Montana Gardening in Zone 4

Although I have read a lot of gardening books, I'm a fairly inexperienced gardener. I live in Montana, zone 4. We have a short growing season. The last frost is around May 15, first frost about Sep 10. I tend to experiment a lot with unorthodox methods and unique varieties of plants.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This is an article to prove that it's easy to write here.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I finally got some bulbs planted and will try to get them all planted before the ground freezes. If I don't make it, I will force some and give them as Christmas gifts. I also got a lot of pink daffodils and some alliums, and some pastel tulips. Pictures are from catalog websites.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Results of 2005 Summer

Well, I didn't keep up on my blog as much as I wanted to, but the season is over. I will post my general results.

It was a long, cool spring. Things didn't grow much even though I had them under Walls o' Water. It finally warmed up about July 10, and it REALLY warmed up. It was hot and dry for pretty much the duration. Fall has been long and warm. I could have planted some carrots and such in late August and harvested them now!

Tomatoes-my starts pretty much died. That's what I get for spending money on "professiona" seed-starting kits. I bought some roma, yellow pear and sungold starts and they all did pretty well. I picked about 4 plastic grocery bags of green ones in late September and ripened them in the house. I planted too many small tomatoes. Next time, more sauce tomatoes, very few cherry types, a few large tomatoes. Too much work to pick thousands of green cherry tomatoes and try to ripen them. I'm ok with the Romas though. I made and froze some sauce. Some are rotting on the kitchen counter now, because I didn't cook them up right away as they ripened.

Peppers-started in 2 dollar Jiffy Starts. The starts did very well. The plants didn't thrive, I think it was too cold. I got a handful of various types of peppers. It's worth doing again if I get enough for salsa. And fertilize them! Something ate all the leaves of some pepper plants, but they still ripened. Weird.

Blueberries-dead. It got too hot and they dried right up, despite daily watering. I may find a slightly shady area and plant them in pure peat moss as I've heard about.

Strawberries-mostly dead, maybe 2 berries, small and flavorless. I planted these in those green growing bags. My climate is just too hot and dry for this treatment. I watered them a lot, so they may have boiled in those bags. Partial shade may have helped.

Painted Daisy-another mail-order item that arrived dried up and did nothing! I bought some live plants at the nursery though, and they seem to be thriving. I need to winterize them sooon! I think I'll make another post for fall plantings.

Green beans-something ate them, and it wasn't me! I think I have slugs. I've heard that coffee grounds scare them off. I'll get right on it.

Melons-I planted about six types and got 4 unripe fruit. I'm not giving up on them yet! I've got some crazy plans in the works for this.

Asparagus-just planted this spring, they grew to 3-4 feet high. Looking forward to future years. Meanwhile, I shall prepare more ground for them. I think I could eat them every day!

Squash-not much. I got a few Zephyr summer squash, not enough to really evaluate the taste of them. Essentially no other summer squash. Winter squash did a little better. I got three huge Stripetti (striped spaghetti) and I am right this moment baking them all so I can clean them up and freeze them (I left them out on the porch and they froze a little). Black Futsu-one smallish squash. Beautiful and very tasty, rich, orange flesh. I will plant again and coddle. I might not have planted any other winter squash?

Flowers-I spent a lot on new roses and they did quite well, except the wind and sun bruises the flowers. I also got some Shasta Daisies and various other perennials which will show their true selves next year. Carnations did very well! Scabiosa did OK. Morning glories did OK, with more fertile ground they might put on quite a show! I quit cutting flowers in July, as they would just wilt within a day due to the heat.

I'll make another post to talk about fall stuff.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Seedlings up! I've removed the dome cover and placed a fan on the table, aimed at the plants to strengthen the stems.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Seed Starting-Tomatoes

My seed-starting set-up: a Park's Bio_Dome with 40 holes-filled with a nice spongy growth medium, a cheap heating pad meant for people, 4-foot flourescent lights placed on top of a stack of videotapes. It's a lot brighter than it looks in there, my camera just compensated for what it thought was backlighting.

I have started the following seeds:
Tendercrisp Celery (3)
Millionare Eggplant (2)
Stupice Tomato (5)
Marvel Stripe Tomato (5)
San Marzano Tomato (5)
Striped Roman Tomato (5)
Yellow Currant Tomato (3)
Red Currant Tomato (3)
Pink Brandywine Tomato (4)
Well that's an approximation anyway, hopefully the seedlings will differentiate themselves where I forgot.

