Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Upside-down tomato plants

Last summer, my boyfriend read about, and decided to try, upside-down tomato plants in his backyard.  Even though it seemed to make sense - less bugs to climb up the main stem, more air circulation around the leaves, easy to water, your garden isn't taken over w/tomatoes - we were a bit skeptical.  Turns out, all the hype is true... upside-down tomato plants ARE pretty awesome.

Here is an article with step-by-step instructions on making your own upside-down planters.  I think we'll adjust these so that there is a little more depth at the top of the bucket (when hanging upside down).  Erik secured a wooden board with holes drilled through it to almost the very top.  Water would run in and get soaked up by the dirt, but it will be nice to have a little more space this year to let the water pool then slowly drain. Last year, I had to circle through frequently to make sure they had enough water.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Long day of work, but the seeds are here!

Tonight - NO MORE work. I had an early morning spending time on the website I'm redesigning for the institute where I work. Then, I had to meet my boss to go over the website and make copies of the syllabus for the natural resource dispute resolution class I'm helping teach this semester (well, "teach" is a bit of a stretch... my boss "teaches," I think I'll be there more to "assist.") Then, my boyfriend, who wrenched his neck and shoulders while refereeing a hockey game in Helena Friday night, wanted me to get out my table and work on his shoulders - once upon a time I was a massage therapist in North Carolina (I might be better at that than "assiting," but "assisting" is easier on my hands so I'll stick with what I'm doing now).

So, it was a long day, and now I'm going to start my garden journal. I kept a journal during my ecology course, and I was pleasantly surprised how nice it was to have drawings/sketches of plants and animals and tracks to document my time up in Condon. My Burpee seeds came in today, and that's really the push to get started learning about all the seeds I ordered - I admit, I simply pointed and clicked without really understanding too much about what I was getting (that's the great thing about the internet, right?). So, now I'm learning what will work in partial shade, what needs absolute full sun, what should go in the back of the garden, what is tall and needs to be staked, what is tall and doesn't need to be staked, etc. Since I'm planning on ripping up a large chunk of the front yard, I'm hoping that I won't stall out with such a large undertaking...hence, the homework/journal/learning exercise. Otherwise, I am the furthest thing from conscientious. So, in this little journal, I'm listing important information and sketching out what the flowers will look like (sketching from the book is a little lame, but I want to keep learning and nothing can grow here yet! When it does, I'll sketch from actual plants...)

I'm going to toss a photo of last year's Easter egg hunt in the backyard at the end of the blog - check out the Forsythia in the background. It's the large yellow bush that you can't miss. I haven't done a bit of pruning or care for it since I moved here several years ago, and it just keeps on going... I've never really liked it that much, and my boyfriend has staked a claim on it. So, it might not be there too much longer. It's interesting that the flowers, the yellow in the picture, come first in the spring before the leaves. There's your not-really-interesting fact for the day. If you need more, there's also the fact that our President, during the State of the Union Address tonight, said, "Hispanish."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Below Zero, Gardening, and the Seely/Swan

So why on earth would I start a blog about gardening when it's below zero outside?  What will I have to write about?  (both of these questions were asked by my best friend when I told her my idea to start a blog).  Here's my first shot at something besides an introductory post.

Quick answer #1: Greenhouses.   I loved growing my own starts from seeds last year (pumpkin, sunflowers, morning glory, basil, zucchini, calendula, lupine, sweet peas - I had zero success with the lavendar but that's okay.)  It was calming to go there at the end of the day and see what had sprouted... or to see the sunflowers stretch up inches between visits!  This year there will be more to do, but I'm going to start earlier to get all the seeds in dirt.

Quick answer #2: the Burpee Catalogue

I've put a screenshot of the Burpee website on this post, but even with my internet obsession, I think it's much more gratifying to sit on the couch in front of the fireplace and dream through page after page of glorious flowers and bountiful fruit! (I've caught myself drooling and I'm a little embarrassed about that).

