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

Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry

The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation keeps records on the largest trees in the state. These trees have been cataloged as the largest representatives of their particular species discovered so far. From looking at past registries, it appears that most of these record trees are located in the northwestern part of the state.

However, many species of Montana trees have not yet been nominated and there is a special category for urban trees. There is no funding to support this program; its success is mostly dependent on the volunteer efforts.

Forms and technical directions on how to measure a tree for nomination can be found on-line http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/montana-big-trees-program

Biggest trees 3 2017

http://billingsgazette.com/ eedition/page-a/ page_64df6c88-bfb5-519c -a021-742ebfb67aeb.html

 

 

Maybe like me, this will perk your interest in becoming a “Big Tree Hunter”. Is there a “specimen big tree” in your yard or neighborhood? Or, will one of us find a tree to nominate in one of our outdoor adventures across the state?

(By the way, if you really get into this, there is also a national big tree registry. http:// http://www.americanforests.org/bigtree )

An excellent reference book on trees: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

Submitted by Elaine Allard

A Tip from Dr. Bob

The late Dr. Bob is the father of Montana’s Master Gardener program. When he taught theclasses nobody ever fell asleep. He was a writer of a great many articles on gardening. The following is just one of several hundred in my files.

A question to Dr. Bob: “How can I increase germination of my garden seeds?” (March 2002)

“Gardeners all over the country are right now wondering how to get better germination in the vegetable and flower seeds. Of course, start with good seeds and in most cases you’ll have good germination, but some seeds are notoriously tough with hard seed coats. Now, researchers in Georgia have found a common household substance that increases germination in watermelon seeds.

The seedless watermelon cultivars on the market are for the most part, triploids. That means that they form fruit that has no developed seeds. While they are no good for seedspitting contests, the melons do make great eating. The triploid cultivars are expensive to produce and, unfortunately, the seeds have thick coats that interfere with germination.

Researchers have found that soaking the seeds in 1 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide at room temperature and in the dark greatly improves their germination. After just a day or two in the solution, the seeds germinated readily in petri dishes and would no doubt do so in the garden soil.

The 1 percent solution does not damage the emerging radicle, but solutions two percent or higher do severe damage to the young seedling. The hydrogen peroxide is generally available in the drug store and is a three percent solution, so you must dilute it with water. You can do that by adding two parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide. So far, researchers have only tested the solution on watermelon seeds, but they suggest that it might also improve germination in a wide range of “hardcoated” seeds, such as those of cabbage and broccoli.”

Submitted by Corry Mordeaux

What’s Weeding – Interview with Rick Shotwell

By Bess Lovec

I really like Rick’s approach to gardening, unlike mine.  I constantly feel like I should be weeding, have weeded, or plan to weed.  His yard does not synchronize with his quote about weeding, though!

Rick can’t remember when he hasn’t gardened because, as he says, there is something about Shotwells and tomatoes.  His uncles routinely competed with each other for raising the best ones.  His grandfather went so far as to sneak out of the nursing home and plant tomatoes among the shrubs.  Rick has no idea where his grandfather got the tomato plants or seeds.  This tradition apparently will continue, since his granddaughter latched onto his cherry tomatoes and told her mother that she wants to grow her own food.  Rick saves seeds from tomato plants and rotates the plants’ locations to maintain the family competition.

He finds satisfaction in growing his own food, and currently produces corn, cucumbers, and hot peppers for a mutual friend of ours, plus other vegetables.  Rick experimented with corn this past summer but considers the results poor due to lack of enough sunlight.  He plans to change the direction of his cucumber trellis from north/south to an easterly/westerly direction.  So this Master Gardener, who took the classes twice, continues to learn and grow.  The MG Program consistently promotes modesty:  When I first phoned Rick, he claimed to know nothing, an understatement if there ever was one!  The MG program introduced him to different ideas, and he means that in a positive slant.  Taking the classes twice helped to solidify the information for him.  I plan to do so as well.  My first round of classes felt like my face was in an open fire hydrant.  I only recall random snippets.

His greatest challenge is finding enough area in his urban setting.  He has reworked it, putting in sprinklers and re-sodding his front yard three years ago.  And earwigs taking root in his corn this summer provided another challenge.  From a design standpoint, Rick claims that anything looks good in a pot, and that is where flowers go at his place.  He prefers keeping lilacs trimmed.

During his four years in the U.S. Navy, Rick was a brown water sailor, which means he worked in the coastal waters, including two tours of Viet Nam, although he prefers discussing gardening.  In reflecting about his eight years as a Master Gardener, he found particular pleasure while helping with the Special K Ranch.  Lately Rick volunteers at the Metra.  His advice to gardeners is to enjoy the process and be patient.  Did gardening teach Rick patience, or is he truly a patient person among few?  My inkling is the latter.

Cindy Roessler – Perpetual Gardener

by Bess Lovec

This common thread runs through just about every gardener I meet- their first introduction to gardening was through family. Cindy is no exception, and, as is also often the case, it was her mother. She helped her mom and grandmother grow vegetables while growing up in Dickinson, ND, although her mom later grew to adore flowers.

Cindy represents another great source of information for our gardening community. She usually starts her plants from seed, and watching them pop up in spring gives her lots of joy. Another positive she discovers through gardening is sharing ideas with people, especially the network via the MG program. The water lilies in her pond were inspired by Elaine Allard, for example. She winters them and many other plants in her garage. Her range of gardening activities – wow! Cindy uses raised beds and has grown to specialize in flowering perennials, especially hardy hibiscus and delphinium. She has limited her gardening activities, though, by taking out fruit trees, and the lawn remains her husband’s turf.

One of her favorite learning aspects of the MG program was discovering the “awesome” Special K Ranch. They have a large operation, and even sell tomatoes to Albertsons, one of those little known facts about how our community is affected by local gardening.

Cindy has been with Valley Credit Union for 37 years, serving as the Chief Risk Officer.  Gardening functions as her stress buster, supplying a radical contrast to her work, although her full-time position prevents her from being frequently involved with MG. Nonetheless, she belongs to a Bonsai Society which meets monthly at a garden center in the Heights.

As a true gardener, she tries something new every year, this year being non-GMO foxglove. She doesn’t give up easily, either. Her heroic attempt to hatch praying mantises initially failed, but she is going to give that another whirl. The challenges of gardening here, from her perspective, the shorter season and lack of enough sunlight, only fuel her fury to succeed. Also she works to find the right amount of iron to compensate for deficiency in maple trees. Her advice to those new to gardening? Patience and avoid over-watering.

As she continues to mature as a gardener, Cindy is noticing more frequently the connections among animals and her yard. Her crab apple trees feed cedar wax wing birds, while the deer prefer water from the pond and the bird seed intended for birds.  Hummingbirds frequent her yard for a few weeks every summer, entertaining Cindy. I hope you have a chance to meet her during our growing season!