Greetings from Montana

Here in Missoula, Montana, local gardening wisdom has it that you should plant your peas, carrots and other cold hardy seeds on St. Patrick's Day. I've stuck to that advice for a few years with great success, but this year on March 10 I finished up another project that my husband and I started "from seed." The peas, lettuce and company have been patiently waiting in their packets for a month.

Growing things here in the Intermountain West is a tricky business - short growing season, brutally hot summer, and very little rain. It is no wonder that Montana is much better for growing winter wheat than it is for growing, say, watermelons. As a result of our climate, I have wildflower gardens (low water), a small native-focused xeriscape (practically no water), and two carefully planned vegetable plots (a maze of soaker hoses). Additionally, the conditions here are strangely perfect for tulips, so I have planted hundreds of them around the house, shed, fence line, shrubs, you name it.

The gardens on my small city lot are diverse, overgrown, and plagued by seven voracious chickens. The chickens are a recent arrival to the mix and make things very interesting. Hens are outstanding composters and allow us to neatly dispose of virtually all our organic material in no time flat. Overlooked zucchinis the size of baseball bats are magically transformed into a gorgeous tasty eggs all the time at our house. The problem is that chickens are also vicious predators of cherry tomatoes, seedlings of all colors, squash blossoms, cucumbers, and carrot tops. Oh yeah, and for entertainment they excavate and destroy tulip bulbs. I keep the mischievous hens in their enclosure much of the time, but sometimes I let them out to forage and the results look like a Dennis the Menace cartoon. The chickens are innocently digging in the garden, looking for tasty grubs while innocently tilling up my carefully planted rows.

Needless to say, we use a lot of chicken wire around here.

This week I'm playing catch-up with the cold-hardy seeds. Snow peas, snap peas, dill, carrots, parsley, and mixed lettuce are all going into the ground. I really hope they can make up for the last four weeks and yield well. After these veggies get going I'll have a long time to weed, set up my soaker hoses, plant some squash and marigolds inside my cold frames, and get some broccoli starts going. Next outdoor planting day is May 1 - potatoes!


DaleA said...

I'm intrigued by the fact that the past two posts have featured city chickens. How ironic. I live in Kansas, and have no livestock on my property. We've joked about getting chickens. Perhaps I should stop joking.

Emily said...

Here's a link to a page that details the laws about keeping chickens in many places around the country. Sadly, at present, we are prevented from keeping chickens because we have less than one acre of land.


Joshua McNichols said...

Dalea, perhaps we city dwellers live out our rural fantasies through chicken ownership. I know I do.