The Crestone Eagle • November, 2020

Garden Guru: Crestone Curve Garden

by Matie Belle Lakish

Everyone who comes to Crestone has passed by the garden on the eastern side of the road, sometimes seeing children doing things in the garden, other times seeing adults. Often that adult is Larry Arndt, moving things or mowing grass, or otherwise tending to the gardens, chickens, or apple trees. Other times it may be Robin Blankenship hitching her wagon to the resident horse. The alpacas in the field lend a mountain ambiance against the backdrop of the peaks. Sometimes, other gardeners are tending to one of the beds, as three of the garden beds are used by other community members.

I visited with Sandy Arndt, whose family settled in the Crestone area four generations ago. She inherited the house and 15-acre farm on the outskirts of town from her aunt and uncle, Bill and Leah Hutchinson. As one of the older members of one of the older families to settle Crestone, Sandy has lots of memories and stories to tell of the “old days”, and the families and characters that called it home. When she and her husband Larry moved to the old farm, then retired from their jobs in Chaffee County, they began to really look at working the land. It was then that they were approached by Robin Blankenship to partner on a garden project that could benefit the community. 

Robin has led workshops and retreat experiences that focus on living off the land in harmony with nature, aka primitive skills classes, as well as being a teacher at the Crestone Charter School. She was looking for a garden site that offered more sunshine and water than her land in the Baca, and a setting where she could involve both children and adults in learning gardening skills. She also had a horse that needed pasture.

Crestone Curve Cooperative Garden was born of the agreement. Larry agreed to provide fencing, water, and space for garden beds, while Robin and other participants agreed to work the land, providing seed or plants and labor. Participants pay $50 per season for each garden bed, which covers the space, the water, drip irrigation, and all the organic manure they care to gather and incorporate into the soil. Larry and Sandy also have their own garden beds, which provide sufficient vegetables for themselves and their family members, as well as some for the food bank. Sometimes older members of the community, who no longer have their own gardens, come to gather some of the surplus vegetables while enjoying the ambiance of the garden.

Over the 11 years the gardens have been used by community members, school children have participated in various activities. Last month, before COVID-19 closed the schools, the younger students came to dig carrots and had a wonderful experience, as have many classes before them. Over the years, Robin has taught many groups on many subjects, using the garden as an example.

This 2020 growing season was very dry, as we had almost no rain and little snow melt from the mountains. Fortunately, the Arndt’s have a good well, and according to Colorado water law, are allowed to irrigate one acre. Larry has installed an underground system of piping with above-ground emitters that makes efficient use of the well water. This system is set up on timers, so his personal involvement is now minimal. Typically, the system waters for ten minutes both morning and evening, but can be adjusted to suit the dryness of the soil.

You may have noticed the horse and alpacas grazing in the pasture behind the garden. Sandy said she has always been drawn to alpacas, so when a houseguest offered to sell them three males for a very reduced price, they decided to try them. Occasionally they are loaned out for breeding, especially for their beautiful coats. Every spring they are sheared, and the wool can be used for making excellent yarn. The horse belongs to Robin, who occasionally hitches it to a wagon and gives rides to friends. You may have seen the wagon in the local parade, or driving into the Baca with riders enjoying the slow-paced ambiance of a scenic ride.

The Arndt property also has an old apple orchard. Sandy said the trees are over 100 years old, and were planted by her great-grandmother, Nora Chaffee, and grandfather, William Hutchinson, who came with his Aunt Sara at the age of 9 to homestead in the area.

Another feature of their little farm is the chickens. Larry built the coop a few years ago, and has fenced it securely to protect against the bears and other critters. You may have noticed the wire that goes across the top. That was needed to keep the owls out, who love chicken dinners as much as most humans do. The hens have now completed their third season of laying eggs, and Larry has a younger group coming up to replace them. However, Sandy is still selling healthy eggs to customers who come to her back door.

I have been very impressed with the fencing around the garden and orchard. It is some of the best in the area, in my opinion, and Larry shared a bit of his fencing expertise with some beekeepers at an earlier event. The electric fence is an integral part of the plan to raise food in the area, protecting livestock, fruit and veggies from deer and bear.

I asked Sandy about some of the challenges they have experienced with their community garden. Aside from the drought, which affected all gardeners to some extent, she said the difference in styles between gardeners can be interesting. For instance, Larry is very meticulous about weeds, such as purslane, while other gardeners may be more forgiving. All in all, however, it has been a positive experience for everyone. There is still room for another gardener or two. If you are interested in participating, give Lawrence Arndt or Robin Blankenship a call.