GROWING HEIRLOOM PEAS ORGANICALLY

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Above: The Blue-Podded Pea, dating to before 1596

Peas love good, rich, moist loamy soils.  Gypsum may be added to heavy clay soils to lighten them, and organic compost is excellent for building mountain and valley soils poor in nutrients.  Fish bone meal, alfalfa meal, and kelp meal are amendments that will provide the complete range of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash to your garden plot necessary for successful vegetable production.  Remember that organic soils are alive with microbes, so food tastes better, is more nutritious, and is safe to eat.  Also, organic soils capture carbon out of the air, reducing heating of our planet’s atmosphere. 

Peas have been grown as a garden crop for centuries and seem to have been a popular vegetable through all that time.  Several heirloom varieties of peas still exist:

‘Blauwschokker’ (Blue-Podded) pea is an ancient variety so old it was described in Gerard’s Herball  written in 1596.  Plants are very healthy and productive.  The pods can be eaten as snow peas when picked early, used as shelling peas later, and dry well for use as soup peas.  The vines of the Blue-podded pea grow 60 to 72 inches tall and require a trellis.

‘Alaska’ is an heirloom pea from 1880.  It is early, ripens all at once, and like many heirloom varieties will dry and keep well.  It is excellent for soup.  The vines grow about 30 inches tall.

‘Tom Thumb’ heirloom pea from 1854 is a miniature pea variety that does not need to be trellised.  The vines grow to 8 or 9 inches tall and are suitable for containers and for growing in cold frames early and late in the season. 

‘Lincoln’ is a famous variety from 1908 that is adapted to warmer American summers.  The vines grow to about 28 inches tall and the pods produce 8 or 9 peas each. 

‘Wando’ is very adaptable to differing climates.  It is more heat resistant than most peas and can be planted later.  ‘Wando’ dates to 1943 and the vines grow about 30 inches tall.

Because peas can take some frost, even while quite young, they can be planted early.  Some people living in milder climates than Montana’s plant their peas on St. Patrick’s Day; 17 of March. 

 Here in Western Montana we make our first sowing April 15 to 20 depending on the weather and the soil temperature.   A second sowing usually is made July 1 (after first crop is harvested.)  It is efficient use of space and easy picking if trellises are set up in the garden bed.  The first crop bears from around June 15 -July 1, and the second crop bears from about September 15-October 25.

Plant your peas in full sun for best production.  The ideal growing temperature is 55–70 F., with 60-65 F. being ideal (peas prefer cool weather).  The optimum soil pH for peas is 5.5-7.5.  Peas will germinate between 40-85 degrees F., but 60-75 F. ideal.  Germination may take 6-17 days.  Direct-sow pea seed 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart.  Plant a few extra at the end of the rows to fill in later as mini transplants.  

Water well; keep the bed moist, not wet.  For the second (midsummer) planting, plant seeds 2-3” deep 1 inch apart, otherwise the same as spring.   Do not let plants dry out at any time, especially during flowering!  Water peas early in the day only, allowing leaves to dry early in the day–steady moisture is best.    

Some pests of peas are: gophers, aphids, birds, mice, cutworms, mites, leafhoppers, cucumber beetles, pea weevils, and various caterpillars.   Powdery mildew can be troublesome also, especially if soil becomes dry and air circulation and sunshine is limited.

To harvest: pick peas when the first pods reach full size: 4”- 5”, not smaller.  Pick snow peas before seeds start to swell.  Snap peas need to be picked when pods are full size, fat, and round with peas inside.  Check and pick every 3 days to keep plants producing.  The first peas ripen at the base of the plant—remove them carefully to not damage plants.  The harvest period should be 4-6 weeks long, for each planting.  Pick all (ready) pods to keep vines producing.  After harvesting keep cool, in high humidity and out of the sun. 

Keep freshly picked peas cool, in high humidity and out of the sun.   Store them in a cool location or in the refrigerator.  Picked pods last only 5-6 days.  Peas do freeze well and most varieties dry and store well. 

 

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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. 

 

 

 

GROWING SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS ORGANICALLY

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ABOVE: A PICTURE OF ‘CAYENNE LONG SLIM’ HOT PEPPER

GROWING SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS ORGANICALLY

Peppers are one of the garden crops that must be started inside and transplanted out to the garden later, when weather has warmed.  Years ago, people grew more sweet peppers than hot, but now hot peppers are very popular here in the northern Rocky Mountain and plains region.  I will discuss some pointers on how to start and grow your plants organically and I will include some information on the many varieties available today. 

