Patrick, the Community Gardens Operations Coordinator, grew up in Wisconsin, and from day one wanted to be outside whenever possible. While earning his degree from the University of Montana, Patrick enrolled in the PEAS Farm class, and couldn’t give it up – staying for two semesters and a summer session. Through the PEAS Farm and his Environmental Studies Program classes, he’s decided he wants to keep working on local food efforts now that he has earned his degree. When he’s not digging in the dirt, he is hiking, biking or fishing with his dog, Lola.
With spring officially just around the corner, many of our garden crops will be getting off to an early start. With our cold and lengthy winters in Montana, several crops that we love to grow and eat need to get a jump on the season. Farmers, nurseries, and gardeners around the area are getting busy seeding and tending to our favorite plants.
While it gets nice and hot in Missoula, our nighttime temps in the late spring and early fall allow us a mere 120 frost-free growing days, on average. Many of our favorite plants are capable of braving the cold, so we may choose to focus on these crops. However, many others will wither away at the first sign of frost. Extending our seasons by starting some of our plants in controlled environments like greenhouses, allows us to grow many crops that we otherwise simply couldn’t produce in our climate. Others we can simply direct seed into the ground and will do great with our natural climate.
Early Start Recommended
Broccoli And More!
Can be Direct Seeded
Corn Most Greens
It is certainly possible to grow starts in our houses, utilizing sunny areas or even supplying supplemental lighting. However, starting seeds at home can be surprisingly tricky. Tending to watering needs can be time consuming, and often our home starts don’t receive the adequate amount of light to sustain proper growth. This often results in lanky, stunted, or otherwise stressed plants. We want our starts to be as healthy and vigorous as possible when we plant them out. The process of leaving their comfortable, pampered lives in their climate controlled homes will be stressful enough; we want them to hit the ground strong.
Most homes are not designed with plant growth as their primary function, and most people’s days are already busy enough as it is. For this reason, many gardeners decide to leave the starts to the professionals. Greenhouses are designed for the sole purpose of promoting plant growth, and are maintained by folks who dedicate their days to ensuring successful starts. Farmers markets and nurseries are great spots to look for strong and healthy starts to grow. They are also great places to make sure you are picking the right varieties for your needs and wants.
But! If you want to hit the ground running and start those starts early yourself, it can be an incredibly fun and rewarding process. There are a few things we need to consider when starting seeds at home. We need to choose the right varieties for our climate and preferences; sauce tomatoes vs. slicing tomatoes, for example. We need to sow the seeds indoors and re-pot if necessary at the proper planting time; we want them to have a good head start while not outgrowing their containers and becoming stressed. We want to let them “harden off” before transplanting to reduce shock by moving them into a cooler and less controlled environment. This can be done using cold frames or floating row cover. (Both of these can be used to extend the season for bedded plants as well). Lastly, we want to make sure that the beds and weather are suitable for the plants before we transplant them outdoors. Check out the links below for some more information!