There’s Something Happening Here…in the Columbia Falls Community Garden

I’ve been a bit remiss about posting pictures of the garden this season.  Fact is, the garden looks fantastic!  Best ever!  We have wonderful plot holders who are committed to the upkeep of the garden.

We all walk around the garden looking at the various ways people grow their healthy food–and this, of course, is the beauty of the community garden concept.  We get ideas from each other, we problem solve together and we celebrate our successful harvests.  We get a little overly excited about when our beans sprout, and we become gravely concerned when a hole appears in the leaf of a new pepper seedling.  We worry about chilly NW Montana mornings, and we stare endlessly at our gardens–contemplating the next chore, wondering why our potato plants aren’t as big as Robbie’s, and discussing the merits of rows vs. mounds.  Should we use straw?  Is the compost ready yet?  Why won’t the mower start?  Should I have done square foot gardening like Staci and Craig?  Drip hoses or hand watering?

I love it!  So here are some pictures of the garden in early June.  Enjoy.

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Only gardeners get excited about compost bins, I think.

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Bug motel. The good kind.

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Hops. Under new management. Welcome, Coralan and Nate!

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Food Bank plot looks fabulous, Robbie!

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Neon!

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Corn sprouts

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Some haphazardly planted potatoes. Still, I think my ten-year-old minion did a great job!

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Peas and flowers. And I got fancy with the trellis.

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Erin’s pretty much perfect plot.

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Erma planted some lavender in our corner bed

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I think we are set on oregano.

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Also set on chives.

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Great idea–a hanging basket!

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Raspberries are thriving

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Colorful cages

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A riot of strawberries

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Beautiful brassica bed

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Zinnias!

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Ready and waiting!

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Sweet potatoes in a tire!

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Square foot perfection

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A ridiculously large rhubarb. Pie, anyone?

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My onions. I will never have as many as Erin, but I will keep trying!

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Volunteers sunflowers, maybe?

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Pallet veggies

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Potatoes, all in a (crooked) row.

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Peas getting ready to climb

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Check back in a few weeks–the changes will be amazing!

Bring on 2014!

It has been ages since I’ve written on this blog, but it has truly been a very busy fall and early winter.  In addition trying to keep up with my kids, husband and the Giant Newfoundland, I took on some new projects.

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Such a pretty girl.

In October, we put the Columbia Falls Community Garden to bed for the winter.  We planted flower bulbs and garlic. It was definitely a successful season.  Our growing season was amazingly long, and we were able to donate nearly 260 pounds of fresh produce to the Columbia Falls Food Bank.  I feel like I spent the better part of September and October in the kitchen, processing tomatoes.  I was able to put up 74 jars of tomato products though–should last until next year.

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74 jars of tomatoes on the wall…

I started teaching a new course at the high school called History through Literature, which fulfills the required credits for both US History and English 11.  Those of you who are teachers know how time-consuming it is to craft a new course.  For this one, I have the same set of students twice a day, and I am trying to implement student-centered and inquiry-based learning.  There have been some successes and some things that definitely needs reworking for next year.

In addition to my full schedule at the high school, I also began teaching World History for the Montana Digital Academy. MTDA is a fantastic program that offers (free) courses for high school age kids throughout the state of Montana.  Montana high schools are often very small and far away from one another (the state is just barely under 150,000 square miles with just barely over a million people) and they can’t always offer the same buffet of courses for their students; this helps to fill that need. I have students from Columbia Falls to Wibaux, and from Shelby to Red Lodge and everywhere in between.  Some are home-schooled, while others are trying to get caught back up so they can graduate.  Many of my students this past semester are taking World History in addition to a full class load at school.  So far it has been very rewarding.

Finally, I was elected to the Columbia Falls City Council this past November.  I have my first meeting on my birthday, January 6th.  I’m excited–I have an orientation with the city manager on Thursday morning so I I’ll know what to expect.

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Other than these exciting additions to my life/schedule, I taught myself, with the help of my mother-in-law, the basics of crochet.  This will accompany my knitting–there are just certain things that are better crocheted than knitted.  Like baskets.  I still find crocheting awkward and much more difficult that knitting–but I assume it will get easier.

