Tag Archives: Community Garden

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Best Practices for Watering Your Garden

As we brace ourselves for this week of 95+ degree heat and even more hot summer days ahead, it’s important to know how to water your garden effectively and efficiently. Fruit and vegetables cost a lot of water for a plant to produce, so watering adequately will promote healthy plants and an abundant harvest. Insufficient watering can cause problems in the garden. In addition to making your plants wilt, inadequate watering actually stresses plants, which can lead to unhealthy and unproductive plants that are more susceptible to pests. Below are five best practices to follow when watering your vegetable garden.

1. Know your plants

If you watch your plants, they will let you know when they need water. They wilt. Colors become dull. Furthermore, different plants have different water requirements. For example in a standard vegetable garden, onions do not need as much water as carrots, and carrots don’t need as much water as tomatoes, cucumbers or beans. Potatoes are very sensitive to not enough water, but peppers like it hot and dry.

The age of the plant also matters. The more mature and bigger the plant, the less water it requires compared to young and small plants. Young plants are tender and have small root systems whereas a mature plant will have a bigger root system to cover more area below ground. Always remember to water immediately after transplanting a young plant!

Well watered tomato plant

2. Know your soil

The ability of soil to store water is dependent on the soil texture, which is the ratio of sand, silt, clay and organic matter in a soil.  According to Washington State University Extension, a 5% increase in organic material quadruples the soil’s water holding capacity. Organic matter not only holds and stores water but also insulates the soil against heating and cooling. One of the easiest ways to increase a soil’s water holding capacity is to incorporate more organic matter in the form of compost.

Mulch (i.e., straw, grass clippings, woodchips, leaves, composted manure or compost) will also add organic matter to the soil as it decomposes while helping to smother weeds as well. Place a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch on the soil surface around your plants or place mulch between plant rows. Start by using small amounts at a time so you don’t cause mold or fungus problems.


3. Deep watering

Watering deeply generally means watering a plant so that the water soaks down to at least 8 inches below the soil surface. This encourages a plant’s roots to grow long and deep. The saying goes that one deep watering is much better than lightly, more frequent waterings. This is because brief waterings may not penetrate the soil and reach the roots. It also encourages shallow roots, which dry out easier and are more susceptible to stress.

Soak your garden once a week to a depth of 6-12 inches and don’t water again until the top few inches begin to dry out. If you’re not sure when you need to water again, use the finger test. For the finger test, stick your index finger in the soil, up to the knuckle. If the soil feels moist, there is no need to water. If it’s dry, it’s time to water again.

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4. Timing is everything

What time of day you water and how frequently you water is very important. The cool of the evening is the best time to soak or drip irrigate a garden, because this gives the soil and plants all night to absorb the water. Early morning is an ideal time for sprinklers. The leaves of a plant can still absorb the water in the cool of the morning but dry out during the day which minimizes any leaf molds or fungus.

Also, avoid watering when it’s windy. Since windy conditions increase evaporation, it is inefficient for plants to absorb water. In fact, windy conditions even cause evaporation directly from the leaves of the plant as well. If possible, give your plants extra water before or after a warm windy day.

5. Keep water on site

If you have a hard pan developing on the surface of your soil, it won’t absorb water well and instead run off and pool up in your garden path instead. Try loosening the top inch of soil around your plants with your fingers, a hand trowel or to help the soil absorb the water.

Also, try watering slowly or in several stages a couple minutes apart so that the soil has time to absorb the water. Build up small mounds several inches high with your hands around the edges of your garden bed or around individual plants. This will act like a moat or dam and help keep water where you want it–at the base of your plants.

Keep in mind that every garden and every garden plot is different, so we recommend trying a couple of these things to find what works best for your garden. If you have questions specific to your site, ask your community garden leadership committee or garden mentors. They are always willing to help!

Good luck and stay cool!

Attack! The top 4 pests in Missoula right now and what you can do about them

Here’s our Community Garden Operations Coordinator on some pests that have been plaguing our gardens in the last week or two:

I have been getting a lot of questions regarding garden pests, particularly flea beetles! I wanted to share a couple of tips to help control these critters. With a little bit of time and persistence, hopefully we can keep our plants, ourselves, and our garden neighbors happy!

flea beetle damage
Here’s some flea beetle damage.

