Well, we had the final killing frost on Tuesday the 15th. Tomatoes (which were already cracked from the rain), done. Peppers, done. Summer and winter squash plants, done. Cucumbers, done. Melons, done. Farmer, done.
So here’s the warm season crops I planted this year and how they did (minus the squash and gourds, which I cover in this post, in more detail than you could ever want).
Beans – I planted pole beans (Fortex) and bush beans (Provider, Royal Burgundy and Golden Rocky Yellow wax). I also planted four kinds of dry beans. Calypso (also called yin/yang), Tiger’s Eye, Hidatsa Shield Figure and Cranberry (The cranberry were to fill in the holes when a rabbit ate quite a few of the Tiger’s Eye seedlings, and I was out of seed. I bought them at the local natural food store.) I threw in a few scarlet runner’s for the hummingbirds, and because I think they look like Jack-in-the-beanstalk seeds.
I realized a few things about beans this year. Rabbits like them when they are small. The importance of bean seed inoculant can not be over emphasized. (Last year, I used it but I don’t think it was any good. I got almost NO fortex pole beans last year and I saw no nodules on the roots when I pulled them at the end of the season. This year, with new inoculant, TONS of fortex beans). I LOVE growing dry beans. I love their history. I love the way they look. I love that you really only pick them once, or at the most twice, and then can shell them at your leisure. I love that the goats eat the dried shells like they were the very best potato chips. I love seeing a pretty jar of dried beans I grew myself, that will last at least a year with no worries about temperature fluctuations, humidity or power failures. And I love to eat them (I could eat dried beans every day – I really DO love them).
And I’ve realized that green beans, like peas, take FOREVER to pick and that I can’t charge enough for them at market to make them worth my while. So next year, more fortex (which are easier to pick because they are a pole bean – much less bending over, and are a great tasting green bean), and more dried beans. No more bush beans other than dried. If the fortex fail, like they did in 2011, I just won’t sell beans next year. (I grow the dried beans for myself, as I don’t grow enough to sell).
Because beans are generally self fertile, its easy to save seed from your favorite varieties for next year, as long as they aren’t hybrids (there are LOTS of open pollinated varieties to choose from). Just wait until the mature pods are dry on the vine, then pick.
Sweet Corn – varieties included Silver Queen (su), Peaches and Cream (se), Providence Bicolor (sy) and Honey Select (sy). Most all sweet corns are hybrids. Note, this does NOT mean that they are genetically modified (GMO). Very few of the sweet corn varieties are GMO.
Su is called “Standard” and is the oldest type of sweet corn. It’s best eaten when just picked, or it turns starchy (the Silver Queen seed was a free gift). Se stands for “Sugar Extender” and is able to hold for 2-4 days after picking. They are supposed to be sweeter than su varieties. Sh2, which I didn’t plant this year, stands for “super sweet”. Super sweet, not surprisingly, is even sweeter than se, and can be stored for up to 10 days before eating and still maintain its quality. But it needs to be isolated from all other types of sweet corn to maintain its quality and not cross pollinate. Sy is a combo of several types on one ear. So some of the kernels may be Sh2, and some Se etc. It’s sweet, holds well, and doesn’t require isolation.
I’m pretty sure the peaches and cream corn I planted was a seed that had been accidentally crossed with field corn. (I bought it at a farm supply store). I’ve grown this same seed twice, and both times the corn was starchy. The first time, I thought, since I hadn’t grown corn in years, that I had let it over-ripen in the field. But this year I was careful to harvest early, and it was still starchy. I’ve heard that others do not commonly have that experience. I fed the rest of the seed and most of the cobs to the chickens. I didn’t feel right about selling it. The other three varieties, including the silver queen, were all great, and I didn’t notice a dramatic difference in sweetness between them. I tried to stagger plantings, based on number of days to maturity, so that I would have an extended harvest and nothing would cross. But in reality, my 70 day, 80 day, and 88 day corns all came in pretty close together. Best laid plans…
Corn is a tough decision when it comes to farmers markets. It doesn’t take much work once its in the ground and growing (it does like a lot of fertilizer and water, but I anticipate that). It’s easy to plant with an Earthway Garden Seeder. And its easy to harvest and sells well. But it takes up a lot of room, and you generally only get 2 ears per stalk, and many times, that second ear is not as good as the first. And you can’t charge much for corn, because when it is in season, everyone has it. I sold my corn 2/$1. It also tends to get pretty buggy with corn ear worm late in the season. But boy did we eat a lot of corn this year. It was worth growing just for us. SO DANGED GOOD. And I blanched and froze a bunch for corn chowder etc. this winter.
