By Jan Cashman
Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable. We sell thousands of tomato plants each year. You can grow delicious, nutritious tomatoes, in our high mountain climate with its cool nights and short growing season by using a few tricks.
Twenty five years ago, Fantastic and Early Girl were the two commonly grown tomato varieties in our area. Today, hundreds of sweet and improved varieties are available that ripen early. Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Czechoslovakia have introduced many good, early varieties such as the Beaverlodge series, Polar Series, Belii Naliv and Stupice.
You can save the seed of open pollinated and delicious, colorful Heirloom varieties of tomatoes. Many heirloom and beefsteak varieties require a 75 day or longer growing season, but can be successfully grown with modest yields by using season extenders like Wall O Waters, row covers, cold frames, etc. Cherokee Purple, Red Brandywine, Orange Russian 117, Gold Medal, and Mortgage Lifter are a few of the longer maturing varieties we have offered over the years.
This year at Cashman Nursery we are trying the Artisan series, bicolor striped fruit in shades of yellow, purple, red, green and orange that will be fun for children to grow and colorful for salads. Unique cherry tomatoes with names like Purple Bumblebee, Sunrise Bumblebee and Lucky Tiger, your children won’t be able to resist!
Tomato plants fall into two general categories, smaller determinate (bush) varieties which ripen all at once and indeterminate (climbing), which ripen over the season, need support and pruning for best yields.
Tomatoes grow well in containers if the container is big enough. Determinate varieties or patio tomatoes work best in a container. A friend was still picking tomatoes in October by wheeling her pots of tomatoes inside each night. Earth boxes are a self-watering rectangular container on wheels, excellent for extending your growing season.
Delicious, home grown tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and K plus other essential vitamins and minerals and the antioxidant lycopene. Plant some in your vegetable garden, raised bed, or containers next summer. You’ll be glad you did!
Now that you have your vegetable garden planted and the seeds are starting to emerge, the tomato and peppers are setting tiny fruit, the squash is sending out runners, and you are picking spinach and lettuce, how do you keep your plants healthy all summer? Here are a few hints to get the best yield from your garden:
- Know your soil. Compost added to your soil every year will improve all types of soils, whether it is clay or rocky or sandy.
- Protect from deer and rodents. We have found that a fence is the only sure way to keep deer out of your garden.
- Water deeply—down 6” or so. Stick your finger into the soil a few inches to see if it is dry. Deeply twice a week is better than lightly every day.
- Use a drip system or soaker hose rather than overhead watering for less evaporation. This keeps the leaves of your plants dry. Water is wasted between the rows and encourages weeds to grow.
- Mulch between the rows with a natural mulch like soil pep. Or use landscape fabric or even newspaper to prevent weeds between the rows.
- Fertilize once or twice during the growing season with a fertilizer recommended for vegetables. I use a 5-10- 10 (Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) that is slow release and made of natural ingredients. Sweet corn, a heavy feeder, needs a fertilizer higher in Nitrogen.
- Plant herbs such as lemon grass or basil and marigolds to repell pests
- Plant flowers to attract pollinators. Many herbs attract hummingbirds and bees, such as fennel, borage, oregano, and lavender. Or try annual sunflowers, salvia, and allysum, or perennial penstemon and monarda.
- Support tomatoes, peas and beans so they don’t flop over and for better light and air circulation.
- Use Season extenders such as wall-o- waters on tomato plants and row covers to protect from frost and keep off insects.
- Thin vegetables that are growing too close together (carrots, head lettuce) for bigger better produce.
- Replant short season vegetables such as spinach and lettuce for a second crop.
- Harvest vegetables as soon as they are ripe and still tender. Wait too long and they lose flavor and are woody. Exceptions are tomatoes and peppers-harvest when they are fully colorful, and root crops which can wait until the tops die down.
These are some of the good gardening practices that will help ensure your success. Enjoy the fruits of your labor all summer!
- Choose early maturing varieties for highest yields—70 days or less (see chart)
- Sow seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost or buy started plants
- Make sure the plants you buy have strong, thick stems and are not leggy
- Harden off before planting
- Plant in a new spot every 3 years to escape soil-borne diseases.
