Community Gardens: Average Frost Free Date - May 19th

Last week I browsed through the community garden plots at the Garden of Eaton, I noticed some gardeners are completely finished planting their garden plots for the season!  One gardener, Paul Kilzer, has direct seeded almost everything except for a long row of shallots —which he purchased from Benson’s a few blocks away.  He got an early start, turning the soil, removing weeds and preparing his bed shortly after Opening Day.  Two weekends ago he spent a full day planting from a detailed map he’d revised from last year.  This map and careful planning helps him maximize every possible square inch of garden space.  Already he has perfectly spaced rows of germinating beets, carrots, bok choi, parsley, radishes, and spinach — all cool season crops that can be planted well before the frost-free date. Paul is a model gardener for others at the community garden, but for those gardening on a budget in particular.  Without much monetary input, maybe $20 dollars for seed packets and a few purchased starts, a lot of sweat equity and garden know-how, Paul will grow over a hundred pounds of produce from his 15’x15’ plot.  A bounty large enough to share with his neighbors and coworkers.

Other gardeners are slower to begin gardening, some waiting until after the average first frost-free day to plant warmer season crops like cukes, melons, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.  According to the Missoula County Extension Weed District’s Garden Planning Calendar the average first frost free day is May 19th.  In general, this indicates a green light to begin planting your warm season crops.  Experienced gardeners take this date with a grain of salt.  Always check the local weather forecast to make a more informed decision about planting your warm season crops.  Montana has a shorter growing season, but sometimes it is better to wait until after Memorial Day to plant some of your warm season crops.  As you begin to plant your warm season plants, consider covering your plants with floating row cover to prepare for cooler nighttime temperatures.