Preparing for the Sudden Onslaught of Winter

I feel like I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the weather, but it really isn’t just idle conversation! The weather is extremely important to our success as gardeners. After one light freeze and lots of unseasonably warm weather, we are looking at more than a week of unseasonably cold temperatures. Overnight lows look like they will be hovering in the upper teens to low 20s for the better part of the next two weeks. (At least that low of 9 degrees is gone, for now!) Many of the cool season vegetables will tolerate temperatures down to 24 or 25 without significant damage, but two weeks of lows down around 20 is probably a bit much for them to tolerate, especially when they haven’t been hardened off with cold-but-not-too-cold temperatures.

So…it was time to harvest some things and cover others this afternoon! Because I can’t resist experimenting, I left one or two plants of almost everything in the garden, just to see what would happen.

We already had the cold frame out, but still open. We closed it up and tucked some straw along the back edge to keep the cold air out.

We also put hoops and row cover over the main section of spinach and radicchio. Normally I’d leave those out, but I think this will be a bit cold all of a sudden.

I left some of the other spinach around the garden uncovered, including the Indian variety. (I don’t have great hopes for its cold hardiness!)

I harvested a few of the radicchio plants to see what stage they were at. I also harvested the watermelon radishes, fennel, half the bunching onions, and most of the dandelion greens. I was just going to leave the lemongrass, but then I just couldn’t let it go to waste, so it went to our Foods & Nutrition department.

I’ll post more pictures and show what I did with some of the different vegetables later in the week!

Year in Review: Taste of India Garden

Since we are basically done with Friday PhotoEssays for the year, I am going to switch gears a little bit and do a few more “Year in Review” posts to wrap up this year’s garden. We’ve already done the heirloom tomatoes, and today we are going to take on the Taste of India garden.

Cumin: We never managed to get the seeds to germinate. I don’t know if it was them or us, but we’ll have to give in a try another time.

Cuban Oregano

Ajwain/Cuban Oregano: This plant started as a tiny transplant that I thought for sure was going to bite the dust. And then it turned into this sprawling monster! Needless to say, it loved the summer. It did start showing cold injury once we got down to the 40s overnight. Unfortunately, I never got around to figuring out how to cook with it, so it was an attractive plant, but not overly useful.

‘Kesar’ Red Carrots: These carrots had huge tops, and the roots were decent sized as well. They were more purple than red, although a commenter did say that the name of the carrot indicated the more purple color than what we would typically call red. Unfortunately, we got a late start with them, since the seeds didn’t germinate readily. (Again, probably more us than them.) This meant that by the time we harvested, the carrots were pretty bitter due to the heat.

‘Samurai’ Red Carrot: More red colored than the ‘Kesar,’ these carrots also suffered from summer heat bitterness. Ugh.

‘Dulhan’ Pepper: This was a round, flat pepper that started pale cream/white and turned red. It was a sweet pepper with a little kick to it. It did fine, although by later in the summer it was getting too much shade from the trellises and didn’t produce very well.

‘Jwala’ Pepper

‘Jwala’ Pepper: This hot pepper did great, as most hot peppers are prone to do in Kansas summers.

‘Sagar’ Spinach: This spinach was a little bit slower to germinate than our regular spinach varieties, and the leaves were much more tender and succulent. I think that flavor-wise it was a little stronger flavored. Maybe a little more reminiscent of mustard or kale? It was no more heat/bolt resistant than other varieties, which I was hoping for. I’m curious to see how it compares to the other spinach when it gets cold next week, but I’m not expecting it to survive like our other spinaches.

‘Basanti’ Mustard

‘Basanti’ Mustard Greens: If you like mustard greens, this was a great, fast-growing variety. We had a hard time keeping up with it in the spring. It did bolt earlier than I thought it might, but we were really tired of mustard greens by then.

‘King Cobra’ Snake Gourd: The snake gourd plant was slower to get started in the summer, but it pretty much took over the world after that. It had really cool white flowers with nice fragrance. The plant itself was relatively productive, although we weren’t harvesting frequently to help keep it producing. We never got around to trying out recipes with these gourds, so it was more ornamental than anything.

‘Tagore’ Bitter Melon: The bitter melon plant did well initially, until it got swarmed under by the snake gourd. We did get some fruit off it earlier in the season, but then it quite producing. My best guess would be that was due to the snake gourd. Or maybe it just isn’t that productive. Denise did cook a couple of these, but we decided that it was a big hassle to cook with and that zucchini were tastier than the bitter melon.

Snake Gourd vs. The Garden

‘Poona Kheera’ Cucumber: This cucumber was quite productive in the first part of the summer and had decent flavor. It was pretty seedy, but that would be normal for this type of cucumber. Again, not much production later on, which I blame on the snake gourd.

