Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We have winter-hardy strawberries in the High Plains thanks to the USDA Horticulture Research Station

Ogallala strawberries. Winter
won't last forever.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, 8:30-8:30 p.m., in the Laramie County Public Library's Cottonwood Room, learn how the USDA High Plains Horticulture Research Station helped to settle the region and how the City of Cheyenne has acquired, and hopes to develop, 62 acres as a public arboretum. Presented by Shane Smith, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Director. Lecture followed by cooking demonstration and food provided by Triumph High School Catering: warm salsa, pico de gallo and tortilla chips. Free and open to the public. This is part of the "Key Ingredients" series held in conjunction with the Smithsonian's traveling exhibit at the library and Botanic Gardens.

Farming is a challenge at 6,200 feet. The growing season is ridiculously short, the weather is capricious, winds are brutal and water is scarce. And that’s in the age of air-conditioned tractors and, irrigation and genetically-engineered crops. Imagine what it was like 100 years ago in the Great American Desert. Let’s say you were rolling into Laramie County, Wyoming, by train, having left the lush forested clime of Ohio or Tennessee a week earlier. You might have been tempted to say, “WTF,” or immediately get back on the return train. The United States Department of Agriculture established its High Plains Horticulture Research Station outside Cheyenne in 1928. At the station…
Over 1,300 varieties of tree fruits, (apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc.) and 300 varieties of small fruits (raspberries, strawberries, currants, and gooseberries) were tested for hardiness to drought and cold. To find a winter-hardy strawberry for the High Plains 42,000 native strawberries were collected from Montana to New Mexico. This work led to the release of several superior varieties, including Radiance, Ogallala and Fort Laramie. 
My modest strawberry patch has a selection of Ogallala and Fort Laramie varieties. I cover them with mulch every fall and they’re blooming when I uncover them in May. The station eventually moved on to study grasslands and grazing but it had a big impact on the area during its 80-something years. Its director during the 1970s was family friend Dick Hart, a cowboy poet and unofficial poet laureate of Cheyenne. He also recreates Teddy Roosevelt on occasion. His wife Helen is an artist and once led the Cheyenne Artists Guild. They’re retired now but remain active in the community. They've made a huge difference to their adopted land.

Interesting to note that the feds brought this oasis of fruits and vegetables to the Great American Desert.  Your taxpayer dollars at work.

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