“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
How time flies when it’s summer and there’s lots of produce! It has been two whole months since I updated you on the harvests, yields, and value of the Grocery Garden bed.
Venice Beans: 3.175 lbs @ $4.00 per lb = $12.70
Purple Dragon Carrots:7.85 bunches @ $3.00 per bunch = $23.55
Yellow Carrots: 7.5 bunches @ $3.00 per bunch = $22.50
Cylindra Beets: 4.5 bunches @ $3.00 per bunch = $13.50
Gold Beets: 0.3 bunches @ $3.00 per bunch = $0.90
Red Marble Onion: 0.99 lbs @ $1.50 per lb = $1.48
Bride Eggplant: 0.675 lb @ $5.99 per lb = $4.04
Esterina Cherry Tomato: 2.025 lbs @ $4.00 per lb = $8.10
July Total: $86.77
Bride Eggplant: 2.56 lbs @ $5.99 per lb = $15.34
Esterina Cherry Tomato: 5.25 lbs @ $4.00 per lb = $21.02
Escamillo Pepper: 14 peppers @ $1.25 per each = $17.50
Red Knight Pepper:3 peppers @ $1.25 per each = $3.75
Spaghetti Squash: 7.80 lbs @ $1.50 per lb = $11.70
August Total: $69.31
Year to Date Total: $276.28
As you can see, we’ve had some great yields on many things and decent yields on others. However, our total value continues to pile up. Over $275 from 100 sq. ft is pretty good! And we have been planting for fall, so there is more still to come.
When we have some less common veggies in the garden, I always try to cook something with a few of them to show how they might be used and to give them a fair taste test. Many of you know that I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I decided that I should give an eggplant dish a try anyway. I also made stewed okra and tomatoes, because I’ve never really cooked with okra before and wanted to try it in a form other than breaded and fried.
First up: Thai Fried Eggplant with Basil
I like Thai food, and we had all the recipe and sauce ingredients on hand, so it worked out well. I used the green Oriental eggplant, the yellow ‘Escamillo’ sweet peppers and one of the purple sweet peppers, one of the Round Purple Asian eggplants, a red onion from my home garden, and a couple ‘Gong Bao’ peppers from my home garden in place of the serranos. I also used Thai basil rather than regular sweet basil.
I found the sauce to be a little heavy, flavor-wise. It probably needed a bit more acid, maybe some lime juice. Overall, it wasn’t bad (for eggplant). The texture still isn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t completely distasteful.
Next up: Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
I used the okra and tomatoes from the garden, including some of the big okra that is larger than would typically be ideal. The ‘Ladyfinger’ okra that we are growing is supposed to be tender and usable even at larger sizes, so I wanted to test that out. I would say that it was nice and tender after the stewing, up to about 10″ long. After that, the pieces were still a bit fibrous and woody. I doubt a longer cook time would have solved the problem.
Both recipes were fairly easy, did a nice job featuring the vegetables, and were tasty. If you are looking for a recipe to use for eggplant or okra, give these a try!
Another sweltering week, another Friday photoessay! Let’s take a break from our Tomato Day preparations to take a quick look around the Demonstration Garden.
I would say that we have reached the midpoint of summer in the garden. While many plants are still going to grow and mature, the tomato plants have reached maturity. With the usual onset of insects and diseases, there’s a lot of downhill to go from here. We will also be planting a range of things for fall over the next few weeks.
This is the buckwheat that we planted first, following the lettuce. You can see that it has put on significant growth in the 5-6 weeks it has been planted and has started flowering. It has not yet started going to seed. We cut this buckwheat back and then put about 2/3 of it in the compost bin and the remainder we spaded into the soil.
Eggplant can be a little bit tricky to determine when it is ready to harvest. Like many vegetables, it is typically harvested at the botanically immature stage. It can actually be harvested at almost any size, up to the point where it starts to mature. Once sign of that maturity is when the color goes from bright and glossy (like the eggplant on the far right of the picture) to slightly faded and dull (center). When we cut into the dull colored eggplant, we see that the seeds are brown rather than white, a sign of maturity. While the eggplant can still be eaten at this stage, the seeds are much tougher and will make the texture of the eggplant less enjoyable to eat.
We have started picking a few of the Purple Bumble Bee cherry tomato, and so far it is a bit more pink and green than purple/maroon and green. The flavor is decent, but not spectacular.
