GROWING CHERRIES ORGANICALLY

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Cherry Ulster

 

 

GROWING CHERRIES ORGANICALLY IN MONTANA

By James Sagmiller

There are three types of cherries grown in home gardens and commercial orchards in Montana.  Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are grown in Montana’s mildest climates (USDA Climate Zone 5; hardy to about -20 degrees F.) and do well around Flathead Lake.  Tart Cherries (Prunus cerasus) are hardier trees (USDA Climate Zone 4, to about -30 degrees F.) and are grown over much of the state, though are not really hardy enough for parts of Montana in USDA Climate Zone 3.  Canadian bush cherries are a new kind of bush cherry with tart-sweet fruit made from crosses of tart cherries and Mongolian bush cherries (Prunus fruticosa).  These are hardy to -40 degrees F.  Sweet cherries grow to 30 or 40 feet tall on standard rootstocks, though are usually pruned to be shorter for easier picking.  Tart cherries grow 18 to 20 feet tall and Canadian Bush cherries 6 to 8 feet tall.   Most cherry trees live and produce for about 35 years. 

SOIL AND SITING:

Cherries prefer sandy or sandy loam soils; with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 (6.2-6.8 is ideal).  Clay soils would need to be significantly lightened with gypsum and organic matter and still might be too heavy.  If soil is too heavy the trees can be prone to diseases, such as Phytophthera.  Siting of a cherry orchard is important, especially for sweet cherries.  A sloping site is best, because cold air is heavier than warm air and can drain away from the trees when in bloom.  Better air circulation also helps prevent foliage diseases, such as powdery mildew, and fruit diseases such as brown rot.  In winter, a sloping site will be slightly warmer than low spots and this might protect bark from freezing and thawing.  On a site sloping to the south or southwest, bark is especially susceptible to winter damage, which can lead to bacterial canker.  All tree trunks should be painted with N.O.P. approved whitewash (no latex paint for organic growers).  Here in Montana we do not have to worry about the number of chilling hours, because of our long cold season.  Our relatively cool summers, lower summer humidity, and drier conditions around harvest time are all benefits to growing top quality cherries.

ROOTSTOCKS:

Cherries have been grown grafted onto rootstocks since ancient Greek and Roman times.  The oldest rootstock is ‘Mazzard’, which dates to Roman times, is still used, and makes a 15 to 20 foot tree with high yields.  ‘Mahaleb’ rootstock is slightly dwarfing and was first used in the 1700s in France.  It is still used today.  The ‘Gisela’ series of rootstocks, developed in Europe, have not proved reliable in the Western U.S., except perhaps on the Pacific coast.  Some of the ‘Gisela’ rootstocks are very dwarfing, creating a tree that only grows 8 to 10 feet tall.  These very dwarf trees need more consistent irrigation than standard types and staking because of heavy yields.  The rootstocks are patented also, so a large scale grower cannot produce them legally without paying expensive royalties.  ‘Colt’ and ‘Performer’ rootstocks grow trees about 70% and 80-100% the size of ‘Mazzard’, respectively.  These two have proven moderately resistant to bacterial canker and are somewhat tolerant of heavier soils.  ‘Colt’ is resistant to Phytophthera, moderately resistant to viruses, but is moderately susceptible to Armillaria.  Spacing for trees on ‘Mazzard’, ‘Mahaleb’, should be 15 to 20 feet, slightly less for ‘Performer’ and ‘Colt’.  Very dwarf trees on ‘Gisela 3’ and ‘Gisela 5’ could be planted 9 to 12 feet apart. 

 

VARIETIES:

There are many sweet cherry varieties available.  When choosing from those available, keep in mind that most sweet cherries require another named variety for pollination.  Some kinds are self-fruitful, but most require another pollinizer, while others cannot be pollinated by certain specific varieties.   I will list popular cherry varieties below with their characteristics and pollinizers:

‘Bing’ is an older variety with large, flavorful fruit.  The cherries crack easily if watered too much when nearly ripe, the tree is not quite as winter hardy as others, but the fruit is among the highest in anthocynins.  ‘Bing will not pollinize ‘Kristin’ or ‘Emperor Francis’.

‘Black Tartarian’ is a robust, early-bearing variety that bears red-purple-black fruit with great flavor.  It is also a very good pollinizer.

‘Emperor Francis’ has yellow fruit with a red blush and bears early in the season.

‘Kristin’ is a very winter hardy sweet cherry with large, dark red fruit.  The tree is resistant to bacterial canker.  ‘Kristin’ will not pollinate ‘Bing’.

‘Lapins’ is self-pollinating (self-fruitful), a heavy bearer, and the tree is resistant to bacterial canker.  The fruit is large, firm, dark red and crack-resistant with a good, sweet flavor.

‘Rainier’ has large yellow cherries blushed with red.  The tree can be pollinated by ‘Bing’, ‘Van’ and ‘Black Tartarian’.

