Kelley's Garden Review...Wrapping it Up

Charentais Melon
The rest of last summer’s garden…

Fava Beans beans were good as always.  Since they like cooler weather it was no surprise.  Favas are great for so many things.  They provide lots of healthy green foliage over the cold season, are a nitrogen fixer and good cover crop, they bloom early and entice pollinators and beneficial insects, and they provide loads of delicious beans. 

In general, my summer crops were sluggish, smaller, and produced less (big surprise, huh?).  Snap beans, soybeans, winter squash, melons, cucumbers all fell into this pattern.  Of course, while the plants were slow and late, the powdery mildew came right on time.  Ughhhh.  It fizzled out too though, which surprised me.

The star of summer for me was Charentais melon.  OMG!  The most fragrant, beautiful intoxicating melon ever. I must grow these again. The fruit was a stunning slate blue/green while growing, beautiful soft orange tones when ripe, and had the most intoxicating sweet/floral aroma that filled my whole house while perched in my fruit bowl.  They even felt great cradled in my hands.  The flesh was bright orange and the flavor was fantastic.  This was my first time growing it, and I have high hopes for future summers.

Another first for me was Garbanzo beans.  They were quite small, attractive plants, and while they are a warm season bean, many of my plants are surviving the winter.  Something found them to be the perfect place to lay eggs though, because I found small holes in the pods that larva drilled, climbed in and fed on the young beans undisturbed by the world outside.  I lost a good 25-30% of the beans.  Not sure I’ll try it again--the pods were a pain to harvest, but the fresh beans were really tasty.

My summer squash went something like this;  Grow, blossom, set fruit, drop fruit.  Blossom again, set fruit, drop fruit.  Bloom again, grow harvestable fruit, then shut down in July and shed almost all growth.  Sleep.  Wake up, grow, blossom, set fruit, harvest, go back to sleep.  Wake up again, repeat until frost. 

Peppers were a struggle.  The plants that didn't succumb to the snails resisted growing, then resisted producing, then resisted ripening.  If anything beat out the head scratching harvest season that tomatoes were…well…peppers were it.  They were ripening in October, November, even December.  I must say though, that Jimmy Nardello produced fairly well.  Love, love, love these sweet crunchy peppers!

Ground Cherries produced like crazy, as usual.  I’m convinced these will grow and produce nearly anywhere.  I like the unusual flavor of these, and they will hold in the husk for a long long time. 

I always plant flowers in and around my veggie beds, for beauty and diversity, and to foster the “good” bug population.  Many didn’t survive, or didn’t bloom.  I planted cosmos all over and got - none.  Cornflowers - a few.  Four O Clocks – two.  I finally got Tithonia (my favorite!) close to fall.  They usually grow fast and bloom like mad all summer.

Once fall came, so did the cabbage moths. A banner year.  A great year for observing,  I did learn to spot their eggs.  They are so tiny but yellow, and amazingly enough are easier to see than a fully engorged green cabbage worm.  I had planted a bunch of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and kale, so I was pretty freaked out about the sheer number of egg laying moths on my tender crops, but to my surprise I had relatively little damage.  Nature is a beautiful thing when we let her have command.  Why in the world do we think we can do a better job of managing pests?  Except for snails maybe.  Little bastards.

That’s it.  I’m done looking back, time to look ahead.  What will our summer gardens have for us this year?  

Promises, Promises and Kelley's Garden Review

Soldier Beetle
What was that promise I made?...To write…regularly…all summer?  Is it really January already?  Did we have summer?  Yeah yeah, that’s my excuse.  Oh well, it’s a new year, I resolve to make better use of my intentions. 

Since there’s a lot of catching up to do, I’ll post it in palatable chunks rather than bore you all (and myself) with one long winded missive…

So, looking back at my gardening year.  Hmmmm, where to begin.  Let me just back up a little farther to start.  I thought our 2010 summer sucked, from a tomato growing perspective anyway. In that year plants struggled through late frosts, grew slowly, and kept wondering where the heat was.  They did grow though, and they did produce.  Not all varieties lived up to their potential, but many produced outstanding fruit and plenty of it!  Some did better for me than years past, like Cherokee Purple.  I had loads of them, and they were just SO good.  Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Gold Medal, and Sudduth Brandywine all knocked my socks off.  I was excited to see what they would do in a “normal” year, and stupidly assumed that 2011 would be just that, or closer at least. 


My entire garden in 2011 was one interesting or frustrating or head scratching observation after another. It was certainly educating, I learned a lot about humility. In early spring (before planting summer crops), the aphids came as they always do.  They multiplied with lightening speed, and they found my favas, kale, and chard quite to their liking.  They became so thick in places I couldn’t see whole parts of a plant.  I knew their predators were coming, so I was patient, but it took longer than usual.  The weather must have been just warm enough for good aphid breeding but not warm enough to bring on hungry predators.  Finally, I started seeing ladybugs.  They were slow and kind of lazy at first.  I’d go out and assess their feeding and they were not living up to my expectations.  I watched as they casually walked past hundreds of plump aphids. I talked to them, encouraged them to gorge themselves but they were taking their time.  They slowly got up to speed though, started breeding (their larvae eat aphids too), and then the soldier beetles came.  That’s when the balance shifted.  There was frenetic feeding, breeding, and fighting, and shortly the aphid problem was no longer.  Great fun to watch. 

I noticed camel crickets, lots of them, for the first time.  Maybe it’s just the first time I looked closely enough.  They liked my celery a lot, and other cool season crops, although I didn’t notice any terrible destruction, just some minor chewing.  I wonder what eats them.  They eventually disappeared. 

As for the summer crops, growth was just so slow that some plants (especially the peppers) couldn’t outpace the pests.  After planting my raised beds, I discovered that the snail population had exploded, and they, along with pillbugs and earwigs were happy to have the fresh tender salad bar.  I lost several pepper plants, replanted, and lost more.

And then there were the tomatoes...
To be continued

Who stole the summer of 2011?

I think this sleeping carpenter bee had the right idea as far as this summer was concerned. When even the vineyard owners ran for the clippers before last week's rain, and then started to tearfully tell the tale of a difficult harvest, well, we knew we had a lot of company.

We have been talking with commercial and private tomato growers and they mostly have a similar story -- this was a very tricky tomato year. We put our plants in our respective gardens starting in May, and ending in early June. Then, we watched them try to figure out what the heck to do with rains and rapid but short heat spikes in June-uary, followed by weirdly cool weather the rest of the summer. Those weather events also wiped out many early blossoms, contributing to a late harvest.

It's not that we didn't get any fruit -- these big, juicy, Aunt Ruby's German Greens put the lie to that.  But, apart from the ever-faithful and prolific cherry tomatoes, we never saw any fruit to speak of before September; what we did get was not the most exciting flavor bouquet. 

Granted, we are complete perfectionists, so take our hand-wringing in stride.  Plus, some customers told us they were thrilled with their tomatoes.  We grilled these poor people: what did they feed the plants and how often? Where did they grow them (i.e., any microclimate effect)?  How often did they water them?  Did they prune and how?  Etc., etc.

Those interrogations did not turn up any tips for repeatable, wide-spread, successful growing.  However, Kelley will be posting observations about her garden this year which may be useful to you .  In addition, we'd love to hear anything you'd like to share -- feel free to post on our Facebook page.  Let's just help each other.

As they say in sports and gardening: there's always next year.