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.

 

 

 

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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.

SEPTEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

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SEPTEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR

GENERAL

Harvest beans and other crops; remove blossoms from eggplant and peppers to ripen remaining fruits.  Cover sunflowers from birds, pinch tomato tips.  Lay down grass turf.  Watch for slugs and snails, cultivate to destroy grasshopper eggs.  Also, watch for corn earworms.

VEGETABLES

Cultivate or hoe around cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and celery.  Keep late maturing cauliflower and broccoli well-watered.  Transplant out starts of endive the first week of September.  Plant garlic and shallots and over-wintering onion sets.  Direct seed outside: arugula, lettuce, radishes, cress, corn salad, chervil and kale.

If you plan to grow crops under tunnels or in a cold greenhouse over the winter, plant seed (early in the month) of crops for winter use: chervil, kale, spinach, lettuce, radishes, corn salad, and winter cress.  Later in the month, from the 20th to the first week of October, plant seeds of cabbage, cauliflower and other brassicas for transplanting out into tunnels in OctoberHave winter cover ready by October 1.

Make beds for growing mushrooms.  Well-rotted horse manure is excellent for mushroom beds.

Gather ripe seeds of any vegetables (or flowers) you want to save seed from.

Watch outdoor temperatures and bring in house plants if frost threatens.

FLOWERS

Prepare beds for planting bulbs.  Sow seeds of bulbous flowers collected in summer.  Take cuttings of violets and pansies; plant cuttings out in early spring.  Transplant peonies and lilies.  Dig dahlias after killing frost.  Transplant pinks and carnations with root ball intact late in the month.  Late in the month, plant out perennials and biennials where they are to bloom.  Also, most perennials can be divided now and replanted where they are to bloom.

 

FRUIT

Gather ripe fruit from apples and pears.  Remove diseased fruits and “mummies”, rake up leaves under fruit trees and destroy them (to prevent apple scab).  Prepare equipment to make cider.  Finish budding apples.  Prepare beds for planting fruit trees, using well-rotted manure, digging down 18 inches.  Take cuttings or make layers of gooseberries, currants, honeysuckle, and other trees and shrubs.  Plant seeds of fruit trees: cherry, plum, apricot, apple, pear, etc.

Keep strawberries free of weeds and the soil moist.  If you plan to force strawberries in winter, now is the time to take them up and pot them.  Cut a root ball out with a knife, trim off dead leaves and runners and pot into 7 or 8 inch pots.  Place them in shade and water well.  Then plunge the pots in earth up to the rim.  Take them up and into frames or greenhouse before cold weather.

Protect ripening grapes from birds with netting or gauze; keep weeds away from plants.  If wasps are a problem, hang containers of sugar water to catch them.  Prepare to make wine if desired.

TREES, SHRUBS AND ROSES

Trim branches of evergreens and walnut trees, so wounds will heal before winter.  Keep weeds cleaned out from nursery beds and plantings of young trees.

 

Growing Asparagus

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Asparagus (Asparagus officionalis) is a popular vegetable today and was quite popular in the nineteenth century.  The photograph above is of an antique variety, ‘Giant Asparagus’ an engraving from The Illustrated London News, dated 1851.  An asparagus knife is shown alongside the plant.  This year, I grew another old variety of asparagus from seed, ‘Connover’s Collosal’, dating to the second half of the nineteenth century.   It is difficult to find plants of heirloom varieties of asparagus, so one has to start them from seed.  However, the process is slow, as the plants take three to four years to reach the size for harvesting.  (If too many shoots are cut from very young plants, productivity may be reduced, or the plants may die.  But if the plants are allowed to become established, an asparagus bed will last twenty years or more, even up to fifty years!)