‘Royal Ann’ (‘Napoleon’) makes a large, spreading tree with yellow fruit blushed red.

‘Stella’ is a self-pollinating (self-fruitful) sweet cherry with very dark red, elongated fruit.

‘Van’ is a heavy bearer, tasty and reliable, with cherries somewhat smaller in size than ‘Bing’. 

Several tart cherry varieties are grown in Montana.  All of them are self-pollinating:

‘Montmorency’ is an heirloom variety grown primarily for pie or juice.  It is a heavy bearer. 

‘Morello’ is another heirloom tart cherry, from England.  Fruit is heart-shaped and ripens late.

‘Northstar’ is a heavy producer of tart cherries.  The tree is disease-resistant.  

The Canadian bush cherries are so new that is difficult to find them in catalogs and local garden centers. 

‘Carmine Jewel’ is one variety available now.  It is self-fruitful, with semi-tart cherries on dwarf, bushy plants.  It ripens earlier than other tart cherries and is hardy to USDA climate zone 3. 

PLANTING:

After an orchard site is chosen, a soil test has been made, and organic amendments have been added, it is time to plant.  Spring planting is most common, but late fall (early November) is a good time also.  Amendments and techniques used need to follow organic certification requirements if certification is desired.  Dig a hole larger than the root span and add some organic compost to the bottom of the hole.  Make sure the bud union (graft) is at least three inches above the soil level.  Fill the hole with soil and water the tree well.   Paint the trunk with whitewash to protect it from freezing and thawing during winter.  Place a tree guard made from a rolled piece of ¼” hardware cloth around the trunk, extending from the soil level to at least 18”.  This will protect the bark of the tree from being stripped in winter by voles.  Stake young trees with a stake pounded 18” into the soil and extending about 18” high.  Place the stake at a 45 degrees angle next to the tree with a soft tie made from a rubber hose or cloth attached to the tree.  The stake is best placed in a direction so that prevailing winds will drive it deeper into the soil.  Do not use wire or hard twine to tie the trunk to the stake because they will damage the bark.  In growing cherries, it is important to always avoid any injury to bark, to avoid bacterial canker.  In terms of irrigation, a drip system is probably the most efficient and water thrifty.   Some seasons in Montana can be very dry and a person needs to be prepared.   Watering is usually not needed until sometime in June and watering too much or too early can promote powdery mildew. 

PRUNING:

There are two periods in the year when you can prune cherries.  Several sources recommend spring pruning (after flowering) as a way to avoid bacterial canker.   The other time to prune is in late winter, while trees are dormant.   Always prune cherries in dry weather and sterilize tools before and after each tree.  If cutting out diseased wood, sterilize tools between each cut.  A 10% bleach or Lysol solution in water is effective; or isopropyl alcohol.  Prune cherry trees into a vase shape with a central leader.  Leave alternate, staggered branches as if you were making a tree that would be good to climb.  The aim is to give branches air circulation and light, and prune out all branches shooting straight up, except the central leader.  Seal all pruning cuts. 

INSECT PESTS AND ORGANIC CONTROLS:

In Montana the most serious pest on cherries is the western cherry fruit fly (Rhagoletis indifferens Curran).  The species is native to the Pacific Northwest and occurs only on cherry.  The public, and therefore packing houses/wholesalers, have a zero tolerance for cherry fruit fly maggots in cherries.  Packing houses check all incoming fruit for maggots; if one maggot is found in a shipment the whole truckload is refused.  Cherry fruit fly larvae are rarely found; in Washington State for example, larvae are found perhaps one to ten times a season from over 35,000 acres of cherries grown for commercial sale.  Western cherry fruit fly has only one generation per year.  Pupae overwinter in one to six inches deep in soil under cherry trees.  The first flies emerge in late May and the number of flies emerging peaks about cherry harvest time in July.  Adults feed on micro-organisms, pollen and bird droppings, aphid honeydew, and wounds on cherry fruit.  This feeding and mating period lasts about 10 days.  Females can lay 100 to 300 eggs over a period of 30 days, placing one or two eggs per fruit.  Most flies stay on the host tree, but a few may travel as much as several hundred yards to neighboring cherry orchards or isolated trees.  Eggs hatch in about eight days and the fly maggot eats the pulp of the cherry for 15 or 17days, or longer if weather is cool.  At the end of feeding period, the maggot exits the fruit and drops on the ground.  The larva burrows into the soil one to six inches deep and pupates for about 10 months, until next season.  A few pupae overwinter twice and emerge the second season. 

Most cherry fruit flies are found on home garden sweet or tart cherry trees.  This highlights the importance of controlling and preventing this pest in home gardens.  It is important to protect our Montana cherry industry.  Prevention is one way of helping control western cherry fruit fly.  If all fruit is picked from trees before flies emerge to drop on the ground, and this is undertaken at least two years in a row, the tree will be free of this pest until reintroduced.  It is best to not allow fruit to be left on isolated trees.  Beneficial nematodes have been used to control pupae, but they are only about 80-88% effective, so must be augmented with other organic controls.  Yellow sticky traps are used to monitor fly populations, but are not really successful in controlling them. 

