Sunday, December 16, 2012

Garden Post-mortem 2012


The year 2012 was a challenging year for gardening in New England and most of the country. It was hot and humid for months and we were plagued with disease and insects. Diseases that normally overwinter in the South and move north in the summer showed up earlier than ever. We had a number of new insect pests invade the gardens, such as the tortoise beetle pictured below and the green stink bug. Add to that hurricane Sandy and I have no doubt that we are dealing with significant climate change. If we are going to garden and try to grow our own vegetables, we will just have to work with what we are given. This post starts a review of what worked and did not work in my square foot garden in 2012, in roughly alphabetical order.




Besides my usual planting of generic basil, this year I also planted Siam Queen Thai basil and Spicy Globe (or Greek) basil. All the basils did well once the weather warmed up and  the varietal basils were exotically fragrant and welcome in cooking.


I planted both bush and pole beans this year and all did well. In place of Jade I tried E-Z Pick, supposedly an improved Jade that is easier to pick. Jade does have stems that are hard to sever with a thumbnail, almost requiring scissors to harvest. But I much prefer the appearance and quality of Jade and that’s what I will plant next year. Provider was good as usual and gets planted again. And I really liked the Fortex pole beans, which produce abundant, very-long round beans. I also want to try the Trionfo Violetto pole bean next year.


I planted two types of beets this year. Bulls Blood seems to be popular, mostly for it greens. For me, it did poorly, with spotty germination and very slow growth. Greens never got large enough to pick and beets were about thumb size. Red Ace did better for me and I got two meals out of two squares. Some of the problems with the beets may have been that they were crowded and shaded by the peas in the same box. Next year I will put them in a sunnier spot, but I don’t see myself trying Bulls Blood again.


I didn’t have a lot of luck with broccoli this year, but a lot of that was my own doing. I purchased seeds for De Cicco, an heirloom variety, and started them indoors in early spring but had problems. So I purchased a pack of Blue Wind plants, a fast growing variety. I had them under row cover to ward off the cabbage moths. When I removed the row cover I found that all the plants had bolted. My poorly grown De Cicco plants eventually yielded a few small heads by late summer, but neither variety produced an abundance of side shoots. I definitely need to choose my varieties carefully and attend to the plants better.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are an iffy thing for me. For years I planted them and never got sprouts. Then two years ago I got a great crop of them, I have no idea why. Last year all of the sprouts opened (is this how they bolt?) and I got nothing. This year they matured early and I got a generous cutting off the bottom. Then the cabbage caterpillars and yes, even European corn borer larvae, decimated them. If I had been more watchful and ready with the bT I might have got a larger harvest. Of course, my wife was happy with that outcome.


I direct seeded both cilantro and dill this year and had modest success, despite the fact they were shaded by the neighboring lettuces and eventually the basil. Next year I need to get them a spot with more sun and seed them more thickly. I also need to learn what you do with green coriander seeds.


This year I planted collards Georgia, which were fairly slow growing. I don’t like this variety’s tendency to spread out and flop. I think next year I will go back to a Vates type of collard, which has a more compact growth so you get more leaf for a given area. This is an important consideration for gardening in raised beds.


It was a good year for cucumbers for me, despite all the mildew and bugs. I planted varieties, Diva and Summer Dance, that were said to be mildew resistant and that was generally the case. I also had little problem with cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt, although wilt did eventually knock off the pickler and Diva vines, but later than usual. The Jackson Classic pickler got off to an earlier start and produced an abundance of 5-6 inch fruit. I really liked this one and will plant again. Diva was late in germinating and producing and I got very few fruit from it, but they were of good eating quality. I may give it another chance next year.

The outstanding variety was undoubtedly Summer Dance, a Japanese-style cucumber that was a heavy producer (picking 2-5 a day) of long, slender, dark green fruits that were sweet and crisp with a tender skin and small seed cavity. The cucumbers hold well on the vine and simply grow longer if overlooked, sometimes well over 12 inches long. They continually produce side branches so most production takes place on the bottom 3 feet of the trellis. When cleaning the dead vines off the trellis in early fall, I found a couple of cucumbers I had missed and they were still in good condition, a nice treat. I highly recommend Summer Dance cucumber.


Well, eggplant was a complete failure again this year, partly due to flea beetles. I did battle by picking beetles, then spraying the plants with a pyrethrin spray and a pepper-garlic spray. I can’t camp out in the garden, however, so despite my efforts eventually the plants started to decline. I did use row cover on the plants I started from seed but left the purchased plants uncovered.  I don’t know if I will grow eggplant again, too much valuable space wasted in the raised beds for no yield. Maybe I will try a few oriental types like Ping Tung since I observed they seem to be less bothered by the beetles. And I will definitely have to cover them with row cover.

Endive and Escarole

I planted both of these bitter greens this year from plants I started and they did very well. They form large dense heads that contact the ground so you do have to do slug control or they will chew up the heads. I planted varieties from Johnny’s (Dubuisson and Natacha) and both were excellent. I am definitely planting these again next year.


  1. I'm glad I planted Summer Dance - I harvested my first one today. Really good. I agree with you about Jade - its definitely my favourite green bean for flavour and holding on the plants etc.

  2. De Cicco broccoli has done really well for me in years past, producing lots of side shoots and in my mild climate sometimes producing shoots for a year or more. I almost grew it again this year but went with a new variety instead. I can't resist trying new stuff...

    I've had great experience with Japanese cucumbers also, although I haven't tried Summer Dance. I've tried Palace King and Tasty Green, both have produced well, been PM resistant, and the cucumbers are the best for fresh eating. Some variety of Japanese cucumber will alway have a place in my garden.

    How frustrating that you eggplants get so decimated. I don't usually have too much of a problem with flea beetles, but sometimes the bud worms destroy the flowers (and the crop) and this year it was spider mites. Fortunately, my plants weren't set back too much by the mites and produced a good crop.

    1. I'm glad to hear you liked De Cicco. Maybe I will try it again with better grown transplants. Three years ago I had never heard of flea beetles. They have gotten progressively worse each year. It doesn't help being in a community garden where half the gardeners do not care for their plots so they are breeding grounds for pests and weed seeds.


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