Half of my potatoes did not flower this year. I wondered if this would affect the production of potatoes in the ground, so I dug up one plant. There were plenty of potatoes, so having no flowers did not stop the plant making new potatoes.
The flowering potato plants produced clusters of “fruit” that resembled small green tomatoes. These are not edible and in fact are poisonous. Wikipedia states that these fruits form in years that are cooler and wetter than normal as the flowers have time to be pollinated and create the fruit. This was the first year I had seen these tomato-looking clusters on my potato plants.
There are many vegetables in the cruciferous family that we can grow in Montana. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are some of the more popular ones. (Did you know arugula is also a brassica? Its nickname is rocket because it is quick to bolt in the heat, so remember to plant early and in succession for a longer harvest time.) Brassicas are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. All members of the brassica family have similar nutrient profiles and contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, and iodine. They have powerful anti-oxidants and they are beneficial eaten raw or cooked.
Here in the harsh climate of Montana, timing is important and the shorter season vegetables and their cultivars will be the most likely to come to full fruition. Most brassicas do best in soil pH of 6.5-7.5, so a little elemental sulfur can be helpful. They prefer firm, very fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost and additional food during the growing season. They require full sun, which is at least 5-6 hours of sun a day and do best in soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. They do not thrive in hot weather and therefore do better on the shoulder seasons. In fact, they not only tolerate light frost but often become sweeter after a little nip of cold. Furthermore, most brassicas need the stimulation of cold weather to form heads; Brussels sprouts in particular need cold to form the sprouts. Seeds are usually planted six weeks before the last frost. Transplants should be set out in the garden in the middle of May. The following Montguide is invaluable for determining the planting time of all veggies. http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf
Working your garden in wet conditions, which we usually have in the spring, is harmful to the texture of your soil, and compaction is difficult to reverse, so it’s best to prepare your beds in fall so you can get into your garden and plant early without causing damage. It’s also best to plant brassicas from transplants that are started indoors, not only to get a jump on the season but to reduce the risk of disease and insect attack. Set your seedlings deep enough to cover the stalk up to the first set of leaves and make sure your hole is deep enough to keep the tap root straight. Press the soil around them gently and water in well. Remember to check your spacing for the different varieties so they don’t grow too close together.
A tip that I have found to be very helpful is the addition of mulch. Using mulch around your plants not only prevents weeds, it also keeps the soil cooler, retains moisture, reduces compaction from the rain, and keeps your plants cleaner. Along with cool soil and lots of nutrients, brassicas need consistent moisture, so remember to water regularly. Eat some of the lower leaves as the plants mature and remove any yellowing lower leaves to provide good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal disease.
Insects and furry critters can be a real annoyance when growing brassicas. (Think cabbage moth and deer among others!) The least invasive defense against insects is a good squirt of water to the leaves, preferably done in the morning so they have time to dry before nightfall. This will disrupt the life cycle of soft bodied insects without using chemicals. If you are still struggling but don’t want to use chemicals, a floating row cover prevents insect attack and as a bonus keeps the deer and rabbits off too. This is best applied soon after planting to be most effective.
If you grew kale this season, you have probably already been harvesting for a month or more, but if you got a late start like I did, your Brussels sprouts may just be forming. Remember to be patient and keep your brassicas going through our early frosts for a longer, fuller and sweeter harvest! There are so many wonderful varieties of healthy veggies to try; if you didn’t plant any cruciferous vegetables this year, prepare your bed this fall and get ready to enjoy the glorious fruits of your labor next year! Some of the following reference links are live and some are not:
Sponsored by Riverstone Health, this Thursday afternoon market is small enough to be kid friendly and big enough to have a good variety of produce, crafts, and flowers. Master Gardeners this year gave away free vegetable and flower seed packets as well as information. There was also a children’s activity each week with the favorite being to sit a spell and color fun garden themed pictures – can you find a puppy hiding in the vegetables? If you didn’t have a chance to work this event, consider it for next year or at least stop by to support these small-scale growers who are sharing their bounty. What’s not to love about a little girl selling posies?
Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington
Originally posted in the Oct/Nov/Dec issue of the newsletter. Webmaster apologizes for the late posting – check on this for summer 2019!
Efforts to launch the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub continue apace. A sold out Chef’s Dinner at the Moss Mansion featured local foods and local chefs. The Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill hosted a hugely popular kickoff for their fundraising project in early summer. Fundraising is expected to continue, but the successes of this summer means the project is on track for a soft launch of the Food Hub this fall.
The Yellowstone Valley Citizen’s Council initiated the project to link consumers with fresh, local foods grown in South-Central and Eastern Montana. Now that it’s becoming a reality, local food producers are taking up the reins to run the Hub as a collective of family farmers and ranchers. The Hub is initially planning to supply local restaurants and offer seasonal CSA boxes. The Hub’s space for dry/cold storage of produce and meats will make it easier for local producers to get their products to our tables.
The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is an exciting development for our area and is the first of its kind in Eastern Montana. We’ll have better access to healthier food that’s traveled fewer miles. A reliable supply of local food will bolster restaurants catering to the foodies among us. We will be able to meet our producers, understand how the food was raised, and support our community with our food purchases. Food Hub producers are frequently concerned about methods, promoting minimal use of pesticides and emphasizing ethical and humane care of animals. The Food Hub is a win all around and I’m looking forward to all that it will bring our community.
If you’d like to contribute to the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, you can donate at https:// northernplains.org/yellowstone-valley-food-hub/. For more information, you can contact Annika Charter-Williams at 406-259-1103.
The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market is designed to bring healthy, fresh, local, and affordable fruits and vegetables to the community. The market is also a social meeting place to celebrate health and nutrition. Healthy By Design is partnering with Billings Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands to bring the market to the South Park. The Gardeners’ Market is located in South Park on the corner of South 28th Street and Sixth Avenue South in Billings, MT. The season runs Thursdays from 4:30—6:30 from the second week of June through the first week in October.
If you would like to receive a weekly reminder and update about the Gardeners’ Market click here! For more information or if you have questions, leave a message at 406.651.6444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Master Gardener’s can receive credit towards their hours by donating surplus produce to this program. Log into your account and add the pounds.
The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a project of the Yellowstone Valley Citizens’ Council, aims to revitalize our regional agricultural system, which once met 70% of Montana’s food needs. The Food Hub strives to link local producers and fresh, healthy food to local consumers and institutions. The food hub will raise awareness about the nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits of local foods.
A food hub is an entity that actively manages the collection, processing, marketing, and distribution of food products from area producers in order to strengthen their ability to satisfy individual, wholesale, and retail demand. We would love to hear your ideas and insights. To learn more, contact Maggie at (406) 248-1154 or email email@example.com.
Asparagus is easier to spot in late summer when its tall ferny stalks turn a brilliant canary yellow. However, asparagus can be very hard to spot in the spring when the young shoots start popping out of the ground and I find that those lucky enough to have found a patch are very reluctant to divulge the exact location. From what I have been able to gather the best place to look for asparagus in our area is in sunny moist areas along the river, on irrigation ditch banks, on road sides and at the edges of farm fields. If you are lucky enough to find asparagus to harvest, it is best to cut the spears at ground level and to leave a few stalks so the plant will remain healthy and spread a few seeds. It is also interesting that the asparagus plants we find in the wild are not native plants but are cultivars that have escaped from peoples’ gardens. Another tip that I found online was that the best time to search for asparagus spears was in coordination with the time lilacs bloom.