‘Sambar’ Cucumber: Since this was the cooking cucumber that was harvested at the yellow stage rather than the green stage, the plants definitely didn’t produce as much as other cucumbers. Leaving maturing fruit on the vine usually limits additional fruit development. We got a decent harvest, but not spectacular. And they seemed to quit producing in the late summer. Dare I blame the snake gourd again?

‘Black Kabouli’ Chickpeas: The plants were attractive and the yield was okay, all things considered. We did have some caterpillar eating the peas out of the pods, which reduced the yield. Fun novelty, but not particularly productive for a small space. I still need to make up a batch of hummus from the chickpeas we harvested.

Green Cowpeas: The cowpeas went crazy over the summer. We ended up cutting them back several times. They also completely swarmed under the Curry Leaf and the Lemon Savory that were growing on the end of the bed. The yield was decent, although for the size of the plants I would have expected a little bit more. They had a couple different flushes of flowers and pods, but then quit as it got cooler in the late summer and early fall. Probably more effective as a cover crop than a yielding crop in a garden, but still fun to try.

So….this garden was a bit of a story of a couple plants taking over everything else and a few other plants that did well. Nothing particularly stood out as something that we need to try again or that we really liked.

Friday PhotoEssay – October 31

We made it to the “end” of the growing season! A few of the cold tolerant plants will keep going for a few more weeks, but everything else was removed this week. Take a look:

This is from Tuesday morning, before we started working. We got the cold frame out last week for a tour, although we haven’t needed to close it yet. Maybe tonight before we leave.

And this if from this morning. We did leave some of the herbs in, because we just couldn’t take them out when they were still looking good. I suspect that they will have to come out after this weekend.

We ended up with quite the pile in the “ready to compost” bin. Some of it may end up being to fibrous to easily compost, but it needed a chance!

The radishes were ready to harvest, so we pulled most of them. This is what happens when you plant all the radishes at once rather than staggering them. You get a LOT of radishes all at once.

We found these cool, lavender mushrooms growing under the cowpeas. No, we didn’t eat them, since we weren’t sure what they were.

A couple of the kohlrabi were ready to harvest, so we gave them a taste test. If you’ve never had kohlrabi, they taste a lot like a turnip, but a little sweeter and more mild.

The mystery of the browning leaves on the horseradish was solved…by actually looking more closely at the plants. They have a bunch of harlequin bugs making a home on them. These bugs are most commonly found on kale, so I was a little surprised they were on the horseradish. Given the upcoming cold weather, we decided not to worry about them for now. Especially since it’s highly unlikely they will come close to killing the horseradish.

The spinach is looking great, and I expect it will continue looking good for weeks to come. Fall spinach is the best, especially as the weather gets colder and the leaves get sweeter!

Have a great weekend! Stay warm!

Friday PhotoEssay – October 17th

We may be on an every other week schedule for Friday PhotoEssays for the rest of the month. Next week looks pretty crazy, and then we’re doing garden cleanup the following week.

Other than the shade covering half the garden, there aren’t a lot of visible changes without closer inspection. Some of the warm season plants that are still in the garden have gotten a little zapped with the colder nights.

Case in point: the Cuban Oregano (or Ajwain, since it’s in the Taste of India Garden), has clearly experienced some cold injury with the browning and curling of the leaf edges.

In contrast, the radicchio is finally starting to show some nice red color! Most of the plants are also forming heads slowly, although they aren’t yet very solid.

There are two different types of spinach here. The one on the left is ‘Donkey’ and the one on the right is ‘Giant Winter.’ We usually just pick a variety and plant it, so it is kind of fun to have two different types right next to each other. The Donkey variety is a little slower growing, has more rounded leaves, and the leaves are partially savoy (crinkled). The Giant Winter has larger leaves, seemed to grow faster, has longer stems, and has smooth leaves. Taste? Pretty similar, at least right now.

Next year the Herb of the Year is Savory, so we wanted to get a head start by planting some of the perennial savories in the garden this year. The summer and winter savories both died, but the Creeping Savory has taken off! It is blooming now, and looks great!

We did strip some of the quinoa seeds off the stalks, and tried out the “blow dryer” method of separating the seeds from the chaff. It actually worked pretty well! It isn’t perfectly clean, but it’s a start.

Have a great weekend!

Year in Review: Heirloom Tomatoes

Since I haven’t been very good about regular updates this summer, I figure it is about time I start doing some “Year in Review” posts to look at how certain groups of plants or garden beds did for us this year. The easiest and best place to start is the tomato garden!

We had a bunch of heirlooms in our Tomato Garden this year, and we had Master Gardeners plant them in their home gardens as well to give us more information. I had some of the varieties in my home garden too, so the information isn’t going to be strictly based on what we saw here in the Demo Garden, but kind of a combination of all that information.

