Growing up in Ohio, freelance writer Amy Grisak thought the growing season was far too short. In retrospect, after more than 20 years of living in Montana, she looks at it as a veritable growing paradise. (Obviously, the nightmare of dealing with the Japanese beetles has faded from memory.) No matter where she lives, Amy learns something new about gardening, and she loves to share her successes as well as her epic failures with her readers.
A glutton for punishment, Amy owned and built Shady Side Herb Farm outside Glacier National Park where she created 220 raised beds out of stone because the soil was glacial till. Year by year, she added beds and grew thousands of herbs and flowers. She also learned how to deal with several feet of snow that held on late in the spring, elk browsing the garden and grizzlies licking the grill on her porch.
After reaching a certain level of gardening comfort on the west side of the mountains, she and her husband, Grant, moved to the prairie town of Great Falls on the sunny and breezy side. Now she’s adapting again to grow a monumental amount of vegetables, fruits and herbs despite gumbo soil, awful water and fierce winds. It’s a brand-new chapter in her gardening education. Amy’s the season-extending queen, planting things as early as possible in the spring and prolonging the garden well into the snowy months. Grafting tomatoes to encourage early and prolific production is one of her new experiments. She’s looking for almost anything to squeeze more time or a bigger harvest out of the garden.
Although they live on barely an acre, Amy and her husband, along with their two sons, cat, dog and horse, aim to feed themselves very well. Besides the gardens, they keep bees, have a small group of busy hens and are planting an orchard with hardy northern varieties that will survive the harsh Montana weather. Their freezer and pantry are filled with homegrown fruits and veggies, as well as venison and plenty of perch and pike. As she always says, “There’s nothing like looking at your plate of food, and realizing everything came from the land.”
When Amy moved to Great Falls she joined a group of like-minded folks called River City Harvest to start community gardens in the area. Starting with one 8000-square-foot garden, they now manage five gardens throughout the town. Amy teaches classes through the community gardens, as well as in various lecture and hands-on forums to encourage other gardeners to grow what they need despite challenging conditions.
Amy shares her experiences as a contributor to Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, Urban Farm, UrbanFarmOnline.com, HobbyFarms.com and several titles of the Popular Kitchen series. You can follow her adventures on www.thebackyardbounty.com.
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