APRIL NOTES

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APRIL GARDENING CALENDAR GENERAL

This winter was a “longie” with lots of snow, a situation which voles love!   In our market garden we discovered damage from voles on Campanula medium (Canterbury bells)—just the ones stored in pots in sawdust, but not those in the ground.  Also some potted Primulas, strawberries, and Echinaceas were completely eaten.  It was the same case with these last few; plants in the ground were unharmed, those in pots in sawdust were eaten.  It may be because plants all stored together serve a sort of “banquet” for voles, while those in the ground, mixed in with other plants are harder for the little critters to find.  I am experimenting with inter-planting Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperials) with plants that tend to be vole favorites, to see if they will help deter them.  Fritillarias are very odorous, and rodents do not eat them. 

April tasks:

Finish pruning and grafting of fruit trees if not already done.  Plant grapes and other fruiting perennials, shrubs and vines; fertilize and prune raspberries and blackberries.  Start many flowers inside for transplanting out and direct sow the last hardy annuals.  Direct sow many vegetables late in the month and into May.  April is characterized by ups and downs in temperature—watch for frosts!  Protect frames at night and admit air daily.  Place row covers on newly transplanted, slightly tender plants. 

VEGETABLES

If not done already, sow indoors, for transplanting out early in the month: basil, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, head lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, Asian cabbage, leeks, greens.  After the 15th, sow watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers into peat pots for easy transplanting. 

Direct sow these outdoors once weather permits and soil temperatures are above 45 degrees:  beets, arugula, carrots, caraway, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, thyme, oregano, sorrel, collards, mache, fava beans, cress, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, rhubarb, turnip greens, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, salsify, scallions, spinach, Swiss chard.  Sow corn (after the 20th). 

Harden-off vegetables in frames, or by exposing them outdoors a few hours at a time.  Transplant the following hardy vegetables outside around the middle of the month (they can take some light frost): asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, endive, leeks, lettuce, onion sets and plants, Asian greens, parsley.  

FLOWERS

Sow indoors April 1 for transplanting out: Chinese asters (Callistephus), Cerinthe, Celosia, Craspedia, Calendulas, annual Centaurea, Cleome, Cosmos, Cynoglossum, Eragrostis, Panicum, Pennisetum, and annual grasses.  Late in the month: sow zinnias indoors. 

Direct sow outdoors all month: annual alyssum Lobularia maritima), Bupleurum, carnations, pinks, sweet Williams, Cynoglossum, stocks, rose campion, wall flowers, Lychnis, lupines, lavateras, columbines, valerian, polyanthus, auriculas, Canterbury bells, hollyhocks, honeysuckles, rockets, honesty, fox gloves, snapdragons, sweet peas, poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, nigella, Lavatera, poppies, valerian, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate, dill, morning glory, sweet peas and wildflowers.   

Weed and clean borders.  Divide perennials early in the month: carnations, Bellis, Achilleas, Asters, mums, Campanulas, Centranthus, Coreopsis, Dicentra, Dodecatheon, Echinops, Euphorbias, Gauras, Gaillardias, Gentians, Helianthus, hellebores, daylilies, Heucheras, Hostas, Lobelias, Papavers, Oenotheras, Phlomis, Monarda, Liatris, and Marrubiums

Start dahlia tubers this month and make cuttings if possible. 

Shade auricula primroses from intensifying spring sun.   This is when auriculas need the most water, but remember— never waterlog the compost.  The month of April is their peak bloom period and hybridizing can take place now.  Shows are held this time of year. 

FRUIT

By April 15, finish pruning /grafting/planting fruit trees; spray Bordeaux mix on fruit trees suffering from fire blight; check fruit trees for pests.  Spray superior oil on dormant trees (before leaf out).  Lime-sulfur will control anthracnose or blight on raspberries if applied when the buds first show silver, or on currants and gooseberries at bud break.  Wait three weeks if you decide to spray lime-sulfur (use caution) as a fungicide on roses, lilacs, dormant shrubs, fruit trees, evergreens. 

Weed fruit trees, strawberries, cane fruits.  Set out apple pest traps two weeks before bud break.

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Lay out lawns by either direct-seeding or purchase turf and roll it out.  If the weather gets windy and dry, water your new lawn frequently. 

Finish transplanting roses and other shrubs (the earlier the better).  Prune established roses after severe frosts.  Cut out all dead and crossed wood, and seal the cuts with water-based glue to prevent the drilling wasps from destroying canes.   Dress rose plants with Epsom salts, wood ashes, compost, manure, alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, bunt earth, spent hops, etc. , but keep fertilizers 2 inches away from the canes at the base of the plant.  

 

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ORGANIC GARDENING NOTES FOR SPRING

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GREAT WESTERN, HYBRID BOURBON

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DOUBLE WHITE, PIMPINELLIFOLIA (SPINOSSISSIMA)

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LAURE, CENTIFOLIA

 

ORGANIC GARDENING NOTES FOR EARLY SPRING

The ground is thawed in the valley and soon the foothills will be snow free.  As soon as the earth dries out and wet turns to moist, you can work up the soil.  Dry organic amendments can then be forked into your beds.  Organic blood meal (13-0-0) is an excellent source of nitrogen and is quickly taken up by plants.  Alfalfa meal (3-1-3) will enrich soil with a moderate amount of nitrogen, small amount of phosphorous, and a moderate amount of potash.  Ground fish bone meal (5-16-0) also contains moderate amounts of nitrogen, but is a terrific source of phosphorous.  

