Friday, October 23, 2009

Garden in Review 2009

The gardening season isn't quite over yet. We had a week of miserable wintery weather which gave us just one frost, and now it has rebounded into a week of Indian summer. We still have leeks and parsnips to look forward to, whenever we can dig them up in the cold months, and the Jerusalem artichokes as well, a new trial for us this year. All these can wait on more serious frosts. There are cabbages to be brought in any time. The popcorn is in but neither shucked nor weighed, let alone popped. But most crops are finished up for the year. So it's time for the post-game commentary.

New this year were a couple of eggplant (aubergines for you folks from across the pond) varieties that I tried from seed. While I got them to germinate, I didn't manage to get them to a decent size for transplant by the time they should have been in the ground. Fortunately, a local nursery had at least one of the varieties I wanted to try. The Listada de Gandia is a "graffiti" type eggplant. It did pretty well here considering how weird the weather was this year. Three plants gave us a total harvest of almost 9 pounds. I liked having our own eggplant, and we could have done with a good deal more. I experimented with the last batch to come in, dipping slices in egg and bread crumbs and then freezing on trays. My hope is that this will lead to wintertime eggplant parmesan. Next year I hope to have at least six plants producing well for us. I think I will also stake the plants next year. Even though I harvested before the fruits got too big, some of the branches trailed on the ground. I think staking would help the plants significantly. For all I know, this may be standard practice with eggplants.

The weird weather definitely affected our peppers for the worse. We had few poblanos that ripened up fully before the weather turned cold. So I wasn't able to try making my own ancho chili powder this year. Peppers are such prima donnas. It seems to me that to ensure a decent crop I really need to have plants quite large by the time I put them in the ground. We just can't rely on the truly baking days that peppers need to do well until late July or even August. Some years of course July is viciously hot. But not this year - not at all. Having the plants larger when they go in the ground seems like the obvious strategy.

The tomato crop was pretty much a bust this year. The blight hit the potatoes first, but did much more damage to the tomato plants. I got very, very few of either of the beefstake varieties I grew - Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Both the Peacevine cherry tomato and the paste variety Speckled Roman resisted the blight better, though both were affected. The Speckled Roman was the clear winner this year, and I will definitely grow it in future years. In fact, I think my search for the perfect paste tomato is over. Not only did the plant resist blight, but the flavor was outstanding for a paste, and it's just a gorgeous looking tomato. I will of course keep growing Brandywines and Cherokee Purples, but it's a valuable lesson to see how poorly they both did in a wet year with blight.

My Blue Solaize leeks are looking very nice again this year. So far this variety has been trouble free for me, and only required a small amount of attention through the growing season. Now that they're about done growing I will soon heap them up with lots of loose straw. As I did last year, I plan to harvest them from now until springtime. If necessary I can literally chop them out of the frozen earth during a thaw, allowing the soil around the extracted leek to warm up before knocking it off and bringing my wintertime treasure inside.

I tried two new varieties of winter squash this year, directly seeded. Neither of them were successful. One stella blue Hokkaido squash made it past the seedling stage and produced a few small fruits. The triamble seeds I was given for free didn't make it at all, unfortunately. I was really hoping to get a triamble or two for fall decoration, as well as eating. So obviously the direct seeding method that worked great for the pumpkins last year didn't work too well for us with the squash. The one early volunteer that I spared came true enough to form to give us a few pumpkins. So that's a nice return. I will probably try again with winter squashes next year but at least get the plants to germinate and form some roots inside before setting them out. Squash roots become very extensive very early, so balancing the need for root development against the risk of root binding will be tricky.

This was the last year to attempt melon cultivation and it was a total bust. Like the winter squashes, the seedlings emerged and then died. I was lukewarm on the melons anyway, even though the Charantais melon we got seeds for sounded so good. Either I don't have the touch for melons, or they just don't work where we are. Whatever the case, I don't think we'll try again with melons anytime soon. We didn't really miss them much.

Despite the late blight, I can fairly say that our four heirloom potatoes produced a very successful crop. If blight is a risk in your area and you haven't read the post where I describe the good advice given me by an agricultural extension agent, I urge you to read it. His advice helped me salvage what might have been a total loss. We harvested 100 pounds of potatoes this year, and saw the results of my first experiment in container growing for spuds. I am encouraged to explore further with containers for potatoes, because the benefits were many and significant. The blight affected the container grown potatoes last of all; there was no damage to any tubers from underground rodents; not one potato was speared by my pitchfork during harvest; and dumping a bucket of dirt and spuds into a wheelbarrow is a lot easier on my back than digging for them in the earth. Also, putting the potatoes in containers means that I could grow them on the edge of the driveway, which is otherwise useless for cultivation, and free up some garden space at the same time. I plan to try more than one variety next year in self-watering containers, hoping to improve on the quite respectable yields I saw in containers this year.

