A GARDEN FOR HUMMINGBIRDS

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Hummingbirds are native to the Americas.  The ones we see here in Montana migrate every season from Mexico and Central America.  All species of hummingbirds need to eat often, in fact they consume 100% to 200% of their body weight each day, eating bugs and drinking flower nectar.  To attract these beautiful birds we can plant species of flowers, trees and shrubs they prefer as nectar sources.  A hummingbird garden can be high or low maintenance, depending on your design choice.

In planning a garden for hummingbirds, you might want to place the garden where you can see it and enjoy the color and activity.  A garden in sun has many choices of plant material, but several nectar-bearing plants grow in shade; so you should be able to make this kind of a garden almost anywhere.  Even a containerized garden will attract hummingbirds.  Wild, or native plants are always a good choice, as they tend to hold the most nectar.

A bird bath or a water mister is important for hummingbirds, for drinking and bathing.  Be sure to empty and replace the water in a bird feeder at least every other day to prevent bacterial growth and the development of mosquito larvae.

A feeder will provide a nectar source during periods of little or no bloom.  The recommended recipe for nectar is 25% white sugar to 75% water.  Food coloring is not needed, and do not use raw or brown sugar as it contains iron, which can be harmful to hummingbirds if consumed in steady and frequent quantities.   Hummingbirds leave and travel south when day length shortens, so you do not have to worry about when to stop feeding them.

If trees are in or near your garden they will provide nesting sites, and shrubs provide cover.  Trees may also provide nesting materials, such as lichen and spider webs.  Two kinds of trees hummingbirds use for nesting and nesting materials are willows and tall conifers.  Blooming fruit trees are an excellent nectar source, too.  Nectar-rich vines include Campsis radicans (trumpet vine), Convovulus (morning glory) and Lonicera (honeysuckle).

Hummingbirds prefer red, orange, or yellow flowers with a tubular shape, such as honeysuckle blooms, one of their favorites.  Some shrubs we can grow in Western Montana that provide nectar are Syringa (lilac), Buddleia (butterfly bush), Lavandula (lavender), and Weigela.

Native perennials that offer nectar include: Aquilegia (columbine), Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), Aster, Clarkia, Liatris, Lupinus (lupine), Heuchera (coral bells), Monarda (bee balm), Penstemon, Phlox and Salvia.

There are several other, introduced perennials that attract hummingbirds: Alcea rosea (hollyhock), Delphinium, Dianthus (carnations and pinks), Digitalis (foxglove), Hemerocallis (daylily), Paeonia (peony) and Veronica. 

Annual flowers give the summer-long bloom we want to attract hummingbirds.  Some of their favorites are: Calabrachoa, Cleome, Cosmos, Impatiens, Nasturtium, Nicotiana (flowering tobacco), Petunias and Zinnias. 

 

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GROWING VEGETABLES IN CONTAINERS

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My pictures show heirloom French cantaloupe ‘Prescott Fond Blanc’ and ‘Ananas D’Amerique a Chair Vert’.  The containers were too small to mature the fruit, so I repotted them into much larger 24″ by 24″ pots.  The frame helped ripen the fruit in the climate of cool western Oregon. 

Raising vegetables in containers is an excellent option for those of us who are living in a dwelling temporarily, are short of space, or have poor soil.  Containers are useful and versatile; pots can be moved around if a location is too hot, windy or shady.  Plants that enjoy heat, such as melons, squash, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant can be placed in front of a warm south or west wall to ripen faster.  Also, if spring cold weather threatens, pots may be moved inside overnight, or even a few days for protection.  The same advantage applies to the fall season; if weather turns cold and your crop is not yet ripe you can bring pots inside.    

Containers for vegetables should be at least 12 inches by 12 inches for a single tomato or eggplant, but much larger containers are needed for melons, squash and pumpkins—at least 24 inches by 24 inches for each plant.  Smaller crops, such as carrots, beets, broccoli, cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, etc. need a container at least 10 inches deep, and yields are better if the pots are 24 to 36 inches wide.  For peas and beans, some gardeners have good success with containers shaped like long rectangles, perhaps 12 inches wide by 48 inches long and 10 or more inches deep.   It is easier to move your containers around if you have them on rollers.  And if you build your own containers, use non-treated water-resistant wood such as cedar, redwood or cypress.  The new fabric containers are useful, reusable and inexpensive, but cannot be moved during the season. 

The soil mix for vegetables should be rich, moisture-retentive, but quick draining.  Plant roots need air to thrive.  I use a mix of two parts organic potting soil, one part rotted manure or compost, and one part perlite or sharp sand.  Consistent, frequent applications of manure tea, liquid seaweed or a complete organic fertilizer will keep your vegetables growing well. 

Watering is very important when growing in containers.  Check plants every day all season long.  If weather is hot and the plants are large, you might have to water two or three times a day.  Automatic drip watering systems are an option if you will be away for a few days. 

When planting seeds, follow directions on the package and read about how to care for each vegetable.  “Patio”, “bush” or dwarf varieties of vegetables are good choices for containers.  They tend to be compact, productive plants with normal size or slightly smaller fruit.  Vegetable seeds that can be planted now (July) include: lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, carrots, corn salad, and Swiss chard.  Plant starts of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale can be planted now for late fall harvest.  Starts of tender vegetables that can be planted in containers now include: tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupe, watermelon, eggplant and peppers.

SOME HARDY FLOWERING SHRUBS

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SOME HEIRLOOM AND NEWER HARDY SHRUBS

I wish I had more pictures to illustrate this article; but I include a few of hardy shrub roses.  All the shrubs described here grow well with organic gardening practices.

Flowering shrubs brighten our home gardens.  They bring beauty and fragrance while providing cover and nesting places for birds.  Listed below are a few shrubs well-adapted to the cold climates of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado.  Some of the plants described will grow in the northern prairie states.

Lilacs, especially the common and French lilac hybrids (Syringa vulgaris) appreciate our climate.  The flowers of common lilacs are soft, pale purple.  The bushes are tall, up to 20 feet when aged.  Once established, lilacs can really take care of themselves, tolerating cold winters and dry summers without care.  They flower more heavily if old bloom spikes are trimmed off, and plants are fertilized in the fall with bone meal, wood ashes and a light dusting of compost or manure.  Lilacs make a great hedge and deer tend to leave them alone, as the leaves have a bitter taste.

Shrub roses are terrific, hardy plants for our area.  The relatively new Canadian hybrid shrub roses are excellent.  Two Canadian-bred climbers, growing 10 to 12 feet, are ‘Henry Kelsey; with double red flowers; and ‘Champlain’ with bright pink flowers.  Both of these will not winter kill here and are hardy to USDA zone 3, so can be grown all over Montana.  Another repeat-blooming Canadian rose, growing 3 to 4 feet tall is ‘John Davis’, with double red blooms.  It makes a good bedding rose and is hardy to zone 4.  ‘John Davis’ would not require protection in Western Montana.

Some heirloom roses that do well in cold climates are described here:  ‘Suzanne’ a hardy rose from the 1930s, shown in the first two pictures above.  ‘Suzanne’ blooms in late spring with a wonderful display of color.   The plant is hardy to USDA zone 2.  Two other old roses frequently seen in the dry Western States are ‘Harison’s Yellow’ from the 1830s and “Austrian Copper’ (Rosa foetida bicolor).  Both are winter hardy to zone 4, bloom in late spring and are drought tolerant once established.  One occasionally sees other related roses, such as white Pimpinellifolia roses.  The third picture above was taken in a roadside garden of a farm house on the foothills of the Mission Mountains in Western Montana, USDA zone 4.  The plant was covered with flowers in late May-early June.  Pimpinellifolia roses  are very hardy, their ancestors originated in northern Scotland.  If you grow any of these once-blooming, drought tolerant, hardy shrub roses remember to place them in full sun and water well until established.

Our beautiful, ubiquitous wild rose, (Rosa woodsii) is shown in the last picture.  It makes a broad, suckering shrub useful for the edges of your garden.  It is drought and cold tolerant, but blooms only once a year, in mid spring.  Plants are sun-loving, but tolerate shade well, where they will grow taller.  Their foliage is healthy and the fragrance of the flowers is delightful.  The only other rose with a similar fragrance is the true ‘American Beauty’ a very rare hybrid perpetual rose.  I grew it once, and when cuttings were taken they failed to strike.  ‘American Beauty’ has infrastipular prickles, little thorns below the leave stipules, just like Rosa woodsii, which makes me surmise that ‘American Beauty’ may be descended in part from Rosa woodsii.  Keep in mind that roses often sold as ‘American Beauty’ are usually ‘Ulrich Brunner Fils’, a similar hybrid perpetual with no infrastipular prickles.

Silver Buffalo Berry (Sheperdia argentea) is a tough, drought tolerant native shrub growing 6 to 12 feet tall and wide.  It can spread by suckers, so give it room.  This sun-loving shrub is a good food plant for wildlife, providing red berries and protective cover for birds.  Buffalo Berry makes a sturdy hedge or windbreak requiring no care once established.  It is also very winter hardy, to USDA zone 2.

The shrubby Potentillas (Potentilla species) are drought tolerant, colorful shrubs frequently seen in public landscapes.  They are hardy native shrubs, growing 3 to 4 feet tall, available in several colors.  Potentillas tolerate drought and heat, but best of all, bloom all summer.  Full sun is best for them.  It is easy to shape your plants in the fall, trimming off the oldest stems.

Two native shrubs that prefer moisture and part shade are mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) and Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum).  Mock orange grows 8 to10 feet tall and produces deliciously scented flowers in late spring.  Rocky Mountain maple is a beautiful, small maple growing 6 to 10 feet tall, with dark red wood and golden fall color.  Both of these plants could be placed on the north side of a building where their roots would be in shade and tops in sun.  Be sure to leave 3 to 4 feet or more between the shrubs and the building.

