Category Archives: Around the Garden

Garden Cleanup & Spring Planting

We have kicked off our planting season in the Demonstration Garden with work days the last two weeks. We went from a garden that was full of volunteer wheat and cheat to a garden that had the beginnings of our plans implemented for the season.

32929204433_3da4bdaab1As you can see, the weeds/grass and leftover plants from last year were having a field day. This picture actually looks better than it would have a day previously, as the Compost Committee graciously pulled the weeds and spread compost in Bed 4!

33742353865_00d3d30728Here’s the “After” shot from yesterday. We removed the old hops vines, most of the other dead plants and all the weeds. We added a whole bunch of compost to the beds that needed it, and got started with planting.

33742337345_7d221b99e1The Colonial Garden is probably the farthest ahead in the planting game, as the vast majority of the plants in this garden are spring/fall (cool season) veggies. We transplanted three types of lettuce that Thomas Jefferson had records of planting, as well as two heirloom cabbage varieties and an heirloom, vining pea. We also planted both parsnip and salsify seeds.

33613084431_28699f536cThe Accessible planters are largely planted already with spring crops. These planters will have a mixture of kale, chard, sprouting broccoli, spinach, lettuces, radishes, and peas for the spring. We will have a couple tomatoes later on, but again, lots of spring/fall crops.

33742361035_ea89ed1edfOne of the most interesting things in the early spring planting is this kale mix. It is called Kale Storm Mix, and we planted it in several of the containers. This is a multi-seed pellet, sometimes called a “fuseable.” They’ve been around the flower industry for a few years, but this is the first time I’ve seen them for veggies. The seed company took 3 kale varieties and mixed the seeds in a uniform ratio and put them into these larger “seed pellets.” The result is supposed to be an evenly mixed, visually attractive blend of kale. We’ll see how it turns out!

33357398180_178b3ba755The ‘Cascade’ Hops is also an interesting experience. Last year I was afraid it wasn’t going to do much for the longest time. Then it did finally take off and grow. This year it is already half way up the cage before April 1st! Yikes! Another fun factoid: hops shoots are edible like asparagus. We tried nibbling on them, and they do taste like asparagus at first. But then there is a really nasty bitter aftertaste. Ugh! There’s a reason hops are not grown for spring edible shoots!

This has been a busy week, because we also got all our tomato and pepper seeds started inside. I don’t have any pictures of the plants yet, but I’m sure you can go back into the blog archives if you want to get the idea!

And just in case you were curious, I’m not planning on planting my tomatoes any earlier than usual – at this point. It’s cold today, and there’s a lot of weather to come before it is tomato planting time!

Oriental Garden: What Did Well, What Did Not

I am already starting to switch gears into thinking about ideas for next year’s garden, but I wanted to wrap up a few thoughts on the vegetables we had in our Oriental Garden this year. We had a wide range of things, and some of them (literally) overshadowed the others.

Easy Winners

‘Ladyfinger’ Okra

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The okra started off to an inauspicious start with poorer germination that I would have wished for, but the plants grew so well that we didn’t want more of them. They were relatively naturally bushy and had a good yield. The variety was touted as being non-fibrous at larger sizes and this seemed to be the case.

‘Choryoku’ Eggplant

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Round Purple and Choryoku Eggplants

The long, Asian varieties of eggplant seem to always yield well, and this variety was no exception. The skin was tender and the flavor good.

‘Fushimi’ Pepper

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These plants were productive for the whole summer and into the fall. Once we actually got around to trying out the sauteing recipe that is traditional, we all regretted not using them more all year long!

Good Performers

‘Round Purple’ Eggplant

This eggplant was good and relatively productive, but it got overgrown by the nearby okra, so it wasn’t as productive as it otherwise might have been.

‘Hakurei’ Turnip

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Turnips, gold beets, and flowering Chinese broccoli

This salad turnip was a solid performer in the spring planting.

‘Summer Top’ Cucumber

Oriental cucumbers typically have good flavor and productivity. This variety was good in the early part of the season, but the plants didn’t last very long. It’s hard to say if that was due to competition with the other vines or a varietal characteristic.

‘Dark Purple’ Mizuna

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This new mizuna variety had purple veins and stems. It did what it was supposed to, but what put it above others is how long it lasted into the summer before bolting.

‘Golden & Ruby Streaks’ Mustards

These mustards have been around for awhile and we’ve grown them before. They did what they were expected to do, although they bolted a bit earlier than I would have preferred.

Worth Another Try, Sometime

‘Hybrid Fuji’ Kohlrabi

The seeds failed to germinate, which may be a fault of the seed source, not the variety.

‘Hybrid Golden Honey’ Melon

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As with any other Asian melon we have tried, they are very different from what Americans expect of a melon. The plants were fairly productive, although we did have some cracking of the fruit. The flavor of the melons was not as good as some other Asian melons I’ve tried.

