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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!