Unfortunately, I didn't do that much page turning in front of the fireplace.  I did some... but most of my Burpee time was up in the Seely-Swan Valley near Condon, MT.  In order to graduate with my environmental studies masters of science, I actually have to have a little science.  Who would have thought, huh?  So I had two options: a semester ecology course full of lab reports or a nine-day intensive field ecology course.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  No.  The field ecology course has a twist that makes lab reports look awfully enticing.  You'll see why in a minute. 

I did decide to take the short (not easy) way out, and when I left for my field ecology course two weeks ago, I stashed the catalogue between my sleeping bag and big red sleeping pad so that I could think about my garden in between snowshoeing and animal tracking lectures.   I'm so glad I did...

I wasn't especially looking forward to this course because even though the two-night, three day trip into the Mission Mountain Wilderness isn't the focus, it was my biggest concern.  I am from Alabama.  The thought of sleeping in the snow in sub-zero weather, recreationally or otherwise, is really my idea of hell - which I say with little exaggeration.  I understand the scientific value of being able to track rare carnivores in a range of snow conditions while taking data on habitat and behavior, but I also understand the scientific value of being able to feel my toes and pee in the middle of the night without having to suit up like a polar bear.  Okay, comfort while peeing isn't really scientific...  

So, after tracking foxes and mountain lions and elk and coyotes and wolves (and even seeing an elk carcass from a wolf-kill surrounded by raven and eagle feather prints), I got to return to the barn at Northwest Connections, retire to my bunk to thaw out my popsicle toes, and go to my happy place - courtesy of the fantastic Burpee catalogue.   

There is a whole discussion I could delve into on the questionable merits of ordering seeds from a large company when there is local business to support, but I won't.  I'll simply say that I like the variety of the catalogue, and I plan on filling gaps in the garden with starts from the local farmer's market and sharing my extra produce with elderly neighbors and the Food Bank.  Am I absolved?

I hope so.  Because I'm excited about the seeds traveling towards me in that fantastic post office vehicle right this very second...There are spinach seeds and summer squash seeds... zucchinis, and spaghtetti squash... sweet potato bareroots, a hot pepper mix, two varieties of tomatoes.... and then foxgloves and hollyhocks and petunias and morning glories and nasturtium and geranium and lobelia and ipomopsis and there should totally be a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate factory with garden elements in Gene Wilder's monologue instead of candies and chocolates.  

The big one I'm worried about is the eggplant.  I know most of my perennials won't flower this year, but I want to grow from seed anyway.  It's regarding the eggplant that I lack confidence... We'll see.  In Gardening in the Rocky Mountains, John Cretti says it can be done though I've heard Montana isn't warm enough for automatic success with the eggplant.  The reason I'm rather determined is that I've recently become enamored with a recipe for shepherd's pie from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest.  If you're looking for a hearty vegetarian casserrole for a potluck or just for dinner, I highly recommend it.  The top layer has garlic mashed potatoes, and the bottom layer has EGGPLANT, mushrooms, onion, celery, bread crumbs, and cheddar cheese.... (I'm drooling again).

So, that's what I'm thinking about despite dropping below zero here several times in the last couple of days.  Warmer weather and some snow are heading our way though...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Now that I've finished a degree in Environmental Studies, I'm convinced that I need to grow my own food - as much as I can.  I know there is plenty of work to be done in the policy and science worlds, and I will contribute there when I can.  But right now, with the price of fuel rising and the distance between the garden and our dinner plate stretching further and further, I think this will be my latest attempt to be a good steward of the land.

So, this blog is to egg on my own conservation ethic, but it is also for my mother, the most inspiring gardner I've ever met. She planted seeds when I was young, so that I could watch eggplant and squash and bell peppers growing in my backyard.  She had roses and hydrangeas and lillies that she cut from often and all kinds of other beautiful blooms whose names I can't remember.  And, she always talked about getting to go to the yard and getting her hands dirty like it was the most fantastic experience in the world.  We're on opposite sides of the country now, but I want her to be able to peek in my backyard whenever she wants to see what's growing.

And, for anyone else who might peek in from time to time, I hope to have recipes and gardening tips and information about flowers and vegetables - but I should admit I'm new to this.  There will probably be as many questions as there will be answers... But I plan on having fun even if don't know what I'm doing!