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. 

 

 

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. 

 

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. 

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!

 

FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

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FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

February is a winter month for us and usually not much can be done outside besides shoveling snow.  But seed catalogs are still arriving and seed racks are in stores and garden centers now, so we can plan the garden.  It is a good time to order new bare root plants for spring delivery (such as most perennials, roses, etc.).   Later, in the spring, potted plants will be available in local nurseries.

If you have hotbeds (heated frames) you can sow several kinds of seed directly into the soil: arugula, carrots, celery, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Inside, under lights, you can sow eggplant, onions and peppers to be grown on and transplanted out later.  It might be better to wait to start tomatoes unless you have a good light system or greenhouse, because the plants will get “leggy” reaching for light inside during our short winter days.  Some slow-growing flowers can be started inside now under lights, including: petunias, impatiens, lobelia, pansies, salvias, and perennial herbs and flowers.  (Cover pansy seeds well as they need darkness to germinate).  Check and ventilate cold frames and keep them covered at night.

Continue forcing flowers in the greenhouse, such as tulips, narcissus, roses and lily of the valley.   Strawberries can be forced now in the greenhouse also.  Protect alpines, auriculas and other primroses in pots (in a cold greenhouse) from too much rain or frosts as they will begin to bud.  Pick off dead leaves, remove the top of the soil off of the pot and replace it with rich compost.  After adding compost, clean the outside of the flower pots with warm soapy water.   Only a little water may be given to the plants, but give plentiful air.  Sow any remaining alpine, wildflower, primula and auricula seeds.

Late in the month, if weather permits, sow hardy annuals outside: cornflowers, alyssum (Lobularia maritima) larkspur, sweet peas, Lychnis, Nigella, Lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate, dill and wildflowers.  If the snow is gone you can begin planting and/or pruning fruit trees: peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apples, medlars, quinces and pears.  Plant and/or prune: gooseberries, currants and raspberries.  Manure and other organics can be spread outside over vegetable beds, if this was not already done in December.  Prune and manure grapes, leaving space around the stems.  Grapes can be grafted late in the month.

In late February you can sow stone fruit seeds for rootstocks and hawthorn seeds for hedges; later transplanting them to their permanent position (after three years).

Late in the month is a good time to begin planting and dividing perennials (if the snow is gone and the ground thawed).  Also, if weather permits, propagate roses and other shrubs by suckers, layering and cuttings.

 

 

HEIRLOOM VEGETABLE VARIETIES FOR WESTERN MONTANA

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HEIRLOOM VEGETABLE VARIETIES

FOR WESTERN MONTANA AND THE INTER-MOUNTAIN WEST

Below is a list of varieties of tried and true heirloom vegetables that have been around for at least 50 years, and do well in our Western Montana climate.  From my own experience, and the experience of other Montana gardeners, the kinds listed below have proven they are well-adapted.   Some of these antique seed strains are grown for seed in Montana.

All varieties listed are open-pollinated; meaning insects, birds or winds pollinate them.  Seed saved each year will produce vegetables of the same, original variety the next year.   None of the kinds listed are hybrids (human-pollinated) or GMO (genetically modified organisms).  Since no patents exist on these old strains you can legally save seed and grow the same kind year to year.   I want to stress that some kinds of vegetables need to be raised in isolation, so they will not cross-pollinate with other plants of their own species.  Maize (corn) is one example: it is recommended that corn be isolated by a mile or more from other varieties of corn to keep the strain pure, and a block of over 200 plants are needed to prevent inbreeding depression.   But most other vegetables have less complex requirements.  Some vegetables are biennial, meaning they produce seed in their second year; for example cabbage and carrots.  These will need special handling.  If you plan to save and grow your own seed, it might be a good idea to research the best methods to do so for each type of vegetable.  Some vegetables self-pollinate and are easy to save seed from; with these, you can be assured of getting the same variety by separating different kinds of the same species.  The following will produce seed of the same strain (and self-pollinate) when separated by only a few feet: beans, lettuce, peas, and tomatoes.   Two excellent books on seed-saving are: The Heirloom Gardener by Carolyn Jabs and The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough.   The second book was written by two professors at Montana State University in Bozeman.