Well-rotted manure (usually about 3-1-1) will add a good amount of nitrogen and smaller amounts of phosphorous and potash, but adds lots of beneficial, moisture-holding organic matter.  Be careful in sourcing manure as it may contain high levels of salt (especially if sourced from feed lots).  It is safest to use one year old, well-rotted manure on food crops.  Too fresh of manure will burn crops and can contain pathogens.  In our USDA Certified Organic market garden we are only allowed to use manure from grazed land that is at least one year old; and it must be applied at least 120 days before crops are planted.   Another option is to use manure that has gone through a heat of at least 160 degrees F. for 3 weeks; this kills harmful pathogens.  Compost may be spread on a USDA Certified Organic farm or garden but it must be made only from vegetable matter—no meats, dairy products or eggs, etc.  

If you are starting a new garden bed, spread cardboard, rotted moist straw, or tarps to kill grass out.  Newspapers will dry up and blow away unless anchored by rocks or chunks of turf.  You can till right into the turf to prepare your spot, but weeds will be present and you will have to keep after them.  Try to till only once, pull weeds out, add amendments and mulch the soil until ready to plant.  Too frequent tilling destroys the structure of the soil and causes it to release carbon.

Remember that healthy organic soils are alive with microbes and fungi that help plants pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.  By gardening organically you are helping the earth to gather and store carbon dioxide.  This is exactly the opposite environmental effect of conventional gardening, which uses chemical fertilizers and often features bare soil.  Chemical fertilizers require large amounts of carbon to make and bare soil causes soil organisms to die; with the result that soils lose carbon rather than pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it. 

Forest, grassland and hedgerow soils pull the most carbon from the atmosphere of any land ecosystems.  In your garden, you can help this process by setting aside areas for wildflowers and grasses, shrubs, shrub borders and shelter belts or groups of trees with wildflowers and/or groundcovers underneath.  You will be providing habitat for endangered native bees, butterflies, birds and reptiles as well as building carbon storage. 

Now is the time to start your peppers, onions, leeks, tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants from seed to set out in May.  Wait until late April/early May to start squash, pumpkins, watermelons, canteloupes, etc.   If you plan to set out cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli or other cole crops in mid-to late April, start them from seed inside now also.   A soil free organic seedling mix can be made from: 3 parts peat, 2 parts vermiculite, and 1 part perlite.  Heat mats placed under flats will aid germination of crops that like warm temperatures, such as peppers and tomatoes.   An east facing window is satisfactory, or fluorescent lights hung a few (8 to 10 inches) inches above the flats. 

Soon containerized fruit trees, shrubs, roses, bulbs, perennials, plus annual flowers and vegetables will be available in your local organic garden shops.  This year, I have grown several varieties of Certified Organic shrub roses on their own roots, found on old homesteads here in the Mission Valley:

‘Great Western’, a Hybrid Bourbon shrub rose is a long-time favorite in our area.  This rose was introduced in 1838, named after one of the first transatlantic steam ships.  It blooms for about three weeks in late spring/early summer. The plant is tall and wide, about 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide.   The flowers are fully double; a blend of rich reds and purples, with wonderful fragrance.  My grandmother grew this rose and there are plants at the museum in Ronan.  ‘Great Western’ is a hardy, easy to grow shrub rose.  The plant spreads slowly. 

‘Laure’, a Centifolia rose from 1837, was found in Ronan, at an old home built in 1913.  It is a rather short plant, with fully double, fragrant, powder pink blooms.  It is also a once bloomer, with a flowering period lasting about 3 weeks in late spring/early summer.  The plant spreads once established, but this is an advantage if your garden has an abundance of voles.  When a young plant is put in, a vole cage could be placed around the roots, but the plant will eventually spread outward and in later years a plant with an abundance of root stems will survive vole trails.  

‘Double White Scotch Rose’ introduced in 1808, is another locally found variety.  It has pure white, double, fragrant flowers in late spring.  It is of the same rose family as ‘Harison’s yellow’ the popular, thorny, hardy yellow shrub rose.  ‘Double white is equally hardy and trouble free, and spreads on its own roots to form a beautiful large group of plants.  I have seen established plants about 7 feet tall and spreading to about 8 or 10 feet wide.

Have a great spring!

 

GROWING ORGANIC KOHLRABI

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GROWING ORGANIC KOHLRABI

Kohlrabi is a delicious vegetable that is easy to grow in the intermountain climate, yet it is  relatively unknown.  It is a form of cabbage, in the mustard family, the Brassicaceae.   It is botanically classified as Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes.   Kohlrabi is more well-known in Europe and Asia than in the U.S. and well deserves better recognition and use here.  This vegetable takes less space than other cabbage family member, is easy to grow and it is more tolerant of heat.   Insect infestations do not directly affect the most desirable part of the plant, the swollen stem.  Yes, the sweetest, juiciest part of the plant is its stem, which swells with moisture and goodness as the plant grows.  The leaves are edible also, and can be used like cabbage, but the spherical stem can be peeled and cut into cubes; or shredded; or sliced to eat fresh alone or in salads.   The stem is also good cooked and can be used in casseroles and soups. 