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My first attempt. It has issues.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to.  It’s a full plate, but someone told me that I must like it that way, or it wouldn’t be.  Very wise, very wise.    My next post will be about my “Very Crafty Christmas”.  Stay tuned!

Columbia Falls Community Garden Photo Essay – End of May, 2013

It has been forever and a year since I last posted.  Turns out, May is a ridiculously busy month at work, at home and at the garden.  Who knew?

I don’t have too much time to write…I have to finish knitting an end of the year teacher gift, but I wanted to show you what has been going on in the garden.  If you are not a fan of pictures of garden plots, emerging vegetables, and the like, this post may not be for you.

Remember when I mentioned that River’s Edge Park, where the garden is located, was closed for two weeks?  This is what they were working on:

The new entrance to River’s Edge Park

There are cool trails that the little kids just love…and there are big rocks to climb on…

So, ultimately, it was worth having to adjust our gardening hours.

Here is a nice shot of the Garden sign with some of the new landscaping:

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And another shot:

ImageThe rocks are so much better than the ugly barbed-wire fence that used to be there!

Now for a garden tour.  Everyone has been doing such a fabulous job prepping their plots.  For those of you in other parts of the country who are worried that we are getting a late start, rest assured that gardening in NW Montana is a late May, early June kinda thing.  We had about 2 inches of heavy wet snow late last week…lots of branches down, but luckily no garden damage.

First, the community beds:

Our herb garden against the backdrop of the new landscaping

Chives in the herb garden

Gorgeous oregano

Majoram. I’ve never used this herb before…what do you use it with?

Raspberries

Community potatoes–looks like they need a little weeding!

Onion and garlic beds. The onions look great–but I think we put too much straw on the garlic over the winter. Always a lesson to be learned.

Kyle planted corn–another plot holder asked if the corn knows to come up through the little holes in the plastic. I think it does!

Strawberries

On to our plot holders’ gardens:

Tasha’s plot

Ken and Leslie’s plot is looking good!

Ken and Leslie Plot #2

Janina and Brian have some onions and potatoes going

A long shot of Marlene and David’s 2 plots. They have been working hard!

I think Kyle and Erin have a thing for onions. Look at those beautiful rows!

…and their sweet hoop house

Another shot of Erin and Kyle’s plots–I have a tinge of gardener’s jealousy going on!

Master gardener Robbie’s plot. She is growing it entirely for the food bank.

The dedicated CFCG Food Bank plot is coming along

Adam and Kristen’s plot

Natalie is getting her plants started in Wall O’Waters. Great idea!

Naomi and Arnold are experimenting with potato “structures” and they have some things flourishing in their hoop house

Lucy and Andrew’s hard work is paying off

Staci and Craig have been attacking that pasture grass every weekend. It will pay off, I promise!

Ric and Jenna’s plot is cleared and ready to go

…as is Karissa’s

Long shot of Erma and Gary’s plots. I am jealous all summer long about how meticulous their plots always are!

Rhubarb in Daniel’s plot

I always watch what Kyle does in his plot very closely…his peppers were amazing last year. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to make salsa–my peppers just never produced.

And finally, if you have made it this far, this is what is growing in my personal plots.

Pallet radishes

The beginnings of lettuce and spinach…not entirely sure the pallet was the best way to go with these, but it is always an experiment!

Kale

Tomatoes and peppers. I went with the “red mulch” this year, and wow…the soil really is so much warmer underneath. Even more so, I think, than under black plastic. I may put it under my peppers too, since they are so sensitive to cold. A little research, first, though.

Squash of all flavors

Long shot of my plots…note the wheat growing in my straw.  Weed free doesn’t mean seed free.

Baby sugar snap and snow peas

French marigolds

Broccoli Lane, with a few cauliflower at the end. My youngest insisted on cauliflower. Seriously.

Pretty potatoes in a pretty crooked row.

Newly emerged bush bean

Cabbage and garlic

I just realized I forgot to take pictures of the hops being grown by Desert Mountain Brewing…I will edit the post to include them tomorrow.  This is our wonderful community garden.  We still have some work to do, but I am so very happy with what we have accomplished.

Happy gardening!

A Crazy Week In and Out of the Garden

I was pretty happy to see the end of this week.

