Gardening in Montana

Growing up in California and Oregon gives one a smug sense of superiority over nature. Winter lasts a few weeks or maybe a month. Spring starts peeking through around February and by March you’re outside tilling the garden and planting seeds. If all goes well, the first harvest can be as soon as May.

Then we moved to Yukon South, also known as Montana.

Now, before anyone makes any snide comments about our lack of seasons here, we definitely have seasons. Two of ‘em. Winter and summer. Seriously, we actually get into the 90′s in summer. Night doesn’t fall until around 10:00 in June/July. Pretty awesome, actually. But that only lasts a couple months. Winter starts in late September and runs through April. I’d love to say that’s an exaggeration, but we’re currently in the middle of another “winter storm warning” and it’s May. Lovely.

We did have spring this year. It was a couple weeks ago. Then another blizzard hit, and I’m not talking about Dairy Queen.

I was in the MSU library in March when I overheard a girl complaining about the snow. “It  wasn’t supposed to snow!” she had whined. “I just put all my stuff away!”  We just shook our heads, “Newcomer to Montana!”  Around here, you don’t “put your stuff away” until July – and then only for a week! Gardens don’t get planted until Memorial weekend, at the soonest. On a warm year I’ll try to push that by a week, maybe, but that’s only after a careful check with weather.com. Even so, you have to keep plastic handy to throw over the tomatoes, etc, for those last ditch frosts.

Tomatoes are another joy. The only kind that stand a chance are the Early Girls and anything properly started inside six to eight weeks before last frost. Wait any longer and they won’t ripen before first freeze in September. I lost about 40 heirloom plants one year because of that! They just take too long.

This year, though, I’m doing it right! My garden is going to be gorgeous – and productive! A friend disked up over 1200 sq ft of rocks. We (read: Rich and the kids) added several pickup loads of horse poop and shavings. We’ll till that in soon and plant ON Memorial weekend. This garden is going to feed our family for a full year or more!

Okay, so I planned to do it right. Remember, the name of this blog is “Of Mice and Moms”. This is where the “best laid plans” part comes in.

I had this wonderful little starter box filled with 70 or so beautiful little seedlings, all growing faster than I could possibly hope to keep up with. I never knew how fast pumpkin plants grow! Honestly, if they had survived, there’s no way they could have waited until the end of May. They would have been eight feet long!

I had also gone by MSU’s greenhouse sale and picked up a couple tomato plants and a basil plant for my herb garden (planter!). I was “hardening” them by sitting them out on the deck for a few hours every day to enjoy the sunshine. That was during the week when we had spring. The problem came when I forgot to bring them back inside one night. That was the night it started to freeze again.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. For those seedlings that foolishly thought they had managed to survive the cold, I set the box on a chair in front of my sliding glass door. It was just a little too close. I know – you can see this one coming. Door opens (yes, I did that) and knocks off the box.  Upside down on the floor.

If you swear in another language, is it still swearing?

Now, we’re a little closer to the end of May, and I’ve replanted the starter box. Things are starting to sprout again. They sit in front of the sliding glass door – only a few inches further back. I make sure of that every time I go look! Since even the daytime temps are in the 30′s and 40′s, these little guys aren’t going outside for a while.

Hey, at least my pumpkins will only be four feet long when they get transplanted!

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One Response to “Gardening in Montana”

  1. Looking Out The Window Says:

    I hope you had good season. This year was one of the hardest I am not sure that summer ever really settled in. I lost my garden battle to my chickens, and my tomatoes now spend every night inside.

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