Harsh climate

Anybody else trying to grow food in a difficult climate? We are in Montana and our particular area is high desert. We have cactus in our field. We do not have all sand, though. Our winter temps can be -40 overnight and not get above 0 for a week or more, and it is usually windy as well. Summer can feel brutal as temperatures reach the 90's - it is dry heat and just baked everything. I water the gardens heavily on a daily basis or they would not survive. The orchard is watered twice a week. We only have 2 large trees on our 4 acres so shade is not really available.

Anyone else in a climate that seems to fight you at every turn? Advice on helping things grow?


  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,483 admin

    Wow, that is an extreme scenario. Mulch, mulch and more mulch to help protect from the elements and conserve moisture. A greenhouse type arrangement could help. Never give up!

  • Ray
    Ray Posts: 11 ✭✭✭

    Our climate in SE Oklahoma is really harsh in many ways. Our land is primarily rock, some sand, some shale. Very poor for gardening. We haveshade on the wooded slope, but very little in the 3 acre clearing where the house is. When outside, which is almost always, we move our table and chairs around when the shade moves. A large porch in one of the coming projects. Last summer in late August, daily temps were 110 degrees in the shade. But we do get a nice 55" average rainfall, so that keeps everything watered most of the year, except hardly any of that comes in July and August. But it is very beautiful country. This winter we plan to build raised beds to grow most of the veggies next spring. I work outside on garden or projects until around noon, but am careful to do light work or computer work in the afternoons so I don't get over heated; being off grid, I have no way to cool off quickly,

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi @tammyrichardsmt9 - wow! - What a way to Scare other folk from ever thinking, let alone ever moving to Montana, or other states bordering Canada up there, - Was it just that land is cheaper to buy there, that made you Adopt the place as home ?

    What to do? - 1. btw, re FOOD: are you living off of foodStorage ? or do you grow Microgreens in the house. Or how near is the nearest grocery, & what do you eat? Not trying to be nosey, just concerned.

    Can you put tires around your house?, & for growing foods in, - until you build something you like better... also MULCH... the more the better. - Undoubtedly you want Hardy taller Perennials that grow quicker than others, while giving you more food in a small space, yes?

    Asked our Search-engine (Not google) "Hardy fast-growing Bushes & trees for Helena, Montana": https://www.tytyga.com/Montana-trees-a/292.htm

    Quote: "Blueberry plants are very productive in Montana and the Low Bush Blueberry is a native blueberry bush with high cold tolerance. Blueberries are most often called huckleberries in Montana, however, the berries are technically harvested from blueberry plants.Montana State 🙂University scientists at Bozeman, Mt., recommend the Brazos blackberry plant and Boysenberry bushes as the best berry choices, but many tests on the new blackberry cultivars from Arkansas are introducing thornless blackberry bushes.

    The Mulberry tree, the strawberry bushes and the elderberry plants will grow in zone 3, 4 and 5 of the state. The Kieffer pear tree and the wild crabapple tree will grow in zone 4 and 5, and the Chickasaw plum tree, American persimmon tree and Catalpa fish bait trees will grow in zone 5. The Chinese chestnut tree and the hickory nut trees will produce slow ripening nuts during the fall that drop from the trees intermittently during the fall and winter. In MT zone 5 the fast growing tree sawtooth oak, the acorns will begin falling in the fall and feed the deer, pheasants and other game birds, when wildlife food is scarce. The Gobbler oak tree grows a small acorn that turkey like and the white oak trees at maturity produce heavy acorn crops and mast for wildlife animals to feed on.

    Bunch grape vines and new hybrid Seedless grapevines will survive the frigid cold in MT. Mt. State University also recommends Boyne red raspberry plants and Heritage and September Red raspberry bushes. Black Hawk and Cumberland black raspberries produce deliciously tasty berries in the Fall. The only purple raspberry that survives as cold hardy is the Brandy Wine purple raspberry.

    Two of the best fig trees will survive in Zone 5 in Montana. Chicago hardy fig trees and the Tennessee Mountain fig tree have survived the brisk frigid winter in Montana when properly mulched.

    Apple trees like Lodi and McIntosh apples are successful, if cross pollination is available, and the Oregon crabapple and the Siberian apple trees are good apple pollinators. - Sweet cherry trees are generally not cold hardy, however, the sour cherries like the Montmorency cherry tree and North Star cherry trees will grow in most Montana fruit tree orchards. The Stanley plum tree is cold hardy in Montana and the Stanley plums taste is rich and sweet.

