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!

 

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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. 

 

 

 

2017 SEPTEMBER GARDENING

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We have had a very hot summer this year so watch for spider mites on your garden plants, especially those in hot, dry locations.   If you have kept your house plants outside, inspect them carefully before you bring them into the house.  Check for any sign of insects or diseases and if you find any, treat with organic pest controls.  Watch for slugs and cultivate to expose and destroy grasshopper eggs.  Also, watch for corn earworms. 

Another important pest in Western Montana gardens are voles.  Wrap your fruit trees for winter with plastic tree guards so that these rodents will not strip the bark.  An effective method to protect the root ball of trees from being dug into and eaten, is to plant them using wire baskets over the roots.  Voles cannot chew through hardware cloth or into the new vole wire cages.  Caging is a safe-for-the–planet method that works for fruit trees, roses, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.  Be sure to cover the surface of the ground inside the basket edge so rodents cannot burrow down from the top.

Harvest peas, beans and cucumbers consistently in September to keep them producing.   Late in the month remove blossoms from eggplant, peppers, melons and squash in order to direct energy into to ripening remaining fruits.  Cover sunflowers from birds and pinch tomato tips.  Cultivate or hoe around cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and celery.  Keep late maturing cauliflower and broccoli well-watered.  Plant garlic and shallots and over-wintering onion sets.  You can still direct seed a few plants for fall/winter greens: arugula, lettuce, radishes, cress, corn salad, chervil and kale. 

If you plan to grow crops under tunnels or in a cold greenhouse over the winter, plant seed (early in the month) of crops for winter use: chervil, kale, spinach, lettuce, radishes, corn salad, and winter cress.  Later in the month, from the 20th to the first week of October, plant seeds of cabbage, cauliflower and other brassicas for transplanting out into tunnels in OctoberHave winter covers ready by October 1. 

September is a good time to make new beds for growing mushrooms.  Well-rotted horse manure is excellent. 

Gather ripe seeds of any vegetables (or flowers) you want to save seed from.

Prepare beds for planting bulbs.  Sow seeds of bulbous flowers collected in summer.  Transplant peonies and lilies and dig dahlias after killing frost.  Transplant pinks and carnations (with root ball intact) late in the month and plant out any other perennials and biennials where they are to bloom.  Most perennials can be divided now and replanted where they are to bloom. 

Gather ripe fruit from apples and pears.  Remove diseased fruits and “mummies”, rake up leaves under fruit trees and destroy them (to prevent apple scab).  Prepare equipment to make cider. Prepare beds for planting fruit trees, using well-rotted manure, digging down 18 inches.  Keep strawberries free of weeds and the soil moist.  If you plan to force strawberries in winter, now is the time to take them up and pot them.  Cut a root ball out with a knife, trim off dead leaves and runners and pot into 7 or 8 inch pots.  Place them in shade and water well.  Then plunge the pots in earth up to the rim.  Take them up and into frames or greenhouse before cold weather. 

Protect ripening grapes from birds with netting or gauze; keep weeds away from plants.  If wasps are a problem, hang containers of sugar water to catch them. 

Trim branches of evergreens and walnut trees, so wounds will heal before winter.  Keep weeds cleaned out from nursery beds and plantings of young trees.  Lay down grass turf this month or plant lawn seed. 

September is an excellent time to apply an organic from of potash to your garden plants to strengthen stems and roots in order to ripen them before winter.  Kelp meal can be applied as a surface dressing and watered in or you can do a foliar spray of seaweed twice during the month of September.  Do not apply nitrogen this month as it forces growth that will surely be winter killed.

 

 

GROWING EGGPLANT

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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. 

 

 

 

 

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. 

ORGANIC ONIONS FOR YOUR GARDEN

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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!