Category Archives: Uncategorized

Image from Zuni Cafe's Zucchini Pickles

Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickles with Ginger

If you’re like me,  you are probably wondering, “What am I going to do with all this summer squash!?!” Whether it’s yellow zucchini, green zucchini, striped zucchini, Crookneck, Pattypan, Romanesco, Cousa… you’ve probably got a lot of summer squash on your hands and beginning to wonder what else to do with it.  A couple weeks ago, it was exciting to slice one up for an omelet or throw some spears on the grill. However nowadays, the excitement has worn off, and I am just trying to keep up with the abundance that these plants can produce.


Before you start secretively dropping unwanted squash plants in your friends’ car or on your neighbors’ doorstep, consider this recipe below for zucchini pickles. This recipe was given to me by a good friend, who adamantly doesn’t like “regular pickles.” And, from someone who doesn’t like bread-and-butter pickles, I promise you this isn’t like those mouth puckering, store-bought, bread-and-butter pickles either. These zucchini pickles are tender but firm, slightly sweet and tangy with a hint of cleansing ginger at the end. You’re sure to impress your friends at potlucks, and when the snow flies, you will even find yourself enjoying this essence of summer gardening in a jar.

Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickles with Ginger

Image credit: Craving Something Healthy
Image credit: Craving Something Healthy

Makes about 6 pint jars.


4 pounds of zucchini

1 pound of mini onions (small sweet onions)

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

6 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)

1/2 cup light agave nectar or 3/4 cup mild honey

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder

6 thin rounds of fresh ginger


Scrub the zucchini and cut them into 1/4-inch rounds (Emily’s note: I’ve made this recipe with 1/2-inch-wide spears, and that turned out well too). Cut the onions in half-lengthwise and thinly slice them into half-circles. Put the zucchini and onions in a large bowl and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup salt, tossing to combine. Cover with a layer of ice cubes and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Pick out any unmelted ice, drain well, and rinse under cold-running water. Toss with coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes and set aside.

Prepare for water-bath canning: Wash the jars and place them in the canning pot, fill with water and bring to a  boil. Put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl. (Emily’s note: For more directions about water-bath canning, I recommend you ask your closest “canning guru.” You can also find many resources online or in cookbooks with step by step directions.)

In a nonreactive pot, combine the apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, the agave nectar (or honey), turmeric, mustard powder, and the remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil.

Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded kitchen towel. Drain the water off the jar lids. (Reference your personal canning guru or other resources here if needed).

Working quickly, put a slice of ginger in each jar, then pack the zucchini and onion in the jars (not too tightly). Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace at the top. Gently swirl a chospstick or butter knife around the inside of each jar to remove air bubbles . Use a damp paper towel or clean kitchen towel to remove any residue on the rims of the jars. Then, put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it’s just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch.

Bring to a boil again, and boil for 15 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. You should begin to hear popping sounds as the flat lids seal to the jar. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately and consumed as soon as possible because those that didn’t seal will not keep long-term. Label the sealed jars, store and enjoy during non-zucchini season.

This recipe is borrowed from Liana Krissoff and her book Canning for a New Generation.

PEAS for Lunch

PEAS Lunch 1This summer, every weekday at noon, on the nose—never 12:05 or 12:10—the sound of somebody clanging a triangle signals everybody working at the PEAS Farm to stop what they’re doing and head to the barn for lunch. “Everybody” currently includes university interns, Youth Harvest  teen employees, teaching assistants (including myself), and farm staff.

That’s a lot of hard working, hungry people eating lunch at PEAS, every work day during the summer. And they eat a lot of food, especially after a morning of hand-planting a quarter acre of pumpkins, squatting for hours to hand weed ten long rows of flowers, or harvesting a dozen different vegetable varieties for a 50-person CSA pick up.

And every day, it’s the farmers themselves who cook these mighty feasts.


Part of the PEAS educational experience is learning how to cook fresh veggies in a way that produces a tasty and nutritious meal. All the interns and teen farmers get the opportunity to cook together, multiple times over the course of the summer.

There are only two official rules for cooking lunch. 1) Serve lunch on time. 2) Make enough. (There’s also an unofficial third rule: Cook something delicious!)

The cooks harvest the bulk of their ingredients straight from the farm. (Some staple ingredients—like oil, vinegar, lentils, and grains—don’t grow so well there. We purchase those elsewhere to supplement our bounty of veggies.) This means that early season lunches very much resemble peasant food—usually rice, lentils, and the ever-abundant spring greens. But as the days lengthen and the air warms, the cooks in the PEAS kitchen start to incorporate zucchini and carrots and beets—and then eggplant and beans and tomatoes—into their repertoire.

