GROWING EGGPLANT

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Eggplant New York Improved

GROWING EGGPLANT

Eggplant is not often grown by home gardeners in Western Montana, but a good crop can be harvested and seed saved for next year if you give it what it needs.  Eggplant is native to warm, subtropical regions in India and China where it has been cultivated for more than 6,000 years.  The botanical name of the species is Solanum melongena and it is a member of the plant family Solonaceae , which means it is related to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and petunias.  I grow eggplant in my USDA Certified Organic garden in the same rotation group as these relatives.  (It is important to rotate your garden crops in family groups so that they are not planted in the same spot for four years or more.  This builds soil and reduces risks of disease and insects.) 

Since eggplant starts growing rather slowly, it should be started inside and transplanted out to the garden later, after danger of frost is past.  I start mine inside under lights about February 1, and grow them on in bright light.  Here in the Mission Valley, our average last frost in spring is about May 17th or so, but of course this can vary by a couple weeks each way in any given year.  Eggplant seed will germinate from 60-95 degrees F., but 75-90 ideal.  The time to germination is 14-21 days.  

Harden off your plants before setting out, giving them more and more time outside each day and more sun, for about a week.  Plant them in full sun.  I usually transplant my started eggplants about May 21 to June 1, unless it is very cold and rainy.  Eggplants will grow well under hoop row covers with open ends, because they really like heat, especially at night.  Your soil pH should be 5.5 to 6.8 for best success.  Set plants about 18 inches apart all ways.  The plants grow best when temperatures are 50–95 degrees, and 70-75 degrees is ideal.   

Protect your young plants from cutworms with jugs or cans or paper rings.  Water your plants regularly, allowing them to get just sub-moist, then water.  In my experience they seem to prefer even moisture.  Try to water early in the day only, allowing leaves to dry before nightfall.  Watch for aphids, their worst pest.  You could use fabric over hoops during summer to prevent insects.  Some other pests that might bother eggplant include: gophers; leafhoppers; cutworms, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, mites, stink bugs, nematodes and tomato fruit worms.  Some diseases you might encounter are early blight, late blight, tobacco mosaic, fusarium, and verticillium wilt.  An application of garlic spray early in the season and followed again with the same once a month until autumn will discourage leafhoppers, which carry and continue into fall to prevent curly top. 

To harvest your eggplant, gather when full size, while skin is still shiny and when fruit comes away from the vine easily.  If the skin has turned dull, the seeds are ripening and it is too old, but of course an over-ripe fruit is worth saving for seed for next year).  Check and pick every three days to keep plants producing.  The first eggplants should be ready about September 1.  After harvesting keep the fruit cool, above 55 degrees, in high humidity, and out of the sun.  Fruits last about 7 days. 

A variety that has been successfully grown for seed here in our area is ‘Early Black’ eggplant.  It matures 65 days from transplanting out.  Another good variety is ‘New York Improved’, and heirloom American variety from 1865.  It will be ready to eat in about 75 days from transplanting. 

 

 

 

 

GROWING CARROTS

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St. Valery Carrot

GROWING CARROTS

Carrots, botanically classified Daucus carota, have been grown in gardens for centuries.  The Romans grew them, but they were not very popular until the Middle Ages.  The earliest carrots had white, purple, red, or yellow roots.   Orange colored carrots appeared as a mutation of yellow carrots during the seventeenth century.  Some orange varieties from the 1800s have survived as heirlooms, but few of the old purple, red, yellow or white heirloom seed strains still exist.  ‘Nantes Scarlet’ is a nineteenth century orange heirloom carrot still found in catalogs.  ‘Round of Paris’ from 1881, is a very short, spherical orange carrot that tastes great and will grow fine in thin, stony soils.  ‘St. Valery’ is another nineteenth century orange carrot that is sweet and tender, but it is a rare variety now.  Orange carrots have been consistently popular since the 1800s, but recently the original colors have been rediscovered and are gaining in popularity.  There are new seed strains available today in each of the separate colors, or you can purchase a mixture of all colors.  

Most gardeners direct-seed carrots rather than starting them indoors.  They grow quickly once germinated and do not transplant easily.   Carrot seeds germinate between 45 and 85 degrees so you can try putting them in as early as April if your garden has been tilled and prepared in time.  Full sun is the best location and a soil pH of 6.5 is ideal.  Carrots like cool weather and can take mild frosts when up.  The growing temperature range for carrots is 55–75 degrees (but 60-70 is best). 

