By Kay Braddock
With sub-zero temperatures and snow-covered gardens, January is not your typical Eastern Montana harvest season. But local greenhouse aficionado Clinton Mittlieder may just be in the process of altering that defined notion.
“I just wanted to see if I could raise tomatoes in the winter time,” Mittlieder said during a recent tour of his 14-by 22-foot greenhouse.
Mittlieder, who has had a passion for plants since his childhood, has raised greenhouse plants for about nine years. This is his first attempt at producing vegetables from root plants during the off-season.
“I’m just amazed how fast they grow,” he said.
He planted 22 Blitz tomato plants, a variety especially designed for greenhouses, the first part of September. They began producing about 3 weeks ago.
Although smaller than his typical garden grown tomatoes – ripening on average between a-half to three-quarters of a pound – Mittlieder estimated that he has already harvested about 50 pounds.
“We’re eating most of them,” he said of he and his wife Phyllis, noting about 20 pounds have been sold.
Several friends and neighbors have stopped by to see the wintertime novelty. With the six-foot plants growing up in the middle, a forest like atmosphere has been created in the propane-heated greenhouse. The stalks of the plants are clipped to a string, which is connected to the ceiling of the greenhouse, allowing the plants to grow up and remain healthy.
“I’ve been learning a lot with these. It’s been a fun experiment,” he said, as he shared a few of the tips he’s learned.
Next year he plans to start planting in August, to allow the plants more sunlight exposure. He may also try his hand at hydroponics – where plants are cultivated in water only, with no soil used.
With the thermostat set at 65 degrees, Mittlieder noted the simple satisfaction he finds from working in his greenhouse in a t-shirt in the middle of the winter.
“It’s a hobby and I enjoy doing it,” he said. “You go from snow on the ground to green plants.”