ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDENING

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ORGANIC VEGETABLE GARDENING

By James Sagmiller

The benefits of gardening organically are many.  First, food grown without dangerous pesticides and herbicides is safe for us and our children to eat.  Second, using organic methods protects our natural environment: soils are healthy, waters are protected from dangerous runoff, insects, birds, and water creatures are all unharmed by dangerous chemicals.  With organic methods, your soil becomes alive with organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi, which, through a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, increase a plant’s ability to uptake moisture and nutrients.  These fungi, along with beneficial soil bacteria, create an ideal, sustainable environment for crops—exactly the opposite of degraded soils exhausted through repeated use of chemical fertilizers. 

At first, planning to “go organic” might seem difficult, but I assure you the rewards are worth the time taken to learn easy ways of gardening organically.  Siting, fencing, and soil building are first steps.  Find a location for your garden that receives full sun, preferably one with wind protection.  If a site is windy, you can put lattice or privacy webbing on your fence to slow down the blast.  Shelter belt plantings of native trees and shrubs are excellent too.  Because deer are so prevalent nowadays, an 8-foot high fence is the best way to shield your garden.  Other methods are less effective.  I made my fence out of game fencing and 10-foot metal posts.  A 6-foot fence that hides what is on the other side will work also; if deer cannot see what is on the other side, they will not leap over.  Deer will eat anything if they are hungry enough! 

A soil test is very helpful before you begin your garden spot.  You can immediately see what nutrients you have in your soil and which ones you need to add more of.  It is also good to know the analysis of purchased soil amendments (marked with the letters N-P-K on fertilizer labels).   For high nitrogen contents (N on the label) choose blood meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, and composted manure.  Amendments with high phosphorous (P on the label) include fish bone meal and rock phosphate.  Potash (K on the label) is abundant in kelp meal, alfalfa meal and wood ashes.  Keep in mind wood ashes and bone meal become alkaline (higher pH) as they decompose, and cottonseed meal becomes more acidic (lower pH).  It is helpful to have a test kit and know your soil’s pH and NPK content.  Nitrogen promotes good green growth, phosphorous promotes flowering and fruiting, and potash encourages root growth and ripening of fruits and seeds.

To kill out grass and weeds for a new garden spot, use something safe that will shade the ground.  Some options are: landscape fabric with weights on it, newspaper covered with moist, heavy organic straw, or black plastic weighted down.  It takes a few weeks to kill out most plant material, but some perennial weeds will remain and seeds will sprout again.  If you are planning well ahead, you can immediately plant a soil-building cover crop to shade the soil until you plant vegetables.  If you need to start right away, till the soil, add organic amendments, plant your seeds and transplants, then mulch. 

When you plant seeds, choose organically certified seed if possible, especially for food plants.  Heirloom seed varieties, which are all open-pollinated, are excellent for organic gardening, because being generations-old, they are well-adapted to climates where they have been grown for a long time.  Heirlooms often ripen in succession rather than all at once, frequently are more nutritious, have exceptional taste, and seed can be saved from them to plant next year.  Another plus is that many heirloom varieties were developed to last well in storage—a valuable trait for local sustainability and for gardeners who want to be self-sufficient.

Mulching your garden is important to conserve moisture and provide for living soil organisms.  Landscape fabric, organic straw, compost, or composted grass clippings work well.  (Fresh grass clippings or other fresh greens will draw nitrogen out of the soil rather than add nitrogen.) 

Be sure to include a home for pollinators in or around your garden.  Native wildflowers are best; they will attract and foster native species of bees and other insects.  Another effective tactic is to release ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantises and other pest-eating bugs in your garden at proper times.  It is helpful to provide bird, bat houses and Mason bee houses.

Most gardeners new to organic gardening have anxiety about controlling pests and diseases.  Healthy, thriving plants, combined with preventative methods are the most effective ways to begin.  A diversity of crops will help confuse damaging insects (the scent of marigolds, for example confuses some pests).  Crop-rotation will prevent a host of pest and disease problems.  Plan your vegetable layout so that the same kind of plant is not grown in the same spot for at least 4 years.  Collars made from toilet paper rolls or plastic cups will deter cut worms.  Netting will prevent birds from eating strawberries.  Light insect fabric on row covers will protect all cole crops from cabbage loopers; and straw mulch around tomatoes will make a home for beetles, which will eat aphids off the tomatoes at night.  Garlic spray over your vegetables will confuse most damaging pests and prevent infestations if timed at monthly intervals.  Safe pesticides and fungicides, such as BT, horticultural oil, neem oil, insecticidal soap, pyrethrum, and diatomaceous earth are each effective for certain listed pests.  Always follow directions and precautions to the letter with any pesticides or herbicides. 

