The 2006 Growing Season

by Jan Cashman

It is again time to look back on this years’ growing season and reflect what the gardening successes and failures were in our area and how our gardens were affected by the weather.

Last winter was a snowy one with most of the snowfall early. February was dry, but even so, we entered spring with enough moisture. January and early February had average to above temperatures, but the below-average cold weather for a few days in mid-February may have frozen some apple buds. April was warm, especially early in the month, and mid-May brought unusually hot weather that pushed the whole growing season ahead at least two weeks. Jerry recorded in his weather diary at the end of May that “lilacs were 10 days to 2 weeks ahead of 2005 and the best in years.” We harvested and ate lots of delicious asparagus and rhubarb in May.

Even though it cooled off for awhile in June with average rains, May’s warm weather, with no killing frost after May 13 had pushed plants to blossom and bear early. I recorded picking a big bouquet of sweet peas on June 27; usually we don’t get our first blossoms until July 4. (And I was still picking them on September 28!) July was the hottest month ever recorded at the Belgrade airport. The thermometer rose to over 90 degrees for 17 consecutive days in late July! Getting enough water to our plants, especially those in pots at our nursery, became a real challenge. But the heat pushed our Boyne raspberries to ripen at least two weeks earlier than usual, with a heavy crop.

Jerry and I attended the Gallatin Gardener’s Club October 2 meeting to hear reports on “what worked and what didn’t” in the members’ gardens. The warm spring weather with adequate moisture in June helped get their annual flowers and vegetable gardens off to a great start. Most members reported bountiful vegetable crops. Tomatoes and peppers did especially well this year. Walter Mason said his pole beans grew taller than he is. And he was still harvesting zucchini on October 2.

John Austin, local tomato expert and grower, had tomatoes bigger and better than ever. His biggest tomato, an heirloom variety called ‘Goldie’, weighed 1lb.12 oz! John had Yukon Supreme sweet corn ripe the third week in July. One variety of his sweet corn grew to 9 feet tall! Jerry and I ate our first meal of sweetcorn (Fleet variety) from our garden on August 6. The fact that we hadn’t had a killing frost yet on October 2 made for excellent winter squash and pumpkins. We planted Butternut squash in our garden as an afterthought to fill in a couple of empty spaces. It grew so well it took over. I harvested more than 20 squash off two plants at the end of September. Even those who live at higher, cooler elevations, like Tony Geis at 5400 feet in Kelly Canyon, had good crops of vegetables, even sweet corn.

The warm summer made for excellent grape crops. One Garden Club member reported his Valiant grapes were excellent. Kevin Wiedenheft, in Valley Unit Subdivision, had large, sweet, fully ripe Swensons Red grapes this year. Our pie cherry and Mount Royal plum trees bore record crops at least two weeks earlier than normal. Jerry has made twenty-one cherry pies from the Meteor cherries we picked in July. We are still drying mountains of the sweet prune-type Mount Royal plums. Winona Vandermolen from Churchill said she made a delicious pie with her Mount Royal plums.

Deer were the #1 garden pest reported by the Garden Club members. Members that lived in areas populated by deer said the deer ate almost everything, sometimes even plants that they usually avoid, like marigolds. Voles are still damaging area lawns, trees, and gardens. The apple crop around town on most trees was sparse or nonexistent, possibly because most trees bore heavy crops last year. And the few apples there were had been pecked and eaten by birds as soon as they ripened.

This summer was a bad one for insect pests. At the nursery we had early reports of severe infestations of aphids. Spraying with insecticides helped control them, but reapplications were necessary. The Cottony psyllid, an insect similar to the aphid, continues to do a lot of damage on black ash trees. Lots of spider mites appeared, especially on junipers, arborvitae and potentilla, during the warm dry spell in July. Spruce budworm is rampant in Douglas fir in the surrounding forests and has started to infect spruce in yards adjacent to the forest. Another insect, terminal weevil, causes the tops of spruce to die. Both spruce budworm and terminal weevil are difficult to control.

2006 was noteworthy for unusually hot weather in May and the longest growing season we have seen for years, with no killing frost from May 13 to October 10. (We had a light frost on August 31.) Now that it has cooled off, enjoy the area’s colorful leaves and remember to protect your plants from winter extremes by wrapping the trunks of young and smooth-barked trees, covering tender hybrid tea roses, mulching tender perennials, and deep watering trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers so their roots are moist when the ground freezes. Rake leaves and debris from under trees and shrubs so insects don’t overwinter there and protect vulnerable trees and shrubs from voles and deer. You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs and peonies as long as the ground isn’t frozen, and then look forward to a colorful garden next spring.