Flea Beetles:


Tiny “shotgun” holes on leaves of plants, especially tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and early brassicas. Very small black beetles that are very quick and jumpy.

Treatment options:

  • Hand squish any beetles that you see and can get your hands on.
  • Place trays of soapy water below your plants and shake them. Many of the beetles should fall off and get stuck in the water.
  • Pyrethrin spray is a common treatment. It should be used sparingly as needed to kill flea beetles. This is an insecticide that should be used carefully, but is acceptable by Organic standards. Spray tops and bottoms of leaves on affected plants.
  • Many people also mix organic biodegradable dish soap with water into a spray bottle. I generally use about 1 tablespoon of soap in a liter spray bottle. This should be applies the same as the pyrethrin sprays.
  • I have also seen a lot of folks use sticky bug traps around their affected plants. These bugs do jump around and move a lot and many of them can be caught in a sticky trap. They are a bit slower in the cool mornings and evenings and can also be caught by hand individually in the sticky traps.
Leaf miner eggs
The white flecks are the eggs of leaf miners. To remove, run your thumb or finger over the eggs.

Leaf Miners:


Large blotches and tunnels within the leaves, most common on chard, beets, spinach. If you inspect the underside of the leaves, you will see linear patterns of small white eggs.


Regularly inspect the underside of leaves and squish any eggs that you find.

cabbage moth
This is a cabbage moth.

Cabbage Worms:

Symptoms: Large, jagged tears and holes in leaves. Common on cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Treatment: Inspect plants for green caterpillars and squish. Catch and kill any white cabbage moths that you can.

Aphids eating away on a
kale leaf.


Symptoms: Curled and Distorted leaves. Commonly found on kale, cabbage, broccoli and the like. You will see clusters of little grey bugs.

Treatment: Promote or introduce predatory insects like ladybugs and lacewings that will help to keep the aphids at bay. Spraying a biodegradable soap and water mixture will also suffocate many of the aphids. If you end up with any plants that are totally infested, remove them from the garden completely.

Young plants are especially susceptible to being infested, which can lead to severity stunted and unhealthy plants. It is best to address these issues as soon as you become aware, as your plants become more established they will be more resilient to infestation.

Have you seen these pests in your garden? Do you have other pests? Let us know what questions you have!

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Head Starts With Starts

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.

Patrick 3While 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

Tomatoes                       Peppers

Onions                            Cabbage

Squash                           Cucumbers

Broccoli                         And More!

Can be Direct Seeded

Carrots                          Beets

Peas                               Radishes

Corn                              Most Greens

And More!

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.

Patrick 1Most 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!

Garden “Calculator”

Helpful Hints

Cold Frame


What Do You, Beyoncé, and Weeding Have in Common? Y’all Slay.

Weeding. The never-ending task. As our gardens progress through the season, it’s easy to put off pulling those pesky intruders from our plots. If you’re like me, weeding was a romantic endeavor early in the season, a responsibility that has visual consequences and offers that instant gratification. You get in that zen-like zone, clearing the unwanted growth from your plot, nurturing, brushing your shoulders off after beautifying your space and helping your fruits and veggies thrive. Then time passes, you keep at it, it gets hot out, you go on vacation, you come back, and boom. All romance is lost and the task turns to work. Before you realize it your plot is a jungle of intrusion, of unwanted visitors overthrowing all your hard work. Those little monsters spreading their seed like it’s the garden plot apocalypse, battling your cherished plants for energy, water and space. Having grown up gardening in a Pacific temperate rainforest, I’m well acquainted with the rise in blood-pressure that can, and will, ensue.

It’s okay gardeners, we’re all in this together. Let’s put our heads down and win the battle, let’s not schlep, let’s slay.

At least it’s not this bad…

The term weed refers to anything you don’t want in your garden, or simply, a plant out of place. In our neck of the woods this can include dill, sunflowers, horseradish, mint, and yarrow, among others. More typical weeds that plague us are purslane, quackgrass, lambsquarters, pigweed, dandelion, sow thistle, knapweed, and ugh, bindweed. Download this helpful resource for common garden weed identification and management practices to better equip you for battle.

One plus for weeding is that some varieties are edible and/or medicinal, and downright tasty such as lambsquarters, purslane, and dandelion. Read more about edible weeds and recipes in our previous post, “When Your Garden Gives You Weeds, Make Salad!