PEAS Lunch 6

On a typical day at PEAS, the cooks congregate in the kitchen at 9:45 to plan their meal. Instead of using established recipes for lunch, they make up their own based on what’s available in the pantry and on the farm. Cooks usually start by inventorying the dry goods and scanning the fields for whatever’s ripe. After harvesting the food, the cooks turn on some tunes, set water to boil, and start cooking.

At noon, on the dot, the cooks bang on the triangle, and the rest of the farmers flock in for lunch – like a big family. Laughing and talking all the while, we fill our plates and then our bellies with a lunch that’s on time, enough, and delicious.

PEAS Lunch 3

Here’s a recipe that resembles something we might cook at the PEAS Farm (scaled down, of course):

Lentil Dal with Greens, adapted from The Kitchn

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups dry red lentils (we use Timeless Seeds’s), rinsed
1-2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil (like Safflower)
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Mix of other veggies, like zucchini, carrots, or peas, chopped to bite-size
1/2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups loosely packed shredded greens, like beet greens, spinach, kale, tat soi, or rainbow chard
Salt, to taste

Place the lentils in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until creamy and tender.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a heavy-based pan—we like cast iron—over medium heat. Add the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes and garlic and whatever other vegetables you’ve decided to toss in, and cook for another 5 or so minutes, until the veggies soften and garlic begins to brown. Add the turmeric, ginger, and cumin, and stir. Mix in the greens and let them wilt, about 5 minutes.

Stir the veggies into the dal, and simmer for a few minutes to warm through. Season to taste with salt. Serve piping hot over rice, with a salad on the side.


This week’s post was written by Kali Orton, a Teaching Assistant at the PEAS Farm, GCH staff member, and graduate student at the University of Montana in the Environmental Studies Program. At the PEAS Farm, her job consists of three main tasks: farming, helping other people learn to farm, and making sure that everyone’s having a good time. She loves food and its ability to bring people together. 

Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi

Unsung Sorrel

This week we’re featuring a very special guest blog post from Michelle Parisi, Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm Assistant. Michelle grew up in Chicago and taught kindergarten before moving west to test her farming skills. She first sprouted her gardening wings as a volunteer for veggies at River Road Farm for her first four seasons. Now the assistant at Orchard Gardens, she aspires to be outfoxed less often by voles and weeds

At Orchard Gardens a patch of sorrel bolts skyward, red and yellow seeds ripening on on four foot tall stalks.  They are hard to overlook, yet these plants had never been harvested until a very special visitor showed us a delightful way to use their sour, lemony leaves.

Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi
Sorrel. Photo by Michelle Parisi

It turns out that sorrel grows semi-wild in many parts of the world.  It was easily and enthusiastically recognized by Mr. Karaman, who was visiting his sons at Orchard Gardens homes.  The Karaman family is Kurdish, and their hometown of Hakkari sits high in the mountains of southeastern Turkey.  Due to ongoing political violence in the region, the family has been forced to flee, leaving behind a beloved home and garden.  As we toured the farm together, Mr. Karaman spotted the sorrel and identified it as the very same plant that grows on the hillsides around Hakkari.  He picked a large bunch, deftly tying it with long blades of grass, and invited us to share the soup he would make with it.  The following is the recipe he passed along to us.

image1 (2)
Michelle smiles with the Karaman family at the Orchard Gardens Neighborhood Farm. Photo courtesy of Michelle Parisi.

Delicious Kurdish Sorrel Soup

½ cup cooked chickpeas

½ cup cooked bulgur

1 bunch sorrel

1 bunch spinach

mint, thyme, oregano to taste

2 cans chicken broth

1.5 lbs yogurt

1-2 jalapenos (if you like spice)

1 tomato, grated

1 lemon

2 tbsp butter


Mix chick peas, bulgur, greens, tomato, herbs, salt, and butter in a large pot.  Squeeze the lemon into the mix.

In another pot, warm up the chicken broth and slowly mix in the yogurt.  Stir for a few minutes on low heat.

Add broth and yogurt to the greens.

Bring to medium heat, keeping it below the boil, until the greens melt to a soft consistency.


June 1st Means…

Hey Community Gardeners! It’s June 1st, which means…

Per the Community Garden plot abandonment policy, you should be gardening or tending to your plot by this day. For those of you who have yet to, today is the day! Failure to do so results in an automatic forfeit of your plot. We do this in order to get everyone off the waitlist and into a plot – – which is pretty great that we have so many enthusiastic gardeners in a city of around 70,000.

We’d like to see your plot go from this…

Weeds weeds weeds! Photo courtesy of Gayl Hann.

To this…

Weeds be gone! Photo courtesy of Gayl Hann.
Weeds be gone! Photo courtesy of Gayl Hann.

To this…

Hard work, planted rows, satisfaction. Photo courtesy of Gayl Hann.
Hard work, planted rows, satisfaction guaranteed. Photo courtesy of Gayl Hann.

