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.

IMG_3568

IMG_3567

Only gardeners get excited about compost bins, I think.

IMG_3565

Bug motel. The good kind.

IMG_3563

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

IMG_3554

Food Bank plot looks fabulous, Robbie!

IMG_3549

Neon!

IMG_3551

Corn sprouts

IMG_3548

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

IMG_3547

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

IMG_3546

Erin’s pretty much perfect plot.

IMG_3540

Erma planted some lavender in our corner bed

IMG_3538

I think we are set on oregano.

IMG_3537

Also set on chives.

IMG_3536

Great idea–a hanging basket!

IMG_3535

Raspberries are thriving

IMG_3533

Colorful cages

IMG_3531

A riot of strawberries

IMG_3530

Beautiful brassica bed

IMG_3529

Zinnias!

IMG_3526

Ready and waiting!

IMG_3525

Sweet potatoes in a tire!

IMG_3523

Square foot perfection

IMG_3516

A ridiculously large rhubarb. Pie, anyone?

IMG_3515

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

IMG_3514

Volunteers sunflowers, maybe?

IMG_3513

Pallet veggies

IMG_3510

Potatoes, all in a (crooked) row.

IMG_3509

Peas getting ready to climb

IMG_3569 IMG_3562 IMG_3561 IMG_3559 IMG_3555 IMG_3543 IMG_3539 IMG_3534 IMG_3520 IMG_3519 IMG_3511

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

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.

tomatoes

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.

seed starts

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

seedlings

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:

tomato nodules

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.

photo 1 (4)

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.

photo 2 (3)     photo 3 (3)

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.

photo 2 (2)

10343988_10152127799910886_435986045_o

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.

The Columbia Falls Community Garden at the End of June

I have definitely realized that I am a “cold-weather blogger”.  When winter lasts as long as it does in NW Montana, it seems silly to spend those few nice months inside at a computer.  Still, I want you to see the progress of our community garden.  It has truly never looked better.  

Warning:  if you don’t like pictures of vegetables, stop here.  

IMG_1848

This is the Boys & Girls Club plot

IMG_1812

Starting to look like the Pinterest project that inspired it…

IMG_1803

Desert Mountain Brewing is growing hops in the garden. Aren’t they pretty?

IMG_1802

More hops

IMG_1801

Thanks to Arnold and Naomi for making the compost bins!

IMG_1874

This is the Food Bank plot. Thanks to Robbie and all the work she has done!

IMG_1885 IMG_1883 IMG_1882 IMG_1881 IMG_1880 IMG_1879 IMG_1878 IMG_1876 IMG_1875 IMG_1873 IMG_1872 IMG_1871 IMG_1870 IMG_1869 IMG_1868 IMG_1867 IMG_1866 IMG_1865 IMG_1864 IMG_1863 IMG_1862 IMG_1861 IMG_1859 IMG_1858 IMG_1856 IMG_1855 IMG_1854 IMG_1853 IMG_1852 IMG_1851 IMG_1850 IMG_1847 IMG_1846 IMG_1845 IMG_1844 IMG_1842 IMG_1841 IMG_1840 IMG_1839 IMG_1837 IMG_1836 IMG_1835 IMG_1834 IMG_1833 IMG_1832 IMG_1831 IMG_1830 IMG_1829 IMG_1828 IMG_1827 IMG_1826 IMG_1825 IMG_1824 IMG_1823 IMG_1822 IMG_1821 IMG_1820 IMG_1819 IMG_1818 IMG_1817 IMG_1816 IMG_1815 IMG_1811 IMG_1809 IMG_1808 IMG_1805 IMG_1800 IMG_1799 IMG_1798 IMG_1797 IMG_1796 IMG_1795 IMG_1794 IMG_1793 IMG_1792 IMG_1791 IMG_1790 IMG_1789 IMG_1788 IMG_1786 IMG_1785 IMG_1886

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for checking on our progress this season!

 

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:

Image

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!

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.

908909_10151379455465886_1994121228_n

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.

60209_432788575885_4229748_n

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

How To Grow Amazing Tomatoes This Year!

