Farm to Table in Montana
As mentioned in previous posts, when I’m on a vacation, I always keep my eyes open for cool garden venues to visit. This month I went to one of my favorite places in the world, the Swan Valley area of Montana (not too far from Glacier National Park). We rented bikes in the cute western town of Big Fork and rode to a lovely little lake, Loon Lake. On the way we passed Loon Lake Pottery and Gardens, and, of course, I had to stop! The garden is down a long gravel drive in the middle of the woods on about an acre and a half adjacent to farmers Gayle Prunhuber and Dan Doak’s home and pottery studio. They grow fruit and veggies for the local restaurants, grocery store, and residents. Their soil is rocky and the growing season short, so I found their strategies for growing bountiful crops so interesting and valuable, even for those of us in other zones. Here are a few of Gayle and Dan’s techniques:
Because of their native rocky soil, virtually all of the veggies are grown in raised beds or containers which are filled with good soil and soil amendments. I especially liked the construction of the raised beds using an L-shaped joint which Dan says is very sturdy. The beds last 10 years or more, even in the freezing winters and wet springs.
2. Grow Heat Lovers in Black Pots
I would not have guessed that heat loving peppers could be grown in northern Montana! But by planting them in black pots and placing the pots next to the wall of the house where they also receive reflected heat, these Montana farmers are able to grow beautiful peppers of several varieties. My peppers are always slow to provide a crop even in my zone 9 garden, so next year I’m going to give this a try in the hope of getting an earlier crop.
3. Grow Squash/Melons/Pumpkins on Fences
If you’ve ever grown squash, melons or pumpkins, you know the vines can take over your garden! Dan and Gayle have deer fencing around their entire garden as their location is home to many deer (and bears!) who would eat everything if they could get in! The fence does double duty as a trellis for vining plants of the squash family, preserving space in the garden for other crops. The vines are tied to the fence with twine as they grow.
4. Extending the Season with Hoop Houses
Montana nighttime temps, even in the summer, can get down into the 30’s. Basil, of course, is not a happy camper when temps are this low. Solution? Put a ‘hoop house’ over the raised bed. PVC pipes are spaced at intervals along the bed, bent into an arc and both ends pushed into the soil. Braced by a couple of lengths of 1″ x 2″ wood tied to the PVC, and covered with row cover fabric, the resulting ‘hoop house’ provides protection from light frost. During the day, the row cover fabric can be quickly folded back to get sun and fresh air to the plants.
5. Companion Planting
When growing veggies in raised beds with limited space, a constant challenge for me is how to manage the space as one crop is finished but others are not. I love this paring of peas and carrots. The peas were planted down the center of the bed along a chicken wire trellis, while the carrots were planted on either side. Peas are a pretty quick crop to mature and like cooler weather, while carrots take weeks longer to mature. With this pairing of crops, when the peas are done, the carrots are still making good use of the growing space.
After a hot day of working in the garden, Gayle and Dan walk to Loon Lake for a swim! Wish I had a lake in my backyard!
Loon Lake Pottery and Gardens
Loon Lake Road, Ferndale, MT