Above all, try something. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring-ter In Montana

Today, 3:30 PM: I am sitting on the hood of my jeep, waiting for Finn to get off the bus from school (Finn is the nine year old that I nanny for in Bozeman). It is incredible out. It is sunny. It is warm. I am wearing only a teeshirt, and have my chin stretched up towards the sky, soaking up warmth on my cheeks. I am loving it.
Today, 4:15 PM: After rummaging through the spring clothing at Salvation Army, and scoring a couple cutesy tank tops, I come out of the store to a COMPLETE white-out. It is a blizzard. There is two inches of fresh snow on my hood. Did I mention I'm wearing a tee shirt?
Welcome to Spring-ter in Montana. (Spring/Winter. duh.)
This is a typical day during the season that lasts from about mid-March to about mid-June....and occasionally into July. It is warm. It is sunny. It snows. It hails. Usually all in the same day.
Our abnormally temperamental springs in Montana make planting a garden....challenging, to say the least.
For the last four years Ed and I have tried, with extremely mild success, to start our vegetable garden indoors. Each spring we go through the same motions: get some seeds, get the trays out, get some germination mix, plant the seeds, and hurry up and wait. And each spring the same thing happens: half the seeds germinate, growing spindly seedlings that look to suffer from some sort of plant anorexia. Eventually, the seedlings just wither away, rarely do they make even the FIRST transplanting. We sigh. Yes, our house is cold. I keep the thermostat at a constant 55 degrees. What did we expect really? It's snowing out, for goodness sake!
Then we trek ourselves to the garden store and buy some starter plants around the first of June. They go into the ground around mid-June, and we hover nearby with tarps, ready for snow or hail at any given moment. Around July, we put away the tarps, and enjoy the garden. It grows. It flourishes. Tiny fruits and vegetables appear. Such excitement! Throughout July and August, the weather is lovely. Then comes september...
The chill comes back into the air, and we start watching the projected weather temperature lows daily. The garden is FULL of veggies at this point, just on the verge of ripening, or so it seems. Out come the tarps again! And by October, usually the first week, we have our first snowstorm and hard frost.
Our summers are short and sweet here in Montana. The plants are only in the ground for about 13 weeks.....It is NEVER enough time. One year I remember Ed and I, clad in winter coats and headlamps, out in the dark October night picking green tomatos off our nine plants. We ended up picking 140 pounds of green tomatoes that year! They all slowly ripened in brown paper bags in the basement. We canned tomato sauce around Thanksgiving.
This year I realize our garden situation is only going to get more challenging. We will be higher in elevation (nearly 8000 ft) and will not be working with prepared soil. It will be colder at Jack Creek, and there will be predators to deal with (other than Pfeiffer who likes to steal the cucumbers off our cucumber plants each year). I'm thinking deer will be our biggest problem, but really don't know.... I have been researching inexpensive, yet sturdy, cold frame and hoop house construction, and am hoping Ed and I will have some successes with these ideas.
Because don't you know, I have two trays of seedlings sprouting in the bedroom. This time I have a heat lamp over them. Wish me luck, and happy germinating!


  1. I hear ya sister. Gardening is a biatch around here. Good idea on the heat lamp, though. I was wondering what I was going to do with the seedlings once we transplant them into bigger pots as we only have one usable south-facing window.
    If you're feeling brave, I bet we can spare a beefsteak tomato plant that we started from seed back in January. I don't think we can handle 12 buckets of plants. If you're good, I bet I can throw in a 5-gallon bucket.

  2. The girl at Cashmans told me about the heat lamp idea. Apparently the best scenario is to hang two lamps next to each other, one with a cool colored bulb and the other a warm color. That way they get more of a spectrum of UV rays?? or something?? I only have one lamp available for mine right now....