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…

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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:

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!