- Warm ground before planting with black plastic
- Pinch off lower leaves and plant a few inches deeper than in pot
- Use wall-o- water for the greenhouse effect and frost protection
- Use red mulch film to reflect light upward, improving yield and flavor
- Support plants for air circulation and sun exposure, increase early higher yields, facilitate harvesting
- Fertilize with a high-phosphorus fertilizer
- Prune indeterminate plants for earlier, larger, more high-quality fruit
- Keep soil evenly moist & don’t let the ground get too dry to prevent blossom end rot
- Use Pyrethrin or row covers to discourage flea beetles
- Clean up and destroy old vines at the end of the season to prevent disease
|Name||Size||Days to Maturity||Determinate or Indeterminate||Color||Other Info|
|Sunsugar||Cherry||65||Ind||Orange||Sweet, wins taste tests|
|Juliet||Grape||60||Ind||Red||Reliable, prolific fruit set|
|Polar Baby||Small 2”||60||Det||Red||Cold weather tomato from Alaska|
|Glacier||Small 2”||55||Det||Red||Very Early|
|Beli Naliv||6-8 oz||60||Det||Red||Cluster-type, Russian|
|Celebrity||8 oz||70||Det||Red||Disease resistant|
|Parks Whopper||4”||65||Ind||Red||Disease resistant|
By Jan Cashman
Grandmothers in the northern U.S. called rhubarb the “Pie Plant”. Rhubarb pies taste wonderful (rhubarb is often combined with strawberries) but you can make other desserts with rhubarb besides pies. I make a simple rhubarb sauce by dicing the rhubarb, cooking it in a small amount of water till soft, and stirring in sugar (½ cup or so per cup of rhubarb). Serve warm as a side dish or use as a delicious ice cream topping. A friend gave me another old-time recipe called Rhubarb Shrub which her mother used to make (see recipe below). Rhubarb, with its large leaves and tall stature, can also be used as a focal point in your perennial flower bed.
Rhubarb (Rheum) is native to central Asia. The Chinese have used rhubarb roots for medicinal purposes for 5000 years. In 1271, on one of his trips to the Orient, Marco Polo found it and brought it back to Europe, again for medicinal use. In 1770 when he was in London Benjamin Franklin sent rhubarb to North America to be used as a medicinal for digestion, circulation, and to reduce pain. In the 1600’s, the French discovered rhubarb stalks to be edible. I found on the internet that rhubarb roots can even be used for hair dye.
Rhubarb stalks contain many nutrients—rhubarb is an excellent source of Calcium. It also contains Vitamins K, C, A and other minerals. The red varieties contain more anti-oxidants than the green-stemmed. But, beware, the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous—they contain high levels of oxalic acid.
There are around 60 species of rhubarb and many hybrids but only a few varieties are grown for sale in garden centers. Chipman’s Canada Red is the variety most available to us; it is sweet with red stems. In the 1970’s we purchased an old variety called Ruby Red from a seller in Minnesota. Although we can no longer find a supplier who grows Ruby Red, we still have these productive plants with dark red stems in our garden. Occasionally we divide our Ruby Red and sell some. It is believed by many gardeners and cooks that red-stemmed rhubarb is sweeter than the green-stemmed varieties.
Easy-to- grow rhubarb should be planted in well-drained soil in full sun. Choose the location carefully because a rhubarb plant can live in the same spot for 25 years or more. Amend soil when planting with compost or other organic matter. Rhubarb is sold as “crowns” or root divisions. Plant the root just below the ground’s surface. Fertilize your rhubarb plant in the spring with a well-balanced fertilizer and give it plenty of water. Keep the area around the plant weed free.
I break off the tall central seed head on the plant, so all the plant’s energy goes towards stem production and not seed. Wait to harvest for the first year or two after you plant to allow the root to mature. Rhubarb is one of the first plants in the spring to harvest. Do not cut the stalks, but pull them so you don’t leave a place for disease to enter.
Plant a rhubarb plant (just one will give you lots). It’s deer-proof, easy, good to eat (if you add sugar), and good for you, too!
OLD-FASHIONED RHUBARB SHRUB
1½-2 cups diced rhubarb
2 cups diced bread (any kind) 1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
Place rhubarb and bread cubes in bottom of baking pan. Top with sugar and butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.