Next year I’ll probably just stick to the sy varieties, and do sequential plantings to space out the harvest (a fellow farmer plants his next batch of seed when the previous plants have two leaves – sometimes this is every two weeks, sometimes more like 10 days. It depends on the weather and time of year). Good advice that I will try next year. I have leaned that some people like white corn, some people like yellow corn and some people like bicolor corn. Me, I just like sweet corn. But I’ll look for an sy variety of white corn to add to the mix next year.
We also grew Painted Mountain Flour corn and a variety called Japonica Striped Maize, primarily an ornamentals. The Japonica did quite well, with small but full ears and very tall stalks. The Painted Mountain struggled. It could have been the heat. It could have been the inconsistent watering (it was in a completely different garden area), it could have been lack of adequate fertilizer. The plants were short, and the ears were not filled out completely, which indicates pollination issues. I’ll try one more time next year. I ended up selling all of my ornamental corn to a woman who removes the kernels and does crafts with them. They went for 25 ¢ each.
Cucumbers – I grew three types of picklers (Calypso, Russian and Boston), a white eating cuc called Holland White and the heirloom variety, Lemon. Honestly, I’m not a huge cucumber eater. I like them marinated with tomatoes in a salad, or in Tzatziki or Tabbouleh. I make and eat a few jars of pickles a year. But I’m never going to be a huge cucumber eater. And I think that is true of most people. I planted way too many this year.
Cuc’s are another plant that is easy to grow, but that you can’t sell for much. I sold all of my zucchini and cuc’s for 25 ¢ each. (I think of them as a loss leader to bring people to the booth, because I have so little work into them). I gave away pounds to the food bank. And eventually, I just stopped picking them or fed them to the goats, as they weren’t selling at all in September. So, fewer cucumbers next year, unless someone wants to contract with me to grow pickling cuc’s. My friend Lauri swears by the Armenian cucumbers, which are actually not a cucumber at all, but a type of melon. I tried to grow a few this year, but they got buried in the gourds. So I may try again next year, just as an experiment. My experience with customers at market is that most aren’t daring enough to try a “new” cucumber. We’ll see.
Melons – last year I grew Hannah’s Choice muskmelon. It was wonderful, and I saved seeds, as it was the only melon I grew (Watermelon are a different species and doesn’t cross). But Hanna’s choice is a hybrid, selected over 25 years for disease resistance and sweetness. Her parents are a French Charentais and a melon called Iroquois. So, by saved seeds from a hybrid, the plant will start to revert to the parents. And I did get two types of melons from those seeds this year. A small softball sized round melon and a larger more oblong melon. Both tasted wonderful.
Muskmelons have the wonderful trait of releasing from their stem when they are ripe, eliminating the guesswork of “is it ready yet?”. I LOVE that, as I’m always worried I’m selling something that isn’t at its optimum and then the customer will have a bad experience and won’t buy from me again. I saved seed from this year’s melons too (both types), and will plant them out again next year. I don’t care if they revert back to their parents, as long as they taste good.
Melons are fairly easy to grow, but they come on all at once. I had about a two-week period where I harvested almost all of the melons. So…lesson learned. Next year I’ll do several staggered plantings. These melons are so fragrant when ripe that they are very easy to sell. That said, Hermiston Oregon, just south of us, is an incredible melon growing region, and they sell melons at all of our markets, bringing them in by the flat-bed truck load. So I won’t be trying to corner the melon market any time soon.
I grew the heirloom Moon and Stars watermelon again this year, from seed saved from last year. It did well, but I realized I’m really not set up to be hauling 15-20 pound melons back and forth from market, or even displaying then adequately. So, next year I’m going to grow Blacktail Mountain, which come in at 6-10 lbs and has a very short growing season of 65 days. Plus, how can you not grow an open pollinated watermelon developed by a 17-year-old kid in northern Idaho?
Peppers – A lot of this year has been about refining my farming plan. Figuring out what I really want to grow. What takes the most or least work. What makes the most or least money at market. What drives me crazy to pick or makes me happy to harvest. And what I’ve fully realized this year is that growing peppers make me happy. We (especially my husband) love hot chiles and Mexican cooking. I also like to make my own spice blends, red and green chili sauce, hot sauce, barbecue sauce and salsa. So I always grow Jalapenos, Poblanos, Serranos, Cayenne, New Mexican (aka Anaheim) and Paprika peppers. Occasionally I’ll throw in some Habanero or try some new varieties (this year it was Georgia Flame Salsa peppers and Aurora ornamental peppers). Hot peppers generally don’t sell well at market. So I grow these mostly for us.
