January 2015

January came in with a proud burst of winter snow, and ended with a week of warm sunny days reminiscent of spring. We enjoyed the ability to cross country ski around the farm, which happens only a couple of weeks throughout the winter, and we reveled in the warm days.  Winter is far from over here in NorthWestern Montana, so I enjoyed the brief chinook working over my perennial gardens.

Weeding grasses and cutting back plants in the perennial gardens, in January!
Weeding grasses and cutting back plants in the perennial gardens, in January!

Seeds are ordered and it is time to prune the berries. After 4 seasons of not getting the best from our fall varieties, I am trying a new approach to pruning these rows. It seems that come late August, when the Fall berries are loaded and showing SO MUCH PROMISE, the wasps and early fall frosts dash all hopes of September berries. Even vacuuming the wasps, and covering the fall berries in double layers of remay, did nothing to bring that promising dream to reality. My solution, quit trying. At least for now, I am going to prune those primocane bearers as though they are floricane bearers. Word has it that there is “enough fresh wood” on the lower half of the canes to produce a crop, and in theory, this crop should appear much earlier than the primocane crop. We have tried this with Prelude, and had mixed reactions. The flavor of the early berries on the floricanes leaves something to be desired. But what good is a beautiful, large, tasty fall Prelude if it is frozen, or if it has a huge hole in it?   Pruning this way is a bit more work, as you have to think about what you are doing as opposed to blindly pruning all canes away.   We will let you know the results of our experiment.

Fall variety Caroline being pruned for floricane production


The goal is to have all pruning done by mid-March.   Prune too early and those cuts could experience winter kill if temps drop too low..which they tend to do in Northern Montana. Prune too late, and you are cutting canes that the plant has already started putting valuable energy into budding out. Energy that should only go to canes that will be left for crop. On a day like today, warm and sunny, getting pruning done by mid-March  seems easy peasy.  But in 2014 the berries were under a hard packed, 3 ft. deep snow drift until early March.  We barely got the job done by the bud-break in early April.

Estee standing in driveway drift, March 2014
Estee standing in driveway drift, March 2014

This is the hardest part of being a mom first, then a farmer. I would love to spend this day outside pruning all day. My reality…I probably won’t prune at all. The kids are great outside, and even when I need to farm they can tolerate that at times, but when it comes to the prickly cane piles and my teetering, fall-flat-on-your-face-toddler, it seems too risky. Hence, my perennial gardens have never looked so well trimmed and free of grasses in January, and I wait for the weekends to get to the berries!



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