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...

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