The germination time for Carrots varies from 7 to 21 days.  It is helpful to mix the small carrot seed with sand for even distribution.  Sow seed ½” apart, carefully, in rows about 16” apart, 1/4-1/2” deep.  Baby carrots can be pulled and used as the plants left to grow large are thinned to 3 inches apart.  Water the seedbed regularly; do not let the seedlings dry out.  Be sure to weed the beds before the carrots emerge.   Quite a few gardeners plant carrots in succession, every two weeks, to keep a steady supply ready. 

Give your plants steady, even moisture.  CARROTS NEED REGULAR WATERING!  

A few pests that bother carrots are gophers, carrot root flies, aphids, blister beetles, carrot weevils and wireworms.  

Harvest mature carrots when they are large enough to be sweet and are less than 1” in diameter.  Dig carefully so as to not damage roots.  Cut tops to less than 1”.  Carefully wash the roots clean.  To store them until used, keep them cool, in high humidity, and out of the sun.  Place them in plastic bags to keep them moist.   

Carrots can be left in the ground and harvested after frosts, and can be mulched heavily (at least one foot deep) with straw.  You can brush the snow away and pull the carrots right up.  Carrots do sweeten up in cooler weather, also.   Voles will be troublesome in winter if carrots are left in and it might be better to harvest the roots and store them in damp sand in a cellar, or an underground cage filled with sand, or other protected place where they will not freeze, but stay moist and be free from predation. 

 

 

MONTANA PLANTING CALENDAR FOR JUNE

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JUNE GARDENING CALENDAR

Our pictures today are, from left to right: heirloom morning glory “Grandpa Ott’s”, and a seedling ivy geranium.  

This month you can transplant out tender vegetables, early in the month, after frosts.  If you have not planted your garden yet you can still purchase and transplant out tender vegetables that require a shorter season (80 days or fewer).  Cole crops, such as cauliflower and cabbage, and most every transplantable vegetable can be planted until about July 1, when you could begin to sow fall crops.  Fertilize and prune cantaloupes; watch for pests and diseases on garden plants.  Keep a watch on watering if weather is dry and hot; weed after watering as plants pull up easily. 

Vegetables you can direct sow until June 15 include: amaranth, dill, summer savory, edamame beans, chervil, early-maturing corn, NZ and Malabar spinach, carrots, cucumbers, parsnips and pole beans.  Sow successive crops all month of: lettuce, spinach, bush beans, beets, cabbages, cucumbers, onions, peas, radishes, potatoes. 

Transplant out leeks, endive, herbs, plus tender vegetables.  Some of these are: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins, watermelon.  Fertilize and prune cantaloupes; when they start to vine, foliar feed with 1 tablespoon borax + 1 tablespoon Epsom salts in 1 gallon of water.  Repeat when fruit is 1” to 2” in diameter.

Late in the month (for transplanting out for a fall crop) sow: Brussels sprouts, late variety cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi.  Transplant out in late August/early September (5-6 weeks, with two sets of leaves).  Grow cool, possibly under netting to prevent cabbage loopers.

Harvest: beet greens, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, lettuce, turnip greens, onions, peas, rhubarb and asparagus.  Harvest herbs: mint, balm, lavender, sage, clary, rosemary, etc. for using fresh, drying or distilling; when just coming into flower.  Lay them in the shade or on a screen in a shed to dry. 

Direct sow tender annuals and half hardy annuals early in the month (before the 15th): zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, annual euphorbia, gypsophila, nasturtiums, scarlet runner beans, Scabiosa atropurpurea,  stocks, sunflowers.  Sow nigella (succession plant every 2 to 4 weeks until end of month). 

Finish transplanting perennial starts and annual starts.  Stake dahlias, delphiniums; mulch dahlias; check for slugs around auriculas, cannas, delphiniums, hollyhocks and hosta. 

Take up spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, fritillaries, colchicums, autumn crocuses, etc., when leaves are decayed.  Carefully dig and dry them over a wire screen.  Propagate from offsets, store in cool, dry place for the summer. 

