Once again it’s time for my annual review of what did well in the garden, and what didn’t. I like to start with a recap on the weather, since local conditions certainly have a big influence on home and community gardens everywhere. The amount of rainfall, temperatures, and even the wind can have a big impact. For instance, in 2020 we got 56 inches of rain, which is more than normal but still less than the 64 inches we got in 2018 which was a record amount and resulted in a lot of issues in the garden. In 2021 so far we have had 44 inches, which is about normal for us. This year the timely rains seemed to help the veggies more than hurt them, and most of them thrived. That helped me haul in over 800 pounds of produce so far, which is 100 pounds more than last year from the same amount of gardening space.
Too much rain causes rotting problems for me with things like tomatoes, peppers and squashes. This year that wasn’t the case, and all of them thrived – especially the tomatoes. So I am calling 2021 the Year of the Tomato here, as we hauled in almost 200 pounds of them in all. Slicing types did especially well, and one new favorite I’ll be growing again is a red striped beefsteak type called Benevento. It’s a new introduction from Artisan Seeds, and I was fortunate to get to try it as soon as seeds were available this year. It has great keeping qualities both on the vine and after harvest, and the flavor is outstanding. Other favorite slicers include Damsel, Garden Treasure and Chef’s Choice Orange which all did well here.
The paste tomatoes did extremely well too, and that let me make plenty of sauce for the freezer plus favorites like homemade ketchup. Short vine determinate types like Health Kick were loaded with fruit, and the indeterminate Granadero did well too. I harvested over 30 pounds of Health Kick from my three caged plants, plus almost 15 pounds from 2 caged Granadero plants.
In a bumper year like 2021, I like to make tomato paste with some of the harvest. To do that, I blend them up in the blender skins and all, then cook down to a thick sauce. After that I spread the sauce on a dehydrator sheet and dry down to a thick consistency. I usually freeze the paste in ice cube trays which makes it convenient to add to dishes where a little extra tomato flavor is needed. The frozen paste keeps its quality for a couple of years if keep well-sealed, and I usually freeze ours in FoodSaver bags to keep it air-tight until needed.
While talking about tomatoes, I have to mention one of my all-time favorite tomatoes. Juliet is a multi-use tomato that is somewhere in size between a grape and a Roma type. We use it fresh in salads and salsa, and it is one of my favorites for dehydrating and slow-roasting. I harvested over 40 pounds of Juliet from 4 plants grown in oversized cages, and quite a few of those went into sauces this year. I also trialed a new one called Verona in 2021 that was listed by Johnny’s Selected Seeds as a “larger, more flavorful Juliet type.” I’m not sure it was a taste improvement over Juliet, but I plan to give it another go in 2022. My 2 Verona plants grown in one oversized cage yielded 11 pounds of fruit, so it was fairly productive even if not as much as some of the other paste types I grew.
It was also a near record year for eggplant here. I thought last year was ‘epic’ when I harvested 33 pounds of them, but this year the total was over 40 pounds! That was helped by planting small fruited varieties like Gretel, Fairy Tale and Patio Baby in containers, which started bearing about a month before the ones planted in-ground. Once they all started bearing, we were well supplied with eggplant all summer long and well into autumn.
The bountiful harvests made for plenty of meals featuring eggplant sandwiches and casseroles, as well as grilling and roasting them for side dishes. We made Grilled Eggplant Parmesan, served roasted eggplant over polenta, and made my mother’s eggplant casserole she starting making back in the 1970’s. That recipe included ground beef, chopped tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.
It was a great year for sweet potatoes too, and the harvest totaled 90 pounds of roots from the 24 slips I set out in early June. The potatoes were clean and had no signs of damage from voles or wireworms either. I also saw no signs of scurf, which is a fungal disease that discolors the skin of the roots and was a problem here in past years. I let the sweet potatoes cure in a warm place for several weeks before we began eating them. Now that they have cured, we are enjoying them at every opportunity and we should be well supplied for many months to come.
It was one of the best years for growing peppers in a long time, and the sweet types really did better than usual for me. Cornito Rosso, Cornito Giallo, Carmen and Escamillo are four of my favorite hybrid Italian sweet peppers, while the heirloom Jimmy Nardello is always one of the earliest sweet peppers to ripen for me. Sweetie Pie is a mini bell with ripe red fruit that also did very well this year. I harvested 26 pounds of sweet peppers in all, and we enjoyed them for fresh eating plus I also chopped up some of them and froze for later use.
I always plant more hot peppers than sweet ones, since I dry a lot of them for chile powder and gochugaru powder to make kimchi. I also ferment quite a few of them for turning into hot sauces. I tend to grow hot peppers with mild heat levels, and Senorita jalapeno, Honeypeno, Aji Rico and Biggie Chile are some of my favorites for fresh use and for hot sauces. I smoked some of them for turning into a smoked chile powder and smoked hot sauce, which is one of my new favorite seasonings. The hot pepper harvest was over 40 pounds this year, which should add a lot of zip to our future meals!
I decided to break up the report into two parts again this year since I had a lot of veggies I wanted to mention. So I’ll be back soon with Part 2 of the 2021 garden recap!