And remember, in the words of Beyoncé, when it comes to weeding, slay:

Sometimes I go off, I go hard 
Get what’s mine (take what’s mine), I’m a star
Cause I slay, I slay, I slay, I slay
All day, I slay, I slay, I slay
We gon’ slay, gon’ slay, we slay, I slay


Gardens of Missoula, A Tour De Flora

I spend majority of my job garden hopping around Missoula. With ten gardens, this takes me to nearly every corner of the city. I’ve racked up countless hours spent in the work truck, watching the neighborhoods change as I cruise across town in every direction. Considering Missoula has a population of +/- 70,000 people, the community interest in cultivating local foods is quite impressive. Garden City Harvest oversees ten community gardens, with 370 plots, catering to roughly 750 Missoulians, with a lofty waitlist on top of that.

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Visiting the ten community gardens makes for an inspired tour of our city. Every garden emulates it’s surrounding environment, with individual characteristics which make each a unique experience. Make it a bike tour, walk it, or a Sunday drive. In any way, they’ll take you to every neck of these woods.

For a digital, downloadable, and reader-friendly guide of our community gardens, click below.


Take-aways from a Tomato Tutorial

Why did the tomato go out with a prune?….. Because he couldn’t find a date!


Bad jokes aside, a group of community gardeners recently took some time to ketchup on tips for improving their tomato harvests, thanks to Northside garden mentor Sarah Johnson. Last month Sarah wrote a blog post to lay the groundwork for choosing and transplanting tomatoes (read it here), and last week she followed it up with a hands-on tomato workshop focused on tomato care throughout the growing season (bruschetta included).

Here are a few of my takeaways from the workshop. If you couldn’t make it last Tuesday but have a tomato-related question, feel free to email Sarah at sarah_nside@gardencityharvest.org, or leave a comment at the end of this blog post so we can all learn more.

The good news is that caring for tomato plants doesn’t have to be very complicated. In fact, if you just leave your tomato plants to grow on their own, you’re still likely to get a good harvest from them. However, if juicier, more flavorful tomatoes are what you’re after, there are three main things to do to keep your tomato plants healthy and happy: Support, Prune, Fertilize.


Caged tomato
Caged tomato

Providing tomato plants with proper support helps keep the fruits off the ground so they are less likely to rot or get eaten by pests or become afflicted with some disease. The best support structure to use depends on if your plant is determinate (more bush-like, grows to a certain size and fruits pretty much at once) or indeterminate (continues to grow new vines and will fruit throughout the season).

Since determinate plants only grow to a certain size, they do best when caged or staked and tied. Determinate plants do not need to be pruned, so cages work well because they are simple and you only have to worry about being able to pick the tomatoes.

Determinate plants do best when staked or trellised. These methods allow you to more easily access the whole tomato plant when pruning.

Staked tomatoes
Staked tomatoes
Trellised tomatoes




If left to their own devices, indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow and grow, putting lots of energy into more and more vines (also known as suckers). We prune these suckers so that the plant focuses its energy on growing bigger, more delicious fruits instead of more vines. The suckers, although they look small to start, will eventually grow into a whole new vine that will flower and set fruit, so it’s best to get them early.

Photo from Sarah Johnson
Photo from Sarah Johnson

I imagine that writing about how to prune tomatoes won’t be very effective. Here’s a short youTube video that demonstrates the basics about pruning tomatoes.

Other tips on pruning:

  • Start pruning relatively early (about when the tomato plant has three suckers beginning to grow), then try to continually prune about once a week or so to keep up with the plant’s growth
  • The verdict is still out about what is the best number of vines to allow your tomato plant to grow. Both Sarah and I have found the general consensus among area farmers to be 3-4 vines per plant; 4-6 vines for a cherry tomato plant. Once you’ve picked the *chosen ones* (those few vines that look the strongest and will be allowed to continue growing) trellis or stake them so they are easily identifiable. This will make future pruning much easier and will allow you to train the vine around the string it’s tied to as it grows
  • Smaller suckers can be pinched off by hand, but larger ones (thicker than a chopstick) should be clipped with scissors or pruning shears to avoid damaging the plant


Tomatoes are heavy feeders, meaning they take a lot of nutrients out of the soil as they grown. To ensure your tomato plants have enough nutrients, you can fertilize throughout the season.