Plant strawberry runners into new beds.  Thin tree fruits after bloom so no fruit touches (this discourages codling moths); protect (cover) cherries from birds, watch for pests on fruit trees, shrubs and roses.  Wash aphids off with a force of water.  Set out apple maggot traps in early to mid-June (1 for each dwarf tree; 2-3 for each semi-dwarf tree; and up to 6 for a full-sized tree).  Scrape off bugs and apply a fresh coating every two weeks. Remove loose bark and wrap trunks with cardboard or burlap, periodically removing it to capture codling moth pupae.  During the growing season, remove branches affected by fire blight, cutting at least 6 inches below affected wood.  Sterilize tools with alcohol or a 10% bleach solution between cuts.   Set out peach borer traps by the 15th.  

Trim evergreens and all types of hedges, and be sure to water lawns in hot weather. 

GROWING TOMATOES IN MONTANA

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GROWING TOMATOES

Here in western Montana we usually transplant our started tomatoes about May 10-21 as weather permits.  Direct seeding may be done with the earliest varieties, but there is no guarantee of a crop.  This year has been cool, with frosts still threatening in mid-May, so tender plants like tomatoes are going into our gardens a bit later than in years past.  Sow your tomatoes inside during March, or buy locally grown starts.  (Germination temp is 60-90 degrees, 75-85 is ideal; germination time is 5-14 days.) 

Plants should be hardened-off before transplanting.   A good way to do that is to expose the plants to outside conditions gradually, beginning with about two hours of shade, increasing the length of time outside every day and gradually exposing them to direct sun.  This way the plants will not sunburn and will gradually toughen up before being planted out. 

Your garden space for tomatoes will be most productive in full sun.  The best growing temperatures are between 50–95 degrees, with 70-75 degrees ideal—tomatoes like warm days and warm nights.  Their preferred soil pH is 5.5-7.5.  Transplant your tomatoes out in rows at least 18” apart with 3 feet between them or into pots you can move around.  Tomato cages are helpful, as they allow the plant to have support and make picking easier.  You can cover individual cages with plastic or tarps if frost threatens.  Protect stems from cutworms by placing jugs, cans or paper rings around them. 

Keep the bed moist, not wet.  Water early in the day only, allowing leaves to dry early in the day to reduce risk of disease.  Blossom-end rot is caused by lack of water in development of fruit, combined with a lack of available calcium.   In organic gardening, alfalfa meal and fish bone meal are great sources of calcium and other nutrients.  Tomatoes enjoy steady moisture—but not too much.   Regular watering, enough to keep the soil moist is excellent; too much water all at once will split fruit.   Too dry of conditions between waterings will promote cracking of fruit and blossom-end rot. 

Some tomato pests include: gophers; leafhoppers (which carry curly top disease); cutworms, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, mites, stink bugs, tomato fruit worms, and aphids.  Diseases you might encounter: early blight, late blight, tobacco mosaic, fusarium and verticillium wilt.  A preventative garlic spray beginning in May and continuing once a month into fall will discourage leafhoppers, which carry the disease curly top.  Watch for and destroy any plants with curly top (before planting if possible).

Gather tomatoes when full sized, just ripe, and when fruit comes away from vine easily.  Check/pick every 3 days to keep plants producing.  The first tomatoes should be ready about July 15.  After harvesting keep fruit cool, but not cold; above 55 degrees, in high humidity and out of the sun.  Fruits last only 7-12 days. 

 

MAY GARDENING CALENDAR

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MAY GARDENING CALENDAR

It looks like this year May is going to be our primary planting month, due to the cold spring.  Some general duties to perform: mulch berries, hill leeks, watch for pests: cutworms, pea weevils, root maggot flies, aphids, powdery mildew.  Watch for frosts before putting out tender plants or have row covers and/or tunnels ready.  Harden off plants for a week to ten days before planting in the open garden.  Plant successive crops of cool-loving crops until the end of the month.  Hoe and weed beds.  Weeding is very important in May.

VEGETABLES

Sow indoors first week of the month for transplanting out late in May or early in June: cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, watermelons, gourds. 

Plant successive crops of: lettuce, spinach, beets, onions, potatoes, peas, and turnips. 

