2016 was a great gardening year, especially for fruit growing. Why? Of course, the weather always has a lot to do with how our gardens grow. Spring came very early this year with above average temperatures in March and April. And it was a dry spring and summer. If you kept enough water on your plants, they grew well. The summer had warm days, but not too warm—no days over 100 and cool nights, a typical summer here in Southwestern Montana. Many of us had no hard frosts until into October.
At the Gallatin Gardeners’ Club October meeting, members reported on this year’s gardening successes and failures. Many of the members are growing their vegetables in raised beds and containers with good success. Row covers worked well to keep out flea beetles. Cold frames also work well to extend the gardening season. Some had problems with spinach and lettuce bolting early because of the warm spring. But others had multiple crops of lettuce. Some gardeners were still picking their beans and peas. Deer and other four-legged animals like rabbits and racoons, continue to be a problem for many gardeners. Tomato crops were good, ripening early with lots of them. Sunsugar orange cherry tomatoes are one of the sweetest and most prolific varieties that grow well here. Our Super Fantastic tomatoes produced many large tomatoes but all of them had big cracks on the top. Our sweet corn was good, producing from mid-August into September. We ate ‘Quickie’, an early variety, in August, and later enjoyed the variety ‘Bodacious’.
Strawberry and raspberry crops were fantastic this year. Everbearing strawberries like Ozark Beauty and Ogallala reportedly did especially well producing large crops of big berries all summer. Many gardeners’ raspberries did not do well in 2015 but this year’s crops made up for that. Grapes, which require a long, hot season, did well. One garden club member harvested 60 pounds of Beta grapes from one plant and canned 30 pints of grape juice. Purple passion asparagus, an all-male variety, was mentioned as being productive. Purple passion has purple stalks that turn green when cooked. Nutritious elderberries and black currants produced phenomenal crops.
Fruit trees bore bumper crops. My husband Jerry thinks the reason for this year’s bumper crops go back to the 21 below temperature on November 16, 2014. Many trees died or were damaged, but the fruit trees that survived had little or no crops in 2015. The flower buds must have frozen. He thinks those conditions caused this year’s flower buds to be so abundant. Three of our favorite apples in our orchard are Haralred, Sweet 16 and Honeycrisp, all abundant bearers.
One gardener’s two Mount Royal plum trees produced 25 gallons of fruit picked in mid-September. We dry our Mount Royal plums in a food dehydrator to have delicious fruit all winter. Because our old apricot tree blooms so early, the blossoms often freeze and it doesn’t bear fruit. This year, although it blossomed the earliest ever, April 10, we had a huge and delicious crop. We sell very few peach trees each year because we doubted their hardiness. But one of our employee’s parents who live in Conrad, Montana, planted a Contender Peach two years ago. This year it produced 25 delicious, juicy peaches!
As we perform our fall gardening tasks—cleaning up the vegetable garden, cutting back perennial flowers, and protecting tender trees from sunscald and deer and rodents—we take time to reflect on the cycles of life and the excitement of the gardening seasons.