Stars of the Garden in 2012

Every year I like to do a review of some of the year’s best performers in the garden. With most of 2012 behind us, I think now is a good time to spotlight some of the stars of 2012, as well as some of the also-rans. So let’s start on a positive note with a vegetable that has sometimes been problematic around here.

I wanted to make 2012 the Year of the Carrot, after a dismal showing last year. And I think I’ve succeeded. We’ve pretty much had all the carrots we wanted for most of the spring, summer and fall. Yaya and Mokum have done extremely well for us. And the Kyoto Red I planted this fall has been a nice addition too. Carrots are still one of the more difficult crops I grow, but they are getting easier. I think as long as I pay close attention during the long germination period, and keep them well weeded, they will continue to be stars here. We still have a few carrots growing here in December, as I try and push the season as far as I can.

Carrots starred in 2012 (click on any image to enlarge)

A surprise star here this year was celery. I had only half-heartedly tried to grow it in the past, since it has a reputation for being temperamental and finicky. This year I grew the hybrid variety Tango, and records show I started the seed indoors in early March and planted it outside in early May. We had stalks for use in the kitchen from early summer on, and several plants are still hanging on here in early December. We don’t eat a lot of celery, but it is great for seasoning in a lot of dishes. I froze some for use in soups this winter. I’ll be growing it again next year for sure.

Tango celery

A repeat star performer here this year is the heirloom Jimmy Nardello pepper. Giuseppe and Angela Nardiello brought a few seeds of the family’s favorite pepper when  they immigrated to America from southern Italy in 1887. Their son Jimmy kept the strain of peppers going, and donated some to the Seed Saver’s Exchange before he died in 1983. And I for one am glad he did! This pepper has made it’s way onto the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. And I’ve put it on my own Ark List. It’s safe to say it will be back in 2013, and beyond.

Jimmy Nardello pepper

An outstanding newcomer in 2012 was the Cayennetta cayenne pepper, a 2012 AAS winner. I grew this one in a container, since it was bred with this in mind. And it was spectacular, putting on lots of peppers which wound up starring in several of my hot sauce creations, including the No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce and my Basic Fermented Hot Sauce. I will be growing this one again for sure! Most of the hot peppers did well this year, including our own Hot Happy Yummy, El Jefe Jalapeno, Ancho 211, Serrano Del Sol and Thai Bird. You can see most of those in the below photo, along with a few sweet peppers.

assortment of hot peppers in 2012

And speaking of garlic, after several years of growing numerous varieties of garlic, a few have managed to climb their way to the head of the pack. Nootka Rose is a long-keeping silverskin variety with a great taste both raw and cooked. Lorz Italian is another dependable performer with great taste and high yields. Ajo Rojo won the ‘most improved’ award in the garlic trials, and it keeps as long as Nootka Rose, if not longer. It is great tasting too. Simonetti is another artichoke type like Lorz Italian that did great here in it’s first year. Newcomer Rossa di Sulmona, a creole type like Ajo Rjo, also did well. And while Music had great yields, it has once again proven to be a poor keeper here. It was in such bad shape at planting time that I decided it wasn’t worth planting when there were so many better keeping varieties.

Aglio Rossa di Sulmona creole garlic

2012 was not a great year for tomatoes, but most of our old standards did well anyway. Jetsetter and Eva Purple Ball gave us plenty of slicers for fresh eating and for processing. Juliet, Golden Rave, Black Cherry and Golden Sweet all gave us plenty for dehydrating and slow roasting. And Sun Gold gave us lots of tasty orange cherry tomatoes for snacking and salads. For paste tomatoes, Viva Italia, Rio Grande and Health Kick did well, Amish Paste and Big Mama were so-so. We had plenty for our use, but not nearly as many as we got in 2011. Our favorite heirloom slicer, Cherokee Purple, didn’t give us quite as many tomatoes this year either, but what we had were outstanding. Newcomer Vinson Watts was a shy producer, but made very tasty fruits. I saved seed from the best one, and it will be back next year for another shot.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes

The Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck (aka neck pumpkin) and Gold Nugget led the pack in winter squashes. These two varieties alone gave us almost 50 pounds from 4 plants. Newcomers Boston Marrow and Kumi Kumi both bit the dust before setting a single squash. I’ll give them another shot next year. Early Butternut and Small Wonder spaghetti squash also performed great for us, as usual. The Mexican heirloom Tatume is another great performer here, doing double duty as both summer and winter squash, though I think it tastes better when picked young and treated like zucchini. All told we hauled in over 100 pounds of winter squashes this year, and that has kept us well supplied so far.

Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash

It was a good year for green beans too, with bush beans Purple Queen and yellow Rocdor giving us lots to eat and freeze this spring, and Derby providing green pods for both spring and fall. The pole beans came on in early summer after the bush beans and Fortex, Helda and Musica did quite well. The dry Borlotto beans were a real disappointment. I got about 1/4 cup of dried beans, which is probably less than I planted! I hope to try more dry beans in 2013, but Borlotto won’t be one of them. Cherokee Trail of Tears, Jacon’s Cattle and Good Mother Stallard are on my short list of drying beans to try next year, and I will be researching others to grow.

assortment of pole beans

If 2012 turned out to be the Year of the Carrot, it most definitely was NOT the Year of the Cucumber. It was more like Year of No Cucumbers! My normally productive early greenhouse crop succumbed to higher than usual spring temperatures which kept them from setting fruit, and my outside vines kept getting eaten by deer. I’ll try the greenhouse crop again, and the outside crop will have a spot inside the main garden fence in 2013, which is getting replaced so it truly keeps the critters OUT!

Onions were mostly a bust here too in 2012, with the exception of the Red Tropea variety. I’ll try again in 2013, and hopefully the growing conditions will be more favorable. I did not give them enough water this year while they were sizing up, and the results were not pretty!

Red Tropea onions curing

I had at least one rabbit that seemed to spend the summer inside the ‘fenced’ main garden. I was unable to entice it to go in my Havahart trap either. Instead, it seemed to prefer eating the sweet potato vines and other garden delicacies. Sweet potato production suffered, which is not surprising. We managed to haul in 35 pounds of them anyhow, which will keep us supplied, but we will have to ration them a bit. Irish potatoes did great this year, with Yukon Gold, Russian Banana and Red Norland all doing well. The new garden should give me more room for growing this staple and tasty vegetable in years to come.

2012 sweet potatoes

Another winner here in the fall were the Oriental persimmons. We got a total of 15 of them this year. Normally, a crop than can be counted so precisely might not be considered a success, but these trees are still quite small and a bounty like this bodes well for the future. We have Ichy Ki Kei Jiro and Gwang Yang trees planted, and both are pucker-free non-astringent types that can be eaten when still firm. I am still looking to plant an astringent Oriental type like Hachiya to round out our collection. These persimmons are rarely planted commercially in area, or by home gardeners either, and that is a shame. Ours have been trouble free so far, and have paid for themselves already.

Gwang Yang persimmons

I’m sure I have left something out in this recap, but those are the memorable vegetable and fruit stories of 2012 that come to mind. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them, and I hope you find your own garden superstars for 2013 and beyond!

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3 Responses to Stars of the Garden in 2012

  1. Daphne says:

    I’ve always wondered what persimmons taste like. It would be hard to plant a tree without knowing. I do have one spot for a small tree, but I’m saving the spot to transplant a fig tree if I can’t get the fig to over winter well in its current spot.

  2. Wow. This is a really inspiring – and humbling – harvest. You are FAR ahead of my edible garden in terms of scope and scale of production. How long have you been gardening? And do you grow ornamentals as well or just focus on the edibles? Either way, congratulations on some awesome results in 2012!

    • Dave says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Aaron. I’ve been gardening for about 40 years now. We do grow quite a few ornamental plants here, and I have one garden area devoted to plants for pollinators, birds and butterflies.

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