With students staying at home the rest of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and spring weather in full effect, the Montana Department of Agriculture has a new program to keep kids entertained and educated.
Starting Friday and continuing every week during May, the Montana Department of Agriculture is encouraging families to join its "Get Out And Grow" campaign. The department will provide free online resources to help anyone start their own garden at home. The campaign, which is a collaboration with the Montana Agricultural Business Association, the East Helena High School FFA chapter, and Montana State University Extension, will help with everything from garden planning and seed selection to watering techniques and soil health.
You have to buy your own materials, but everything you’ll need can be found at garden centers like the Flower Farm on the west side of Great Falls. Owner Debbie Petrini said gardening is beneficial in numerous ways.
“The benefit of your own garden is of course growing your own produce. So you have control over how it's grown and how it's taken care of,” Petrini said. “And it's just a good family activity, the kids to plant the seeds and they can watch the seedlings grow and then you can harvest the fruit, like the tomatoes or the peppers. So it's good for all ages, and it is a good outdoor activity.”
This first week of May, the online resources are just about getting started, like planting seeds indoors. “You can start them indoors because you have a head start on the weather,” Petrini said. “So you need a seed starter and the seeds and warm temperatures and some grow lights possibly to get them started.”
Over the next three weeks, the program will cover building your garden, transplanting outside, and having a successful growing season. And if you don’t have much space to start a garden, there’s still plenty of options.
“There are tomato plants that don't take up a lot of room. They're more of a compact bush type tomato plant or cucumber plants like that. They don't take up a lot of room,” Petrini said. “If you don't really have a garden spot is you can grow tomatoes or peppers in a container. You have like little patio or something, you could do it that way too and still reap the rewards of having the garden and the fresh produce.”
And despite opening a week late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flower Farm expects to be very busy this planting season, so make sure you’ve got your supplies.
To find out more about the Get Out and Grow campaign, visit the Montana Department of Agriculture website .