Be sure to peruse the Real Dirt for previous postings on planning your garden plot;

Planning Your 2016 Garden

Get Your Garden On

To Water… Or Not To Water


Tomato Talk

Looking for some tips on tomato buying, planting, and care? This week we’re featuring a special guest blog by Northside Community Garden Leader and Mentor, Sarah Johnson. Sarah grew up in eastern Washington climbing trees and picking huckleberries. Her love of nature evolved into an agricultural journey that took her to farms in western Washington & south to Central America. From Guatemala she landed in North Idaho where a one season commitment on an off-grid organic farm quickly turned into five years! In 2014 she moved to Missoula with her soon-to-be husband and quickly became a fan of Garden City Harvest. This is Sarah’s second full year as a Northside gardener. When she’s not gardening Sarah works as a nurse at St. Patrick’s Hospital, enjoys cooking, basket-making, and exploring the great outdoors!  


Tomato considerations:
The varieties of tomatoes and uses for the delicious red (green, purple, orange…) fruits can seem endless! While I now get excited about the seemingly endless possibilities, it wasn’t too long ago when I sought out an education provided to me by Farmers Paul & Ellen of Killarney Farm. The following questions and planting tips emerged from my experience helping customers choose tomatoes for several seasons at the Kootenai County Farmer’s Market in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.

Getting started- Questions to ask yourself when choosing a tomato for planting:

What are you going to use it for?
Small, medium, or large fruit size?
Determinate or Indeterminate?
Growing space? Does it need to be suitable for a container?
Heirloom? What does heirloom mean anyways?

USE: Salads, salsas, sauces, sandwiches, snacks, etc. Asking yourself how you plan to enjoy your tomato can help narrow down the variety of tomato that will be right for you. For example, if you plan on making sauce till the cows come home then a nice meaty paste tomato will serve you much better than a juicy slicer. (Although I have been known to use whichever tomato for whatever purpose throwing designated use out the window!)

SIZE: Small tomatoes, 0.5-2oz or the size of a marble to a golf ball. Typically includes cherry tomatoes and small saladettes.

Medium tomatoes, 6-10oz or approximately tennis ball sized. Many sauce & salad tomatoes fall into this category (Green zebra, Roma, Celebrity).

Large tomatoes: 10+ oz or roughly the size of a softball. This category typically includes your beefsteak varieties (Big boy, German Johnson & other brandywine types)

DETERMINATE vs. INDETERMINATE: A determinate tomato (also called bush tomatoes) grows to one size, sets its fruit over several weeks, ripens, and is done for the season.

An indeterminate tomato, or vine-type tomato, grows and shoots new flowering tops getting infinitely taller and producing more fruit over a longer period of time. An indeterminate tomato needs pruning and greater structure via staking or trellising throughout the growing season.

*More information will be provided on the two types at the Tomato Workshop in June, see info below.

GROWING SPACE:  Cherry tomatoes and compact determinate tomatoes work very well in containers. Containers should be at least 20 inches across the top and 24 inches deep; 3-5 gallon buckets also work well. When planting in the ground, plants are ideally spaced 2-3 feet apart and rows should be spaced 3 feet apart. Plants spaced closer together compete for space and nutrients while air circulation is decreased. *The planting location should receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight.

HEIRLOOM: An Heirloom is open-pollinated (by birds, insects, wind) and has been cultivated for at least 50 years; an heirloom must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. Heirloom tomato seeds can be saved and planted the following year if a person desires! This is in contrast to a hybrid where two different varieties are cross-pollinated by human intervention. Hybridization may also occur naturally but when buying plants the seed is usually denoted by ‘F1′ and the cross is completed intentionally to produce certain traits.

A tomato start in the hole after fertilizer has been dug into the soil.
A tomato start planted above the bottom leaves.

Planting Tips: 

Transplanting New tomato starts: When transplanting, you may plant the tomato up to its first leaves leaving only the top of the tomato plant sticking out of the soil. The tomatoes will form roots from the stem that is planted underground forming a more solid root structure for the plant.

Tomato plants in containers.
Tomato plants in containers.

Fertilizing tomato transplants: Throw a handful of compost or composted manure into hole and mix well with soil. At this point you may add a tomato/vegetable fertilizer to the soil as well or water your transplants in with a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion. All starts should be watered into the ground after planting.
Temperature: Best planting occurs when the average daytime temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit; plants can tolerate lower temperatures but growth is slowed in cooler weather. We should be past the last expected frost date for the season, but if we had an unexpected freeze it could damage the cellular structure of the plant causing severe damage. If such a ghastly change in temperature were to occur this late in the season, tomatoes should be covered by row cover, plastic (being careful not to let the plastic touch the plant), or an old sheet.


*For more information on the care of your tomatoes throughout the season please consider attending the Tomato Workshop on June 23rd at the Northside Community Garden from 5:30-6:30pm, open to all community gardeners!