If you decide to purchase fertilizer, remember to look for non-synthetic fertilizers that meet requirements for organic production. For one, it’s part of the Garden City Harvest community garden policy and sustainable gardening guidelines. One of the reasons we don’t promote the use of non-synthetic fertilizer is because they tend to deteriorate soil quality, rather than build it. Plants then become dependent on continued applications of synthetic fertilizer in degraded soil. Plus, synthetics contribute to water pollution and when used in excess can be ingested and contribute to health problems. You can read more on the effects of synthetic fertilizer in this discussion from Organic Valley. And this article better explains how to identify organic fertilizers.

Here’s the skinny on fertilizers:

  • Complete fertilizers include a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. All fertilizers have a ratio printed on their label which indicates that particular fertilizer’s balance of these nutrients (for example: 5-10-10 or 10-10-10)
  • Other fertilizers, such as manure, bone meal or cottonseed meal provide just one of those nutrients
  • Nitrogen promotes the growth of dark green foliage; Phosphorous promotes the growth of flowers and fruits; Potassium helps build a strong stem and root system

Here is the secret for fertilizing tomato plants:

Use a fertilizer higher in nitrogen in the beginning of the plant’s life (such as fish emulsion), BEFORE the plant starts producing blossoms. This promotes the growth of foliage, which promotes better photosynthesis.

Once the plants start producing blossoms, use a fertilizer higher in phosphorous (to help the growth of flowers and fruits)

Some tips on watering

Tomatoes are best watered at the base of the plant, rather than from over head. Watering the foliage can cause the leaves to get sunburned during the day (there’s no SPF to protect from that). Water left on leaves overnight can also lead to disease.

Throughout the summer consistently give your plants a deep watering (2 – 3 times/week). If the soil is dry one inch below the surface, those plants need a drink (mulching around your plants will help them retain their moisture). However, once the end of the season is in sight begin to water your plant a little less. Yes, that’s right. All summer long you took extra special care of that tomato plant, only to stress it out at the end of summer. By watering less you slightly stress out the plant, which triggers it to go into full fruit production.

Stay tuned for more info about extending your tomato season, harvesting, and storing tomatoes. In the meantime, leave us a comment if you want more information about a particular topic – tomato-related or not. 

Introducing our 10th community garden

Please join us in welcoming Ivy Street gardeners to our community gardening family.

The HUGE Natures Best crew and Garden City Harvest community gardens program staff at the big dig day.
The HUGE Natures Best crew and Garden City Harvest community gardens program staff at the big dig day.

The Ivy Street Garden, Garden City Harvest’s 10th community garden, has been open for nearly a month now. Opening Day for Ivy Street was June 6, and ever since then its gardeners have jumped right in. Plots are planted and looking beautiful – a welcome new sight for neighbors.

IMG_0124Previously, the little park that is now the home of the community garden was labeled an under-used park – until a Derek Smith, a neighbor, approached Garden City Harvest to turn it into a community garden. The creation of the Ivy Street Garden was a joint collaboration between the Rose Park Neighborhood Council, Missoula Parks and Rec, Nature’s Best, Inc. landscape company, and Garden City Harvest. We had wonderful funding support from the Office of Neighborhoods and Missoula Organization of Realtors. Read more about its construction in this Missoulian article.

Nature’s Best made creating this garden a breeze — with a crew of 25 the garden was built

Derek Smith -- neighbor and Natures Best employee, and Patrick Long of Garden City Harvest on the big dig day.
Derek Smith — neighbor and Natures Best employee, and Patrick Long of Garden City Harvest on the big dig day.

almost completely in a day! Derek Smith’s dedication was amazing, and he helped Patrick Long, our Community Gardens Maintenance Coordinator through every step of the construction.  We now have a fence, beds, and each bed has its own hose bib (great for drip irrigation!).  We also have a beautiful shed.

The result: a beautiful community garden in the Slant Streets area – the first in this neighborhood.

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Feel free to swing by the Ivy Street Garden and check out what’s going on. You can find it at the triangle-shaped intersection of Ivy, Marshall, and Franklin streets.

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Construction of the beds with Natures Best.