Saturday, September 29, 2012

Garden Review 2012: Part 2 The Middlin's

In Part 2 of my 2012 garden review I am going to talk about the veggies that did middlin' for me this year. In other words, they produced, not badly but could be improved upon either in size, output or flavor. These vegetables have certainly added to the total pounds and variety of the garden and will be back again. Perhaps I'll try different varieties next year or plant them differently. My garden is in a constant state of soil improvement and I am always reading great suggestions for improving things. It is so interesting how each year it is different vegetables that shine and some that did great last year fail this year or vice versa.

Wait! My summer squash did fantastic! How did I forget to include it in Part 1? I had my first EVER successful year of zucchini. But in all honesty, it could be included in middlin' because it died out way too soon, being utterly destroyed by squash beetles. Thankfully, not until I'd had a very nice amount to harvest for once. The zucchinis were Raven and Jackpot, with Jackpot the winner for best output. The yellow squash was Saffron and it did less well than the zukes. The pattypan was an utter failure, producing exactly one useable squash. For the record it was a Bennings Green Tint.

My onions. Sigh. They were small and few this year. Last summer this bushel basket was full and so was another on almost as big. I grew a few varieties: Pontiac, Ailsa Craig, Prince, Copra, Redwing and Stuttgarter. Some were leftover seed from last summer. None of them really did very well this year.

I grew several varieties of carrot and a total of five beds of them. Three of the beds were fall carrots and above is the healthiest one. I'm still unsure if they will have time to get to a harvestable size before the ground freezes. The majority of my carrots were Scarlet Nantes and Danvers Half Long. I had leftover seed from Mokum, Napoli and Nantes Fancy. My carrots simply take forever to size up and they really were small.
Last year I had a terrific harvest of beets. This year was absolutely middlin'. Early in the season I had a plague of cutworms that cropped the beets as quickly as they sprouted. Eventually they grew and we enjoyed them, but we had far fewer. I have always had some degree of trouble getting beets to size up, but they are improving. I have yet to have the least bit of success with any beets planted after the initial spring planting. Will have to work on that one! I planted Lutz Salad Leaf, which I love because it can get really huge, but still taste nice and sweet, Cylindra, Detroit
Dark Red, Early Wonder and Crosby Egyptian. No one variety really stood out this year, except maybe the Cylindra because of its distinctive shape.

Winter squash is improving for me, but I have a long way to go! Four years ago I managed to grow one tiny New England Pie pumpkin. Three years ago, ditto. Last year I finally beat the SVBs and managed to get six winter squash of various types. This year, ta-da! I got seventeen! Yes! That sounds like great success, yes? But wait...

Here they are, all in a row. They are very, very small. Not that I'm not happy with them, I really am. We are moving in the right direction and I will work on improving things again next year. The plants also succombed to the squash beetles early, and I'm sure the poor plants lost energy fighting those nasties and couldn't properly grow those squash very large. I grew butternut (not enough, more next year!), kabocha, variety Sunshine,which was quite a success I think, Burgess Buttercup, Long Island Cheese, New England Pie pumpkin and blue hubbard. After four unsuccessful years of blue hubbard I am throwing in the towel. The few I get never grow to maturity.
Well, this post is getting too long, so I think my three part series is going to have to become a four time I will continue to review the middlins!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Garden Revies 2012 Part 1

The garden is certainly not finished yet and I hope to be harvesting at least into November, but I thought I would take a look back at this year's main growing season to review what worked, what didn't and what might make it in the future.
 Today I am reviewing what did well. Don't these photos look so green and lush? Spring and early summer seem like only yesterday and I sure miss that fresh new growth! Peas and lettuce were a great success this year. I have never had any problems growing a healthy batch of sugar snap peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas and this year was no exception. I tried regular shelling peas for the first time this summer and was very pleased with the results. I planted a mix of off the shelf peas this year, but next year I will look into ordering new varieties.
 Lettuce was another winner! I can't even remember the varieties I planted, but there were at least ten. For some reason Blogger uploaded these lettuce photos sideways (it's been doing that lately), but here are pictures of my Red Sails lettuce and Forellenschluss back in May when they were really taking off. Some other varieties that I do remember were Italienischer, Black Seeded Simpson, Australian Yellowleaf and a nice romaine called Coastal Star. All the lettuce did fantastic this year until the heat hit them in July and they turned bitter. I didn't have any luck with summer lettuce, but it is a challenge I will keep trying. My fall lettuce is coming along, but very slowly.