Direct sow (usually about May 10): beans, corn, dill, edamame soy beans, lettuce, spinach, NZ spinach, okra, parsley, leeks, parsnips, scallions, summer savory, sunflowers.  Late in the month, when soil has warmed, direct sow: Lima beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, okra, pumpkins, squash, and watermelons. 

Transplant out early: artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, Asian greens, pak choi, and tomatoes (if you can cover them when it gets cold).  Late in the month, if weather permits or you have cover, transplant out: peppers, eggplant, cantaloupes, cucumbers, okra, pumpkins, squash, and watermelons.

Harvest: asparagus, greens, rhubarb.  From frames, a cold tunnel or greenhouse, harvest: radishes, lettuce, turnips, peas, and any cole crops you have started early and grown through winter months. 

Watch for pests: root maggots, wireworms, cutworms, and cabbage butterflies.  Cover crops with netting, row covers, tunnels and fabric.  Use cans or milk jugs with both ends cut out for cutworms, especially on cole crops (brassicas), tomatoes and cucumbers. 

FLOWERS

May 1, finish sowing zinnias and scarlet runner beans for transplanting out later.  Sow direct outside (usually May 10 or so): China asters, cosmos, annual dianthus, balsam, moonvine, morning glory, vinca, marigolds, browallias, sunflowers, runner beans, bachelor’s buttons, castor beans, cockscomb, nicotiana, nasturtiums, poppies, sweet sultan,  sweet peas, gomphrena, annual grasses, stocks, bells of Ireland, bupleurum,  ammi. 

Late in the month, direct sow: annual euphorbia and gypsophila.  Transplant out tender flowers when frosts are over.  Transplant out perennials started from seed in January after hardening off.  

Shade ranunculuses, anemones, and bulb seedlings; take up fall-flowering bulbs and dry for summer storage.  Propagate bulbs by offsets.  Keep a careful watch over newly planted pansies, violets, violas; watering if needed.  Check for pest damage; prepare manure tea. 

FRUIT

Set out apple maggot lures before bloom, if not already done. 

Thin tree fruits after bloom so no fruit touches (this discourages codling moths); protect (cover) cherries from birds.  Watch for pests on fruit trees, shrubs, roses.  Wash off with a force of water.  Set out peach borer traps by the 15th.  Set out apple maggot traps late in the month or in early June.  Remove fallen fruit weekly to discourage codling moths.  Remove loose bark and wrap trunks with cardboard or burlap, periodically removing it capture codling moth pupae.  During growing season, remove branches affected by fire blight at least 6” below affected area.  Between cuts, dip tools in alcohol or a 10% bleach solution. 

Make sure to water newly planted fruit trees and strawberries.  Trim off runners of strawberries to increase production, if not needed for propagation.  

Make softwood cuttings now until midsummer of grapes.

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Watch for tent caterpillars late in the month.  BT will control them. 

Cut off any dead or diseased wood on roses, sealing the cuts with water-based or wood glue to discourage wasp cane borers.  Spread bone meal, Epsom salts and composted manure or alfalfa meal around roses, leaving a 2” empty space on the surface of the soil around rose stems.  Take softwood cuttings of roses after petal fall.

MOTHER’S DAY SPECIALS! MAY 13 AND 14

2-FOR-1 CRACKERJACK MARIGOLDS (4” AND 6-PACKS)

2-FOR-1 BLACK PETUNIAS (4”)

PLUS MANY OTHER SPECIALS THROUGHOUT THE STORE!!!

ORGANIC ONIONS FOR YOUR GARDEN

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Redwing Storage Onion

ORGANIC ONIONS FOR YOUR GARDEN

Onions regulate their growth by day length.  Short-day varieties grow best in the South; here in the north we grow long-day varieties of onions.   When the days reach 14 to 16 hours long, the long-day onions begin to form bulbs.   The greater amount of growth prior to bulbing determines the ultimate size of the onions, so it is a good idea to start seeds inside and grow the plants on until you can put them out in the garden.   

Start your onion seeds in early spring, in darkness, or with the seeds completely covered with soil.  A good germination temperature is about 68 degrees F.  Once the plants are up, put in bright light and grow them cool.  Keep them moist (actively growing onions like a lot of water).  Harden off the seedlings in a cold frame, or by putting them outside for a few hours each day, exposing them to longer and longer periods outside.  After they are hardened off, onions can take some frosts, so you can plant them outside, in Montana, usually beginning in mid-April. 