I try to make a point to never wish time away…but quite frankly, I wanted to get to the end of the week so I could do the work in my garden plot that I have been planning in my head for months.

The increasingly dry and very warm temperatures made it imperative that the water be turned on in the community garden…but being new to the management side of things, I wasn’t really certain how it worked.  I emailed Holly at Biggy’s, the landscaping company that installed the spigots, to start the ball rolling.  After various emails, the water was turned on, but the city then needed to do its part, so we waited some more.

This took more time and energy than I expected.  Now I know.

Complicating matters is that the City of Columbia Falls has closed the park for two weeks where our garden is located in order to have a brilliant company called Forestoration redo the entrance.  Gardeners have permission to go in after 5pm and on the weekends–making it tough to be on top of the water situation.  We cannot park in the gravel parking lot–instead we park in the street and walk in, which is not a terrible hardship unless you have to haul in water brought from home because the water inside the garden hasn’t been turned on.  It has been so dry that we just couldn’t wait any longer.

On Tuesday, the water was finally was flowing, and I stopped by at 5pm to water–quickly, because I had to be back at the school to give a speech at the National Honor Society induction ceremony.  That was a bit stressful–the watering and the anxiety about the speech.  My speech seemed to go okay…notwithstanding the coughing fit I had in the middle of it.  Of course, no one is going to tell me my speech was horrifyingly dull, so I’ll never really know.  Phew!  That’s over!

As I am getting out of the shower the next morning, my phone rings.  It is a fellow gardener, letting me know that a spigot is broken and there is three feet of water around said faucet.  I rushed to the garden to shut off the main valve.  No apparent water damage, but the spigot was completely detached.  I ran back to get ready for work–my hair never looked quite right for the rest of the day.

More emails.  Throw in the usual rides to karate practice, shopping for garden items, buying Mother’s Day cards, making dinner, etc…it was a full week.  Incidentally, it was also the first week that my husband was back to work for the season.

By Friday, the spigot was reconnected, water was flowing once again, and life was running more smoothly.  Beer me!  After work on Friday, my husband and I went to our watering hole, the Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthaus.  I was so been looking forward to it…the weather was stunning, the beer was tasty, and we got to see our friends Craig and Staci (also plot holders in the garden).  Coincidentally, I finally actually met Holly from the Biggy’s Landscaping–you know, the one I had been emailing all week.  Small towns are great that way.  After a couple beers, Staci and Craig joined us next door at the Three Forks Grille where we had some dinner and then walked back to our house.  It was a good time.

Today, after a trip to a local gardening center, I was able to finish mounding my plots, and piling straw in the walkways (always looking for ways to keep the pasture grass at bay).  I brought all of my vegetable supports down, and had to walk them the distance from the car parked in the street to my plot which is the furthest away from the door.  At one point, arms filled, I noticed movement in my peripheral vision, and was startled to see a very large spider crawling out of the “shelf” of my tank top.  In my panic, I flung all the support structures I was carrying.  Ugh.  Shudder.

I planted kale, a few more garlics, leeks, parsnip seeds, bush bean seeds, broccoli, marigolds, and nasturtiums.  I decided to try the “red mulch” permeable plastic under my tomatoes (which won’t be planted for a couple more weeks).  I pulled more grass, set up my cucumber and squash support trellis and placed my tomato cages in the appropriate rows.  The I watered the entire plot, and realized that I was really sunburned.  I came home, and sent an update email to the plot holders (which, retrospectively reads like a “don’t don’t don’t” list–not quite what I intended–hopefully they won’t feel too brow-beaten).

Looking down the length of my garden plot(s).

Looking down the length of my garden plot(s).

I love the plot holders in the garden this year.  We have 20 families, of all sizes, ages, belief systems, and garden expertise…and it is fascinating.   Every time I go to the garden, there are plot holders working hard, battling pasture grass, getting dirty and planting vegetables.  We are sharing ideas and plants–which, as I’ve stated before, is what a community garden is about. They are quality people.

My plots from the other direction...

Wider shot

It feels good to know that I did everything I set out to do this weekend in the garden (except plant the first flush of carrot seeds…I will do that tomorrow).  Tomorrow morning I will mow and trim the garden, and then come home to tackle my own yard.  Perhaps because of my spider experience, I still feel like I have things crawling on me.  And my back feels rather as if it is on fire.  You’d think by forty years old I would learn to use sunscreen.  Nope.

