Friday, October 18, 2019

Hits and Misses

Now that the gardening season is good and over (except for cauliflowers and carrots) it would be a good time for a season re-cap.  As with all years, there were highs and lows.  April was typical, but the first two or three weeks in May were dismal.  Not wet, but overcast and cool day in day out.  Then the second half of May was sunnier but we had several downpours that washed delicate seedlings away completely.

So the start of the season was delayed.  The soil didn't warm up.  There was no sun for the things that we did get started in April.  The peas and cauliflower started on time, but were late to harvest.  The cucumbers and other cucurbits took a long, long time to germinate.  But then the rest of the summer was warm and fairly sunny with an average amount of rain although the ground stayed very wet for a long time.

So here is a list of my notable hits and misses.

Hit: Penelope Peas - A great variety.  Grew just the right height for my expandable pea trellis on sturdy vines.  Produced long, full pods. This is the second year for this variety and it will now be my standard replacing Maestro.

Penelope Peas
Miss: Easy Peasy - A self supporting variety.  This means that they are more compact plants that have more tendrils that they use to mass themselves.  But what you get is one long floppy windrow.  The peas were OK.  The plants were a pain.

Two separate rows of Easy Peasy Peas
Miss: Not putting the Garden Sweet peas on a tall trellis.  This variety was supposed to grow 28" to 32" but instead outgrew the standard 37" pea trellis by at least two feet.  Then one day they just flopped over.  I wasted a lot of peas that I just couldn't get to. This variety is supposed to be extra sweet.  They did extremely well for me.  Next year I am going to try them on the double stacked trellis to see if they are really as good as I think they are.

Garden Sweet Peas
Hit:  Lettuce - it was a good year for lettuce.  I was very diligent about my succession planting.  My hope was to extend the season into July.  But even though I had fresh young plants, they went bitter in the heat the first week of July.

July Lettuce
Hit: Vitaverde and Flame Star Cauliflower - I've grown a few cauliflower and broccoli plants in the past but this was the first year I started them from seed and planted a large enough quantity to freeze some.  I used Johnny's Seeds because their website breaks down the best climates and growing conditions for each variety.  I chose Bishop, Snow Crown, Flame Star (Orange) and Vitaverde (Green).  I also grew four Diplomat broccoli.  All of the varieties did well despite being weeks late to maturity.  Our favorite was the Flame Star.  I started the seeds the first of March, so it was a long haul.  I seeded the fall crop July 15th and just set them out the past two weeks.  I'm looking forward to trying them again next year.

Cauliflower is what I call a long term commitment crop if you start from seeds the first of March but you would think you would get the best results carefully choosing your variety and being able to plant in April, a full month before the nurseries in my area put out vegetable plants.   A friend of ours delivered a TEN POUND cauliflower head to our door.  When I asked him what variety it was he shrugged.  "I don't know.  I got the plants from Troyer's and the tag just said 'Cauliflower."

Some people have all the luck.

Flame Star Cauliflower
Miss: Not starting Cucumbers in the cold frame earlier - Highly stressful.  I direct seeded towards the end of May and over-seeded twice more and thought I would never get a plant.  Three weeks later I started some in the cold frame and I was in business.  It's not usual to have to use the cold frame in JUNE.  But you gotta do what you gotta do.  The big problem was the rain we got in May.  Every time I planted, we would get a heavy rain that would bury the seeds too deeply.  And then our clay soil would harden over and the seeds were trapped.  Each time I tried to fluff them back out to the proper depth, and I did get some plants from the May seeding.

A Lone Survivor
Hit / Miss: Sweet Corn - Yes I had a nice healthy crop.  Yes the ears were as tasty as I expected.  No, the yield was not very good.  Next year I am going to plant them differently and try a second variety simultaneously.

Gotta Have It Sweet Corn
Miss: Pumpkins - like everything else this year they are late.  It seemed to take forever for female flowers to even appear.  I have a few nice looking but smallish pumpkins for my efforts.  The Connecticut Field Pumpkins that I've had success with in the past never set a single fruit.

My entire pumpkin harvest
Miss: Cantaloupe - in New York just isn't easy to grow melons out in the open.  This year they were even later than usual.  I've gotten a few nice melons.  Fresh, sweet, guaranteed chemical free.  But the crop is a waste of space and effort.

Beautiful, healthy cantaloupe vines
Hits: Tomatoes in containers - I think next year I am only going to use containers for growing tomatoes.  I can start with fresh potting mix eliminating soil borne disease.  I can easily control the water.  I am going to try making better use of the fence to espalier the plants for support.

Lenny and Gracie's Yellow Kentucky Heirloom
Miss: Eggplants - they were slow to grow and then the flea beetles took over them.  Somewhere this year I read on the Old Farmer's Almanac that Nasturtiums attract flea beetles.  This had never occurred to me because the flea beetles don't actually eat the Nasturtiums - not at least when there is an Eggplant to be had.  This would have been good to know - a few YEARS ago.

the invisible Eggplant is in the frame surrounded by Nasturtiums
Hit/Miss: Carrots - My first couple of seedings were washed away.. or so I thought.  In the end I got plenty of good usable carrots, but the center of the containers where the washed-out seeds collected and eventually germinated were very crowded and impossible to thin properly.  I tried Scarlet Nantes for the first time and preferred them over the Burpee A1 Hybrid that I've been using for several years.

A mixture of A1 and Nantes
Hit: Zucchini - I've learned not to be in a big hurry for zucchini.  I direct seeded with old seeds almost as an after thought in early June and got two plants that produced very well, and stayed healthy until mid-September.

Dunja Zucchini 
Miss: Potatoes - these plants started out great but never flowered and produced poorly.  I used tubers from a local nursery, Norland and Kennebec.  I actually had better luck with a few deep red store bought potatoes that went all sprouty on me in the kitchen.  Next year I am going to choose my varieties a little differently and go back to container growing.

Hit: Bush Beans - This year I grew my old standby Blue Lake, but I also tried Jade for the first time and they were awesome!  The second planting of the Blue Lake I even used seeds saved from last year's amazing crop and they did well also.

Jade Bush Beans
So that's it in a nutshell.  When I talk to other local gardeners we all agree that 2019 was a challenging year.  The biggest part being the miserable May, but all in all I can't complain about the weather.  My housework suffered awfully because we had nice weather every weekend.  The only rainy Sunday I remember was over Labor Day weekend.  And of course I can't do housework on a Sunday!  We had a major landscaping project that isn't completely finished yet but filled a lot of weekends with heavy work.  My cooking also suffered.  When you are laboring outside all day its tough to form a plan for supper other than "do you want me to order pizza or Chinese take-out?"

Pests were manageable.  The Japanese Beetles were comparatively awful which reminds me that I need to spend some time this weekend spreading Milky Spore.  I saw ONE cucumber beetle, a few stink bugs but didn't have trouble from those.  The flea beetles were AWFUL.  I haven't figured out how to fight them yet.  Cabbage Loopers have been a problem with the fall crop. The early crop they left alone completely.  I'll have to begin locking them out early this year so I don't develop a successful breeding program.

Once again I've gained experience, developed some new ideas and I'm already looking forward to next year.  But for now, I want to stay indoors, relax a little and just THINK about what I want to plant.

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