An N.O.P. approved bacteria marketed as Spinosad is an effective control of western cherry fruit fly.  A bait known as GF-120NF contains bait for newly emerged adult flies to feed on plus Spinosad.  The bait is sprayed or squirted on the leaves after emergence (or when fruit is straw-colored) and again every ten days.  The bait is rather thick when mixed, and a sprayer must be cleaned well after use.  It is highly effective.  Another effective product is Entrust, also made with Spinosad, and it is sprayed every seven to ten days after flies emerge.   At the end of harvest, pick every single cherry and leave none on the tree or on the ground.

The plum curculio is an insect problem on cherries in the Eastern U.S.  Organic controls include: PyGanic (a pyrethrum-based product), and Surround (a crop protectant made with kaolin clay.  The American plum borer is another pest affecting tart cherries in the eastern half of the U.S.  Infestations are common on trees with mechanical damage to bark and branches.  Borer larvae have to be dug out of the bark and no organic controls are available yet. 

Spotted-winged drosophila is an invasive species of vinegar fly from Japan.   It has become established on the east and west coast and is moving inland.  It is another fly that lays eggs in the fruit that hatch into maggots.   Lure traps by Trece and Scentry available for this pest.  For organic cherry orchards, use a combination of GF-120 bait plus Entrust and/or PyGanic.   Read label directions of all products carefully because the treatment schedule can be complicated.  In organic pest control, it is sometimes required to alternate product applications. 

For pear slugs (cherry leaf skeletonizers) a forceful blast of water will wash them off trees; or diatomaceous earth is an effective control.  Aphids can be washed off tree leaves also, and controlled with insecticidal soap.  A dormant spray in winter with horticultural oil will smother aphid eggs.  Tent caterpillars can be controlled with BT (Bacillus thurigensis) a bacterium that affects caterpillars.  

DISEASES:

Bacterial canker is by far the most important disease affecting cherries.  The bacteria Pseudomonas syringae affects cherry roots, bark, branches, twigs, leaves and fruit.  This disease can appear after any one of several stresses on trees, including: drought, frost, pruning wounds, nematodes and other diseases.  As with many other organic pest controls, prevention is very important.   Resistant rootstocks and resistant cherry varieties help.  Older trees can harbor disease, so it is best not to plant new trees among old established trees.  Avoid allowing irrigation water to hit bark, branches, or leaves.  Try not to damage bark or branches and paint trunks with whitewash to prevent freezing and thawing in winter.  Prune in summer if possible, rather than in winter, and only in dry weather.   Keep weeds down, especially grasses, as they host the bacteria.   White Dutch clover or a low growing vetch is better as a groundcover in a cherry orchard.   Test for harmful nematodes before planting.  A control most often used for bacterial canker is copper, but several strains of Pseudomonas syringae have become resistant to copper, especially in California and Washington. 

Black Knot, caused by Apiosporina morbosum is a fungal disease that shows up as knot-like structures on branches and twigs.  These should be pruned out of the cherry trees as soon as noticed.  Cut three to four inches below the knot with sterilized tools (10% bleach or Lysol in water, or isopropyl alcohol).   Sterilize tools again after each cut.  A lime-sulfur spray in the dormant season will help control black knot. 

Phytophthera root rot is very common problem for cherries on heavy poorly draining soils.  Try to plant cherries on sand or sandy loam and do not plant cherries on clay soils.  Affected trees will show loss of vigor.  The cadmium layer will be reddish-brown in color and root growth will be poor and shallow.  ‘Mahaleb’ rootstock is the most susceptible to root-rot, while ‘Mazzard’ and ‘Colt’ are somewhat resistant.   

Armillaria mellea is the organism that causes a fungal disease called oak root rot or honey rot.  It can affect cherries on any kind of soil, and is sometimes present in old roots from dead trees or shrubs.  Recently cleared land can harbor this disease.  The only known control is to avoid planting on newly cleared sites or sites known to have Armillaria. 

Brown rot (caused by Monilinia fructicola and M. laxa) can appear if weather conditions are wet, warm and humid.  Here in Montana, we historically did not have much of that type of weather, but as the climate changes, we are having more and more such days each summer.  Brown rot affects blossoms, fruit and twigs.  A first indicator of brown rot is blossom blight; if left unchecked, symptoms will reappear anytime during the period from about three weeks before harvest through harvest and storage.  Temperatures in the 70s F. with rain and higher humidity favor development of brown rot.  Keeping the orchard clean of fallen twigs, leaves and fruit helps discourage brown rot.  A sunny site or slope with good air circulation is helpful.  An open area planted with clover or vetch between the orchard and woods is helpful also.  Thinning out branches on the cherry trees in summer and during dormant season will increase air circulation as well.  Sulfur is the traditional remedy for brown rot and organic growers can use it.  The first application is best done before the first flower petals open.  Follow up with another spray 7 days later, at petal drop and a third time about 10 days later at sepal drop.  More applications might be necessary in the case of frequent and heavy rains. 

