await a tenant farmer.  Even with good landowners, we are more inclined to plant trees on our own land.  For that matter, we don’t have to ask permission.

Neither uphill or downhill is better, but having a farm that is both uphill and downhill is better than having only one. 


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