Broccoli did better than ever this year. I planted a lot, because for the first time I had enough space in the garden to put in as much as I wanted. The main heads were quite small, but they have produced tons of side shoots and are continuing to do so even now! The varieties I planted were Fiesta, Tendergreen and Blue Wind. Loved them all!                                                                                                                     
Green beans have done particularly well this year. Like snap peas, I really have never had a bad year with beans, but this year they have been better than ever. I didn't think it would be that way at first, because the first large bed of  beans I planted didn't sprout, or those that did quickly died. I still don't know what happened, but think I must have planted too early, because the next planting, in the same bed, from the same packet of seeds did grow and those plants are still                 producing beans today! I have thirty bags of beans in the freezer and still enough fresh to eat green beans every day.                                                                            
Cabbage did terrific! I love an early variety called Farao, which grows quickly and has very tender, tasty leaves. For storage I grew an heirloom variety from Baker Creek called Glory of Enkhuizen. These cabbages grew huge (probably the only large thing I grew this summer) and they were just beautiful and tasty too. The other storage one I grew was Bartolo. The heads were small and very dense.  I only wish I would have the same kind of success with red cabbage.                                             
Kale grew very well and is still doing well. I have some small fall-sown kale plants too, that are looking healthy and may be giving some fresh greens soon. I'm hoping they will overwinter and give us some of our first spring greens next year. The varieties I planted were Siberian, Red Russian, Winterbor and Lacinato. 
Peppers have also been amazing this year. I don't know what I did right. That's the thing with garden successes, you don't always know what you did or didn't do that helped. Of course, there's no controlling the weather conditions. Last year the weather was similar I think, but my peppers were awful. This year the plants are huge and extremely productive. The best I've ever seen. And that's despite the very limited sunlight my garden gets. I can't even imagine how nice the garden would be if I had full sunlight. What a dream! Peppers I grew were Red Knight, Lipstick, Jimmy Nardello, Bridge to Paris, Peacework,and Ace. I think I'll also have to call the eggplant a success too. Well, the Swallow eggplants, anyway. I can't say enough how much I love that variety and I really hope I have no problem getting the seed for them next year, since I used the last of my Swallow seed this year. You'll hear me crying from here to California if they are not available next season!
Potatoes were a surprise success too. I didn't expect much, but ended up harvesting about four pounds more than last year, which was the first time I'd ever tried growing potatoes.
I grew some very healthy basil and shallots. They were both grown from seed and I was quite pleased with the results.
Well, that about covers what went really well in the garden this year. In Part 2 I will review what did OK but could do better. Part 3 will cover the failures. By the way, if this blog looks a little funky, it's because I still can't control the word processing that does crazy things and puts the words in places I don't want it to. Arg.                                                                                          