Another disease affecting cherries is botrytis blossom blight, but this is rare here in Montana and more common near coastal areas.  To prevent botrytis, keep the orchard clean, pick up all “mummy’” fruit. 

Powdery mildew, a fungus caused by Podosphaera clandestine, is occasionally seen on cherry leaves and twigs.  It is more prevalent in high heat with humidity, so more common in the eastern U.S.  Powdery mildew will cause loss of vigor and yield.  Open pruning, creating a central leader with alternate branching, discourages mildew.  Resistant varieties will help with this problem; ‘Bing’, Black Tartarian’ and ‘Rainier’ are especially susceptible to powdery mildew.  Most tart cherries are susceptible, too.  Sulfur made into a spray will also control powdery mildew, but also will a spray made with baking soda. 

Leaf spot, another fungus primarily affecting tart cherries, is caused by Blumeriella jaapii.  This fungus causes leaves to turn yellow and later, holes to form in the leaves.  It is more common in humid climates than here in Montana, but sometimes is seen.  Orchard sanitation is a good preventative.  The fungus overwinters on fallen leaves, so these should all be raked up and destroyed in fall.  Copper fungicide sprays will control this disease.  Spray at petal fall, again when dead flower petals fall off fruit (shuck fall), and again two weeks later.  Copper sprays can damage tree foliage, especially in temperatures above 80 degrees F., so should be used in cooler weather for best results.

LARGE PESTS:

Birds love cherries as much as we do, so measures must be taken to protect fruit.  Netting is very effective, but expensive for large-scale growers.  A combination of noise-makers and visual deterrents are used by organic cherry growers.  Stationary electronic devices are available that emit loud distress calls that scare birds away. Also available are gas cannons, bird whistles and bird-bombs.   Old CDs or metal pie plates tied among tree branches, and scare-eye balloons all are effective in frightening birds away.  Usually one or another of these deterrents works for a week or so.  Then you must use a different deterrent or rearrange them because birds get used to them. 

Deer will browse on cherry trees in winter and eat leaves and fruit.  The best way to prevent damage from deer is an eight foot fence.  Repellents have only limited effectiveness.  Gophers have become a problem in recent years and the best way to control them for an organic grower is to trap them.  Voles can be trapped also, and be sure to place hardware cloth tree guards around trees before winter.  If commercial plastic tree guards are used, remove them within two weeks after snow melts because condensation will take place between the plastic and the bark, creating conditions that promote bacteria.

HARVEST:

Yields from each cherry tree 3 to 5 years after planting will be from 40 to 120 pounds of fruit.  Pick cherries gently when fruit is ripe.  Twist the cherry lightly and move your hand in an upward motion to separate the stem from the spur.  Be careful not to tear off the fruit spur as that is where next year’s flowers and fruit will form.  If you are harvesting for immediate home use, you can pick the cherries without stems.  Cherries are picked commercially with stems attached because they last longer after picking.  Harvest fruit every other day, for about a week, from each tree.  Keep picked fruit cool.   Cherries last for about 10 days in the refrigerator.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ames, Guy K., 2014. Cherries: Organic Production. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA).

Granatstein, David, Preston Andrews and Alan Groff, 2014.  Productivity, Economics, and Fruit and Soil Quality of Weed Management Systems in Commercial Organic Orchards in Washington State, USA.

Growinganything.com website, 2018.  Growing Cherry Trees Organically.

Hansen, Melissa, 2010.  Controlling Mildew in Organic Cherries.  Goodfruit.com.

Langer, Richard W. 1973.  Growing Cherries The Mother Earth News,  January/February 1973.

Lehnert, Richard, 2015.  Stinkbug Challenges Organic Growers.  Goodfruit.com.

Smith, Timothy J.,  Cherry Fruit Fly Bait Application.  Washington State University Extension.

Smith, Timothy J., Western Cherry Fruit Fly.  Washington State University Extension.

WSU Extension, 2014.  Spotted Wing Drosophila Control on Sweet Cherry. 

 

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SUSTAINABLE ORGANIC GARDENING WITH COVER CROPS

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oats and field peas cover crop

Healthy, living soil is a vital component of an organic garden.  Soil covered with growing things draws carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it in roots, stems, and leaves.  In sustainable, earth-friendly gardening /farming we do not allow land to fallow, but keep our soil covered with actively growing or dormant plants all year.  This is a win-win situation for your garden; you can have abundant crops yet at the same time help reduce the amount of CO2 in earth’s atmosphere. 

Cover crops build and protect your soil by increasing humus and nutrients.  Cover crops will add organic matter, smother weeds, prevent erosion, break up  compacted soil, provide livestock forage and attract beneficial insects.  In dry summers or dry climates cover crops provide a kind of living mulch, preserving soil moisture. 