In your garden, put your onions in full sun, in a spot where onions have not been grown for at least four years.  (Keen organic gardeners rotate their crops so that it is four years before plants are put in the same place in the garden.  This practice builds soils and prevents a host of disease and insect problems).  The best growing temperature range for onions is 55-75 degrees F.  A soil pH of 6.8 is ideal.

If you are growing bunching onions (scallions) you can direct-seed them ½” deep at a rate of 1 oz. per 200 Sq. Ft. bed.  If soil temperature is up to 50 degrees, you can plant.  Germination time is 7-28 days.

If you are transplanting seedling onions or onion sets, transplant plants 2-3” deep, 1” apart in rows.  Mulch your plants lightly (with organic straw) when plants are about 8 inches tall, but mulch no more than 2 inches deep.  If you are direct-seeding, sow in rows 12” apart, ½” deep and thin to 1” apart, as early as possible.  Be sure to give your onions plenty of steady, even moisture.  ONIONS LIKE MORE WATER THAN MOST CROPS (More water than shallots and garlic.)

Some pests that love onions include: gophers, onion maggots, slugs, leafhoppers and thrips.   A garlic spray in May and another in mid-June will help deter insects. 

Harvest green onions when they are pencil-thick or more.  Carefully wash the roots clean.  Keep them cool, out of the sun, and store cool, with high humidity. 

Prepare to harvest bulb onions when the tops are flopped over.  First, withhold water so protective skins form over the bulbs.  If not all tops have flopped over, push them over so sun reaches the bulbs.  Wait about one week; then pull them up.  Cure them in an airy shed or garage at about 75 to 85 degrees F., leaving the dirt to dry and fall away from the bulbs.  When dry, you can wipe off the dried soil from the outer layer of skins.  Store onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, and keep from freezing over winter. 

APRIL GARDENING CALENDAR

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APRIL GARDENING CALENDAR

Our picture today is a photograph of a green-edged auricula primrose.  As a whole, the auricula section of the genus Primula is fascinating, diverse, and quite varied in form and color.  A hundred and fifty years ago auricula primroses were extremely popular plants in Europe and America.   April is their prime bloom time!  

GENERAL APRIL GARDENING CALENDAR

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.  

 

 

 

ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDENING

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ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDENING

By James Sagmiller

The benefits of gardening organically are many.  First, food grown without dangerous pesticides and herbicides is safe for us and our children to eat.  Second, using organic methods protects our natural environment: soils are healthy, waters are protected from dangerous runoff, insects, birds, and water creatures are all unharmed by dangerous chemicals.  With organic methods, your soil becomes alive with organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi, which, through a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, increase a plant’s ability to uptake moisture and nutrients.  These fungi, along with beneficial soil bacteria, create an ideal, sustainable environment for crops—exactly the opposite of degraded soils exhausted through repeated use of chemical fertilizers. 

At first, planning to “go organic” might seem difficult, but I assure you the rewards are worth the time taken to learn easy ways of gardening organically.  Siting, fencing, and soil building are first steps.  Find a location for your garden that receives full sun, preferably one with wind protection.  If a site is windy, you can put lattice or privacy webbing on your fence to slow down the blast.  Shelter belt plantings of native trees and shrubs are excellent too.  Because deer are so prevalent nowadays, an 8-foot high fence is the best way to shield your garden.  Other methods are less effective.  I made my fence out of game fencing and 10-foot metal posts.  A 6-foot fence that hides what is on the other side will work also; if deer cannot see what is on the other side, they will not leap over.  Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough! 

A soil test is very helpful before you begin your garden spot.  You can immediately see what nutrients you have in your soil and which ones you need to add more of.  It is also good to know the analysis of purchased soil amendments (marked with the letters N-P-K on fertilizer labels).   For high nitrogen contents (N on the label) choose blood meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, and composted manure.  Amendments with high phosphorous (P on the label) include fish bone meal and rock phosphate.  Potash (K on the label) is abundant in kelp meal, alfalfa meal and wood ashes.  Keep in mind wood ashes and bone meal become alkaline (higher pH) as they decompose, and cottonseed meal becomes more acidic (lower pH).  It is helpful to have a test kit and know your soil’s pH and NPK content.  Nitrogen promotes good green growth, phosphorous promotes flowering and fruiting, and potash encourages root growth and ripening of fruits and seeds.

