Vegetable gardening grows up in Tahoe |

Vegetable gardening grows up in Tahoe

Dylan Silver
Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jule Abner took a break from work at Aspen Hollow Nursery to check on her garden at home just down the street. She poked through the peppers, pulled on the scallions, pointed at the old bucket where she tried to grow potatoes.

“I have three different types of squash, my tomatillos, my bell peppers, my chard,” she said, inspecting each one. “I’ve got herbs growing back there.”

Nearly every inch of Abner’s small fenced front yard near Emerald Bay Road is filled with plants, mostly edible, but also some to decorate and attract helpful insects. Abner is a Tahoe farmer, one of an increasing number of residents who are choosing to raise their own edibles.

“Definitely more people are interested in growing food,” Abner said, citing the swelling amount of people who come in to buy vegetable starters from her at the nursery.

But, as may seem obvious, Lake Tahoe isn’t the Central Valley and vegetables and fruits don’t flourish well on their own up here. The soil is sandy and acidic. The weather is bipolar. And the animals wander wherever and eat whatever they find. Nonetheless, a vigilant farmer can cultivate a hearty crop, Abner said.

“You can grow a lot of stuff,” she said. “It just takes patience.”

Out in Meyers, Francesca Alcamo is well into her first foray into Tahoe vegetable cultivation. Her two small raised beds host jalapenos, bell peppers, cilantro, yellow onions, tomatoes, basil, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

“Honestly, I just kind of planted it to see what would happen,” Alcamo said. “I haven’t had any problems with animals or anything. When it’s going to be cold, I cover it.”

Not far from Herbert Avenue, Paul Tolme, another South Shore resident, took a little simpler of an approach.

“People told me don’t even bother with tomatoes and basil and other finicky vegetables,” said Tolme, who’s 6-foot by 3-foot raised bed of mixed greens near Herbert Avenue got snowed on and recently trampled by a bear.

Farmer Tolme went with mustard greens and chards because they’re a cold weather crop and require little effort to maintain, he said. And they provide plenty of payoff throughout the summer.

“I can pick a huge salad bowl or greens every other day,” he said. “It’s a real cheap way to get organic veggies with low energy output.”

Tolme covered his crops with chicken wire to ward off critters. Alcamo spreads a tarp over her boxes when the temperature drops at night, as does Abner with a frost cloth. Abner also put some of her plants in pots and containers so she can move them around for more sunlight.

People can be successful at growing almost anything here, even corn, if they’re attentive, Abner said.

“That’s the biggest problem people have,” she said. “They don’t pay attention.”

South Lake Tahoe resident Stacey Hamburg, an employee of Hungry Mother Organics in Carson Valley, said a few types of veggies are better suited to Tahoe.

“Once it finally warms up you can do tomatoes,” Hamburg said. “Peppers are on the cusp. If we have an earlier spring, it could happen. Cucumbers are not good. Lettuce, carrots, kale and cold season veggies work well.”

Next week, Hamburg will give a presentation at the Lake Tahoe Community College Demonstration Garden on vegetable farming in Tahoe to help growers get better at growing vegetables.

“We’re going to talk about strategies and how you can make your vegetable garden more successful in our difficult climate,” she said.

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