Monday, September 24, 2012

Harvest Monday

Good Monday! As usual I am joining Daphne's Dandelions for Harvest Monday where gardeners everywhere are showing what they harvested this past week. Go on over and join the fun!
Autumn is definitely here. We're especially noticing how much earlier it gets dark in the evening and the nights are cool. Garden production is way,way down. I'm spending more time in the garden doing clean up than I am harvesting. The stars of the garden at present are green beans, peppers and kale. Though I didn't harvest any kale this week because I'm letting the plants rest a little.
 Above are the very first of my leeks! They are skinnier than last year's, but the white part is longer, so that makes up for it a little. I planted them using the dibble method as opposed to a trench this year and I think it worked well. I have lots more in the garden yet which is good since I had a small onion harvest. Must have my alliums!
 Brought in the last of my kohlrabi. They were a little woody, but not bad at all considering how long they've been growing.
 Asian greens, a few tomatoes, broccoli sprouts, peppers and what are likely the very last two cucumbers of the year.
 Here are my last two butternut squashes. You can see by my hand how very small they are.
 In the basket are three tiny cabbages, eggplants, tomatoes, broccoli and green beans. I harvested about three pounds of green beans this week. Patch #1 does not want to throw in the towel! It is blossoming again and every time I contemplate pulling out the plants I find more beans.
 I haven't mentioned before that we're growing ground cherries. I tried them last year as a curiosity and my husband took a shine to them, so I start the seedlings and he grows the plants. They grow in a paper husk like a tomatillo and you can tell they're ripe when they fall off the plant. Last year as each ground cherry ripened, the local chipmunks, voles and mice snatched them and ate them before we could, leaving us the empty husks. What a difference a year makes! This year they'd been somewhat neglected by both us and the wildlife, so we found a carpet of them on the ground that yielded a pound and a half of fruit. They are slightly bland, but nice to munch on.
And here are my- "ahem"- first pathetic little brussels sprouts. I grew some big strong plants. But the few sprouts on them are the size of large peas. There is still a month for them to grow, but somehow I doubt I'll be seeing much. Better luck next year and maybe a new variety!
That's it for this week! Wishing all you fellow gardeners a productive week!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Savoring the Last Taste of Summer

Last week I made a new-to-me recipe that celebrated the most wonderful taste of summer,  fresh tomatoes.  I had a recipe for tomato pie that somebody had given me years ago that I'd never tried and I wanted to do something with some of the last of my garden tomatoes before they were gone for the season. But as I looked at the recipe, it seemed very fat-laden, so I went online and found a paired down version. It was a winner and we really enjoyed it. Here is my version.
 First, a baked and cooled pie shell.
 Layer in some beautifully sliced fresh tomatoes and top these with fresh basil leaves.
 Repeat the tomato and basil layers.
 Top with a mixture of light mayo, mozarella, feta cheese. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over this and bake.
Voila! Tomato pie! It is so delicious and though hot, the tomatoes still  taste fresh and wonderful and the fresh basil flavor shines through. It does have a tendency to by rather juicy, so it is best eaten up the day it is made, but I have had leftovers and heated up in the oven seems to take care of the wetness.
Here's the recipe:
For the pie shell:   1 and 1/4 cups flour
                              1/4 teaspoon salt
                              1 Tablespoon sugar
                              1/4 cup cooking oil
                              2 Tablespoons light sour cream
                              2 Tablespoons water
                             Mix together with a fork until a ball forms; roll out and put into a
                             slightly greased pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25
                             minutes. You may want to put foil around the edge to prevent
                             over-browing. Remove from oven and cool.
For the filling:       1 and 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, sliced
                             1 bunch basil
                              1/2 cup reduced fat mayonaise
                              1/2 cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
                              1/2 cup reduced fat feta cheese
                              1/4 cup sliced green onions
                              salt and pepper
                              2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
                              Put a layer of sliced tomatoes into the pie shell, top with fresh
                              basil leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Repeat the
                              layer of tomatoes and basil.
                             Mix together the mozzarella, feta, mayonaise and green onions.
                             Then spread the cheese/mayo mixture over the top of the
                             tomatoes. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Bake the pie for
                             45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Harvest Monday