One of my favorite blogs discussing  my favorite thing to grow.

Old World Garden Farms

Without a doubt –  tomatoes are the most important crop we grow in our garden.

In fact, we use our home-grown tomatoes and tomato based products nearly 365 days a year. In the summertime – we eat them right off the vine, in salads, hamburgers, sauces and more. In the fall and winter months, we enjoy the tomato juice, vegetable soup, chili, salsa, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and ketchup that we have canned or frozen from the summer’s bounty.

Here are some valuable hints, tips and tricks we have learned over the years to grow a bumper crop of tomatoes:

1.  The When, How And Where Of Planting Tomatoes:

WHEN TO PLANT: Tomatoes are just about the last thing that get planted in our garden.  Tomatoes love warm soil and warm weather.  If you plant them too early in your growing season, they can really struggle. It’s not just about preventing…

View original post 1,037 more words

It’s the Time of the Season…to Start Planning my Garden!

Does this happen to all gardeners?  After Christmas, a switch turned on somewhere in my crowded head and now I find myself obssessively planning my garden and my yard.

We are building a garage/shop (“we” meaning my husband) and I just realized that due to “new” shade, I will probably have to move my raspberries.  So if I move my raspberries, I won’t have as much room for my tomatoes and peppers.  Of course, I can’t do anything but think about it–the ground is frozen, and the future tomato/peppers/raspberry area is currently seeing heavy construction use.

This will be my third year growing the rest of my food in our town’s new Community Garden.  It is an amazing opportunity to raise veggies–the soil is nearly rock-free, which is hard to find in my neighborhood. In my yard, I can’t stick a dandelion fork in the ground without hitting a rock.

533400_10150864161870886_1632848442_n

Wall O’Waters

The first year, I harvested one 12×12 plot.  Last year, I worked  one and a half plots.  This year I’m going for three plots.     I am a relatively new gardener, but I have already learned a lot.  I learned that in NW Montana, Wall O’Waters are necessary around tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers LONG into June…I learned that there is a reason for the spacing information about tomatoes.  I learned that cabbage worms are gross and a menace (and hard to get out of broccoli).  I’ve learned that you can never grow enough basil.

I’ve learned that cornmeal seems to be a good deterrent for the ants in my strawberries.

I use a garden planning software called GrowVeg.com, mostly because I need something to do while I wait out the long Montana winter.   I have been having much too much fun organizing and designing my garden layout.  This year, we will be growing our potatoes in the Community Garden.  We’ve tried to grow them in the yard, but there just isn’t enough sun…and, of course, we have a crazy Murphy the Newfie who knows where the potatoes are planted.  We are going to try corn this year.  Cukes, zukes and other squash will get their “own” plot.  I spend a lot of time mentally designing bigger and better vegetable supports.

IMG_7850

Tinsley House

Last summer my family took a trip on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.  At Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies, we toured the Tinsley House, which is a living history farm.  All of the garden cultivars are heirloom, some even 100 years old.  But what I loved most were the handmade tomato cages.  I tried to talk my youngest into making some to sell at our local Farmer’s Market, but he doesn’t seem terribly interested.

IMG_7851

Tomato Cages

I’m also excited for the Community Garden at large.  We are going through some changes, but I think good things are in store.  In the fall we planted our first raised bed of garlic, and this spring we will make another of onions, to be divided among plot holders.  We will set up a green house early, so people can start their seeds.  We will add some raspberry canes, build a raised herb garden, and plant some strawberries and some blueberry bushes.   The new local brewery, Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthouse plans to grow hops along the north fence.  Eventually we would like to add a gazebo.

I would love to get high school students to design and paint the side of the storage shed.  I am also going to enlist the high school Key Club in helping to plant, maintain and harvest the Food Bank plot.

388107_10150988945320886_1737237270_n

The Community Garden

Alas, all I can really do right now is dream.  I need to wait another 3 months before I can start seeds, and another 5 months before I can start really getting my hands dirty.  Until then, I will just imagine the amazing food that will be grown in the 2013 garden!

IMG_7848

Murphy when she was just an itty-bitty Newfie at the Museum of the Rockies