Potatoes 2019

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.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals


1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal 1/8 thick
1 cup apple cider vinegar ¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt 1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds ½ cup water

Place the prepared carrots in a clean resealable jar. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns, mustard seed and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour immediately over the carrots. Clean the rim and jar and screw on lid and ring. Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate 2 hours (better after at least 24 hours) before serving. They can be stored up to 3 weeks (they won’t last that long).

These are so good with many dishes or as a snack. My next batches I doubled and tripled.

~Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Book Review – The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs
By Peter Wohlleben

This fascinating little book does indeed have much information on using nature’s signs to predict the weather, a useful skill for home gardeners. Among the indicators explored are wind patterns, clouds, flowers that close prior to storms, and bird songs. Then the book goes on to be a wealth of more information on many aspects of reading nature to help us garden. Even though the author is German, generally his information and advice translates well to our latitude and longitude.

The topics covered vary widely from basics to interesting unusual tidbits such as what elaiosomes are (a small fatty, sugary morsel attached to seeds to entice ants to carry both home, thus spreading seeds far and wide) or synanthropes (animals born wild but who thrive in close association to cultivated human environments like the Eurasian collared dove that showed up in our yard last year and stayed). One of my favorite stories is about the flower clock created by the eighteenth century Swedish natural scientist, Carl Linnaeus. He discovered that different flowers open their blooms at different times of the day, enabling him to create a flower “clock” with different types of flowers for each hour. Equally interesting was learning that birds often sing at specific times of the day, so that after one learns their calls, one could roughly know the time when a certain bird sings.

There are several chapters with decidedly practical advice and applications for gardeners: how to work in cooperation with rather than at war with nature, increasing soil health to increase garden health, adapting to climate change, in addition to accurately predicting the weather.

There are also chapters that increase our enjoyment of the natural world: using all of our senses not just the visual, and discovering new and interesting information about many aspects of nature.

As in his other books, Mr. Wohlleben writes in a flowing, readable manner that effectively translates up-to-date scientific information into layman’s terms. I hope you will soon read and enjoy The Weather Detective, so much more than a guide to predicting the weather.

~Review by Ann Guthals

Putting the Garden to Bed

Fall is the time for cleaning up garden beds and protecting perennial plants. Here are a few things I do to prepare my garden for winter.

Feed plants. To help plants prepare for winter, I limit fertilization but feed perennials by working in compost around the beds. The compost slowly breaks down in winter, releasing nutrients to the plants and improving the soil structure.

Water perennials. Perennials, trees, and shrubs should go into winter with ample moisture. Water them deeply in the morning a few times a month to get them through the cold months.05 Putting the Garden to Bed 1

Remove annual plants and cut down perennials. After first frost, get rid of any dead flowers and plants. Remove any leaves infected with rust or powdery mildew so the spores do not overwinter in the soil. Do not com-post plants or foliage that appear diseased. Pull annuals out by their roots; cut back perennials stems to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. I leave a few plants with interesting seed heads such as coneflowers, rudbeckia, and sunflowers to serve as winter interest in the snow and because their edible seeds provide vital winter food for birds.

Dig up tender bulbs and tubers like dahlias, cannas and caladiums. Store them over winter and replant in spring.07 Putting the Garden to Bed 3

Prepare the soil for spring. Add soil amendments like manure, compost, and bone meal because these additions will have time to break down, thus enriching the soil and become biologically active.

Mulch. Apply thick layer of mulch around perennial plants, shrubs, and trees to help protect their roots in winter.

Clean and sharpen gardening tools. Wash and remove dirt, debris, and rust on tools. Sharpen hoes, shovels, and pruners.

Now that we have put the garden to bed, we can dream and plan for the next season as we flip through seed and plant catalogs!