    The Mulberry tree, the strawberry bushes and the elderberry plants will grow in zone 3, 4 and 5 of the state. The Kieffer pear tree and the wild crabapple tree will grow in zone 4 and 5, and the Chickasaw plum tree, American persimmon tree and Catalpa fish bait trees will grow in zone 5. The Chinese chestnut tree and the hickory nut trees will produce slow ripening nuts during the fall that drop from the trees intermittently during the fall and winter. In MT zone 5 the fast growing tree sawtooth oak, the acorns will begin falling in the fall and feed the deer, pheasants and other game birds, when wildlife food is scarce. The Gobbler oak tree grows a small acorn that turkey like and the white oak trees at maturity produce heavy acorn crops and mast for wildlife animals to feed on.

    The white flowering Dogwood tree, the Redbud Tree and Wisteria trees will all survive the cold winter in Montana." etc, etc.

    Maybe you already know all these things ?

    Fare well... 🙂

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,612 admin

    I htought Central Texas was harsh...

    Uh, is there a big greenhouse in your future?

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,500 admin

    Rainbow, Canada has all sorts of wonderful climate variations. 😉 It is a land of beauty & diversity throughout. Not all of Montana is harsh either.

    @tammyrichardsmt9 are you somehow in the mountain region, or to the eastern portion of the state? I realize that not everything grown in the mountains (like huckleberry & such) will grow to the east.

    I have visited Montana twice. The east was rather uninteresting (in my opinion only), but I loved the mountain areas. Gorgeous! This is where we passed a small huckleberry festival on our honeymoon and where I was first introduced to huckleberry pie & jam. Wow! I still have a jar in the cupboard. I should just eat it already...

    I hear that it is wild growing only & propagation & transplanting doesn't work. However, I would still love to try. I doubt that it would grow other than in those mountainous regions, however...

    Going to the Sun Road was an adventure when our brakes quit just before going up and we had no choice but to move forward. 😨 We made it with nobody getting hurt, thank goodness!

    As for something to try, could hugelcultur beds be a consideration? I think I would look into that. It works in dry deserts, retains moisture & is rich in nutrients if done well. -40° should not be an issue either.

    Is Paul Wheaten of Permies in the Montana mountain ranges? He might be a good resource too. I would suspect that he would be a great MT source of information.

    We have those temps in the winter & summer too (in MB)...and my aunt, who is a great gardener, has sand. She has put LOTS of manure in to bump up the nutrition. She also chooses wonderful cold hardy varieties to plant.

    Maybe seeing if importing seeds from hardier areas might be worth looking into? If importing from Canada, I like William Dam seeds for many reasons. They are in Ontario (warm, moist where they are out of), but I have been pleased with their seed viability & hardiness in Manitoba. I doubt much from the BC lowlands would work. They have fussier seed/plant varieties in a lot of their supply places. Perhaps something from the Lethbridge & Calgary areas in Alberta might be an option? Their conditions will be similar to yours. Saskatchewan might be too, but by then, the elevation is already dropping.

  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,820 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I am trying to get a handle on my Southern Utah location. We are zone 8 with sandy soil and I spent the last 30 years in zone 11 with heavy clay soil. I am attempting to container garden some herbs as I am on the side of a mountain with maybe an inch of soil. Temps have been around 105 during the day and lower 80s at night.

    Montana is a beautiful fertile place so you will eventually come to terms with your environment.

  • tammyrichardsmt9
    tammyrichardsmt9 Posts: 109 ✭✭✭

    We are in central Montana. Paul Wheaton is in Western Montana (Missoula). It is beautiful over there (I grew up there). We were in Missouri for 10 years and then decided to return to the state we were raised in - but the available jobs was here in Helena. We are in a valley with mountains all around and it is beautiful, just harsh.

    My son works at a local greenhouse so they help me chose plants. There are many microclimates in this town. We are not off-grid (though we did live that way for a little bit in Missouri). I have raised beds, but it would definitely help to mulch. We are zone 4 here.

    I certainly wasn't trying to dissuade anyone from Montana - land here is definitely not cheap though. Missouri was much better priced.

    We have thought of greenhouses (my husband wants one of the underground ones - the name of them escapes me - because he wants to grow year round) but haven't gone to the expense. My son bought one and was going to keep plants in it all winter. He had a space heater in it and things still frosted and he decided it wasn't worth it.

    I appreciate the suggestions and will likely implement some of them next season. Thank you!!

  • pamelamackenzie
    pamelamackenzie Posts: 143 ✭✭✭

    In the heat of the summer, i have to put a shade tarp over my raise beds angled to block out afternoon sun for sweet peppers.

