With everyone sheltering at home you may be looking for something pleasant to do on your own that is also rewarding and leaves you feeling good about your surroundings. If you are tired of sitting inside streaming movies and you long to get outdoors, maybe it is time to visit Fossil Creek Nursery in Fort Collins, and see what’s happening this spring.
Fossil Creek Nursery is a multigenerational, family-run landscape and garden center serving Northern Colorado as a one-stop shop for everything involving plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. Visitors need not worry about social distancing, as there is plenty of room on their grounds to walk around and check out horticultural bounty and still maintain a respectful distance.
Whenever there is any kind of disruption in our modern world, we seem to want to return to growing our own food, around our own home. The current health crisis has proven no exception.
“Our nursery seems to be fielding many questions about plants and gardening,” said Jack Fetig, co-owner of Fossil Creek Nursery, along with his wife Christine, brother Nate and sister-in-law, Heidi.
Planting and caring for a colorful flower bed can certainly be a peaceful distraction when your other activities are at a standstill, but there’s nothing as satisfying as growing your own produce. Fetig provided a few tips and ideas to get you started gardening for food.
Growing Annual Food Crops
“Annual vegetables are those that generally come from plants that only last one year and have to be planted from seed or starts every year,” Fetig said.
Fossil Creek carries a variety of both seeds and seedlings for those who want more immediate results.
For any garden, he recommends choosing a location that is well drained and gets at least a half-day of full sun. The soil should be loosened to about 8-inches deep and have organic matter added to it to help build water holding capacity and fertility.
“Once the soil has been worked and the average last day of frost has been reached, which is about May 15 in Fort Collins, we can start planting our seeds and new plants,” Fetig explained.
He said that generally, these plants do best when watered lightly everyday for the first couple of weeks. Not so much water that the soil is swamplike, but just enough to keep the new plants from getting drought stressed until the root system is formed.
Once they’re a little more established, plants will need to be fertilized with a high phosphate fertilizer in about three weeks and then again in about a month. Learning to read the plants to determine when they need water and food is part of the fun of learning to be a good gardener and prepares you for a continuing activity for years to come.
Now for the most asked question: When will they be ready to eat? Fetig said, some foods can be harvested is as little as a month, like radishes and herbs, and some require more time like tomatoes, potatoes and peppers.
Growing Perennial Food Crops
There are other perennial fruits and vegetables that can be grown in gardens like strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, horseradish, chives, currant, gooseberry, rhubarb and even blueberries – with a little work. It is good to understand how much room each one of these plants needs and their light requirements.
There is nothing like the flavor of fresh strawberries or the crisp stalks of asparagus just picked from the garden. Not to mention, that it’s an activity the whole family can be involved in. Growing food lets kids be immersed in nature in a deeper way than simply playing outside.
“Children love to see the miracle of life when beans come from the seed that they have planted and you might even get them to eat their vegetables. Our family made this a yearly tradition and our nursery is now operated by the second generation of gardeners who found the joy in getting their hands dirty and finding wonder in watching life sprout from a tiny seed,”says Fetig.
Growing Fruit Trees
A more long-term endeavor is the growing of woody crops like apples, cherries, peaches, pears and plums. Much like the other food crops, you will need to choose a place to plant the trees so that they have room to mature and provide you fruit for years to come. Again, a well-drained site that has at least a half-day of sunshine is ideal.
“Cherries and plums tend to be the easier fruits to grow as they bear fruit at an early age and don’t seem to have as many insect pests that like their fruit as much as we do,” says Fetig.
Apple trees can get a little larger but are also sold in a semi-dwarf form that uses a different root system to keep the tree at a size where the fruit can be easily harvested. There are a few new varieties of apples that grow in a columnar form for smaller yards as well. Planted in the correct locations and carefully cared for, an apple tree can provide decades of fruit production.
Choose your own plants
The Fetig family invites you to make the most of your additional time at home by walking through their greenhouse and 15 acres of gardens, to find the perfect food crops for your own coronavirus “victory garden.”
Watching your plants develop daily and through the coming years can bring so much joy. Plus, with more time to devote to the skill, you may discover a talent you never knew you had. You’ll find the results are worth it!