This Year’s Garden Winners and Some Also-Rans

If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that gardening requires planning, patience and flexibility. Every year brings different challenges and rewards. This year was certainly no different.

Last year we had unusually wet and cool conditions. That was hard on the tomatoes, but great for beans, peppers and eggplant. This year we had record heat and drought, which was a 180 degree change from last year. And the garden results showed it, with different vegetables playing a starring role. I try and grow a diverse mix of species and varieties, because you never know which ones will perform well given each year’s unique growing conditions.

Fairy Tale eggplant

One big winner here this year was the Fairy Tale eggplants. I started seeds indoors in early March, then planted them outside in large pots on April 28th. The first eggplants were ready to harvest on July 1st, and since then we’ve enjoyed more than six pounds of these little jewels. I will grow them again next year, and maybe try the miniature Hansel variety as well. It is another type with small eggplants that is supposed to do well in containers. Having these eggplants in containers near the house made it easier to keep them watered, while their larger cousins in the main garden struggled with the dry conditions.

Small Wonder squash

Another winner this year were the squashes. A yellow squash called Gentry was extremely prolific here. So was the spaghetti squash Small Wonder. And the winter squash Gold Nugget did very well too, giving us 15 squashes from two well-behaved plants. It appears they liked the large helping of compost I gave that bed before planting.

Apache blackberries

The blackberries we planted in 2007 are producing more each year, and likely still haven’t hit their peak. This year we harvested over 10 gallons from our two 25 foot rows. These plantings should continue to improve for several years, and do well for 10-15 years before they need to be replanted. The three thornless varieties planted are Apache, Arapaho, and Triple Crown. The Apache has been the best yielding, while best-tasting honors are a dead heat between it and Triple Crown. The Arapaho is another story. The berries are consistently smaller than the other two, and have very little taste. It also doesn’t yield as much. We are thinking about replacing it, and perhaps trying either the Ouachita or Natchez varieties in its place – or perhaps even both of them.

basket of fresh figs

A surprise winner in 2010 were the figs. I had never grown figs before I planted one Brown Turkey and one Hardy Chicago in 2008. We got a few figs last year, but this year they really took off and gave us 8 pounds of lovely, sweet fruit. That had me scrambling to figure out what to do with them, which is a nice problem to have! I added a Conadria plant this year and one of Celeste. So far the figs have been an easy to grow addition to our medley of fruits.

some of the 2010 tomatoes

The tomatoes were a mixed bag this year. The early varieties like Early Girl and Champion did very well, continuing to fruit all season through late October. Most of the small fruited varieties also did well, with Sun Gold, Sweet Baby Girl, Juliet, Golden Rave, Sapho and Black Cherry really producing. Principe Borghese and Fox Cherry did not do well, and won’t be back next year.

stake and weave system used for paste tomatoes

The paste tomatoes were grown this year using a stake and weave training system, which worked out real well. Big Mama, Amish Paste, Viva Italia, Super Marzano and Health Kick were our favorites, with San Marzano and Pompeii our least favorite.

The larger slicing tomatoes didn’t fare as well. The heirlooms all produced very little, with even long time favorites like Golden Queen disappointing. The Brandywines did nothing, and neither did Giant Belgium, or Opalka. We got a few Druzba and Magnus, but they were unremarkable. Old standbys like Better Boy, Celebrity and Whopper produced, but not as well as usual. Two varieties that really stood out were Jetsetter and Jetsonic. They will be back next year for sure. I will have to take a hard look at whether we grow the larger heirlooms next year. Our tastes have changed, and we find we get more use out of the small-fruited and paste tomatoes. Our plantings next year will reflect those changes.

Peppers mostly disappointed this year. The same varieties that grew like gangbusters last year have languished this year. Next year I will add some irrigation if conditions are dry. That’s about the only change I can think to make. Other gardeners around here have said it was a lousy year for their peppers too.

fall kale

And to end on a positive note, the fall plantings of greens and turnips have done very well. We’ve had lots of turnips and their greens, as well as chard, and now kale is ready to eat. With any luck they will continue producing for us on into 2011. And 2011, of course, is another year, which no doubt will bring its own set of challenges to gardeners and gardens alike!