Here are some locally-adapted heirloom vegetables:

Storage Onion ‘Southport White Globe’ (110 days):  An American heirloom, pre-Civil War onion originally from Connecticut.  This onion is a long-day onion, so seed needs to be started in early spring and planted out so it will begin bulbing in the summer long days.   The onion is globe-shaped with purplish-red colored skin and the flesh is white.  It has a mild flavor, is a good yielder and stores well.  There is a ‘Southport Red’ storage onion also, with the same good qualities.

Bunching Onion ‘Heshiko Evergreen’ (65 days):  An heirloom Japanese onion that can be sown in spring, or in fall for a crop the following spring.  It never makes bulbs, but grows into little clumps that can be divided into 6 or more plants in the fall.  I found this to be a very productive variety, flavorful and tough.  Use it as scallions, thinning as the season goes on.

‘Walking Onion’ (Tree Onion):  This is a very old European, or possibly Egyptian, perennial onion that forms small clusters of bulblets, or baby onions, on the tips of the leaf stalks.  These can be replanted for more onions.  The flavor is pungent and sweet.  The bulblets can be used for pickling if you have enough extra saved out for propagation.  Harvest the little bulblets in summer and replant some for next year.

Leek Giant of Musselburgh’ (105 days):  A tough, cold-hardy leek of large size, dating to the 1830s, from Scotland.  The stalks are very large, to 3 inches in diameter.  The flavor is mild, and the plants are reluctant to bolt.  Harvest can continue into November, or longer if cloched.   Another good cold-hardy leek is ‘Hannibal’ (95 days): not quite as old as ‘Giant of Musselburgh’, but very early-maturing, with a mild flavor.

Carrot ‘Red-Cored Chatenay’ also called ‘Red Chatenay’ (65 days):  This variety was introduced into America from France in 1929, and may be much older.  I have grown ‘Chatenay’ carrots since I was a boy; the flavor is sweet, the texture is dense and crunchy.  This variety does well in our thin, rocky soil as it has shorter roots and does not split as often as other kinds do.

Carrot ‘Parisienne’ also called ‘Parisian Market’ and ‘Tonda di Parigi’:  A very old orange carrot, from the 1880s or before, with small, round globe-shaped roots about the sizer of a ping-pong ball.  They are not as sweet as ‘Chatenay’, but are very early and do well in shallow, rocky soils.  The flavor is mild and pleasant.   ‘Nantes’ carrot, from the 1850s is another sweet, rather short, orange carrot that does well here.

Beet ‘Chioggia Candy Stripe’ (60 days): is a pre-1840s heirloom from Italy.  It was in the U.S.A. before 1865.  The roots have rings of red and white, like peppermint candy.  The flavor is mild and sweet.  The greens are excellent also.

Beet ‘Bull’s Blood’ (50-60 days):  This beet originated in the 1840s and has dark red foliage that is beautiful in the garden and colorful when used in salads.  The roots must be harvested small (2” to 3”) or they will become woody.

Chard ‘Red Ruby’ (55 days):  This chard dates to 1857 and is also called ‘Rhubarb Chard’.  The stems are a beautiful red, and the leaves have red veins.  The seeds should be planted in late spring—early June, to prevent bolting.  The beautiful leaves continue all summer into fall.

Spinach ‘Viroflay’ (47 days):  A tall plant with dark green, smooth, trowel or arrow-shaped leaves.  The flavor is mild, with low acidity.  ‘Viroflay’ dates to 1866, and is from France.  My plants produced a long time before bolting in very hot (over 100 degrees F.) weather.  A good fall crop will mature if you plant a second crop in July-August.

Cucumber ‘Lemon’ (65-70 days):  A good, juicy, early type of cucumber from the 1800s with a very mild flavor.  The fruit are round; best picked about the size of a small lemon or apple, and the plants are productive.  Immature green fruit can be harvested as well.  It does very well in cold seasons.  ‘Boothby’s Blond’ is another early yellow cucumber with mild flavor, though I found it to be not as productive as ‘Lemon’.