Peppers (Capsicum annuum) prefer warm days and nights to grow and produce well.  In our mountainous area, with a short growing season and cool nights, peppers benefit from protection from cold early and late in the season.  So, we time our planting for after the last frost (usually around May 15 here at 3,000 feet altitude) and find it beneficial to cover our plants for the night until temperatures warm.  Row covers, hot caps, even cardboard boxes will collect heat from the soil and release it during the night.  The warm conditions promote faster growth.  Organically enriched soil and the use of organic fertilizers will also speed up growth. 

Hot peppers take longer to germinate than sweet peppers.  Seeds of both types will germinate between 60-95 degrees, but 80-85 degrees is ideal.  The germ time for sweet peppers is 7-14 days; for hot peppers, 14-28 days.  Here, we usually start our plants in February.  A mix of peat, vermiculite and perlite makes a great seed starting mix, as it is sterile (no soil-borne diseases).  Peat pots are great for starting seeds as they can be planted right into the ground when plants are large enough.  A solid flat with a dome cover will keep the seeds moist until they sprout.  Pepper seeds do not need light to germinate, but lights over the plants will promote sturdy growth and prevent spindly, “leggy” growth.  If you do not have lights, put the plants in a warm spot in a south window as soon as they sprout. 

Nights should be 55 degrees or above before planting out into the garden.  (If you are at a high elevation, use row covers.)  Make sure to harden plants off before planting, by putting them outside for a few hours at a time (in shade).  Gradually give the plants more time outside and brighter light for about a week of time.  When you are sure weather has stabilized, plant them out.  If they are in peat pots, make sure the peat pots are very damp and plant the peppers deeper, with about 2 inches of soil over the pots, so they will degrade.   If not covered, peat pots tend to dry out and a plant cannot pierce the pot with its roots.  Protect your plants from cutworms with jugs or cans or paper rings.  Water regularly, keeping them moist, not wet.  Water early in the day only; allowing leaves to dry early in the day.  Watch for aphids, their worst pest.  A preventative spray of Garlic Barrier will deter aphids.  Follow directions and use garlic sprays very early in the day, so as to not interfere with the activities of bees and other beneficial insects.  You will only need to spray garlic three times in a whole season.  A foliar spray of liquid organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest Fish fertilizer will greatly increase the size and productivity of your plants.  This type of fertilizer is very low in salts, an important feature.  Worm castings will increase nitrogen levels in your soil and silica will strengthen stems. 

Insulating row covers (protection blankets) are very useful to extend our season for about 3-4 weeks.  These are more effective at lower temperatures than using poly film.   Mulch your peppers after soil is warm— June or early July, with red plastic or 2” organic straw.  Trim off all flowers until June 22, to enable plants to produce more heavily; otherwise, plants put all their energy into ripening an early crop and seasonal production is much lower. 

Here in the Mission Valley we put our peppers out about May 21-June 1 as weather permits.  Plant peppers about 14” apart.  Plant in full sun.  The growing temperature range for peppers is 55–85 degrees, with 75-80 being ideal.  Optimum soil pH is 5.5-7.0.  Peppers like even steady moisture—not wet soil conditions.  Try to practice regular, even watering; early in the day.

Pests of peppers include: gophers; leafhoppers; cutworms, leaf miners, hornworms, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, pepper weevils, mites, nematodes and aphids.  Diseases include: early blight, southern blight, anthracnose, bacterial spot and verticillium wilt. 

Harvest peppers when full size, 4-5 weeks from pollination + 4-5 weeks to ripen (about 9-10 weeks).  If the summer is cool, more time will be needed.  Harvest by cutting the fruit from the plant.  Check/pick every 3 days.  The first peppers should be ready about September 1 or earlier.  After harvesting keep cool, above 55 degrees, in high humidity and out of the sun.  Harvested fruit last about 7 days when stored out of the sun. 

Varieties (all open-pollinated, so seed can be saved each season):

‘King of the North’ heirloom sweet pepper (57 days to green, 65 days to red).   An early variety, grown for seed in the Mission Valley.  Fruit are 3-4” and production is good in our cool climate.