  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,820 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have no fertile land here in my patch of the desert, so I am trying container gardening of some herbs. There are sitting on a covered deck. I am trying to estimate how to give "full sun loving" plants enough sun without cooking the roots and leaves. The plants are alive, not growing fast, on about 3 hours of desert sun in the morning, indirect the rest of the day. Even so, they are needing a lot of water.

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @shllnzl First, trying to squint to figger out are there 3 L's in your name? Sorry, was too embarrassed to ask before, but decided to be brave :)

    Lived about 5 yrs. in mostly Albuquerque in "Paradise Hills" (not!, lol), & think it's similar to where you are in both deserts... What worked the best for Ornamentals: making holes big-enuf, to then line with bricks more on the bottom, into which composted soil secured whatever plants. Do you like Jerusalem Artichokes ? which because of their height you can use to Shade other veggies naturally, they'll produce a crop of tender tubers with minimal water. Too peruvian Purple potato: more nutritious than the usual white or yellow flesh. Especially disease free and low maintenance. Great for roasting in olive oil. - IF you're on a South-side, can mostly leave them in the ground and dig as needed, Mulching keeps the soil from freezing. AMARANTH, aka pigweed, is highly nutritious with a nice mild flavor when young. When used as a cooked green it's full of antioxidants... tho like beets it will 'bleed', but really it is just fine. LAMBS-quarters. Prolific, & of the most nutritious greens. Can grow over 6 feet tall there. Mild-flavored. - If you have some extra water, Edible Nasturtiums (are much like pansies) in that both should be planted in early Spring to allow them to flourish, (before they wilt, & go dormant needing to escape summer's heat), but when the weather cools off again, they will gladly jump for Joy to grace your Salads... 🙂 Enjoy!

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi again @tammyrichardsmt9 - as 1st. responded, what your husband wants, I was actually going to share: re the Greenhouse (aka pit, or INsteading) https://insteading.com/blog/underground-greenhouse/ for growing year-round. This site is just the best, as it shows you how to build Variations... that even little me would be willing to tackle, were someone doing most of the digging with a backhoe. YES, this UNDERGROUND Greenhouse we too want, so much.

  • cre8tiv369
    cre8tiv369 Posts: 67 ✭✭✭

    Hey Tammy, Do a search for “greening the desert” and Geoff Lawton and do some reading, a ton of it will apply to your current land. Get use of an excavator, bury 4+ inch plastic irrigation pipe 8+ feet underground, at least 250+ feet of it should do the trick. Add 2 small low voltage fans (like the small cooling fans on the back/inside of a computer) at both ends of the pipe (pushing air in one side and pulling out the other. Both ends go in your double walled greenhouse. And you run it anytime it is too hot or too cold, you will never have frost and it will never get too hot and it will run on a tiny trickle of electricity. Get solar and wind and a battery bank and you can run grow lights to augment your shorter winter days and you will grow all 365. Follow the same type of land transformations from Greening the Desert (in bite sized logical chunks), and in a few to several years your land will be a lush, green, fertile oasis and the envy of all your high desert neighbors. Try to make as much compost as you possibly can, you could bury your land 10 feet deep in compost and it still wouldn’t be enough. Try to get wood chips from any local tree/landscape types, used bedding and manure from organic animals, check out David the Good for making compost tea in a barrel (especially a rain barrel). Get as much organic matter in your soil, get trees planted, Swales if you need them, try to do some Hügelkultur beds (permies.com has good info on that, a google search can help with it as well). Mulch mulch mulch, (3 feet deep if you can). And that pretty much solves everything High desert Montana can throw your way. Any critters you can add helps, chickens, rabbits, a pig, goats, etc. But they are going to want the shade of all the trees you will be planting, so add them if and when it’s good for them should you choose to. Good Luck.

  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,820 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hey Rainbow, thanks for the suggestions. I saved a copy of them for later consideration. We are on a small mountainside, amazing views but not great for gardening. (Part of the view is my user icon.) I do have a small patch of level land that was not planted with ornamental plants. I have started soil amendment and a sprinkler system is available. However, it is in the shade of the house all day.

    So, elsewhere near the house there are mature landscape plants being scorched by the summer sun. I have a lemon thyme planted among them and it seems to be doing fine.

    I am in research mode to find edible/herbal plants that can flourish in mostly sandy soil, heat and shade.

    I have considered changing my user name to something with vowels. :)

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @shllnzl - Thank you, to spread out the L's next to each other, some vowels would help 🙂

    Too, when you put this > @ < sign to the left of someone's name, the member is Alerted so they can return to respond. We all learn this 🙂

    (Also I lived in SLC & Provo & Orem for 3 years, zone 5b). - So you live in S.Utah zone8 : go down to 3rd. picture of "BlessThisMessPlease" LOL https://www.blessthismessplease.com/growing-a-vegetable-garden-in-southern-utah/ & too https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2012/04/04/rexs-tips-for-a-mixed-vegetable-garden/#.XVCz0v57nDA & even more http://suindependent.com/southern-utah-gardening-planning-an-organic-vegetable-garden/ Have fun ! Flying high...