I just bought the Bio-Dome this year. So far, I really like it. It's lightweight but durable, small enough to fit a few under my lights, the spongy material is very nice-holds a lot of water without being soggy, and has a nice resilient feel to it.

The complete Bio-Dome cost about $22.
$12 for 80 refills which I may avoid buying by using regular seed-starting medium.
Foam trays with plugs are $12 each without the Dome.
Hmmmm. I remember seeing these marked down in the fall.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Feb 25, 2005 Wide Shots

Here is how my garden area looks now, in late February. I have many bags of leaves in the background, lots of mushroom compost in the white bags, one cinder block bed, several tire planters. It may look junky, but all I see is the beautiful final result in my head....

Seed Varieties 2005

These are the seeds that I have so far. There are also some other products that I decided to try. I like to keep descriptions of seeds and photos from the seller's websites or catalogs to remind me why I bought them and to check if they ever lived up to expectations. Photos and descriptions are from catalogs and websites.

Blueberries, Best Bargain

Bluecrop - Leading midseason variety sets up to 20 pounds of really big berries--about 65 per cup compared to the 120 or so needed when using other varieties. Firm light blue fruit ripens mid-July. 12- to18-inch plants. Zones 3-7.

Northblue - Cold-hardy Univ. of MN introduction. Consistently yields 2-5 pounds of sweet, juicy fruit by mid-June. Ornamental size ideal for landscaping--grows just 2 feet tall. 9- to 12-inch plants. Zones 3-7.

Jersey - Medium-blue fruit so large and juicy, you'll have a hard time getting it to the table. Plump berries seem to disappear just as fast as you pick them! Fine for freezing, too. Ripens in late July. 12- to 18-inch plants. Zones 3-8.

Aluminum Sulphate - For acid-loving plants like blueberries. Work into soil at planting time, then again in spring, summer and fall.

Silver Mulch

Drives bugs away!This amazing plastic mulch repels hungry, disease-carrying insects. The shimmering silver, high-density polyethylene plastic causes insects such as thrips, aphids, and white flies to avoid the area near your plants. Experiments have shown that Silver Mulch is as effective as regular pesticide applications for protecting tomatoes from spotted wilt virus. Good for all types of plants. We use it regularly on all brassica crops. Best defense mustard plants have against flea beetles. A must in the organic garden.

Brandywine Tomato Seed

The hard-to-find heirloom variety most sought after by our customers for over a decade. Brandywine is a pink beefsteak producing fruits up to two pounds in size. More importantly, those who have grown it call it the tomato that has that "old-fashioned tomato taste." We agree. 1-2 lb. fruits. Indeterminate. 75 days. Open pollinated. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt.

Sun Gold Tomato Seed

An orange cherry tomato that was the winner among all the varieties offered at our tomato tasting last summer. It has a distinctive tropical flavor that sets it apart, or, as one participant said, "like fireworks in your mouth." Produces long strands of fruit on vigorous, tall, indeterminate vines. Early. Hybrid. 57 days. 25-35 seeds/pkt.

Winona Giant Strawberries

Tastes Like a Peach!
Gurney's Choice PP10191. Something truly different from the University of Minnesota. Winona's large berries taste much like peaches! Disease resistant, cold tolerant plants. Self pollinating.

Painted Daisy

Pink - Red Midsummer Mix.
For each offer ordered, get 2 plants.
Every bit as easy to grow as meadow daisies--and much more colorful! Produces big, cheery single flowers, 3 feet tall. Prefers full sun. Bareroot. Zones 3-7.

Asparagus, Purple Passion

Rich Color, Record Yields

Larger, sweeter and tastier spears than the more common green types. Stalks turn green when cooked.

Pole Beans, Purple Pod

A Snap to Spot and Harvest.
Quick-pick purple pods stand out against the foliage--gets you in and out of the garden fast! Stringless, tasty and temptingly green when cooked. Produces 4-6 tender seeds per 6- to 7-inch pod.

