Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Post-Mortem–Tomatoes

My raised bed garden was completed in the Spring by the addition of two 4x6 foot raised beds made from 1x8 inch red cedar boards. The 8 inch boards would give me a little more depth for plants like tomatoes while not busting the bank (Mel’s Mix is expensive). I added trellises along the long edges of the two beds and the short end of one, giving me room for 14 tomato plants.I planted indeterminate varieties and each plant was pruned to a single stem and trained up a cord on the trellis.

The trellis method worked very well. The one variety that gave me a little trouble at first was Pineapple, which had a number of closely spaced growing tips rather than a single dominant tip, almost like a determinate. As the plant got a little bigger, the issue resolved itself. Wrapping the single leader around the cord worked very well and, even with fruit on the vine, I had no slippage.


All of the tomatoes showed vigorous growth early in the season. Vines got to about a meter in height by mid-season. Then most of them stopped growing. I’m not sure if this was a fertilizer problem, or the very hot weather or the fact that disease was starting to appear. The only tomatoes that continued to flower and produce were the cherry types. A few plants started showing signs of late blight, so I started spraying with a copper fungicide with little obvious benefit.

My selection of varieties in 2012 was different from the usual, mostly heirlooms this year. In the past I have planted about half the available space with a main crop hybrid such as Jet Star, another quarter with a paste tomato such as Roma. The remaining space was used for a cherry and some  heirlooms. So if I got a few slicers from the heirlooms, that was a treat. I still had my main crop varieties to put a lot of tomatoes on my countertop. This year I got my 2-3 fruits per heirloom but had no disease resistant main crop tomatoes, so the countertops were bare.


Cherry/Salad Tomatoes

These types of tomatoes did the best last year and it should not be surprising to me that two of them are hybrids. I planted Sungold again because it is a terrific tomato. Very productive and very tasty. Both plants this year did very well while still showing some signs of early blight. Sungold is F1 and has resistance to Fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus but not to the blights. Still, I will plant it again next year.

The Black Cherry I planted did very well despite showing some sign of late blight. It is not a hybrid, rather  it is open pollinated and was bred in Florida by the late Vincent Sapp. The vine was very vigorous, growing tall and setting large clusters of fruit. The tomatoes were mostly split-resistant and very meaty with great flavor. I’m definitely growing this one again. I also tried a Matt’s Wild Cherry, a wild variety found growing in Mexico, but did not care for it. Fruits were tiny if prolific, and the flavor was not very good, although it was disease resistant. Oh well, I tried it.

Finally, I grew a couple Juliet, an F1 variety my garden neighbor grows every year because her husband loves them. The plants were very robust and prolific, producing right up to cold weather. Johnny’s says they have some late and early blight resistance, which must be true because they stayed healthy all season. Unfortunately, the skins are tough and the flavor is bland unless they are fully ripened. Later in the summer taste did improve, but even so Juliet tomato is not a tomato I would crave for its flavor. I may plant it again just for its vigor and disease resistance and maybe try drying the fruits, which may concentrate the flavor.


Paste Tomato

The only paste tomato I planted was Striped Roman I grew from seeds bought from Baker Creek. I have complained before about my seed starting problems, but I wanted to try these so I selected the best two transplants and planted them. They grew slowly and I got a couple of tomatoes from each plant. I may try these again next year and hopefully do a better job starting them so I have good sized transplants to start with.


Heirloom Tomatoes

This year I planted Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Big Rainbow, and Pineapple, all purchased plants. I had delusions of Black Krim being my “main” tomato and planted two of them. They did poorly, succumbing to disease early. The few tomatoes they produced split badly, so I only got to try a few which were not very good. People rave about Black Krim so I’m sure it’s a great tomato, just not this year in my garden. To add insult to injury, I gave away a couple plants to fellow gardeners who planted them in soil. Those thrived and produced a lot of tomatoes, most of which these fellow “gardeners” let drop on the ground and rot.