This is the time of the year when gardeners are pouring over seed catalogs dreaming of what seeds to plant when spring finally arrives. Those little seeds are truly God’s wonders. They contain all that is necessary to produce a new plant. Did you know that orchid seeds are so tiny it takes 800,000 of them to make an ounce? But coconut seeds can weigh as much as 50 pounds! And, amazingly, the size of the seed has nothing to do with the size of the plant it produces, as the acorn growing into the oak shows us.
You don’t have to wait until May to get your hands in the dirt and start planting your seeds. You can have fun this winter starting your own vegetables and flowers from seed and watching them grow. Of course, you could buy your bedding plants from a nursery in the spring. But it’s more fun and cheaper to grow your own.
Many vegetables, flowers, and herbs need to be started from seed early in order to mature. And remember, even though you are starting peppers and tomatoes inside, you still need to pick early-ripening varieties for our short growing season. Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, pumpkins, and winter squash are other vegetables started early inside. Herbs, such as basil, oregano, catnip, thyme, and rosemary, are easy to grow from seed. When you want masses of a perennial flower, it can be a money saver to start your own seedlings. Columbine, lupine, hollyhocks, gaillardia, shasta daisy, and purple coneflower are a few popular perennials that grow easily from seed.
Plant your seeds in plastic flats or pots made for that purpose or you can cut down paper or plastic milk cartons, aluminum cans, or other containers you have at home. At the nursery we seed into flats and then transplant into plastic or peat pots. Convenient peat pots can be planted, pot and all, directly into the ground when it’s time. Whatever you use should have drainage and be clean. Used pots with traces of soil in them can harbor diseases. So wash out whatever containers you use with a weak solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
Of course, you will need soil in which to plant your seeds. Real topsoil is not recommended unless it is sterilized, because it can cause seedlings to ‘dampen off’. Damping off is a soil-borne fungus disease in which the seedlings wither and die at ground level. A fine seed-starting mix with a blend of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and other sterilized components works best.
The date you start your seeds depends on germination time, growth rate of the plant, and when you dare to plant outside. Depending on the variety, it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months to start perennial seeds inside. April 15 is a good starting date for frost tender basil, pumpkins, winter squash and cucumbers. Seed broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts 6 to 8 weeks before you want to plant them outside.
Large seeds, such as pumpkins and cucumbers, can be planted directly into peat pots or other containers you are using. We plant small seeds like tomatoes densely in rows in seeding flats and transplant them when they are about 2 inches tall. But if you are doing this on a small scale, planting one or two tomato seeds directly into your peat pots will work. The depth most seeds are planted should equal the length of the seed. Do not plant them too deep. Seeds need the proper moisture and temperature to germinate. Moisten the soil medium before you plant; and then keep it evenly moist but not soaking. If possible, use a clear dome or some other device to keep the humidity up. Although some seeds need higher or lower temperatures, 70 degrees soil temperature is best for germination.
Nancy Berg, our bedding plant grower, worries that a common mistake people make is keeping their flats of seeds on a windowsill. The flat gets warm in the daytime, but at night, especially near a cool window, will be too cold for germination to occur. We use germination mats which heat the bottom of the flats to an even temperature.
Some seeds need stratification and scarifying in order to germinate. Stratification means to supply a period of moist cold to trick the seeds into thinking they’re experiencing winter. Columbine and purple coneflower are two popular perennials seeds that you will need to stratify for at least 3 weeks. Scarifying means to nick the hard outer seed coat with a knife or sandpaper so moisture can reach the inside of the seed for germination. Lupine seeds need to be scarified. Soaking the seed before planting also helps to loosen the hard seed coats.
Most seeds germinate in 5 to 14 days. Once your seedlings are up, remove them from the heat mat and remove the grow domes. Most seedlings grow best at around 70 degrees. They may get too hot in direct sun and stretch toward the light. Grow lights work well, but a bright room out of direct sunlight will work fine, too. It is important to keep the soil evenly moist but not too wet. A good misting in the morning is probably enough.
When your seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, they are ready for transplanting into individual pots. Plant a clump of herb seedlings in each pot for best results. For tomatoes and peppers, plant just one per pot. Fertilize your seedlings about once a week with a water soluble fertilizer. Miracle Gro (15-30-15) fertilizer used at the houseplant rate works well.