Late March into early April is an excellent time to start asparagus from seed.  Use a sterile medium, cover the seed about 1/4 inch deep and place the pots in a warm location (77 degrees is optimum).  The seeds should come up in about ten days.  You may direct seed into a bed if soil temperatures are above 50 degrees, it will just take a little longer for the seeds to germinate.  Asparagus plants begin to grow slowly and will not be ready to transplant out for about three or four months.  Meanwhile you can prepare a bed for them.  An ideal spot is in full sun with a bed large enough to accommodate the number of plants you need.  It is usually recommended to plant five to six plants per person.  Since the plants are perennial (USDA climate zones 4-9) they benefit from a well-prepared bed.  Peter Henderson, in his book Gardening for Profit published in 1867, recommended planting transplants nine inches apart in rows three feet wide for commercial growers, or two feet wide for home gardeners.

Once you have established how many plants you need, you can make the planting bed.  Henderson recommended trenching the bed two to three feet deep with about three inches of rotted manure mixed into the soil.  A deep sandy loam is best for them as they are native to alluvial soils.  Bernard Mc Mahon, in Mc Mahon’s American Gardener, published in 1857, recommended double digging two spades deep and placing several inches of rotted manure in the trench, then spreading another layer of rotted manure over the surface.  He directed gardeners to mix this second layer of manure with the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches.  My young plants, now a year old, have spears a little larger in diameter than a toothpick.  The young plants may be grown in a temporary (sunny) rich bed for another year, then moved to their permanent location.  Place the crowns of the plants two inches below the soil surface.  Keep the beds weeded to ensure quick, even growth.  Mc Mahon recommends three years from planting (which would be four years from sowing seed) before cutting can begin.  Dress the bed every spring with rotted manure, bone meal and wood ashes.

If your family really enjoys asparagus, plant more than five plants per person; I plant twelve per person.  If you plant two-year transplants, spread the roots out like the spokes of a wheel and cover with about one inch of prepared soil.  Water well.  As the plants grow, cover them with more soil until you have them two inches under.  Do not use fresh manure as it will burn them and (heaven forbid) do not use chemical fertilizers, especially on newly planted asparagus.  Wait two years to begin cutting.  A summer mulch of three inches of straw is excellent, will protect the plants in winter and the spears will come up earlier in the spring if the ground is not frozen too deeply.

When you cut asparagus spears get them into the refrigerator right away or cook them immediately because they lose flavor as quickly as sweet corn does.   Considering how expensive asparagus is, I find the start up work well worth while.  Enjoy!

March Gardening Calendar

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This photo is of a double blue primrose seedling, blooming now in Corvallis, Oregon.

March is a very busy month for gardeners.  Root crops stored from the previous year and planned to produce seed can be planted out late in the month after the soil thaws (cabbages, celery, lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips).  Planting time will arrive soon, or has already arrived for those of you in mild climates.  Weed and clean borders and vegetable beds, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals, plant rhubarb, asparagus, sea kale and artichokes.   Plant and/or prune cane fruits and fruit trees (cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, etc.).  Check cold frames on a regular basis, venting as needed and closing the glazing panels at night.  Watch temperatures in the greenhouse also, as March is a month of ups and downs in temperature.  Manure and other organic soil amendments (epsom salts, seaweed meal, alfalfa meal, greensand, bone meal, compost and wood ashes) can be spread over vegetable, fruit, flower and rose beds.  Grape vines can be manured now, leaving space around the stem; treat roses in the same manner.

Many vegetables can be sown indoors now for transplanting out later: cole crops (brassicas), onions, lettuce, peppers, eggplant and leeks.  Some vegetables can be direct sown outside if weather permits and if your soil is not too wet to work: arugula, carrots, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Celery and lettuce can be direct sown into frames.  Several vegetables and fruits can be transplanted now: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, asparagus, horseradish, head lettuce, onion sets and plants and perennial herbs.  Make sure your mushroom beds do not get too wet; replace straw if wet.

Potted auricula primroses should be protected from rain and frosts; they will begin to bud soon.  Sow any remaining auricula and primrose seeds.  Herbaceous perennials can be divided and planted now.  Many hardy annual flowers may be sown during March: larkspur, sweet peas, lychnis, nigella, lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and sweet alyssum.  Inside the greenhouse sow: petunias, impatiens, pansies, alyssum, chrysanthemums, iceplants, portulacas, salvias, snapdragons, sweet Williams, ten-week stocks, mignonette, hesperis, Shasta daisies, hibiscus, lupine and Salvia x superba.