Take advantage of the latest technologies to assist your organic garden.  A few of these include: season-extending high or low tunnels, solar-powered heating and cooling, and frost-protection fabrics.  Using tunnels and row covers can improve yields significantly because you get a month to 6 weeks longer season of growing and harvesting!  Automatic solar vents for cold frames, greenhouses and high tunnels will save you labor and worry—especially in our volatile climate, with its ups and downs in temperature, alternating clouds and sunshine, and sudden winds that occur in a typical Montana spring.  Solar powered fans will kick on automatically when the temperature gets too high in a tunnel or greenhouse, and will not contribute to the overabundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  I wish you the best of luck and success in your organic gardening!

 

MARCH GARDENING CALENDAR

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MARCH GARDENING CALENDAR

March is a very busy month for Montana gardeners!  A brief summary of things we can do now is: plant lettuce and spinach in cold frames; plant/prune cane fruits, fruit trees, deciduous trees; plant evergreens as soon as ground thaws; plant rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, sea kale, and artichokes; weed and clean borders, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals and biennials outside; sow seeds of tender annuals and vegetables inside.  Clean pansy beds and manure them; cover cold frames at night and admit air during the day. 

VEGETABLES

Late in the month, begin to harden off cool loving vegetables (from a January sowing) in frames.  Sow indoors: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, head lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, Asian cabbage, greens, peppers (finish peppers early in the month).  Start tomatoes also.  Late in the month direct-sow outdoors: asparagus, beets, arugula, carrots, celery, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, collards, mache, fava beans, cress, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, rhubarb, turnip greens, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, scallions, spinach and Swiss chard.  As soon as weather permits plant: asparagus roots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, shallots, lettuce, onion sets and plants, horseradish, strawberries and Jerusalem artichokes.  Finish sowing herb seeds this month.

FLOWERS

Begin dividing perennials as soon as the ground is thawed.  Direct sow outdoors: annual alyssum, pinks, sweet Williams, stocks, rose campion, wall flowers, lychnis, lupines, lavateras, columbines, valerian, polyanthus, auriculas, Canterbury bells, cynoglossum, hollyhocks, honeysuckles, rockets, honesty, fox gloves, snapdragons, sweet peas, poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, nigella, lavatera, valerian, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and dill.

FRUIT

Fertilize (spread organics), plant and prune fruit trees, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, currants, blueberries.  Clean strawberry beds and make new beds.  Fertilize (spread organics) on strawberries and asparagus.  Clean up after pruning fruit trees; remove dead wood, dropped fruit, and inspect trunks for egg masses.   Spray Bordeaux mix on fruit trees that suffer from fire blight after carefully pruning out affected wood.  (Cut 6 inches below signs of infection, sterilizing pruning tools between cuts with alcohol, or a 10% bleach solution.)  Spray superior oil on dormant trees (before leaf out).  Wait three weeks after dormant spray if you decide to spray lime-sulfur (use caution) as a fungicide on roses, lilacs, dormant shrubs, fruit trees, evergreens. 

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Plant evergreens, roses and other shrubs during March.  This month is the very best time of the year to move or plant evergreens.  Wait until April to prune roses as canes often die back from late frosts if cut too early.  Dress with your roses Epsom salts now, and apply wood ashes, compost, manure, alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, and other organic amendments to rose, perennial, fruit and vegetable garden beds. 

A NOTE ON SEED

Now is a great time to test the germination on your stored vegetable seeds.  To establish a percentage of germination for your seed, place 10 seeds in a moist paper towel, lay it on a plate; with a loose cover of plastic wrap, or a glass or plastic dome.  Put the plate in a warm location and wait a few days.  The number of seeds that germinate will give you a rough idea of the percentage of live seed you have.  This kind of test is a good way to see if your old purchased seed, or seed that you have saved yourself, will grow. 