Cucumber ‘Straight Eight’ (62 days):  A smooth, straight heirloom cucumber growing to 8” long, mainly used for slicing.  The fruit appear early and the plants are vigorous and productive.  ‘Straight Eight’ is from the 1930s and won the All-American Selections award in 1935.

Summer Squash ‘Early Summer Crookneck’ (58 days):  An ancient, Native American variety with a rich, buttery flavor, a firm texture and pale yellow skin.  The best time to pick for fresh use is when the fruit are 4” to 5” long.  Squash left on the vine longer, then harvested and stored, will keep through fall into winter.  The plants are very productive and healthy.  This squash can be steamed, sautéed, baked or grilled.

Summer Squash ‘White Scallop’ (50 days):  Another ancient Native American squash that is very productive and healthy.  The fruit can be picked when very small, 2” or so and steamed or sautéed with other baby vegetables, or left to mature to about 3” and baked or fried.  There is a ‘Yellow Scallop’ summer squash, which is also ancient and only differs in color.

Winter Squash ‘Lakota’ (100 days):  A rare, ancient Native American variety grown by the Lakota Sioux along the Missouri and its tributaries.   ‘Lakota’ is a unique squash, with beautiful coloring, in red-orange and green stripes.  The fine-grained flesh has a sweet nutty flavor.  The Lakota used this squash for winter food.  It was cleaned, sliced in ½ inch thick pieces and dried in the sun.  The dried pieces keep well and were easily rehydrated in soups and stews.  This rare, old variety makes a wonderful crop for sustainable gardening and farming.

Pumpkin ‘Long Pie’ (100 days):  A very old pumpkin with an elongated shape, ‘Long Pie’ was first recorded in 1832 in Maine, but it may be a much older, Native American variety.  Illustrations of a very similar pumpkin brought from America are depicted in Gerard’s Herball of 1596.  This pumpkin is bright orange with sweet flesh and makes terrific pies.  It also will ripen in storage if picked while still showing some green.  This pumpkin is grown for seed right here in the Mission Valley.

Peas ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ Snap Pea (65-75 days):  A high-yielding heirloom variety with stringless pods 4” to 5” long.  If picked often, as long as the weather stays cool, the vines will produce longer than other varieties.   The pods are sweet and best picked before peas inside get too large.  I use them for fresh-eating, stir fry dishes, salads and for freezing.

Peas ‘Tom Thumb’ (50-55 days):  Introduced in 1854, this is a dwarf variety that needs no trellising.  It grows 8” to 9” tall.  Usually this pea was grown as a shelling pea, but the pods are sweet and tender and can be used as a snow pea if picked young.  This pea is very good early and late in the season as it prefers cool weather.  The variety was named after the Barnum & Bailey Circus performer Tom Thumb.

Beans ‘Blue Lake Bush’ Snap Bean (53 days):  The pods of this variety are 6” long, stringless and tender when cooked.  A relatively young heirloom (from 1961) ‘Blue Lake Bush’ has excellent flavor.  It is one of the most popular green beans.

Pole/Bush Beans ‘Arikara Yellow’ (80-85 days):  This is an ancient Native American variety from the Arikara Nation of the Dakotas.  It is a short pole bean or tall bush; kind of in between in height.  The beans are tan or creamy yellow and very productive; they can be used as snap beans or shelled and dried.  The plants are drought tolerant, a virtue common to many antique American vegetables.  This variety was described by Lewis and Clark in 1804 and was grown by Thomas Jefferson at his home in Virginia.

Tomato ‘Stupice’ (55 days):  Of all the 18 varieties of tomato I grew last year, ‘Stupice’ was the most productive.  It was the second earliest, following ‘Glacier’ another early, but rather acidic tomato.  ‘Stupice’ was much sweeter and more flavorful and kept coming on well all season.  This variety is an heirloom from the Czech republic, an area with rather short, cool summers just as we have.  The fruit are about 3 to 6 oz. on semi-determinate plants with disease-resistant potato-leaf foliage.