‘California Wonder’ heirloom sweet pepper (65 days to green, 75 days to red).  Another popular variety here, maturing a little later than ‘King of the North’, but more productive with larger fruit. 

‘Golden Cal. Wonder’ heirloom sweet pepper (60 days to green, 75 days to golden yellow).  A good, sweet variety for cool seasons, with large, 4” fruit. 

‘Purple Beauty’ sweet pepper (55 days to purple, 75 days to red).  A very productive, early variety with 3-4” fruit.

‘Chocolate Bell’ sweet pepper (70 days to green, 75 days to brown).  An interesting, early pepper that matures well and is grown for seed here in the Mission Valley. 

‘Jimmy Nardello’ heirloom sweet pepper (75 days to red).  A popular, 6-9” long, thin-skinned sweet pepper great for frying or drying.

‘Anaheim’ heirloom mildly-hot pepper (80 days to red).  The best pepper for stuffing.  An 8 inch long, thick-walled pepper that can be roasted, fresh dried, canned or stuffed and baked. 

‘Tesuque Chili’, Estacano Chili’, ‘San Felipe Chili’ heirloom chili peppers (about 70 days to red).  These three chili peppers are from Native American Pueblos in the Southwest.  They all are thin-walled, and excellent for drying.  They are excellent to use dried, ground up and added to dishes.  

‘Early Jalapeno’ heirloom hot pepper (60 days ).  The most popular hot pepper, used fresh and pickled.

‘Cayenne Long Slim’ heirloom hot pepper (70 days to red).  This pepper grows to about 6 or 7 inches long, is quite hot, and dries well.  Plants are very productive and early. 

‘Viet Hot Chili’ (95 days to red).  A very hot pepper grown locally (Mission Valley, Montana) for seed.  Plants must be started earlier than other peppers as they sprout slowly and mature slowly.   The fruit dry well.

‘Habanero’ heirloom chili pepper (95 days to red).   One of the hottest peppers available, it requires a long season, but is tops for flavor. 

 

 

SOME INTERESTING HOLIDAY GIFT PLANTS

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Most of us are quite familiar with common garden geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) with their brightly colored blooms and leaves.  We usually grow these outside for summer bedding color.  Other (and not as well-known) geraniums are grown for their scented leaves.  They can be grown outside for bedding or put into mixed containers for scent, but they make excellent house plants. 

Scented-leaved geraniums have been grown since the 1600s and several are heirloom plants.  At one time more than 100 varieties were grown; each one with a singular, distinctive fragrance.   Several of the kinds still available are true species, some are selections out of species and a few are hybrids.   Fragrances include rose, lemon, mint, apricot, pineapple and coconut.  To release the scent of the leaves, simply gently brush against them or rub lightly with your finger.   It is pleasant to have fragrant plants in the house in winter, even without flowers.   How many of us have tried to bring plants with fragrant flowers into bloom in the winter?  It is not an easy task, especially with our short days, minimum window space.  But scented geraniums carry their scent year-round and are not difficult to grow. 

‘Skeleton Rose’, dating to about 1700, is one of the oldest scented geraniums around.  It has a delicious rose-lemon scent and beautiful, deeply-divided leaves.   Flowers appear in late spring and are lavender. 

‘True Rose’ has beautiful divided leaves of quite different shape from ‘Skeleton Rose’, and makes a slightly larger plant.  It has been grown since 1787 and the oil from its leaves is used in perfumes.   This variety has pink blooms in late spring. 

‘Peppermint’ has soft, velvety leaves with a fresh, minty smell.  This variety seems to like more water and cooler temperatures than other geraniums.  The plant can become larger than other kinds also.  ‘Peppermint’ has been grown since 1806.

‘Lemon Fizz’ is a twentieth century plant and is probably the most popular scented geranium today.  Its leaves release a wonderful, sweet, lemon fragrance that is comparable to true lemon.  

In general, I have found that scented-leaf geraniums prefer a more neutral pH (6.0) than most other geraniums, and like a bit more moisture.  It is best to let the plants get sub-moist, but not completely dry; then water them thoroughly so the water runs out the bottom of the pot.  A sign that your scented-leaf geraniums are being kept too dry is the presence of drying, browning leaves at the base of the plants.  A sign that they are being kept too wet is transparent, yellowing leaves.  A fast-draining, organic succulent potting mix is excellent.  These plants are easy to grow organically.  Aphids and spider mites are seldom troublesome, but if they appear, can be controlled easily with certified organic pest controls or by spraying the leaves with a jet of water, washing off the bugs. 

