Summer Garden Highlights 2020

About this time each year, I force myself to take pause and evaluate the status of my garden. I share whats growing, the things that have gone well, the epic failures and what I’ve learned thus far. This year has been no different; I’ve had some surprising successes and some frustrating failures but there are lessons hidden everywhere so let’s learn together. Shall we?

Let’s talk about root veggies first. Most were surprisingly successful; carrots, onions and turnips were my best crops to date while parsnips were a bust (most likely not enough sun) and my potatoes were a split. The late frost turned my healthy spud greens to a devastating brown so I am truly surprised that I recovered any potatoes, if I’m being honest. The Yukon Golds suffered dearly, yielding only 10lbs of spuds but the La Soda Reds were a decent crop at >20lbs. This is the first time that I opted to forego hilling and I will not make that mistake again. A fellow gardener had told me they chose not to hill and didn’t see a significant reduction in yield but that was not the case for me. I’ll be hilling from now on. Live and learn, right?? Now let’s end the roots on an interesting note — onions. As mentioned above, they were VERY successful, but there is a story here. I ordered Red Marble cipollini onions from Johnny’s but what I got is…a mystery. The majority of my red onions started to get quite big and bulbed out beautifully. But, they weren’t supposed to. They were supposed to have a flat growth habit that gets harvested small. When I reached out to Johnny’s to tell them what happened (for their QC, not because I was dissatisfied) they were puzzled and frustrated. They did a quick investigation and promptly expressed their apologies, sharing that they’ve been having issues with their seed provider. Unfortunately, they were not able to tell me exactly what type of onion I ended up with so I won’t be able to seek them out in the future (as I’d hoped) but I did end up with an epic one-time harvest of mystery red onions. You’ll see what I mean in the photo below.

The onion on the left is what I expected (only 2/95 were like this) while the rest formed full bulbs as shown on the right.

Root Varieties:
Touchon carrots (Burpee)
Purple Top turnips (Seed Mail Seed Co.)
All-American parsnips (seed swap)
Yukon Gold potatoes (Gurney’s)
La Soda Red potatoes (Gurney’s)
Mystery red onions (Johnny’s)
Patterson F1 yellow onions (Johnny’s)

Next let’s chat about things we’re currently harvesting. The cucumbers have been almost too prolific. I’ve tried to adjust how much I plant of each crop to suit our needs rather than planting too much and getting fewer varieties in, but four cucumber plants is obviously still too many. I’m about to harvest cucumbers 16-30 and they’re not small pickling cukes, they’re big slicing cucumbers…and it’s only July. (Oops) I’ll be giving several of these away this summer. That being said, I’m thrilled with the texture and flavor of these beauties and the plants are incredibly rigorous despite the prevalence of disease here in the Mid-Atlantic. The beans started off great and I have nothing but positive things to say about the color, flavor (sweet and juicy) and texture (not stringy at any size) but the bean rust, a fungal pathogen that affects most varieties of beans, has gotten to them and the plants are suffering. Bean rust thrives in hot, muggy conditions and it has been all of that and more this summer. My zucchini/squash situation has been more challenging. Disease has not been a problem (yet) but I only planted one of each kind and it has left me struggling to find male blossoms for pollination. This has meant a lot of hand pollinating on my part which is not necessarily a problem but it does require extra attentiveness. The eggplants and peppers have all proven highly prolific and they’re thoroughly enjoying the extra hot summer we’re have but the nastrutiums (edible flowers and foliage) are not. They were beautiful until the heat set in. Apparently they don’t do well when temps are consistently scorching and they quickly yellowed despite my continuous efforts to keep them well watered. AKA they were a bust.

Harvesting Varieties:
Marketmore cucumbers (seed swap @thegaygardens)
Black Beauty eggplant (Seed Mail Seed Co.)
Dragon’s Tongue bush beans (Seed Mail Seed Co.)
Astia F1 zucchini (Territorial Seed Co.)
Ronde De Nice squash (seed swap @windypinesfarmette)
Chile de Arbol peppers (seed swap @mybrentwoodgarden)
Jewel Mix nastrutiums (Burpee)

Now let’s get to the things I’m looking forward to harvesting — the fun part! We have ten different varieties of peppers growing (8 spicy and 2 sweet) and one that I am looking forward to most is the odd shaped one in the top left photo. They are called Brazilian Starfish peppers and when they mature to red they are said to pack a powerful punch, ringing in at 50,000 SHU. That’s 10X hotter than your average jalapeno. And they are SO CUTE!! I can’t wait. The bell pepper featured here is a new variety for us. They are Keystone Resistant Giants and they turn red at maturity. I’m curious to see how they compare to my go-to variety, the Golden California Wonder. Then there are the tomatoes. Tomatoes are another crop that slows in production when temperatures are consistently over 90F so I followed a colleague’s advice and started mine later this year in hopes that they’d be growing during the hottest weeks of summer and then heavily producing as things start to cool off. I think I still started them a little early but in a month when the temps (hopefully) start to drop I will provide an update regarding this tactic. Melons are a whole different story, they LOVE the heat. I water them almost daily and they are growing like crazy but honestly I have been spoiled. I started growing Sugar Cube cantaloupes years ago and they are touted as “the most disease resistant melon on the market” so they had my expectations really high and unfortunately the Honeymoon melons I have growing alongside them just can’t compete; they’re starting to suffer from the dreaded powdery mildew. I’ll let you know if they battle on or if they fall victim and end up in the “failure” category. I’m also growing a shelling bean for the first time this year, Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg beans. They will be allowed to mature fully on the plant to the point of drying out and then I will harvest the crisp pods and save the dried beans for soups and chillies this winter. Another crop that I’m expecting to get us through the cold months is my Glass Gem popping corn. My husband is a movie guru so that means popcorn is a staple in our household and what better than home grown, am I right!? Last but certainly not least, the pumpkins. I selected a disease resistant hybrid in hopes of conquering the powdery mildew and harvesting some delightful ornamental pumpkins for my fall decor. They take 85 days to mature so they just went in after the fourth of July and they’ll be harvested early October. They’re said to produce a dozen small pumpkins per plant and vines are only supposed to sprawl 4-5 feet.

Anticipated Varieties:
Brazilian Starfish peppers (Baker Creek Heirloom Seed)
Keystone Resistant Giant red bell pepper (seed swap @windypinesfarmette)
Gold Medal tomatoes (seed swap)
Egg Yolk cherry tomatoes (seed swap @gotbee123)
Honeymoon melons (Baker Creek Heirloom Seed)
Sugar Cube cantaloupes (Gurney’s)
Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg bush beans (Seed Mail Seed Co.)
Glass Gem popcorn (seed swap @a_bit_of_earth_on_pierce_hill)
Kandy Korn ornamental pumpkins (Territorial Seed Co.)

I look forward to sharing an update as we approach the season’s end to let you know how everything panned out but in the meantime I hope that your gardens are thriving and that you’re doing your best to learn from both the positives and the negatives. They play equally important roles in developing our green thumbs. Cheers, friends!

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