We have finally made it to the bed plans that many of you have been waiting to learn more about – our tomatoes for the year!
As I have mentioned before, one of our themes this year is managing our root knot nematode problem. One of the most common management techniques is to select resistant varieties of affected plants. Now, that isn’t always the entire solution, but in the case of tomatoes can be an important option. Most tomatoes have “intermediate” resistance to root knot nematodes, which means that under high population pressure, they will still have some problems. We have one plant each of six varieties in this bed, which a duplicated planting in Bed 2, as we discussed a few weeks ago.
Chocolate Sprinkles: This is our cherry tomato for the year – a dark copper/red cherry tomato with dark green stripes. The fruit grow in trusses of 5-7. Different sources list the days to maturity as 50-55 or 70 – so that is a bit unclear. It is indeterminate and crack-resistant.
Damsel: This is a pink-fruited beefsteak tomato with a compact indeterminate growth habit. (In other words, indeterminate, but not a huge plant.) It is reputed to have an heirloom-like flavor and has a range of disease resistances, which makes it good for organic production methods.
Celebrity: You are probably familiar with this one already. Red, vigorous determinate, good disease resistance. We chose to add this to the mix as a basic red that is commonly grown, so we have some good comparisons with the less familiar varieties.
Marnouar: This is a purple-fruited beefsteak (10-16 oz fruit) with an indeterminate growth habit. It also combines the heirloom flavor with crack-resistance(!) and strong disease resistance.
Chef’s Choice Orange: This is our “control” variety. Chef’s Choice Orange we have grown multiple times before with good success, but it is also NOT resistant to nematodes. Because we know it performs well here, planting this variety will help us gauge the impacts of the nematodes on the varieties that are supposed to be resistant. This is an indeterminate, orange-fruited slicing type.
Big Beef Plus: This is an improved version of the popular Big Beef variety. It has been bread to have more range of disease resistance, sweeter flavor, and darker red color. This is a red, indeterminate beefsteak with fruit between 9 and 16 oz.
If all goes well, we should have a great crop of tomatoes this summer. If all doesn’t go well….well, that happens more often with Kansas weather than we often prefer!
“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
Our tomato trials are looking very fortuitous at this point in the year. When we were planning this winter, we chose to try out some of the more recent All-America Selections tomato winners. These are varieties that have been tested all across the U.S. and have shown to perform reliably under a wide range of conditions.
We had already grown Chef’s Choice Orange a couple of times and found it to be a reliable producer with great flavor. (I have also grown it at home for a few more years and it has quickly become one that is an easy choice.)
With that experience, we are interested to see if other, new varieties in the Chef’s Choice line will be just a promising for Kansas. We chose to grow the Chef’s Choice Orange again as our “known” trial variety. To that, we have added the following varieties. (Links to the All-America Selections pages, with more variety details.)
Chef’s Choice Red – 8 oz fruit, prolific
Chef’s Choice Green – Green and yellow at maturity and citrus-y flavor common to green-when-ripe tomatoes.
Chef’s Choice Yellow – 10 oz. somewhat sweet fruit
Chef’s Choice Pink – 12-14 oz beefsteak with pink skin and flesh
We also chose two non-Chef’s Choice varieties to test in order to have a broader comparison.
Galahad – Red fruit with high disease resistance and purported crack resistance. (Crack resistance is a hot commodity in Kansas, so we are hoping for great things!)
Mountain Rouge – From the “Mountain” series, a 12-14 oz. pink beefsteak with high disease resistance.
Some Cherry Tomatoes:
In other areas of the garden, we also have some cherry tomatoes planted, and these are a little further outside the normal varieties.
Moonbeam – A pale yellow or white grape tomato that is supposed to have high yields and exceptional flavor.
Brad’s Atomic Grape – This multi-colored tomato has been all over social media for a couple years, but we have heard from some locals that it cracks horribly. So…we’re going to give it a try!
Blush – A yellow oblong cherry with red stripes and interior blush. We have tried others in this series in the past, all with bad cracking problems, so it will be interesting to see how this one performs.
If all goes well, we hope to have a bounty of tomatoes this year, as well as some great new varieties to recommend in our area.
It’s the first day of summer, and it feels like it! Like many of you, there are good and bad things happening in the garden due to the excessive rain and milder temperatures. Honestly…we kind of need this heat to push along some of our warm season plants.
It has been awhile since an update, but that doesn’t mean we have been MIA in that garden. As you can see, despite the weather challenges, the garden is planted, we have been harvesting, and things are going well. One benefit of the raised beds (and the drainage tiles underneath our garden!) is that no matter how much rain we have gotten, it drains away fairly quickly. So we are not seeing too much root damage from saturated soils.
The herbs & pollinators garden has been growing gangbusters, with absolutely huge bronze fennel, lush parsley, and several beautiful agastaches.
We once again have a SNAP-Ed garden, where we are highlighting the ability to use SNAP dollars to purchase garden plants. We track our expenses and the value of harvested crops. We also have to budget for every purchase, so there is often not money to purchase tomato cages or similar items. The gardeners built this homemade tomato cage for the two tomato plants. We will see if it fares better than last year’s homemade cage!
