“The fruit derived from labor is the sweetest of pleasures.”
This quote from Luc de Clapiers perfectly sums up harvest in the Demo Garden! Our wonderful team of Extension Master Gardener volunteers has figured out how to navigate the difficult circumstances due to COVID and still have a very beautiful, productive garden. The fruits of our labor are gratifying to see and it is rewarding to pass on the fresh produce to those in need – more on this later!
So, what’s being harvested right now? Cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers galore and more! This past week in the garden, I picked a small sample to bring home and taste test.
The peppers in the garden are starting to produce exceedingly well. There are many varieties being grown in the Demo Garden, but I tried just four. Since I’m not personally a hot pepper fan, I left those varieties alone and focused on some of the sweet pepper varieties: ‘Cornito Giallo,’ ‘Ajvarski,’ ‘Mad Hatter,’ and ‘Eros.’
‘Cornito Gaillo’ is a 5” yellow orange pepper that is outstanding raw, but roasting especially brings out the sweetness of this pepper. ‘Eros,’ a mini bell pepper, was remarkably tasty. The 2” orange fruit was distinctly sweet when roasted, and had an enjoyable taste uncooked. ‘Ajvarski’ is a sweet red 5” pepper. While this traditional Macedonian roasting pepper was quite tasty when roasted, it was also particularly delicious eaten fresh. ‘Mad Hatter’ – such a fun name – is so charming to look at that it could even be grown as an ornamental plant! Who can resist its 2” uniquely shaped pepper, best picked when red. (Picked green, it was slightly disappointing in flavor.)
Horticulturally speaking, our peppers have not yet endured any pests or diseases in the garden. They have tolerated the heat well, have set an impressive amount of fruit, and are all together going strong! Not every pepper variety grows easily in Kansas, but in general, they do very well here, as evidenced by the plants in the Demo garden, and the plethora of peppers you can find at the farmers markets right now. There are SO many varieties, we could probably fill the whole Demo garden trying different kinds!
Cucumbers have produced marvelously in the garden this season. ‘Sweet Success’ is a 12” cucumber that has a nice crunch and mild taste. The seeds are so small, they are hardly detectable. ‘Summer Dance’ is a 9” variety of cucumber. The seeds are extremely small and not obvious when eating, and it also has a pleasing crunch. ‘Salt and Pepper’ is a unique white variety that turns slightly yellow the longer it is left on the vine. Normally, cucumbers that turn yellow have passed their prime and can be quite bitter and off-putting, but that’s not the case with ‘Salt and Pepper!’ Even though the seeds are noticeable in more mature, yellow fruits, the flavor remains phenomenal despite the color.
‘Salt and Pepper’ fruits are not only very tasty, but their vines have been very healthy and prolific producers this season. ‘Summer dance’ has also grown well, but I think ‘Salt and Pepper’ takes the cake. We have not had many issues growing cucumbers in the Demo garden this season; they get ample water through our irrigation system, which can sometimes be a hindrance for other growers – cucumbers are thirsty plants!
I’m not usually a big fan of eggplants, mostly because I don’t care for the soft texture, but I might change my mind after sampling ‘Orient Charm,’ an oblong purple eggplant about 5” long. There were no detectable seeds; when roasted, it had an enjoyable flavor and remained a slightly more firm than most eggplants do. ‘Annina’ is another unique eggplant currently producing very well. The variegation on the skin makes it a delight to the eyes, rivaling some flowers in its beauty! When roasted, it was soft like most eggplants are but did have a pleasing flavor. If you like the soft texture of eggplant then this variety will not fail to please.
Overall, our eggplant plants have grown very well. We had a stint of eggplant lace bugs earlier in the season, but a few rounds of forceful water sprays on the under sides of the leaves has kept the population in check. This pest usually only causes significant damage in very large numbers; the population is low enough now that there is some of the characteristic stippling on the leaves, but not enough to hamper eggplant production.
