PLANTING SPRING FLOWERING BULBS AND NATIVE WILDFLOWERS

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PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS

 Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, glacier lilies and crocus are adapted to most Montana climate zones (USDA zones 4 and 5).  Tulips are very hardy and adapted to the cold eastern Montana climate (USDA zone 3).  All should be planted in fall, usually in October or November.  You can plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes, but they will bloom better if you get them in before November 15, when soil is in the 40 degrees to 55 degrees range.    

SOIL PREPARATION

Bulbs prefer a well-drained location in the garden.  Tulips, hyacinths, crocus and grape hyacinths need full sun.  Daffodils and glacier lilies (trout lilies) like part shade, though daffodils will grow in full sun in Montana.  Daffodils are deer and rodent proof, but the others, especially tulips, need to be in a place protected from deer and voles.  The new wire baskets from Vole King are flexible and easy to place around your bulbs before you plant.  When a vole chews into the wire, its nose is poked by the wires curling back after being cut. 

Dig your bulb bed to 10 or 12 inches deep.  Sandy loam is the best soil for bulbs, but you can improve your soil by adding gypsum to break down clay, or peat moss, compost and bone meal.  Bone meal degrades into the soil while it adds phosphorous, which will promote good blooms.  Mix bone meal well with the soil in the bottom of the bed for best results.  PH should be about neutral for these bulbs, but hyacinths and tulips will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Plant tulips and daffodils at 5 per square foot, hyacinths and glacier lilies at 3 to 4 per square foot, and grape hyacinths and crocus at 8 to 10 per square foot.  After planting, backfill the soil but do not pack it down over the bulbs.  Water well. 

PLANTING DEPTH

The general recommended planting depth for bulbs is: 3 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, crocus and glacier lilies about 4 inches deep. 

HEIGHT WHEN IN BLOOM

Our tulips grow to about 20 inches tall and bloom midseason.  Our daffodils bloom early and grow and bloom to about 16 inches.  Our hyacinths and glacier lilies bloom at about 10 inches, and bloom early.  Our grape hyacinths bloom about 6 inches high and bloom midseason.   Crocus bloom at 3 inches high and bloom very early. 

AFTERCARE

Leave foliage on your bulbs and let it die down naturally.  This feeds the bulbs so they will flower well the next year.  Most bulbs, especially tulips, like dry 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 every October.  Glacier lilies like to grow in moist soil, but can tolerate dry soil conditions for a short period during late summer. 

 

PLANTING A WILDFLOWER MEADOW

 

A wildflower garden or meadow will attract and feed native pollinators, beneficial insects and birds.  Maintenance and watering is generally less than most gardens of ornamental plants, which require frequent watering and weeding. 

 

NORTHERN REGION WILDFLOWER MIX is a blend of annual and perennial flowers adapted to the Montana climate.  Flower height varies from about 8 inches to 5 feet.  This taller mix contains both native and introduced species.  Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.

 

MONTANA NATIVE WILDFLOWER MIX contains only seed from plants native to Montana.  This shorter mix is a combination of annuals and perennials.  Flower height varies from 8 inches to 24 inches.   Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.

 

The best time to plant wildflower mixes is in fall.  You can sow the seed mid-October into November and even into December.  If the soil is prepared the seeds can be spread right over the snow, but birds or rodents may eat some of the seeds.  Winter temperatures will stratify the seeds and help them to germinate at a higher rate than if planted in the spring.  

 

Prepare your spot in full sun, if possible, or part shade.  Remove weeds and grasses, cultivate lightly then rake the area smooth.  Mix the seed with coarse sand to spread it evenly, in a ratio of 3 parts sand to 1 part seed.  After you broadcast the seed, press it into the soil in the same way you would if you were planting grass seed.  If it does not rain or snow within a week, water the area well.  It is not necessary to add fertilizers, as wildflowers generally prefer a soil of low fertility.  

 

Every summer, you can gather seed from your wildflowers and sow it right in the same bed to perpetuate the show of flowers, or you can start a new bed. 

 

 

 

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OCTOBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Hidatsa squash

 

Fall started all of a sudden this year!  Now is the time to bring in any remaining vegetables to ripen, or cover them with a row cover designed to take frosts into the mid-20s.  Plant bulbs, wildflower mixes and hardy annuals.  Harvest apples and pears, and sow seeds of hardy trees and shrubs. 