‘Silvery Fir Tree’ – This heirloom was determinate, 3-4 oz. red fruit, purportedly 52 days to first harvest, and had cool silvery and kind of fine foliage. The general consensus was that while it was relatively early, the yield wasn’t very good and the flavor was even worse. Not much to recommend this one!

‘Large Red Cherry’ – This was an heirloom cherry tomato that we put on the trellis. The fruit was about 2 oz, which is large for a cherry tomato. Our vines in the Demo Garden were diseased pretty early in the season, so they never really produced well or looked healthy compared to others. Some of our Master Gardeners that tried this variety raved about it and how productive it was. I didn’t find the flavor to be particularly good or particularly objectionable, but others liked it. Worth a try, especially if you like large cherry tomatoes.

Northern Lights

‘Northern Lights’ – One of the reasons we chose this bi-color heirloom was because it was supposed to reach first harvest in 54 days with up to 1 lb. fruit. Well…it didn’t hit that mark, and wasn’t even the first variety ripe. It was relatively early, with first harvest the week after July 4th, but most of our varieties were much earlier than the days to maturity would indicate this year. I also have to be honest – I LOVE this tomato. I love the color, the fruit size, and the flavor. It is a little milder than some varieties, which I like. I had this one at home as well, and it averaged close to 1 lb. fruit most of the season. We had almost 100 lbs of tomatoes from 4 plants, which was pretty impressive. It also DID NOT CRACK. At all. Which in itself is pretty impressive for Kansas, especially when we had rainy and dry periods. I would like to see how it performs in a more normal Kansas summer, but it was great this year. I personally would highly recommend this one. Based strictly on our Demo Garden results, I would probably give it a recommended rating.

‘Pink Russian 117′ – This was a pink skinned and fleshed oxheart tomato. While I did hear some rave reviews of the flavor, a couple different times when we did taste testing it was rated as pretty bland and mealy compared to the other heirlooms. I think the ripeness really plays a role in its flavor. If it gets a little over-ripe, the flavor and texture go downhill quickly. In the Demo Garden, it wasn’t very early to start producing, but it wasn’t incredibly late either. The earlier yield was decent, but tapered off quite a bit. At home I just had one plant, and the first harvest was about 2-3 weeks later than other varieties. The yield was pretty minimal, especially compared to the other heirlooms, but I wasn’t concerned because the flavor wasn’t as good either. Not recommended. If you want a pink tomato or an oxheart shape, there are probably better options out there.

‘Amana Orange’ – This orange beefsteak was a variety that I was a little skeptical of because it was listed as 85-90 days to harvest. In a hot

Amana Orange

summer, that could have been a death knell for this variety as it probably wouldn’t have set fruit before it got too hot to set. This year, it was producing well before the 70-75 day mark, so I don’t know if that is courtesy to the strange summer or due to how the variety performs in Kansas! Everyone generally liked the flavor, although it wasn’t as mild as Northern Lights nor as strong as the Black Krim. Based on the Demo Garden alone, I would call the yield pretty average. I know that other Master Gardeners with this variety at home reported good yields. I would rate this one somewhere between “worth a try” and “recommended” because I’m still a little skeptical about the days to maturity and how that would play out in a hotter summer.

‘Black Krim’ – This is the purple/black/brown variety, and I really do like purple tomatoes. They seem to have a little something extra when it comes to flavor, and Black Krim is no

Black Krim

exception. The flavor was great! Another common characteristic of this variety, unfortunately, is the concentric cracking on the stem end, and that was evident this year as well. The real key with cracking is to pick the tomatoes before they reach full ripeness, which generally mitigates most of the cracking. We also had this variety at home, and it did very well. The yield was very good, especially for an heirloom, it produced early and consistently, and tasted great. As an earlier variety, it should produce some in most Kansas summers. Highly recommended.

‘Opalka’ – I’m really torn about this variety. There were things I liked and thing I didn’t. Once again, the plants in the Demo Garden succumbed to disease early, so we didn’t get a great look at them. The plant I had at home was still a mixed bag. The fruit was quite late, and the plant didn’t

Opalka, not yet ripe

really seem to hit its stride until August. The yield was tolerable, but nothing compared to the hybrid romas I had  growing. However, most of the fruit were HUGE! I mean…1 cup of tomato sauce from a single tomato? That’s crazy! The texture and flavor were also really nice for cooking. They definitely weren’t as firm as the hybrids, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So…if you want huge, novelty romas, this would be a fun variety to try. If you want to do lots of canning, probably not a great choice. I will also say that I had grown this variety before, and it was nothing like this before, so one packet of seeds or the other was not true to type, and I don’t know which one was! Ah, the joys of growing heirlooms.

We did have some hybrids in the garden this year as well, but we’ll take a look at them in another post.


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