Our first full summer in Bozeman the vegetable garden consisted of a few tomato plants and several green pepper plants in a flower bed next to the house, so, more than anything, we could test whether we could bring in a worthwhile warm weather crop during the truncated Montana growing season.
|Season 2, single section garden plot, July 8, 2014.|
First, to frame the plot, I interleaved one atop the other, two layers of 6 inch, by 6 inch, by 8 foot landscape timbers around the sunny, grassy area I had selected in the backyard. The border went two timbers long by one timber across, making just about 128 square feet available for planting.
Rather than tilling soil I layered organic material on top of the grass, starting with layers of newsprint to smother the no longer wanted turf. On top of the papers I spread compost we had accumulated from organic kitchen waste (we have three black trash cans we rotate through for this purpose) and from the bottom of a yard waste debris pile. Then on top of that I layered 6 to 8 inches of grass clippings graciously supplied by a neighbor who bags his grass in the spring and de-thatches his sod. Then I watered the layers down giving them an opportunity to compact a bit.
To transplant seedlings (e.g., tomato and pepper plants started indoors) I spaded small holes through the mulch layers and poked through the newspaper. To plant seeds the first year (e.g., broccoli and radishes) I cut away sections of newspaper and bought a few bags of top soil to layer over the seeds (this later step is not needed in subsequent years). Over the summer as much of the mulch decomposed. I supplemented it to keep control weed growth and maintain soil moisture, using grass clippings that commercial lawn crews working our neighborhood were happy to share. This spring I repeated with new layers of compost and clippings. When this process is repeated enough years the timbers will frame a highly fertile raised garden bed.
|Doubled plot, August, 2015|
We are fortunate to have fertile soil up our end of the Gallitan valley, and by our method of building up the soil it is sure to remain so. I use no fertilizer or chemicals whatsoever on the garden. My methods don't come from a trendy book or emanate from a cause, but are about as natural and organic as you can get.
|2015 cucumber and tomato crops -- click to enlarge and see|
a rabbit friend, in the grass, upper left hand corner.
Our two new crops in 2015 are the cucumbers and asparagus. We planted asparagus from seed, the result being a half dozen small bushy plants. The gardening literature cautions there will be no edible crop the first year. In view of how small our plants are we will be pleased and a bit surprised if our maiden plants survive the winter.
|Simmering home-made spaghetti sauce on top of our Jenn Air range.|
Last year, I grew long season tomatoes and not a one of them was picking red before our first frost -- actually a hard freeze, indicated by overnight lows of 28 degrees on September 11th and 22 degrees on the 12th (see weather calendar below). But not to worry. Knowing the freeze was coming I bagged and boxed all of the green tomatoes during the daylight hours of September 11. I wrapped the tomatoes in newsprint and stored in boxes in the basement. I pulled out the about half that had ripened in 10 days for making the first batch of spaghetti sauce (we freeze what is not consumed in the first week in meal sized bags) and the other half about 10 days after that, with no more than ten percent of crop going bad along the way.
|The 2014 weather calendar documents the early hard freeze we had September 11 and 12 last year. We pulled in the crops to avoid damage, and then enjoyed the two weeks of glorious Indian Summer that followed. Source: www.wunderground.com.|
|The lineup for the 2014 Manahattan Potato Festival.|
|Basil left and a couple of red onions, right.|
|Small asparagus plants, center left, a couple of garlic stalks, right.|
|Bunching onions with a few broccoli leaves in the background.|