The garden is winding down after another year of extreme weather. Time for a round up of observations and speculations on what I grew this year.
We tilled our main garden bed for the last time this spring, laid out permanent beds, and lasagna mulched like crazy in an effort to get ahead of the weeds. I'd say we've done well on the weed front this year, and both the regular permanent beds and the lasagna mulching will pay dividends for us going forward. Not least because we've been able to situate the hens on individual beds in the poultry schooner for garden clean-up duty.
The Sungold cherry tomatoes I tried for the first time this year were a very mixed bag. They grew like absolute monsters, and produced well, but I found that in weeks with no rain they managed to split even when I didn't water them. At least half of their production went to the chickens, who seemed oddly not thrilled with them. The Peacevine, which I didn't grow this year, has been my mainstay cherry tomato for years and years. Now the Peacevine is a rampant producer itself. It splits far less often and the hens are crazy about the fruits that do have blemishes. In terms of flavor I don't think the best of the Sungolds have anything on the best of the Peacevines. But the bottom line is that the Sungold is not a good cherry tomato for drying. We smoke and dehydrate a good portion of our cherry tomato crop so as to store them for winter polenta, stews, and pasta. When dried down, the Sungold is pretty much all skin and seed. There's not enough flesh to give it substance. The Peacevine has far more "meat" to it, which is another reason I'm going back to that variety next year.
The Speckled Roman impressed me again, in this, my second year of growing it. In fact, it impressed me so very much that I'm considering making it my primary tomato in future years, perhaps dropping the beefsteak varieties entirely. Neither the Brandywine nor the Cherokee Purple did very well for me this year. I saw a lot of splitting on those varieties too. The Speckled Romans never split. While they are not hugely abundant producers, almost all of the fruits they set matured without blemishes. I also appreciate that it doesn't try to take over the entire neighborhood as it grows. A lesser producing tomato plant to me just means that the soil is not being so heavily taxed, which is a good thing. I certainly have room to put in more plants to get the yield I want. I very much like the flavor and texture of this tomato, and enjoyed it frequently as a slicing tomato. It also seemed to resist blight the best of any of the varieties I grew in 2009. This one is a winner in my book.
We had a winter squash failure this year, which I chalk up to the combination of intense heat and prolonged periods without rain, plus my inability to get out there and water while I was laid up with an infection and then out of town for a funeral. I managed to harvest only a very few mature squashes, and all of them were experimental oilseed pumpkins planted as part of my three sisters arrangement. This would be a serious loss for our larder this winter, my husband's ambivalence to squash notwithstanding. I've made arrangements to buy a dozen winter squash from a local organic farmer.
Piracicaba (say: "peer-ah-SEE-kah-bah") was another experiment this year. It's a "non-heading" broccoli developed in Brazil, and grown mostly for its leaves. It does actually form small heads, which are just as tasty as any full sized broccoli heads. There are two incredible standout attributes of this plant. Firstly, it couldn't have cared less about the heat that fried so many other things in the garden this year. Few brassicas can take heat like that. And secondly, it was utterly ignored by the cabbage moths. This is an even rarer attribute among the brassicas. I will definitely be growing this broccoli again, and in larger numbers. I love small broccoli leaves and tiny heads in stir-fries. Plus, it's a fun word to say.
I grew six eggplants in this year of dry heat, three each of two different types. The Listada de Gandia is a globe type with a purple and white "graffiti" pattern, and the Pingtung Long is an Asian type, long and thin variety, great for stir-fries. Six was about the right number of plants. Both varieties seemed to produce their fruits in two main batches. But the Pingtung Long took a longer hiatus in mid-summer. I almost decided it was a bust compared to the Listada de Gandia, but it came back strongly in September, and still has fruits to harvest on it now. If we'd had more than six plants, either of the two waves of harvest would probably have overwhelmed us this year. In cooler years, six plants probably would leave us still hungry for eggplant. Of the two varieties, I think I prefer the Asian type by a small margin. I find them easier to cook with in summer when I don't want overly involved cooking projects. They fit into stir-fries so well, while the globe type begs for eggplant parmesan, or stuffing, or grilling. We only grill every so often, while we stir-fry a few times a week in summer. Both types are extremely pretty, but both lose their beautiful color when cooked.