The three other heirlooms I planted grew well early in the season and set fruit, but then slowed down. I wonder if I didn’t fertilize them enough or if it was the hot weather. The Cherokee Purple did show signs of late blight very early (and it was a Bonnie Plant, since I couldn’t find a locally grown plant). The first fruit was badly cat-faced and the others cracked badly. But I really like Cherokee Purple and will plant it again for the few slicers I do get. Big Rainbow and Pineapple were great tasting tomatoes, just wish I got a few more.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Garden Post-Mortem Part 2



We had such a mild winter last year that the Beedy’s Camden kale survived and thrived in the spring. I had all the kale I wanted, but I needed room to plant new seedlings. So when the existing plants started flowering, I would harvest most of the larger leaves and plan to come back and remove the plant. When I did, the plant had new growth and I couldn’t bring myself to pull it. This went on until late summer. Meanwhile I planted the seedlings in the bed where they were shaded by the existing plants. What I planted was Vates Dwarf Curled kale seedlings I started myself. The Vates is a curly, dark blue-green kale that is very cold hardy. The plants have survived the cold weather so far and I did cut some leaves last week. I like this type of kale but next year I plan to go back to the Beedy’s Camden, it really is a great kale.


I had good luck with the Green Wave mustard. It has light green, frilly leaves that are sweet and tasty.  It is pretty bolt resistant and I was able to  cut leaves for an extended period. When it did start to bolt, I cut off the flower stalks, which seemed to stop the bolting and eventually I got another cutting from it. What I probably should have done is just pull it out and replant it for the fall, since it is cold tolerant. I will definitely plant it again next year. And it wasn’t bothered by flea beetles, while just a few feet away my eggplants were being drilled!


I planted Sugar Ann snap peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas. I usually plant 4 squares of each and place a low fence around the bed for support. The problem with the snap peas is they tend to be too tall for this method to work and really need to be trellised.  The Sugar Ann was supposed to be more compact, described as a dwarf plant 10-24 inches high, Well, mine got leggy and then slumped over on the snow peas. The whole mess then started leaning over the beets, shading them. I need to come up with a better support strategy. Production was good, particularly the snow peas. I was really happy with the choice of  Oregon Sugar Pod and will plant it again.


Peppers were a failure again this year, the second year I have grown them in raised beds. You would think peppers would grow well in the loose, well-drained soil mix I use, but the last two years have been troublesome. Both years the pepper foliage seems pale, almost yellowish. Plants fail to put on enough size to produce a lot of fruit. Of course, we had an extended period of hot weather that inhibited flower set that didn’t help. The peppers that have done OK are the Thai and jalapeno peppers.

Radishes and turnips

Radishes were almost a total failure this year. I had stopped growing radishes because of  cabbage root maggots, but the flies don’t seem to be a problem in the community garden. Most of the radishes this year just bolted and the few that got harvestable size were pithy.  Varieties planted were French Breakfast, Cherry Belle, and Icicle. I got just  a few of the French Breakfast. I assume heat was the problem and I will try planting earlier next year. The Tokyo Cross white turnips, planted in the same location and conditions as the radishes, did very well while the radishes did not. Next year I think I will plant more turnips and fewer radishes.

Summer Squash

I had a very good year for summer squash. I kept them covered until they started blooming, then uncovered them to allow pollination. The squash bugs did not seem as bad this year, although I did remove a lot of eggs from the leaves. I set out trap boards and early on the boards worked pretty well. I was also happy with the varieties of squash planted. I planted Sunburst again this year, a yellow patty pan that was very prolific. The Dunja zucchini was a little slow in starting but produced fruit all season, up to cold weather. And it was fairly resistant to mildew, as promised. Finally, the Costata Romanesco squash, an Italian variety,  produced early and very well until it succumbed to mildew and wilt. All are candidates to be planted next year, when I swear I will check the plants carefully every day so I don’t get anymore baseball bats.