To kill out grass and weeds for a new garden spot, use something safe that will shade the ground.  Some options are: landscape fabric with weights on it, newspaper covered with moist, heavy organic straw, or black plastic weighted down.  It takes a few weeks to kill out most plant material, but some perennial weeds will remain and seeds will sprout again.  If you are planning well ahead, you can immediately plant a soil-building cover crop to shade the soil until you plant vegetables.  If you need to start right away, till the soil, add organic amendments, plant your seeds and transplants, then mulch. 

When you plant seeds, choose organically certified seed if possible, especially for food plants.  Heirloom seed varieties, which are all open-pollinated, are excellent for organic gardening, because being generations-old, they are well-adapted to climates where they have been grown for a long time.  Heirlooms often ripen in succession rather than all at once, frequently are more nutritious, have exceptional taste, and seed can be saved from them to plant next year.  Another plus is that many heirloom varieties were developed to last well in storage—a valuable trait for local sustainability and for gardeners who want to be self-sufficient.

Mulching your garden is important to conserve moisture and provide for living soil organisms.  Landscape fabric, organic straw, compost, or composted grass clippings work well.  (Fresh grass clippings or other fresh greens will draw nitrogen out of the soil rather than add nitrogen.) 

Be sure to include a home for pollinators in or around your garden.  Native wildflowers are best; they will attract and foster native species of bees and other insects.  Another effective tactic is to release ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises and other pest-eating bugs in your garden at proper times.  It is helpful to provide bird, bat houses and Mason bee houses.

Most gardeners new to organic gardening have anxiety about controlling pests and diseases.  Healthy, thriving plants, combined with preventative methods are the most effective ways to begin.  A diversity of crops will help confuse damaging insects (the scent of marigolds, for example confuses some pests).  Crop-rotation will prevent a host of pest and disease problems.  Plan your vegetable layout so that the same kind of plant is not grown in the same spot for at least 4 years.  Collars made from toilet paper rolls or plastic cups will deter cut worms.  Netting will prevent birds from eating strawberries.  Light insect fabric on row covers will protect all cole crops from cabbage loopers; and straw mulch around tomatoes will make a home for beetles, which will eat aphids off the tomatoes at night.  Garlic spray over your vegetables will confuse most damaging pests and prevent infestations if timed at monthly intervals.  Safe pesticides and fungicides, such as BT, horticultural oil, neem oil, insecticidal soap, pyrethrum, and diatomaceous earth are each effective for certain listed pests.  Always follow directions and precautions to the letter with any pesticides or herbicides. 

Take advantage of the latest technologies to assist your organic garden.  A few of these include: season-extending high or low tunnels, solar-powered heating and cooling, and frost-protection fabrics.  Using tunnels and row covers can improve yields significantly because you get a month to 6 weeks longer season of growing and harvesting!  Automatic solar vents for cold frames, greenhouses and high tunnels will save you labor and worry—especially in our volatile climate, with its ups and downs in temperature, alternating clouds and sunshine, and sudden winds that occur in a typical Montana spring.  Solar powered fans will kick on automatically when the temperature gets too high in a tunnel or greenhouse, and will not contribute to the overabundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  I wish you the best of luck and success in your organic gardening!

 

MARCH GARDENING CALENDAR

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MARCH GARDENING CALENDAR

March is a very busy month for Montana gardeners!  A brief summary of things we can do now is: plant lettuce and spinach in cold frames; plant/prune cane fruits, fruit trees, deciduous trees; plant evergreens as soon as ground thaws; plant rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, sea kale, and artichokes; weed and clean borders, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals and biennials outside; sow seeds of tender annuals and vegetables inside.  Clean pansy beds and manure them; cover cold frames at night and admit air during the day. 

VEGETABLES

Late in the month, begin to harden off cool loving vegetables (from a January sowing) in frames.  Sow indoors: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, head lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, Asian cabbage, greens, peppers (finish peppers early in the month).  Start tomatoes also.  Late in the month direct-sow outdoors: asparagus, beets, arugula, carrots, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, collards, mache, fava beans, cress, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, rhubarb, turnip greens, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, scallions, spinach and Swiss chard.  As soon as weather permits plant: asparagus roots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, shallots, lettuce, onion sets and plants, horseradish, strawberries and Jerusalem artichokes.  Finish sowing herb seeds this month.