Corn is something new for us in the Demo Garden, simple because of the space requirements. We tried a Peruvian corn variety a couple years ago, but it didn’t grow. This corn is ‘Glass Gem’ popcorn. We are interested to see how it performs in the small area we have given it.
Lest you think all is well in the garden, we are starting to see a fair amount of early blight on the lower tomato leaves. We hadn’t mulched the garden until last week, which probably didn’t help prevent disease. Mostly this is a rain and humidity problem. Cultural controls would include mulching, caging or staking, and keeping the leaves dry. Fungicide options would include chlorothalonil and copper-based products. It is important to note that fungicides only prevent new leaves from becoming infected, NOT cure infected leaves.
The other thing that we are seeing right now are aphids all over the tomatoes. This is quite abnormal, but probably due to the cooler weather. The benefit of hotter weather is that it should help the tomatoes grow faster and slow down the aphids (which normally like cooler weather). The white specks are the molted husks of the aphids. The black and orange guy is a ladybug larvae that is happily feeding on the aphids. We are hoping that between the hotter weather and the ladybugs, we won’t need to treat for the aphids.
There is much more to see in our garden, so come on over at visit us sometime!
It is once again the time of year where we plan what will be featured in our Demonstration Garden for the season. As always, we have a great mix of tried-and-true vegetables and some new and interesting things. When it is cold and snowy, it is a lot of fun to think about what will be growing in the garden in just a few short weeks. We will be starting the first of our seeds next week and it is all downhill from there!
Below you will find maps for each of our raised garden beds. The maps show the overall theme or focus for each bed as well as the specific varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers we will have growing.
Our tomatoes are in Bed 1 this year. Because of how this raised bed is structured, we will have roma tomatoes in one end, early maturing varieties on the other end, and some more common “comparison” varieties in the middle. The roma tomato varieties are a mixture of hybrids and heirlooms, with different colors, sizes, and shapes. We chose the “early maturing” theme because everyone always likes to have the first tomatoes! The six varieties we chose also are a mix of hybrid and heirlooms, with maturity dates ranging from 54 to 65 days from transplanting.
Bed 2 will feature a mix of cool season vegetables that are planted both in spring and fall. The spring plantings feature leafy greens, peas, carrots, radishes, and kohlrabi. The fall plantings feature two new cauliflower varieties, beets, daikon radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots. Our plan is to put row covers over at least part of the fall plantings to extend the growing season and overwinter them.
The theme for Bed 3 is the “Kansas Backyard Garden.” The idea is to feature common vegetables grown in Kansas. Most of the varieties are not too far out there either. A couple things that I’m excited about though are the bush-type vine crops. We are trying both a new bush watermelon variety, ‘Cal Sweet Bush’ that has only 18″ long vines, and ‘Cherokee Bush’ pumpkin that has about a 4′ spread.
On the other hand, Bed 5 is a long way from Kansas! We are featuring vegetables that are indigenous to Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Researching this garden was an education, because we discovered that some of our common ornamentals were originally edible vegetables in Africa! Vegetables that you may be familiar with are eggplant, okra, kale, and peanuts. You may be less familiar with cowpeas, long beans (a type of cowpea), amaranth, cleome, celosia, and bambara beans.
You probably do know amaranth – but as pigweed. There are colored leaf varieties and varieties that have been cultivated for edible greens. Other varieties are grown for flowers and seeds. Cleome is a ornamental flower we know, but most of us haven’t eaten the foliage as a vegetable! Celosia is another common flower that you may have grown for color. But the leaves and young flowers can also be eaten as a vegetable.
Cowpeas, long beans, and bambara beans are all from the genus Vigna. Cowpeas you may recognize. The long beans are vining beans that produce 18″ long edible pods. Bambara beans are kind of like cowpeas…the peas look a lot like the cowpeas. But they are kind of like peanuts…the pods grow underground.
One of the best things about this garden theme is that these are all vegetables that thrive in hot climates, so we are excited to see how they do in Kansas!
For a second year, we have a bed that we are calling our “SNAP-Ed” bed. This bed is a demonstration of how to garden on a very small budget, using only seeds and plants that can be purchased from a store where it is possible to use the SNAP EBT (food stamp) benefits.
Also a reprise from last year is Bed 6. Agastache is the Herb of the Year featured at our Herb Day event on May 4th, so we kept this bed in the same location with several overwintering agastache varieties. The flowers and herbs are chosen for the attractiveness to butterflies and other pollinators.
Beds 8, 9, and 10 are all 4′ x 4′ beds. Bed 8 will feature ornamental gourds on a trellis. Bed 9 will feature sunflowers. Bed 10 will feature a popcorn variety called ‘Glass Gem.’
In the accessible garden area, we are featuring a “Salsa Garden” theme. In the tiered raised bed will be a roma tomato, herbs, and peppers. In the barrel planters will be a trailing tomato variety, more herbs, and some green onions.
Our containers around the garden will feature flowers this year, especially some new varieties of Pentas. We are excited for spring! What are you planning to plant this year?