A caveat is required before you read any further. I have never been good with plants. Rarely do my plants stay alive, so this is not intended to be a manual on how to successfully tend vegetable gardens in the Flathead Valley. That being said, I did recently attend a local vegetable gardening class since I do intend to try my hand at gardening this year. I learned some interesting things about doing so in this area. If you have a Kalispell garden that hasn't been growing properly OR if you are moving into the area and plan to grow vegetables, these tips might be of use.
So what did I learn?
The soil in the Kalispell and Flathead Valley area is alkaline. Typically, the pH level here is an 8 or 8.5 and growing vegetables works best with a pH of around 6.5 or so. There are ways to "amend" the levels so they are better for planting, but most methods do take some time to work. Another way to grow vegetables in this high pH area is to use raised beds with purchased soil. Also of interest, water from wells has a high pH level, so treating your soil a few times a year is necessary, even if using soil with the correct pH level.
Another important 'a-ha' for me was the information about the growing season. While it can be warm early in the Spring, the difference between day and night temperatures is typically significant. Even in the middle of the summer, the temperature can go from 95 during the day to 45 in the evening. Those night-time temperatures are great for sleeping but not so good for growing plants. The bottom line is that any seeds or plants that are purchased for the Flathead Valley area should be those that have a 90 day growing season. Also, the smaller choices grow better than the bigger ones (think cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak tomatoes). So planting outside in late May or early June will result in plants that are providing fruit in July and August. Which is perfect planning for this area!
Besides the pH related information above, there is more that needs to be known about the soil in this area. There are parts of the Flathead Valley where the soil is almost total sand, and other parts where it is a dense clay. Both extremes need extra time and effort to enable plants and even grass to grow. So one thing that was made perfectly clear - test the soil where you will be planting. Not only to find out what type of minerals are in the soil, but to know whether it's a soil that will retain moisture and nutrients, or one that will need constant watering and nourishing.
One of the most helpful bits of information received in this four week gardening course was the following website: Montana State University Extension. If you have any interest in planting a specific type of vegetable, or you want to know about insects, composting, pesticides, weeds, water management or any other agricultural topic that has to do with Montana, the MSU extension has the information. Just download or print, and you'll have your answers!
As for me and my Montana vegetable garden, I'm currently planning what and where I'll be growing. Then the plan is to get my fence and raised beds built. I'll be ready in late May to plant my first seeds and seedlings. Will you be doing the same? If yes, let's trade notes on how our projects go!
Originally published at thehousekat.com.