Tomato Booster Kit

Ready to grow the earliest, best, most delicious Tomatoes of your gardening career? We've got just what you need to protect your young plants from frost and chills, keep them growing their best, and save water and weeding time into the bargain! Here's what you get in this money-saving collection:

High Yield Red Tomato Mulch

9262. Red Tomato Mulch - It sounds like an old wives' tale, but studies at Clemson University have confirmed what many seasoned gardeners have known for a long time: the color red makes Tomatoes (and to a lesser degree, Peppers) grow quicker and stockier, without the legginess found with mulches of other colors (or no mulch at all). The reason is this: the color red makes the Tomato plants believe that they are overcrowded, which stimulates them to fight for dominance. The result? More Tomatoes on healthier, bushier plants! USDA tests confirm that this mulch produces bigger fruit with 46% more overall weight. Each roll is 18 inches by 25 feet, enough to cover an average row of 10 Tomato plants.
Qty 1

Kozy Coats

9260. Kozy Coats - Grow bigger, stronger, healthier, more productive Tomato plants with this simple device! The red plastic teepee contains 18 open tubes that you fill with water. The water holds up the teepee around your plant, the water heats in the sun, and the whole device acts as an insulator and mini-heater for your young plants! Not only do you get a precious several degrees of additional frost protection, but the red tint stimulates plants to grow quicker and stockier -- no more leggy Tomatoes! Works well with Peppers, too! The plastic is UV-resistant and very tough! Remove it when the weather heats up, drain the water, and store them flat for re-use in late fall!
Qty 3

Tomato AlgoFlash

9202. AlgoFlash Tomato Food - Simply the best liquid fertilizer I have ever used, and that's saying a lot. It has a 100% mineral base, with NO harmful chemicals, color, or odor, for zero environmental impact. And even if you use too much, you won't burn plant roots -- AlgoFlash is gentle AND effective! Mix 1 capful per gallon of water for watering the soil, or ½ capful to spray directly onto the foliage. It contains NO chlorides, carbonates, or soldium. One bottle makes more than 100 gallons of solution! One liter.
Qty 1

Tomato Boomers

6009. Simplify your life and increase your harvests with easy-to-use, pre-mixed Tomato Boomers. Nothing to mix, time, or otherwise mess up -- these little oblong stakes are simply pushed into the soil around your tomato plant and left to do their work! Special 8-24-8 formula means big yields every time.
Qty 1


Marvel Striped Tomato Seed

This space was originally set aside for Yellow Brandywine, but Striped Marvel was the hands down favorite at our annual tasting event many years ago. It has since become one of our top-selling heirloom tomatoes. Luscious sweet flavor, and large 1-2 lb. firm fruits make this one of the best of the heirloom beefsteaks. Fruits are red and yellow bicolor with marbelized interior. Indeterminate. 80-90 days. Open pollinated. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt.



Zapotec is a beautiful tomato, with a lovely bell shaped form, and pleated sides. The ribbed contours catch a knife’s edge, and make slicing a breeze. Zapotec has a sweet, mild flavor, and a unique, palette pleasing texture that works well in salads and salsas. Originally grown by the Zapotec Indians of Mexico, this is an heirloom well worth preserving. Indeterminate. 80 days. OG.

San Marzano Tomato Seed

One of the best of the old Italian paste tomatoes. Fruit is long and large compared to other paste tomatoes with a classic roma shape. Plant is sturdy and well-branched. San Marzano cooks down into a flavorful, savory paste that needs no extra seasoning. Indeterminate. 75 days. Open pollinated. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt.

Stupice Tomato Seed

An heirloom tomato from Czechoslovakia with exceptional flavor. Its other merit is that it is always the first full-sized tomato ready to harvest, fully a week or two before other varieties. Performs equally well in hot areas and in cold, short-season areas such as San Francisco. Smooth skinned, red, medium size. Early, indeterminate, 60-70 days. Open pollinated. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt.

Red Currant Tomato Seed

A South American species of tomato that produces long clusters of highly flavorful, pea-sized fruits. Outstanding in flavor and appearance in salads. Drought and cold tolerant. Indeterminate. 70-75 days. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt.

Yellow Currant Tomato Seed

Has all the fine eating qualities of the red currant, in a bright yellow color. Together they create a motherlode in your salads. Vigorous plants produce cascades of fruit strands. Indeterminate. 70 days. OG. 25-35 seeds/pkt

Striped Roman - Organic

75–80 days. Very unique. These long, roma-shaped tomatoes have orange stripes running down the length of the fruit. Tomatoes are very thick and meaty with a nice rich flavor. Plants stay moderately compact and have a good yield. Indeterminate. Developed by Seed Savers Exchange member John Swenson.

Normandie Beans

Maturity: 52 Days
Extra-fine stringless filet beans.
Slender and beautiful for making picture-perfect pickled ""dilly beans"" and fancy stir-fries. The 4-1/2 to 5" long beans have fresh flavor and a good crunchy texture. Small white seeds. Packet: 175 seeds.

