We’re two weeks in, after faring an especially chilly Opening Day. Missoulian gardeners are tough cookies, they took the cold winds in stride, showing up smiling and ready to dig into the season (no pun intended ;). Take a gander at your hardy selves below, and pat your backs on a such a successful start!
Whether you’re a new or returning gardener, it can be challenging to get back in the swing of things, especially after the distressingly long winter we’ve endured. But fear not, we’re here to help. Attend the Gardening 101 & Planning Workshop tomorrow, from 6:00 – 7:30, led by gardening-extraordinaire Patrick (our Community Garden Operations Coordinator)! Patrick will cover the basics, leaving you feeling ready and confident to dig in. The workshop will be held at the Providence St. Patrick Hospital healing garden, located at 902 N Orange St behind the Providence Surgery Center (Here’s a map).
P.S. – it’s free! We hope to see you all there!
Also, check out these other gardening opportunities throughout the season. Keep checking the blog, our Facebook page and website, as well as your email and garden blackboards for additional events.
And remember, April showers bring May flowers… and besides, what’s better than a nice shower followed by a bask in the sun, all in the same hour?
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!
During the holiday season, I’m always grateful to receive homemade gifts. The hot cocoa mix recipe listed below is a perfect family activity and makes a tasty gift for friends and neighbors. Of course, it’s also perfect for placing in your own cupboard and enjoying during Missoula’s winter!
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup powdered milk
½ tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Combine ¼ cup of the powdered milk with the cornstarch and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Pour into a pint jar or into two half pint jars. Pour sugar into the jar (or jars if making two). Combine the remaining ¼ cup of powdered milk and the cinnamon. Pour into the jar or jars. Add ½ cup of chocolate chips to the top of two jars or the entire cup if using one pint jar.
That’s all! This recipe doubles and triples very easily and is perfect for children to make as gifts.
To Serve: Pour contents of jar into a bowl and mix. When evenly blended, add back into jar. For a single serving, place 4 Tablespoons cocoa mix and 1 cup milk or water in a small pan. Stovetop: Heat milk and mix on medium until the chocolate chips melt, stirring occasionally. Whisk for 30 seconds or until smooth, pour into a cup and serve with whipped cream or marshmallows.
Mix and milk can be heated in a microwave. Place cup on a plate in case of the milk/water boils over. Heat for a minute and stir. Heat for another minute or two if needed, whisk and serve.
Eating freshly baked bread is one of life’s joys. When my daughters moved away, my recipe for Pumpkin Rolls was one of the few they requested from me. The recipe below makes delicious dinner rolls and is a great addition to your Thanksgiving table. It’s also a wonderful way to get non-squash/pumpkin lovers to eat the nutritious vegetable.
1 scant tablespoon yeast (or 1 package yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
2/3 cup milk (whole, 2%, skim, or soy)
1 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin or winter squash (If using a small commercial can of pumpkin, buy plain pumpkin not pumpkin pie filling. Use the entire can even though it’ll be a little more than a cup).
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter or margarine (butter tastes better!)
2 cups whole wheat flout
2-3 cups unbleached white flour
Oven temperature: 400 degrees
Makes 12 dinner rolls, 1 large loaf, or 2 small loaves
Mix yeast, warm water, and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 10-20 minutes so the yeast can “proof.” The yeast mixture will look like a foamy, tan mass when it’s ready.
While the yeast is “proofing,” place the milk and butter in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat until the butter has melted (or microwave). Once the butter has melted, cool slightly (you should be able to touch the milk and butter mixture with a finger and it should be warm, but not hot) and add to the yeast. Add the cooked pumpkin or squash, the brown sugar, and salt to the yeast and milk, then stir until blended.
Add the 2 cups whole wheat flour, and stir. The mixture should be getting thick. Now add the unbleached, white flour one cup at a time – the dough should get so thick you’ll eventually need to give up the spoon and will have to knead, by hand, the rest of the flour in. Depending on the flour, you might not use it all or you may need a few more tablespoons to get firm dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding additional flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. As you knead, you’ll feel the dough taking on an “elastic” quality – this is the gluten strands developing. I like to knead yeast breads in the bowl I’ve mixed them in – it contains the flour mess and I don’t have to clean up the countertop or table afterwards.
Once kneaded, round the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl that is at least twice as big as the dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise. After an hour, punch the dough down, re-round into a ball, and let rise again for 40 minutes or so. Once it’s grown to about double in size again, push down, knead gently for a minute or so, and then set aside for five minutes so the dough can “rest.” Letting the dough rest allows the gluten to relax and makes shaping rolls or loaves easier.