The timing of planting and turning under of cover crops is varied, depending on climate, soil requirements, and time of year.  Here in the north (Western Montana) our growing season is short so we have to be precise in our timing of planting, cutting and turning under cover crops.  After vegetables are harvested in the fall a cover crop can be planted immediately.  First, remove vegetable debris; second, till or rake and prepare a six-inch deep seedbed; third, irrigate to moisten soil; and finally, plant your cover crop.  Fall planted cover crops might include: hairy vetch, field peas, crimson clover, summer alfalfa, Mammoth red clover, annual rye grass, winter cereal rye, winter barley, winter wheat, winter oats ,or winter triticale.  Peas or hairy vetch planted together with one or another of the fall/winter cereal grains will add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.  Oats and peas planted together or hairy vetch and winter rye together are quite effective combinations for fall cover crops.  The grain will protect the legumes somewhat from winter damage, though peas will probably winter kill.  Hairy vetch will vigorously regrow in the spring and can be mown and turned under.  Any cover crop of the grass family, such as cereal grain or annual ryegrass needs to be turned under at least three weeks before a vegetable crop is planted.  Some cereal grasses are allelopathic, which means they release growth inhibiting chemicals that prevent seed germination of other species.  It takes three or more weeks for the chemicals to dissipate.  Since our spring is often late, and short, and sometimes wet, the timing of turning under your cover crop is very important.  In a home garden, if you plan to plant some cool-weather crops early, such as onion sets, cole crops, or spinach, you can pull up or chop out a (non-grass family) cover crop in early spring just before you plant.  It is easy to hoe out hairy vetch by cutting it off below the crown.  You can then prepare the soil and plant immediately. 

Several cover crops can be planted in spring if you have about four to six weeks’ time before you plan to plant a crop.   An example might be if you plan to put in a warm-season crop such as peppers or tomatoes.  A cool-weather cover crop could be put in as soon as the soil could be worked (sometimes as early as April 10 or as late as May 5).  Some useful, early spring cover crops include: crimson clover, medium red clover, Mammoth red clover, white clover, or field peas.  If you have four to six weeks growing time plus three weeks’ time after taking down a cereal grass before you plant you could put in spring oats and field peas, or annual ryegrass.   The plot would be ready to plant your vegetable crop by mid to late June in our Montana climate.  This would limit your choices to fall-maturing cool-weather crops such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, carrots, etc.

If you plan to have a cover crop during the warm season, buckwheat , mustard, turnips or phacelia all work well in our climate.  Remember to cut mustard or buckwheat when in flower so it will not reseed.   Phacelia will reseed also, but has a long blooming season and is a great pollinator attractant.  Turnips are biennial, so will not reseed the first year. 

In a home garden cover crops need to be considered in crop rotation.  It is best not to plant a cover crop of the Brassica family (Cole crops, such as turnips, mustard, radish, cabbage, etc.) where cole crops are to be planted the following season.  The rule of thumb is to rotate crops so that members of the same plant family are not grown in the same spot for three years or more.  In our certified organic market garden we use a nine year crop rotation plan.  A more practical home garden rotation plan might be only four-years. 

APRIL NOTES

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APRIL GARDENING CALENDAR GENERAL

This winter was a “longie” with lots of snow, a situation which voles love!   In our market garden we discovered damage from voles on Campanula medium (Canterbury bells)—just the ones stored in pots in sawdust, but not those in the ground.  Also some potted Primulas, strawberries, and Echinaceas were completely eaten.  It was the same case with these last few; plants in the ground were unharmed, those in pots in sawdust were eaten.  It may be because plants all stored together serve a sort of “banquet” for voles, while those in the ground, mixed in with other plants are harder for the little critters to find.  I am experimenting with inter-planting Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperials) with plants that tend to be vole favorites, to see if they will help deter them.  Fritillarias are very odorous, and rodents do not eat them. 

April tasks:

Finish pruning and grafting of fruit trees if not already done.  Plant grapes and other fruiting perennials, shrubs and vines; fertilize and prune raspberries and blackberries.  Start many flowers inside for transplanting out and direct sow the last hardy annuals.  Direct sow many vegetables late in the month and into May.  April is characterized by ups and downs in temperature—watch for frosts!  Protect frames at night and admit air daily.  Place row covers on newly transplanted, slightly tender plants. 

VEGETABLES

If not done already, sow indoors, for transplanting out early in the month: basil, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, head lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, Asian cabbage, leeks, greens.  After the 15th, sow watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers into peat pots for easy transplanting. 

Direct sow these outdoors once weather permits and soil temperatures are above 45 degrees:  beets, arugula, carrots, caraway, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, thyme, oregano, sorrel, collards, mache, fava beans, cress, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, rhubarb, turnip greens, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, salsify, scallions, spinach, Swiss chard.  Sow corn (after the 20th). 

