by Jan Cashman
Every year’s weather and growing conditions are unique and 2009 is no exception. After a number of years of hot, dry summers, 2009 was neither hot nor dry. In fact, March was one of the coldest and wettest in over a decade after a February whose average temperatures were actually warmer than March’s. Then, April was the wettest April we have ever experienced with 50 inches of snowfall (4.5 inches of liquid precipitation) at the MSU weather station.
The rest of the summer proved more of the same. A short stretch of warm weather in late May warmed the soils so we had quick germination of seeds in our vegetable garden and bedding plants got off to a good start. Temperatures, although above the long-term averages, were cooler than they have been for the last few summers. The Belgrade airport had above average precipitation for June, July and August. It finally turned hot and dry in September, with no killing frosts until September 21.
How did all this affect growing things? Most plants, from lawns to vegetables to trees and shrubs, thrived in this cooler, wetter weather. Keeping all our plants watered was easier with all the help from Mother Nature. This year we didn’t have brown spots in the lawn where our sprinkler system misses.
My husband, Jerry, planted sweet peas on April 22. By July 6, they were blooming and we kept picking them so they continued to bloom profusely all summer and didn’t dry out later in the summer like they usually do. Annual flowers grew nicely, so by August 1, our son Mike’s wedding, my bright annual flower garden of zinnias, allysum, cosmos, osteospermum, and verbena looked gorgeous! My batchelor buttons that always reseed themselves usually fizzle out as the summer gets hot, but this year, late in the season, they still look good. I love bachelor buttons’ intense blue color in a cut bouquet.
Small fruits like strawberries and raspberries did well. Our Boyne raspberries bore more than we had time to pick. And even the strawberries we just planted this spring in our raised bed produced well. Our 30-year-old meteor pie cherry continues to amaze us with its production. Jerry has made 27 cherry pies from this tree since Aug. 1. Our apple crop looks good along with most other apple trees in the Valley. We have picked and are eating the early apples-Norland, Goodland, Hazen, State Fair, and Chestnut and Whitney crabs. The later ripening apples will benefit from a good frost before we pick them. Unfortunately, this was the worst year in a long time for fireblight, a bacterial disease of apple trees, pears, hawthorns, and cotoneaster.
The September meeting of the Gallatin Gardeners Club entitled “What worked and what didn’t in this year’s gardens” was led by Don Mathre, who said it was the best gardening year for a long time. This year’s proceeds from sales at the Farmers’ Market from the Garden Club’s huge garden were the best they have ever had. The money they make at the Farmer’s Market is donated to local charities and scholarships.
Members had many vegetable garden experiences to report. Cool weather crops such as spinach, lettuce, and broccoli were fantastic. All garden vegetables, even tomatoes and sweet corn, did well, too. We can attest to that. Our sweet corn (we grew 6 different varieties) was great although a lot of it ripened at once. Fleet and Trinity are two new, early varieties of sweet corn we tried that produce big, sweet ears. We have never had as many ripe tomatoes as we do this year. I have frozen many for use in chili, spaghetti, and stew this winter. Sungold, a yellow, cherry tomato, is as sweet a tomato as I have eaten. Our Northern Delight tomato plant has produced what seems like hundreds of small tomatoes. The bigger varieties of tomatoes like Big Beef and Parks Whopper are very big this year!
Some members of the garden club have built cold frames to extend their season, others, greenhouses. Some of the members growing tomatoes in greenhouses had trouble with diseases or herbicide damage.
Again this year, many of the garden club members were challenged by deer, voles, and rabbits eating their vegetables. Rabbits seem to be more plentiful this year. Slugs were worse because of the wetter weather.
In 2009, the mountain pine beetle caused the death of hundreds of Scotch and Ponderosa pines in our valley. Responsible homeowners have removed their dead pines and disposed of them properly. To save remaining pines, most homeowners sprayed and/or installed Verbenone patches to keep the beetle off their trees. Hopefully, those measures will work and we’ll have less pine deaths next year.
There is still plenty of time this fall to plant bulbs, garlic, perennials, trees and shrubs. Remember to protect your trees from deer, rodents, and sunscald and deep water trees late this fall before the ground freezes. You’ll be on your way to another great gardening year in 2010!