Decoding Hardiness Zones & Frost-Free Dates

As a community garden staff member, I have the privilege of visiting all ten of Garden City Harvest’s community gardens on a weekly basis. It’s great witnessing the progress people have made in their plots, and how the gardens are growing as a whole. Some plots are flourishing with starts nearly six inches high, whereas others have yet to sow seeds, having only tackled the task of cleaning out last year’s straw and prepping soil.  At this point, either tempo is acceptable, it’s the contrast, the personalities of the plots that is interesting. The past few weeks have been pretty dreamy here in Missoula, drawing us outside and together as a community. The anticipation as thick as the BBQ smoke which wafts through our sleepy neighborhood streets.  I say this while, at 4:26 PM on Monday May 9th, it’s currently 46 degrees and raining. It’s downright chilly and I very much doubt that many community gardeners are schlepping through the mud at the moment. Which is also, completely acceptable. Spring is peculiar, my least favorite season for its lack of predictability. Every year I’m surprised yet again that one day it can be so nice and another so frigid! And the juxtaposition only intensifies it. Given the spring flux, it’s a challenge to know just when to plant in Missoula.

So here we are going through the motions of a Missoula spring. Let us visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone Map.

2012 USDA hardiness zoning map, courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture,
2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture, 
And more specifically, Montana. Courtesy of
And more specifically, Montana. Courtesy of

For those of you unfamiliar, “the 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.”[1]  It took the USDA twelve years to update plant hardiness zoning from the previous 1990 map, with much impetus from plant scientists across the country. This raises concern given the reality of climate change and is certainly something to consider. Garden blogger Elizabeth Licata, writes more about this on Garden Rant.

The National Arbor Day Foundation creates more updated hardiness zone maps. The most recent is 2015, and provides an accurate representation of zoning given the changing climate in North America.



The most recent 2015 Arbor Day Foundation Hardiness Zones Map and changes in climate and effects on hardiness zones. Images courtesy of
The most recent 2015 Arbor Day Foundation Hardiness Zones Map and changes in climate and effects on hardiness zones. Images courtesy of

Missoula falls in zone 5, and can handle certain plants of zone 4 and 6. This is something to consider when planting, as well as first and last frost dates. Make sure to check your seed packets for which zones the plants are best suited for – – this applies to fruits, veggies, trees, bushes and flowers.  The MSU Extension Service offers an interactive garden calculator, as well as many resources on weather in Missoula County and planting.

As Genevieve mentioned, in the Real Dirt’s past post on first frost free dates and scheduling, entitled “Community Gardens: Average Frost Free Date May 19th,” the first frost-free date marks a safe point to plant warmer season crops such as “cukes, melons, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.” We’ve had an especially warm spring this year, and rumors have floated through the gardening world of an earlier frost-free date. The first frost-free date is calculated on an average, based upon thirty year averages taken from the Missoula International Airport, and compiled by the National Climatic Data Center. With that in mind, the May 19th date is not set in stone, and allows some wiggle room for seasonal temperature variation. Consider using cold-covers for a few weeks during this interim period of fluctuating temperatures. And remember, despite all, plants are more resilient than we think.

For more information, visit:

The United States Department of Agriculture 

The MSU Extension Service

Arbor Day Foundation


[1] “USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map,” USDA Agricultural Research Service, accessed May 11, 2016,

Red worms, Eisenia foetida

Composting with Red Worms

This week we’re featuring a special guest blogger – Dave Victor, Orchard Gardens Farm Manager. Dave is a lover of plants and the soil that sustains them.  He has a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana where he focused on seed saving at the River Road Farm. Off the farm, he enjoys tending to his red worms and growing mushrooms. His knowledge and passion for worm compost is well worth sharing…


Looking for a kid-friendly backyard ecology project?  Interested in making high quality compost but tired of turning that smelly pile in the backyard?  Want to eliminate your paper waste stream from filling up the recycling center or landfill?  Intrigued by keeping ‘livestock’ that doesn’t require much room or pasture?  Tired of hunting down worms for your next fishing trip?  Then red worm composting may be for you!

 How It Works: Food and vegetable scraps are buried into paper bedding within a plastic or wooden bin.  Red worms, with the help of invertebrates and microorganisms, break down both bedding and food scraps into a high-quality, biologically rich compost called castings.  Castings are then used to fertilize garden plants that feed you, your family, and your friends.

 Benefits of Worm Castings: Worm castings are biologically and chemically different than traditional compost.  While the macronutrient levels (NPK) in worm castings are lower than traditional compost, castings have a profound influence on plant growth and health.  Reasons for this include increased levels in humus, micronutrients, and plant growth promoters available in castings that aren’t found to the same degree in traditional compost.  Because castings are biologically dynamic it is noted that plants grown with small amounts of castings germinate better, grow faster, yield better, and are more resistant to disease and insect pressures.  Need proof, then try it for yourself!