Tomato ‘Siletz’ (60-65 days):  Nearly old enough to be an heirloom, this tomato is a determinate slicing variety with larger fruit (10-12 oz.) than many early tomatoes.  The rich tomato flavor is excellent.  ‘Siletz’ was bred in Oregon by Dr. Jim Baggett of OSU for fruit-set in cool weather.  It has very few seeds, is very productive, very disease resistant and resists cracking.

Tomato ‘Black Krim’ (70-75 days):   A very old variety originally from the Ukraine.  The fruit are deep red, to black with a greenish flesh.  The flavor is very sweet; the tomatoes are juicy and large.  It has been found to be one of the most nutritious tomatoes.

Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ (80-85 days):  A tall Native American heirloom variety that is a long-season tomato for us.  Mine began to mature fruit before frosts and the flavor was great!  The fruit are big 13-14 oz. purple, flattened globes with green shoulders when ripe.  You will have to stake, or even better, cage this tomato.  It would be a good idea to get it in the ground as early as possible and have a tunnel or cloche ready carry it through a longer season, because it is definitely worth extra trouble.  You could also grow it in a large pot with a cage and move it inside if we get a cold snap.

Paste Tomato ‘Heinz 2653’ (68 days):  Another vegetable grown right here in Montana from seed, so you know it is well-adapted.  It is earlier than most paste tomatoes, and conveniently, the fruits all ripen about the same time, which is great if you want to can, make sauce or ketchup.   The plants are short and disease-resistant with firm, 3-4 oz. fruit.  This variety was developed years ago (1930s) by the Heinz ketchup company.

Eggplant ‘New York Improved’ (75 days):  The oldest surviving American Eggplant (before 1865) and an early variety (though not the earliest nowadays considering all the new varieties of eggplant).  ‘New York Improved’ has shiny, purple fruit; pear-shaped and medium sized.  It is good baked, as in eggplant parmesan, or fried.

Sweet Bell Pepper ‘California Wonder’ (65 days):  A popular variety all over the U.S.A., producing large, blocky peppers about 4” square.  They mature to deep green or red when ripe.   ‘California Wonder’ does well in our cool summers.  A good way to get lots of fruit is to plant larger plants, and pick off any flowers that appear before June 21, the summer solstice.  The plants will then continue to set blossoms all summer.  If allowed to set fruit before the solstice, the plants stop blooming and set the one crop of fruit rather than continuing to produce.  This applies to most types of peppers.

Hot Pepper ‘Early Jalapeno’ (65 days):  This variety and ‘Cayenne long Slim’ were the first peppers to ripen in my garden each season in the last few years, and both are very productive.  Both varieties are from the early 1800s or before.  ‘Early Jalapeno’ keeps on producing lots of fruit, also.  These peppers are both on the upper scale of heat, for most people, but about 2/3 up the chart to the hottest peppers, like ‘Habanero’.

Head Lettuce ‘Tom Thumb’ (47 days):  Dating to the 1850s, and named for the famous circus performer, ‘Tom Thumb’ head lettuce is the oldest American lettuce variety still in cultivation.  The heads mature to 6” or 7” and have a firm, crisp texture.  You can grow 4 plants in one square foot.   One head of this lettuce makes a perfect salad for one person; just like a fine dining experience!

Head Lettuce ‘Buttercrunch’ (50 days):  This is a Bibb-type lettuce that forms a loose rosette of leaves.  The variety is bolt and heat resistant, giving you a longer season to pick.  The flavor is buttery-rich and the texture is pleasantly crunchy.  It stays mild in flavor in hot weather longer than other lettuces.  ‘Buttercrunch’ is almost an heirloom, originating around 1960.

Broccoli ‘Calabrese’ (60 days):  This broccoli originated in Italy, where it has been known for a long time; it arrived in America in the 1880s.   The plants are dark green and produce 5” to 6” heads with many side shoots.  A great advantage of this variety is that side shoots will grow out after the main head is cut, so harvest continues.  This is a very good, insect-resistant variety of broccoli.

Kohlrabi ‘White Vienna’ (50-60 days):  Kohlrabi does well in our climate and is a delicious addition to salads.  ‘White Vienna’ is very old, originating before 1860 and the flavor is mild and tasty.

