Debbie Rogers stays busy with all her outdoor pursuits. Her two dogs go on long hikes with her, tag along when she goes horseback riding, or when she rides around on her ATV. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

Faith and gardening

Planting the seeds of beauty and sustenance

Debbie Rogers delights in the natural world. Everyday she is out in it – horseback riding, hiking, and then digging around in the dirt of her organic garden. The chickens cluck and the rooster struts, all pecking at the dirt, ridding the garden of invaders. Raspberry bushes provide sustenance and shade on hot days. Her two dogs push themselves deep into tall grasses, also finding relief when the sun is directly overhead.

Over the years, she has learned ways to capitalize on the short growing season, but the seeds planted for this love of hers were planted by her grandmother in Canada. As a little girl, she would follow her grandmother around and help plant and weed, harvest and preserve. The food they grew helped get her grandparents through winter. Her love for Montana was also found in those formative years, thanks to family. She is a third-generation Montanan and her grandfather was the sheriff of Madison County. Life took her to Las Vegas for 34 years, but 24 years ago she found her way back to the treasures Montana offers – to the life sustaining dirt and the soul-sustaining vistas.

Beets, squash, cabbage, potatoes, nearly everything a person could want are grown in her garden. She goes and picks dinner for her and her husband every night. A nice salad mix. Reward for all the hot days nurturing the plants.

Her friend Allyson Adams calls her garden the Montana Findhorn, after the famous garden in Scotland, where the gardeners talk to the plants and the plants respond by becoming massive.

“You have to fool Mother Nature,” Rogers said.

“Walls of water” extend around her tomato and squash plants.

“You’ll notice that there are these cylinders and you fill them with water. What that does is it heats up during the day and keeps them warm at night. At night, Montana evenings are cool. So, you want to keep your plants warm so they can get bigger and produce,” she said.

She puts row covers over nearly everything. “It kind of acts like a mini greenhouse. It keeps the pests out and my chickens out, too,” she said. “It provides shade and warmth and keeps the moisture in.”

Her husband helped her create domes over the plants out of construction materials. She places her row covers over the domes, so that the row covers are not inhibiting plant growth. This also provides protection from things like hail.

The chicken coop is strategically placed beside the garden and allows for a micro ecosystem. The friendly and inquisitive chickens dig in the dirt with her.

In Spring, she places boards over her seedlings to provide moisture so the seeds can germinate.

Her advice is to start cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and herbs from seedlings.

“They seem to grow better, they’re faster producing. It’s all about the production because we have such a short growing season. You want to help it along as best you can,” she said.

Tomato plants are started in March and squash is started in May. Her potatoes are planted in planting bags. Then, when she harvests all she has to do is pull the plant, dump the dirt out and sift through it.

The dirt itself is special. She tests it and makes it fertile with compost and waste from the nearby chickens and the horses.

With Tibetan prayer flags extending around her garden, the garden itself seems a spiritual space. The flags represent more to her than decoration. She has been to Tibet.

“I love what they symbolize – where your prayers are taken in the wind and they are taken to the universe and hopefully they’re answered,” she said, describing them as colorful, energizing and uplifting.

She said she is not Buddhist, but really finds the faith beautiful.

“God is too big to fit into one religion, that’s my belief,” she said. “I love what Mother Nature provides for all of us – we just have to pay attention.”

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