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?  

Kelley's Garden Review...Tomatoes

2011 tomatoes, well, let’s face it.  What crap.  Relatively speaking.  The year of the late, bland, largely forgettable fruit.  And, when is tomato season?  July?  No.  August?  No.  September?  Kind of.  October…REALLY?   They weren’t all disappointing, in fact many of the cherries did just fine.  I’m just not fanatical about about cherry tomatoes.  I like tomatoes to slice.  I like texture and color and the amazing varied flavors.  Most just didn’t reach their potential.  Having said that, they ALL taste better than any factory tomato out of a supermarket, so I’ll…slow down the complaining. 

I planted tomatoes in May, some in my front garden in raised beds, and some in the backyard in a freshly double dug bed.  The night temps were thinking about staying in the 50’s, and they days were pleasant.  I planted on a nice warm sunny day…and the next day our first heat wave hit,  followed by a 25 degree temp drop, then another temp spike, and then the cold and the rains.

I grew 13 of our tomato varieties in my garden, Arti grew 18 or so in hers.  Here’s the highlights and lowlights of mine.

The Good…

Aunt Ruby’s German Green:  I love this tomato.  I thought there was no way it would perform this year and I was dead wrong.  My best beefsteak this year.  Beautiful, subtle flavors, lightly sweet, and great texture.  I can drool just thinking about it.

Wild  Galapagos:  I can only wonder what a normal summer would do for this one.  This was one happy, prolific plant!  I made the mistake of using one of my shorter cages for it.  Not only did it outgrow the 5’ cage in no time, I couldn’t keep it inside the cage either.  It laughed at pruning and suckering was pointless.  I looked away for a moment and it grew into 3 nearby cages.  It fruited early and continued to push out gazillions of lovely, tasty cherry tomatoes.  I thought about Galapagos tortoises snacking away while I did the same.  It became my favorite cherry of the year, not as citrusy as Blondkopfchen, not as sweet as Gajo de Melon, just a nice balance of flavors.

Gajo de Melon:  Mine was polite.  I asked it to keep it’s arms and legs inside the cage and it did.  It produced lots of sweet, sweet cherries.  As sweet as Sungold but with better tomato flavors.  It was a bit thick skinned though.

Cuostralee:  I think this one will be a real winner in years that include a summer.  I got loads of big red, juicy fruit.  Some developed very good flavor, some just okay.  I’m eager to try this one again.  I think it will rival the Sudduth Brandywine for flavor and maybe out-produce it.

The Not Quite So Good…

Orange Russian and Ananas Noir:  These guys really wanted to be stars.  While other varieties napped and said “wake me up when summer gets here,” these guys worked hard.  They produced nice quantities of beautiful looking fruit.  They couldn’t quite produce the flavor to match, but I’m convinced they could reach star status with better conditions.

Caspian Pink:  The great procrastinator.  I have to say, this one didn’t get a fair shake.  I planted it in a marginal area under the drip line of an Atlas Cedar.  Strike one.  It got less sun than a tomato plant wants.  Strike two.  It’s a late season tomato, and “late” in this case meant November and December.  It was utterly entertaining to watch it kick into high gear in late November, when the days were so short and winter looming. It was kicking some serious ass in December. The flavor wasn’t bad for a December tomato. I’m giving it 3 of 5 stars for the impressive last ditch effort.

Red Fig:  I dried these this year, and love them.  The flavor is tomatoey (that's a word, right?) with a hint of sweet and no bitterness.  I dry farmed this one and it flourished.  It got zero irrigation from me, and the head scratcher here is the fact that the fruit swelled with water, presumably from the late rains, but continued to produce that way all season. I gave up on it as a fresh snacking tomato because of that.  It was just too watery and bland for me this year.  

The Ugly…

Stupice:  The bomb proof–early–prolific–laugh at the first frost–ripe tomatoes for Christmas dinner wonder.  Anyone with a black thumb can grow this one.  Except for me this year.  I planted it in my freshly double dug bed.  It went Frankenstein.  After the June rains, it stopped growing, except for the existing leaves, which grew to enormous proportions, became thick and distorted but stayed a healthy deep green.  The top growth curled up, and there the whole plant stayed, just that way, no blossoms, no new growth, no yellowing, like it was frozen in time, until late July.  Frankenstein with a Shirley Temple hairdo.  By then I had given up on it as a producing plant, and just stared at it a lot.  Finally it started pushing out some new growth, and a few blossoms appeared.  The new growth started to curl, but not so badly, more blossoms appeared, and then new normal growth, and more blossoms.  I got my first fruit in late August.  Two years ago I had ripe fruit from the first week of June to New Years day.   To it’s credit, the fruit was consistently good once I got it.  I’ll grow it every year.

I struggled with blossom end rot this year, mostly on sweet peppers, and some tomatoes, most notably the San Marzano.  It came and went and came again, I adjusted my watering and tried some amendments to encourage calcium uptake, but I don't think I made a difference.

That, believe it or not, was the short winded version of my tomato adventure.  Next up, the rest of the summer garden.

To be continued…

This is livin', baby

Is there a word for experiencing sensual delight through food, with a dash of self-righteousness thrown in? If so, then I am having it in spades: the crop is finally in full, delicious production, and I am feeling thoroughly justified about growing organic heirloom tomatoes. You haven't lived till you pick your own tomatoes and eat them sun-warmed. They have not lost their flavor due to refrigeration (if you don't already know this, then don't do it), and they are literally at the peak of perfection -- if they had travelled anywhere they'd be V8 juice.

We have some tasting notes below. However, like a proud parent, first I want to show off their school picture. In this picture, starting from top left in the large container are: Paul Robeson, White, Costoluto Genovese, Italian Heirloom, another Paul R., Pineapple, Amana Orange, Gold Medal, and Brandywine Pink. In the small basket are: Blondkopfchen, Red Fig, and peppers -- Fish, Black Hungarians, Cyklon, and an Ancho.

Selected Tasting Notes
  • The black tomatoes continue to astound with their deep, slightly smoky flavor. We have been rocking the Paul Robeson and Cherokee Purple, but sold all of our Black Krim before we snagged one for ourselves.
  • Gold Medal is a knockout: meaty (i.e., few seeds), low acid, slightly sweet, and a visual treat decked out in its yellow and red color combo.
  • Amana Orange split our ticket: Kelley doesn't think the flavor is very interesting, but I find it is a gentle, lower-acid variety that is excellent in sandwiches.
  • White has a lovely, subtle, almost fragrant flavor.
  • All of the cherry tomatoes are scrumptious, but in their own way: Blondkopfchen is juicy and tangy, Red Fig is milder and sweeter, and Black Cherry is complex and well-balanced.
  • Costoluto Genovese is classic. It has a firm, full, tomato taste with a hint of fragrant spice, maybe cinnamon or nutmeg. 
    Brandywine Pink was a wonderful surprise after a childhood of grocery store versions. This one has a rich, bright taste, and the pinkiness glows on the plate.
As you know, this was an uncharacteristically cool California summer. We are getting a very generous crop now, but many of the vines should have been fruiting in early July; we did not get our first full-sugared tomatoes till almost August. However, we still learned a lot, so next post will contain Growing Notes. I promise not to wait another 3 months...