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Zone 4

Zone 4

It’s almost time … We’re so close … But not quite there yet …

With the sunny mild weather we’ve had this spring, it’s taken every ounce of willpower I have not to start planting (the foot of heavy wet snow we got a couple of weeks back reminded me why I’m waiting). But just give it a week or two and the cool weather seeds will be sown and home-grown deliciousness will soon follow.

My love affair with gardening began when I was as young as I can remember. One of my earliest childhood memories from Michigan is going out to the garden patch with my parents and eating carrots straight from the ground. We apparently had a small raspberry patch, too; I don’t remember that, but from what I hear I could easily polish off a whole season’s harvest in one sitting (thank you for sacrificing the berries to me, Mom & Dad!).

It wasn’t until I was living off-campus during my college years in Tucson, Arizona, that I made my first real grown-up attempt at gardening. Along the south side of my little rental duplex I cleared a hardscrabble patch of earth, blistering my hands in a full-day attempt at breaking up layers of caliche and clearing the ground of enough rocks to have a go at planting some seeds. I remember being puzzled at the growth of lettuce-on-a-stalk (the concept of bolting was foreign to me), but as the chamomile blossomed, beautiful and fragrant beneath the desert sun, so did my love for coaxing life from the earth.

Years later I found myself in Santa Barbara, in a rental house that came with four raised bed gardens in the backyard. How wonderful, I thought! Great soil, no need to prep. I planted to my heart’s content, and watched things grow. Until one day, I watched—with some hybrid of horror and humor—one of my plants get pulled into the soil. First an inch, and another, then a foot, until the whole thing disappeared into the ground. It was just like the cartoons, and I could feel my head bobbing as I watched it yanked earthward. The culprit: gophers.

The gophers tortured the dogs; it was like a game of whack-a-mole. They would come up one garden hole and as the dogs lunged they would disappear and pop up from another. Plants disappeared one by one. Unwilling to accept this state of affairs, I bought a tarp and some chicken wire. I dug all the soil out from all the beds onto the tarp,

lined the beds with chicken wire,

and filled the beds back up. Another blister-filled project, but one that I am proud to say was 100% effective from a gopher-deterrent perspective.

Fast forward to Montana. A raspberry patch along the west wall, and four raised beds in the backyard. The beds were filled, my landscape folks assured me, with “top quality, organic garden soil.” Given the clay content of that “premium” soil, I’m relatively certain they just scavenged excavated dirt from another building site in the neighborhood (I amused myself by making pinch pots with the soil and leaving them to dry on the rim of the beds). Hoping that heaps and bags of compost would fix the soil challenges, I planted my first Zone 4 garden.

I admittedly got off to a late start, and while my harvest wasn’t nil (the raspberry patch came through!), I’ve come to remember the summer of 2013 as the Year of the Flea Beetle. No cruciferous vegetable was spared their wrath. That meant that the next summer became Year of the Row Cover, which worked wonders for some Brassicaceae (mustard greens) and overheated others (spinach, arugula). Twenty-fourteen was also the Year Where Peppers Didn’t Grow. They didn’t die, but they didn’t grow much either … Montana is probably too far north to grow a decent jalapeno without some significantly babying (and probably a greenhouse), but my hot pepper addiction means I will, I’m sure, try again this year.

Last fall (already thinking ahead to Gardening Year 2015), I took it upon myself to build hoop houses for each garden bed. Rebar, PVC pipe, some U-bolts and a sledgehammer—I have to admit, the most fun and gratifying garden project yet.

Greenhouse plastic will be up soon. I also had my soil analyzed, and spent a lovely spring weekend day amending it per the lab’s recommendations: bone meal, fish meal (a significant mystery to the dogs—“where exactly is the source of that delicious smell?”), gypsum (apparently another canine delicacy), and of course, heaps and bags of compost (which appear to be working: Exhibit 1, Earthworm).


A bonus find while working the soil this spring: what I thought were some weeds turned out to be some volunteer green onions from last season. Unexpected early season harvest.

The drip hoses are set and staked. The tomato seedlings are growing on the windowsill. The leaves are beginning to emerge from the raspberry canes. The chives are sprouting new green from their dark season dormancy.

It’s almost time.

Until I can eat my garden on a plate, I’m settling for a little garden-in-a-glass. I leave you with that recipe, as well as a poem appropriate for this season of gardens new.


4 leaves kale 1 heart romaine lettuce 1 apple 1 lemon, peeled ½”-1” knob ginger (depending how spicy you like it) handful cilantro (optional)

Rinse off all ingredients, process in a juicer, and enjoy!

The Broken Ground By Wendell Berry

The opening out and out, body yielding body: the breaking through which the new comes, perching above its shadow on the piling up darkened broken old husks of itself: bud opening to flower opening to fruit opening to the sweet marrow of the seed—


from what was, from what could have been. What is left is what is.

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