Several varieties of kohlrabi are available today, several of them open-pollinated heirloom types.  ‘Early White Vienna’ (55 days) has been grown since the 1850s and is probably the most popular one in gardens.  Early Purple Vienna’ (60 days) from before 1860, is a purple variant of the white.  Both types are remarkably heat and cold hardy for Brassicas.  ‘Superschmeltz’ (65 days) is a giant kind of kohlrabi with stems weighing up to 10 pounds.  This last variety can be left in the garden longer than the other two as it does not tend to become “woody”.  Consistent watering will improve the sweetness and tenderness of this vegetable.  Mulching kohlrabi with 3 or 4 inches of rotted straw will preserve moisture in the soil and will enable you to have great results with less watering, while keeping soil microbes alive.   It is noteworthy that mulched soils are living soils, with abundant soil fungi and microbes that can capture carbon out of the atmosphere.   Keep in mind that bare, un-mulched soils dry and erode, and actually release carbon rather than capture it. 

Organic production of kohlrabi is not difficult.  If you end up with an abundance of cabbage loopers and aphids, the swollen stem will be peeled and so is less affected visually by insects.  However, production will be much higher if you place row covers with breathable insect fabric over your crop and mulch heavily.   Your other Brassicas will benefit from this technique also—there will be no holes in cabbage leaves or worms in the cauliflower and broccoli.   BT, or Thuricide  (Bacillus thuringensis) can be used, but it is better for the environment to simply cover all crops rather than spray.  Insects develop resistance to BT over a few generations, so it should  be reserved for use in special circumstances.  

In Western Montana, we direct sow kohlrabi out April 21-May 1 depending on weather, for harvest in July-early August.   Plants can be started inside about March 1 to be set out around April 15, and harvest would begin in late June.  A second crop (in the same space in the garden) could be direct-seeded around July 15-Aug. 1 following the first crop’s harvests.  Some gardeners plant a new row of kohlrabi every three weeks all season long.  It is ok to plant in the same space within one season, but remember to rotate your crops year to year.  Do not plant the any members of the cabbage family in the same place they grew the previous year; in fact for the previous three years.  A four-year rotation of vegetable crops in your garden will feed your soil and reduce insect and disease infestations.

The germination temperature for kohlrabi is 40-100 degrees F. with 45-95 F. being ideal.  Germination time is usually 3-10 days.  In my experience the percentage of seeds of kohlrabi that sprout is usually low, so plant extra seed in pans or outside when seeding direct.   Water regularly, steadily, and evenly; keep moist, not wet.  Be sure to thin the plants if you direct seed, and mulch when they are about three inches high.  Pests include gophers, root maggots, aphids, cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, diamond back moths, and flea beetles.  Diseases that can appear are: clubroot, alternaria blight, blackleg, black rot, downy mildew, fusarium wilt and wirestem.  It has been shown that soils with a higher pH will reduce the chances of some diseases.  The best soil pH for Brassicas is 6.0-7.5.   Kohlrabi grows best in cool summers, but we still had a great crop last year, which was during the hottest summer any of us remember here in Western Montana. 

 

 

 

LOWER YOUR PERSONAL CARBON FOOTPRINT

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LOWER YOUR PERSONAL CARBON FOOTPRINT

Every day we see news reports or read about the devastating effects of climate change and frightening predictions of damage to our planet’s ecosystem.  Most scientists agree that the earth’s climate is warming due to massive carbon dioxide emissions.  Many of us feel powerless to affect changes, but each one of us, as individuals, can make choices to limit carbon dioxide emissions.  We can do this by our own, in our day to day lives.  I have put together a list of 10 things each of us can do to help limit increases in CO2 emissions and even help to capture emissions out of the atmosphere.

  1. Reduce your air travel. Airplanes produce a huge amount of carbon. Take the train, or a bus, or travel with others in an automobile.  One air flight from Los Angeles to New York adds about 25% to the yearly total of the average person’s carbon emission footprint.
  2. Purchase meat produced locally from animals that have been grass-fed on pastures. Try to determine that the land has not been overgrazed. Healthy, well-managed grasslands actually capture a huge amount of carbon dioxide through the growth of grasses, which pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, stalks and roots.   Locally purchased meat means it was not shipped over long distances using fossil fuels, so the total carbon emissions are much lower. 
  3. Inspect your home heating system and your home’s insulation. Replace old heating units with new, energy-efficient models. Block drafts, install storm windows or double-pane windows, and add more insulation if needed, especially in attics and floors.   Insulating curtains are helpful in winter to conserve heat. 
  4. Replace any older, inefficient appliances and maintain those you have. Replace older incandescent light bulbs with new LEDs (light-emitting-diodes). Consider adding solar or wind-powered technologies to assist or even replace your power source. 
  5. Maintain your automobile and farm equipment so that all machines run efficiently (thereby using less fuel). Make fewer, more efficient trips in your vehicle and try to car pool with others to save fuel. Having just one more person with you in the vehicle reduces your carbon footprint by half on that road trip.
  6. Use principles of conservation farming on your farm and in your garden. These techniques actually capture CO2 out of the atmosphere!   Forests, hedgerows and grasslands are huge carbon sinks, because growing plants pull carbon from the air and store the excess in their stems, leaves and roots.  Protect the carbon-holding ability of your soil by reducing tilling or not tilling at all.  Rotate crops every year, use organic fertilizers, such as composts and manures, taking care to not over-apply nitrogenous fertilizers that may be washed into water systems.  Do not leave soil to fallow (this causes degradation of soil animals which help plants capture carbon).  Use cover crops as these build soil and capture carbon.  Do not overwater as this smothers soil animals and washes CO2 out of your soil.  Do not overgraze pastures as this reduces carbon capture significantly. 
  7. Consume less by buying fewer, but better products that last longer. Making any one new product uses a lot of carbon. Avoid heavily packages foods and one-use (disposable) products.  Try to purchase products in biodegradable plastic containers and recycle whenever possible. 
  8. Buy locally-produced food. Much carbon is wasted shipping food thousands of miles from where it was grown. Avoid items that have been flown in by air as they have an enormous carbon footprint.  If you garden, try preserving your own food by canning, pickling and drying.   Dried foods are the most efficient and use the least carbon, especially if a solar food dryer is used.  Vegetables and fruit can be stored and kept in a root cellar with a passive ventilation system, which uses no power.
  9. As much as you possibly can, buy any and all products from companies that support committing to a low-carbon future. Because our businesses in our economy are so sensitive to demand, carefully choosing low-carbon footprint products may affect change more quickly than anything else.  
  10. Consider turning part of your lawn into a wildflower garden (make sure this uncut area is at least 12 feet away from the house for fire safety). This will gather more carbon than a regular, trimmed and cut lawn and will promote the growth and presence of native insect pollinators, and reptiles and birds. Plant hedgerows, trees and shelterbelts on your property using well-adapted and native species.  Hedgerows and forests gather the most carbon of any ecosystem on our planet.  Using organic gardening methods will protect and nurture your soil.  It has been estimated that if the entire world switched to organic farming and gardening practices, enough CO2 in the atmosphere would be collected to lower CO2 to preindustrial levels in only three years!

