When I tell people from outside the area that Teton Valley has a growing season of roughly 50-60 days, yet a vibrant local food and farming scene, I often receive some incredulous responses. Indeed, you can have productive vegetable and flower production in the Tetons. It takes just a little ingenuity and planning. Selecting the location, size, and type of garden often depends on site constraints, but if you don’t have the outdoor space, you can grow a container garden. In fact, many of the warmer season vegetables such as basil and tomatoes grow quite well as potted plants. Some benefits of growing in a container include the ability to create the ideal soil mixture and the ability to bring your plants indoors when there is danger of frost.
In addition to water and nutrients/minerals, all plants need adequate sunlight, so select a garden site with 6-12 hours of full sun for plentiful production. If growing outdoors, you can create a raised bed, or you can grow directly in the ground (more economical and conducive for larger gardens). Try to reduce weeds before developing your garden. Bear in mind that herbicides can inadvertently affect growth of your desirable plants, so plan enough in advance to avoid herbicide contamination in your soil. Alternatively, you can utilize a variety of non-chemical controls. You can reduce weeds by utilizing woodchip and plastic mulches, weed control fabric, and row covers. Before adding soil amendments, I recommend having your soil professionally tested. Our Extension office can help you with a basic soil test. The University of Idaho’s Analytical Sciences Laboratory standard soil test is about $45. Soil tests will provide information about your soil pH, texture, and the levels of nutrients available for plant growth, as well as fertilizer recommendations.
Before planting, wait until the recommended planting temperatures listed on seed packets. You can check the soil temp with a simple kitchen or soil thermometer. You should also see if the soil is dry enough to work with by squeezing a handful of the soil into your fist, and then breaking it apart with your fingers. The soil should break apart and crumble easily. If the soil clings together in big wads and is sticky, then your soil is too wet. The ideal soil type for most vegetables is sandy loam, but it depends on what you would like to grow. Most Teton Valley soils are loamy and neutral to alkaline in pH. Regardless of type, annual applications of organic matter and compost can greatly improve soil workability (texture and structure) and nutrient and water holding capacity. Texture is what makes up your soil; structure is how it holds together.
For raised beds and containers, a simple 1:1 mix of high quality top soil or potting mix and organic compost is usually sufficient. If buying bags of compost, using a mixture of different types/brands of compost will provide greater diversity of microbes and nutrients. If planting in containers, ensure that they are well draining with holes (rocks are not a substitute for no holes) and appropriately sized (overestimate size). Use a slow release, water soluble fertilizer or better yet, amend with compost. Seedlings do better when the soil is mixed with compost.
Layout of your garden is often a matter of preference, but planting your tall garden plants like peas or pole beans on the north side will help avoid shading smaller plants like lettuce, radishes, and spinach. An advantage of creating a raised bed in the Tetons is that the soil temperature will heat up sooner, helping to extend the growing season. Weed management is easier and water drains quicker in raised beds (you will need to water more, especially during dry weather). Raised beds can also allow for more efficient use of space and increase your yields. Intercropping, crop rotation, companion, and succession planting can decrease erosion and weeds and attract beneficial insects. The idea is to match a slow growing, large vegetable plant with a faster growing, smaller companion crop. In general, the more diversity of plants in your garden, the fewer problems you'll have with pests.
Choose plant varieties that are better adapted for colder climates (we are Zone 3) and grow quickly. For instance, radishes and baby lettuces can be harvested within about 30 days. Many herbs, garlic, kale, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, mustard greens, spring mixes, peas, beans, onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and cabbage grow well here. To help protect your plants from frost, wind, hail, pests, and weeds, utilize a floating row cover (sold at our local nurseries). You can secure the cover with rocks or bricks and leave it on all summer (remove if it is warmer than 85 degrees). It will be one of your most relied upon garden tools in the Tetons. Happy gardening!