Bell peppers DO sell at market, though not for what they should. Have you ever priced organic red bell peppers in the grocery store? Years ago, when I was living on a very tight budget but trying to do right by the planet, I was buying an organic bell at a natural food store and it cost so much that I had to tell the cashier to put it back. So I sell mine at a reasonable price (much less than the grocery store) and revel in the abundance while they are here. I always roast and freeze a few bags, and this year I diced and froze a gallon container of all my sunburned peppers as well.
My bell peppers have always develop sunburned soft spots that eventually turn black and start to rot. Every year, for at least the last 10 years. The spots are easy enough to cut out, but it does make the fruits unsellable. So this year, a few weeks after I planted the seedlings, I covered the rows with a light weight agricultural fabric. It wasn’t a perfect solution. It was a bit too small as the plants started to get large, it was sometimes difficult to keep anchored in the wind, and it was hard to spot plants that needed to be tied up when they were covered most of the time. But, it WORKED. The first peppers to come off the plants had some sun damage. I attribute this to not covering them soon enough. But everything after that, (and I started harvesting the third week in August and went all the way through to early October) was sunspot free. Hooray.
Sweet varieties planted this year were Revolution and Bull Nose (grown at Monticello by Jefferson. Now THAT’S an heirloom), both heirlooms, and two sweet Italian frying peppers, Marconi Red and Golden Treasure. They all did very well. In fact all my peppers did very well (though the poblanos, true to form, didn’t put on much fruit. But they never do.) The Italian peppers had less issue with sunburn, and were a fun visual change of pace from the bells. The Golden Treasure set more fruit and ripened faster than the Marconi Red.
You may or may not remember that I had a goat get into the garden a few weeks after I had planted out the peppers. She ate 10 or 15 plants. And so I ended up planting out a few extra that I had planned to sell. Which made for bell peppers mixed into the Italians. And I planted the paprika peppers and the Georgia flame salsa peppers next to each other, and they looked almost identical. So when they started to get ripe, I had to do a taste test (and use my husband as a second guinea pig when my taste buds were blown out by the spice) to distinguish the two types and mark the paprika peppers with flagging (I only planted four…but which four. Ha). But all in all, a very successful pepper year, started with seeds planted indoors on March 18th, and the final harvest on October 12th.
What I really want to do is sell roasted green chiles at the farmers market when they are in season. Chile roasters are expensive. And I’d have to check with the health department about what hoops they would make me jump through. But no one does roasted chiles here. And with the size of our Hispanic population, not to mention the gourmet foodies and chefs, I think there is a market for it. Plus it would just be so danged fun. Because, turns out, I love growing peppers.
Tomatoes – Yup, the crown jewel of the garden. The thing that people grow when they have room to grow nothing else. The thing I wanted to grow more of when I was living in Colorado, and eeking out only a handful of ripe tomatoes every year. The queen of summer.
This year I tried out a bunch of new heirloom varieties, almost all of which came from Seed Saver’s Exchange. The varieties were chosen based on heirloom status, flavor, color/visual interest, and ability to withstand the rigors of going from field to market.
- Super Sweet 100 cherry – a hybrid that isn’t really a hybrid (save the seeds – it will come true).
- Sungold* cherry – a hybrid, but so darned sweet, you don’t care.
- Principe Borghese* – an Italian heirloom known to be good for drying. Slightly larger than a cherry. Prolific. Some sources claim its a determinate. It isn’t. I’ve grown it for years.
- Amish Paste – an old heirloom standby. This was my last year growing it.
- Federle – paste tomato. Long torpedo shape. Supposed to be good for salsa.
- Martino’s Roma – small paste tomato, tends to fall off the vine when ripe.
- Celebrity – determinate hybrid. I was using up the seed.
- Nebraska Wedding – orange determinate.
- Zapotec. A very ribbed tomato that a friend gave me to try. It cracked. It rotted. It wasn’t very prolific. It was a sad sad tomato.
- Brandywine* – an old heirloom standby. Smaller than I expected.
- Dester* – Pink beefsteak that wins flavor contests.
- Mortgage Lifter – supposed to be a crack resistant pink beefsteak.
- Red Zebra – pretty striped red tomato. Small.
- Green Zebra – pretty green striped tomato. Small.
- Cherokee Purple – always comes out on top in taste tests.