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ingram, Dr. Julie, Best Practices for Soil Organic Carbon Management in Agricultural Systems, Countryside & Community Research Institute, UK , 2017

Goode, Cecile M., et. al. Understanding the Impacts of Soil, Climate & Farming Practices on Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration, Australia, 2016

Muchmuller, Megan B., et. al., Emerging Land Use Practices Rapidly Increase Soil Organic Matter, USA, 2015

Zhang, Limimg, et. al, “Toward Optimal Soil Organic Sequestration With Effects of Agriculture Management Practices & Climate Change in Tai-Lake Paddy Soils of China,” In Geoderma, 2016

Smallwood, Mark, Regenerative Organic Agriculture & Climate Change, Rodale Institute, 2013

GROWING SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS ORGANICALLY

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ABOVE: A PICTURE OF ‘CAYENNE LONG SLIM’ HOT PEPPER

GROWING SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS ORGANICALLY

Peppers are one of the garden crops that must be started inside and transplanted out to the garden later, when weather has warmed.  Years ago, people grew more sweet peppers than hot, but now hot peppers are very popular here in the northern Rocky Mountain and plains region.  I will discuss some pointers on how to start and grow your plants organically and I will include some information on the many varieties available today. 

Peppers (Capsicum annuum) prefer warm days and nights to grow and produce well.  In our mountainous area, with a short growing season and cool nights, peppers benefit from protection from cold early and late in the season.  So, we time our planting for after the last frost (usually around May 15 here at 3,000 feet altitude) and find it beneficial to cover our plants for the night until temperatures warm.  Row covers, hot caps, even cardboard boxes will collect heat from the soil and release it during the night.  The warm conditions promote faster growth.  Organically enriched soil and the use of organic fertilizers will also speed up growth. 

Hot peppers take longer to germinate than sweet peppers.  Seeds of both types will germinate between 60-95 degrees, but 80-85 degrees is ideal.  The germ time for sweet peppers is 7-14 days; for hot peppers, 14-28 days.  Here, we usually start our plants in February.  A mix of peat, vermiculite and perlite makes a great seed starting mix, as it is sterile (no soil-borne diseases).  Peat pots are great for starting seeds as they can be planted right into the ground when plants are large enough.  A solid flat with a dome cover will keep the seeds moist until they sprout.  Pepper seeds do not need light to germinate, but lights over the plants will promote sturdy growth and prevent spindly, “leggy” growth.  If you do not have lights, put the plants in a warm spot in a south window as soon as they sprout. 

Nights should be 55 degrees or above before planting out into the garden.  (If you are at a high elevation, use row covers.)  Make sure to harden plants off before planting, by putting them outside for a few hours at a time (in shade).  Gradually give the plants more time outside and brighter light for about a week of time.  When you are sure weather has stabilized, plant them out.  If they are in peat pots, make sure the peat pots are very damp and plant the peppers deeper, with about 2 inches of soil over the pots, so they will degrade.   If not covered, peat pots tend to dry out and a plant cannot pierce the pot with its roots.  Protect your plants from cutworms with jugs or cans or paper rings.  Water regularly, keeping them moist, not wet.  Water early in the day only; allowing leaves to dry early in the day.  Watch for aphids, their worst pest.  A preventative spray of Garlic Barrier will deter aphids.  Follow directions and use garlic sprays very early in the day, so as to not interfere with the activities of bees and other beneficial insects.  You will only need to spray garlic three times in a whole season.  A foliar spray of liquid organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest Fish fertilizer will greatly increase the size and productivity of your plants.  This type of fertilizer is very low in salts, an important feature.  Worm castings will increase nitrogen levels in your soil and silica will strengthen stems. 