At this stage, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter or oil your baking pans. I suggest a 9×11 cake pan for rolls, one large loaf pan, or two small loaf pans. This bread also makes a lovely, free-form round loaf that can be cooked on a cookie sheet.
The bread dough is now ready to shape into a dozen rolls, 1 large loaf, or 2 small loaves. After shaping the dough and placing it in a pan, cover and let rise 30 – 40 minutes. The shaped dough should be about doubled in size; if your kitchen is warm, it may rise faster than the 30 minutes. When finished rising, place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. You can check for “doneness” by tapping on the top of the bread – if it gives off a “hollow” sound, it’s ready.
Take the rolls or loaves out of the pans and cool on a rack; let them cool before cutting. It’s very tempting to eat the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven but, if the bread’s still hot, it won’t slice well.
Note: This recipe doubles or triples easily. Also, once baked, the rolls freeze well for later use.
This week we’re featuring special artwork from Northwest artist, Phoebe Wahl. Phoebe is an artist whose work focuses on themes of comfort, nostalgia and intimacy with nature and one another. She grew up unschooled in Washington state, and credits her ‘free range’ childhood in the Northwest for much of her inspiration and work ethics. Phoebe graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2013 with a BFA in Illustration, and currently lives in Bellingham, Washington. Her first children’s book Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra) was the recipient of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Illustrator, as well as a Kirkus star, and was listed by School Library Journal, Kirkus and HuffPost Books as being one of the Best Children’s Books of 2015. Phoebe is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary.
While sitting here in an effort to write our closing blog for the season, it is this quote that sticks:
“how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,”
…perfectly articulated by the original and ever so wise, Winnie the Pooh. We’ve now said goodbye to our shared gardens; they’ve been tended to, cared for, and put to sleep for the cold winter to come.
How lucky are we that we have something to miss and reminiscence through the snow. We say goodbye to our gardens, to these places that we tend, and to the neighbors we tend with, with the luxury in knowing that we will be seeing it all again come spring.
In the meantime, we hope you continue to enjoy your garden goods through the winter.
**So here is a winter recipe and a few last quotes to last you the winter through:
Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897
One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn
Community Gardens Minestrone Soup
Last week we celebrated the hard work and devotion that our volunteer garden Leadership Committees put forth with a dinner party. Here is a recipe from the event: Community Gardens Minestrone Soup to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
This is a go-to for me; it doesn’t take long, and usually doesn’t require a trip to the grocery store. You can be creative with what ingredients you have on hand.
Veggies – This is more of a “kitchen sink” soup, so use what you like or what you got! I’ve found that anything from Brussels sprouts to kale to spinach to beets to peppers all tastes good and blends well. If you are worried about cooking times check out the Kitchn’s guide to making soup with almost any vegetable.
That said, pretty mandatory veggies for base –
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Three cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh (no need to de-seed fresh tomatoes)
2 large carrots, chopped
2 large or 3 medium potatoes, chopped
2-3 cans of beans, whichever you’d prefer (I generally use black, great northern, or whatever is in my pantry)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 32 oz. container of vegetable broth + water to dilute
1 – 3 tablespoons of vinegar – I prefer red wine vinegar, but rice vinegar works well too
A splash of red cooking wine
I spice to taste; start with a dash or two, add more as you go
A hint of cayenne
FRESH curly parsley – a large handful, chopped. You can be generous with this; I usually use the entirety of one produce bunch.
1 bag of whichever noodle you like, I usually use macaroni, shell, or whatever is in my pantry so long as its bite-size, i.e., not spaghetti, angel hair, etc. Gluten free are fine too.
Cook pasta in separate pot. Once pasta is cooked, drain and run under cold water until it is no longer steaming and set aside.
On medium-high heat sauté onions in olive oil until slightly tender in large stockpot. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or until fragrant. Once sautéed, add carrots, potatoes and any other starchy or hardy veggie that needs time to cook. Once all veggies are tender, turn heat to medium and add tomatoes and beans and stir. Add all dried spices plus salt and pepper and bring mixture to a soft boil while stirring. Add liquid broth ingredients on medium heat; bring mixture to a soft boil once again. This is your time to add spices and liquids to your taste. If it’s bland, add a pinch of salt, more herbs you desire, and a teaspoon or two of vinegar and wine. If it’s too salty or strong, dilute with a cup of water. Repeat this process as necessary. *The beauty of this soup is that it is very forgiving. Once you’ve seasoned to taste, bring soup to a low simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in pasta and parsley five minutes before serving.