The three trays in the foreground were all planted at the same time in our greenhouse. The tray in front contains worm castings while the other two do not.
The three trays in the foreground were all planted at the same time in our greenhouse. The tray in front contains worm castings while the other two do not.

The Worm Bin: A worm bin is simply a structure that holds bedding, worms, and food scraps.  You can make one yourself (which is really easy) or buy one from a supplier.  For your first worm bin, I recommend using an old plastic tote.  Drill a series of ¼” holes on the bottom, sides, and lid to allow for air exchange as plastic bins tend to hold too much water through condensation.  Or simply skip the holes and leave the lid slightly cracked.  If you make a wooden worm bin then drilling holes is not necessary as wood breaths better than plastic — just be sure to cover bedding with a plastic trash bag to hold in moisture.  If holes were drilled, line the bottom with screen window material to prevent stuff from coming out of the bottom.

Worm bin options
Worm bin options

Bedding Materials: The first thing you will want to add to your new worm bin is bedding material, which is the carbon-based material that you will bury food scraps into.  Shredded office paper, junk mail, and old newspaper (no glossy or lots of color) work really well and is a great alternative to recycling.  Bedding should be between 5 and 12 inches deep, should be kept loose and airy, and must be moistened to the feel of a damp sponge.  Your bedding will help absorb liquid from your food scraps and control stinky smells.  Your worms will consume both bedding and food scraps.  Be sure to mix in a handful of living soil to the paper.  This helps inoculate the bin with beneficial organisms that help shred and chew materials before worms get to it.

Shredded paper bedding next to a bucket of castings
Shredded paper bedding next to a bucket of castings

The Worms: There are many species of worms, but not all are suited to living in a worm bin.  Some worms live deep in the soil such as earthworms and are not good for composting food wastes. Others, such as red worms, live in the upper litter layer of soil and are excellent composters.  Red worms, such as Eisenia foetida — also known as red wiggler, manure worm, and red composting worm — are what you want to add to your worm bin as they will consume large amounts of decomposing vegetation and paper bedding.  They can eat up to half of their weight in feed per day and reproduce quickly under ideal conditions.  So you can start with a small batch of worms and easily increase your population to handle all your food waste needs.  Red worms can be sourced from fishing bait shops, friends and neighbors, or online.

Red worms, Eisenia foetida
Red worms, Eisenia foetida

Worm Bin Dynamics: Think of your worm bin as a functional ecosystem with its own food web dynamics.  By adding bedding material and food scraps we eventually get worm compost, i.e. castings, in return.  This doesn’t happen magically though.  It follows nature’s pattern of material breakdown with the help of invertebrates (millipedes, pill bugs, enchytaeids) that chew and shred materials making it easy for your worms to eat.  Protozoans, fungi, bacteria, rotifers, and nematodes also perform a role in material breakdown and serve as a supplemental food source for our worms.

Worm Castings: After several months you will begin to notice that your bedding has started to breakdown and there is a layer of black crumbly compost, called worm castings, on the bottom of your bin.  This is the product of your worms’ digestive system with the help of microorganisms and invertebrates.  Castings can be harvested and used to side-dress garden and house plants, used as a supplement in potting soils, or made into tea and sprayed on plants.

Considerations: Inside of your bin is a working environment.  Proper conditions are needed for everything to work smoothly.  If the bedding is too wet or too dry, worms will want to leave the bin.  If your bin is too stinky, try adding less food and more paper.  If you have fruit fly issues, you may have exposed food scraps that need covering or your bedding may be too moist.  Locate your bin in a shady spot.  The ideal temperature for your bin is between 70 and 80 degrees F; red worms will tolerate temperatures between 38 and 95 degrees F.  During the winter, bring your bin into a garage, basement, or even in the house.  For several years I kept worm bins under my bed during the winter…remember, a properly maintained worm bin is neither smelly nor dirty.  Most important of all: have fun, observe, and learn from your mistakes and observations.

This information was written to be an introduction into worm composting.  Much has been written on the subject both in the literature and on the Internet.  For further reading I recommend Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.


A huge thank you to Dave Victor for sharing his insight!

Planning Your 2016 Garden

Curious about taking those first steps in planning your garden? In lieu of Opening Day this Saturday, this week we’re featuring a special guest blog post from Northside Community Gardener and Garden Mentor extraordinaire, Ingrid!

Join Ingrid for a free Garden Planning Workshop on Thursday, April 28th, from 5:30 – 6:30 at the Orchard Gardens Community Barn, 210 N. Grove St. All are welcome and it’s sure to be both an educational and fun time!