~Submitted by Suri Lunde

Dried Arrangements

Take a walk in the fall and you will discover the interesting dried forms of familiar plants along the trails and water’s edge. These can be combined in vases or baskets to make long-lasting arrangements. Walk into an uncultivated field and you will likely have long enough stems for an arrangement in a bushel or large decorator basket. Use a laundry basket to keep plants upright and sharp scissors or pruner to cut stalks. Do ask permission before cutting on private property, though it is rare that a landowner will object. Be wary of roadside cutting if there is a chance of a weed control spraying program in the area.

04 Dried Arrangments

What a weed gives a floral arrangement is a sense of authenticity: “This really had a life somewhere that wasn’t on purpose and hasn’t had a human intervention.” Emily Thompson, floral designer.

Without traveling, you can also use the spent flower stems from your backyard garden if you allow them to age gracefully instead of continuing to deadhead after late August. Especially attractive are coneflowers (yes, they keep their petals but turn a semi-sweet chocolate brown), bee balm (round ball shape), and sunflower varieties (no petals and seeds may drop, but the residual texture in the seed head with a triangular fringe is spectacular). Often you can find pampas grass or hops at fall farmers’ markets.

Consider using dried grasses as filler much the way a florist uses ferns at the back of the arrangement to add height. Pick one or two significant stems to anchor your arrangement and repeat in another size elsewhere in the bouquet. Use vegetation of another size or density to fill in around the special stems. Do strip leaves that will be below the height of the container. A pleasing arrangement doesn’t just happen: It’s an artful blend of harmony, balance, and scale … a mixture of foliage tints, tones, and shades plus — perhaps — an added selection of pods, cones, and grasses. We have an abundance of cattails and milkweed pods in our immediate area and they can add texture and height.

You can also add a single bloom or twig of colored leaves for emphasis. If you use foliage that is still alive, you will need to use a container that holds water and change it often. Always remember that the best arrangements are approximately twice the height and width of their containers. Experiment! Have fun!

~ Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed)

Common milkweed is a member of the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed) family.

It easily adapts to growing in a variety of soils from rocky to clay to sandy to chalky and is often found near the banks or flood plains of lakes, ponds, and waterways, in prairies, forest margins, roadsides, and waste places. In Montana it is often found at the edges of fields near ditches. In other words, it is prolific once it gets established. A single pod normally releases 50 – 100 seeds attached to a white, fluffy coma (“parachute”) that allows wind dispersal.

Common milkweed is nature’s mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant. Numerous insects are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers and it is not uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies on the flowers at the same time. Milkweeds contain various levels of cardiac glycoside compounds which render the plants toxic to most insects and animals. (Humans should not ingest!) For some insects, the cardiac glycosides become a defense. They can store them in their tissue which renders them inedible or toxic to other animals. Monarch butterflies use this defense and birds leave them and the caterpillars alone. What the birds do not know is that northern monarchs feeding on common milkweed accumulate relatively little of the toxic compounds and probably would be edible.

Monarch butterflies can be helped by encouraging existing patches and planting new ones. It is the only plant the monarch caterpillar eats, and eggs are laid on the underside of its leaves. The plant grows readily from seed and spreads quickly by deep rhizomes. Because common milkweed can be weedy and difficult to remove, care should be used to establish the plant only in places where spread can be tolerated. If you want to add milkweed to your yard, propagation by cuttings of the tuberous rhizome is easy and reliable.

Less well-known human uses include historical Native American medicinal concoctions for everything from ringworm to temporary sterility and as a source for making strong fiber string. Milkweed is collected in the autumn after the leaves have begun to fall off, the stalks turn gray or tan, and the plant dries up. If the milkweed stems will break off at the ground, it’s time to harvest. The dried stalks are then split open and the fibers are twisted into string. Breaking off as many stalks as possible (or burning) encourages re-sprouting in the spring.

03 Milkweed 2Dried milkweed pods can add interesting lines and texture to a fall flower arrangement so take a walk and look for this prolific plant as Montana’s vegetation dries and turns golden.

Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington