INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DAYTON

After a solid winter in Montana that first warm spell is hard to resist. For some of us it’s the bright packets of seeds that start to show up in stores, for some the dog-eared seed catalogues, for others the smell of waking earth puts us right over the edge. We tend to seek out our favorite places to buy garden or seed starting supplies, and one of my favorites is Harvest Tech.

Harvest Tech 2017

When I first got to Billings (about six years ago) I worked down the street from Heightened Harvest. Since then that neighborhood, 1415 S. 32nd Street West, has changed a little (they have new neighbors) and so has the sign out front. Michael Dayton is now co-owner with his wife, Amanda Williams, and they’ve changed the name to Harvest Tech. Mike owned the business with his brother (its first location in the Heights opened about eight years ago) and in late summer last year bought out his interest. On my most recent visit I found the store to be as tantalizing as the first time I saw it.

I have a greenhouse background so on my first visit I couldn’t help but wish I’d lived closer to this place during those twenty years. One can set up a complete hydroponic operation with supplies bought here, but their real priority is natural and organic gardening. Mike kindly granted me a little impromptu time for a quick chat over the counter. I asked if he was a Master Gardener – he was immediately familiar with the program but he (like me until recently) hadn’t been able to put together both the time and the timing to commit to it himself. As I explained my role with the newsletter, we talked about our gardening roots a bit. Mike doesn’t remember NOT gardening, really – “Mom had a 2000 square-foot organic garden” at their home here in Billings, so it was just part of life growing up. He’s lived other places, too, but never really had the chance to garden anywhere but here.

Mike is an avid gardener of things to eat. His preference is to “grow small”, using pots and containers to conserve space and to give each plant the environment it likes best. I asked if he chooses specific species for container gardening, and he said he really doesn’t and that often he finds the fruits and vegetables, like his tomatoes, tend to be sweeter and more flavorful even though yields might be smaller. His eyes twinkled a little, and then I understood what he meant when he told me his favorite part of gardening was eating… He does prefer to start plants from seed but finds it difficult to stay away from the nurseries with all the new varieties and ready-to-plant starts.

We agreed that one of the most challenging things about gardening here is timing plantings with the shifts between winter and spring and spring and summer. Cold frames and the right protection can help, but one of those fast, late spring freezes can overwhelm your plans quickly and set you back to starting over. Mike mentioned that one of his peeves is wind, which can also wreak havoc quickly, burning tender leaves and drying out even the most carefully watered garden.

Mike likes to use automatic watering, called micro-irrigation when used specifically for pots and containers, to address the problems that wind, drought, and heat can dish up. This frees up time and helps him keep things balanced even in the extremes we can endure in our summer months.

I asked Mike what kinds of things he does to avoid the dangers of gardening, like blisters, sore muscles, bug bites, and heat stroke. He had to think about this one for a minute, as if it wasn’t something that he did on purpose. As we talked he realized that he does several things that probably make a big difference in keeping him out of harm’s way. He gardens in the morning and evening, avoiding the heat of the day, but if he has to be out later in the morning or into the afternoon he wears long sleeves, hats, and sunscreen. He wears leather gloves as a rule, as well as long pants and sturdy shoes. We determined this is probably why he isn’t bothered much by bug bites and stings, sore muscles, and other injuries.

I had a great chat with Mike, and I couldn’t help but look around the store and ask what he thought was going to be a hot item this year. It’s tomato blueberry seeds… Yep, I’ll be back!

Submitted by Corinna Sinclair

PVC TOMATO CAGE

Using ½ inch PVC pipe, an easy to use and store tomato cage can be assembled. Build it to match your method of tomato growing. I plant in pots so the cages are made into two foot spacings to fit around my pots. These cages can be built as high and wide as needed. Using the two foot spacing I usually go to about five feet high to hold indeterminate tomatoes. These PVC cages set up quickly and easily and just as easy to tear down. They need little space for storage. I think they may last forever.

Submitted by Corry Mordeaux

PREP FOR GARDEN VOLUNTEER GIGS

When I first volunteered to earn my hours for Level 1, I was clueless. I still am in many ways, but I was so green then, and I am not referring to my thumb. I bounded out of my car towards St. Andrew’s Community Garden and began digging an irrigation ditch, as I was instructed to do. I so much agree with that initiation. What is gardening, if not hard work? And I made it even harder by not being prepared. So before you gleefully drive to a henceforth obscure site, at least for you, get your items together so you can return again and again.

Start with a 5-gallon plastic bucket. I know some of you may have decorated baskets for your items with matching garden gloves, but cut the cutesy now. You need something sturdy which has a handle, and, if damaged, does not dull your spirits. First and foremost, take care of yourself by packing a large, full water bottle, strong sunblock, a wide brimmed hat with a chin strap so you do not have to chase your hat onto a major thoroughfare when it blows off, sunglasses, and leather gloves. Leather is hotter than canvas, but it lasts more than two hours before getting holes. Wear light colored clothing and bring a snack, preferably not chocolate which melts all over your seed packets on a warm day. Consider used clothing instead of pristine, expensive togs. A chance of sweat mixing with “soil”, designing large, permanent Jackson Pollock-worthy stains, runs high. Do not forget insect repellent, if you are prone to attracting our friends, and wear long sleeves and pants if you are even mildly allergic to sumacs or other plants. The shoes: a sturdy, closed toed pair which can and will get muddy. A plastic bag for your gardening shoes is only for the connoisseur. I even wear socks to avoid insects and blisters.

I have already made so many mistakes for everybody! Yet I am not done with advice, if you are still here with me.

Bring your own tools, unless you don’t mind raw, oozing blisters (from using dull tools, the ones early birds skipped over) as bragging rights. Label your tools, too, or they walk off, not necessarily due to the neighborhood klepto, but they just work their way back into the shed of wherever you are. If you really want to impress the crew, although this step is treacherous, since people might assume that you know more than you do and pummel you with all sorts of esoteric questions, get a tool belt. I swear the sexiest garment I saw during the summer when I earned my first dozen volunteer hours was a tool belt. She got more done in a shorter length of time than me because I spent half the day running back and forth for various tools. You might be entering a new zone, so get the gear. In order of importance: a trowel, pruning shears, a weeder, a watering can, a shovel, a rake, and loppers. A good, sharp knife has many uses. Might these items be on sale at local hardware stores during snow blower season?

Last but far from least, get your body in shape to bend, yank, and grunt by exercising before spring, but that’s another article. Consider a first-aid kit in your car, if you became glassy eyed during the previous suggestion. Load an ICE (in case of emergency) phone number into your cellphone, so your fellow gardeners can contact someone if you have a heat stroke. Some of us might be little old grandmas, like me, but wimps we are not!

Submitted by Bess Lovec

Here’s the Dirt

Here are a few fun tips in preparation for the upcoming growing season.

 A combination of water, white vinegar and rubbing alcohol can be used to remove the salt deposits on clay pots. Simply mix equal parts of each ingredient in a spray bottle. Spray pots liberally and scrub pots with a stiff plastic brush. Rinse well. Let completely dry before potting any plants in your pots.

 Save the water you use to steam and boil your vegetables. Instead let it cool and use it to water your plants especially your outdoor potted plants and watch how well they do after a few waterings.

 If you are not already doing this next tip for your big outdoor pots you should be. Find a plastic liner pot that is not as deep as your outdoor pot but is wide enough across the pot to just fit in it. After you plant your liner pot with plants it can easily be slipped into the larger outdoor pot. Once your plants start to grow and fill in you will never notice the liner pot. This tip is great for your budget as well as fall clean up. The liner can be pulled and filled with fresh soil in the spring and the outdoor pot can easily be moved indoors to avoid winter damage.

Submitted by Donna Canino

What do plants have to do with a root canal?

Gutta-percha refers to the rubbery sap of the Palaquiiun gutta, a tropical ever-green tree found in Malaysia and Indonesia. Gutta-percha has been used to insulate underwater telegraph wires, to make ornate jewelry and pistol grips, and as the core material in golf balls.

However, what I find to be most fascinating about gutta percha is how it is used in dentistry to fill the empty spaces inside the root of the tooth after it has undergone endodontic therapy. Dentists use gutta percha points that look like small toothpicks to fill the prepared space. The physical and chemical properties (inertness, biocompatibility, ductility, thermo plasticity, malleability and melting point) make gutta percha ideal for this use. Gutta-percha points become flexible when heated and can be compressed into and against the walls of the root canal, then when cooled it becomes hard, durable, non-brittle, non-elastic latex that retains the form of the root canal to seal it.

Just another way plants make our lives better.

Submitted by: Elaine Allard