After a week of warmer temperatures and MORE rain, the garden has grown a lot! We also planted some of the warm season plants and plan to plant more this coming week.
The peas in particular have grown significantly and most of them are starting to flower.
Most years, we may have one variety of peas planted in one area. This year we have 5 different pea varieties – one heirloom shelling pea, one snow pea, one sugar snap pea, and two peas for containers. This is the ‘Peas in a Pot’ variety. It is about 10 inches tlal and is already flowering and setting pods.
The sprouting broccoli in the barrel planter is starting to head in the center. Next week we will probably remove that small head in order to encourage development of side shoots. Sprouting broccoli doesn’t form large central heads, but it won’t be very productive if the central head isn’t removed.
The tomatoes were all planted this week, although we are waiting until next week for the peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and melons. Because of the grafted plants, we couldn’t plant them deeper, resulting in some creative staking to keep the plants upright until the stems have gotten stronger.
We planted this Dragon Tongue Arugula in the Grocery Garden. This variety has highly lobed leaves with red veins. It has proven to be a very slow grower so far and the germination wasn’t great. We will wait and see if it improves with time.
The new Prairie Star Annual trial garden was planted this week too. If you have driven by, you probably saw the row of big containers. These are for demonstrating the Prairie Star Annual Flower trials. We are excited for this new usage of the front of the Demo Garden space. Hopefully this area will be a beautiful color show all summer.
It’s time to start our regular Friday reviews of the Demonstration Garden!
We have more growing in the garden than some years at this time. Except for the tomato and vertical gardens, which are empty, most of the other areas have lettuces, other leafy greens, peas, or root veggies.
We had our first harvest of many of our leafy greens this week. This is the Elegance Greens Mix from the Grocery Garden. It got a little bigger than I prefer for salads, but we will be trying to stay on top of harvesting moving forward. Watch for harvest updates and track our produce value from the Grocery Garden as the season progresses.
The green sprouting broccoli that is in one of our barrel planters has enjoyed the cool weather and is looking great. It isn’t showing signs of heading yet, but I expect it will be soon. Another boon of the cool weather is that the cabbageworms aren’t around either!
In what may be the first live demonstration of the challenges of growing heirlooms, this ‘Brown Dutch’ heirloom lettuce in the Colonial Garden is already starting to bolt. It is most likely reacting to the temperature fluctuations from warm to cold. But for whatever reason, this variety is not as tolerant to that and more prone to bolt.
The pallet garden we planted last year to strawberries is back up and growing. It is flowering and setting fruit. I don’t love the fact that the plants are so small. I think they are probably showing the lack of nutrients available to them in the pallet, and I don’t know that fertilizing right now is going to improve the fruit. It will be important for plant health if we want to keep it going for next season though. Now…how to fertilize and keep the nutrients where we put them? Ah, the challenges of pallets!
The Japanese bunching onions and carrots that we overwintered were harvested this week. The carrots weren’t in great condition. I think that overwintered carrots are best harvested in January or February, before it starts getting too warm!
Our poor tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are still waiting to be planted. It has just been TOO COLD. With the early, warm temps 6-8 weeks ago, we started thinking early spring. But the reality is that the temperatures in the past two weeks have been too cold for these plants to be outside without suffering cold injury. We are hoping to plant tomatoes this next week and the peppers in two weeks.
Several years ago, when tomato grafting was a relatively new technique, we did try out the grafting method in the demo garden. However, that turned out to be 2011, when it got hot so early and stayed hot for so long that pretty much no one had any tomatoes to speak of for the whole year. Needless to say, all we really learned was that the grafted plants were healthier.
This year, because of our rotations, we needed to put the tomatoes in the shorter beds, beds 5 and 6. Since we have the two smaller beds, we thought it would be a good opportunity to try a comparison of Grafted vs Non-Grafted tomatoes again.
What is tomato grafting? This is a process where the variety you want is grafted (fused) to a root system of a variety that has other characteristics you may want, such as disease resistance. This is one way to be able to grow heirloom tomatoes without the necessity of lots of rotation. Grafting has also been shown to increase the vigor and yield potential of most varieties.
We are trying 3 different varieties – ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Momotaro,’ and ‘Legend.’ We will have 2 grafted plants of each variety in one bed and 2 non-grafted plants of each variety in the other bed. In one bed, we had a little bit more space, so we opted to try a plant that is grafted to have 2 varieties on the same plant. This plan will be half ‘San Marzano’ and half ‘Cuore di Bue.’
‘Cherokee Purple’ is probably one of the most common and popular heirloom varieties. It is a purple skinned and fleshed variety with excellent flavor and decent yield.
‘Momotaro’ is a Japanese variety with dark pink skin and flesh. It is a hybrid slicer variety that has a reputation for excellent flavor.
‘Legend’ is a determinate red slicer that has late blight resistance. Not that we ever have an issue with late blight. It is also early producing and is also reputed to have great flavor.
‘San Marzano’ and ‘Cuore di Bue’ are both heirloom paste tomatoes. The ‘San Marzano’ is a more traditional Roma and the ‘Cuore di Bue’ is a no heart type.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.