Roses and other shrubs may be layered now, and cuttings may be made of geraniums, myrtles and hydrangeas.  If you want to plant a hedge from seed, now is the time to sow seeds of hawthorns, stone fruits, roses and other hardy shrubs you might like to use.  The young plants can be transplanted out to their permanent positions later.

Happy Spring!

 

SCENTED GERANIUMS (PELARGONIUMS)

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Scented plants were extremely popular in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.  People grew them in their gardens and on windowsills.  Today, bright colorful flowers hold the public’s interest and we do not often see plants grown primarily for their fragrance.  Scented geraniums (botanically classified as Pelargoniums), while not as showy as their modern hybrid cousins, the zonal (P. x hortorum) and Martha Washington (P. x domesticum) geraniums, are delightful and charming.  The scented varietes are attractive, easy to grow plants that release their fragrance when touched.

Scented geraniums are native to coastal South Africa.  The first plants to arrive in Europe were brought by Dutch traders in the sixteenth century.  Several species exist in the wild and hybridization has taken place over the long time since they were brought into cultivation.  The second picture from the top, above, is of P. graveolens, known as ‘True Rose’.   It dates to 1787 and is one of the oldest still grown today.  It has a healthy, robust habit and delightful rose scent.  ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’ is illustrated in the third photo from the top.  It dates from 1802 and is a P. graveolens hybrid with a rose, fruit and spice scent.  Its leaves are beautifully cut and margined with a thin white line. The very rare ‘Skeleton Rose’, also known as ‘Dr. Livingston’ is another old P. graveolens hybrid from the nineteenth century or earlier, with beautiful, deeply cut lemon and rose-scented foliage.  This variety seems to prefer soil with a lower pH (more acidic) than the others.  The top photo shows foliage and flowers of ‘Fair Ellen’ an old hybrid of P. quercifolium  and has, as you would expect from the Latin name, oak-shaped leaves, scented of rich fruit and spice.  The bottom photo shows potted scented geraniums wintering on a cool porch.  The plant on the right is ‘Skeleton Rose’.  On the left is the rather large velvet-leaved P. tomentosum known as ‘Peppermint’.  It has a true mint scent.  This variety is the most sensitive to heat and is the first to curl its leaves and wilt if it is in too hot a location.  Many more species and old hybrid scented geraniums exist, but they are hard to find.  I am collecting them as I come across them (and when I have the cash to buy them).  Many scents and hybrids were once available, including: apricot-scented, nutmeg-scented, filbert-scented, spice-scented, lemon-scented, apple-scented, almond-scented and orange-scented.  Louse Beebe Wilder, in her wonderful book ‘The Fragrant Path’, reprinted as ‘The Fragrant Garden’, mentions a person she knew as a child who owned a collection of over 100 varieties of scented geraniums.  In her book, she lists 18 species and hybrids still available years later— in 1932.  She complained that many had disappeared or were very hard to find.  This seems true today, though plants are available from two sources that I can recommend: Logee’s Greenhouses http://www.logees.com and Select Seeds http://www.selectseeds.com.  Both of these sources are in the eastern U.S.  Seed for scented species can sometimes be sourced; this season I have started seeds of P. grassularioides, the coconut-scented geranium.  Seed came from Terroir Seeds htpp://www.UnderwoodGardens.com.

Scented geraniums are not difficult to grow. They prefer a somewhat cool, sunny atmosphere and a medium level of humidity.  A sunny south facing window on a cool porch is very much to their liking in winter.  That season is a rest period for the plants.  Do not water them very much in winter, but let them almost wilt; then water.  I make an organic soil mix with compost, bone meal, greensand, wood ashes and sharp sand or perlite (1/4 to 1/3 part of the potting mix, for excellent drainage).  My plants really like this mix and I never need to fertilize.  In early spring growth begins and picks up speed into summer, so watering is increased.  It is best to let the plants become nearly dry— avoid overwatering.  During the heat and bright sun in summer, some of the plants may begin to flag, so it is best to put them in an east window or provide light shade and a cooler location.  I repot my scented geraniums once a year, unless growth warrants additional repotting.  Otherwise, it is best to do so in summer.  Softwood cuttings can be made anytime from April through July.  If a plant is repotted in early autumn, cuttings may be taken then also.