  • shllnzl
    shllnzl Posts: 1,820 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @rainbow Thanks for the info. I have been researching plants and animals here because I am experiencing all kinds of wildlife. You have saved me some time.

  • ines871
    ines871 Posts: 1,283 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @shllnzl - You're most welcome. Love helping in any way possible. Enjoy your week 🙂

  • Sandy Forest
    Sandy Forest Posts: 2

    Toasted caterpillar was on the menu a couple of days ago. I'll have to catch up on this thread in a bit, but I wanted to alert people who are exposed to a lot of sun that the NOAA had a "High" solar radiation alert last week. I had been going out to water at dusk, had an early morning when I could get outside to garden and water and saw that I had missed seeing a nest of tent caterpillars on my crab apple, which is fruiting for the first time. While clipping off anything that looked like it might have a caterpilar munching away, I encountered an oddly still one reaching up to start crunching on a leaf tip. As I reached to clip and capture that twig, I saw that the fat little caterfillar had died and dried in place on the growing tip of an apple spur. On stepping back to think this one thruogh, I noticed that a lot of the damage I was seeing might have been the growing tips of my tree crisping in the burning rays. I'm new to managing tent caterpillars, and decided that since I had seen a few newly hatched larvae in the "tent" it might be wise to follow our University of Wisconsin bug guy's advice and clip off any damage I saw, and since this was an unusually late appearance of tent caterpillars, give my tree a good shaking to dislodge any hidden worms, despite having nearly 2 dozen little apples on board. If you are not aware of it yet, we are in a period when a previously unknown Ultraviolet radiation call UV-C has become a very strong and damaging part of our UV spectrum. Consider shielding up and avoiding a wider swath of solar exposure, say from early mid-morning to early late afternoon. The further insight I had is that my garden is transpiring faster that it usually does in late summer because of these burning rays, so I am increasing water volume and frequency by about 1/3. We have a hand pump well, so this was not an easy decision to make, but it beets dehydrating my crop pre-harvest. A significant portion of what I am growing burned beyond revival. The further amazing thing to note is that after the scorching high radiation day, the tips of my carb apple ann some other plants that got scorched went right back to green and growing.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,500 admin
    edited August 2019

    @Sandy Forest Our province had a major infestation/plague of them 15 years ago or so. Those caterpillars move QUICKLY. From the air, you could easily see the mighty army move across the land in search of food, so said the spray plane pilots. They timed them. I no longer remember their speed, but you would be shocked. Sticky traps around trunks filled up quickly and they would just continue to climb over their dead comrades to get leaves. Outside walls were covered, roads were smeared with squished ones with more marching over. It was very yucky to say the least.

    When eventually the cocoons were all over everything inaginable, wasps & hornets would open them & eat the caterpillars. In the fall, when the moths flew, terns flew all over, snatching many. It was certainly interesting to see God's balance of nature at work. Those two things gave much needed relief.

    What we now do is look for the hard to find egg clusters. Those can be cut off & burned or carefully burned in place with a torch. The tents can be cut and sealed in bags or those can be brought ro a safe area to be opened. Burn all of the contents. The caterpillars can be torched as well. I have to say that it is most satisfying burning those.

    Damaged parts of the tree will recover as long as it is only the first round. A tree will re-leaf a second time, but not a third. If it goes through complete deformation that second time, the tree will die. You can tell if the tree/branch/twigs are still alive by gently scraping away a tiny bit of outer bark to see if there is still green underneath. Green=live...leave it, brown=dead. Prune it only if it is actually dead.

    A comment on shaking the catepillars off...they will only climb back up again and start eating. Your best bet in that case (and what we did) is put a sheet below and do our best to gather them all up & kill all of them.

    Good luck getting rid of them. Success can be very rewarding.

    I worked in a plant nursery in the trees & shrubs department for a few years and learned to love trees. This brings me to another concern you briefly mentioned about scorched branch tips.

    Are you familiar with fireblight? Are you sure that the tip "scorch" is not that? I saw this often. It starts at the tips of twigs and works it's way down. It looks as though the tips/branches are burned. If you get this, it is a very serious problem for fruit bearing trees & shrubs, and if not dealt with promptly can kill the tree. It spreads by air/wind, birds, & by touching infected parts then healthy ones with hands & tools.

    Drought will do similar, but it is still different in presentation.