Harden-off vegetables in frames, or by exposing them outdoors a few hours at a time.  Transplant the following hardy vegetables outside around the middle of the month (they can take some light frost): asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, endive, leeks, lettuce, onion sets and plants, Asian greens, parsley.  

FLOWERS

Sow indoors April 1 for transplanting out: Chinese asters (Callistephus), Cerinthe, Celosia, Craspedia, Calendulas, annual Centaurea, Cleome, Cosmos, Cynoglossum, Eragrostis, Panicum, Pennisetum, and annual grasses.  Late in the month: sow zinnias indoors. 

Direct sow outdoors all month: annual alyssum Lobularia maritima), Bupleurum, carnations, pinks, sweet Williams, Cynoglossum, stocks, rose campion, wall flowers, Lychnis, lupines, lavateras, columbines, valerian, polyanthus, auriculas, Canterbury bells, hollyhocks, honeysuckles, rockets, honesty, fox gloves, snapdragons, sweet peas, poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, nigella, Lavatera, poppies, valerian, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate, dill, morning glory, sweet peas and wildflowers.   

Weed and clean borders.  Divide perennials early in the month: carnations, Bellis, Achilleas, Asters, mums, Campanulas, Centranthus, Coreopsis, Dicentra, Dodecatheon, Echinops, Euphorbias, Gauras, Gaillardias, Gentians, Helianthus, hellebores, daylilies, Heucheras, Hostas, Lobelias, Papavers, Oenotheras, Phlomis, Monarda, Liatris, and Marrubiums

Start dahlia tubers this month and make cuttings if possible. 

Shade auricula primroses from intensifying spring sun.   This is when auriculas need the most water, but remember— never waterlog the compost.  The month of April is their peak bloom period and hybridizing can take place now.  Shows are held this time of year. 

FRUIT

By April 15, finish pruning /grafting/planting fruit trees; spray Bordeaux mix on fruit trees suffering from fire blight; check fruit trees for pests.  Spray superior oil on dormant trees (before leaf out).  Lime-sulfur will control anthracnose or blight on raspberries if applied when the buds first show silver, or on currants and gooseberries at bud break.  Wait three weeks if you decide to spray lime-sulfur (use caution) as a fungicide on roses, lilacs, dormant shrubs, fruit trees, evergreens. 

Weed fruit trees, strawberries, cane fruits.  Set out apple pest traps two weeks before bud break.

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Lay out lawns by either direct-seeding or purchase turf and roll it out.  If the weather gets windy and dry, water your new lawn frequently. 

Finish transplanting roses and other shrubs (the earlier the better).  Prune established roses after severe frosts.  Cut out all dead and crossed wood, and seal the cuts with water-based glue to prevent the drilling wasps from destroying canes.   Dress rose plants with Epsom salts, wood ashes, compost, manure, alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, bunt earth, spent hops, etc. , but keep fertilizers 2 inches away from the canes at the base of the plant.  

 

ORGANIC GARDENING NOTES FOR SPRING

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GREAT WESTERN, HYBRID BOURBON

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DOUBLE WHITE, PIMPINELLIFOLIA (SPINOSSISSIMA)

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LAURE, CENTIFOLIA

 

ORGANIC GARDENING NOTES FOR EARLY SPRING

The ground is thawed in the valley and soon the foothills will be snow free.  As soon as the earth dries out and wet turns to moist, you can work up the soil.  Dry organic amendments can then be forked into your beds.  Organic blood meal (13-0-0) is an excellent source of nitrogen and is quickly taken up by plants.  Alfalfa meal (3-1-3) will enrich soil with a moderate amount of nitrogen, small amount of phosphorous, and a moderate amount of potash.  Ground fish bone meal (5-16-0) also contains moderate amounts of nitrogen, but is a terrific source of phosphorous.  

Well-rotted manure (usually about 3-1-1) will add a good amount of nitrogen and smaller amounts of phosphorous and potash, but adds lots of beneficial, moisture-holding organic matter.  Be careful in sourcing manure as it may contain high levels of salt (especially if sourced from feed lots).  It is safest to use one year old, well-rotted manure on food crops.  Too fresh of manure will burn crops and can contain pathogens.  In our USDA Certified Organic market garden we are only allowed to use manure from grazed land that is at least one year old; and it must be applied at least 120 days before crops are planted.   Another option is to use manure that has gone through a heat of at least 160 degrees F. for 3 weeks; this kills harmful pathogens.  Compost may be spread on a USDA Certified Organic farm or garden but it must be made only from vegetable matter—no meats, dairy products or eggs, etc.  

If you are starting a new garden bed, spread cardboard, rotted moist straw, or tarps to kill grass out.  Newspapers will dry up and blow away unless anchored by rocks or chunks of turf.  You can till right into the turf to prepare your spot, but weeds will be present and you will have to keep after them.  Try to till only once, pull weeds out, add amendments and mulch the soil until ready to plant.  Too frequent tilling destroys the structure of the soil and causes it to release carbon.