Swiss Chard (Silverbeet)

Swiss chard was another winner this year after several years of failure. In years past something would eat the plants or seedlings and they never got started. This year my Orange Fantasia chard survived ( I set out four and two survived). This is a beautiful variety with orange stems and dark green foliage. I filled in the holes in the bed with some robust Bright Lights plants I found, and they also did well. I had cuttings up until hard freeze.

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Seed Catalogs Arrive

Not even the winter solstice yet and I have three seed catalogs in hand from three of my favorite seed companies and a fourth catalog arrived today. Of course, the holidays are keeping me busy so I may not get to fully enjoy them until after New Years. Still, I am able to occasionally flip through them, circling items that catch my eye.

First to arrive was the Pinetree catalog. Pinetree is a small, family-owned business in Maine that I have patronized for years. Besides the fact they are a local family business, they have other virtues. They offer small, inexpensive packets of seeds, some as low as 95 cents. Usually I don’t need a thousand seeds for my SFG and I don’t need to pay $3-4 for it. The Pinetree packets also give planting instructions in SFG terms, seeds per square foot, rather than seeds per foot of row. And Pinetree’s selection of seeds is good and includes desirable selections from breeders such as Johnny’s as well as heirloom and imported varieties. I have circled the Trionfo Violetto pole bean and the Tromboncino squash in this year’s catalog.

Next to arrive was the Johnny’s catalog. Johnny’s is another Maine-based seed house I have used for years. They grow their seeds in northern Maine and are active breeders of new varieties (like Bright Lights chard and Lipstick pepper). I like this and believe they are offering varieties that will succeed in northeast summers. Their catalog is full of technical information and is a valuable resource throughout the season. And being a victim of some bad seed, I like that Johnny’s certifies that their bean seeds are 100% halo blight free.  The downside is that their packets are expensive, but sometimes they are the only source for some of the newer varieties. This year they have a new cherry tomato, Jasper, which they bred and which won the AAS.


The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog showed up next. It is a large, beautiful catalog printed on glossy coated paper with gorgeous photography. While slick and glossy and technically up-to-date (they Facebook and have an iPhone app), Baker Creek is dedicated to offering heirloom and organic seed free of GMOs and are heavily involved in the battle against GMO crops and corporate agriculture. They are located in Mansfield in southwest Missouri, east of Springfield. I get that way every year or so to visit my sister and I plan to make a detour through Mansfield next time. It’s not surprising given their location they are specialists in warmer weather crops. Their selection of eggplant, melon, squash and tomato varieties is probably unmatched.

While I was writing this article the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived. I purchased my shallot bulbs from them last Fall. They produce a beautiful catalog with color photographs printed on recycled newsprint. The cover shows garden gnomes in a raised bed garden. They are located in Virginia and carry varieties that are optimal in the southeast US but most are generally useful for other areas. They have a good selection of southern heirloom varieties of greens (mustards, collards, turnip), beans, limas, okra, cowpeas, peanuts, melons, and tomatoes. They also carry a good selection of shallots, garlic, and a variety of multiplier and potato onions. Finally, they are dedicated to safe seed, GMO free, open-pollinated and organically grown where possible.
I have to mention Fedco Seeds, even though I don’t get a printed catalog from them, I just download the catalog. Fedco is a co-operative in Maine that is dedicated to organic, open-pollinated and untreated seed. They are also part of the lawsuit against Monsanto. They have a good selection and good prices. In addition, they accept group orders. Our community garden organization puts together a group order in late winter which gets everyone a discount and reduced shipping cost plus the organization makes a few bucks off the order. One item of note is that Fedco carries seed for Beedy’s Camden kale, which is a great kale variety to grow. Another thing I like at Fedco is their Mesclun mix, which is packed in two separate envelopes containing the mustards and the lettuces. Since the lettuces are slower to germinate and grow, you plant them a week or two earlier in a separate bed from the mustards.
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