Now is also a prudent time to plan which varieties of vegetables you might want to save seed from for next year.  Once selected and growing, plan to save seed from your best plants.  Choose plants mid-season in their fruiting and mark them with tags or labels, as ones to save seed from.  Pick the fruits when past eating ripeness; clean the seed carefully.  Dry it well before storing in clean, dry glass jars with metal lids.  Label the jars carefully with variety name and year of harvest.  Store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place so they have the best chance of staying alive.  Seed-saving techniques vary from species to species, so it is good to obtain as much information as you can before you try.  A great book is Saving Seeds by Montana authors Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough; another is The Heirloom Gardener by Carolyn Jabs.  An excellent book about seed starting, saving and plant propagation is: The Royal Horticultural Society Propagating Plants, Edited by Alan Toogood.  These three books may not be the newest, but their information is detailed and practical, especially the latter book.  An online article with basic information about seed-saving, including lots of pictures, can be found at: https://robinsonloveplants.com/saving-seeds/

TIME TO PURCHASE YOUR GARDEN SEEDS!

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GARDEN SEED RACKS ARE IN STORES NOW!

At Westland Seed in Ronan, we have 3 racks: 

 FERRY MORSE Certified Organic Seeds

TRIPLE DIVIDE Montana-grown Certified Organic Seeds

And

BAKER SEEDS’

HEIRLOOM NATIVE AMERICAN Vegetable and Flower Seeds (28 varieties available).  

Above are  two antique engravings.  The one on the left shows a box of perfectly formed vegetables entered in a Victorian garden show.  The other engraving is of a Victorian era greenhouse.  In Victorian times gardening was mostly practiced organically; consequently, the varieties of flowers and vegetables they grew (that are still with us) are adapted to organic conditions.  They are open-pollinated, therefore are an important sustainable resource; many are well-adapted to our tough local climate; and best of all, they are wonderfully flavorful!

Now is the time to start many tender vegetables and annuals to be set out later into the garden, as weather warms.  Have a great spring!

FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

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FEBRUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

HEIRLOOM VEGETABLE VARIETIES FOR WESTERN MONTANA

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HEIRLOOM VEGETABLE VARIETIES

FOR WESTERN MONTANA AND THE INTER-MOUNTAIN WEST

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

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

Here are some locally-adapted heirloom vegetables:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

JANUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

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JANUARY GARDENING CALENDAR

 

This is the time to plan your 2017 garden.  Seed racks will be in garden stores soon.  Nowadays there are several companies selling organically grown seeds, some of them grown right here in the Flathead area!  January is an excellent time to test the germination rate on your saved seeds.  You can get a rough estimate of percentage if you sprout some now.  Put ten seeds folded into a moist paper towel.  Place the moist towel on a plate, loosely covered with plastic wrap or waxed paper and put it in a warm place to test germ.  The top of the refrigerator is a convenient spot to do this.  If 9 out of 10 seeds germinate you can bet on about a 90% germ.  If a variety germinates poorly, you can plant extra seeds if you have them, or buy fresh seed.  Also, check past records and eliminate any varieties that you did not like, or did not do well in your garden.  Composted manure can be spread on vegetable beds, right on top of the snow if you want.  Spring melt and rains will draw nutrients down into the soil.  This month is a good time to repair garden tools, and obtain or make plant supports and cold frames.  Locate frames and hotbeds for winter/spring growing outside in sunny, protected locations.

Check stored fruits and vegetables for spoilage.  Watch cold frames; admit air on days when the temperature goes above freezing and be sure to cover them at night.  Clean and weed lettuces and other winter greens growing in cold tunnels or frames.  Use leftover Christmas tree boughs to mulch perennials, strawberries, roses, etc.

Prepare any planned garden designs.  Be sure to rotate planting locations of vegetables and flowers every season for best health and disease prevention.

Indoors, sow strawberries and perennials early.  Beginning the 15th, sow cauliflower and cabbage seed inside for growing in frames.  Sow eggplant, onions, leeks, and early peppers.  Sow perennial herbs: oregano, thyme, feverfew, Greek oregano, lavender, rosemary, chives, chamomile, hyssop, horehound, catnip, parsley, rue, lemon balm and salvia.

Harvest winter greens from frames and tunnels as well as spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, onions, parsnips, leeks and carrots.

Sow primrose and auricula seed in a cool greenhouse; protect auriculas from severe frost and rains.  Ventilate auriculas and other alpines in the greenhouse—keep plants on the dry side as they will be dormant.  Prepare to top dress containerized plants (in a cool greenhouse) with manure or compost in February.

Ventilate sweet violet frames daily; pick off dead foliage and keep the glass clean.  Transfer potted sweet violets, pansies and violas to the greenhouse to flower.  Other plants (previously potted) to force inside now include: honeysuckle, roses, jasmine, carnations, sweet William, wallflowers, stocks, narcissus, ranunculus, early dwarf tulips and lily of the valley.  Take cuttings of geraniums and fuchsias.  Force potted strawberries (potted in Sept.) in hotbeds or greenhouse.  Check winter mulches and covers; mound up snow to keep perennials and roses protected from dry cold.  Have a great gardening year in 2017!