Remember that healthy organic soils are alive with microbes and fungi that help plants pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.  By gardening organically you are helping the earth to gather and store carbon dioxide.  This is exactly the opposite environmental effect of conventional gardening, which uses chemical fertilizers and often features bare soil.  Chemical fertilizers require large amounts of carbon to make and bare soil causes soil organisms to die; with the result that soils lose carbon rather than pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it. 

Forest, grassland and hedgerow soils pull the most carbon from the atmosphere of any land ecosystems.  In your garden, you can help this process by setting aside areas for wildflowers and grasses, shrubs, shrub borders and shelter belts or groups of trees with wildflowers and/or groundcovers underneath.  You will be providing habitat for endangered native bees, butterflies, birds and reptiles as well as building carbon storage. 

Now is the time to start your peppers, onions, leeks, tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants from seed to set out in May.  Wait until late April/early May to start squash, pumpkins, watermelons, canteloupes, etc.   If you plan to set out cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli or other cole crops in mid-to late April, start them from seed inside now also.   A soil free organic seedling mix can be made from: 3 parts peat, 2 parts vermiculite, and 1 part perlite.  Heat mats placed under flats will aid germination of crops that like warm temperatures, such as peppers and tomatoes.   An east facing window is satisfactory, or fluorescent lights hung a few (8 to 10 inches) inches above the flats. 

Soon containerized fruit trees, shrubs, roses, bulbs, perennials, plus annual flowers and vegetables will be available in your local organic garden shops.  This year, I have grown several varieties of Certified Organic shrub roses on their own roots, found on old homesteads here in the Mission Valley:

‘Great Western’, a Hybrid Bourbon shrub rose is a long-time favorite in our area.  This rose was introduced in 1838, named after one of the first transatlantic steam ships.  It blooms for about three weeks in late spring/early summer. The plant is tall and wide, about 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide.   The flowers are fully double; a blend of rich reds and purples, with wonderful fragrance.  My grandmother grew this rose and there are plants at the museum in Ronan.  ‘Great Western’ is a hardy, easy to grow shrub rose.  The plant spreads slowly. 

‘Laure’, a Centifolia rose from 1837, was found in Ronan, at an old home built in 1913.  It is a rather short plant, with fully double, fragrant, powder pink blooms.  It is also a once bloomer, with a flowering period lasting about 3 weeks in late spring/early summer.  The plant spreads once established, but this is an advantage if your garden has an abundance of voles.  When a young plant is put in, a vole cage could be placed around the roots, but the plant will eventually spread outward and in later years a plant with an abundance of root stems will survive vole trails.  

‘Double White Scotch Rose’ introduced in 1808, is another locally found variety.  It has pure white, double, fragrant flowers in late spring.  It is of the same rose family as ‘Harison’s yellow’ the popular, thorny, hardy yellow shrub rose.  ‘Double white is equally hardy and trouble free, and spreads on its own roots to form a beautiful large group of plants.  I have seen established plants about 7 feet tall and spreading to about 8 or 10 feet wide.

Have a great spring!

 

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. 

 

 

ORGANIC GARDENING CAN REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

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THE LOW CARBON FOOTPRINT OF ORGANIC GARDENING

 

We have all heard about rising carbon dioxide gas (CO2) levels in the earth’s atmosphere, which is causing heating, resulting in world-wide climate change.  The atmosphere holds about 800 billion tons of carbon at present.  Another 560 billion tons of carbon is stored in living plant life.  However, the soils of the earth hold the most carbon, about 2,500 billion tons!  Forest and grassland soils contain the most carbon, and soils degraded by chemically-drenched agricultural practices hold the least.  Rainforest soils can contain as much as 10% carbon of total mass, while the poorest and exploited soils have been reduced to as little as 1% of mass.  The process of photosynthesis by plants pulls CO2 out of the air and stores it in living tissues, excess carbon is released through the roots into the soil where it is stored.  This process is known as carbon sequestration.  Plant roots use living soil fungi (mycorrhizae) in the process.  Degraded soils have reduced numbers of these fungi, slowing their ability to sequester carbon.

It is estimated that the world’s agricultural soils have lost 50-70% of their original carbon. Most of that carbon has become CO2 and was released into the earth’s atmosphere.   If that carbon could be returned to the earth’s soils, the carbon in the atmosphere could be reduced enough to mitigate global warming and limit heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  We could do this by changing to organic gardening and farming practices. 

Gardening and farming practices that degrade soil are: fallowing, stubble burning, frequent tilling, overgrazing, monoculture cropping and excess application of synthetic fertilizers.  All of these reduce the soil’s carbon-holding capacity, soils dry and erode, and CO2 is released into the atmosphere.   

Organic gardening practices build living, healthy soils able to sequester much higher levels of carbon.   Farming trials in several countries around the globe have shown a rapid increase in carbon in soils where organic gardening and farming methods were employed.  A key to this is increasing organic matter in the soil. 