FLOWERS

Begin dividing perennials as soon as the ground is thawed.  Direct sow outdoors: annual alyssum, pinks, sweet Williams, stocks, rose campion, wall flowers, lychnis, lupines, lavateras, columbines, valerian, polyanthus, auriculas, Canterbury bells, cynoglossum, hollyhocks, honeysuckles, rockets, honesty, fox gloves, snapdragons, sweet peas, poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, nigella, lavatera, valerian, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and dill.

FRUIT

Fertilize (spread organics), plant and prune fruit trees, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, currants, blueberries.  Clean strawberry beds and make new beds.  Fertilize (spread organics) on strawberries and asparagus.  Clean up after pruning fruit trees; remove dead wood, dropped fruit, and inspect trunks for egg masses.   Spray Bordeaux mix on fruit trees that suffer from fire blight after carefully pruning out affected wood.  (Cut 6 inches below signs of infection, sterilizing pruning tools between cuts with alcohol, or a 10% bleach solution.)  Spray superior oil on dormant trees (before leaf out).  Wait three weeks after dormant spray if you decide to spray lime-sulfur (use caution) as a fungicide on roses, lilacs, dormant shrubs, fruit trees, evergreens. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Plant evergreens, roses and other shrubs during March.  This month is the very best time of the year to move or plant evergreens.  Wait until April to prune roses as canes often die back from late frosts if cut too early.  Dress with your roses Epsom salts now, and apply wood ashes, compost, manure, alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, and other organic amendments to rose, perennial, fruit and vegetable garden beds. 

A NOTE ON SEED

Now is a great time to test the germination on your stored vegetable seeds.  To establish a percentage of germination for your seed, place 10 seeds in a moist paper towel, lay it on a plate; with a loose cover of plastic wrap, or a glass or plastic dome.  Put the plate in a warm location and wait a few days.  The number of seeds that germinate will give you a rough idea of the percentage of live seed you have.  This kind of test is a good way to see if your old purchased seed, or seed that you have saved yourself, will grow. 

Now is also a prudent time to plan which varieties of vegetables you might want to save seed from for next year.  Once selected and growing, plan to save seed from your best plants.  Choose plants mid-season in their fruiting and mark them with tags or labels, as ones to save seed from.  Pick the fruits when past eating ripeness; clean the seed carefully.  Dry it well before storing in clean, dry glass jars with metal lids.  Label the jars carefully with variety name and year of harvest.  Store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place so they have the best chance of staying alive.  Seed-saving techniques vary from species to species, so it is good to obtain as much information as you can before you try.  A great book is Saving Seeds by Montana authors Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough; another is The Heirloom Gardener by Carolyn Jabs.  An excellent book about seed starting, saving and plant propagation is: The Royal Horticultural Society Propagating Plants, Edited by Alan Toogood.  These three books may not be the newest, but their information is detailed and practical, especially the latter book.  An online article with basic information about seed-saving, including lots of pictures, can be found at: https://robinsonloveplants.com/saving-seeds/

TIME TO PURCHASE YOUR GARDEN SEEDS!

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GARDEN SEED RACKS ARE IN STORES NOW!

At Westland Seed in Ronan, we have 3 racks: 

 FERRY MORSE Certified Organic Seeds

TRIPLE DIVIDE Montana-grown Certified Organic Seeds

And

BAKER SEEDS’

HEIRLOOM NATIVE AMERICAN Vegetable and Flower Seeds (28 varieties available).  

Above are  two antique engravings.  The one on the left shows a box of perfectly formed vegetables entered in a Victorian garden show.  The other engraving is of a Victorian era greenhouse.  In Victorian times gardening was mostly practiced organically; consequently, the varieties of flowers and vegetables they grew (that are still with us) are adapted to organic conditions.  They are open-pollinated, therefore are an important sustainable resource; many are well-adapted to our tough local climate; and best of all, they are wonderfully flavorful!

Now is the time to start many tender vegetables and annuals to be set out later into the garden, as weather warms.  Have a great spring!