Grow your own bedding plants so you and your family can marvel at the wonder of seeds. Then, in May, you will be ready to plant your seedlings outside. And enjoy your garden!
by Jan Cashman 4/6/12
Vegetable gardening is “in”. Everyone is growing vegetables these days to save dollars at the grocery store and provide better tasting, nutritious food grown without chemicals. Vegetable gardening is an inexpensive, fun activity the whole family can enjoy together.
There is more than one way to be successful at vegetable gardening. Remember, gardening isn’t difficult. Here are 10 hints to help you get started:
- Learn by reading books and magazines, attending classes, and asking neighbors who are successful at gardening or the staff at your local garden center for advice.
- Plan out your garden on paper before you start. Keep this plan for your records and jot down other ideas throughout the season for next year’s garden. Choose short-season vegetables—‘days to ripening’ is usually listed on the seed package or learn from others which varieties are best suited to our climate.
- Start small. Make the size manageable for your first garden so you won’t be overwhelmed.
- Consider gardening in raised beds. We have found our raised bed gardens to be easy and productive for several reasons: Their height makes them easier to plant, weed, and harvest; weeds pull easily in the loose soil, the soil is warmer so vegetables grow faster. Whether in the ground or in raised beds, rotate your crops every 3 years or so.
- Amend your soil whether you are growing in raised beds or in the ground with generous amounts of organic matter such as compost or peat moss or well-rotted manure. Our heavy clay soils can be lacking in organic matter.
- Know when and how much to water. A drip system or soaker hose keeps water off the leaves which is important for leafy crops like lettuce. These watering systems will not waste water because they don’t water between the rows (Don’t water your weeds). Watering in the morning is best–water deeply, not daily. A general rule, unless our weather is unusually hot and dry, is 1” of moisture a week for most plants. Learn to recognize signs of stress in a plant from too much or not enough water.
- Fertilizer is a must! Whether you use organic or chemical fertilizers, your garden will do better if you fertilize it. We fertilize twice, once when the seedlings are a few inches tall and again when they are ½ grown. Corn and leafy crops need higher Nitrogen fertilizers; the rest of your vegetables will do well with something like Lily Miller’s Tomato and Vegetable Food (5-10-10), an environmentally friendly fertilizer which also includes important trace minerals.
- Don’t let your weeds get out of control! Weeds are a lot easier to pull when they are small and your soil is moist. We avoid chemical herbicides in our vegetable garden. Some gardeners place newspapers or black poly between their rows to keep weeds down.
- Protect from deer, rabbits, voles, and other pests. They can ruin all your hard work. Last spring, after deer pulled up our newly planted Brussels sprouts, we fenced our whole garden with 5’ fencing. Use smaller gauge wire to keep rabbits out. Voles are hard to control but traps work and poisons are available. Net strawberries and raspberries from birds and use rotenone or row covers to protect broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower from cabbage worms.
- Use tricks to keep frost at bay—such as wall-o-waters for tomatoes, hot caps, frost blankets, even old gallon milk jugs or 5 gallon pails. Turn on your sprinklers when a frost occurs to protect vegetable plants from freezing.
Get your children involved. They might be persuaded to eat their vegetables if they grow them themselves. Have fun with your vegetable garden and enjoy the nutritious, delicious fruits of your labor.
By Jan Cashman 12/14/11
Ever wonder where the vegetables we eat and grow in our gardens came from? The plants had to originate somewhere. Thousands of years ago when people simply gathered wild fruits and vegetables for food, these plants were found naturally growing in the wild. Then, some 11,000 years ago, people began to domesticate these wild fruits and vegetables and eventually improve upon them.
Corn is thought to have originated somewhere in Mexico, though the wild form is extinct. As far as we know, the native people then domesticated corn, which became the most important cultivated plant in ancient America, used by the native North Americans and Incas in the Andes of South America. Columbus brought corn from North America to Europe.
The botanical name for corn, which you will recognize if you read seed catalogs, is Zea mays. In North America, another word for corn is “maize”. (The word “corn” has different meanings in different countries—in England the word means wheat, in Ireland and Scotland, barley or oats.) There are many subspecies of corn, the most familiar of which are dent (the mostly commonly cultivated, also called ‘field corn’), flint corn (Indian corn with colored kernels), popcorn, and sweet corn. Corn has a huge diversity of uses besides human food including livestock feed, ethanol, and in making whiskey, cosmetics, and bioplastics.