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13 Responses to This Year’s Garden Winners and Some Also-Rans

  1. Daphne Gould says:

    It looks like Indiana had the same weather we did the last two years. It really was hard to keep the garden watered. I should have bought a soaker hose as I had a linear garden, but figured we always get a lot of rain so why bother. The couple times I would need to water I’d hand water. Well we got no rain this summer and I was out hand watering every 3-4 days. Even with that when I pulled the plants the soil was dry as powder. It took a long time to hydrate the soil so I could seed it with fall crops.

    Are figs self pollinating? I’d love to get one fig if I can find one that is small enough to put into the rock wall garden.

  2. Villager says:

    Daphne, the figs are self pollinating. Or more accurately, they don’t need to be pollinated as the fig itself contains the female flowers on the inside. Only one plant is needed.

  3. Emily says:

    Thanks for sharing what worked and didn’t this year. It is always nice to get other gardeners’ ideas about which varieties are worth it. I’ll be on the look out for the fairy tale eggplant seeds.

  4. Mike says:

    Those figs are pretty amazing, you must be right on the zone line when it comes to growing them. I just looked them up and would be surprised if they could manage our winters unscathed. The site I looked at said they grow in zones 7 and up. Are yours in pots? Congratulations on a gardening year well done.:)

    • Villager says:

      Thanks Mike. Our figs are in the ground, on the south side of an outbuilding. Some sources list Brown Turkey and Hardy Chicago as being hardy to zone 6. Ours have died back to the ground every year, but resprout from the roots. It is possible to make a sort of cage and mulch the stems to help them overwinter, but I don’t go to that trouble. I plant on mulching the roots with a little straw mulch, but that is all I do.

      The plants have quite a few figs that aren’t going to ripen. Forecast temps tonight are 25F, so that will be the end of figs for the year, and the tomatoes, and so on!

  5. Those blackberries are huge! I haven’t grown a thornless variety in years, as my first experience with those years ago was rather poor, but your Apaches look fabulous!

    For your tomatoes, would you use the stake and weave system again? Did you find it advantageous versus using cages?

    Seems we had rather opposite summers this year. Much colder than normal for us, and our peppers were an epic fail. After two years of desert dry heat, and this year’s cold, I’m not sure what to expect in the garden next year, but like you said, I’m sure we’ll have a few surprises, and it does keep the garden interesting!

    • Villager says:

      The first thornless blackberries to come out weren’t that great, but they have come a long way in flavor and hardiness. As for the stake and weave, I definitely plan on using it again next year. It’s perfect for shorter vined varieties, but it also worked for indeterminate types as long as you do a little pruning. I’ll continue to experiment with both ways next year.

  6. Lexa says:

    Thanks for the recap. I always enjoy reading what does and doesn’t do well for others. I think part of the fun of gardening is that every year is different. Just when you think ” you have got something down” the weather or another variable changes and so do your results. I am surprised that the peppers didn’t love your heat this year. The figs ool great – I am thinking of buying a plant. If you could only have one, do you have a reccommended favorite? Also, I am anxious to find your smaller speghetti squash. The serving size looks much more useable for me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Villager says:

      Lexa, I think the Brown Turkey fig is my favorite, though the Hardy Chicago is a very close second! I think the combination of hot days, warm nights and no rain were too much for the sweet peppers. The hot peppers held up better.

  7. meemsnyc says:

    Wow, your apache blackberries are giant! I love it! I plan to grow more blackberry plants next year. I love eating them.

  8. Kelly says:

    My peppers fruited so poorly this year I am considering not wasting garden space on them next year. What was up with that crop? It seems to have performed terribly for most this year.

    I planted Ouchita blackberries this spring, and only got a couple of fruit, but they tasted better than some of my other varieties planted in years past.

    I think I will try your eggplant for 2011 and my tomato plantings are heading in the same direction as well. Thanks for compiling this list of successes and less than optimal performers.

  9. Linda says:

    Thanks for the recap, looks like you did well overall and we had the same sort of growing conditions here in the Northeast as well. would love to try a fig, but think we are a bit too cold. They are lovely! And that small spaghetti squash looks wonderful, I’ve never seen one that round. Looks like some new things to try next year!

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