Insulating row covers (protection blankets) are very useful to extend our season for about 3-4 weeks.  These are more effective at lower temperatures than using poly film.   Mulch your peppers after soil is warm— June or early July, with red plastic or 2” organic straw.  Trim off all flowers until June 22, to enable plants to produce more heavily; otherwise, plants put all their energy into ripening an early crop and seasonal production is much lower. 

Here in the Mission Valley we put our peppers out about May 21-June 1 as weather permits.  Plant peppers about 14” apart.  Plant in full sun.  The growing temperature range for peppers is 55–85 degrees, with 75-80 being ideal.  Optimum soil pH is 5.5-7.0.  Peppers like even steady moisture—not wet soil conditions.  Try to practice regular, even watering; early in the day.

Pests of peppers include: gophers; leafhoppers; cutworms, leaf miners, hornworms, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, pepper weevils, mites, nematodes and aphids.  Diseases include: early blight, southern blight, anthracnose, bacterial spot and verticillium wilt. 

Harvest peppers when full size, 4-5 weeks from pollination + 4-5 weeks to ripen (about 9-10 weeks).  If the summer is cool, more time will be needed.  Harvest by cutting the fruit from the plant.  Check/pick every 3 days.  The first peppers should be ready about September 1 or earlier.  After harvesting keep cool, above 55 degrees, in high humidity and out of the sun.  Harvested fruit last about 7 days when stored out of the sun. 

Varieties (all open-pollinated, so seed can be saved each season):

‘King of the North’ heirloom sweet pepper (57 days to green, 65 days to red).   An early variety, grown for seed in the Mission Valley.  Fruit are 3-4” and production is good in our cool climate.

‘California Wonder’ heirloom sweet pepper (65 days to green, 75 days to red).  Another popular variety here, maturing a little later than ‘King of the North’, but more productive with larger fruit. 

‘Golden Cal. Wonder’ heirloom sweet pepper (60 days to green, 75 days to golden yellow).  A good, sweet variety for cool seasons, with large, 4” fruit. 

‘Purple Beauty’ sweet pepper (55 days to purple, 75 days to red).  A very productive, early variety with 3-4” fruit.

‘Chocolate Bell’ sweet pepper (70 days to green, 75 days to brown).  An interesting, early pepper that matures well and is grown for seed here in the Mission Valley. 

‘Jimmy Nardello’ heirloom sweet pepper (75 days to red).  A popular, 6-9” long, thin-skinned sweet pepper great for frying or drying.

‘Anaheim’ heirloom mildly-hot pepper (80 days to red).  The best pepper for stuffing.  An 8 inch long, thick-walled pepper that can be roasted, fresh dried, canned or stuffed and baked. 

‘Tesuque Chili’, Estacano Chili’, ‘San Felipe Chili’ heirloom chili peppers (about 70 days to red).  These three chili peppers are from Native American Pueblos in the Southwest.  They all are thin-walled, and excellent for drying.  They are excellent to use dried, ground up and added to dishes.  

‘Early Jalapeno’ heirloom hot pepper (60 days ).  The most popular hot pepper, used fresh and pickled.

‘Cayenne Long Slim’ heirloom hot pepper (70 days to red).  This pepper grows to about 6 or 7 inches long, is quite hot, and dries well.  Plants are very productive and early. 

‘Viet Hot Chili’ (95 days to red).  A very hot pepper grown locally (Mission Valley, Montana) for seed.  Plants must be started earlier than other peppers as they sprout slowly and mature slowly.   The fruit dry well.

‘Habanero’ heirloom chili pepper (95 days to red).   One of the hottest peppers available, it requires a long season, but is tops for flavor. 

 

 

ORGANIC GARDENING CAN REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

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THE LOW CARBON FOOTPRINT OF ORGANIC GARDENING

 

We have all heard about rising carbon dioxide gas (CO2) levels in the earth’s atmosphere, which is causing heating, resulting in world-wide climate change.  The atmosphere holds about 800 billion tons of carbon at present.  Another 560 billion tons of carbon is stored in living plant life.  However, the soils of the earth hold the most carbon, about 2,500 billion tons!  Forest and grassland soils contain the most carbon, and soils degraded by chemically-drenched agricultural practices hold the least.  Rainforest soils can contain as much as 10% carbon of total mass, while the poorest and exploited soils have been reduced to as little as 1% of mass.  The process of photosynthesis by plants pulls CO2 out of the air and stores it in living tissues, excess carbon is released through the roots into the soil where it is stored.  This process is known as carbon sequestration.  Plant roots use living soil fungi (mycorrhizae) in the process.  Degraded soils have reduced numbers of these fungi, slowing their ability to sequester carbon.

It is estimated that the world’s agricultural soils have lost 50-70% of their original carbon. Most of that carbon has become CO2 and was released into the earth’s atmosphere.   If that carbon could be returned to the earth’s soils, the carbon in the atmosphere could be reduced enough to mitigate global warming and limit heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  We could do this by changing to organic gardening and farming practices. 

Gardening and farming practices that degrade soil are: fallowing, stubble burning, frequent tilling, overgrazing, monoculture cropping and excess application of synthetic fertilizers.  All of these reduce the soil’s carbon-holding capacity, soils dry and erode, and CO2 is released into the atmosphere.   

Organic gardening practices build living, healthy soils able to sequester much higher levels of carbon.   Farming trials in several countries around the globe have shown a rapid increase in carbon in soils where organic gardening and farming methods were employed.  A key to this is increasing organic matter in the soil. 