All the corn grown commercially in the United States is hybridized. But open-pollinated (i.e. not a hybrid) varieties of sweet corn seed such as Fisher’s Earliest, developed by Ken Fisher of Belgrade, for vegetable gardens are available from some garden seed companies.
Potatoes were first cultivated in the mountainous regions of Peru and Bolivia 3000 to 7000 years ago, where they are thought to have originated. The Incas learned to dehydrate and mash potatoes into a substance that would store for years called chunu, therefore, potatoes became a staple crop there.
The British naturalist, Darwin, during his scientific expedition to Patagonia in the 1830’s, wrote about the potato: “It is remarkable that the same plant should be found on the sterile mountains of central Chile, where a drop of rain does not fall for more than six months, and within the damp forests of the southern islands.” In other words, the potato was adaptable and easy to grow. Potatoes are also highly nutritious, containing vitamin C and B vitamins, potassium, besides carbohydrates and fiber.
In 1570, the Spanish brought the potato from Peru to Spain. Europeans were leery of its ugly appearance and bland taste so, at first, the potato was used for livestock feed, but eventually, because of food shortages, it gained popularity as a palatable vegetable. When the European diet expanded to include potatoes, farmers were able to produce more nutritious food on smaller plots of land, which helped European birth rates and population to increase. Even though they originated in the Western Hemisphere, potatoes were not grown and eaten by the North American colonists until 1620 when they were sent over from England. Thomas Jefferson made them popular by serving them to his guests at the White House.
Montana has a history of raising potatoes commercially. Gallatin, Beaverhead, and Madison Counties are important producers of high quality certified seed potatoes for several reasons: Our cool climate has fewer insects which carry diseases. Our short season produces a small potato, best sold for seed. Our hard winters kill off viruses in the soil. And, we are isolated from other potato growing areas which helps keep diseases out. Montana State University has been a big factor in establishing and carrying out the detailed inspection process needed to certify seed potatoes. Farm families such as the Schutters and Weidenaars in the close-by communities of Churchill-Amsterdam-Manhattan have grown certified seed potatoes, mostly Russett Burbank, for as many as four generations.
Tomatoes are native to South America, in fact, several species are still found growing wild in the Andes. Brought to Mexico, tomatoes were domesticated and cultivated there by 500 BC. It is thought that the first cultivated tomato was small and yellow. Columbus and/or Cortez brought tomatoes to Europe and the Spanish explorers took them throughout the world. The tomato became popular in Spain by the early 17th century, where it thrived in the Mediterranean climate and became a staple food. When first introduced in England at the end of the 16th Century, it was thought to be poisonous. (The tomato belongs to the nightshade family—some plants in this family are poisonous.) Finally, by the mid-18th century, the tomato had gained acceptance and was widely eaten in England and the North American colonies.
Studies have shown that Italians live longer on their diet which includes plenty of tomatoes, olive oil, and red wine. The nutritious tomato is low in calories but high in vitamins A and C, potassium, and the valuable antioxidant lycopene. Older tomato cultivars (heirlooms) are not always smooth-skinned but may have bumps or ribs and are not always red, but sometimes yellow, orange, pink, purple, or black. These old cultivars have the delicious tomato flavor you cannot find in commercially bred varieties purchased in the grocery store. Stupice, a favorite of ours from Czechoslovakia, or Belii Naliv, a John Austin pick from Russia are two good heirloom tomatoes to try in your garden.
The Western Hemisphere is not only the origin of corn, potatoes, and tomatoes, but also squash and pumpkins. Carrots, probably purple at first, were from Afghanistan. Beans are thought to have been found in both the Western Hemisphere and the Mid-East. Onions have been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years. Wild onions were used by the Native Americans. Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage didn’t occur in nature at all, but were bred from kale.
So, when you plant your vegetable garden next spring, think about where those seeds came from and the history that has gone into getting them to you.
