It’s time for my annual review of what did well in the garden, and what didn’t. In my 2015 review I called it the Year of Too Much Rain, since we had 37 inches of rain during the main garden growing season from March to August. To put things in perspective, our average annual rainfall is around 45 inches. In 2016 we had 28 inches of rain during the same period, which is a bit above average but better than last year. Many of the veggies thrived in those growing conditions, but none did any better than the peppers. I harvested a whopping 76 pounds of them, 43 pounds of the hot ones and 33 pounds of the sweet. So I am calling 2016 the Year of the Pepper.
2016 AAS Winners Escamillo and Cornito Giallo made frequent appearances on our plates throughout the growing season. I only had one plant of each, along with one plant of their red relative Carmen, but they pumped out lots of peppers. I plan to set out twice as many plants of them this year, and add the red Cornito Rosso to the mix.
The hot peppers were a varied group including NuMex types like Anaheim and Biggie Chili, ancho/poblanos like Mosquetero and Bastan, and baccatums like Aji Angelo, Aji Golden and Malawi Piquante. I did a lot of different things with all the hot ones, including drying them for chile powder, smoking them and turning them into various hot sauces. Minero is a hrbrid guajillo type pepper that did especially well, and made a great chile powder with a mild heat. Some of the other hot peppers even got their 4 minutes of fame when they appeared on WEHT Local Lifestyles back in October.
The eggplants also did well last year. I am guessing they liked the growing conditions much like the peppers did. The Italian varieties Nadia, Galine and Dancer did great, and the small striped Fairy Tale also gave us lots to eat all summer long.
After a couple of years of very small harvests, the blackberries came back last year. I harvested 44 pounds of them, enough to last us for quite some time I am guessing! We decided to put bird netting around the plants, not so much to keep birds out but rather to keep the hungry deer away. It must have worked, though I think the spring growing conditions were favorable as well. This year we need to net the gooseberries too, since the deer ate every one of them in 2016.
The lettuce and other greens loved the rain for sure. Pele and Jester were two standout varieties, and Red Sails, Simpson Elite and the Tall Oaks Mix also wound up in many a salad bowl.
The butterhead Three Heart lettuce also did quite well, and this year I hope to plant even more of it. I do like the smooth texture of a good butterhead lettuce, and Three Heart suited me perfectly.
The fall planted Dazzling Blue kale made an impressive first showing here. It was supposed to be more hardy than the typical Lacinato type, and I have to say it has proven to be true here this year. The plants are still alive, after low temperatures near 0°F during the month of December. The leaves are variable in color, but consistently tasty. This Wild Garden Seed introduction is a keeper in my garden for sure!
It was my first time growing the 2015 AAS winner Artwork Broccoli. It’s a brockali (or stem broccoli) type that did well here both in spring and fall plantings. It doesn’t make a real big main head, but once you cut that first one then the side shoots really start coming on. I’ll be growing it again too.
Growing open-pollinated beefsteak tomatoes here is always dicey. Sometimes they do well, but more often they don’t. In 2016, Captain Lucky was the best performer in that category by far. These green when ripe tomatoes are not only colorful to look at, but the meaty flesh is tasty and flavorful too. It starred on many a sandwich here last year.
I usually depend on hybrid slicing tomatoes to give us a steady supply of tomatoes for sandwiches. Garden Treasure was developed by University of Florida tomato breeding program, and was derived from the heirloom beefsteak German Queen tomato. The large tomatoes have a nice balance of sweet and acid, and the firm flesh holds up well on a sandwich. Currently, the seeds are only available through a $10 donation to the UF Tomato Research Fund, which gets you seeds to both Garden Treasure and one called Garden Gem, which is a bit smaller but just as tasty. They both did well here in 2016, and I plan on growing these two beauties again in 2017.
I’ve had mixed results with open pollinated paste tomatoes here too. Marzano Fire is an o/p tomato from Artisan Seeds that really did well last year. The tomatoes are nice sized, and the meaty flesh makes a great sauce. I’ve saved a spot for it in the garden again this year.
It was a good year for garlic here, by any metric my best year ever. Out of 196 cloves planted, I harvested 195 bulbs, losing only 1 along the way. Counting the scapes and what I harvested as green garlic, I hauled in 24 pounds of it last year. Xian is a turban type that came in right in the middle in terms of average weight and size. It’s pretty to look at, but more importantly it is tasty, early and dependable.
The largest bulbs of 2016 came from a cultivar called Red Toch, an artichoke type that made big bulbs with giant cloves.
Every spring my wife and I eagerly await the first signs of the emerging asparagus spears. We harvested the first spears on March 17, and by the time we cut the last ones in late May we had harvested 30 pounds of it. Actually my wife does most of the harvesting, which she does pretty much on a daily basis during asparagus season. We eat most of it fresh, though we do freeze a little for later use in soups or other dishes.
It wasn’t a great year for everything I grew though. The winter squash in particular struggled, and I lost many of them to rot before they matured. The ones that grew up off the ground, like the neck pumpkins (Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash) did better, and were less prone to rotting issues. I plan on trying to trellis more of them in 2017 to see if that helps. The cucumbers I planted in the main garden also did not do well, though the ones in the greenhouse kept us well-supplied with cukes through most of the spring and summer. The summer squash did okay, but it’s safe to say it just wasn’t a great year for any of the cucurbits here.
I hope you have enjoyed this review of some of the veggies and fruit we grew here in 2016. And I hope 2017 is a great year for all of you out there! I’ll be back soon with more adventures from HA.