Methods known to restore soil’s ability to process and store carbon include: tilling as little as possible or not tilling, mulching, using cover crops, management of crop residues, crop rotation, and proper irrigation. 

If you are preparing a new garden space, place a heavy mulch of rotted, damp straw and compost or manure (or bedding from livestock stalls) onto the space for your garden plot.  This will smother existing plants and is best done in fall to be left in place all winter.  In spring, till the garden space, turning the straw and manure under.  This should be the only time you will need to till the soil.  Plant your garden crops immediately, and any areas to be planted later can be seeded to a cover crop.  A thick cover crop will smother weeds and will pull carbon from the air while it builds your soil. 

Rotate your garden or field crops in a four-year (or more) rotation.  (Each kind of plant is grown in a location in the garden or field once every four years.)  This will discourage pests and diseases.  Mulch your garden; this keeps soil animals alive and keeps soils moist and cool.  (Heated or dried soils lose carbon.)   As you weed, either compost the weeds or incorporate them into your soil.  The best time to add manures or compost is in spring or fall.

Plant shelter belts or hedgerows near or around your garden.  These will become homes for pollinators, birds, snakes and other animals beneficial to your garden.  Forests, hedgerows and grasslands hold the most carbon on the planet, so hedgerows and shelter belts help reduce emissions.   

Do not overgraze or till grasslands, because that will reduce the carbon-holding capacity. 

In flower beds and borders, prepare your soil the same way as for vegetables and plant perennial ground covers to act as living mulches.  In low-water landscapes, sedums or creeping yarrow planted between larger plants will act as living mulches.   

Changing to the regenerative methods of organic gardening and farming will result in lower CO2 emissions, healthy foods, heathy wildlife, clean air and clean water. 

 

Bibliography:

Ingram, Dr. Julie, Best Practices for Soil Organic Carbon Management in Agricultural Systems, Countryside & Community Research Institute, UK , 2017

Goode, Cecile M., et. al. Understanding the Impacts of Soil, Climate & Farming Practices on Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration, Australia, 2016

Muchmuller, Megan B., et. al., Emerging Land Use Practices Rapidly Increase Soil Organic Matter, USA, 2015

Zhang, Limimg, et. al, “Toward Optimal Soil Organic Sequestration With Effects of Agriculture Management Practices & Climate Change in Tai-Lake Paddy Soils of China,” In Geoderma, 2016

Smallwood, Mark, Regenerative Organic Agriculture & Climate Change, Rodale Institute, 2013

 

SOME INTERESTING HOLIDAY GIFT PLANTS

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Most of us are quite familiar with common garden geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) with their brightly colored blooms and leaves.  We usually grow these outside for summer bedding color.  Other (and not as well-known) geraniums are grown for their scented leaves.  They can be grown outside for bedding or put into mixed containers for scent, but they make excellent house plants. 

Scented-leaved geraniums have been grown since the 1600s and several are heirloom plants.  At one time more than 100 varieties were grown; each one with a singular, distinctive fragrance.   Several of the kinds still available are true species, some are selections out of species and a few are hybrids.   Fragrances include rose, lemon, mint, apricot, pineapple and coconut.  To release the scent of the leaves, simply gently brush against them or rub lightly with your finger.   It is pleasant to have fragrant plants in the house in winter, even without flowers.   How many of us have tried to bring plants with fragrant flowers into bloom in the winter?  It is not an easy task, especially with our short days, minimum window space.  But scented geraniums carry their scent year-round and are not difficult to grow. 

‘Skeleton Rose’, dating to about 1700, is one of the oldest scented geraniums around.  It has a delicious rose-lemon scent and beautiful, deeply-divided leaves.   Flowers appear in late spring and are lavender. 

‘True Rose’ has beautiful divided leaves of quite different shape from ‘Skeleton Rose’, and makes a slightly larger plant.  It has been grown since 1787 and the oil from its leaves is used in perfumes.   This variety has pink blooms in late spring. 

‘Peppermint’ has soft, velvety leaves with a fresh, minty smell.  This variety seems to like more water and cooler temperatures than other geraniums.  The plant can become larger than other kinds also.  ‘Peppermint’ has been grown since 1806.

‘Lemon Fizz’ is a twentieth century plant and is probably the most popular scented geranium today.  Its leaves release a wonderful, sweet, lemon fragrance that is comparable to true lemon.  

In general, I have found that scented-leaf geraniums prefer a more neutral pH (6.0) than most other geraniums, and like a bit more moisture.  It is best to let the plants get sub-moist, but not completely dry; then water them thoroughly so the water runs out the bottom of the pot.  A sign that your scented-leaf geraniums are being kept too dry is the presence of drying, browning leaves at the base of the plants.  A sign that they are being kept too wet is transparent, yellowing leaves.  A fast-draining, organic succulent potting mix is excellent.  These plants are easy to grow organically.  Aphids and spider mites are seldom troublesome, but if they appear, can be controlled easily with certified organic pest controls or by spraying the leaves with a jet of water, washing off the bugs. 