- German Pink* – crack resistant pink beefsteak.
The astericks indicate tomatoes from which I have saved seed and/or will grow again next year. I’m in the market for a new red cherry that is sweeter than the 100. I know there are some fun new varieties out there. I like having the contrast of red and yellow or other colored cherries in the same box at market. Eat the rainbow and all that.
I’ve grown the Principe for years, just for myself. I dry a ton of them and then use them throughout the year. This year I’m sending people a “sun-dried tomato pesto” kit as Christmas gifts.
I need to find a good paste tomato that does well here. The Federle were large, but tended to suffer from blossom end rot. Often a lot of the fruit was unusable. This is my 5th time (third location) growing Amish paste. And it did do better this year than in years past. But it still isn’t that prolific for me and is a sprawler and takes a LONG time to get ripe. The Martino’s Roma did the best out of the pastes. It was really prolific and had fewer problems with blossom end rot, but the fruit isn’t much larger than Principe, and when you’re canning tomatoes, and you have to blanch and peel them first, you want a LARGE paste tomato. I’d like to find a good source for San Marzano or Roma. I hear San Marzano Redorta is good. I’m open to suggestions. Perhaps the TomatoFest seed catalog for ideas next year?
This is the first year I’ve really successfully been able to grow heirlooms. And they were everything you would expect from heirlooms, good and bad. Fragile (I had one whose skin was punctured from setting it on the ground for a second when my hands were full – getting them to and from market is a HUGE challenge), prone to splitting at the top and then quickly rotting. Flavor that is out of this world. The ability to command a higher price because they are heirlooms (I sold all of my tomatoes (including the cherries, which take longer to pick) for $4/lb at the beginning of the season – $3/lb later in the season. What didn’t sell or was damaged I brought home and made roasted tomato sauce out of). And of course, eating your body weight in tomatoes during the month of August is hard to beat, too.
As I mentioned, I had a problem with blossom end rot this year, but NOT on all varieties. Some were way more prone to it than others. Supposedly, blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency aggravated by heat and water issues. Soil pH can also be a factor, as can high nitrogen levels. What they don’t tell you, but my experience this year seems to bear out, is that some varieties are more susceptible than others. I watered with a drip system this year, and am pretty confident that things stayed adequately moist. I had tons of fruit split late in the season when we had rain, which to me indicates that I wasn’t overwatering. The plants never looked water stressed, so I don’t think I was underwatering either.
So, next year I’m planting Dester, German Pink and Brandywine tomatoes again. The Dester and German Pink were both wonderfully flavored tomatoes and came in at a pound or more a piece. They produced well and continuously, didn’t suffer from rot issues, had less cracking, and were gorgeous at market. The Brandywine wasn’t nearly as large as I was expecting, but it also had no cracking issues, was prolific, and traveled well for market.
The rest were a disappointment. Yes, nothing beats a Cherokee purple for flavor, and they are great early in the season. But the quality goes down and the cracking goes up as the season progresses. So much so that they aren’t worth harvesting about half way through. Nebraska wedding had lots of rot issues (though no cracking). Red zebra was prolific but also had lots of rot. Plus they just aren’t a very big tomato, and they get smaller as the season progresses. Green zebra did better, but also had some rot issues. I may or may not plant it again next year, depending on what stripped tomato I can find to replace it. Mortgage lifter was a big disappointment. Took a LONG time to mature. Not very prolific. I just wasn’t impressed in comparison to Dester and German Pink.
But we canned about 30 pints of salsa, 20 or so of plain tomatoes (plus a few quarts), a batch of BBQ sauce, and made three batches of roasted tomato sauce for the freezer. It was, by in large, my best tomato year ever, despite the occasional disappointment. Next year, extra tall tomato cages. I use concrete reinforcing wire for tomato cages and need to keep it at full height to avoid the sprawl and bent stems that was happening this year.
I also grew purple tomatillos (which split less than the green ones) so I could make this Roasted Tomatillo salsa, and some ground cherries, that I mostly didn’t pick. Customers love the ground cherries when they try them, but I need to figure out a better way to cage them so they aren’t so tedious to harvest. Not worth it otherwise. Both tomatillos and ground cherries reseeded in several places in the garden as well. I’ll probably never be without them.
That’s it. Put a fork in us, we’re done. If you read the last three posts, you’ll know all about how the season went for us. Me, I’ll use these posts as a reminder in February when I’m asking myself, “what was the name of that watermelon I wanted to grow again?”
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we’re happy the season is winding down, but are excited for next year’s possibilities.