Cauliflower ‘Snowball’ also called ‘Erfurter’ and ‘Early Snowball’ (55 days):  A variety developed by Peter Henderson, an American market gardener, in the 1850s and ‘60s.  The plants yield early, with mild, flavorful 5” to 6” heads; somewhat self-blanching.  The plants are rather small compared to other Brassicas.

Cauliflower ‘Purple of Sicily’ (90 days):  An heirloom Italian variety from the 1800s or earlier, this cauliflower is very insect resistant.  It is quite cold-resistant as well.  The heads are bright purple, and cook to bright green—looking like broccoli, but tasting like cauliflower.  ‘Purple of Sicily’ is one of my favorite vegetables!

Cabbage ‘Golden Acre’ (65 days):  A good variety to plant for an early cabbage crop, ‘Golden Acre’ produces tender, dense, 5” to 7” heads.  Excellent used fresh, for cole slaw and stir fry dishes.   An old kind, from the 1920s.

Cabbage ‘Late Flat Dutch’ (100 days):  Sometimes this variety is listed as ‘Premium Late Flat Dutch’.  It has been grown since the 1860s and is becoming more difficult to find in seed catalogs.   The heads weigh 10 to 15 pounds and are wonderful for slaw and sauerkraut.  This is a very large, late-maturing cabbage that stores well.  Good storage is an important quality for self-sufficient and sustainable farming.  Many heirloom vegetables produce crops that store well; an important virtue in the days before refrigeration and mass-marketing.

Kale ‘Nero de Toscana’ (‘Dinosaur Kale’, ‘Black Magic’) (50 days):  Kale is quite nutritious and cold-hardy.  It is a very old variety, dating to the early 1800s.  The leaves are very dark green and loaded with nutrients.  The plants are insect-resistant, and are good fresh in salads, or added to stews, and soups.   Smaller, younger leaves are best for fresh use and the larger ones for cooking.

Sweet Corn ‘Golden Bantam’ (78-80 days):  An 8-row, golden yellow sweet corn from 1902, with ears that grow to about 6” long.  It was introduced by Burpee Co. and was one of the first yellow types to be commonly grown by American farmers, who grew mostly white sweet corn before 1900.   ‘Golden Bantam’ is still listed in the Burpee catalog, among numerous modern hybrids, which we cannot save seed from.  Since this variety is early-maturing and adapted to cooler conditions, it does well in Western Montana, often performing better than most hybrids!  An important factor is to pick ears young, in the milk stage for sweet corn, then a bit later for parched corn, and later for dry storage flour corn.

Popcorn ‘Tom Thumb’ (85 days):  Another dwarf, early vegetable variety from the 1850s.  The plants are about 3 Ft. tall and produce 3” to 4” ears.   The variety is well-adapted to cool summers, and this one is grown for seed right here in the Mission Valley.

 

 

 

DECEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Shown in the photograph above is North Crow Creek Canyon in the Mission Mountains of Western Montana.  I have a beautiful view of the canyon from my front yard.  Snow is piling up now that winter is here.  December is probably the least busy month for gardening of the year in colder climates like ours.  Here are a few things we might need to do.

Check stored vegetables and fruit often; inventory seeds and test germination of last year’s seed.  Plan your 2017 garden and order seed.  Keep perennials and bulbs planted next to the house covered with snow to insulate them from extreme cold.  Make sure all young fruit trees have their trunks wrapped and place wire netting around trunks to prevent damage from rabbits and voles.   Mulch hardy tree seedlings and bulb beds with pine or fir branches.

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

VEGETABLES

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

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

Force asparagus in hot beds.

FLOWERS

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

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

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

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

FRUIT

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

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

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

NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

GENERAL

Early in the month, prepare beds for next spring’s early crops; add manure and trench into furrows to receive frost (this will break down and lighten/feed the soil).

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

VEGETABLES

Finish planting garlic, shallots, and Egyptian walking onions.

