Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. June 22, 2018

Last week I promised you more information about our garden.  Gardening in NW Montana at 4100 feet is truly humbling.

I thought I had a green thumb.  In Atlanta, I had a prolific vegetable garden, hydrangeas bursting with blooms, trumpet creeper and confederate jasmine twining about, butterfly bushes galore.

Now I realize that it was not me, it was gardening in zone 8.  If you amend your soil, fertilize, and water, the garden will grow, and you will reap.  It has not been that easy in Montana.

There’s a separate post in the works, detailing our five year history of gardening in Montana.  For this week, here where we have have landed: in a nice sized fenced garden with three elevated beds, some pots, and a lot of black plastic.

Due to relentless voles that we have not been able to curb and rocks that seem to grow in glacial ash, we have given up gardening in the ground.  A couple of years ago, John built three elevated beds for me.  I resisted them at first, but am thankful for them now.  Gardening while standing up is a wonderful experience!

Here’s what we hope to grow this year:

We stubbornly refuse to quit trying to grow tomatoes, although this year we have only three plants. If you don’t live in Montana, you absolutely will not believe how we ripen tomatoes here. When friends first taught me this trick, I thought they were pulling my leg. Keep reading till fall!

These tomato plants are teeny, yet if you look closely, they already have blooms. In Georgia, they would be to the tops of the tomato cages!

Also in the warm weather genre we have sweet peppers, corn (cultivated for short season, cool weather), zucchini, pickling cucumbers, and basil. We have been successful in growing the last three, not so much the first two.

The focus, though, is on cooler climate plants, so most of the space in the three elevated beds is dedicated to two varieties of kale, carrots, turnips, broccoli,  lettuces, and sweet peas.

This lettuce is fabulous! It volunteers annually, and even withstood being transplanted this year. The texture is full enough to stand up to salad dressing, yet tender.

We love kale, and when we begin harvesting it, I will show you our very easy, uber successful method of freezing it. Carrots and turnips are winter stew staples for us, so we have high hopes for these two veggies!  Smitten Kitchen recently linked to this recipe for broccoli fritters; grow, broccoli, grow!  Salads are on the menu nearly every day, so we can’t grow enough lettuce, and sweet peas are easy here.  They are already peeking through the dirt!

The flowers are in pots: astilbe, lilies, two peony crowns, irises, and cosmos. The cosmos seeds are pass alongs from my friend Theresa, and they have begun to germinate!

I transplanted the lillies in the rear pot a few weeks ago. They were in the shade, they never bloomed, and the deer kept nibbling them. I hope they bloom this summer!

So, Eleanor, what’s with the black plastic, you ask?  This is a trick that my successful gardening friends employ. The black plastic serves a number of purposes.

Black plastic in action for cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, and corn.

First and foremost, it helps heat the soil and to hold that heat during our cool nights.  This, they say, is key to solid root growth.  It also prevents weeds (!), retains moisture during our dry months of July and August, and  keeps veggies clean.

This is our first summer with black plastic. Theresa and her husband have a commercial farming operation, and she gifted me with black plastic that they were no longer using.

The turnips are growing really well!! Eventually I will thin them.

The wood harvest continues, and if this cool weather holds, we might meet our goal of being finished by the end of June!

Tuesday the high was sixty degrees, overcast with a few sprinkles.  John and I call this perfect weather for harvesting firewood, so into the woods we went! We had tagged a huge dead tree, so we cut it down, along with two small trees (also dead) that were in the way. Two truckloads of wood!

This pretty little flower is blooming in the woods. It’s subalpine Mariposa lily.

Because of the way the big tree leaned, there was no choice but to cut it so that it would fall into several other trees, which meant roping it and pulling it with the farm truck to bring it crashing to the ground.  Here are John and the truck in action:

A word about this truck.  Part of John’s farm dream was a farm truck: an older model truck with gnarly tires that we can 4wheel into the woods with, something we don’t mind getting scratched and dirty.  Something that, for the most part, John can repair himself.  Enter one primer grey Ford F150.  It ain’t pretty, but it sure is practical!