It's Harvest Monday again over at Daphne's Dandelions where gardeners from around the country and the world are showing what their gardens have produced this week. Head on over to see what's happening!
It is true that the harvest here in the northeast is starting to slow down with the coming of autumn weather and shorter days, but there is still a steady amount of fresh vegetables in my garden.
 Green beans are still going strong. My third patch is now producing and patch #2 is in its full second harvest. Eggplants are growing slower, but I was able to harvest a few small ones. The cherry tomatoes above are from a volunteer plant growing in one of my walkways; it is the healthiest tomato plant I have at the moment. And I am finally seeing some peppers turning red. The ones pictured are Jimmy Nardello and Lipstick.
 Still getting little broccoli shoots! Our favorite veggie, so nice to have plenty this year!
 Salad greens! The majority is komatsuna, but there is a bit of lettuce (Rouge d'Hiver), arugula, tatsoi and mibuna in there.
 Carrots, finally getting to be a reasonable size. Which isn't much, but I'll take them!
 Two of the four butternut squashes I managed to grow along with the one and only Long Island Cheese pumpkin I got. All three are quite small but they still make me very happy. I want to use some of my winter squash to make the spicy pumpkin soup that I enjoyed so much when I was in Haiti.
 This has been my best year ever for peppers! I still have over a hundred peppers on the plants and I plan not to harvest them until they turn red, or frost threatens or they are damaged. The ones pictured all have slug holes eaten out of them so they got picked and I will cut out the bad parts and use the good. Waste not, want not!
Above are a few mostly green tomatoes. There certainly aren't many left out there and I've been bringing them in to ripen. The cabbage is the last one I'll get for the year. It is about the size of a baseball, but no complaints since I harvested a boatload of cabbage this year and have quite a few keeping in the basement refrigerator.
I am so sad to see the summer coming to a close! I have yet to have a really successful fall garden, but still have a few beds of late carrots, kale, lettuce, radish, arugula and mizuna coming along. Whether they give me much before the first frost which usually hits us in mid October remains to be seen. My fall-sown spinach has been decimated by munching worms as I was too slow to get them under cover. I'm thinking of sowing another bed in the hopes of it wintering over.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hey, There's a Garden In There!

I have a long list of excuses. It was a hot, hot summer. I was away for a week during the peak of growing. I got a slow start in spring due to any number of issues...but the bottom line is I let the weeds in the walkways between my raised beds get the better of me and by the end of August it was getting difficult to even walk comfortably around the garden. And it sure looked terrible! Fortunately I live in the woods and do not have to worry about presenting a beautiful yard to the neighborhood. And besides, the yard around our house is kept immaculate by my husband. Still, to have a neat and beautiful vegetable garden is my dream...
This past week we had our first shot of Fall weather and with it came the increased energy to get out there and work. Which is what I did!

And after:

And here are another few before and after shots:

 Will you look at all those weeds?! Mostly witch grass, but there is some clover in there, which at least nourishes the soil. In fact, it's amazing how many worms I found in the walkways. I wish they'd move into the growing beds instead!

 I can walk around there now and not get my feet all wet in the morning dew!
Now, the question is, what will I do about this next year? I now have a source of straw, so I'm thinking of covering the walkways with straw. Years ago, my husband laid out black plastic in the paths, but eventually they ripped up and/or got buried in dirt and weeds grew there anyway. In fact, in the clean-up I've still been pulling up strips of black plastic from that original covering. I like the look of just the dirt and it also allows me to see some of the vole tunnels as they are made, but boy do those tough old weeds hang on and keep on growing if I don't stay on top of them! And I'd much rather spend my time and labor weeding the growing beds, not the pathways.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Greens Are Back in Town...

Well, maybe they're not quite back in town, but moving in from the suburbs...We've really been missing those spring and early summer salads around here, even if we had more lettuce than we could keep up with back in May. I've not yet been successful at summertime or fall lettuce, this year being no exception. In early July I planted out a whole bed of heat resistant lettuce seedlings, but when I returned from Haiti in mid-month I found most of them eaten by critters.
 Here is one of the few that survived, a nice romaine (variety unknown.) Big enough now to add to a salad.
 I have mentioned Komatsuna before. These were planted a mere few weeks ago. Not as good as lettuce, they are a nice substitute in a salad and they are also good stir fried. In front there is one lonely bug-eaten Tatsoi, the only one in several rows sown that made it in the hot summer sun.
And here are a few of my late-sown lettuce (Forellenschluss in this case.) These germinated rather poorly, but I was able to transplant those that did to make a nice little lettuce bed that I hope will grow big enough to enjoy before the frost. I don't have a cold frame down in the garden yet, but I have a small one closer to our house. I'm thinking of starting some lettuce boxes that can be set out in there to get us salad in the late fall.
There are some young kale plants that I hope will get bigger before the days get too short that will make a good addition to the fall plate and might even overwinter to provide some of the earliest spring greens. Crossing my fingers that those greens are back to stay awhile and the creatures leave them alone!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Harvest Monday

