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The Smart Garden

Innovations Ensure Success in Spite of Drought

Lisa Montrose
Because of her busy lifestyle, Lisa Montrose has developed several techniques that make it easier to manage her garden.
When you're living on your own, running a farm at 6,400 feet in Elizabeth, Colo., you need to have your priorities straight. Lisa Paige Montrose is clear about her priorities: horses. Her farm is a rehabilitation center for horses that would otherwise be put down. Lisa ensures that they enjoy a good life in their waning years. Lisa also loves to garden, but she's clear about what comes first. "My number one priority is taking care of me, my horses, and my pets," she says. "I love gardening too, but it needs to take care of itself," she adds. Lisa has found several techniques and products that help her do just that.

The horses help with the garden in their own way. "I have a large manure pile and I make compost with the manure and shredded hay," she says. This compost has made her 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden unbelievably productive. Lisa adds the compost to her garden in the fall, using an old tiller/cultivator. "I love that tiller with the digging and edging tines so much that I replaced the engine last year so I could keep it going," she says. "I even use it in winter to fluff the horse beds to make it more comfortable for them," she says.

Lisa also has a 400-square-foot greenhouse attached to the barn. She starts all her seedlings in the greenhouse and operates it right through winter. "I grow 40 different geraniums in the greenhouse and start amaryllis for the holidays in there," she says. "I grow lettuce all winter long, and one horse, Mojo, loves to get some samples when I'm harvesting," she adds.

With a four-month growing season, Lisa has to rely on a number of special techniques and products to help extend the harvest. She can list many Gardener's Supply products that have helped her succeed. "My first vegetable love is tomatoes," she says. Lisa grows more than 50 tomato plants each year. By using red Tomato Booster Mulch she's able to increase her harvest significantly. "I lay HydroGrow soaker hose underneath the red mulch, says Lisa. "It keeps the soil moist, which is a challenge here in Colorado," Lisa says. Colorado is still in the midst of a serious drought cycle--the worst in 300 years. Yet two years ago, Lisa was picking tomatoes when her neighbors had none. "It was the Aqua Cones that saved me," she says. "I was able to keep the tomatoes well watered, and from eight Big Mama paste-type tomato plants I canned 60 quarts of sauce, 57 quarts of salsa, and 43 quarts of cold-packed tomatoes," she exclaims. "I have hundreds of Aqua Cones in my garden," she says. "I've been buying them for years and have all the styles and colors," says Lisa. The horses were curious about the Aqua Cones too. "They started drinking from them even though they had a watering trough in their pen," she says.

Timing is key when you're trying to add an extra month or two to your normal growing season. "I set up Tomato Teepees in March, if there's no snow on the ground, to warm the soil before I transplant my tomatoes in May," says Lisa. Lisa plants a variety of other vegetables, such as chile peppers, eggplants, lettuces, onions, leeks, squashes and carrots. The carrots are mostly for the horses. Lisa mulches the beds heavily in fall with hay so they don't freeze. This also lets her harvest carrots into February. "My horses love carrots. On a moonlit, snowy night I saw Mojo staring at the patch and mumbling to himself," she says. "I can only imagine what he was saying."

Lisa has flowers adorning her property as well. Hollyhocks, sunflowers, and roses are some of her favorites. "Since I need 1-liter soda bottles for my Aqua Cones, and I don't like drinking soda, I pour it on my roses. "They really love Grape Nehi Soda and seem to grow better for it," she chuckles.

To keep her plants warm in spring and fall, Lisa uses various row covers. "Garden Quilt keeps the veggies warm at night in spring, and keeps frost from killing them too early in the fall," she says. "The Summerweight Garden Fabric is a great insect barrier. It's good for keeping tomato hornworms off my tomato plants. While others are battling insects, I rarely have a problem," she says.

"I use Tomato Cages to support my tomatoes, and wrap clear plastic around them in spring to keep the plants warm," says Lisa. "I use the Expandable Pea Fences for my sweet peas, and then in the fall I place them around my junipers and roses and wrap burlap around them," she says. The pea fences also help protect her landscape plants from heavy winter snow loads. "I even place the fences around trees to keep the deer away," says Lisa.

"All these products make my life easier, which means I have more time to enjoy my garden and more time to spend with the horses I love," says Lisa.

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