With row covers and cold frames as protection crops can still be harvested into November.  Ventilate plants in frames and give air and water freely.  When it is cold, cover with mats or straw and do not let the sun shine on an open frame full of frozen plants.   

Finish digging potatoes early in the month in case we get a heavy frost. 

Harvest Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spinach and herbs.  Harvest and store cabbages late in the month: turn them upside down to dry, take off extra leaves and place them in a bin of sand in a cellar.  Or, place the cabbages in a trench filled with sand, cover them with more sand and place a water-proof cover (open at both ends) over the trench to keep them dry.  Close the ends with straw when frosty.  Thin spinach and lettuce planted last month.  If you have protected your pepper plants from frosts and heavy frost is on the way, pull up the plants and hang them upside down to ripen fruits.  Harvest ripe squash and pumpkins, leaving a one to one and a half inch stem.  Dig, divide and transplant garlic and shallots.  Hang onions to dry in an airy cool place.  Cut asparagus and perennial herbs back before winter.  Carrots may be left in the ground and covered with two feet of straw, leaves or peat moss to pick as needed most of the winter.   To prevent voles, cover the carrot bed with hardware cloth before you place the straw. 

Plant bulbs this month, finishing by November 15; give a top dressing of bone meal to the previous season’s bulbs beds.  Divide and replant peonies and plant wildflower seed. 

Divide perennials late in the month, after cool weather begins, into November.  Sow seeds of late-blooming perennials (to sprout in spring).  Trim lavenders and other shrubby herbs to a few inches and give them a light dressing of manure. 

If not already done, dig tuberoses, dahlias, amaryllis, gladioli and other tender bulbs.  Spread them out to dry in a warm room, clean off hair roots and decaying foliage and pack them up in dry boxes of sawdust.  Keep your bulbs in a cool, dark, dry, frost-free location.  Weed established bulb beds and spread bone meal as a top dressing. 

Harvest apples and pears for storage when the trees are dry.   To test for ripeness gently twist fruit gently one way or the other.  If it comes off easily it is ready to pick.  Place harvested fruit in heaps in a shed to dry further for 10 to 14 days.  Examine each fruit for bruises, which will cause rot in storage.  Wipe each one dry, wrap in paper and store in barrels; or, wipe dry and place in dry sand in the barrels.  Keep in a cool, dry cellar away from frost. 

Transplant trees, shrubs and fruit trees late in month. 

Watch for leafhoppers on roses and spray before severe frosts occur to get last generation before winter.  To protect tender roses over the winter, mound each plant with soil about 6 inches deep and place a layer of evergreen branches over that.  In the spring the soil can be removed gradually, about an inch at a time.  In the spring, uncover the plants gradually.  Use a gentle jet of water from a hose once a week or so, finishing about May 20.   If a heavy late frost threatens, place the evergreens over the crown of the plant again, removing them when weather warms. 

 

 

SOME NATIVE PERENNIALS TO PLANT IN FALL

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SOME NATIVE PERENNIALS TO PLANT IN FALL

Fall is a very good time to plant potted perennial plants.  Garden soil is still warm, enabling roots to grow quickly, therefore allowing perennial plants to establish well.  Root growth will take place all through the autumn, finally ceasing when the ground freezes in mid-November or even in December, depending on the year.  In autumn fewer weeds germinate so it is easier to keep beds clean while newly planted perennials establish themselves.  Fall planting ensures a heavier spring or summer bloom, too.  These same factors apply to the many kinds of bulbs we plant in fall.  Below is a list of excellent plants for Western Montana, including native wildflowers and some drought-tolerant perennials.   

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa   18”-2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  This native plant blooms in summer with bright orange flowers which are an important nectar source for bees and butterflies.  The leaves are important as a nursery for Monarch butterfly larvae.   Butterfly weed grows well in dry, poor soils so it needs less water than most garden perennials.

Coreopsis Coreopsis grandiflora  18”-30” x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  Coreopsis is another native perennial that blooms for a long season, from early summer into fall.  The flowers are brilliant yellow and attract butterflies and bees.  Coreopsis likes a little more water than butterfly weed, but is drought tolerant once established.  It is quite easy to grow.

