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!

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The Great Tomato Dilemma

I love growing tomatoes.  Hands down, they are my favorite yield from the garden.  We eat them fresh, and can the rest.  Such satisfaction!  Last year, I started 12 Roma  plants from seed during the first week of April.  They were amazing, if a bit behind their local nursery counterparts.  In fact, because I never trust my own seedlings to thrive, I bought 20+ “back up” tomato plants of different varieties–and then planted my dozen starts because they were doing so well.  I put up 74 jars of tomato products. It was a banner tomato year.

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Last year’s crop

Emboldened by my success, I started 36 tomatoes from seed this year during the first week of March.  Now, understand–I have shelf with two grow lights as my set up, which works fine for a seed starting tray with 72 holes.

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But guess what?  Plants grow.  And they need to be re-potted into six packs.

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And then into 4 inch containers.  It is rather a pain.  Hoping I could get the plants into the raised bed, I held off on the last re-potting.  But they were a tangled mess, falling over and breaking their stems.  Still, I really thought I could hold out.  Maybe I could make it to mid-May, as long as I covered them against the still cold nights.  So silly–I live in NW Montana!  You just don’t put tomatoes (or peppers or basil) into the ground until at least Memorial Day.  Or, as the old-timers say, “until the snow is off Big Mountain” which some summers might mean mid-July.  I vacillated about this for 2 weeks.  My poor husband and my friends had to listen to me debate myself:  re-pot one more time, or wait it out?

I decided to wait.

But then, as I was watering my beloved tomato plants, I noticed these:

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The dreaded root nodules

Horrid little nodules on the stems.  I used this picture, threw it into Google images and voilà!  They aren’t good.  The stress of the too-small containers were likely forcing the plants to create these root nodules.  The nodules develop because the first line of saving itself is trying to throw out more roots to gather more nutrients.  But this just wouldn’t do.  I decided that I would just plant them out–after all, I could protect them with Remay and soil warming plastic, right?  Well…even though we had just experienced 3 70 degree days, it was still too early.  I knew it.  But I rationalized that I couldn’t possibly re-pot all the tomatoes, and the seven of them that looked especially peakish would die anyway if I didn’t plant them.  So I took the four of the least sickly of the sickly plants, and, without hardening them off (because who really needs to do that?  Well, me.  I need to do that) planted them in my raised bed.  I covered the soil with red plastic, which I used successfully last year.  I placed crunched up egg shells in the trench I dug, and placed the plants in sideways as is recommended for root growth.  I put the tomato cage around the plant, watered it, and then wrapped the cage in Remay.

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My little tomato soldiers.

But you know what?  It’s way too early to plant tomatoes.  And they definitely need to be hardened off.  And I should have just gone and found bigger pots.  Because these are sad, sad little tomato plants.

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The one on the left has a chance, maybe.  Not really.  I’ll keep you posted.

On the bright side, I went ahead and re-potted the rest of my tomato seedlings in anything I could find.  Some of  the less hearty ones needed to be sacrificed for the good of the whole, which was very hard for me to do.  I feel guilty thinning carrots.

I found supports and tied my stems to them and look great.  I moved some to a sunny window.  Now my peppers have a little room, and I imagine I will be re-potting them next weekend.

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What is the moral of this story?  Wait two more weeks to start seedlings.  Maybe three.  And unless you have lovely hoop houses, don’t put tomatoes out when it is 50 degrees with wind and rain.

In Search of the Perfect Salsa and Tomato Sauce Recipes

My favorite things to grow in the garden are tomatoes.  I grow a lot of tomatoes–probably too many for our short growing season, as I always end up with a nook full of green ones.  They are good, but not nearly as good as the ones that ripen on the vine.

540460_10150988946080886_1943165771_nThis past year, I started 12 Romas, but I wasn’t especially hopeful–the previous year’s starts became leggy and ultimately died a lanky, scrawny death.  Therefore, I bought some plants.  I had 14 total, ranging from grape tomatoes to cherry to Early Girl to Better Boys, and of course 5 Romas.  Lo and behold, due to improved artificial light source placement, my twelve home-started Romas flourished.  I wasn’t going to waste them!  Even though I had used up the planned space in my approximately 18′ x 12′ community garden plot, I found room.  There were Romas peeking out everywhere.  I so hate to waste them. (I feel the same way about carrots–I feel a twinge with every carrot I pull while thinning–such lost potential!)

Anyway, my Romas were looking gorgeous–until the early hard freeze–really early.  It was September 12.  Can you imagine how beautifully red and delicious they would have been if we had been granted just another 2 weeks?

My book nook, knitting nook, and seasonal green tomato nook

My book nook, knitting nook, and seasonal green tomato nook

Nevertheless, I picked all the shiny green ones, put them in my tomato ripening spot, and waited.  Then the sauce and salsa bonanza began.

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Both my salsa and my tomato sauce turned out decently this year–way better than the year before, but I’m not satisfied.  I look at recipes, I play around with my own concoctions, and they are all good, but I have yet to create a salsa or tomato sauce that I found truly delectable, or one that I would actually serve/give to someone other than my immediate family.

I will keep searching, and keep combining ingredients, but does anyone out there have a recipe they swear by that they would be willing to share?  I know you can find recipes all over the internet, but that hasn’t worked for me so far.

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It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~Lewis Grizzard