A dollop of plain yogurt with a hint of fresh parsley sprinkled on top
This week The Real Dirt is featuring a guest blog from Patrick, Community Gardens Operations Coordinator. Patrick 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.
Fall can mean a sudden change of pace for those of us who spend time working in the dirt. Our lives as well as those in our gardens undergo some major changes as we transition from the warmth of summer into Missoula’s cool and dark winter. For many of us, this is a bittersweet time. We will miss our time in the garden, fresh picked meals, and chatting with fellow gardeners. But winter also offers a chance to reflect on the past season, plan for the next, and hunker down with a warm winter dish.
An oddball in our fall routine of closing our gardens down, putting our storage foods up, and settling into a new schedule is garlic. This time of year, when all of our crops are reaching the end of their lives, or have already passed, another round of garlic is getting ready to grow. We plant our garlic in the fall to overwinter so that it can begin to grow as soon as weather permits in the following spring. Garlic can also be planted in the early spring as soon as the ground is workable. However, bulb production seems to be greater when fall planted. Also, fall planting is simply a much welcomed change of pace from our usual fall routines.
When planting garlic we do not plant seeds, we plant individual cloves. The first step then is to harvest and cure your previous garlic crop. Read Emy’s blog post about harvesting and curing for more details.
Since we produce our next garlic crop asexually through cloning, we want to make sure to choose the right cloves to plant for next year. We want to choose cloves that exhibit traits that we like, and would like to continue to see in our crop. So we don’t plant small cloves or cloves from heads that have rotten, because we don’t want small or rotting heads next season. After the garlic has been cured, choose the cream of the crop; good looking cloves with desirable traits.
If you did not grow garlic this year, don’t worry! Simply use garlic that you normally buy from the farmers market or grocery store. (It is best to save cloves from a local garlic source, as you can be sure that they will grow well in Missoula!)
Once you have your chosen cloves, keep them in a dark, dry space until late fall. I normally plant garlic in late October when the weather is getting cold yet the ground is still workable. Garlic can be planted pretty close together; I usually plant cloves about 5-6 inches apart. Make sure that the cloves are planted root end down, and cover with soil.
Your next round of garlic is now underway for next season! Cover your garlic beds with a significant amount of straw. The straw will help keep weeds down and also balance out temperature fluxes in the soil surface.
Next spring when things start to warm up, start pulling back/removing a portion of the mulch. Leave some mulch in place as weed suppression (garlic has a small leaf area and is a poor competitor against weeds), but do be aware as too much mulch can cause rotting at the base.
One of the joys of fall cooking is the abundance of apples. Local apples abound in Missoula for the next month or two: Macintosh, Transparents, Ruby Reds, Sweet Sixteens, Pink Ladys, and Honey Crisp to name a few. Apples, of course, are well suited for sauce, cider, and pie. One of my favorite apple dishes is the tart recipe below. Simple and tasty, the tart makes a wonderful finish to any autumn dinner or the perfect breakfast treat.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Ingredients for crust:
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup butter
1 egg, beaten
Ingredients for apple filling:
2 lbs (4-5 larges) apples – any variety will do and a mix of varieties works well
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons sugar
½ cup raisins, dried cherries, or dried cranberries
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter. Once the flour and butter resembles fine crumbs, add the beaten egg. Mix only until the dough begins to stick together. If the dough is too dry, add drops of water until it holds together. Place in a sheet of wax paper, press together lightly, and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Once the dough has chilled, remove from the wax paper and use your hands to press into a 9-inch tart or pie pan.
While the tart crust dough is chilling, make the apple filling. Quarter and core the apples. You may leave the peel on the apples. Coarsely grate the apples then mix with the cinnamon, sugar, and dried fruit.
Place in the tart shell and smooth out.
Spoon the corn syrup over the filling, and then dot the filling with the diced butter.
Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and eat warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 6 – 8.
Don’t forget! The annual Garden City Harvest Fire Sale is quickly approaching – next Wednesday and Thursday, 10/19 & 10/20, from 2:00 to 6:30 PM, at the River Road Farm (1657 River Rd). What is the Fire Sale you ask? Sounds spicy… It’s your chance to stock up on storage quantities of cured onions, squash, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and much more. It’s set up market style, so you can select your favorite summer tastes to last you the winter through. With pretty amazing prices, I might add.
Which brings us to another point: storing said veggies. As post-modern neo-pioneers, most of us in the community garden world don’t have the nostalgic root cellar to store our goods. Well worry not, one can wax poetic for winter veggie storage in a multitude, and quite innovative, of ways. Apartment and alley-house dwellers, this is your time to shine; let the creativity commence like it once did in the time pre-shipping containers and electric air-conditioning.
