Special Seed for High-Altitude Gardening

comments (5) February 2nd, 2013

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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Penn Parmenter is an expert at growing food in the Colorado mountains. Seeds Trust is now offering a special line of high-altitude tomato seed from her own garden.Click To Enlarge

Penn Parmenter is an expert at growing food in the Colorado mountains. Seeds Trust is now offering a special line of high-altitude tomato seed from her own garden.

Photo: Penn and Cord Parmenter

Penn Parmenter learned how to grow food in the mountains of south-central Colorado the hard way. Since 1991 she and her husband Cord have worked to overcome the challenges of gardening at an elevation of 8,120 feet and are now experts at mountain food growing.

"We do believe that starting with high-altitude appropriate seed can make a huge difference," she said. 

The high-altitude adapting seed they've been carefully cultivating over the last three years is now available through Seeds Trust. The company's new line of "High-High" (hh) seed is grown on the Parmenter's own mountain.

"Most store-bought seeds are from far-away places, often near sea level, and grown with humus and humidity," Penn explained. "The seed needs to acclimate to our Wild West conditions and the amazing thing is, it starts working immediately."

Each year the seed is grown, it stores information about the environment to pass down to the next generation. 

"Every year you save and use that new seed, you are improving your chances for greater germination, more vigorous growth, and best of all, a more prolific yield," Penn said.

Gardeners who like to grow their tomatoes from seed, but struggle to grow them in summers that end too soon, benefit from planting Penn's short-season, cold-hardy tomatoes. Some of her favorites include 'Sasha's Altai', 'Perestroika', 'Olga's Yellow Chicken', 'Mother Russia', 'Mikarda Sweet', 'Glacier' and 'Mt. Roma'.

Penn promises there are more mountain-adapted tomato varieties on the way. After all, she grew more than 130 different tomato varieties last season.

In addition to the special high-altitude tomato seeds, Seeds Trust is offering the Parmenter's short-season 'Candy Mountain' sweet corn.

'Candy Mountain' was one vegetable variety that had disappeared from the catalog. Other varieties the Parmenters are growing to return to the Seeds Trust line include 'Northern Bush' pumpkin and 'Kinko 6" Chantenay' carrot.

The Parmenters were inspired to start saving their mountain-grown seed after attending Seed School led by noted seed authority Bill McDorman. They also created a seed library and "now teach and preach" seed saving.

More information on growing food in the mountains is available on the Parmenter's website.

posted in: tomatoes, catalogs, high-altitude

Comments (5)

RebeccaWeber writes: I want high attitude gardening
Posted: 4:35 am on February 24th
MarrieRass writes: Great article
Posted: 4:13 am on February 23rd
ChiefRMCProject writes: Great post! I'm always looking for a better high altitude tomato.

On the topic of corn...

I know a lot of people only think of sweet corn when corn is mentioned–but sweet corn is a summer vegetable. You can’t sustain your family through the winter on summer veggies, no matter how vitamin-rich and tasty they are.

My family has been working towards total food independence for years and with my dad we have the cumulative experience of decades of trying to grow food in extreme climates. When you are forced to rely on what you grow for your food year round, the bottom line is calories. Farming your food takes a tremendous amount of energy and anything you can do to reduce energy input and increase calorie output MUST be top priority.

“Forget those romantic notions of a nineteenth century life illumined by the cozy glow of the family circle around the fireplace at night. Been there – done that. It’s OK for a time and a season but I don’t want to repeat it unnecessarily as long as I have a choice. You don’t have to spend all your time and energy scrambling in bare subsistence. In that state, you have no time or energy for anything else…” –New Ordnance “The Secret Weapon” (RockyMountainCornDOTcom)

For my family the bottom line is grain, legumes, potatoes and winter squash. Add in carrots and turnips and onions for some variety. Plants that work well for organic farmers and seed growers in Maine are not the best varieties for a high mountain micro-climate in the northern Rocky Mountains. It seems obvious, but we’ve learned the hard way. Buy seed grown in your region or you are courting disaster.

The tried and true garden for my family at 5,000 feet in Montana is (1) Painted Mountain Corn for our grain (Fukushima-free, Non-GMO, non-hybrid, open pollinated, high protein, micro-nutrient, soft starch – go to our website RockyMountainCornDOTcom for more info), (2) Progress #9, Early Frosty, and Dakota shell peas & Black Coco, Golden Rocky Bush Wax, and King of the Early dry beans for our legumes, (3) our own local cross between Squisito spaghetti squash and Eight Ball Zucchini that turns out to be a decent tasting winter squash that keeps well and produces incredibly fast and heavy in a short, harsh summer, and (4) Purple Viking potatoes that produce reliably in spite of late and early frosts and poor, gravely soil and constant high wind.

Augmenting this garden with deer, elk and trout, we are able to have a balanced diet with enough calories to sustain a high level of activity.

For folks who need a little more info on Painted Mountain Corn, what it is, how to grow it, etc. check out RockyMountainCornDOTcom "12 Tips for Planting" and the Crop Reports under "News"

We like Painted Mountain Corn for its nutrition and calorie content, but it sure is the most beautiful thing I have ever grown. Every year for harvest we try to get as many new people and kids involved as possible. Opening the shucks is like revealing a purse full of jewels. I never tire of the looks of amazement on the faces of both children and parents as they discover the joy of growing this crop.

My family and I have been growing Painted Mountain Corn seed for a few years now, always encouraging our customers to save their own seed and develop it for the their micro-climate and share with family and community. But I think whatever we grow this summer, we’re going to keep to feed the family. Find out more at RockyMountainCornDOTcom
Posted: 11:07 pm on May 1st
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for getting in touch. You can contact Seeds Trust and Penn Parmenter (links are included in the above post) for ordering information on Candy Mountain corn seeds.
Posted: 10:47 am on February 24th
Rumbleseatcat writes: I live in Arvada, CO. I read your story in our local paper. I am going to try planting sweet corn this coming season and I'm trying to find the Candy Mountain Sweet Corn Seeds.
I have been saving my other vegetable and fruit seeds for several seasons. Where can I buy Candy Mountain Corn seeds?
Posted: 11:33 am on February 16th
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