I had some limited early success with snow peas this spring. I really love this vegetable. I'm sure I could eat it several times per week for basically forever, without boredom. But snow peas do not love the heat, and they finished very early with the early warm spring we had. I tried sowing a fall crop in August, without any information on whether or not it would work. The sprouts came up, but were severely stunted by the heat and I got nothing. It's possible that in a less severe year, or with some help from a sun shade, they might have made it. They certainly don't mind the cold, so if I'd been able to get them up and running I suspect they'd produce decently about now. These are definitely on my list to plant more - a lot more - of next year. As an early crop, it has my respect. The fact that it doesn't seem to have any pests associated with it and that it produces over a long span of time is all the more to its favor. Since they are fairly low growing, I plan to try them very early next year in the cold frames, once all the carrots are harvested. By the time they get tall enough to press against the glass, it'll be warm enough to uncover the frames.
We also had a parsnip crop failure this year. Actually it was a germination failure. The heat started early here this year and never let up. Parsnips are the Siberians of garden crops. They shrug off cold and will not germinate if the soil is warmer than 75 F. The lesson for me is to get them in the ground early. This of course requires that I have my garden in good order and ready to plant quite early. That didn't happen this year, but with our garden re-organization we should be better set up for next spring. I also tried an experiment with summer- and fall-sown parsnip seeds under very light lasagna mulching. It occurred to me to try this when I saw the seed from a few overwintered parsnips maturing in early August. If the seeds mature at that time, well, in nature they'd fall to the ground and hang around until it's a good time to germinate. I figured it wouldn't be much effort to try to help that process along. I did one experimental sowing as soon as the seeds matured, and another just this month. The few layers of newspaper in the light lasagna mulching should be broken down enough by early spring to present no barrier to any seeds that do germinate. We'll see whether either experimental patch produces anything next year. Whether they do or not, I'll be planting more next year. Parsnips are so much fun to prize out of the ground with a pitchfork during a January thaw. -Yes, I'm serious. So this is another loss for the winter larder, not to mention Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
Our young Colette pear tree produced its first crop of about six large pears this year. They were absolutely heavenly. Truly, this tiny harvest bumped the pear waaay up the short list of my favorite fruits. I am so happy we planted this tree, and frankly, a little relieved to see some of the perennials we busted a hump for over the last few years start paying dividends. In this year when most everything was ahead of schedule due to the early spring, the pears should have come off the tree by mid-August. The Colette is considered a late pear, so in a more "normal" year (if we ever have one of those again) I think they would come a bit later. Because so much fruit was set in spring, I "helped" the tree along by thinning many of the buds just after the blossoms dropped off. But not even half of all those I left on the branch made it to full sized fruits. In future I think it will be wiser to let the tree sort this out for itself, and only intervene if there is still too much fruit after they have bulked up a bit.
Since I managed to produce some homegrown, homemade ancho chili powder this year, I think more plants are in order for next year. Even in the unusual heat that the plants loved so much, three plants took their own sweet time maturing the chilies to full colored red maturity. Many of them will remain green and never achieve the color that so distinguishes one of my favorite spices. Having more plants, especially in years cooler than this one, would give me a better supply of the mature chilies.
I think I've given up on spring-planted cabbages. The cabbage moths inevitably get the early ones, while the fall cabbages do just fine. I think I'll just save myself the trouble from now on and give that space to other crops in spring. I very much doubt my ability to get cabbages seeded in starter pots for transplant at the appropriate time, but fortunately I can rely on a local Mennonite nursery to offer me some interesting heirloom brassicas at just the right time.
My leeks are a bit late this year as I was late getting them into the ground. I consider leeks a late fall and winter crop, though I like to see them hanging out in the garden all year long. I didn't start my own favorite blue de Solaize leeks this year, but put in some started shoots from the nursery. I suspect they won't stand up to the cold as well as the Solaize, and they're small besides. So I plan to pull them all out of the ground before it really freezes hard. Next year, it's back to the blues for sure.
Onions continue to defy me. I used to have this problem with root crops in general, but I think I've figured out beets and carrots pretty well now. It was largely a matter of amending our clay soil I suspect, to give the roots a little elbow room down there. One of these days I'm really going to have to apply myself to learning how to grow onions. We use so many of them that it's a shame we haven't managed to produce them with any great success. The hole in our supply of homegrown vegetables was so obvious that even my husband could point it out. Of course, if we do produce our own onions, I can't think of what will propel us to the grocery store in the dead of winter.
Well, that's my garden wrap-up for the moment. What sort of year did you have, and how did your garden handle it? Experiment with anything this year? How'd it turn out?