It was the winter of amazing rain, and I expected a good growing year. All in all, I think it was. In our regional parks, it was a stunning grass year. I remember being in Briones in mid-May and the hills were still incredibly lush and green, the grasses thicker than I an ever remember.
In my garden, tomatoes did well, as did hot peppers. Sweet peppers took a long time though. What really did well though, was squash. I had a bumper crop of keeper squashes. In fact, I still have an embarrassing amount in storage now, so much that I've been requested to not grow any this year. Rodgers Ranch struggled with leaky irrigation lines and other challenges early in the season, so they got off to a shaky start. All worked out, though, and they had a good year.
Here's my somewhat annual list of varieties that caught my attention, good and bad. Tomatoes first, then the rest.
Best Newcomer: Cream
Oh my, what a find! This became the new favorite cherry of several people I talked with. Super sweet and fruity, and ridiculously productive. It rivaled Blondkopfchen in volume, and that's saying something! I grew mine in a corner of a raised bed, and I had to keep hacking it back to keep from smothering everything nearby. It was the first to produce ripe fruit, and the last plant to give up in winter. Honestly the easiest, happiest tomato plant of the lot.
The Worst, well sort of: Blue Boar Berry
Are you old enough to remember wax fruit--the perfect, pretty colorful, fake edibles in Grandma's decorative fruit bowl? That's what Blue Boar Berry reminded me of. Perfect and postcard pretty, yet best left to look at, not to eat. The plant was healthy, it produced well enough, and it was a good size for picking. The bummer was it just didn't taste like...anything. Bleh. I let them hang on the vine forever, thinking they'd develop more sugar or some semblance of flavor, and they did neither.
The All-stars, Every Year:
It's the same three poster children (+1) as last year, and most years. They really do well here and have stellar flavor. If you want consistent, top notch varieties, these do well for most gardeners in our area.
Ananas Noir: Amazing flavor as usual. Our most popular variety. A tropical sweet flavor bomb with psychedelic colored flesh.
Sudduth Brandywine: My personal favorite, every year. The quintessential heirloom. Very balanced, rich flavor without big acid. Another good year for this one.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Not quite as productive as years past, but still unmatched for flavor. Another great heirloom. Sweet, subtle and juicy, with great texture and a reasonably thin skin.
Azoychka: Always early, always easy, and tomato with great flavor. I'm so glad I found this variety.
The Rest of the Good and Bad:
JD's Special: Production was fantastic, you could feed an army from this plant. It was hardy, sturdy, and totally easy. Flavor was good. I had fruit well into winter. I'm pleased to bring this one back for 2018. Highly recommended.
Blue Gold: A beautiful, productive, yet totally underwhelming tomato. Countless times I went to the tomato beds and there were loads of these smooth, golden, lovely fruits with deep blue caps, begging to be picked. And I'd walk past them. Meh. Not invited back.
Bear Creek: My favorite black tomato in 2017! A nice, medium-large, mahogany brown beefsteak with wonderful rich flavor. I gave some away to friends and they raved about this one. It produced reasonably well.
Amazon Chocolate: This one confused me. It produced really well early in the season, and the flavor was good. Then, as the season wore on, it became less productive and much less flavorful. Exactly the opposite of what most varieties do. In late summer it gave up altogether. I'm not inclined to bring it back in 2018.
Marianna's Peace: Fantastic! It rated way up on my list, rivaling Julia Child and Dester for flavor, and it produced very well. While it was my first year growing and offering this one, it's a much loved heirloom. I'll bring it back for 2018.
Bear Claw: For a large beefsteak, this one produced early, and quite well for a while. Then it was the first to give up and die. Flavor-wise it was fine. Not bad, not great. There are better red beefsteaks, so I'll pass on this one.
Tobolsk: I really love this tomato. For three years running, it has been a great variety. It produces very well, the flavor is one of the best, and the fruit is smooth and pretty. It's coming back for 2018. I highly recommend this one.
Hatch Green (Big Jim): Absolutely delicious! IMO, there is no better chili flavor than a roasted green hatch. These plants were amazingly productive. The plants were weighed down all summer and into winter with big, long, mildly hot chilis. I stuffed mine with Manchego cheese and grilled them and they were the bomb.
Jalmundo Jalapeño: The best jalapeños. Large, thick fleshed, and super crisp. I know jalapeños are cheap and available at any market, but really, these are superior. Super productive plants pumped out lots of chilis, for a very long season.
Habanada: A totally new taste experience. I was very excited about growing this new, heatless habañero, and it was a winner! They were truly heat-free, which allowed the sweet, floral, citrusy flavors to come forward. At first bite, your taste buds tingle as though a super hot and very painful thing is about to happen, but then it doesn't. I loved these. They did take a long time to produce, but once they started, there were lots of them.
Boston Marrow: I always love this keeper squash, and 2017 was a super year for this one, as with all my keeper squashes. I got quite a few 30lb+ bright orange, delicious squash. If you have room, I highly recommend growing this one.
Luffa: Not so much an edible, but useful and cool looking luffa sponges. Vines were vigorous and produced lots of long, large fruits, that are dried and used for scrubbing. Really easy to grow.
Zataar Oregano: I'm so pleased with this middle eastern oregano variety. It's hardy yet polite, and the flavor is far better and less pungent than greek oregano. It is quite happy in my garden right now, and I'm happy to have it.
Cucumbers: No love from cucumbers this time. None of mine did well. Maybe an anomaly in my garden. Or maybe it was other vigorous plants invading their space and bullying them into submission. Could be.
There it is, and here we go into 2018. Based on germination of this year's crop, I'm guessing it will be the year of herbs. Many that I've had trouble producing in the past are happily coming along. We'll see.
See you out there.