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San Francisco Peaks

Humphreys Peak looms in the background near Flagstaff.

“Love grows the garden, not money.” Cord Parmenter will tell you that. He and his vivacious wife Penn have been loving growing, and growing what they love for 25 years at 8120’ in the Wet Mountains of Colorado. As a result of all those years of extreme gardening in the High Mountain Desert landscape, the Parmenters have learned a few things about raising food.

You may ask, what is extreme gardening? If you’ve ever tried growing in Flagstaff or anywhere else in northern Arizona, you know what extreme gardening is – not enough rain for starters. The wind dries up your seedlings and rips your beet greens to shreds. Sudden freezes, and hail in July cause havoc. It’s too cold for tomatoes. The intense sun leaves your squash wilting on a daily basis. And that short growing season… you know what I mean? It takes a determined soul to coax life from the soil and bring it to fruition under these conditions, but growing food in the north country can be satisfying and bountifully rewarding when you learn to work with nature and the wisdom of the plants.

Penn and Cord have mastered the art of extreme gardening, but they’ll be the first to tell you there’s always more to learn – the Earth is mysterious and wise and they are avid students. To this end, they’ve experimented with hardy strains of tomatoes, homemade greenhouses, regional native perennials, and short season vegetables that can thrive in adverse conditions. Their years of trial and error have been distilled into the classes they teach at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and in the businesses they’ve created: Miss Penn’s Mountain Seeds, and Smart Greenhouses LLC. Now the Coconino Master Gardener Association is bringing these garden gurus to Flagstaff to share the wisdom gleaned from their many years of gardening adventures.

In a series of workshops March 24 and 25, Penn and Cord will get you excited about growing organically with less water, in less space and with higher yields. They have been raising food to feed their family of five for more than two decades and they can show you how to increase food security for yourself in your own yard or community garden plot.

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If you’re a beginner or a veteran of cultivating life from Flagstaff’s challenging gardening microclimates, you’ll find the Parmenter’s blend of creative wisdom, practical information and inspiring joy, a refreshing wind blowing through the March doldrums in our mountain town. Yes, you can grow corn. Yes, you can grow melons. And yes, you can grow pumpkins as big as your head!

Did flea beetles make lace of your kale last year? Did the gophers get the best of your vegetable beds? Penn and Cord have solutions for you – it’s called integrated pest management. Want to know more about bio-intensive gardening? Are you hankering for a truly vigorous variety of tomato? The Parmenters can help you. Come check out Miss Penn’s multitude of field-tested Siberian and Russian tomato seeds and other high altitude adapted vegetable strains. And if you’ve been dreaming of your very own greenhouse, or already have one, Cord’s the man to answer your questions and provide blueprints for an all season off the grid growing house.

It’s the Chinese Year of the Earth Dog - all signs are auspicious for those who dig in the dirt and now that we’ve finally gotten some winter, we have a terrific growing season ahead of us. Come get your garden on! For more information and to register, visit coconinomgassociation/ or call 970/903-7761.

Merion Sharp is a member of the Coconino Master Gardener Association.


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