With its 4wheel drive and “granny gear,” it drives through the woods like a champ.  We use it to haul all manner of building materials, ice fishing gear, firewood, hay, animal feed, goats. In deep snow, it handles better than our Tahoe.  It’s also a useful tool for keeping pride in check as we drive around town!

We built these removable side rails so we can haul hay. And goats. Ruthie says “Hay!”

Where we live, vehicle appearance is not high on the list of priorities.  More important concerns are “Does it have four wheel drive?” “Can you haul things with it?” Yes and yes.

It’s nothing a bit of gorilla tape and spray paint can’t fix! John also replaced the light cover.

Paying money for body repairs is not in the budget for the farm truck.  Here is John’s solution after I backed the truck into a fence a couple of month ago.  A new tail light, gorilla tape, and some primer spray. (He evened the score by knocking out a turn signal light during our wood cutting expedition this week; it happens.)


Oops! A quick trip to Auto Zone will fix this.

The big happy news for the week is that the pond and waterfall are now operational!  I emptied it out using a five gallon bucket to remove most of the water and three full buckets of mucky leaves and pine straw.  Near the bottom I used our shop vac.

This little guy showed up before the pond was even full!

I researched the pump online to find an owner’s manual and learned how to prime and install it. It was thrilling when I plugged it in and the waterfall actually worked!  Large rocks at the far side of the pond hide the pump.  The pump is electric, and when John came out to admire my handiwork, he found an electrical outlet hidden behind some rocks next to the pond.  (I was temporarily using an extension cord.) The waterfall turns on and off with a switch on the porch.

You can see our new specimen tree John bought for me, right next to the waterfall.  My friend Amber dubbed her “Ms. Vanderwolf.”

Every morning Belle and I sit out here with a steaming mug of coffee, my phone, and a book or two. Hummingbirds zoom in for sugar water.  The tumbling waters muffle the sounds of Stoltz cutting lumber. It’s a little slice of heaven!

Friday, my friend Karla came out and we hiked almost six miles round trip into the mountains around us, and afterwards we enjoyed chili for lunch. The lupine is in full bloom right now, and it is gorgeous!

This lupine is so lush!


I am loving how the various wildflowers bloom at different times and places!

What I am reading, thinking about, listening to:

The news.

Is anyone not thinking about the news?  I am referring to the issue of immigrants and their children being separated.

I have a lot of words to share about my reaction to current events, but am saving them for a future post, which is a list of lessons learned in June.

What’s on your mind this week?

(Please excuse this post for last week being late.  There was a formatting error I knew nothing about, so I had to research online to figure it out.  Still not sure WHY the problem is occuring, but at least now there’s a work around. Meanwhile, the update for this week is almost ready!)

7 Replies to “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. June 22, 2018”

  1. We always have fun together, don’t we?!

    1. Most definitely!

  2. The hike we shared was the high light of my week! We couldn’t have asked for better weather and the wildflowers were absolutely stunning and the chili was delicious! Thanks for sharing your little piece of heaven with me.

  3. Your post made me laugh out loud! I know exactly where the tomato story is going LOL because you looked at me like I had grown a second head when I told you that! And I’m very happy to see that you have put down the black plastic this year.

    I love your waterfall, it looks so great!

    1. Were you really up at 4:15?? Thanks for leaving a comment! I am hoping the tomatoes actually grow, because I want to create a picture tutorial on how to ripen them, then follow the process weekly.
      You and Dusk will have to come out and experience the waterfall!

  4. You are livin’ the dream: ongoing restorative fresh air and healthy exercise; fresh veggies; creative work-arounds conducive to Montana; a babbling water feature; hummingbirds; alpine flowers; and a partner who loves you. All is well. Your soul must sing. Amber

    1. The lesson I am learning is that sometimes it takes years to relax into “a dream come true.” It is not always an easy adjustment, but worth it. Thanks for commenting!

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