By Jan Cashman 7/4/11
Growing your own vegetables is fun and rewarding, but there are a number of things that can go wrong with your vegetable plants. Some of these can be prevented from the beginning if you make sure you have a sunny garden spot with good soil and drainage, rotate your crops, and keep the weeds under control. Even with all this TLC, insects and diseases, deer and rodents, and hail and frost can still cause you problems in your vegetable garden. But, there are a number of safe, non-chemical ways to protect your plants from all these critters and acts of nature.
To keep deer and rabbits away, repellants work well, but need to be reapplied often. May 30, the day after we planted most of our garden, my husband Jerry noticed some of our broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants were pulled out of the ground and eaten. Before the day was over, we had a 5 foot fence made of woven hardware wire around the whole garden, including our raspberries, to keep the deer out. To keep rabbits out, gardeners are using finer fencing.
Right after we plant them, we protect our young tomato plants with Wall-O-Waters. These water-filled plastic contraptions warm up the ground inside them and provide a “greenhouse effect”, warming the plants during our cool spring days and nights, besides protecting from frost. Hot Kaps work the same way for small cucumber, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower plants.
Plastic & Net Covers
People gardening in raised beds often install hoops of PVC pipe above them, covered with clear poly that can be rolled on or off. When frost or hail is a possibility, they can easily cover and protect their plants. We have a raised bed planted in strawberries that the robins seem to love to eat as much as we do. We have covered the whole bed with a fine mesh to keep the birds out.
Row covers over plants susceptible to cabbage looper (the disgusting light green caterpillar that gets on broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) prevents the moth from laying the eggs that hatch into the caterpillar. This lightweight fabric is thin enough to let sunlight pass through it so can be left on the plants.
Companion Plants / Diatomaceous Earth
Marigold, garlic, and onion plants seem to repel aphids and other insects when planted close to other susceptible plants. Diatomaceous earth, an abrasive powder made from ground, fossilized sea algae, kills slugs and other crawling insects, like ants, cutworms and flea beetles. This organic product is easy to use–just sprinkle it on the ground.
Nutrient deficiencies can cause the leaves of your vegetable plants to turn yellow and shrivel or curl. Tomato plants are especially susceptible. Planting tomatoes too early in the spring before the ground warms prevents soil nutrients from being available to the plant. Warming the soil before you plant with red or black plastic, and planting your tomatoes in Wall-o-Waters can prevent this. Our customers often bring in tomatoes that have a black, indented, leathery lesion on the blossom end of their tomato for us to diagnose. This disease, called blossom end rot, is caused by temperature extremes, and fluctuations in watering which makes the calcium in the soil unavailable to the plant. Another cause is cultivating too close to the plant which disturbs the tiny roots that take up nutrients. To prevent blossom end rot, keep the soil under tomato plants evenly moist by careful watering and mulching. A red plastic mulch under your tomatoes is thought to make the plants grow faster, increase yield and will help hold water in the soil.
Fertilizer is important for a vegetable garden, but too much can be as bad as too little. Have your soil tested to find out for sure what it needs. Too much Nitrogen on tomato plants causes them to grow lots of leaves, but not so many tomatoes, but sweet corn needs more Nitrogen. Peas are Nitrogen fixers so don’t need any. Twice each summer we side-dress each row in our garden with a well-balanced (5-10-10), slow release (so it won’t burn the plants) fertilizer which has trace minerals (calcium, iron, manganese, and zinc). We use a fertilizer higher in Nitrogen for our sweet corn.
Destroy Infected Plants
Tomato plants are susceptible to many diseases and nutrient deficiencies, often with similar symptoms, which makes them difficult to diagnose. The Schutter diagnostic lab at Montana State will diagnose plant problems for you free of charge—just bring a sample to them. (For details, check out their web site, msuextension.org, and click on “diagnostics”.) If your tomato plants or other plants in your garden are diagnosed with a virus, destroy the infected plants before the disease spreads. Certain diseases, common to both tomatoes and potatoes, can be spread from one to the other.
Use these hints to help you have a successful vegetable garden this year.
by Jan Cashman
Growing your own food in your own garden means chemical-free, fresher, tastier vegetables and fruits. Many gardeners, not only here in the Gallatin Valley, but all over the country, are realizing this. Garlic is a plant that gardeners can easily grow in our arid mountain climate; it originated in the mountains of central Asia and China.
