Winter’s Garden

I must go into the garden again

to find the limestone and clay

Be waiting by the morning rise

amongst its sleepy decay

but I need no garden to soothe

nor right as would be believed

I need no foot on buried steel

Nor flowers or such conceived

I must paint a canvas filled

with ochre, orange and green

My brush may still hard fabric

As I imagine what I had seen

Or my colours could be dark water

like the rivers of Arcadian deep

Careless what my mind perceives

what it sows or what it reaps

I might write sad tearful verse

words might as hammers fall

Roar and blow like creaking bellows

in the dark of my minds thrall

Or I could sit and watch a while

raise my head close my eyes

Beautiful words nature has spoken

and wonders in earth and sky

Copyright © Declan Molloy | Year Posted 2015


Thinning and Spacing in the Vegetable Garden

One of the garden lessons it took me the longest to learn was to rigorously thin my plantings. It has always been hard to kill little plants I so carefully cultivated and I always tended to leave too many. There was then just not enough room for each plant to develop fully.

I also have learned to be more cognizant of spacing plants—seeds as well as stock plants. I have learned to keep the size of the adult plant in mind as I plant. My rule of thumb has become to imagine the adult carrot or beet or onion and space the seeds or bulbs accordingly, so each can grow to its full size. One way to accurately space seeds is to plant seed tapes, strips that already have the seeds embedded. Or you can make your own seed tapes by lightly dampening toilet paper strips, placing the seeds on them and placing another layer of damp TP on top. The paper will break down and the seeds will be spaced correctly.

In addition to imagining the adult carrot or onion or using seed tapes, seed packets are also helpful for determining how far apart to put seeds. I think I have tended to plant them closer together and put in too many, with the idea that they wouldn‘t all germinate and I was hedging my bets that way. But the upshot really was that I had to spend a lot of time thinning!

How to thin? You can get down at plant level and pull the weaker plants, leaving the stronger plants spaced correctly. Do this when true leaves have appeared. Another method is to use small scissors and clip the unwanted seedlings. This works well for squash plants, I found. It’s a bit more challenging for smaller seedlings like carrots and rutabagas. This method leaves organic matter in the soil to feed the microbes while allowing the chosen plants to develop fully.

Don’t wait too long to pull the unwanted seedlings or the process will greatly disturb the remaining plants. And don‘t forget you can generally eat your thinnings, especially from greens and lettuces.

To me this is the least fun part of vegetable gardening but this year, when I forced myself to really thin correctly, I was rewarded with the best carrot crop ever, so it was definitely worth it!

Submitted by Ann Guthals


New Leadership: Dara Palmer

On a late summer day, I met with Dara Palmer and her partner to discuss her new leadership role as Montana Master Gardener Coordinator. Since Dara worked with Toby for six and a half years, the transition seems less daunting, although Toby’s and Dara’s personae and styles are very different. We receive benefits of both! Specific goals and attention to detail excite Dara. As a big thinker, she plans to accomplish lots while in her new role.

MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

Incidentally, ‘Dara’ rhymes with ‘Sara.’ Her new position began this past July. Prior to this achievement, she earned her Horticulture Bachelor’s of Science degree from MSU (Bozeman) and has completed all levels of the MG program. She really knows the nuances. Prior to the position as Toby’s assistant, Dara worked as a landscaper and in a greenhouse for a combined total of 12 years, so her depth of knowledge and experience in gardening reign formidable.

Toby has not left us. He continues to write Mont Guides plus bulletins and serves on the weekly Ag Live PBS television show. In addition, he continues as state Horticultural Specialist, conducts workshops, and is very involved with Heritage Orchards in Montana. When clarifying what he continues to do, I wonder how he managed it before and can even keep track with his various on-going duties! We wish him well in his future numerous endeavors and hope he will stay in contact.

Dara shared lots of information about the Montana MG program. Level 3 did not occur in 2016, but in 2017, 25 people attended. In no particular order, Billings, Great Falls, Helena, and Gallatin County boast the most active associations. Bravo, Billings! Gallatin County did not have a County Extension Agent at the time of this interview. Their former Volunteer Coordinator is none other than Dara. I asked about government cutbacks: Cutbacks will not be for the MG program specifically but rather the Extension as a whole, and the final word on those negotiations were not available at the time of printing. Neither people, the earth nor plants remain static.

Many Level 3 graduates request more continuing education, so she is toying with the notion of a gold designation in the future for those high achievers. To do so would serve the purpose of aligning us with national standards, a goal within sight. Dara considers camaraderie the greatest strength of the program, especially when coordinators from across the state meet. Those connections stem from a deep concern for horticulture, her passion. The fun factor must be front and center, too.

As a personal gardener, ornamentals (perennials, trees, and shrubs) interest her most. She had to replant her first real vegetable garden this past spring due to a cold, wet stretch in Gallatin County. Yet it did yield harvest.

Her greatest challenge with the program? IT improvements. She wants to customize the website so it is more user-friendly. I assured her that it is more user friendly than many websites with which I interface! Next on her to-do list is to write a new Level 2 Handbook, although she recognizes that that calling will take years. She longingly describes fine tuning the curriculum, re-writing exams, and new study guides. Based upon Dara’s intensity, I sense that demands on the students will increase. The expectations will be offset by a student manual which spells out steps, so the process registers as attainable. Food donations need to be standardized across the state, also. And less sweaty t-shirts, ah, an eagerly anticipated relief, will arrive soon.

Welcome, Dara, and let us know how we can help to better improve the program for everyone! We can make Montana more beautiful and healthy, one plant at a time.

Submitted by Bess Lovec