During winter’s short days and longs nights, my garden sleeps under a blanket of mulch and snow. Except for a few hardy sprigs of creeping thyme that edge my walkway, my garden patiently waits for spring. I, on the other hand, am planning. Where should I put carrots this year? And the peas? And the bean towers so they don’t shade the Swiss chard?  In my mind and on paper, my 2015 garden has already begun.

My perennial beds where I grow herbs and flowers are fairly static. Once plants are established, I don’t rearrange the beds except to split overgrown plants and to occasionally share a zealous grower with friends or neighbors. My vegetable garden, on the other hand, changes dramatically from year to year.

I grow vegetables in my shady yard and in a community plot rented through Missoula’s Garden City Harvest.  Both planting spaces are fairly small and I always have to be conscious of what is planted where and how large any given plant will grow. As I begin my planning, I gather paper, pencil, and last year’s written plan. With my limited space, my biggest concern is planting so I don’t repeat vegetables in the same piece of ground year after year.

I work on the plan for my yard’s vegetable garden first. Three full-grown maple trees shade my yard. My house and garage also send afternoon shadows across my garden space. Only shade tolerant vegetables will produce a crop in these limiting conditions. Almost all vegetables love sun. When they don’t get enough light during the day, they don’t produce. Over the years, I’ve discovered the following vegetables will produce in a partially shaded area:  leaf lettuce, cilantro, arugula, radishes, parsley, ox-heart carrots (small, round variety), and pole beans. The pole beans are an anomaly. They prefer full-sun, but with a tall enough bean tower, they’ll grow up to the light and produce wonderful beans. The only problem, I have to use a step-stool to reach the beans! Once I’ve decided what I’m planting this year, I take a quick look at last year’s plan, and try to reorganize so that each vegetable has a “new” spot in the garden. So, last year where I had the bean towers, this year I’ll plant cilantro and ox-heart carrots. Where I had cilantro last year, I’ll plant radishes and arugula, and so on. This practice is basic crop rotation.

Rotating where a gardener places vegetables benefits not only the plants, but also the soil. Soil that has the same crop planted in it year after year can become depleted in nutrients, leading to stunted plants and poor vegetable production. By varying where vegetables are sown from year to year, the soil can better support healthy plant growth and production. Another benefit of crop rotation is a reduction of insect pests. For example, the wire worms that attacked my turnips last year are still in that same spot in the garden. If I plant turnips in the same area, I’m simply providing them an easy feast and ensuring my turnips fail. If I plant bush beans where I had turnips last year, I’m forcing the wire worms to at least wiggle their way across the garden before they infest my turnips. As a general rule, I like to rotate from root crops to peas and beans to tomatoes, and then back to root crops. But, given the small space I have, I don’t always make that three year rotation.

In the sunny community garden spot I rent, I plant sun-loving vegetables: squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tomatillos, broccoli, onions, and Swiss chard.  I also use this space to try out new vegetables or varieties. Last year, I put in four artichoke sets. They were amazing to look at and did produce eight small heads, but I won’t plant them again. For the amount of space they took up and the number of aphids I hand-squished on their stalks, I didn’t find them worth the effort.

This leads me to another planning factor I haven’t mentioned: weighing the “pay-off” from my investment of energy, time, and seed cost. What does this mean? Well, is what I grow in my garden worth the effort in not only a monetary sense but also in a culinary and esthetic sense? For example, I no longer grow potatoes. Why? They take up too much of my valuable space and I can purchase organic potatoes at the farmers’ market that taste as good as any I could grow. Tomatoes, on the other hand, I am willing to plant and pamper as my own homegrown paste tomatoes make the best salsa. Not even the excellent farmers’ market tomatoes can compare.

So, I’ve figured out what goes where and mapped my gardens out on paper. This “mapping” is a fluid process for me. I simply draw an outline of my two vegetable spaces and define areas: onions, winter squash, peppers, etc. Gardeners more particular than me purchase graph paper and draft out rows to scale. I don’t find this necessary and my planning is just the first step in paging through catalogs and ordering seeds. Once I’ve planned what vegetables I want to grow and where I’ll plant them, I’ll make my seed orders.


There are as many kinds of gardens and ways to organize a garden as there are people.

“The only wrong way to garden is to not garden at all!” – Patrick Long


A huge thank you to Ingrid! Download Ingrid’s Garden Planning Worksheet which walks you through where to begin, what to ask yourself, and important things to consider before planting. It’s a great resource and gives you a taste of our upcoming workshop.

See you all out at the gardens for Opening Day this Saturday! (Remember, 10:00 – 12:00 for returning gardeners, 12:00 – 2:00 for new gardeners).