The work never ends…but I love it!

Look!  Radishes!

Look! Teeny tiny radishes!

Another Weekend in the Columbia Falls Community Garden

Man, am I sore!

Yesterday, I worked in the Community Garden from 8:30 am until nearly 5 pm.  It was a very productive day.  I took the black plastic off of my newest plot (I was hoping to kill the grass and warm up the soil).  Kyle, another original plot holder and I rented a tiller.  Even though we will no longer tractor-till the entire garden, it is simply much easier to break through a rhizome-y grass layer.

I use a website called GrowVeg.com to plan out my garden

I use a website called GrowVeg.com to plan out my garden each year

So he tilled his plot, Lucy and Andrew tilled their plot, and Kyle was nice enough to do mine, too.  I didn’t till my established bed, and hopefully this will be the last time I will have to do any of my beds.  Unfortunately, the tiller then broke, which means Brooke had to do hers by hand.  Yikes–that’s a lot of work.  My husband suggested that she actually use a shovel to cut away the whole grass layer, instead of just turning over the soil.  That seemed to be a good plan–the roots of the grass are deep and ubiquitous.

Eric and I did the same thing where the seven blueberry bushes will be planted.  It is not easy.

So after cutting away the grass for the blueberries, I went to work in my freshly tilled plot to pull out as many grass roots as I possibly could.  Even though I can hardly walk today, it will be worth it in the long run.  Eric rebuilt the base of the Garden’s homely little greenhouse, but it was too windy to put the plastic on it.

Naomi and Arnold and their kids showed up and finished the prepping of the blueberry patch.  Arnold added peat moss and sulfur to the beds, because blueberries like an acidic soil.  We will probably use a pine needle mulch to help keep that corner acidic.

In the meantime, Natalie and Jeff and their kids came to play in the garden for a while.  They raked in some manure, and even dumped a load on my plot for me.

There has been more activity in the Garden this spring than I have ever seen before.  Kids laughing, parents talking and working–and everyone helping each other.  This is what a community garden is supposed to be!

Naomi and I, per usual, discussed all the items on our to-do list.  The Center for Restorative Youth Justice kids are coming to work on Wednesday, and they will dig up the areas where raspberries and strawberries will be planted, so that is one item off the list.

  1. We need to get the table out of the shed and get it set up as a washing station.
  2. The shed itself needs organizing.  
  3. We need to finish marking out the plots with landscaping fabric.  
  4. We need to plant potatoes.
  5. The herb garden needs planting (in a few weeks).
  6. The greenhouse needs plastic.
  7. Strawberries and raspberry canes will need to be planted.  
  8. Irrigation for the community beds needs to be laid out.

I told Naomi that I have to constantly remind myself that it doesn’t all have to happen this year.  We are just so excited that everything is finally coming together, and we want it to match the vision we have in our heads.  I can tell this group of plot holders is going to be amazing.  The spirit of community has already sprouted (ha!  gardening analogy).  It makes us giggly!

This picture was taken more than three years ago, when the Columbia Falls City Council agreed to let us use the land.

This picture was taken more than three years ago, when the Columbia Falls City Council agreed to let us use the land.

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This is the same land today. Pretty soon, it will be lushly green with edibles!

As for my plot, I went back today to work on it.  I raked out the manure, and created mounds for future planting.  I think I will try straw as a mulch on the walkways this year.  I erected my pea trellis, and planted sugar and snap pea seeds.  It may be too early, but if so, I will just try again.  In my raised pallet bed, I seeded 2 rows of radishes, 2 rows of spinach, a row of romaine, another of a lettuce blend, and a row of green onions.

Not the most artistically staged photo–but you get the idea. And I just realized I was breaking the rule of tools…always leave them tines down!

This is what Pinterest tells me it will eventually look like...

This is what Pinterest tells me it will eventually look like…

We shall see how this works–it is supposed to rain tomorrow and the garden needs it.  We won’t turn the water on for another two weeks or so, until the danger of a hard freeze has passed.  A record-breaking hard freeze is forecasted for Tuesday night, so I will cover my onions with Reemay.  My seeds will be fine.  Hopefully my pea trellis will survive the wind event we are also forecasted to have on Monday.