Echinacea Echinacea purpurea  3-4 ft. x 3 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.   This coneflower is native to the eastern half of the U.S.A. where it grows in dry woods and tall grass prairies.   Once established, coneflower is drought tolerant, needing about as much water as coreopsis.  The roots are used medicinally.   Flowers of the wild form are of soft purple and the bloom period lasts for months, beginning in mid-summer.   Echinacea is another excellent pollinator plant, attracting bees and butterflies. 

Echinacea Echinacea angustifolia  18”-2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  This native echinacea prefers drier conditions than E. purpurea so is very well-adapted to our dry summers.   The plants are a bit smaller also.  The roots are used medicinally and the flowers are an excellent nectar source for bees and butterflies.   Flowering period is early through late summer. 

Blazing Star Liatris spicata  30” x 18” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  A wonderful native plant with soft purple plumes of long-lasing flowers that attract bees and butterflies.  The flowers can be used for cutting and last a long time.  Plants are easy to grow, needing about as much water as coreopsis, lupine and Echinacea purpurea.

Lupine Lupinus polyphyllus (Minarette Dwarf Hybrids) 16” x 16” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  Minarette hybrid lupines are descended from a species native to Montana.  They are very well-adapted to our climate and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Flower colors of this strain of lupine are beautiful and include bicolor forms as well.   The plants flower in June-July. 

Monarda fistulosa  2 ft. x 2 ft. wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  The common names for this plant are bee balm and wild bergamot.  This species is native to North America and has showy white to purple flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.  This wild species prefers a moist soil, where it will bloom larger and longer in mid to late summer. 

Bee Balm Monarda didyma Panorama Hybrids 30” x 30” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  These hybrids of a native eastern U.S. species are colorful, fragrant and attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.   Colors range from pink to red, burgundy, scarlet, purple and white.  Flowers appear July-September.  Bee balm likes a moist soil; the same conditions as M. fistulosa. 

Mexican Hat Ratibida columnifera  12”-36” x 18” wide (plant in full sun) zones 3-9.  The flowers of this native species look like a little orange and yellow sombrero.  The plants are drought tolerant and easy to grow.  Bees and butterflies love the flowers.   

 

 

GROWING LETTUCE

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Lettuce 'Jericho'

GROWING LETTUCE

Lettuce is one crop we can grow here in Montana over a longer season than most vegetables.  Lettuce and many greens can be direct-seeded as early as March 21, even though the soil is still cool.  The minimum germination temperature for lettuce is about 35 degrees F. and 66 degrees F. is ideal.  A cold frame or tunnel placed over the seedbed will warm the soil and hasten germination, especially if it is in a sunny spot.  After planting, lettuce will be ready to cut in about three or four weeks.  Sow lettuce in succession, every two weeks or so, to provide a continuous harvest all season.  Lettuce prefers cooler weather and will turn bitter and bolt early if it is hot.  In hotter weather, plant successive crops about 10 days apart to ensure a constant supply.  Later, in cooler fall weather, stretch out the days a bit.  Lettuce can be sown as late as October 20th.  Use a poly tunnel or cold frame to protect late sowings from hard frosts.  In a cold frame, lettuce can be harvested quite late in the year.  A few varieties that tolerate colder weather and frosts include: ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’ an old French heirloom; ‘Red Oakleaf’; ‘Rouge d’Hiver’; ‘Valdor’ and ‘Valmain’. 

Sow lettuce at the rate of 60 seeds per foot in a 3” wide band in rows 12” apart .  Cover seed only 1/8” deep and firm gently.  Full sun is the best spot for lettuce.  Growing temperatures for lettuce range from 45 to 75 degrees F. with 60-65 degrees being ideal.   There are types of lettuce that tolerate warm weather better than others.  These varieties include: ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’; ‘Deer’s Tongue’; ‘Jericho’; and ‘Oakleaf’.  Your plants will grow best in cool days with cool nights.

The best soil pH for lettuce is about 6.0-7.5.  Since the plants have rather weak root systems, it is best if your soil is rich and moist.  Germination time varies from 2-15 days.   In the spring season, protect from cutworms with cardboard collars, or two layers of newspaper, or a layer of aluminum foil.   Water regularly; keep moist but not wet.  Water early in the day only, allowing leaves to dry before evening.  Regular watering is excellent, but do not allow soil to become saturated for long periods.  Lettuce does best with steady, even watering, especially in summer.

