It’s a growing experience for Mancos gardener
Lew Matis of Grasshopper Flats has his place on Road J, just west of Mancos, and is situated in a spot with great views of both Mesa Verde and the La Plata Mountains.
He’s tinkered with gardening for years, but started getting serious about growing things to sell about eight years ago. He moved to Mancos in 1984 and moved to this part of the Mancos Valley in 1994. He’s been a big help with the School to Farm Project that the Mancos and Dolores schools are a part of.
He uses all organic methods on his farm, growing things that he likes to eat and that he thinks will sell. His rows are mostly in raised bed form, a method that he’s changed to just recently. “It helps me focus on the soil more that way,” he said. He is better able to walk between the rows, spread mulch and use the broadfork on the soil. The broadfork that he likes to use is a tool with tines that works a lot like a shovel. After the soil has been worked up with a spade and fork, he uses it to loosen and lift the soil. But he only lifts the top three inches of the soil, moving the biota (plant life in this area) around that is on the top.
“Gardening is an experiment. I learn something new each year,” Matis said.
His place is called Grasshopper Flats, a tongue-in-cheek name that he adopted about six years ago. “For about 2 1/2 summers we had a huge grasshopper infestation,” he said. “They were everywhere! I would come out here and count at least 30 per square yard. The extension agent said that you just have to have 15 to 18 grasshoppers per square yard to have an infestation!”
Matis said the hopping bugs would eat plants and sometimes even the roots. “They really loved the onions! Anything green, they would eat. They just devastated stuff.”
The whole neighborhood, he said, tried to get rid of them using biological control. But Matis, knowing that the bugs reproduce pretty quickly, would go out at night to his garden and kill many of them individually.
Matis much prefers cover crops in most of his garden. They are there to cover the soil and protect it from the elements, such as wind, sun, etc. They are planted in late fall, he said, and he mostly uses winter rye, but there are eight other crops that he uses, mixed together. Grasses, broadleaf crops and legumes are all good cover crops, and some are shallow roots, some are medium and some are deep. They decrease the need for irrigation and help choke out the weeds. “I like to have the ground covered in winter.”
His 7-year-old dog, Scamp, is Matis’ companion and loves to “help” him out around the farm.
Matis’ biggest and best-selling crop is garlic, a fall plant. He has planted 1,700 garlic plants, which includes 10 varieties for market purposes, he said. After eight years at the Cortez Farmers Market, he knows what sells and what doesn’t. “I have lots of good, regular clientele there,” he said.
The garlic he grows is the hardy variety, because of where he is located in the Mancos Valley. Plus, he said, “the deer don’t eat it!” He waters about twice a week to begin with and then reduces it to once a week in about June. “That forces the garlic to start maturing,” he said. If he doesn’t sell all of the garlic he grows right after harvest, he can let it dry and it will be just as good.
Matis already works two days a week at Crow Canyon and has for some time. He will also be working for the Galloping Goose Historical Society this summer. So, he won’t have a lot of time to spend in his garden this summer. “That’s why I’m really trying to get away from the major weeding by using cover crops,” he said.
He also plants radishes, salad turnips, onions, tomatoes, winter squash and a few other things. He rotates crops, which is “so critical”, he said. His watering system is one that uses the T-tape in many of his rows, soaking the ground.
But the hardest part of the whole farming thing, he said, is the succession planting that he likes to use, especially for things like lettuce and radishes - the things that have a quick growing period. And inside his house, he starts cucumbers, squash and cantaloupe that he’ll be putting out later in the year.
“That’s the fun of it,” he said. “There’s so much to learn. It’s never boring!”