Things to consider –
Curing – Most storage crops need to be cured to enhance their storage potential. “During the curing process, potatoes and sweet potatoes heal over small wounds to the skin, garlic and onions form a dry seal over the openings at their necks, and dry beans and grain corn let go of excess moisture that could otherwise cause them to rot.”  Harvesting, curing and storage requirements vary with each crop. Luckily, if you’re buying your veduras de fuego, ie, Fire Sale veggies, then the crops have already been cured and are ready for storage.
First thing’s first – you need a cool (but not freezing) location for storing your bounty over the winter. This has to do with slowing the release rate of xylene gases which accelerates ripening and thus, spoiling; 34F and 50F (1 to 10C) is best.
Ventilation – Although you’re purposely slowing the release rate of xylene gases, your veggies will naturally still emit them. Keep your goods in a ventilated area to allow wafting of the gases – somewhere with natural openings and airflow. Closets which are regularly opened and mudrooms are good examples.
Humidity – Another thing to consider when choosing a place to store your winter goods is relative humidity. “Providing moisture lets crisp root vegetables sense they are still in the ground. Some staple storage crops, such as garlic, onions and shallots, need dry conditions to support prolonged dormancy…” so be aware as to which vegetables you are grouping together and where you’re putting them. Barbara Pleasant’s article (below) has a thorough chart on which veggies need what for optimum storage.
Lastly, be creative (like this trash can root cellar idea)! Don’t think that because you live in a small space, don’t have a garage, basement, or extra freezer, you can’t store fruits and vegetables through the winter. Read garden writer Barbara Pleasant’s article (with such lovely illustrations) for brilliant vegetable storage ideas.
 Pleasant, Barbara. “Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them.” Mother Earth News. Last modified September 2012. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/garden-planning/food-storage-zm0z12aszcom.
 Bourque, Danny. “Root Cellars and Me (Tips for Cold Storage).” Simple Bites. Last modified October 12, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.simplebites.net/root-cellars-and-me-tips-for-cold-storage/.
Well folks, as I sit here writing this, it’s a balmy mid-50s outside with a forecasted rise to 79 by this afternoon. We’re in the throes of transitional temperatures. In three days it’ll be October and all of a sudden, it’s fall. In an effort to avoid the usual autumnal rhetoric of reflection and nostalgia, I’ll keep my melancholy to a minimum. However I will say this; I’ve learned and experienced many new things during my first year as a community gardens coordinator, but witnessing the seasonal change through the lens of our ten community gardens has been the most radical of experiences. Missoula’s short growing season lends itself to vicious seasonal transformations, and with the quickly dying leaves and decrease in production comes a marked shift in energy.
Although it seems like our plants are asking to be excused from the dinner table, and if you’re anything like me, you’re also falling victim to the sleepiness in the air, fall does bring an element of new life. One aspect of this is soil.
Nurturing for Next Season
As you begin clearing your garden of tired plants, be sure to turn them back into the soil – despite a slowdown in harvestable goods, they still have much to offer. Fall is ideal for building soil health; it’s now that we’re surrounded with decomposing leaves, veggies, plants, and matter – you can smell it in the air! Adding this naturally occurring organic material reintroduces nutrients to your soil, plus it’s cheaper than buying compost, and easier than hauling it to the compost bin or EKO. Be sure to chop up large matter before turning it in, as that will aid in decomposition. Read specific directions and tips, the benefits of fall soil propagation, as well as the science behind organic matter and soil health, here.
Closing Day & Cold Temp Prep
With all this said, Closing Day is officially just around the corner: Saturday, October 22nd. Closing Day isn’t entirely what it sounds, it’s simply a deadline for you to prepare your plot for winter, and to have it clean and tidy. You’re welcome to continue gardening through the winter, so long as you’ve taken the steps to winterize. It is also a time for us to assess whether you’ve properly put your plot to sleep, and thus whether you will be receiving your $15 deposit. Follow these guidelines to ensure you properly prep your plot and receive your deposit. Every garden has Closing Day Guidelines posted, so be sure to check your garden’s blackboard/shed. If you have any questions at all, please reach out to your Leadership Committee or Garden City Harvest Staff! We’re all here to help.
As we all know, and as I slipped into above, fall begs for reflection … which can be so useful for all of us. Please take a few minutes to complete our Year-End Community Garden Survey. This helps us prep for next season, helps us grow as coordinators, and mostly, it helps us nurture this program. Thank you all!
“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower” – Albert Camus