Ad hoc Irrigation System

Most folks don’t realize that Montana has regions known as high cold desert.   We live in one of those areas.

A desert is a dry, region of little rainfall, extreme temperatures, and sparse vegetation. The nearest town to us, which gets more moisture than we do, gets an official annual average moisture of 12.78 inches.  To put this in perspective Tucson gets an average 11.59 inches of rain annually.  Our extreme temperatures are not hot, but cold with wide swings daily.  We have acreage and it naturally has bunch grass and a couple of scrub junipers.

In the ten years we have lived here we have tried to grow more trees than we can count.   Most of those trees we have transplanted  have never made it through the first year.    We have bought local nursery grown and dug trees from the wild.   Neither has a better chance of success.   By necessity, we have created an ad hoc irrigation system that gives trees a leg up that first year.    Here is how this system works.

For each tree or bush that you transplant you need some thing that holds water.   I have used old cat litter buckets, 5 gallon pails, and wastebaskets from shredders that have long since died.   Be creative, don’t spend money on these “buckets,”  scavenge them from your friends, Craig’s list, and painters.

Once you have found your buckets you need to drill two small holes in one end or side of each bucket.   This holes need to be very small, less than 1/16th of a inch.   This sounds small, but you want a slow dribble so that the moisture in the bucket all works it way into the soil around your transplants.    You can always add more holes or make larger holes, but you can’t undo holes you have drilled.   Progress slowly with your drill.

Put your buckets next to your transplants.   Move your bucket around your transplants each time you fill them to encourage root growth in all directions.    When you fill your transplant bucket you can add root stimulation powder or fertilizer as needed, but don’t over fertilize the first year.   You want to encourage root growth that first year not top growth.   How often you fill the buckets depends on your local moisture.   You want to encourage good deep root growth.  It is a bit of guess-work or gut instinct as to how often you fill your buckets.  You may need to put a rock in the bottom of the your buckets to hold them in place in windy areas.

I like this system because it concentrates the water where it is needed.   It is an inexpensive system that anyone can do with a hose.   The idea of running a sprinkler  a.k.a. our well nonstop for an hour to get 1/2 inch of moisture, offends my sensibility.   One of the upsides of this method is that if you suddenly find your area in an unusual dry period, you can pull those buckets out and give any plant on your property a slow drink of moisture.  Hope that this system helps others with transplants.

Cold Frame or Mini-greenhouse

Last year we made frames from PVC to put over our raised beds to protect what little we can grow from the birds.   Now I am trying to figure out how I can make up to make a cold frame or a mini-green house that would utilize my frames and extend my growing season.

I fight with two elements at my house.  Wind that howls and frost that can happen almost all year long.   It makes growing things a challenge and any building or protection system a challenge.  Thank heavens for the internet it provides lots of fodder for thought.

First one of the Season

First Knapweed of the Season

I was out walking my property and came across a knapweed weed plant already in the rosette state.   Most people don’t notice or care, but I am a weedie, a weed peep.  I can’t help but noticed.   This means we are in the first part of weed season; find and mark. 

Who cares?  Why care? Non-native plants that are invasive are a huge ecological concern to me and should be to you too.   They displace native plants in the ecosystem. In many cases the non-native does not fulfill the same nutritional needs of the wildlife.  The impact soil, water and the list goes on.  Educate yourself.

Signs of Spring

There are still inches of snow on the ground and I am sure many more to come, but this week I received my first seed catalogue.  It is a sure sign the number of days left in winter are fewer than those I have already endured.

I love seed catalogues.  I am from a Midwest where every family had a garden.    I can remember going to the local hardware store and them having bins upon bins of seeds.  They had amazing names like Super Sweet Corn, Big Boy Tomatoes and the traditional favorite Blue Lake beans.  There you could buy seeds measured out on scale and carefully marked on the brown paper bag what you had selected. It was a precious cargo, seeds that would provide for our winter larder.

Our family had a garden that seemed huge to a child, a now as a adult realizing size know it was 3 pushing 4 acres, and that makes it insanely large.  It was technically grandma and grandpa’s garden, but our family worked it with him from the first seed to cleaning off the last plant getting it ready for a winter rest.  We worked that garden by hand, no tractor, just a rototiller and lots of women and children with hoes.   We sold some of our bounty but most of it would be canned, frozen or put in the root cellar to feed our family.

Today seeds are mass marketed and appear in your local Ace, K-mart and even grocery store.  They are packaged in colorful boxes and envelopes touting their qualities.  There are many more hybrids and varieties to pick from.   It is wonderful that we now have tomatoes that can grow in the short growing season I have in Montana, and this year I even see a sweet corn I might even try.  To sit a home warm inside, studying the descriptions and picking seeds that will be most successful here will take many a night, and help to pass the days of winter that we still have left.


