GROWING CARROTS

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St. Valery Carrot

GROWING CARROTS

Carrots, botanically classified Daucus carota, have been grown in gardens for centuries.  The Romans grew them, but they were not very popular until the Middle Ages.  The earliest carrots had white, purple, red, or yellow roots.   Orange colored carrots appeared as a mutation of yellow carrots during the seventeenth century.  Some orange varieties from the 1800s have survived as heirlooms, but few of the old purple, red, yellow or white heirloom seed strains still exist.  ‘Nantes Scarlet’ is a nineteenth century orange heirloom carrot still found in catalogs.  ‘Round of Paris’ from 1881, is a very short, spherical orange carrot that tastes great and will grow fine in thin, stony soils.  ‘St. Valery’ is another nineteenth century orange carrot that is sweet and tender, but it is a rare variety now.  Orange carrots have been consistently popular since the 1800s, but recently the original colors have been rediscovered and are gaining in popularity.  There are new seed strains available today in each of the separate colors, or you can purchase a mixture of all colors.  

Most gardeners direct-seed carrots rather than starting them indoors.  They grow quickly once germinated and do not transplant easily.   Carrot seeds germinate between 45 and 85 degrees so you can try putting them in as early as April if your garden has been tilled and prepared in time.  Full sun is the best location and a soil pH of 6.5 is ideal.  Carrots like cool weather and can take mild frosts when up.  The growing temperature range for carrots is 55–75 degrees (but 60-70 is best). 

The germination time for Carrots varies from 7 to 21 days.  It is helpful to mix the small carrot seed with sand for even distribution.  Sow seed ½” apart, carefully, in rows about 16” apart, 1/4-1/2” deep.  Baby carrots can be pulled and used as the plants left to grow large are thinned to 3 inches apart.  Water the seedbed regularly; do not let the seedlings dry out.  Be sure to weed the beds before the carrots emerge.   Quite a few gardeners plant carrots in succession, every two weeks, to keep a steady supply ready. 

Give your plants steady, even moisture.  CARROTS NEED REGULAR WATERING!  

A few pests that bother carrots are gophers, carrot root flies, aphids, blister beetles, carrot weevils and wireworms.  

Harvest mature carrots when they are large enough to be sweet and are less than 1” in diameter.  Dig carefully so as to not damage roots.  Cut tops to less than 1”.  Carefully wash the roots clean.  To store them until used, keep them cool, in high humidity, and out of the sun.  Place them in plastic bags to keep them moist.   

Carrots can be left in the ground and harvested after frosts, and can be mulched heavily (at least one foot deep) with straw.  You can brush the snow away and pull the carrots right up.  Carrots do sweeten up in cooler weather, also.   Voles will be troublesome in winter if carrots are left in and it might be better to harvest the roots and store them in damp sand in a cellar, or an underground cage filled with sand, or other protected place where they will not freeze, but stay moist and be free from predation. 

 

 

ORGANIC ONIONS FOR YOUR GARDEN

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Redwing Storage Onion

ORGANIC ONIONS FOR YOUR GARDEN

Onions regulate their growth by day length.  Short-day varieties grow best in the South; here in the north we grow long-day varieties of onions.   When the days reach 14 to 16 hours long, the long-day onions begin to form bulbs.   The greater amount of growth prior to bulbing determines the ultimate size of the onions, so it is a good idea to start seeds inside and grow the plants on until you can put them out in the garden.   

Start your onion seeds in early spring, in darkness, or with the seeds completely covered with soil.  A good germination temperature is about 68 degrees F.  Once the plants are up, put in bright light and grow them cool.  Keep them moist (actively growing onions like a lot of water).  Harden off the seedlings in a cold frame, or by putting them outside for a few hours each day, exposing them to longer and longer periods outside.  After they are hardened off, onions can take some frosts, so you can plant them outside, in Montana, usually beginning in mid-April. 

In your garden, put your onions in full sun, in a spot where onions have not been grown for at least four years.  (Keen organic gardeners rotate their crops so that it is four years before plants are put in the same place in the garden.  This practice builds soils and prevents a host of disease and insect problems).  The best growing temperature range for onions is 55-75 degrees F.  A soil pH of 6.8 is ideal.

If you are growing bunching onions (scallions) you can direct-seed them ½” deep at a rate of 1 oz. per 200 Sq. Ft. bed.  If soil temperature is up to 50 degrees, you can plant.  Germination time is 7-28 days.

If you are transplanting seedling onions or onion sets, transplant plants 2-3” deep, 1” apart in rows.  Mulch your plants lightly (with organic straw) when plants are about 8 inches tall, but mulch no more than 2 inches deep.  If you are direct-seeding, sow in rows 12” apart, ½” deep and thin to 1” apart, as early as possible.  Be sure to give your onions plenty of steady, even moisture.  ONIONS LIKE MORE WATER THAN MOST CROPS (More water than shallots and garlic.)

Some pests that love onions include: gophers, onion maggots, slugs, leafhoppers and thrips.   A garlic spray in May and another in mid-June will help deter insects. 

Harvest green onions when they are pencil-thick or more.  Carefully wash the roots clean.  Keep them cool, out of the sun, and store cool, with high humidity. 

Prepare to harvest bulb onions when the tops are flopped over.  First, withhold water so protective skins form over the bulbs.  If not all tops have flopped over, push them over so sun reaches the bulbs.  Wait about one week; then pull them up.  Cure them in an airy shed or garage at about 75 to 85 degrees F., leaving the dirt to dry and fall away from the bulbs.  When dry, you can wipe off the dried soil from the outer layer of skins.  Store onions in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, and keep from freezing over winter. 

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/

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.