Understanding the Historic Wampanoag Three Sisters Garden, A Short Lesson in Folklore and Planting

As a new gardener, I’ve been thrust into a challenging sea of recommendations, books, websites, science, opinions, beliefs, and lore. As a novice sailor in an unknown ocean, I recently sowed my veggie seeds indoors (my first time starting seeds inside). I have them sitting in a south facing window. That much, I know, is correct. South = sun, right? I’ve been watering them sparingly, but dare I admit too sparingly? I’ve been trying to keep the heat at a steady comfort, avoiding temperature fluxes, this much too, I seem to understand. And, amazingly, in the past week, I’ve noticed the little green heads peeking through the soil. For this first endeavor, I’m delighted to have somehow successfully navigated the inundated sea of information for the new gardener.

So, I’m setting out to learn all I can in an effort to educate, as well as provide historical narratives to the readers of the Real Dirt. Today’s topic? Companion planting.

The other day, while eating breakfast at Bonner’s River City Grill, of all places, I fell into a conversation with my neighboring table about Native American folklore and gardening. I remember learning about corn and beans and squash while in Elementary school, about the pilgrims and Thanksgiving, but realized I know little more than the idealized children’s coloring books with happy settlers and cornucopias. The Three Sisters planting regimen is a stronghold in Native American Legend. It represents not only a way of cultivating food, but also sharing, spiritual protection, and regrowth in its humblest form.  Yet, I couldn’t shake my fascination with its beginnings, with the cyclical romance and simple cross-pollination of the initial effort. My greatest takeaway was not the proven/unproven science, but the intangibles that the three sisters reminds us of: Gardening is a celebration of growth cycles, of nurturing, and reminds us of the inter-relatedness of all things dirt, seed, pollen, water, and ultimately survival.

According to Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA): Sustainable Agriculture, a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT),

The term “Three Sisters” emerged from the Iroquois creation myth. It was said that the earth began when “Sky Woman” who lived in the upper world peered through a hole in the sky and fell through to an endless sea. The animals saw her coming, so they took the soil from the bottom of the sea and spread it onto the back of a giant turtle to provide a safe place for her to land. This “Turtle Island” is now what we call North America. Sky woman had become pregnant before she fell. When she landed, she gave birth to a daughter. When the daughter grew into a young woman, she also became pregnant (by the West wind). She died while giving birth to twin boys. Sky Woman buried her daughter in the “new earth.” From her grave grew three sacred plants—corn, beans, and squash. These plants provided food for her sons, and later, for all of humanity. These special gifts ensured the survival of the Iroquois people. (1)

Example of an historic Wampanoag Three Sisters Garden scene. Photo courtesy of

The term “Three Sisters,” is now the most commonly known term associated with companion planting. Many northeastern tribes believe the Great Spirit passed corn, beans and squash down to the people as special gifts assuring survival. The three crops were considered to be protected by the Three Sisters – spirits collectively called, the De-o-ha-ko, meaning “our sustainers” or those who support us. (2)

The Iroquois lived in the Northeastern United States and parts of southeast Canada. They settled and built villages during growing seasons, living in longhouses and farming the land. Throughout the 1600s, the Wampanoag Nation, a neighbor tribe of the Iroquois, was comprised of over 40,000 individuals, residing in 67 villages spanning the northeastern seaboard. They, like the Iroquois, also kept a quasi-agriculturally based living system, residing in birchbark structures and cultivating the region. (3)

Drawing of a three sisters garden with corn, beans and squash. Image courtesy of the Centers for Cultural Understand and Social Change, UIC Heritage Garden,

It was Squanto, a Wampanoag, who first taught the Jamestown settlers the art of companion planting, of harvesting a land unfamiliar to them. Known for their incredible gardening practices and knowledge, many neighboring tribes mimicked the “Wampanoag Three Sisters Garden” design – – Planted without tilling or plowing, the traditional Wampanoag garden includes corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers which were fertilized by alewife, a species of fish (similar to the fish emollition fertilizer we use today on many organic farms). The corn and beans are planted in mounds, with squash planted between the mounds. The sunflowers are planted along the northern edge of the garden, as not to shade the crops.  The concept of companion planting embraces a number of strategies that increase the biodiversity of agroecosystems. Simply, the belief stands that certain plants can benefit others when planted in proximity. These cohesive relationships are thought to ward pests, offer variation in soil nutrients, shade, and protection, as well as vice versa. Although the science is debated, we know that Wampanoag lessons in gardening afforded survival for settlers of the New World, through the teachings of the three sisters. (4)

Screen Shot
Three sisters garden diagram, SF = Sunflower, C = Corn, SQ = Squash, B = Beans. Image courtesy of the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas.


The three sisters method is an ancient practice, and something to ruminate on while planning your garden and preparing for the upcoming season. Initial notions of companion planting harnessed the power of collectivity and communal relationships, and perhaps a little spiritual guidance by De-o-ha-ko can help us all. For more information on other companion plants, as well the scientific foundation for companion planting, check out ATTRA Companion Planting: Basic Concepts & Resources. Also, watch this short video, which takes a look at an Aboriginal healing & three sisters community garden in Sudbury, Ontario. It’s sure to visually please.