Last night we sold our old  first chicken coop! It went to a family who were looking to get into chickens and were looking for a small flock coop. It was either sell it or tear it apart and find a use for all those cut up pieces of wood.  This is an  example or recycling.   So often when we talk about recycling folks think about what you can put out in the bins, paper, plastic, glass and metal.  There is much more to recycling that those simple things that our local refuse collector picks up curbside.

Recycling includes finding an new serviceable live for items in your house you no longer use.   You can give serviceable items to your local charity so they can find a new home with someone else.    While you are they buy something that you might need there instead of buying new.   Another way to find a new life for an item is list it on eBay or Craig’s List.  I’ve used both with great success.  The chicken coop found a new home using Craig’s List. 

Another thing you can do is start a compost pile.  It is a way to recycle your yard waste and kitchen waste.   There are many challenges to composting, but once you get the hang of it, it is one of the best things you can do and not too hard.   Your yard and your garden will love you. People think that things will compost in their local landfill, but that isn’t true.  It is a sealed anaerobic pit.  No breakdown of materials going on there.   It is a mummified place for all your cast offs.

The next week when you put things in the garbage can under the sink, take a minute and ask yourself.   “Is there another way to get rid of this? “

Gardens of Our Childhood

Gardening is deep in my roots. Both my grandfathers had huge gardens.

One of my grandfathers had a garden the size of about 1/3 of his big back yard. Not only did he garden but he planted all kinds of fruit trees, pear, cherry, apricot, and peach.   It was a magical yard of flavors.  It left a lasting impression on me of what made up the flavors of summer.

My other Grandpa had a huge garden, probably 3 acres or so. It was a family affair, in that everyone worked it. Grandpa & Grandma, Mom & Dad, all us kids and even a few of the neighbor kids. We worked this garden mostly by hand, though I can remember clearly the year Grandpa got a new Troy-Bilt rototiller.   It was quite an event.   Though I only remember Grandpa and maybe my Dad running that contraption.  The rest of us were expected to hoe between the plants where the machine could not get.  And hoe we did.  I don’t think that there was a weed in the whole garden.  This huge garden was planted to give us enough to put by for the winter.  We grew corn, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries and raspberries.   I was where so much of what my mother put by came from.

We are soon heading to the midwest for holiday, during that time one of the wonderful things we are planning into the trip is not only who we will see but delicacies of summer produce we plan to eat, since we still had frost last night in Montana.   Gardening here is not like the gardening of my childhood.

By Diana who is Playing Without Limits. Posted in Gardening Tagged

My Mom the Original Locavore

A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles.  There is a a movement for people to become a locavore.

Raised in the Midwest the growing season was long and my mom was a one of the original locavores.  We grew every kind of fruit and vegetables in my granddad’s garden. It was done out of economic necessity not as some political statement.  Not only did we reap the rewards of fresh tomatoes and corn in season, but Mom planned for when those veggies would no longer be in season.

My mom had some magic algorithm that experience told her the minimum amount that needed to put by winter.   I remember we needed two pints of tomatoes for every week and a pint of tomato juice for the same.   Putting food by was a family affair, but Mom was the person who knew how much we would need to process.  We froze certain vegetables and canned others.     We had a sink and old stove in the basement.  It was there that our family cleaned, cooked, blanched, boiled, and more to fill our larder for the months ahead.

The only required vegetables that I don’t remember us growing was potatoes.  We bought them from a local farmer and we stored them in our root cellar.  They came in burlap bags and were not sprayed with all the fungicides that are used today.  Without those chemicals some of them would rot and that root cellar was a nasty place come spring.  Mom would assign one of us kids to go down in the early spring and go through what we had left and pick out all the rotten tatters and pitch them.  That task was one of pure punishment and a strong stomach.

Mom was also a person who would take whatever someone had too much of.  Waste not, want not was her creed.  She would consult the Ball Blue book and find a way to put anything by. I remember the year we canned grape juice.  It was nothing like the Welch’s of today, it settles and wasn’t sweet.  We canned carp, that was seasoned to imitate salmon of sorts, because it was rough fish that the local commercial fisherman gave away.  Can salmon was expensive, but we had “salmon” loaf and patties regularly.

To all those folks who are looking to become a locavore, you may want to call my mom for the inside scoop.  She has years of experience of making it work not just as a fad or theory.  It is a great thing to do, but mom will be able to tell you that it is hard work.  Gardening, canning, freezing, finding sources etc.  My mom did not work outside the home, but I can tell you her job of putting food on the table  was a hard one it was more than 40 hours a week.