Christmas cacti (Zygocactus spp.) have no fragrance, but what a show they give in the darkest days of the year!  Their flowers are silky and translucent, and bloom in shades of pink, red, white and lavender.   Unlike most cacti, Christmas cacti have no spines, but possess unusual, flat leaves.  In their native habitat, they live in trees.  They like a moist situation and prefer to become sub-moist before they are watered.  They do not like to dry out completely either, and will die if they get too dry.   Likewise, they will die if they are watered too much, so try to keep the plants moist.  A rich organic potting soil works well, and plants prefer to become bit pot bound, when they bloom the best.  In fall, winter and early spring Christmas cacti can be given a spot in a sunny window, but in summer they need part shade or some protection from full sun. 

Christmas cacti are daylight sensitive.  Flower buds are set in fall, when days are shorter and nights longer (12 to 14 hour nights).  Temperatures of 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. will encourage bloom.  The plants must have complete darkness at night to set flower buds, so when you are trying to get them to bloom, make sure there are no lights on in the room or outside the window at night. 

DECEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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GENERAL

Check stored vegetables and fruit often; inventory seeds and test germination and order seed.  Keep perennials and bulbs growing next to the house covered with snow to insulate them from extreme cold.  Make sure all young fruit trees have their trunks wrapped and place wire netting around trunks to prevent damage from rabbits and voles.   Mulch hardy tree seedlings and bulb beds with pine or fir branches. 

Save wood ashes all winter long to spread on beds in spring on plants that enjoy alkaline soil conditions.  

VEGETABLES

Admit air to cold frames and cover frames at night.  Uncover on mild days, but do not let sun shine on frozen plants.  Pick off any decaying leaves.  Cover every night with mats, blankets, straw, ferns or insulating row fabric.  Late cabbages, kale and greens should be covered in hoops covered with row cover fabric. 

Check stored vegetables often: potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage, etc.  Also check stored flowers and fruit: dahlias, glads, cannas, apples, pears.  Cabbage likes high humidity (80-90%) and a storage temperature of about 35 degrees.  Potatoes, glads and dahlias prefer about 45 degrees and high humidity.  Onions and garlic need air, with about 60% humidity, so hang and keep them dry, storing at about 35 degrees.  Apples need about 30-35 degrees with high humidity. 

Force asparagus in hot beds. 

FLOWERS

If there is no snow, cover perennials and roses with evergreen branches to protect them.  Spread thin, flaky manure over pansies, carnations, pinks, tulips, penstemons, phloxes.  Spread composted manure over the vegetable garden.  Over the winter the manure will break down and feed the soil and any pathogens will be gone by the time you begin planting vegetables in mid-March.

For house plants: start amaryllis, watering lightly at first with warm water.  Keep in a warm place and gradually increase watering as the stems elongate, but do not keep the plants wet.  Moist soil is best.  Watch for spider mites on houseplants, mini roses and amaryllis.  If you see them, wash the whole plant first with plain water; then spray with insecticidal soap every 3 days for 2 weeks.  Do not overwater houseplants this time of year, especially geraniums, which are nearly or totally dormant now. 

Late in the month, after the 20th, start seeds of begonias, geraniums, primroses, Dahlias, pansies, and lisianthus. 

For potted auricula primroses and other plants, keep admitting air into the frames and keep frame covers handy if the weather gets very cold.  Cover outdoor primulas with light straw. 

FRUIT

Check stored fruit often for spoilage and discard any rotting fruits. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Take cuttings of lavender, pyracantha, sumac, spirea, mock orange, wiegela, wisteria, and robinia.  Place them in a mixture of ½ peat and ½ perlite.  Insert small stakes into the pot to act as supports.   Place plastic bags over the tops of the pots and sink them into sand or soil inside a cold frame situated in shade.  The cuttings should root over the winter.

 

 

DEER RESISTANT PLANTS FOR THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND NORTHERN PLAINS

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Mule and Whitetail deer are abundant these days over much of our region.  As many of us have experienced, deer can do a lot of damage to a garden in a short time.   In spring and summer they eat flowers and foliage.   In winter deer browse on the young shoots and buds of shrubs and trees.   Deer prefer some plants over others, but if they are starving, they will eat almost any plant.  Some of their first-choice favorites are tulips, roses, pansies, arborvitae and young fruit trees.

An eight foot (or higher) fence is the best protection for garden plants, but fences are not always practical or attractive in certain locations.  Some popular deer repellents are: human hair, dog hair, scented soaps, blood meal, egg yolks mixed with water, thiram fungicide, and sprinklers activated by movement.  Deer repellents are not always effective and usually have to be reapplied after rain.   Often, deer seem to get accustomed to a repellent’s odor and will eventually return to browsing the garden.  Strongly scented soaps worked for quite a while for me, but eventually the deer returned and I ended up with heaps of water-soaked bars of soap decorating my planting borders. 

Vegetable and fruit gardens probably need to be fenced in our area, but if you are growing ornamental plants only, why not choose deer-resistant species adapted to our climate?   That way you can have a beautiful garden deer will (for the most part) leave alone.  The term “deer-resistant” means that the species listed here are less preferred as food than other commonly grown garden plants.  These plants are often fragrant, or poisonous, or irritate a deer’s stomach, so are not as often eaten.  I have indicated the common name, species name and USDA coldest climate zone: 

ANNUALS:

Ageratum                                                    

Cleome hasslerana

Dusty miller (Senecio cinerara)                    

Fibrous begonias

Heliotrope (Heliotropum spp.)                     

Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)                    

Poppies (Papaver spp.)                                 

Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritma)                        

Zinnias

 

BULBS:

Alliums zone 3                                                     

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) zone 4

Fritillaria imperialis zone 4                                    

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria spp.) zone 3

Scillas zone 4                                                        

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) zone 3

 

PERENNIALS:

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)  zone 4                  

Astilbe spp. zone 4

Bee balm (Monarda spp.) zone 4                   

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) zone 3

Bugleweed (Ajuga spp.) zone 4                      

Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) zone 5

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) zone 3              

Columbine (Aquilegea spp.) zone 3

Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) zone 3                       

Coreopsis spp. zone 3

Delphinium elatum zone 3                                     

False Indigo (Baptisia australis) zone 3

Hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. ) zone 4              

Hellebores (Helleborus spp.) zone 4

Liatris spicata zone 3                                            

Lamium maculatum zone 2

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) zone   4                

Penstemon barbatus zone 4

Penstemon eatonii zone 4                             

Penstemon pinifolius zone 4

Perennial poppies (Papaver orientale) zone 3

Rudbeckia fulgida zone 4

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber) zone 3                 

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) zone 4

Speedwell (Veronica spicata) zone 3                        

Vinca minor zone 3

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) zone 3                                     

Yucca glauca zone 3

 

SHRUBS AND TREES:

Barberry (Berberis koreana) zone 3                        

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) zone 4

Caragana spp. zone 2                                               

Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) zone 3

Forsythia spp. zone 4                                            

Juniper (Juniperus spp.) zones 3, 4

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) zone 4-5             

Lilac (Syringa spp.) zone 3

Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) zone 3               

Mugho pine (Pinus mugho) zone 2

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) zone 2             

Rosa foetida and R. foetida bicolor  zone 3

Rosa pimpinellifolia and hybrids zone 3                  

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) zone 2

 

NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Cold winter weather does limit what we can do in the garden in November in our northern Rocky Mountain climate (USDA zones 3, 4 and 5).  If ground is still unfrozen, prepare beds for next spring’s early crops.   If you still have unfrozen manure or compost it can be spread over vegetable and flower beds and trenched into furrows to receive frost (this will break down over winter and lighten and feed the soil).  I have spread manure and compost right over the snow on planting beds and it worked just fine. 

Check over which varieties of flowers and vegetables you liked or disliked this year.  Make a note of which ones did well.  Keep your records up to date if you can.  Check stores of fruits and vegetables and discard spoiling ones.  Clean all your tools, oil wooden handles and replace cracked ones.  Drain gas and oil out of lawnmower for winter. 

Finish planting garlic, shallots, and Egyptian walking onions before the ground freezes solid.

Have row covers ready for remaining crops in the field; also have covers ready for cold frames.    Carefully store row covers before winter; make sure the fabric is dry before folding and storing. 

Early in the month, if not done earlier, harvest and store cabbages.  To store them, turn them upside down to dry, take off extra leaves and place them in a trench of sand and cover with a wet-proof cover open at both ends to keep them dry.  Close the ends of your cover with straw when frosty.  Also, to store beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, salsify for winter: dry and cut the leafy tops off.  Dig a pit in a dry place if possible.  Put down 2 inches of sand, then the vegetable roots, then more sand, alternating.  Cover them with a final layer of sand and straw to protect them.

Admit air to cold frames and the greenhouse on sunny days; pick off any mildewed or moldy leaves.  Apply manure or compost to outdoor asparagus and rhubarb beds to 4 inches deep.  Weed onions, leeks, spinach, mache, cresses.  In frames, when it is cold, cover lettuces, cabbages, etc.  Harvest late and frame–grown cabbage, spinach, carrots, peas, cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.

If the ground has not frozen solid, finish dividing and replanting perennials before winter freeze-up.  Transplant seedling perennials and flowers into flats; keep them in a cold frame or cold greenhouse.  Mulch primroses, bleeding hearts, and any marginally hardy perennials with pine or fir branches.  Cut back established pansies and collect violet seed.   

Finish planting bulbs out and plant bulbs to be forced in pots.  Weed bulb beds and spread bone meal if not done last month.  Put poultry netting over the top of the soil of newly planted tulips, crocus and hyacinths to discourage squirrels and cats who like to dig and scratch into fresh soil.  Plant these same bulbs in Vole King wire baskets to protect from voles. 

In the greenhouse plants will be at rest.  Keep their foliage dry and do not overwater!  Succulent plants such as cacti may need little or no water all winter.  If mold appears, dust with sulfur.  Moving air inside a greenhouse discourages mold. 

If you plan to keep any plants in pots over the winter, plunge them up to their pot rims into a holding bed.  The reason for doing this is that plant roots suffer greatly from the wide temperature swings of air during winter.  Good substances for this are: fine gravel, bark, sand, sawdust or soil.  If you have any bulbs, perennials, roses or shrubs growing in pots outside, be sure to sink them up to the rims to protect them from cold over winter. 

Cover cold frames if it is frosty and cold.  If you vent the frame, make sure no direct sun hits plants while they are frozen. 

Weed fruiting shrubs, add manure to raspberry beds.  Finish storing apples, pears, etc.  Clean all leaves and mummy fruit around trees to prevent disease and discourage insects.  Sow seeds of fruit trees and rootstocks.    

Finish planting deciduous shrubs and trees.  Mound soil around the base of tender hybrid tea roses to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches.  Evergreen boughs may be placed over the soil mound.  The soil and boughs will protect the lower portion of tender rose plants over winter.