Bill Clanton: In the Garden

by Catherine Haug

Bill Clanton, a Kalispell gardener, shared some of his expertise with the DIL for their May 2, 2009 issue.  I include the highlights from these articles and also one from the Washington Post on Floating Row Covers, in the same issue.

Local gardening mentor:  Bill Clanton

Bill and his wife Susan operate Country Fresh Farm near Kalispell, where they raise fruits and vegetables to sell at Farmer’s Markets.  But Bill also shares his knowledge with gardeners of all ages, by giving seminars in the fall, and by employing and mentoring grade-school kids as they work in his garden during the summer. (1) Here are Bill’s tips:

For deer

“Throw a handful of habanera peppers in the blender with about a quart of water.  After blending, let the m ix stand for a couple of hours, then add a spoonful of liquid dish soap and strain the mixture into a gallon of water.”

“Next, spray the plants you want the deer to leave alone.” One bite and they know your plants are off-limits; and they share this knowledge with the rest of the herd. (2)

“To protect a large area where I grow buttercup squash, I use abaited electric fence. After planting my crop, I surround the area with 4-feet step-in plastic fence posts about 20-feet apart.”

“Then I string poly wire around all the posts about 3 feet high.  Bait the fence with deer pops ( or you can use aluminum foil strips spread with peanut butter.”

“Next, attach an electric fence charger.  One of the deer will touch the bait and get a shock and avoid the entire area.  It is important to keep the fence baited and active all season.  In the fall, remove the fence and store until next season.” (2)

For insects

“Use a handful of habanera peppers, one onion, and several cloves of garlic.  Blend together in about a quart of water.  Let stand 2 days and strain into a gallon sprayer of water.”

Spray on desired plants. “The bugs will go to the neighbor’s garden.” (2)

Floating row cover, a “gossamer-thin fabric made of on-woven strands of polypropylene,” is so thin it allows about 85% of sunlight to pass through, but serves as an effective barrier to insects. It is extremely light, and needs to be firmly anchored to the ground with metal pins (landscape staples). It is picked up by even a slight breeze, so it often appears to float above vegetation. (3)

Check local garden centers for row covers and landscape staples, or purchase from catalogues:  Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Gardener’s Supply Co., and Burpee. (3)

See also Natural Pest Control for more information on pest control, taken from an article in the same issue of the DIL. (4)

Soil pH

Bill’s soil is alkaline, about 7+ pH, and his water is 8+ pH.  However, garden veggies like to have it slightly acidic to grow well, between 6 and 6.5 pH. “You can have all the nutrients in the soil a plant could want, but if your pH is too high, the plant can’t access them.”  Add [Organic] sulfur to the soil, to bring the pH down to the desired level.

Best time to adjust the pH is in the fall, but early spring will still help.  And for “quick additional help, add Epson salts (magnesium sulfate).  The magnesium is very helpful for plants and is lacking in our soil.” (2)

Other soil amendments

Composted manures and alfalfa meal are good soil amendments, and alfalfa tea can be used to water roses, for example.  It’s important to use composted manure.  If you get fresh manure from a farmer, add it to your compost pile and allow to compost for use next year.

Bill also uses Triple-16 fertilizer which he mixes with the sulfur to spread both at the same time. [Note:  Triple-16 is not an organic fertilizer.] (2)

Plant by ground temperature

“As soon as the soil is warm enough to germinate seeds, I plant.”

  • Cool-weather vegetables such as beets, carrot, potatoes, lettuce, peas and spinach can germinate at 45-plus degrees.
  • Corn germinates at 50-plus;
  • Squash at 60-plus degrees.

Bill suggests using a Reemay frost blanket over the plants as soon as they peek out of the ground.  


He also “places sprinklers in some areas to come on in early morning, just before sunrise.”  The majority of his watering, however, is by soaker hoses.  Compared with sprinklers, soakers only use 30% of the water, and do not water everywhere to encourage weeds. 

Note that “watering will increase soil pH [if your water is alkaline], so supplemental fertilizing is needed during the growing season.  Watch the plants for signs of yellowing, and add additional [non-organic] Triple-16 fertilizer.” (2)


“If you see weeds in your garden, you’ve waited too long to weed.

  • The best way to weed is by just scratching the surface every 7 days for 4 weeks.  This will minimize your weed problem.
  • The secret is do not go very deep with the hoe, as this will bring new weed seeds closer to the surface for germination.
  • Another aid is to use corn gluten after your plants are up.  This product forms a barrier that keeps weeds from germinating.” (2)

Source Articles:

  1. “Avid Kalispell gardener shares expertise,” by Lynnette Hintze, features an interview with master gardener Bill Clanton (DIL 5/2/09);
  2. “In the Garden” by Bill Clanton (DIL 5/2/09);
  3. “Floating row cover can protect plants against insects and frost,” from The Washington Post; and
  4. “Giving pests a gentle push out of the family garden, by Joel M. Lerner, special to Washington Post.

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