It’s mid-August, and that means it’s harvest time in Montana.
For the many Montana grain growers, that means farmers are driving combines through their fields and harvesting the golden bounty of ripe wheat, barley, and other grains that will end up as loaves of bread, barrels of beer, livestock feed, and all the other ways that our grain crops end up helping to feed the world.
This is also when home gardeners reap the bounty of produce from our gardens. This is when things such as green beans, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes are ripening and livening up our tables. As these things work, our gardens in the alpine climate of Butte are likely well behind other areas, even if we’re not that far away from our nearest neighbor to the east, Whitehall, where farmers grow sweet corn and watermelons and bring the bounty to our local farmers market.
Interestingly, according to one website, weatherbase.com, Butte’s climate according to the Köppen classification, is described as “Tropical and Subtropical Steppe Climate.” The Köppen climate classification system was first published by the German-Russian climatologist, Wladimir Köppen (1846-1940), in 1884, with later modifications in 1918 and 1936, when he was 90 years old. A later climatologist, Rudolf Geiger, introduced some changes to the system, so it’s sometimes called the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system.
I’m afraid I have some difficulty getting my mind around a system that classes our cold, dry climate as tropical or sub-tropical, but that’s science.
Back to the harvest, this is also the time for harvesting fruit. Our renowned Flathead cherries become ripe around the end of July. This is also harvest time for wild huckleberries, for those lucky people who beat black and grizzly bears to their berry patches. It’s harvest time for raspberry patches, and most chokecherries will become ripe before the end of August. Some apple varieties ripen in August.
An apple variety common in the Midwest is the Whitney Crabapple, and that was always one of my favorites growing up as a farm kid. I always associate Whitney crabs with grain harvest, as I’d pick a pocketful of apples every time I brought a load of grain back to the farm granary. My mouth waters at the fond memories of those sweet apples.
For those of us who are anxious for a new hunting season to harvest the bounty of wildlife abundance, this year’s Block Management Program hunting access guides will be available beginning August 10. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will be mailing guides to people who ordered them in advance on August 10.
Also, on August 10, FWP will be publishing the annual Upland Game bird Enhancement Program Projects Access Guide. The guide will be available online by August 10, and printed copies will be available at FWP offices statewide by August 17.
One final note on the harvest theme. Last week, the president signed the Great America Outdoors Act into law, the culmination of years of efforts to get permanent funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund, along with funding for National Parks, and heralded as the most significant land conservation legislation in a generation.
While Sen. Jon Tester has sponsored the legislation for years, the recently deceased civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) introduced this particular bill in March 2019. While the bill had bi-partisan support, the bill’s sponsorship by Montana’s Sen. Steve Daines and Cory Gardner of Colorado, both Republicans in tight re-election campaigns, might have been the final piece of the puzzle to get it signed by the president.
All in all, these last couple weeks of August are a time of transition, as we harvest the bounty of farmlands, gardens, wild fruit and legislation. It’s still high summer, but our days keep getting shorter. Today, in Butte, we have less than 14 hours and 14 minutes of daylight, an hour and a half less than at the summer solstice.
But September is just around the corner and that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities