“Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God.”
Wyatt Michaels would be the first to admit that planting a garden, weeding a garden and harvesting a garden, can indeed, be a labor of love. But the labor he puts in is so worth it when it is harvest time and he is collecting fruits and vegetables by the basketful. Wyatt will be a sophomore at Cut Bank High School this fall and is the son of Raymond and Heather Michaels.
This is year number five for Wyatt’s garden, a garden that started out as a five-foot by 10-foot space and was mostly potatoes and radishes. Now the garden space has grown to be approximately 50 feet in length and 20 feet wide and contains over 20 different vegetable and fruit plants.
“I started pretty small and had mostly potatoes, with some radishes and carrots and that was it. Now, the space is big, really big and still has potatoes, radishes and carrots, but it also has lettuce, squash, zucchini, kohlrabi, beets, Swiss chard, onions, corn, peppers, cucumbers, chives, tomatoes, pumpkins, cantaloupe, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb,” said Wyatt.
Most of the veggies in the garden are started from seed, however, there are a few veggies that are from plants he purchased from Dee’s Bloomers.
“I get some of my vegetables from Dee and usually end up taking all of her leftovers and using them in my garden,” Wyatt said.
He starts prepping the garden early, usually late March or early April, depending on the weather. He rototills the big space, both in the fall and the spring, tilling in the fertilizer, which comes right from their own ranch and has been sitting for a couple years.
“You can’t use the fertilizer until it has sat for a year or more. It will burn the plants, if you use it right away,” Wyatt said.
Along with rototilling in the fall, Wyatt also preps the potato space with straw, getting ready for where he will plant the potatoes. He covers his strawberries too with straw, providing them extra insulation for the long, cold winter.
In the spring, even early in the spring, Wyatt plants his potatoes very close to the surface and puts the straw he had over that space all winter, on the top of the planted potatoes.
“That works so well because the plant grows through the straw and when the potatoes are ready to harvest, all you have to do is just peel back the straw and there are the potatoes. You don’t have to dig at all,” he said. “Not only does the straw work well to protect the potatoes, but it keeps the moisture in on them all summer long.”
Most of Wyatt’s wonderful garden tips have been learned from two of Wyatt’s favorite gardeners, his Grandpa Mark Baune and Great Grandma Cora Michaels or from what he has picked up from surfing the Internet.
“My Grandpa Mark lives in Great Falls and has a big garden in his backyard. He is the one that got me into gardening about five years ago. And my Great Grandma Cora had a fairly big garden space on their ranch too,” Wyatt said. “I used to help my Grandpa and five years ago, I asked him for some seeds and he gave me some. That is how I got started. Now, I think my garden space is bigger than his.”
As of right now, Wyatt said most everything he has planted is up and growing. And luckily, the recent hailstorm that did a number on flowers and gardens in the town of Cut Bank, didn’t do much damage at the Michaels’ house.
“The little bit of damage my garden suffered from that last hailstorm wasn’t bad at all. Everything has bounced back and looks great,” Wyatt said. “Last year, we had two hailstorms within a week of each other and it looked really bad at first and then everything came back and even looked better than it did before the storm.”
While the planting and the harvesting are two of Wyatt’s favorite garden activities, his least favorite is the weeding. “It has to be done, but I do not like doing it at all,” he confessed. “It all has to be weeded by hand because I plant stuff probably a little closer together than I should, so I can’t rototill the weeds out.”
His mom, Heather, usually lends a hand, literally, when it comes to weeding and Wyatt is very happy when she steps into the garden and starts getting rid of those nasty weeds.
Wyatt is not a “lover” of all the veggies he plants, including the kohlrabi. “I plant a lot of the veggies for Mom and Dad and other family, because I don’t like all of them.”
Wyatt’s green thumb is not just limited to fruits and veggies, he also plants flowers around the Michaels’ yard too. Most of those are in raised cinderblock beds or barrels.
“The cinderblocks are cool as I put flowers in every hole,” he said. “I buy those flowers from Dee’s Bloomers too.”
The garden and flowers take a lot of work and a lot of water. “I usually water at night and sometimes use a sprinkler and other times I water by hand. If I water by hand, I use the water I have left in the lick barrels. My Grandma always told me the plants prefer warmer water versus the cold stuff that comes out of the hose.”
When Wyatt is not in his garden or tending his flowers during the summer, he can be found working evenings with Rod Cline, mowing lawns. He even has six lawns of his own he is responsible for taking care of.
Wyatt also helps out on the family ranch, located 12 miles north of Cut Bank, tending the cattle, 20 of which are his own.
“I like being outside,” he smiled, adding, “and I like knowing how to grow my food.”