We will have an in-depth post about the tomatoes we trialed this year in the coming weeks, but I sampled a couple varieties and will share briefly about them here. ‘Chef’s Choice’ is an AAS (All-America Selections) winner that comes in a variety of colors. ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ had great flavor with pleasant tomato tang. ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ had a bit more sweetness to it that was pure delight to the taste buds. ‘San Marzano II,’ an Italian heirloom variety, is great for canning because it doesn’t have quite the water content of the other two varieties, which is typical of a good paste tomato. I found that ‘San Marzano II’ raw was rather bland; paste tomatoes are not usually eaten raw since their flavor is enhanced with cooking.
So, what do we do with all this wonderful produce we harvest? Besides some samples that the Master Gardeners occasionally take home, the majority of our harvest is donated to a wonderful organization and community partner of the Extension Office, Common Ground Mobile Market.
The Mobile Market delivers fresh, locally grown produce to seniors in the greater Wichita area. They make eating healthy accessible to folks who otherwise might find it difficult to get to the store or afford high quality produce. We are so grateful to be able to add our harvest to their wonderful work in the community, as they are providing an incredible service during this especially difficult time. You can learn more about the work they do here: https://www.commongroundpg.com/.
Author: Maureen Wilbeck
Like many local gardens, our Demonstration Garden is seeing the onset of a wide range of insects, diseases, and weather-related challenges. On the surface though, it is beginning to look like a rather overgrown jungle of green.
With the tomatoes and vine crops throughout the garden, everything is starting to look a little crazy, and I’m afraid it will only get worse before it gets much better. Of course, on the surface, everything looks beautiful. But at closer inspection, it’s not quite as pretty.
While the cracked tomatoes are by no means an uncommon sight for the Kansas gardener, it can be downright frustrating when they are cracked to the point of mushy rottenness before they are remotely close to ripe. Not to mention disgusting when you stick your finger into a rotten spot while trying to pick what looks like a good tomato. That is what happened with these two Cherokee Purple tomatoes. The combination of watering, rain, heat, and variety has made these tomatoes mush before their time. Normally we recommend harvesting before full maturity to prevent the worst cracks, but that doesn’t work in this instance.
The beans are well on their way to being crispy due to spider mites. The mites seem to have gotten started a couple weeks ago, and the progression has been such that nothing seems to help. Normally we would recommend either a hard stream of water, neem oil, or horticultural oil as a treatment. However, with the heat and high population, it will probably be time to pull these plants out in the near future.
A couple of the melon varieties have a few disease lesions on the leaves. It isn’t very severe at this point, probably because it has been relatively dry until last night. We haven’t opted to treat yet, partly because the plants are so large, but it is important to keep an eye on things like this, because it can spread quickly. In hindsight, it would have been smart to treat before last night’s rain.
What sad looking onions, you say? Well, yes. But not really. The onions flopped over at the necks is an indication that the plants are done growing and the onions can be harvested. We pulled all the onions this week, some from the Grocery Garden and the rest from the Peruvian Garden.
Just so you don’t think that all is death & destruction in our garden this week, here are some of the cucumbers we harvested. The dark green variety is Tyria, and English cucumber that had very small seeds and relatively thin skin. The white one is Lime Crisp, which was supposed to be more of a lime green color, but looks almost white. It was sweet, but had larger seeds.
Finally, the watermelons! We have several melons set and growing well. We bagged / nyloned all of them this week to ensure they can stay on the vine and keep growing well. Since we selected larger melons this year, they likely still have a few weeks of growing to do before harvest.
Have a great weekend!
We have a dedicated “Vertical” garden again this year, featuring the cattle panel trellises. We do try to change up what we’re growing, and this year we are featuring cantaloupe, watermelon, and cucumbers.
The cucumbers include a pickler, a slicer, and an English/European type. The ‘Arkansas Little Leaf’ is a pickler with smaller diameter leaves than a usual variety that is also heat and disease tolerant. The ‘Lime Crisp’ has bright green skin rather than darker green as is usual. ‘Tyria’ is a parthenocarpic (seedless) English variety. We had another variety selected, but it cost about $1.25 per seed, and we couldn’t buy less than 50 seeds…so that was a NO.
