Remember when we had to write reports about our summer vacations for school? Well, this is my report on my summer in the vegetable garden: what worked, what didn’t.
Overall, it was a great growing season. We had lots of sunshine and my garden got about an inch of rain a week, just what most plants need. My tomatoes suffered a bit from a variety of early blights – the leaves browned and dried up, starting at the bottom. This has been increasingly the case in recent years, and next year I intend to try a bio-fungicide called Serenade, which contains live bacteria that destroy fungi. Still, I put up lots of tomatoes and ate them 2 or 3 times a day from early August until the end of September.
Of the new varieties of tomatoes I tried this year I liked best a small red one called Mountain Magic, a full sized yellow called Valencia and an oversized plum tomato called Linguisa. The first two are from Johnny’s Seeds, the last from Hudson Valley Seed Library. All 3 were quite disease resistant.
At the end of September I saw what appeared to be the dreaded late blight so I sent a sample to the UNH plant pathology lab, and it was diagnosed as late blight. Fortunately, late blight does not survive our winters except, occasionally, in potato tubers.
What did well for me? It was a great year for onions, beets, carrots, broccoli and leaf crops from lettuce to kale. My most surprising success was my new asparagus patch. I planted roots in June, and each plant is now 6-12 bushy stems. Many of the plants sent up stems thicker than a pencil, but I restrained myself and did not eat any. I used a “Jersey” cultivar of asparagus which produces all-male plants and no seeds, which is good. Seeds yield too many little plants and these compete for water and nutrients. If you have older plants with seeds, cut them down now.
I always try a few new things in the garden if I can, and this year I got some peanuts for planting from Burpee Seeds. I planted some in cell-packs indoors since peanuts are a southern crop, and I wanted to give them an early start. I also tried direct planting once the soil was fully warmed in early July. Direct seeding didn’t work, and the transplants only produced a few peanuts each. Peanuts bloom down low, and then a “peg” develops
which contains the flower stem and peanut embryo. The peg grows into the soil, and produces a peanut. I only got 3 or 4 pegs per plant, so they are not worth the bother, I think.
I also tried scorzonera, a European root crop also called black oyster plant, serpent root, viper’s herb, viper’s grass and black salsify. I harvested one recently – but with some difficulty. I tried to pull it like a carrot, only to have the top break off. I used a trowel to loosen what I thought was pretty loose soil in my wood-sided raised bed. I got my hand down around the root some 6 inches below the surface and tugged. Slowly I lifted it out. Much to my surprise, the root was 12 inches long, black, and nearly perfectly cylindrical, though only ¾ of an inch across!
I also planted salsify, a similar root crop, though white. It is a slow-growing root crop. If you do try it, be advised that the young plants look like grass, so don’t weed them out. I enjoyed the flavor of both salsify and scorzonera, though I liked the latter better – it has a somewhat nutty flavor when sautéed in olive oil.
I planted purple cauliflower this summer, and it was very tasty. The variety I tried, from Franchi Sementi seeds promised that it would develop side shoots like broccoli, and I have seen a few little ones starting in October. The primary heads took until mid- to late-September to develop fully. Broccoli has been fabulous this year, producing side shoots into October. The variety that did best this year is ‘Arcadia’, and I will do it again next year. Very productive.
Usually I have no deer problems, but one rogue 4-point buck came around often. He ate my pole beans late in the season and several summer and winter squashes. Dang! I hope he doesn’t start a family here! My dogs aren’t keeping him away – I may have to reduce their dog biscuits quota to keep them on their toes.
Another new effort was growing ground cherries. These resemble tomatillos with paper skins, but with a sweet fruit inside. Very tasty, but they didn’t ripen until late September- if then. I learned they are called ground cherries because they fall on the ground when ripe.
Gardening is always somewhat a mystery. Sometimes one vegetable does well, other times it can be a complete bust. But I keep on experimenting with new things – that’s part of the fun of it.
Henry’s new book is out: Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet from Bunker Hill Publishing. It is a chapter book for kids, a fantasy-adventure about a boy born with a mustache and a magical ability to speak to animals and understand them. Learn more at www.Gardening-Guy.com.