 

DECEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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

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

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

VEGETABLES

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

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

Force asparagus in hot beds.

FLOWERS

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

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

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

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

FRUIT

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

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

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

NATIVE AMERICAN HEIRLOOM VEGETABLES

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NATIVE AMERICAN VEGETABLES

It is an interesting fact that some of our most popular vegetables are from the North and South American continents.  These include: beans, corn (maize), squash, sunflowers, amaranth, chili peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and quinoa.  All are plants originally found in the wild, brought into cultivation by Native American peoples.  This process, known as domestication, began nearly 8,000 years ago and still continues today.  Each growing season, people selected the most flavorful, productive, largest and best-adapted vegetables to eat and to save seed from.  Many tribal groups all over the Americas are still growing and saving seed each year.  Corn, or maize, as it is properly known, began as a wild grass in central Mexico.  The oldest cobs, from archaeological sites dating to 6,750 years ago were tiny—only about one inch long!  By 1492 six different classes (basic types) of maize had been developed; popcorn, flint, pod corn, flour, dent, and sweet corn, with cob sizes up to 15 inches.  The same activity of selecting the best of the best was undertaken for each of the vegetables listed above.

It can be seen from the list that without exception, all these plants are tropical or subtropical in origin.  People who lived in the north, or at higher elevations as we do, needed varieties that would mature earlier, in time for harvest and storage.   By gradually selecting for early maturity season after season, these crops could be grown in areas with shorter and cooler seasons.  The Mandan and Hidatsa in the Dakotas developed early varieties of beans, corn, squash and sunflowers.  In the American Southwest the Hopi, San Filipe Pueblo group, Taos Pueblo group and others at high elevations developed early strains as well.  Early-maturing types of quinoa, tomatoes, amaranth, maize and chilies were developed in the high mountains of Central America and the Andes Mountains.

In our local area, Western Montana, we are fortunate to be able to grow a number of heirloom vegetables from various tribes living in short season areas.  I grow over 30 different varieties of these vegetables here in Ronan.  Some are quite rare now and we need to preserve them.  An advantage is that growing them here season after season will result in locally-adapted strains.  All of these traditional Native American vegetables are open-pollinated, so seed can be saved from year to year.   Of course, these are not hybrids, nor are they GMO strains.  However, caution must be observed in seed-saving.  Maize is wind-pollinated, so each variety must be isolated from other maize varieties to remain pure and prevent pollination by GMO or other strains of maize.  You need to grow more than 200 plants of maize each year to avoid inbreeding depression, which results in infertility and non-viable or no seed.

In my garden I have had good luck maturing Hidatsa beans, San Filipe chilies, yellow and white Scallop summer squash, Crookneck winter squash, Navajo and Long Pie pumpkins, and Hopi Dye sunflowers.  Next year I am planning a much larger garden and will test more varieties.

Some of the virtues of heirloom Native American vegetables are that they are adapted to the American climate, store well, are open-pollinated, easy to grow organically and resistant to pests and diseases.  Another important factor to remember is that vegetables are very healthy for the body and much superior to the packaged, additive-laden food so popular today.  A diet rich in vegetables can also reduce the instance of diabetes and other diseases.

We have some pictures below of some Native American vegetables adapted to shorter growing seasons.  The maize is Hopi Blue flour, the squash is an heirloom from the Ute tribe, the beans are Zuni Gold and the sunflower is the rare Hopi Dye sunflower.

NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

GENERAL

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

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

VEGETABLES

Finish planting garlic, shallots, and Egyptian walking onions.

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

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

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

FLOWERS

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

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

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

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

FRUIT

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

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

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

OCTOBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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OUR PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS A BLOOM OF ‘DART’S DASH’

A RUGOSA ROSE FROM THE 1930s

GENERAL

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.

VEGETABLES

Have row covers ready for tender plants that might succumb to fall frosts.  Crops can still be harvested in cold frames and under row covers 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 trench of sand and cover with a wet-proof cover open at both ends 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.

FLOWERS

Plant bulbs this month, finishing by November 1; 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, glads 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.

 

 

FRUIT

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.

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

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 in cold areas, 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.

 

FALL IS FOR PLANTING TREES, SHRUBS, ROSES AND WILDFLOWER SEED!