Living on the edge

You would think I would know better living in Montana for 27 years, but the unseasonably warm weather has me planting like a garden newbie. The way I approach it in my lax gardening style anymore is if it doesn’t frost, I’m ahead of the game. If it does, I buy a few more plants. No big deal. 

As always, the garden plan is different this year. Where I had the straw bale gardens last year, as well as the beds near the patio, I planted ‘Copra’ and ‘Walla-Walla’ onions, plus probably 15 pounds of seed potatoes of all varieties. I have everything in there from ‘Yukon Gold’ to ‘All Blue.’ I decided I can mulch heavily to help me gain an upper hand on the weed situation in this section, since Grant will not let me put the chickens so close to the house. And since I can never seem to have enough potatoes, this should give us a good start on the winter store.

The main garden is where I had the older chickens enclosed last year to take care of the prickly lettuce and other weeds that gave me fits. It’s definitely not weed free, but the soil is fantastic. When I turned under the 3ft.x 6 ft. bed to plant beans this afternoon, John picked up 20 earthworms, and there were plenty left in the clumps of soil. That’s a very good sign.

It’s good to find so many worms. 

Beyond the onions and potatoes, I have 7 tomatoes planted between the greenhouse and the Wall-O-Waters in the veggie garden. We put in 16 ‘Carmen’ sweet, Italian peppers, also in the greenhouse and Wall-O-Waters. Plus there is broccoli,kohlrabi, kale, cilantro, ‘Red Cranberry’ bush beans, carrots, beets, a couple varieties of lettuce, spinach, radishes, peas, tomatillos, ground cherries, and dill. Soon I need to plant cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins. Like I said, everything is going in the ground! 

The goal this season is to simplify everything as much as possible. I have a packed travel/hiking schedule this year, and when I’m home I need to be working and not weeding. So I will mulch and employ the efforts of my eldest (I figure I started weeding gardens at 10 years old, so Sam can, too!) who has a long lists of robotic supplies he wants to buy in order to stay on top of it. He was already tackling the tiny perennial weeds so there just might be hope. And that’s the best part of spring!

Ready or not, spring is here

One thing I appreciate about Facebook is the ability to look back over the years to see what we were doing in each season. Three years and beyond it wasn’t uncommon to be ice fishing at the end of February into the beginning of March (even for a chicken like me). This year it ended well over a month ago, and we’re now thinking about throwing a line in the open water.


It’s also time to prepare the gardens because whether I’m ready or not, it is beginning. The golden currants, chokecherries, roses, and lilacs are leafing out. If our weather holds, the Nanking cherries and American plums are soon to follow.


Crocuses are blooming at home, and at our neighbors’ home a few doors down they have daffodils in their full glory. I have to check, but I think this might be the earliest date I’ve seen them around here, as of yet. Granted, they are planted against the south side of the house, but this is still early.

Cutting back Polana raspberries
Cutting back Polana raspberries

Last weekend the boys helped me clean the gardens. They both took down the dead hops, and Samuel cut back the ‘Polana’ raspberries, which are a fall-bearing variety that needs to be whacked down each season. Overachievers do it in the fall. I prefer to wait until we have some warm days in the winter or spring so I have an excuse to be outside. They will begin producing towards the end of August, and often continue until a freeze in October. With our mercurial winters, I’m finding this is an ideal variety since there is no risk of losing exposed canes.

We also had to cut down 2 of our small apples trees. The combination of warm and subzero temperatures in 2014, followed by a fluctuating winter, and fire blight in the area was too much for them. I might also have to take out the one in front of our house, which was there since we moved in 9 years ago,  since it looks rather dismal.

And I’m starting to put my soaker hoses and lumber wrap in place preparing for planting. In one section of the garden, I put down the wrap to keep the weeds at bay, and I’ll set approximately 20 straw bales as part of my straw bale gardening experiment on top of it. I’m doing it by the book (Straw Bale Gardens Complete by Joel Karsten), and I want to have everything in place well before I’m ready to plant, which might be within the next month. After I have the bales where they need to be, I’ll start the conditioning process with the high nitrogen fertilizer so they’ll be ready. In my other large garden, I need to set the soaker hoses, and then cover the entire area with lumber wrap. That’s where I’ll plant squashes, pumpkins and other vining varieties and allow the plants to cover the space… while hold down those wraps from being ripped away by the wind.

I’m sure we’ll have inclement weather again before we can safely say that spring has arrived, and since we desperately need moisture even a big dump of snow would be a welcomed sight. But it’s time to shift gears and enjoy the warmer weather with all of the pleasurable tasks that make it a joy.

Ask North 40

Lush garden

One thing I love to do is answer gardening questions, and help people have a successful growing experience. So this week I answered a question for the folks at North 40 Outfitters on what we can grow in Central Montana.

Here’s the answer at Ask North 40 Episode 1.