The ‘Esterina’ cherry tomato has been very impressive. It has had several large clusters ripen already and has more to come. The flavor is also very sweet. So far it is definitely a winner!
The peppers are maturing nicely and I’m looking forward to seeing how they all perform. However, with some of the wind and rain storms that we’ve had, several of the plants are leaning over and exposing the fruit to more sun. Hence the sunscald on the two peppers shown in this picture. Fruits with sunscald should be picked to prevent the development of disease. A mature fruit with sunscald can usually be eaten if the damaged part is trimmed off and no diseases have developed.
Come see us Saturday at Tomato Day!
Our second garden bed this year is featuring things purple. I think the name that has waffled between “K-State Purple Garden” and “For the Love of Purple” garden. At any rate, we are growing and eating purple plants!
As you can see, we have gone a little bit crazy trying to fit as many different purple plants into the garden as possible. (Full disclosure – there are a couple things that are white too, just to highlight the K-State-ness of it and to help show the purple better!)
The garden plan pictured above is not the final plan, just a temporary plan to make sure we have space for everything. We hope to rearrange the plants into a more ornamental-edible garden before we are ready to plant.
1 & 2: ‘Cardinal’ Basil has attractive purple flower heads while ‘Aromatto’ basil has purple stems, flower bracts, and purple-green foliage.
3 & 8. ‘Goodwin Creek’ and ‘Otto Quast’ Lavenders both bloom purple the first growing season. We grow these varieties as annuals here.
4 & 6. ‘Benary Giant Purple / White’ Zinnias are the most common cutflower zinnia. We’ll have both purple and white varieties.
5. ‘Dara’ Ammi is actually a falsa Ammi that is a carrot. But this carrot doesn’t often develop a good root and does bloom readily with a range of white to purple flowers.
7. Vinca and Gomphrena will add some more purple flowers to the mix.
9. ‘Integro’ is a red / purple cabbage with medium sized heads.
10. ‘Kolibri’ is a purple, hybrid kohlrabi.
11. ‘Ip Ssam Hong’ is a purple chinese cabbage that doesn’t form solid heads.
12. ‘Amethyst’ is a spring radish with purple skin and white flesh.
13. ‘Thurinus’ lettuce is a dark red/purple romaine that we grew in the garden last year and decided to reprise.
14. ‘Hansel’ Eggplant is an All America Selections winner from 2008 that features small, slender, dark purple fruit that are great for grilling.
15. ‘Gretel’ Eggplant is a 2009 AAS winner that has fruit similar to ‘Hansel’ but white.
16. ‘Islander’ is a bell pepper that has lavender skin which then ripens from yellow to orange to red.
17. Purple Cayenne pepper is just that – a cayenne pepper with purple fruit and a purple tinge to the leaves as well.
18. ‘Purple Star’ is another purple bell pepper. It starts as a dark amethyst purple and ripens to red.
19. ‘Royal Snow’ snow peas are a purple podded snow pea. Most descriptions say that purple podded peas are a little bit bitter, so we will have to try it and report back!
20. ‘Purple King’ pole bean will be planted on the same trellis as the snow peas, but in the mid-late summer for a fall crop. As we discovered last year, fall planted pole beans are much more productive than spring.
21. ‘Black Beauty’ tomato is one of the newer varieties with the very dark purple / “indigo” coloration of the skin. This one is more a slicer size with red interior flesh. This one is purported to have great flavor.
22. ‘Fairy Tale’ eggplant is another AAS winner from 2005. It also has small fruit but with white and purple streaks. We have grown this before, but several years ago.
23. ‘Purple Bumblebee’ tomato is a cherry tomato that is a more traditional purple tomato color – similar to chocolate cherry – but with metallic green stripes.
24. ‘Graffiti’ Cauliflower is a purple-headed cauliflower. It is the only hybrid purple cauliflower, and has by far the best purple coloration of any purple variety. We will be planting this for fall.
25. ‘Rosalind’ Broccoli is a purple-headed broccoli. This will also be fall-planted.
26. ‘Purple 68’ Carrot is a variety that has deep purple coloration all the way to the center of the root. It is best grown in the fall.
27. ‘Da Hong Summer’ is a purple bok choy that is bolt-resistant.
28. ‘Redbor’ Kale is a purple kale that has deeper color the colder it gets in the fall.