The sodden late spring devastated the Hutterite soup beans. I found out that light colored beans are more susceptible to rot than dark beans. True enough, my black Cherokee Trail of Tears beans climbed ten feet of bamboo pole and are still hanging on. The pale yellow Hutterites failed utterly. I don't know whether I'll brave the uncertainty of pale beans in the future, or stick with the darker, surer varieties. We'll see.

The red-cored chantenay carrots never developed any red coloration, though they grew well. I'll probably plant them again, and with more attention to protecting them from the rabbits, who loved to nibble down the tops. In the cold frame I have a hardier variety, the Napoli. We'll see how that does.

In the herbal department, lemon balm was a new trial for me, along with lovage, lemon thyme, and anise hyssop. The lemon balm showed the exuberant growth of its family (mint), which allowed me to cut and dry a great deal of it. I've quite enjoyed drinking a cup of the tea after dinner as an aid to sleep. The long flowering anise hyssop was a lovely surprise, much loved by the bees. The leaves have a remarkable sweetness that I included in some fruit pies and even muddled into a few summertime cocktails. It can be killed by severe winters, so I'm hoping ours isn't to bad this year. The lovage and lemon thyme did well enough, but I sort of forgot about them for the most part and haven't really explored their uses much. They should survive the winter just fine though, so there's always next year.

As for perennials, the everbearing raspberries we put in this year have been a disappointment. They produced, but had so little flavor we could hardly be bothered to pick them. On the other hand, the wild wineberries that line our driveway produced abundantly, had tons of flavor, and, unlike the raspberries, were of no interest to the Japanese beetles. Not sure what to do about the raspberries. Perhaps they need another year to settle in and establish good roots. Perhaps they'll do better next year. If not, the space they occupy is too valuable to let them remain. They'll need to be replaced with something more useful. The grapes and blueberries are not yet producing, nor are the cherry and pear trees we put in this year. The beds of Jersey king asparagus exploded in their first year, and with admirable discipline we forebore to pick any. They got a mycorrhizal root dip, lots of good compost to grow in, and plenty of sun, so perhaps this explains their exuberance. We get to harvest our first limited crop next spring. I can't wait!

Well, that's about it. How did your garden grow this year?


Lorna said...

Sounds wonderful! I'm still trying to figure out the growing season in my part of the world--the boys would like to grow some "baby" tomato plants and beans. We shall see. As for the raspberries, I believe they take 2-3 years to really establish themselves (a bit like blueberries). I cannot recall if there are better ways to handle them in the meantime (pick/don't pick etc.) but if I run across any info I'll let you know! Enjoy your harvest :)

marriedtothefarm said...

Thanks for the suggestion on tomatoes, I've never heard of Speckled Roman so I'll have to try it. I picked all of my tomatoes at the first sign of trouble and let them ripen on a blanket in the house. It seems to stop the damage for the most part but means the tomatoes are a lot smaller.

I look forward to hearing more about your adventures in container grown potatoes. I want to try that for sure. Do you know of a site with more info on the self watering setup? I can't picture it. My only holdback with containers is that I'll have to find a good place to take the fill from.

Thanks for sharing! Sounds like you're getting there.

Cheryl (SwineInsanity said...

I harvested alot of blackberries this year... Carrots, parshnips, garlic, walking onions, peaches, almonds, apples, asparagus, herbs... Didn't get tomatoes or squash... You sound like you really were blessed in your garden... So happy for you! In all honesty, I love reading what others are accomplishing on their land... Very uplifting and inspiring... Thank you for posting your work and taking the time to share it... I really do apprecaite it.

Kate said...

Lorna, thanks for the tip on raspberries taking a while to come into their own.

mttf, sure thing. I'm always happy to gush about a plant that excites me and performs well. As for the self-watering containers for potatoes, Walker left a link on one of my other posts, pointing to a page he used to build his swc's. I haven't yet built any, but from what I can tell, it's not too complicated. Check out the page Walker suggested:

I plan on something similar but much larger for some fig trees next spring.

Cheryl, sounds like you've had a good harvest too. Congratulations! In our area, it was a good year for berries all around. We gleaned quite a few blackberries.