Arrowhead II (F1)

Maturity: 66 Days
A Johnny's exclusive!
Cone-shaped, pointed mini cabbages have an irresistible eye-catching appeal. Early, dense heads have sweet, tender, thin leaves for refreshing summer salads, slaws, or cooked dishes. Starting in early spring, succession plant for a continuous supply throughout the growing season. Space 8" apart for best results. Mini: 100 seeds.

Kinko 4"

Maturity: 52 Days
Crunchy, sweet, 4" cones.
Sweet and super early. Small, conical, stump-rooted carrots of deep red-orange color inside and out. For first-harvest carrots, even in shallow or heavy soil. Best harvested young. Medium-tall tops. One of our easiest to grow carrots, first offered by Johnny's in 1974. Mini: 500 seeds. Packet: 1200 seeds.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Cucurbit Seeds 2005

I bought most of these seeds last year and never did get them planted. I got sick before I ever got the plants outside. This year I hope to start them indoors in Mid-April and get them outside under wall o waters by early May. Photos and descriptions are taken from seller's websites.

Green Machine
Vigorous, compact vines, produce green-fleshed 2 lb. melons at an incredible rate! This delicious sweet variety really was amazing last year. A true improvement in melons bred by Merl Neidens, a master of heritage gardening and plant selection. His varieties always receive rave reviews from our customers. Superb taste. 80-85 days A truly succulent melon that stands out in today s market of crisp, unsweet, bland melons. Reliably sweet, this green-fleshed, stabilized cross of Kansas and Jenny Lind weighs 3 - 4 lbs. and does well in cool as well as warm areas. Much easier to grow than a honeydew, the plants are very compact, making it an excellent choice for all, even small, gardens.

A very rare heirloom from Kansas; the vines are vigorous and the yield is great, oval-shaped ridged and netted fruit, the flesh is orange and has exceptional flavor, very delicious! A very dependable variety, fruit weigh around 4 lbs. One of our most endangered varieties and also one of the best. Perfect for farmers’ markets.

85 days. Very sweet, beautiful deep orange flesh, excellent almost tropical flavor! The best tasting of ALL varieties we tried - the favorite of many who tried it at our place. High yields. Very resistant to wilt and insects; strong healthy vines. These will sell at roadside stands & markets!

japanese Cream-fleshed Suika
Japanese Cream Fleshed Suika was the best overall in terms of flavor, yield and days to maturity. These melons were preferred by some people in farmers market taste tests, and some suggested eating them with lime and salt.

Golden Sweet Melon
Totally groovy looking, with their gorgeous, lemon colored rinds and small size. The flesh is white, crisp and good. The skin is so thin that many people do not peel them prior to eating, but enjoy them straight out of the garden. This Oriental variety is also very early, and the compact vines produce like crazy! This is a sure hit at markets. Pick fruit when they turn golden color. Easy to grow; these are popular in Taiwan. We love this one!

Golden Midget
a pink watermelon with a rind that turns golden yellow when fully mature at 75 days. Dr. Elwyn Mender of the University of New Hampshire created this open-pollinated, 6-inch melon in 1959. 70 days. A beautiful miniature watermelon that weighs around 3 lbs. It's easy to tell when they are ripe as the rind turns a lovely golden yellow when ready for harvest, a very beautiful contrast with the salmon-pink colored flesh. The taste is sweet and refreshing. Very early, matures in just 70 days. Developed by the late Dr. Elwyn Meader, UNH in 1959. Unique.

Petit Gris de Rennes
Dense 2 lb. fruit have orange flesh that is superbly sweet, flavorful and perfumed. This variety is early and well adapted to cool climates. The fruit weigh around 2 lbs. and have a grey-green rind. This fine French variety is of the best quality, and is the favorite melon of the French melon expert and author Bruno Defay. Rare in the USA. Our #1 requested market melon, specialty growers love them because they command top prices! We continue to receive rave reviews about this melon. Order early.

Vert Grimmpant (Green Climbing)
A very old, green-fleshed French melon, can easily be grown on a trellis because the fruits are small, 1-2 lbs. Fruit is slightly oblong and the flesh is crisp and juicy. Makes a great cooking melon; keeps well. A very rare heirloom, French grown seed.

80 days. A famous, superb heirloom. A French, 2-3 lb. melon with light, grey-green skin. The bright , orange flesh is super sweet and very fragrant. This was my favorite melon in 2003. I just love the firm, sweet flesh. These are top sellers at high dollar markets.

Netted Gem
One of the most popular melons in the 1890’s, it was introduced by W. Atlee Burpee in 1886 and was famous for its high quality and very spicy sweet flavor. Flesh is bright green, skin is netted. It is round and weighs 2-3 lbs. Rare.

Dali Zucchini Seed
Dali is a Middle Eastern type of zucchini with the light color, creamy texture, and excellent flavor we associate with Lebanese squash. Unlike other Middle Eastern squash types, Dali doesn't develop a bulbous end, but maintains a straight shape that gives it a finer appearance than similar varieties. This is a good tasting zucchini that you will enjoy on its own, or mixed with other squash varieties. Compact bush. 45 days. 20-30 seeds/pkt.

Magda Squash
This hybrid is a Cousa (Lebanese zucchini) variety. Beautiful, uniform mid-sized 4" fruit have a creamy green color and succulent, nutty, white flesh. Magda is early and very productive over a long season. Maturity 50 days. Approx 25 sds/pkg. 50 days. If you haven't tried Mediterranean Summer Squash yet, you don't know what you're missing! Unlike our rather bland summer varieties, Magda is full-bodied, tender, and almost nutty. And the plant is so productive, beginning the season early and then bearing steadily over a long time. This lovely Middle Eastern type is not only delicious, but economical and easy to grow! Magda Hybrid begins to mature in early summer, just 50 days from sowing. The fruit is shorter and much plumper than zucchini, with a creamy-green skin and pure white interior. Scrumptious fresh or cooked, it makes a hearty meal, and is so strongly flavored that you can enjoy it plain, sprinkled with a bit of salt, or as a meat substitute in sauces. The plant reaches 3 feet tall and spreads about 6 feet wide over its highly productive season. Best in full sun, it is a trouble-free garden performer you will come to rely upon for big flavor from a summer squash! Summer squash ripens during the hot summer months and, thin-skinned, is best eaten fresh. Sow seeds 1 inch deep directly into the garden after the danger of frost is past. Thin the seedlings to 24 inches apart, or plant several seeds in hills 4 feet apart and then thin to 2 plants per hill. (For even earlier harvests, start seeds indoors.) Pkt is 15 seeds.

Zephhyr Summer Squash
(Precocious, yellow, green tip straightneck.) Developed at Johnny's for great taste. A breakthrough in summer squash flavor. Distinctive, slender fruits, yellow with faint white stripes and light green blossom ends. Harvest young at 4-6" for unusually delicious nutty taste and firm texture. Unique appearance for easy identification in the garden and kitchen. Widely adapted. Standard shipping is free for all seeds. 30

Trombetta Di Albegna Summer Squash
This wonderful Italian heirloom summer squash is a bigorous climbing vine, producing many 12-15 inch lime-green fruits with a curvaceous trumpet shape and a delicate mild taste with a hint of nutty artichoke flavor. Trombetta's flesh is seedless and firm and doesn't get watery or mushy like regular zucchini. Teh rambling plants will soon cover a trellis with graceful fruits that hang like jade ornaments.

Costata Romanesco
Maturity: 52 Days Clearly our best-tasting zucchini. Distinctive Italian zucchini, prominently ribbed. Medium gray-green, with pale green flecks and ribs. Big, large-leafed bush with only about half the yield as ordinary zucchini, but much better tasting - clearly better textured, nutty, and delicious, raw or cooked. Also a good producer of heavy male blossom buds for cooking. Standard shipping is free for all seeds. 30 seeds/packet.

Maturity: 100 Days Delicious ""pumpkin nuts,"" striped fruits. These eye-catching, medium small, avg. 5-8 lb., black-striped pumpkins have been a hit with visitors to Johnny's farm. After displaying the pumpkins in the fall you can scoop out the large, dark green, completely hulless seeds which are absolutely delicious roasted. Kakai is a variety of the Austrian type that yields the valuable green pumpkin seed oil which some European studies show promotes prostate health. Avg. yield: 2-3 fruits/plant. Packet: 30 seeds.

Black Futsu Winter Squash
(C. moschata) Rare, black Japanese squash, the fruit is flattened, round and has heavy ribbing. Very unique and beautiful. The black fruit will turn a rich chestnut color in storage. Flesh is golden color and has the rich taste of hazelnuts. Fruits are 3-8 lbs. each and vines give huge yields. Japanese dark skinned, flattened, did excellent here. Popular with European market growers. Good insect resistance makes this a winner here!