I missed Harvest Monday last week, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been a steady daily harvest for the past two weeks. The weather has been warm and rainy, so the diseases and bugs are rampant, yet production is still good. And this week we are feeling the first taste of Fall weather with drier air and cool nights. I'll miss the summer garden, but hope to extend it as long as I can!
 What you see above, besides the peppers, is my very last zucchini. The second group of summer squash plants were completely destroyed by the squash bug plague I had in late summer. The peppers are still going strong. They are far and away the healthiest and largest plants I've ever had and still loaded with green peppers. A few are finally turning red too!
 Amazingly, for me, we are still getting lots of broccoli side shoots and the majority of them are coming from the first planting. Those plants are quite ravaged looking, yet the shoots keep on coming. I've never had enough broccoli to freeze before, but this year I actually froze 16 packets for winter use.
 This picture of my eggplant is pretty poor, but I wanted to show my first two Ping Tungs and a Caspar. I received my Ping Tung seed last spring much later than my others and they were started a good two months after my Swallows, so I really haven't gotten much out of them. Hoping to do better  with them next year. Caspar isn't much of a producer, but I like the idea of white eggplants.
Since my tomato plants are almost dead, I've been picking the tomatoes when they are just the littlest bit pink and letting them ripen in the house. That green one you see must've fallen off the vine. Early blight really did it to the tomatoes in our area and I've heard the same complaints from most of my gardening friends in town. A near neighbor told me this morning that she had late blight on her plants, but I haven't seen that over here yet.
 Still getting a good amount of kale. I have here Lacinato, Red Russian, Winterbor and Siberian. I planted some fall kale, but the plants are pretty small and I'm not sure if they will amount to much.
 I have loads of carrots this year, but they sure are small. Wonder sometimes if I'll ever grow a good sized carrot! And trust me, I'm not talking about a long, thick ten incher!
And in this final photo are two of my three tiny New England Pie pumpkins, a few Little Finger eggplants, the last of my Double Yield cucumbers and a handful of komatsuna,  an Asian green which is a good lettuce substitute and grows so fast! Not pictured are the three pounds of  green beans, which are obviously still coming in so well. That's it for another good week of harvest. Go on over to Daphne's Dandelions to see the other Harvest Monday offerings for this week!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Beans, Beans and More Beans

First of all, I have to say: is it REALLY September already??? Not only September, but almost a full week into it! The older I get the faster the seasons fly, to the point where it is hard to keep up mentally. Where, oh where did the summer go? Oh, we still have the warm weather, but the days are noticeably getting shorter and the fall activities are gearing up. For me that means the start of the season for choir at my church, with the weekly practices and the beginning of weekly youth group meetings. I am the director of our children's group, so it's back to "work" for me!
While the garden is something of a mess, it's still producing quite a bit, due to the warmth and the frequent rain we've been having. I'm very sorry I didn't get much of a fall garden in this year.

What I am getting a ton of is beans. My Fortex pole beans have been producing slowly, but are finally kicking in somewhat. I have found in general that although I like pole beans, they seem to take a long time before they start producing for me and then I have too short a season. So despite the back-breaking work of bending down to harvest them, I count on bush beans. I planted two varieties; Fresh Pick and Provider, both of which are great producers.
Above is a photo of my Fortex beans. All the beans in these photos are a bit larger than I normally pick them. I hadn't been in the garden for a few days due to rain and busy days, and frankly, I thought that both the Fortex and my first bean patch had played out. Boy was I wrong! I ended up with over two pounds of green beans.
I have mentioned before in an earlier post that what I love about Fresh Pick is how productive they are and how they produce two harvests. I had thought Bean Patch #1 was finished, but it still isn't quite. In the top photo you can see Bean Patch #2
which is about to produce its second harvest. There are tons of blossoms and baby beans in there. I plant my beans in a tight block, intensively, as opposed to long rows. The exception to this is Bean Patch #3 which is a long wide row planted where earlier in the season I had potatoes. Patch #3 is blossoming and ready to give me a first harvest in the coming week. Whether I end up with a second harvest is entirely dependent on how early our first frost is.
I already have frozen more than enough green beans to meet our needs for the year. So, many of the beans I'm getting now are being given away to friends and family and we are eating them fresh. What I love most about green beans is that I have never had a bad year with them. They are a very gratifying vegetable to grow, simple and basic as they are. I've been intrigued by seeing those Chinese Noodle beans people have been growing, as well as yellow wax beans and dried beans. I'd like to expand my bean horizens next summer and would welcome any beany suggestions you all might have!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Tomato Report