 

 

GROWING HEIRLOOM TOMATOES

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Tomatoes are native to the Andes Mountain region, a region of varied climates.  The kind of tomatoes most frequently grown in our gardens are botanically classified as Lycopersicon esculentum.   Tomatoes are easy to grow in Western Montana if given the right conditions in the garden.  The site should be sunny and protected from wind, but with some airflow.  If grown in too close or crowded conditions tomatoes can succumb to disease.  Fortunately, in our area, the air is usually pretty dry, meaning humidity is usually low (when the sun is out).  Good soil is important.  I amend my existing soil with manure, bone meal or rock phosphate, alfalfa meal or wood ashes and greensand.  A good, dark compost will enrich your soil, feed the tomatoes and retain moisture.  If you prepare your soil well, as organic gardeners do, you will not have to feed them at all the rest of the season.  Tomatoes prefer even moisture; if given too little water they will produce fewer and smaller fruit.  If given too much water all at once, especially when the soil has dried out, the fruit often crack and split.  An even, slow watering is best, so the moisture goes deep into the soil.  Leaf roll, blossom-end rot and cracked fruit can be prevented by careful, even watering—aim for moist soil always, not wet or dry.

Tomatoes are naturally a vining plant, though they have been selected over the centuries to be shorter and bushier.  This is especially true of more recent seed strains.  Many of the oldest heirloom tomatoes are tall plants that require support in the form of a tomato cage or wooden frame, or a trellis.  One example of a tall heirloom tomato is ‘Purple Cherokee’, which grows over six feet tall!  It is important to keep the fruit of the ground and leave space around your plants.  This will help prevent disease.  It is best to water tomatoes in the morning and avoid wetting foliage in the evening.  This will reduce or prevent late blight (spots on leaves and fruit).  Other diseases include: powdery mildew, verticillium wilt, and fusarium wilt.   If you suspect disease, your county extension agent or other specialist can help you diagnose these problems and recommend remedies.  This is important in our region, to protect our potato industry.  Potatoes are related to tomatoes and subject to many of the same diseases.  Sulfur and copper fungicides are two available OMRI listed, certified organic disease controls.

Deer are a primary pest in our gardens; gophers and voles are quite damaging, too.  A tall (seven foot) fence helps prevent deer, and hardware cloth under a raised bed is a good way to prevent gophers and voles.

One more issue to watch is proper pollination of your tomatoes.  Fruit will not set well if daily high temperatures do not reach 55 degrees; conversely, fruit will not set if temperatures are over 100 degrees.  Historically, we have had troubles setting fruit with our cold days and nights, but nowadays with warming temperatures, the daily high temperatures might become an issue.

Here is a list of some wonderful open-pollinated heirloom tomatoes that do not have too late a season for Western Montana:

‘Glacier’ (55 days) is a dwarf, bushy variety with potato-like leaves.  The fruit are 2” to 3” and red to orange.  ‘Glacier’ produces well in cool climates and has excellent flavor for an early tomato.  No pruning or staking is needed for this variety.

‘Bison’ (65 days) was developed in North Dakota in 1937.  It is another dwarf variety that sets 3” deep red tomatoes even in cool weather.  ‘Bison’ can produce as much as 40 pounds of tomatoes from one plant.  This variety requires no staking or pruning.

‘Persimmon’ is an orange, persimmon-colored tomato that originated in Massachusetts in the mid-1800s.  It is rare today and reasonably early, (75 to 80 days).  The flavor is very good, low-acid; the fruit reaches about one pound.  This is a great tomato for salsa!

‘Large Red’ (80 days) is one of the oldest and rarest tomatoes.  It originated in Massachusetts, in the 1820s, and was grown by the Shakers.  Pioneers brought is west on the Oregon Trail.  It is a tall plant with convoluted red fruit resembling the pumpkin that became Cinderella’s coach.  12 oz. fruit is common, as it is a beefsteak-type.  ‘Large Red’ has a sweet and rich flavor.

‘White Shah’ (80 days) is an heirloom from the 1880s; a very mild, flavorful, white tomato.  The fruit are quite large, 8-12 ounces, and the plants have potato-like leaves.  ‘White Shah’ was the healthiest tomato I grew last year, and one of the best for flavor.

‘Pink Brandywine’ (80 days) is another tall plant, potato-leaved, with delicious, pink fruit.  It is the most popular heirloom for flavor, though the plants are more disease-prone than most tomatoes.  Good culture should prevent or minimize these problems.  ‘Pink Brandywine’ is one of the best for tomato sauce.

‘Cherokee Purple’ (80 days) originated with the Cherokee people and was brought west to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  The plant is very tall—six to seven feet!  Staking and/or caging is necessary.  The fruit are large, flavor is among the very best, and fruit sets fairly early.  Prepare your soil well, as this variety is not usually as productive as some.