 

Finding Lost Roses

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A way to save old, rare roses from extinction is to look for them around the area in which you live.  Every region of the U.S. has roses, even Hawaii.  Of great value are old, found roses that are well adapted to local conditions.  They can be found in a number of places: in a neighbor’s yard, in a cemetery, around an abandoned homestead, etc.  Above are four examples of “found” roses.  When located and propagated each of these roses was given a collection name; a temporary or study name. This name will distinguish it from other roses until the plant is identified as to its original, true name, by experts.  When  describing these found plants in writing, the collection names are placed in double quotes.

The first picture is of a potted plant of “Charles Walker’s Lawrenciana” a rose found in the south by Mr. Walker.  The rose class Lawrenciana is an early classification for miniature roses brought from Asia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Some hybridizing was done between varieties of these early miniature roses.  Nowadays it is very difficult to find any of them for sale in nurseries; few survive anywhere.  The San Jose Heritage Rose Garden collection holds a few of them and The Vintage Gardens collection in Sebastopol has several.  The Lawrencianas are everblooming in mild climates and are about as hardy as hybrid teas.

The second picture is of  “Thomasville Old Gold” a lovely true tea rose, found in Georgia years ago.  It has yet to be identified.  It grows to six feet in mild climates.  It blooms through the warm season and in winter in the desert.  Any rose classified as a true tea will grow well in USDA climate zones 7 to 11.

The third picture is of a rose I found in the garden of my new home in Corvallis Oregon.  It is shade tolerant and probably a member of the rambler class of roses.  (Ramblers are a class of climbing roses).  The great age of hybridizing ramblers was from about 1890 to 1930.  This plant blooms once a season and has beautiful fragrant flowers with disease resistant foliage.  I call it “Old Cottage Red Rambler”.

The fourth picture above is of “McClinton Tea”, a rose found in Texas by the folks at The Antique Rose Emporium nursery.  It is extremely fragrant, floriferous and a large plant to about seven feet.  It is a tea rose, so does best in USDA zones 7 to 11.  It has yet to be identified, but some rosarians think it may be either ‘Madame de Tartas’, or the true ‘Adam’.  In any case, this and all the roses above are worth growing and saving.

I urge you to collect, propagate and grow some of the unknown roses in your area.  It is important to save them, because so many old roses have been lost.  You might find a rare rose that has been thought to be extinct!  A good way to do this is to continually look for interesting roses.  When you do, ask the owner politely for cuttings.  Never uproot an entire plant.  Several rosarians collect cuttings with sharp shears, plastic bags and a cooler if the weather is hot.

The best way to take cuttings is cut them about 6 to 8 inches long (about the size of a pencil).  Cut from ripened wood.  A cutting made from the stem of a fading or finished bloom is excellent, or cuttings from dormant stems in late fall or winter.  Try to take 6 cuttings of each variety, marking the bag with a study name.  Once home, dip the ends of the cuttings in rooting gel or a paste made from powdered rooting compound and water.  Next place the cuttings up to half their length, removing lower leaves, in one of these various mediums: pure coarse, clean sand, or a mix of 1/2 peat and 1/2 perlite, or right into soil.  Then cover the cuttings with glass jars, or plastic bags over pots, or in a cold frame.  Do not place them in direct sun.  I have had the best luck out of doors in bright, but compete shade.  Cuttings can be easily struck by some of the new cloners or in a well-managed greenhouse.  See my last week’s blog post for links to the Heritage Rose Foundation and The Heritage Roses Group for additional information.  Another site with great information is helpmefind.com  Good luck!