Christmas cacti (Zygocactus spp.) have no fragrance, but what a show they give in the darkest days of the year!  Their flowers are silky and translucent, and bloom in shades of pink, red, white and lavender.   Unlike most cacti, Christmas cacti have no spines, but possess unusual, flat leaves.  In their native habitat, they live in trees.  They like a moist situation and prefer to become sub-moist before they are watered.  They do not like to dry out completely either, and will die if they get too dry.   Likewise, they will die if they are watered too much, so try to keep the plants moist.  A rich organic potting soil works well, and plants prefer to become bit pot bound, when they bloom the best.  In fall, winter and early spring Christmas cacti can be given a spot in a sunny window, but in summer they need part shade or some protection from full sun. 

Christmas cacti are daylight sensitive.  Flower buds are set in fall, when days are shorter and nights longer (12 to 14 hour nights).  Temperatures of 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. will encourage bloom.  The plants must have complete darkness at night to set flower buds, so when you are trying to get them to bloom, make sure there are no lights on in the room or outside the window at night. 

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. 

 

 

AUGUST GARDENING CALENDAR

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AUGUST GARDENING CALENDAR

GENERAL

August is often dry and hot, so be sure to water your crops and ornamentals that need irrigation to produce, especially those that must not dry out (primroses, chrysanthemums, etc.).  Pay attention to the timing of harvesting vegetables and cut flowers.  Harvest and dry herbs also.  Collect seed from perennials, shrubs, trees to plant; gather flowers and pods to dry.  Prepare soil and beds for planting lawns, fall bulbs, perennials and roses using organic amendments.   Be sure to bring in house plants when night temperatures drop below 45 degrees.  Apply potash in the form of kelp meal or alfalfa meal mid-month to harden trees and shrubs for winter.  Stop watering garlic, storage onions and shallots in late July or about August first.  The bulbs will need to dry off in the ground for two weeks before digging.  Slow down watering of ripening potatoes when foliage dries.  For long-season winter squashes, pumpkins or melons Pinch off female flowers to hasten ripening before frosts of those set on the vines. 

VEGETABLES

During the first week of August, direct sow spinach, radishes, turnips, peas and lettuce.  In cold frames, greenhouse or under tunnels, sow cabbage and cauliflower for late fall/winter frame crops. 

Other crops that can be sown  and grown on inside a frame or tunnel for extended harvest into winter include: beets, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, chicory, dandelion, kohlrabi, lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi, onions, onion sets, parsley, parsnips, radishes, sorrel, and turnips. 

When harvesting cabbage, cut heads above the bottom leaves at a steep angle to avoid rain or irrigation water rot.  After new cabbage buds appear, thin to 3-4 per plant for a crop of mini cabbages.  Cabbage can be prevented from cracking by withholding water and root pruning on one side or twisting the head ¼ turn.

Harvest onions, garlic and shallots.  Dry them on screens in a shed or garage.  Hang dried bulbs in net or jute bags to keep them dry.  

FLOWERS

This month, direct sow seeds of biennials and early blooming perennials.  Sow bulb seeds.  Transplant seedling perennials out into nursery beds.   Direct sow pansy seed in place for next summer.  Cut back violas selected for division.  Encourage and peg down runners to replace mature violet plants.  Prepare frames to over winter violets to bloom in winter. 

Repot auricula primroses in first week of August; take of offsets and pot up.  Sow fresh auricula seed now, saving half for January/February.  

FRUIT

Tie paper bags loosely over grape clusters to protect from birds. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Do not give any nitrogen to your shrubs, roses and trees as that will cause late soft growth easily damaged by frosts.  It is helpful to apply potash instead, as described above.  In August you can plant lawn seed.  Make sure your soil is raked smooth and roll or stamp the seed in so it will not blow away.  A light mulch of dry grass clippings or pine needles will protect the seed until it germinates.  Water the seeded area three or four times a day for a few minutes each time to keep soil moist.  Usually, grass seed comes up within 10 days. 

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).

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.