‘Green Lance’ Chinese Broccoli

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The hardest thing with a Chinese broccoli is harvesting it fast enough to have good quality and yield. I would have to try some other varieties side by side with this one to judge well, but it seemed like these bolted very fast.

‘Purple Red Mart’ Long Bean

We’ve grown long beans in the past that have been highly productive, so these were a disappointment. We had hardly any harvest, compared to past experiences.

White Stemmed Chinese Celery

This celery is more of an herb than the big stalks we are used to. It never got very big, but it also didn’t die or bolt like I thought it would. If I’m honest, I kind of ignored it. It would be worth trying again sometime.

Not Worth It

Winged Bean

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We struggled with germination, then the plants just sat there for the longest time. Eventually a couple did grow (after we had given up and planted the long beans in the same spot). We had a handful of beans to pick, but that was it.

‘Dok Hybrid’ Luffa

The luffa vine took over everything, but either it was such long days to maturity or it was day length sensitive, because it didn’t bloom until late September/early October. It did set a few fruit, which would have been fine for fresh eating. (Yes, you can eat fresh luffa gourd like zucchini.) However, it had no chance of reaching sponge stage.

What’s Up with the Gingers?

The raised bed that had the ginger family plants really did pretty well by the end of the season. They typically take longer than one growing season to produce mature rhizomes, so we decided to dig them up and save them for next year.

The plants all grew well this year, once they were established. The cardamom was by far the smallest, shown here in the very front. When the nights started getting down into the 40s, we decided to pot them up. We tried to dig up a large root area to keep them growing well. We moved them into my office under my light stand.

Unfortunately, I had to trim the three larger plants back a bit to fit them under my lights. I don’t think this will be an option next fall.

I did pull off a piece of each of the three edible rhizomes. (The cardamom has small rhizomes. The spice part is the seed pod. This takes about 3 years to develop.) The light pink rhizome on the left is the greater galangal. The center rhizome is turmeric, and the right rhizome is the ginger. Technically, all of the rhizomes could be used at this stage, before they develop the fibrousness and skin typical of the mature root. They are crispy, succulent, and fragrant at this stage. Of course, they wouldn’t last long without the skins.

You could also regenerate the plant from these pieces. Each of the little nodules or pointy nodes you can see on the rhizomes will grow a new shoot.

The plan for now is to keep the plants alive for the winter. Or, at a minimum, keep enough of the rhizomes alive to regrow next year!

Pepper-palooza: More Possibilities for Peppers

I shared a few pepper recipes using our garden peppers the other day, but I wanted to show some other options for using the peppers as well. 

Dehydrating Peppers

A lot of hot peppers are stored or used once they are dried. The most reliable way to dry peppers is using a dehydrator, although I’ve also had good luck (sometimes) using the oven or just letting peppers dry on the counter. The biggest issue with letting peppers dry on the counter is that if there is a chance the fruit have any fungal spores on them (or any blemishes), they can rot before they dry down sufficiently to store. 

On the recommendation of Denise, our Foods & Nutrition Agent, I used the dehydrator outside and set at 135 degrees. It took about 8 hours to dry the smaller, hot peppers. It took about 16-20 hours to dry the larger, thicker-walled peppers, like the paprikas and Aleppos. 

The dehydrator had several racks, so I was able to segregate the different peppers onto different racks. 

I dried some of the cayenne peppers, lemon drop peppers, hot paprika peppers, and Aleppo peppers. 

I don’t have specific plans for any of these at the moment, other than possibly grinding them into either pepper flakes or powder. 

Well…the Lemon Drop peppers I have a hot sauce recipe to try. Sometime. 

I did try to spread out the peppers to start, but they ended up towards the center anyway. These are the cayenne peppers. You can still see a little of the purple coloration despite the fact that they wee mostly red. 

Frying Peppers

The Espelette (Basque region) and Fushimi (Japan)  peppers, I tried with simple sautéing. The Espelette peppers probably should have been dried and ground instead…like a paprika pepper. Oh well. 

These are the Espelette peppers. I sautéed them in a little hot oil, then sprinkled them with salt. They were too spicy for me to enjoy in that way. Definitely would have been better as a spice.

I followed with a pan of the Fushimi peppers. Hot pan, hot oil, fresh peppers. 

After cooking, I sprinkled them with salt and let them cool enough to eat. This is one of the traditional ways to prepare these Fushimi peppers and the similar Shishito peppers. YUM! I am definitely regretting the bags of these peppers that I harvested and intended to sauté earlier in the season, but never got around to. 

These peppers were not all that exciting otherwise. The walls are thin, the flavor was a little “green” and the seeds were too prevalent. But you sauté them in hot oil, sprinkle with salt, and they are transformed into a delicious appetizer. 

