The 2011 Gardening Year

by Jan Cashman

The weather every year is unique, but 2011 had some real extremes.  We had a snowy winter.  According to Greg Ainsworth, columnist for the Chronicle, “from November through June, was the 3rd wettest period in 113 years.”  At the MSU Weather Station, April, May and June was the coolest three month period in 36 years.   We use our apricot tree’s blossom time to determine how early or late spring arrives; the earliest it has bloomed is April 19, the latest, May 11; this year it didn’t bloom until May 18!  In July and August, we enjoyed beautiful weather, which made up for the cool, wet spring.  Summer temperature highs were mostly in the 80’s, we had no days over 100 degrees, little rain, and nights were cool which made for good sleeping.  Summer continued through September, when temperatures were above average, and frosts, when occurring at all, were light.

How did this year’s weather affect gardening and growing things? During the Gallatin Gardeners Club’s October meeting, members reported on what worked for them and what didn’t this year, particularly in their vegetable gardens.  Many planted their gardens later than usual because of the wet, cool, weather.  Some that planted early regretted it because seeds didn’t germinate and they had to replant.  Tomatoes planted too early, before the ground was warm enough, did not do well.

Although gardens were late getting started, by early October gardeners reported huge crops and an overall successful year.  Large harvests of tomatoes of all kinds– early, late, cherry, large, and Roma types–were reported.  The warm September certainly was a big factor in ripening tomatoes.  Some grew their tomatoes in pots, some in the ground, others in greenhouses, but all reported success.  Some gardeners had so many tomatoes they were giving them away!

Sweet corn, which doesn’t always get ripe in our short-season climate, was a big success with the gardeners this year.  Some had corn stalks as tall as 8 feet! My husband Jerry and I grew 5 varieties of sweet corn and were eating corn from August 18 through early October.  Our favorite variety was “Incredible”, an 85-day corn that was the last to ripen, but had big, sweet ears.   An early fall frost and Incredible would not have ripened.  Other vegetable variety recommendations from garden club members include: Heirloom “Cinderella Rouge Vif D’Etampes”, a pumpkin that truly is shaped like Cinderella’s carriage.  We enjoyed long, slim, productive and tender “Slenderette” beans from our garden.  Don Mathre’s “Jade” beans were big and productive.   “Yukon Gold” potatoes continue to be a favorite and “Sungold” cherry tomatoes continue to win taste tests.  “Parks Whopper” has been a large and reliable tomato for us.  “Goliath” tomatoes grew as large as 1#, yet ripen early enough for our climate.  John Austin liked early “Coreless Amsterdam” baby carrots.

Although small fruits ripened later than usual, they were good and plentiful.  Our raised bed produced lots of strawberries, both Junebearing and Everbearing; their foliage was so thick it was hard to find the berries.  Raspberry crops were great–Garden Club members Bonnie and Charlie Hash, picked 5 ½ gallons in one day from their row of raspberries of mixed varieties.    Currants and gooseberries reportedly produced well as did our 28 year-old Meteor cherry which produced buckets of pie cherries again this year.

Although fruit trees bloomed later than usual, it has been another great year for apples and plums.  We have had wonderful crops of early ripening Goodland, State Fair, Hazen, and Chestnut Crabs.  A new, not well-known variety in our orchard called “Zestar” is crisp, has excellent flavor, and stores well.   The later-ripening apples, like Haralred, Sweet Sixteen, Honeycrisp, and Red Baron are later than ever this year.

Many of the gardening problems are the same from year to year– heavy clay soils, insects, voles, deer.  This year, of course, the late spring was challenging to gardeners.  Spring’s cool, wet weather brought on the slugs.  Then, aphids arrived with a vengeance on trees, shrubs, and even plants they usually don’t bother.  Grasshoppers were not much of a problem this year, but spider mites hit later in the summer.     Hail cut a swath through the valley on Father’s Day, not nearly as widespread as last year’s devastating hail storms.

Deer continue to challenge us gardeners.  Fencing vegetable gardens seems to be the best solution.  We have discovered voles love raised bed gardens because the soil is loose and easy to burrow through.  Fine hardware wire can be stapled under your raised bed to keep them out.  I have been using vole repellants to keep them away—repellants are not poisonous and are safe to use around edibles and pets.

In 2011 we continued to see trees dying or severely damaged from the extreme temperature variations in the fall of 2009.  The City of Bozeman’s tree replacement program, which gives vouchers to replace boulevard trees in the city limits, has been a great help to replant our city forest.

Another long, beautiful fall gave us gardeners plenty of time to harvest late crops, plant bulbs, and winterize.  If you haven’t already done so, wrap your fruit and other smooth-barked trees to protect from sunscald, rodents, and deer and give your trees and other plants a deep watering before the ground freezes.