Every year, during their October meeting, members of the Gallatin Garden Club report on “What Worked and What Didn’t Work” in their gardens.
How our gardens turn out in a given year is, to a large part, dependent on our weather. A quick recap—After a cold January and early February, we had above average temperatures from mid-February through March. March weather seemed more like April’s and rainfall was above average, too. Gardening got off to an early but wet start. The rainfall continued to be above-average in April which made it hard to get out and dig in our gardens. We hit a record high temperature on May 5 (85 degrees). Then, on May 17 we had a snowstorm that put 2 to 6” of the white stuff on the ground here. The last frost of the spring I recorded here was 31 degrees on May 26. June brought good moisture and cool temperatures until, in late June, it became warm and dry and stayed that way through August. The hot days and nights in July made our sweet corn grow. It was one of the hottest Julys on record although the thermometer never hit 100. Then, by mid-September it turned cool and wet—the dry spell was over. The first light frost of the fall here was on September 16.
What did all this mean for our yards and gardens? Annual and perennial flowers took off when the weather turned hot. My zinnias, cosmos, snapdragons, and allysum were in full bloom earlier than usual . My husband Jerry saw the most prolific, beautiful Royal mix sweet peas growning on a fence near the Bozeman Pond. Plenty of water and Miracle Grow seem to be their secret. Don Hayden, known for his iris, said it was the best year ever for them.
Our spinach and lettuce were good early in the season, but, when the weather warmed up, they bolted. Fall planting of spinach worked well for some to avoid bolting. Root crops such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and leeks, always seem to do well in our area, as do peas. (Bozeman used to grow peas commercially in the early 1900’s. There was a pea cannery in the east part of town.)
Our sweet corn was exceptional this year and we were lucky because the racoons stayed out of it. I highly recommend the variety Trinity which bore early with big, 8” plus ears. (Most really early sweetcorn –60 days or less– has smaller ears.) Our longer-than-average growing season gave most of us good tomato crops. Sunsugar, an orange cherry tomato, can’t be beat for sweetness and productivity.
Most of us had great raspberry crops; the variety Boyne does well here. Apple crops were not as good as in 2016 but we still had good crops of most apples in our orchard. Some of the apples were small because we don’t thin them like we should. Many club members, including us, reported huge crops of Mount Royal plums. Our apricot and pear trees bore little or no fruit this year after huge crops last year.
Of course there were the usual pests in our gardens this year–deer, rabbits, insects, etc; but 2017 was the year of the vole. This rodent, a type of mouse, eats paths in lawns under the snow in the winter (they don’t hibernate). Most years they move into fields and away from cultivated lawns and gardens in the spring when the snow melts, but not this year. They were everywhere—lawns, vegetable gardens, flower beds. They are not easy, if impossible, to eradicate completely; they reproduce quickly. We have tried poisons, traps, chewing gum, flooding their holes, and any other means we could think of to get rid of them. We caught quite a few in traps but that didn’t seem to make a dent in the overall population. We need an open winter with deep frost to get their population down.
It’s not too late to wrap tender trees to protect them from sunscald, deer, and rodents. But most of our fall gardening tasks are done so we can take time to relect on the cycles of life and the joys of gardening this year and next.