As most of us know, garlic is used extensively in cooking, whether for Italian dishes, Oriental food, cooking locally harvested game, garlic bread or other favorite recipes. Raw garlic, over the years, has been thought to have many health benefits including cold prevention, antibacterial and antiviral qualities, and the ability to lower cholesterol. It is a known antioxidant.
There are three basic types of garlic:
Softneck is the familiar type available in our grocery stores. The stalks of this strong-flavored garlic can be easily braided for storage and it keeps for a long time. “Early Italian Purple” and “Inchelium Red”are two good softneck varieties.
Stiff-necked (or hardneck)
Stiff-necked garlic, a favorite of gourmet chefs, has a mild, interesting flavor and is extremely hardy, but it will not keep as long as the softneck varieties. Try the hardnecks “German Red” or “Spanish Roja”.
Some say the mild-flavored elephant garlic is not a true garlic because the flavor is different. Elephant garlic produces huge bulbs up to ½ pound, but it is less hardy than the other types and does not keep as well.
Garlic is best planted in the fall—anytime from mid-September to mid-October when the ground has started to cool. Garlic heads will be smaller when planted in the spring. Enrich your soil with compost or other organic matter before planting. If your soil is alkaline, as many of our soils are here, add a fertilizer containing garden sulphur. Rotate your garlic crop each year or two. Garlic makes a good companion plant next to tomatoes, eggplants, and cabbage, even roses, to repel insects.
Separate individual cloves (pick the biggest ones) and plant 3” deep and 6” apart, point up. Mulching will protect them through the winter when roots are forming. During our cool springs, leaves will form. Then, when the weather warms up in the summer, the bulbs form. Garlic plants’ flowers and stalks, called ‘scapes’, should be pinched off to allow larger bulbs to form. The mild-flavored scapes can then be used in cooking. Fertilize when the tops and bulbs are forming. Garlic needs adequate amounts of water until mid-July when you should quit watering as the leaf tips start to turn brown. Fall-planted garlic is ready to harvest when at least half the leaves are brown and dry, in late July or August.
Once harvested, cure the garlic bulbs for 2 or 3 weeks in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Then you can braid the softneck varieties, trim the others, and hang or store in a low-humidity refrigerator or root cellar. They will keep for 6 to 9 months.
Garlic is in the genus Allium as are leeks, onions, shallots, and chives. Deer avoid these strong-smelling plants. If you’re looking for a hardy, deer proof, interesting perennial, there are some Alliums which are grown for their flowers, not food. Fall is also the time to plant these ornamental Alliums.
Spice, herb, condiment, flavor enhancer, seasoning, whatever you want to call it, garlic is a staple in our cooking here and all over the world. And, it’s easy to grow. Plant some today!
by Jan Cashman
During our 30 years of vegetable gardening in the Gallatin Valley, we have learned a few tricks to picking and preserving our fruits and vegetables. Some we learned by trial and error; others friends and other gardeners have shared. If you are getting started with vegetable gardening, maybe these hints will help you.
Plant successive crops of lettuce, spinach, and other greens, starting early in the spring, to extend their season. Harvest greens before they go to seed for mildest flavor. Wash and dry them well and refrigerate in a closed container to crisp.
Peas and Beans
Harvest peas and beans when they are young and tender. Freeze peas or beans by washing them, blanch in boiling water, cool in ice water, and freeze in freezer bags or plastic containers.
Old-timers say they don’t pick their sweet corn until their cooking water is boiling for the sweetest flavor. But newer varieties of ‘sugar enhanced’ corn are sweeter, even after storage. To preserve corn, I blanch the cobs, cool in ice water, and cut kernels off, then freeze it. To us, corn frozen on the cob doesn’t taste as good as fresh corn-on-the-cob.
Indeterminate tomatoes (vining tomatoes that continue to grow) should be pruned when the plants get too big, to put the plant’s energy into ripening the green tomatoes before frost. Store tomatoes at room temperature for the best flavor. In the fall, when we are tired of covering our tomato plants every time a frost is forecast, we pull the whole plant and hang it in a cool place. The tomatoes will continue to ripen. For use in soups or stews all winter, I simply wash the tomatoes, cut out the stem end and any imperfections, plop them into freezer bags, and freeze.