Tomatoes: What Did Well, What Did Not

I’ve heard from a lot of gardeners this year that they had a poor tomato year. On one hand, I know that some of my tomato plants at home struggled as well. On the other hand, most of our plants in the Demo Garden did very well. My theory is that due to our rainfall this year, most average gardens were constantly losing nitrogen to leaching and the plants showed it. My plants at home were never as vigorous and lush as I would expect, and I blame it on lack of fertility.

Why did our Demo Garden tomatoes thrive? I think the fact that we incorporated 3-5″ of compost into the beds in the spring played an important role. We didn’t even add additional fertilizer, and the plants looked good all year long. I suspect that had we NOT had a rainy year, we would have had poor production due to excess nitrogen.

All that aside, we still had some obvious differences in our varieties this year.

Easy Winners

Esterina

29262598361_a797c5790aI know I’ve mentioned this variety multiple times over the summer, so it can’t be much of a surprise that it turns up as an easy winner. The flavor is like eating candy, the plants were vigorous and prolific, and the fruit didn’t crack no matter what the weather did. If you like sweet cherry tomatoes, I can’t recommend this variety highly enough. 

Good Performers

Beefy Boy

This is the second year that we had Beefy Boy in the garden. It performed well again this year. The fruit were good sized and the yield was also good. Again this year, there was some significant cracking. But…almost everything cracked this year, as most years. 

Tiren

The Tiren tomatoes are the ones that are in the front, slightly to the right of center. Overall, I really liked this tomato. For a large-fruited roma, it was quite prolific and, in fact, still had fruit on it until late this fall. The fruit had very little seed gel, and the flavor was very good for a modern, hybrid roma. (Believe me, many hybrid romas are not so tasty!) The fruit shape was a little odd. The biggest complaint I have with the variety is that almost all the fruit had a small spot of blossom end rot. Now, this could be largely related to this year’s weather. Or it could be a common, every year occurrence. I didn’t hold it against the variety this year, but if it were to be the same or worse in other seasons, I would probably become less keen on the variety. 

Orange Slice

This variety is another orange slicer, similar to the Chef’s Choice Orange that we grew last year. For whatever reason, I don’t have any good pictures of this variety. The tomato in the upper right corner of the above picture is one of the Orange Slice fruit, although not a fully ripe example. 

This picture from the tasting day shows the bright orange color much better. It was the clear winner in our tasting with the Master Gardeners. 

While it had good production, large fruit, and the same tendency to crack as most of the other varieties, I think I would probably prefer the Chef’s Choice Orange over this one. It’s hard to say when comparing one year to the next, but I think the Chef’s Choice was more prolific. Still, this was a good tomato. 

Goliath Original

This is one of the “Goliath” series tomatoes, the Original, as you may have guessed. It typically has large fruit, about 16 oz. I would say that it performed very comparably to Orange Slice and Beefy Boy. From a flavor standpoint, I thought it was a little sweeter and less acidic than some of the other red varieties. 

Worth Another Try, Sometime

Purple Bumblebee

This cherry tomato variety is part of the Artisan tomato series. It has a pink to maroon color with green stripes. For whatever reason, this plant was exceptionally vigorous (maybe too much compost?) and seemed to be not as productive for its size as you might wish. The flavor got mixed reviews. It was much more acidic and less sweet than others. I think the less-than-perfectly-ripe fruit were not as tasty, definitely. Still, it was a fun variety to try growing. 

Lucky Tiger Cherry

I had high hopes for this variety, another in the Artisan series. Naturally, it was a bit disappointing. The Lucky Tiger Cherry was green with a red blush when ripe. Unfortunately, the result was ugly rather than attractive. This variety also cracked terribly and the plants succumbed to disease when most of the others did not. The yield was pretty good, but the flavor also left something to be desired. Highly acidic flavor, but not much else. 

Verona

Verona was marketed as a tomato that was similar to Juliet but even tastier. Without having a true, side-by-side comparison, it is difficult to say for sure. However, Juliet rarely cracks. This variety cracked constantly. Not a good sign! The flavor was nice, but I would be hard pressed to say that it was better than a Juliet. The yield was good, but not the exceptional yield I expect from a Juliet. So…I wouldn’t call this variety the new, improved Juliet! 

Not Worth It

Black Beauty

The only picture I have of this plant is from when it was newly transplanted. This variety set almost no fruit, the fruit set was late, and what fruit it did set was cracked and rotten before we could harvest or taste it. There is the chance that the excess compost played a role in the lack of productivity, but I’m going to be hard pressed to want to try this one again. 

Early Doll

Another one with no pictures! This was supposed to be an improved variety of Early Girl, with an early days to maturity of 52 days. This plant didn’t have ripe fruit until well after most of the other varieties were producing. Could this have been a weather issue? Yes. So try it if you like, but I’m not overly keen to try it again. 

Those are my thoughts on our regular garden tomatoes for this year. I’ll have another post to discuss the container varieties.