Tag Archives: spring

Patrick 2

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

All Hail the Sunshine & A Few Transitional Thoughts

Before we begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Emy, and I am one of Garden City Harvest’s newest additions to the team, playing rookie for just over two weeks now. As the new Community Gardens Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator (whew, what a title right?), I’ll be conducting outreach for the Community Gardens program, and working with Leadership Committee Members and community gardeners throughout the season. I recently moved to Missoula after finishing up grad school at the University of Oregon, and prior to that living in Bellingham, WA, where I was born and raised. Few words can express my excitement for joining such an amazing work place, to be enmeshed in a mission I truly care about, in a place that has grown dear to my heart.

Has the recent tingle of Vitamin D been stirring your excitement for early spring gardening? Us too! Let it be time to clean out the cobwebs and start mentally preparing your garden. Early blossoms bring the arrival of opening day for our community gardens (April 16th), as well as the deadline to apply for your community garden plot (by March 8th) and with that, a few notes on new beginnings…

As my predecessor, Kim Gilchrist mentioned in her June 10th, 2015 post, “Get Your Garden On,” the forthcoming gardening season can be quite intimidating. Especially for those, such as myself, who are new to our community gardening program. Fear not fellow learners, let inspiration trump those nerves.

  • IMG_8756As Kim advised, dust off some garden books; make a trip to the library and checkout a stack, then leisurely peruse. I visited our lovely downtown library this past weekend and found a bounty of inspiration…
  • Or buy a new book to keep for yourself, a commitment in and of itself. Spill your coffee on it and get it wet, make it your own.
  • Our recent sunshine has already gotten the S.A.D. addled citizens of Missoula talking about gardening. Yet, come grey skies and random snow flurries, keep orating to your fellow gardeners and friends. Make garden plans together and pick their minds, perhaps the best way to glean knowledge.

  • Remember how that old saying goes? A picture speaks one thousand words? Well, take a gander at these to get that blood flow pumping…

andrea_zoltanetzky_200808_2_smallerBethGibson_eaton_2010_3NorthsideFbDownload_20120305 (1)

Okay. Now that we’re buzzin and excited, eager and inspired, some preliminary notes on beginning:

Start Thinking About…

Indoor vs. Direct Seed

We share a short growing season here in Western Montana, in order to take full advantage of seasonal growth, it’s important to start some seeds indoors rather than directly outside. If you have a greenhouse at your disposal, wonderful! But for those of us who simply have *windowsills, those are useable spots to pre-plant as well.

*A quick word of caution: windowsill planting can be tricky, and can lead to leggy and spindly plants in poor health. This is due to a few factors; the stress of abrupt temperature changes, and the lack of full sunlight. Unlike a greenhouse, and even with a south facing window, plants on the sill will most likely miss some portion of the day’s sunshine, whether it is the morning sun of the east, or the evening sun of the west. Placing your indoor garden in a white or light colored room will help; light colors reflect light; dark interior surfaces will absorb light, and of course healthy watering and soil.

The average last frost for Missoula is May 19th, and our average first frost comes around September 27th  (this information is based upon thirty year averages from the Missoula International Airport, compiled by the National Climatic Data Center).  The average last frost marks the time when it is considered safe to transplant warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers into the ground. This has to do with air temperature as much as soil temperature as Genevieve explains in her April 21, 2014 post, “Spring Planting.” It’s good to be weary though, as frosts can emerge after this average date – – keep a keen eye on weather forecasts to best predict the chill. If a late frost sneaks in, it’s not the end of the world: throw a season extender on your fragile plants, a mobile cold frame or floating row-cover.

Determine what is a cool season crop and warm season crop, in other words, what is frost hardy and can tolerate some cold vs. plants that have no tolerance for the cold. Getting an early start with those crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, basil, and eggplant, to name a few, provides an environment for plants which wouldn’t flourish otherwise. Take advantage of your frost free living room! For example:

Cooler Season Crops: Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Chinese Cabbage, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onion, Parsnips, Peas, Radishes, Rutabagas, Spinach, Turnips

Warmer Season Crops: Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Melons, Peppers, Potatoes, Squash (Summer & Winter), Tomatoes

I found the book, Organic Gardening in Cold Climates by Sandra Perrin, to be an excellent resource on this topic. Perrin is a resident of Missoula and used to garden with us, so she knows this climate very well. Perrin lays out the basics:

– The most popular vegetables started indoors are peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and head lettuce.

– Since germination periods and growth rates vary, you’ll have to start your indoor vegies at different times…

— Start peppers ten to twelve (10-12) weeks before you expect the last spring frost.

–Start eggplants eight to ten (8-10) weeks before the last frost.

–Start tomatoes (8) weeks before the last frost.

— You can plant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and head lettuce four to six (4-6) weeks before the last frost, and since they can withstand light frost, they can go in the ground before the pepper and tomato plants. You can sow frost-hardy vegetables directly in the garden, but you will have to add one (1) month to their maturation times. Using both techniques – indoor and outdoor planting, allows you to stagger your crops.

— If planted indoors, cole family seeds require special attention. Unlike eggplants and pepper seeds, which are tender seeds and need a relatively high temperature to germinate (76 – 80 degrees F), the cabbage family and lettuce seeds belong to the hard seed category and will germinate properly only in cool temperatures (50 – 60 degrees F). That’s why cabbage and lettuce seedlings can be grown on window sills, where temperatures are considerably cooler than you might expect – particularly at night. In fact, cole plants can become leggy because of the warmth in your house.

— Start corn four to eight (4-8) weeks before the last frost date, as it transplants reasonably well.

— Start squash, cucumbers, and melons four to five (4-5) weeks before the last frost date, but be mindful as these crops demand delicate handling, with fragile root systems.

The following guide will give you a more in depth idea as to what to plant, how to plant it, and when in Montana: http://msuextension.org/publications/YardandGarden/MT199308AG.pdf

Feeling overwhelmed? One of the most basic guides is your speed packet. Check that out before planting your seeds – it will tell you whether the seeds are ideal for direct seeding or early indoor planting.

Ordering Seeds:

If you’re like me, you’ ve never actually ordered seeds from a catalog. Rather, you’ve perused local nurseries, throwing in your basket a menagerie of what you imagine to be a delicious feast of roasted veggies later in the year. Many, on the other hand, order from the larger, often locally sourced, expansive and detailed world of seed catalogs.  In Genevieve’s January 6th, 2015 post, “Seed Catalogs: Gardeners’ Wish Books,” she advises on ordering seeds with much aplomb. Genevieve’s three favorite catalogs are: Fisher’s Garden Store, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company.

IMG_8723The Missoula Public Library partners with Five Valleys Seed Library to provide community members free access to local heritage and heirloom seeds of the Five Valleys, Montana region. All you need is a library card to “check out” seeds! The Seed Library also offers catalogs and resource manuals, as well as knowledgeable librarians to answer any questions. The Five Valleys Seed Library is located in the Audra Browman Research Room in the downtown MPL.

The Importance of Healthy Starts

For obvious reasons, healthy and vigorous starts fare much better when transplanted, are more resilient to pests and disease, and maintain a lifespan of overall good health. Choose your starts from reliable nurseries and talk to employees whilst selecting. The Missoula Farmers’ Markets, Clark Fork Market and Missoula Farmers’ Market, are great sources for healthy starts, along with the Good Food Store.

Now, these are just a few notions to percolate on, with many more to come throughout the year. As a new member of the Garden City Harvest Team, I look forward to meeting you all, hearing your stories, and passing forth my newly learned knowledge. Hurrah for new beginnings my fellow gardeners!