So much to think about.

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The original Columbia Falls Community Garden group. Guess which one I am? Hint: look at the title of the blog…

A Busy Spring Break

Tonight is the last night of spring break.  I feel so very lucky to have this week off–and after volunteering to direct the community garden, I needed the time.  I had raised beds to set and fill and landscaping fabric to lay.  We were absolutely blessed with gorgeous weather.  My freckles emerged from hibernation.  It was in the sixties, with blue skies and a warm sun.  That is, until yesterday.

My awesome helpers

My awesome helpers

The very first plot holders meeting of the season was yesterday morning at 11 am.  When I went down to the garden at 9:30, it was breezy with some spitting rain.  Not too bad.  By the end of the meeting, it was full-on raining horizontally.  We were all shivering, and I just kept talking faster and faster so everyone could go home and get warm.

Still, it was a great turn out.  Nearly every plot holder made it to the meeting which I (silly me) scheduled on the same weekend that the ski mountain closed.  I have never seen so many people in our garden at one time.  It really rather warmed my heart (if not my freezing cold and wet hands).  I could already feel the beginnings of a “community”.   I provided some history to the garden, handed out keys, gave an orientation to the garden and the shed, answered questions, and had plot holders sign up for maintenance duties.    It was raining hard enough that the ink was running as they filled in their names.  They were troopers!

Something safe to plant...under Reemay

Something safe to plant…under Reemay

They need to be, to some extent.  Gardening in Montana, especially in the springtime, isn’t easy.  It is a constant battle with schizophrenic weather and cold nights.  Still, it is a rewarding “fight” and we have been gathering the necessary weapons to be victorious (hello, extended metaphor!)  We use Reemay fabric and Wall O’Waters to keep our young plants warm.  We watch the weather forecasts religiously.  Finally, around the fourth of July, after babying our plants, we can relax our guard and watch as delicious and healthy food grows in abundance.

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Our raised herb garden

It is possible to garden in the northern climes–it just takes some trial and error, and much vigilance.  And it is worth it.  Trust me.

 

 

Columbia Falls Community Garden

Wow!  What a fantastic day!

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Today was a major work day in the garden.  We had kids from the Center for Restorative Youth Justice complete some service hours in the garden.  The amount of work they accomplished in four hours is simply amazing…it would have taken Naomi and me days to do what they did.  Thank you to Anders and Keara from CRYJ for organizing the kids and providing positive support and encouragement.

Anders and Keara...working long after the last of the kids they were supervising had gone home.

Anders and Keara…working long after the last of the kids they were supervising had gone home.

Together, we set two raised beds, and lined the bottoms of them with cardboard.  We smoothed out seven paths between plots, put the dirt in the raised beds, and laid black landscaping fabric.  The kids smoothed out the land under where the greenhouse and herb garden will go, and laid landscaping fabric .

Our raised beds, nearly ready for onions, shallots and leeks.

Our raised beds, nearly ready for onions, shallots and leeks.

The community garden is really starting to come together.  Today, a nice man named Marshall walked by and inquired about the garden and available plots.  We are technically full, but a few of us have more than one plot and are prepared to give them up for newcomers.  Also, Naomi found a few more spots for half and irregularly shaped plots.

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I spoke with two nice ladies, Mary and Lucy, about the garden as I was leaving today, and I am so appreciative of their encouragement and kind words.

We had two plot holders stop by, as well as a former plot holder, and their children played merrily in garden while we worked and chatted–discovering earthworms, ladybugs and the joy of digging in the dirt.  It was truly a wonderful day–exactly what a community garden is meant to be.  It was filled with laughing children, chatting adults, and hard, gratifying work.

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Three years ago Naomi and her friend Connie put in motion the creation of our community garden. I joined in, along with others.  Today, we have seen the fruits of our labor.  A fully reserved garden, happy plot holders, and youths reconnecting with the community and the land.  This is what a community garden should be.  This is what our community garden is becoming.

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Lucy stopped by today with her kids to check out the garden. Even though she wasn’t dressed for it, she couldn’t resist digging into her plot!

Thank you to everyone who helped make it to this point!