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

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

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

FLOWERS

Finish dividing and replanting perennials before winter freeze-up.  Transplant seedling perennials and flowers into flats; keep them in a cold frame or cold greenhouse.  Mulch primroses, bleeding hearts, and any marginally hardy perennials with pine or fir branches.  Pot up double daisies; keep in frames.  Move potted flowers to frames to protect them from heavy rains.  Take and root cuttings of Pulsatilla.

Cut back established pansies, collect violet seed, continue to ventilate frames.  Prepare pansy and violet beds for planting.

Finish planting bulbs out and plant bulbs to be forced in pots.  Weed bulb beds and spread bone meal if not done last month.  Put poultry netting over newly planted tulips, crocus and hyacinths to discourage squirrels.

In the greenhouse admit air; the plants will be at rest.  Keep foliage dry, do not over water or not at all!  If mold appears, dust with sulfur.  Plunge pots of border auriculas, primroses and carnations up to the rims into gravel or soil in a frame.  Be sure to give air.  Cover frames if frosty and cold, letting no sun shine on them when frozen.  If you have bulbs, perennials, roses or shrubs growing in pots outside, be sure to sink them up to the rims into soil, sawdust or gravel to protect them from cold over winter.

FRUIT

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

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Finish planting deciduous shrubs and trees.  Layer clematis, divide Mahonias; take cuttings of lavender, Forsythia, Rubus and lilacs.

PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS

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I have three pictures above depicting flowers of heirloom bulbs.  The double daffodil is ‘Van Sion’ dated 1620.  The hyacinth is ‘General Kohler’ a rare double hyacinth from 1878. The tulip is an old Cottage-type tulip with variegated petals.  This type of tulip was much loved in the Dutch golden age in the 1600s.  Many tulips, hyacinths and daffodils still exist from hundreds of years ago, but are quite rare now.  It is important to keep growing and propagate them so they will not be lost forever!  I am going to list methods of culture and planting for spring-flowering bulbs in this article.

The best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs is when soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees.  In Montana this may occur as early as in August, but because of our frequent fluctuations in temperatures, October or early November is the best time.   Many spring bulbs establish root systems in the fall while the soil is not yet frozen.  If necessary, bulbs can be planted right up until the ground freezes, but will bloom better if you get them in earlier.

Bulbs prefer a well-drained location in the garden.  Tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths need full sun.  Daffodils, snowdrops and glacier lilies (trout lilies) like part shade, though daffodils will grow in full sun in Montana and other cool areas of the Northwest.  Daffodils are deer and rodent proof, but most others, especially tulips, need to be in a place protected from deer and voles.  Dig your soil about 10 or 12 inches deep.  Sandy loam is the best soil for bulbs, but you can improve your soil.  Add gypsum to break down clay; peat moss or compost will also help.  Bone meal is excellent food for bulbs.  It adds phosphorous, which promotes larger and more numerous blooms.  Mix bone meal well with the soil in the bottom of the bed for best results.  Soil pH should be about neutral for these bulbs, but hyacinths and tulips will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Plant tulips and daffodils at 5 bulbs per square foot, hyacinths and glacier lilies at 3 to 4 per square foot, and grape hyacinths at 8 to 10 per square foot.  After planting, backfill the soil but do not pack it down over the bulbs.  Water the bed well.  A winter mulch of evergreen branches will help protect your bulbs over winter.  Straw is not a good mulch for bulbous plants because as it rots down it attracts disease carrying organisms like botrytis and mold.

The general recommended planting depth for bulbs is three times the height of the bulb deep; pointed end up.  Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils should be planted about 6 to 8 inches deep, grape hyacinths and glacier lilies about 4 inches deep.

Leave foliage on your bulbs and let it die down naturally.  This feeds the bulbs and helps them to flower well next year.  Most bulbs, especially tulips, like dry soil conditions after foliage dies down.  In some climates, or if summer bedding is planned for that location, people dig and store their tulip bulbs and replant them in fall.  Here in Montana, you can leave the bulbs in the ground if you give no additional summer water.  Do not water them until October.  To give the roots a boost before winter, spread bone meal over your bulb beds before you water.  Glacier lilies and a few other bulbs like to grow in moist soil, but can tolerate dry soil conditions for a short period during late summer.