Methods known to restore soil’s ability to process and store carbon include: tilling as little as possible or not tilling, mulching, using cover crops, management of crop residues, crop rotation, and proper irrigation. 

If you are preparing a new garden space, place a heavy mulch of rotted, damp straw and compost or manure (or bedding from livestock stalls) onto the space for your garden plot.  This will smother existing plants and is best done in fall to be left in place all winter.  In spring, till the garden space, turning the straw and manure under.  This should be the only time you will need to till the soil.  Plant your garden crops immediately, and any areas to be planted later can be seeded to a cover crop.  A thick cover crop will smother weeds and will pull carbon from the air while it builds your soil. 

Rotate your garden or field crops in a four-year (or more) rotation.  (Each kind of plant is grown in a location in the garden or field once every four years.)  This will discourage pests and diseases.  Mulch your garden; this keeps soil animals alive and keeps soils moist and cool.  (Heated or dried soils lose carbon.)   As you weed, either compost the weeds or incorporate them into your soil.  The best time to add manures or compost is in spring or fall.

Plant shelter belts or hedgerows near or around your garden.  These will become homes for pollinators, birds, snakes and other animals beneficial to your garden.  Forests, hedgerows and grasslands hold the most carbon on the planet, so hedgerows and shelter belts help reduce emissions.   

Do not overgraze or till grasslands, because that will reduce the carbon-holding capacity. 

In flower beds and borders, prepare your soil the same way as for vegetables and plant perennial ground covers to act as living mulches.  In low-water landscapes, sedums or creeping yarrow planted between larger plants will act as living mulches.   

Changing to the regenerative methods of organic gardening and farming will result in lower CO2 emissions, healthy foods, heathy wildlife, clean air and clean water. 

 

Bibliography:

Ingram, Dr. Julie, Best Practices for Soil Organic Carbon Management in Agricultural Systems, Countryside & Community Research Institute, UK , 2017

Goode, Cecile M., et. al. Understanding the Impacts of Soil, Climate & Farming Practices on Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration, Australia, 2016

Muchmuller, Megan B., et. al., Emerging Land Use Practices Rapidly Increase Soil Organic Matter, USA, 2015

Zhang, Limimg, et. al, “Toward Optimal Soil Organic Sequestration With Effects of Agriculture Management Practices & Climate Change in Tai-Lake Paddy Soils of China,” In Geoderma, 2016

Smallwood, Mark, Regenerative Organic Agriculture & Climate Change, Rodale Institute, 2013

 

NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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Cold winter weather does limit what we can do in the garden in November in our northern Rocky Mountain climate (USDA zones 3, 4 and 5).  If ground is still unfrozen, prepare beds for next spring’s early crops.   If you still have unfrozen manure or compost it can be spread over vegetable and flower beds and trenched into furrows to receive frost (this will break down over winter and lighten and feed the soil).  I have spread manure and compost right over the snow on planting beds and it worked just fine. 

Check over which varieties of flowers and vegetables you liked or disliked this year.  Make a note of which ones did well.  Keep your records up to date if you can.  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. 

Finish planting garlic, shallots, and Egyptian walking onions before the ground freezes solid.

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 the leafy tops off.  Dig a pit in a dry place if possible.  Put down 2 inches of sand, then the vegetable roots, then more sand, alternating.  Cover them with a final layer of sand and straw to protect them.

Admit air to cold frames and the greenhouse on sunny days; pick off any mildewed or moldy leaves.  Apply manure or compost to outdoor asparagus and rhubarb beds 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.

If the ground has not frozen solid, 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.  Cut back established pansies and collect violet seed.   

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 the top of the soil of newly planted tulips, crocus and hyacinths to discourage squirrels and cats who like to dig and scratch into fresh soil.  Plant these same bulbs in Vole King wire baskets to protect from voles. 

In the greenhouse plants will be at rest.  Keep their foliage dry and do not overwater!  Succulent plants such as cacti may need little or no water all winter.  If mold appears, dust with sulfur.  Moving air inside a greenhouse discourages mold. 

If you plan to keep any plants in pots over the winter, plunge them up to their pot rims into a holding bed.  The reason for doing this is that plant roots suffer greatly from the wide temperature swings of air during winter.  Good substances for this are: fine gravel, bark, sand, sawdust or soil.  If you have any bulbs, perennials, roses or shrubs growing in pots outside, be sure to sink them up to the rims to protect them from cold over winter. 

Cover cold frames if it is frosty and cold.  If you vent the frame, make sure no direct sun hits plants while they are frozen. 

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.    

Finish planting deciduous shrubs and trees.  Mound soil around the base of tender hybrid tea roses to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches.  Evergreen boughs may be placed over the soil mound.  The soil and boughs will protect the lower portion of tender rose plants over winter. 

 

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. 

 

 

 

OCTOBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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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.