FALL APPLE AND PEAR TREE CARE

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FALL APPLE AND PEAR FRUIT TREE CARE

By James Sagmiller

HARVESTING

Now is the time to gather ripe apples and pears.  Be sure to pick while weather is dry.  As you harvest, discard/destroy any diseased fruit or “mummies” into a hot, active compost pile or burn them.  Feed fallen fruits to cattle, horses, or pigs.  Pick unripe winter pears before hard frosts so they will ripen in storage and keep better.  (Frosted pears will rot in storage).  To gather ripe fruit, gently twist one way or another; a ripe apple or pear comes off easily. 

STORING

Before storing, dry the fruit in heaps in a shed for 10 to 14 days.   Wipe each apple or pear dry with a clean, dry cloth and wrap each one in brown paper and store in wooden barrels or bins.   As you wipe, inspect the fruit for bruises or decay and discard or use those immediately rather than storing them.  Another good method is to store the fruit in completely dry sand, sawdust or straw in barrels or bins.  The storage cellar needs to be cool and dry, with protection from frost.  I like to store apples away from potatoes because apples seem to take on a potato flavor after a few months of storage, if they are stored next to each other. 

PROTECTION

September is a good time to paint the trunks of your fruit trees to prevent sunscald.  Sunscald happens in spring when the sun hits frozen sap in the tree trunk.  Painting the trunk white with interior latex paint will reflect the sun off the trunk and help prevent sunscald.  Do this every year.  Another important thing to do in fall is to rake up all fallen leaves, so as to prevent scab disease.   

A serious disease of apples and pears is fireblight.   The symptoms are blackened terminal shoots and leaves, with the ends of the branches often being bent over.  The leaves and twigs will have a scorched look, as if they had been burned.  If you encounter this, it is necessary to carefully prune the branches affected, cutting 6 inches to a foot below the scorched, blackened leaves and stem.  Wipe your lopper/pruner before using and after each cut, with 70% isopropyl alcohol or a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach in 9 parts water).  Also, prune for fireblight in dry weather.  Wet weather means wet branch wood and a greater chance of spreading the disease.   Seal the cuts with pruning paint. 

Voles and gophers are serious cool season threats to fruit trees, especially young trees.  A tree guard will help protect tender bark from being stripped by voles.  Tree wrap alone will not prevent voles from chewing into bark.  Plastic tree guards are good to use for young trees.  Put them on in September, but be sure to remove them about the time the trees leaf out.   They do not expand well as the tree grows, can become embedded in the growing bark and can cause moisture buildup underneath.  A better tree guard is one of ¼” -1/2” hardware cloth, made at least 4” in diameter and 18”-24” high.  Air can pass through, and the vole/rabbit guard can be left in place until the trunk grows larger. 

FERTILIZING

Fall is an excellent time of year to apply organic fertilizers on established trees as soil is still warm.  Organics activate best when soil temperatures are between 50 degrees and 80 degrees.  Bone meal, alfalfa meal and kelp meal are good dry amendments.  A spray of Neem oil with hydrolyzed fish when leaves are 50-60% fallen will feed the tree, and help prevent fungi and bacterial infestations.   Spray over all branches and the trunk.  Neem is a light, OMRI listed horticultural oil.   

TRANSPLANTING AND PROTECTION

Fall is also a very good time to transplant fruit trees, especially the second half of October into November.  Our weather is very unpredictable and some years we get a deep-freeze winter storm in early November, so really watch the weather to get trees in before winter.  Test your soil pH.  Most fruiting trees and shrubs prefer a soil pH of 6.5-6.9.  Cottonseed Meal is a good organic amendment that will help acidify alkaline soil.  Apples, pears, cherries and plums prefer sandy loam soil.  Gypsum with compost will lighten and improve clay soils.   Dig large holes for your trees and amend poor soils.  Fruit trees need good drainage so avoid planting in swampy, heavy soils.   Do not apply extra fertilizer to newly planted trees, especially chemical fertilizers.    

A new product that protects the tree’s root ball from voles and gophers are Vole King planting baskets made from wire mesh.  If a vole or gopher chews into the mesh, metal wires stick out and poke the vole in the face causing it to stop chewing.   Several sizes of vole baskets are available, from a large fruit tree size down to one made for small bulbs and perennials.  The edges of the baskets roll easily.  A circle of metal hardware cloth will prevent voles from climbing over the edges of the wire basket and digging down into the root ball of the plant. 

In our northern climate, standard apple and pear trees are often best.  Dwarfing rootstocks are not as winter hardy as trees grown on their own roots or grafted onto a hardy standard rootstock.  ‘Antanovka’ is a very winter hardy apple rootstock that produces a standard tree of 15 feet or so in our climate.  The same tree can be pruned to be 10 to 12 feet tall.  Purchased dwarf or semi-dwarf trees can be planted deeper so they will root from above the graft.  This produces a hardy, long-lived tree.  Keep in mind trees grow much larger in areas with longer growing seasons, such as in England, Oregon or California.  Plant standard apple trees in Montana about 18-20 feet apart and standard pears about 20 feet apart.  Good hardy rootstocks for pears are Pyrus communis and Pyrus ussuriensis

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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!

 

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.

PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS

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

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

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

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

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