Carrots are ready to harvest when they turn orange. Barb Paugh told me she always digs her carrots at World Series time, but before the ground freezes. If you have quit watering your garden, give the carrots a good soaking a day or two before you harvest them. There is more than one method to storing carrots from your garden. I have talked to gardeners who store them in a barrel of sand in a cool place. I think it’s easier to wash them, cut off the green tops (I don’t cut into the meat of the carrot.), and lay them out to dry. Then, I store them in plastic bags with holes—mesh bags would probably work, too—in my refrigerator drawer. They keep for months this way.
Red potatoes mature earlier than white potatoes. You can dig potatoes when the tops cease growing and turn brown and the skins are brown and thickening. Don’t wash potatoes; brush them off and store them in a refrigerator drawer or root cellar where air can circulate around them.
You can thin your onions by pulling the smaller ones and using them for green onions. The rest are ready to harvest when the tops tip over. Sweet onions, such as Visalia and Walla Wallas, do not store for long. Others can be stored in a mesh bag in a cool place or braid the tops and hang.
The same procedure is used to harvest and store garlic as for onions. Wait till the tops tip over and the leaves are withered to harvest garlic, but don’t wait too long. Do not wash garlic; dry before storing.
Pull the leaves over heads of cauliflower as they ripen to keep the heads from yellowing. Don’t let it get overripe or it will discolor. Keep the outer leaves on to store cauliflower heads in your refrigerator.
Don’t pick broccoli, or any other fruits or vegetables, for that matter, in the heat of the day. Early morning is better. Harvest the middle bunch of broccoli first, before the flower buds open, so side shoots will develop. Blanch broccoli before freezing. You may freeze the flowerets on a cookie sheet to retain their shape and then move them to a freezer bag.
Late maturing cabbage keeps best. Heads can be harvested at any size. Store cabbage in the refrigerator.
Brussels sprouts mature late in the fall, so be patient. They can be frozen or the whole stem can be pulled and hung in a cool place.
Zucchini and other summer squashes should be harvested when they are 6 to 8”. Pick them often and you will increase your yields. If they get too big before you get around to picking them, use them for zucchini bread or cake. (Or enter them in Cashman Nursery’s Zucchini Festival contest for the biggest zucchini!) Summer squash doesn’t store very long.
Harvest winter squash and pumpkins after the vines die. The flavor of squash is improved after a light frost. The rind should be hard and a deep solid color. If the temperature is going to fall below 25 degrees, pick them or cover them. Store in a cool, dry place.
Harvest herbs before they flower for a milder flavor. I hang herbs with string or rubber bands in my cool, dry basement. Or you can use a dehydrator. Annual herbs can be dug up, potted, and brought inside for use during the winter.
Pick only the sweetest, dark red, ripe raspberries and strawberries. You can tell if they are ripe if they pull off the plant easily. I wash strawberries, but not raspberries. If you want to maintain their shape, freeze the berries on a cookie sheet first, and then transfer them to plastic bags with or without sugar.
Wait until pie cherries are very dark red for the greatest sweetness. I wash them, pit them, and freeze in plastic bags—each enough for one pie, with the sugar added. Sugar acts as a preservative. (Our meteor pie cherries need a lot of sugar.) Open up a small paper clip for a handy cherry pitter!
Our prune-type Mount Royal plums mature later than other plums—around October 1. They make wonderful fruit leather without adding any sugar—or we just pit them and dry in our dehydrator.
Apples ripen from mid-August to mid-October here, depending on the variety. Taste your apples to tell if they are ripe. The seeds should be dark brown. If outside temperatures are going to drop below 25 degrees, you may have to pick your apples, even if they are not ripe, to keep the fruit from freezing. The later in the season an apple ripens, the longer it will store. We store ours in our cool root cellar with good air circulation around them. Long-time customers Jan and Bob Remer use their not-so-perfect apples to make applesauce. They don’t peel them, but quarter them, cut out the stem, cook them till they’re soft, put them through a sieve, and freeze the sauce in plastic freezer containers. They don’t even add sugar!
There may be other methods to preserve your produce which will work well. Whatever method of preserving your garden vegetables and fruits you prefer, use only freshly picked, ripe, but not overripe, flawless produce. And enjoy this healthy, delicious food all winter long!