I thought I'd give a brief review of some of the tomato varieties I grew this year. Unfortunately I don't have any good pictures of the individual types, because often once I get them in the house I start mixing them up to let them ripen and often can't remember which is which!
I started out in early spring planting 20 (yes, 20!) varieties of tomato. Ultimately they didn't all make it into the garden. While I was hardening off the plants I ran into trouble for the first time ever; the seedlings got sun-scalded and later developed some disease symptoms. I thought I was going to lose them all. However, once they were planted out they seemed to overcome those initial problems and grew well for awhile until the symptoms of early blight began somewhat sooner than usual.
I had a good mix of heirlooms and hybrids, figuring the hybrids had the better shot at overcoming disease and would be more productive. This may be true, but I honestly haven't seen a huge difference.
All in all, it hasn't been a good tomato year. My poor tomato plants really don't get enough sun and the disease has made for very weak plants. But anyway, let me make some comments on a few of the varieties:
For taste, I have to say the Red Brandywine and Cherokee Purple win hands down. They were delicious and I only wish we'd gotten a few more of them. On the opposite end of the taste scale was Indigo Rose. They were horrible! A huge disappointment. I like to try new and interesting varieties of vegetables so this tomato looked very intriguing. It boasted a deep purple color, almost black due to a very high lycopene content. Well, the color is only in the skin. The tomatoes are little salad types with an almost white flesh and they were watery and tasteless. I will not waste space in the garden on them next year.
Production kudos go to my Romas, which were large and plentiful despite growing on some pretty miserable looking plants. The Amish Paste, which I love, did very badly this year. The few I got were very small and tasteless, even though in the past they've grown huge and for a paste tomato are generally as tasty as the big slicers.
Also winners in the production department are Juliet, Eva Purple Ball and Burpee Big Boy. Which isn't saying much, because production in general was abyssmal.
I tried San Marzano for the first time. In the beginning I was very disappointed with them because they all had blossom end rot, but as the summer wore on, that disappeared and the tomatoes improved. Not sure if I'll grow them again though, because they were dry and mealy. If I had enough to make sauce, they'd be great, but just to can or eat, I find them pretty dull. Two heirlooms that have in the past given me huge and tasty tomatoes were Granny Cantrel's German Red and Henderson's Pink Ponderosa. This year the few they produced were small and unimpressive.
My Burpee Fourth of July has given a steady supply of small round tomatoes. It produced the very first tomato harvested in early July. The flavor is forgetable, but it is still chugging along.
Cherry tomatoes: Sungold is far and away the most delicious. I just wish it produced more! I also have Super Sweet 100, good taste. Also produced poorly.  Matt's Wild Cherry is very disease resistant and last year it produced well into the Fall. I find the very small tomatoes it produces annoying, but they do taste good. Riesentraube is an heirloom that produces a larger cherry that looks a lot like a Principe Borghese. Although I never get the big grape-like clusters pictured in the seed catalogues, they did produce a steady usable amount. The taste is average I think.
That covers most of the tomatoes. This is probably not the most accurate report due to the overall poor quality of this season's production. Some tomatoes that are usually stars in my garden really failed this year, but that doen't mean I won't plant them again. Then there are some that will not be back. And of course I'll always be looking to find a new winner!