Saturday, June 21, 2014

Montana Roots aquaponics

It's a lush greenhouse, but there isn't much dirt to be seen anywhere, except what you track in from outside.

Welcome to Montana Roots, an aquaponic paradise in Livingston.

From the outside, it looks like just another greenhouse. But inside (as shown in photo above) there is something -- or, rather a series of somethings -- happening to create a green wonderland.

Sam and Amory are gardeners who are experimenting with a self-supporting biosystem.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, but using any kind of nutrient in the water. Aquaponics uses fish waste within the system to provide nutrients.

In Sam and Amory's aquaponics system, the first step, still in its initial stages, is raising grubs to feed the fish.

The larvae of black soldier flies will fuel the second step, the fish. Right now there are 300 bluegill and a handful of "outcasts," as Sam calls them. Currently, the fish eat purchased fish food.

The water carrying the processed fish waste goes through rocks, then through a more solid formation where worms do their, er, dirty work. In the top photo above, you can see the plants in this biological filter overflowing on a shelf above the rest of the greenhouse.

Every step along the way is verdant.

Finally, the water reaches the main greenhouse level, where a variety of plants can be grown. Their roots reach down into the water where pumps make sure there is plenty of oxygen to feed the hungry plants.

Right now there are mostly lettuces, herbs, and bok choy. In winter, brassicas such as broccoli, mustard greens, and kale grow well. No root vegetables, of course, since they do need soil to form.

What happens in subzero Montana winters?

Sam explained that the water keeps the temperature inside the greenhouse warm enough that no heaters are necessary. Sometimes the edges of the leaves of the plants nearest the outside walls freeze, but as the day warms up, they revive.

Sam and Amory share their bounty at the Livingston farmers market.

They also share their knowledge with Livingston middle school students, who apply on a first-come, first-served basis, in the Root Down program. Beginning with a week in the greenhouse in June, 15 students learn about gardening, farming, ecosystems, and life in general as they enjoy monthly camping trips and get-togethers throughout the year. Sam said the students also help deliver produce to local restaurants and the Livingston hospital, proudly announcing they grew it themselves.

Sam said he is excited about another project. With newly obtained grant money, he will be overseeing construction of a greenhouse at the middle school so more students can learn about growing their own food and enjoy eating it in the cafeteria.

If you want to learn more about any of these projects, contact Montana Roots via their website (currently under construction) or Facebook page.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Baked goods galore at BT farmers market

Under cloudy skies and sheltering from the wind, four vendors offered smiles, baked goods, and award-winning jelly on the opening day of the Big Timber Farmers Market.

"We'll have more vendors as the season gets going," promised market manager Shona Wieting.

When the Hutterites start bringing vegetables, beginning next week if the weather is better, more customers will appear as well.

Meanwhile, today there were plenty of freshly baked pies, cinnamon twists, rolls, loaves of bread, doughnuts, lemon bars, and brownies to choose from. I bought a few things to bring home for myself.

You gotta love these ladies who get up at 4:30 a.m. to bring the lucky citizens of Big Timber warm goodies fresh from their ovens.

Be sure to visit them sometime this season. But get there early. On a pleasant summer day, those cinnamon rolls sell out quickly.

Big Timber Farmers Market
West 1st Ave & Hart Street, across from American Bank
June 14 - September 27 (depending on weather)
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hello summer: it's market season in Livingston

Welcome to the Livingston Farmers Market!

Above you see Mari with her ever-present warm joy inviting you to taste her new guacamole and salsa. I've written about her fabulous bean dip. Don't miss out on any Mari's Montana Kitchen offering.

Elsewhere in the market there were plenty of delightful things to look at, sample, and buy.

Plant starts for the garden were a popular offering.

If you want to grow your own produce in Montana, you might want to invest in a greenhouse.

Soft spring greens beckoned to those who don't want to wait for fall harvest.

I was intrigued by the Montana Roots group that, among other activities, teaches Bozeman students how to garden without dirt. Today they were selling their hydroponic lettuce -- so clean and tender!

Elsewhere, I saw honey (from hives on the outskirts of Bozeman), jelly (made from fruit grown in the vendor's garden), and bread (from Crust and Crumb Bakery).

Some pretty pottery caught my eye as it glistened in the late afternoon sun.

You get mighty hungry wandering through any farmers market. Today I stopped at the Tumbleweeds gourmet-on-the-go food wagon to buy a Thai burrito. Believe me, it's delicious! Look for Tumbleweeds at major food events around the Bozeman area.

My circuit ended at Mari's table, where I picked up my guacamole and salsa to take home, and also bought a copy of Cliff Murray's new book, Zombie Apocalypse NOW. I'd like to say I can't put it down, but as I read it, I have to keep getting up to make sure the windows and doors are tightly latched. Contact Mari to buy a copy to add to your zombie apocalypse collection.

As you can see, there's something for everyone at the Livingston Farmers Market this year. Have fun!

Sacajawea Park bandshell
June 4 - September 24
Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm (music 6:30 pm - 9 pm)