Pests on lettuce (besides cutworms) include: gophers, tarnished plant bugs, thrips, aphids, leaf miners, flea beetles, slugs, mites and nematodes.  One way to minimize pests is by growing your crop under insect fabric stretched over row covers.  Some diseases of lettuce are: early blight, verticillium wilt, mosaic, yellows and rust, but these are usually not troublesome here in Montana. 

Cut lettuce early in the morning with scissors, cutting only as much as you need for a day or two.  Try to keep it clean as you cut.  When ready to use, wash carefully.  After washing/drying make sure the leaves are not too wet when they are put into bags.  Stuff the bags loosely with the lettuce.  A person may add edible flowers of nasturtiums, pansies, or calendulas to a mix of greens to brighten up the look of a salad.  Keep cut lettuce as cool as possible to prevent wilting (45- 55 degrees, in high humidity and out of the sun).

JULY GARDENING CALENDAR FOR WESTERN MONTANA

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JULY GARDENING CALENDAR

Because July in often hot, water berries (they need constantly moist soil) as well as fruit trees and vegetables as needed.  After garlic, shallots and storage onions flag or look wilted, withhold water.  Carefully dig and cure them over wire (usually one week).  Decrease water to potatoes when tops begin to die back, though this will probably not happen until August this year.  Check for pests frequently (aphids, leafhoppers, squash bugs and leaf miners).  Weed squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins to increase production.   Clean and weed borders. 

VEGETABLES

Early in the month you can start some fall crops indoors to plant out in late August/early September: cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, late cabbage, Chinese cabbage, bok choi and radicchio.  All of these are plants that grow and produce well in the cool fall weather.  Plant them out in 5 to 6 weeks, when they have two sets of leaves.  Cauliflower should be ready about 55-60 days from transplanting (October).  Have covers ready for severe frosts below 26 degrees F.  The time period of late June and early July is the best time to plant seeds for healthy fall crops.  You can also direct sow several vegetables all month long: lettuce, kohlrabi, dill, rutabagas, Swiss chard, carrots, collards, endive, fennel, kale, peas, and scallions (green onions).  

For extended harvest into winter, the gardener can grow vegetables in protected frames or tunnels.  If covers are large enough for extended growing, direct sow: beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, rutabaga, salsify and New Zealand spinach.    

If you started seeds in June, you can transplant out leeks.  Plant them deeply and cut the tops shorter.  Cool weather crops including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are best transplanted out late in July.  Shade them to protect them from transplanting shock and August heat with cardboard or a row cover or tunnel using fabric instead of polyfilm. 

At blossom time, fertilize your peppers with 4 tablespoons Epsom salts in one gallon of water and repeat 2 weeks later.  Fertilize established asparagus with rotted, composted manure and June-bearing strawberries after harvest.  Watch for corn earworms and powdery mildew.  Hill up potatoes to keep the tubers cool.  Transplant and divide iris and primulas. 

Harvest: lettuce, carrots, beets, onions, leeks, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, bush beans. 

FLOWERS

Sow seeds (in frames) of early-blooming perennials: primroses, lupines, tulips, and poppies.   Biennials, such as sweet William, Canterbury bells, sweet rocket and stocks can be direct sown now and into August.  Sow winter pansies, but also collect pansy seed from the plants you like the best.  Remove lanky, exhausted growths to encourage short new stems from the center.  Take cuttings of pansies for autumn planting.  Remove violet runners, mulch them, feed them and keep foliage moist by frequently spraying with water.  Take up spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, fritillaries, colchicums, autumn crocuses, etc., when leaves are decayed.  Carefully dig them and dry over wire screen.  Propagate from offsets and store in cool, dry place for the summer. 

FRUIT

Pick up fallen fruit; check for canker.  Propagate strawberries by runners and plant them into new beds. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES 

Finish trimming evergreens, box edgings and all types of hedges early in the month.  Prune spring blooming shrubs now.  Water lawns during hot weather to keep them green.  Prune old-fashioned once-blooming shrub roses now, after blooms fade, removing no more than 1/3 length of canes.  Trim out old, non-productive and dead wood.  Have a great July!

 

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!