Fits and starts of a Montana spring

I can see snow at the tops of the ridges that surround my house, but I got a pretty bad sunburn last week while downtown for a microbrewery festival. The signs of spring are strong - the farmer's market is running, we have outdoor festivals downtown again, there is sunshine, which comes with more exposed skin, and then in the last few days this has happened:

Adequate chicken protection ain't pretty(before)

The big payoff! (after)

The good part of spring has legitimately arrived here. Now, that isn't to say it is warm out, or that frost danger is over, or that I can safely plant broccoli starts. It is more like a frame of mind. Instead of debating leather clogs or lightweight hiking boots, I'm debating sandals or Crocs. I shouldn't get ahead of myself, however. In 1996 Missoula had a freak weather event that dropped six inches of thick snow on June 1st. You gotta stay on your toes in a climate like this.

Happiness is tulips under the office window

We've been busy with planting prep lately. I bought some locally grown organic potatoes that I intend to chop in half and then plant. This method is cheap, easy, and effective. The locally grown part ensures that the potatoes are adapted to our soil and climate. The organic part guarantees that they haven't been sprayed with anti-sprouting chemicals (most store-bought potatoes are, because people don't like it when they sprout). And cutting the potato in half doubles your potato investment without, as far as I can tell, affecting your final harvest. Then you drop your potato half into a 6" deep hole surrounded by well turned soil. Done! Harvest those spuds in September! I'll do this tomorrow because today it is blustery and chilly, which is bad weather for gardening with a eight-week-old baby strapped to your back.

I broke down and bought lettuce starts. My lettuce from seed is 1/4" tall right now. Pitiful. And I hate buying lettuce at the farmer's market for some reason. It angers me that I am so bad at growing it that I need to buy it. So instead I'm cheating and I bought six starts. That ought to ease my lettuce pain until the lettuce from seed gets moving on up.

On the other hand, I always buy tomatoes as starts, and I always buy from the same little farm because they harden off their tomatoes very nicely before they sell them. This year I got excited and bought six instead of four. I'm not sure why. I buy the same cherry tomato varieties every year - Sweet 100s and Sun Golds. Why mess with a good thing? On the other hand, I vary my Roma and Slicer purchases. One year I had Cosmonauts and Early Girls, another year Juliet and Oregon Spring. I have yet to say to myself, "YES! This is the correct breed of Roma for my garden!" so I just keep trying. One year it will happen, I am sure.

My tomatoes are currently in a foster home of sorts - they are still at the farm, yet they have been earmarked for me. At their greenhouse on their farm they are kept in much better shape then I'm capable of, so I just order them through my co-op and hope that they don't get delivered until at least May 15th. I can't plant them until June 1st in good conscience, and even that is risky business. I've checked the NOAA website during the first week of June before and found myself grabbing big plastic tarps at 9 p.m. to protect my tomatoes and basil from imminent frosty destruction. My neighbor, who is 90 and has lived with her 91-year-old husband on their tiny city lot for 73 years, is almost always out there with me. We both curse the weather from our respective sides of the tidy fence that separates our lots as she covers her ten Early Girl tomato starts with tattered flowery bedsheets and a very, very practiced hand.