We have done cantaloupe in the past, but we have always stuck to the smaller fruited varieties. This year we have ‘Lilliput,’ which is a new personal size variety that is supposed to be very sweet. But then we chose two other varieties, ‘Maverick’ and ‘Sarah’s Choice’ that are larger. ‘Sarah’s Choice’ is a 3 pound melon, and ‘Maverick’ is a 4-5 pound melon. It will be fun to see how successful they are in the trellis system.
The watermelons are also a range of sizes and characteristics. We haven’t had great success with watermelons on the trellis, but we are still going to try them again! ‘Golden Crown’ is a yellow rind, red fleshed, seeded watermelon. It is an All America Selection from several years ago. It has 5-7 lb. fruit. ‘New Queen’ is an orange fleshed, seeded watermelon that is 5-6 lbs, also an All America Selection. ‘Mini Love’ is a new variety this year that is also an All America Selection. It is red fleshed, seeded, with 7-9 lb. fruit. This variety is supposed to have 3-4′ vines but still up to 6 fruit per plant. It seems like a lot of large fruit for not much vine. I’m excited to see how it performs. As an All America Selection, it should be a consistent producer.
With another week of sun, rain, and heat, the garden continues to grow quickly. Many of our vines and other warm season vegetables are finally putting on some good growth. Surprisingly, the tomatoes are still looking really good with minimal signs of disease or other problems.
Many of the plants have reached full-size, although the vining crops have yet to fill the trellises.
The Oriental Garden is really starting to look good. This ‘Ladyfinger’ okra didn’t germinate very well, but looking at the plants now, I’m glad that we only have 4 or 5 plants. They are starting to take over the surrounding area already! There are just a few buds starting to develop. Maybe by next week there will be some okra to show.
The ‘Goddess’ banana peppers are showing off this summer. We’ve grown banana peppers many times, but this variety is by far the most productive of the ones we’ve grown recently. The three plants have been loaded with peppers.
The Pollinator garden is looking great with bright colors of the milkweeds, zinnias, and sages. This garden will just continue to grow, change, and get more beautiful as the summer progresses.
As I said earlier, the vines are just starting to take off. This is the Oriental garden. The left side of the trellises has beans and the luffa gourd. The right side of the trellises has cucmbers and melons. They are just starting to set fruit.
Do you know what this is? It is the flower of a passionflower/passionfruit vine. I don’t know if it will actually produce fruit, but we are watching it grow and bloom in our Pollinator Garden. It is just starting to climb up the trellis.
Have a great weekend!
Wow, it’s hot. I don’t know about your gardens, but in our garden the plants are definitely struggling to keep up with the heat. Because we had so much rain, many of them don’t have the developed root systems to deal with so much heat and evaporation. That said, our warm season veggies are starting to grow quickly.
One change that you can see is that we have mulched our peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. We only had two bales, so the straw isn’t very thick and there are areas yet to be mulched. Straw mulch helps cool the soil and maintain even soil moisture. It helps prevent evaporation, which I’m all for during a hot spell like this!
Most of our tomatoes have started to set fruit. This is ‘Tiren,’ a roma tomato. It has a really odd shape, which is kind of interesting. You can also see that one of them is starting to show signs of blossom end rot. This is very common on early season roma tomatoes in particular, but we’ve also had a little trouble with the drip system on the tomato garden. We will be watching to see if any of the other varieties also develop blossom end rot.
The purple cayenne pepper is also starting to set fruit. The flowers are purple, the stems are purple, and the peppers are purple. Eventually, the peppers will turn red when they reach the fully ripe stage.
The ‘Islander’ bell pepper is also setting some fruit, and this one is getting large enough that it is developing some of the lavender coloration. This pepper will also turn red eventually, but it is purple at what would typically be the “green” stage for a bell pepper.
The ‘Iznik’ snack cucumber is starting to flower a bit. It has fairly small fruit and a supposedly compact plant form, so we will be watching it for productivity and how much space it takes as it grows.
Have a great weekend!