Don’t miss our April posts! We’ll have some guest bloggers in the coming weeks who will share their insight into seed saving and the foundations of garden plot planning.


(1) Kuepper, George. “Companion Planting: Basic Concepts & Resources.” Arizona State University. Last  modified July 2001.   CommunityGardenATTRACompanionPlanting.pdf.

(2) Ibid

(3) Eldredge, Nancy, Nauset Wampanoag and Penobscot “Who are the Wampanoag?” Plimoth Plantation.

(4) Kuepper, George.

The Solace of Shared Place

A ramble from Emy, the new Community Gardens Outreach Coordinator…

At the recent Wintergreens event, Josh Slotnick, one of the co-founders of Garden City Harvest and environmental studies professor at the University of Montana, gave an inspired speech about a walkabout he once took around Washington DC. He led us through the free museums, the streetscapes, eventually relinquishing the inspiration which led to Garden City Harvest’s humble creation; gritty landscapes in need of rebirth. In welcoming a group of nearly 150 supporters, dining on the once sowed seeds of last year’s harvest, Slotnick spoke not of farming, gardening, nor sustainable agriculture, but rather, he spoke of place.

On my first day at Garden City Harvest, my coworker Patrick gave me a tour of all ten of our community gardens, scattered across Missoula. We drove the breadth of this town through the lens of communal and shared places, from one garden located in a new condominium development parking lot, to one in the rear of church grounds, to one in a public school’s sports field. What became apparent was the adaptability of the community garden.  These places shared a purpose, to cultivate community development while connecting a variety of otherwise separated locations.

This is not a topic unfamiliar to me, but I come to Garden City Harvest with a different lens in how we construct place. For my master’s degree, I studied historic building preservation at the University of Oregon. While applying to work  at Garden City Harvest, I couldn’t help but think that surely I don’t have the background for this: I don’t have a degree in environmental studies or non-profit management, I’ve never worked on a farm,  I only recently moved to Missoula. Or so I thought.

I grew up in Bellingham, WA in a house that was rumored to be Tom Robbin’s inspiration for Another Roadside Attraction (1971), a once hippie commune known throughout the Pacific Northwest. My parents subscribed to the free- love era to an extent, and in the 1980s, they purchased the property from the city days before it was slated for demolition. For $40,000 they got a ramshackle 1906 cedar shingled house on 12 building lots with a chicken coop the size of the house, hailing from the same era. It was located less than a mile from the bay, and enveloped by Himalayan blackberries. While the inhabitants of the commune were replaced by my mom, dad, me, and our two golden retrievers, the communal garden remained. Turns out, maintaining a garden big enough to feed the once 20 something inhabitants was a lot to keep up with! Over time, our family, friends, and neighbors began to pitch in, planting and harvesting together. I have memories of running around our yard with kids of the neighborhood, while our parents planted. Of my British-Fijian grandmother frying homegrown tomatoes   and kipper snacks for breakfast (yep, fish for breaky! Seriously delish I swear, a recipe I’ll share in another post). The commune lived on through the auspice of the garden.

While perusing Garden City Harvest’s website in preparation for my interview, reading the mission and history, educating myself on the fundamentals of this organization, it became clear just how cross-disciplinary Garden City Harvest is.  I wrote my graduate thesis about defunct post- industrial landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, and their inherent connection to sense-of-place, the shared meaning of that place, and the identity associated with such sites. I advocated for the protection of even the grittiest of sites, that a beautification of place is possible through preservation, rather than demolition, that adaptive reuse of historic buildings is the greatest option in terms of carbon emissions, the use of skilled labor and craft, of economic development. Primarily, I advocated for historic preservation’s unique connection and ability to foster community development. Looking back on it now, I’m sure the history of my home, of growing up in a quasi-community garden, in a relic which at one time stood as the pinnacle of shared place, subconsciously influenced my passion for the old, the ram-shackled, and the adapted  sites, and all the good that can come.

Community gardening builds community through agriculture and shared place. Historic preservation builds community through shared meaning. Both facilitate the observer, visitor, gardener, to cultivate their own sense-of-place. Both tie cultural landscapes together. As a new member of the Garden City Harvest team, my past in historic preservation has lent me an appreciation of the local place and a specific lens in which to view our mission. Yet, this organization has taught me more – – GCH has taught me the many other ways of building community, and most importantly, it has cemented my belief in the solace of shared place. Whether a green garden or a defunct industrial ruin, both serve as reminders of community, and undergirds the process of place-based progress. Both bring us all together.

Tying cultural landscapes together: Seattle’s Gas Works Park exemplifies the reuse of a defunct place. It acts as a third-place, much like community gardens, inviting locals to gather and socialize, and represents a beacon of adaptively reused land for the benefit of communal growth.