Happy Bell PepperWhat gardener doesn’t live for the warm season crops? The squash, the corn, the peppers, and of course, swoon, the tomatoes. As we work our way through the 2nd week of December, and approach the shortest day of the year on December 21st, I dream of the summer just past and the summer to come. Here’s what worked, and what didn’t, for me in 2014.

Sweet Corn.  A fellow vendor grows a lot of corn. I asked him about how often he seeds to have a continuous harvest, and he said it wasn’t a time interval. He just planted the next batch when the last batch had two to three strong leaves.  Sometimes that took a couple of weeks, sometimes it happened in less than one, depending on the weather. So that’s what I did this year, and it was great advice. This year I grew Honey Select and Providence. Both are synergistic (sy) varieties that combine different genetics on the same ear. No, this is not GMO corn. (As an aside, there is almost no GMO sweet corn, unless its been cross contaminated. It’s the flour/feed varieties that get planted by the 10,000 acres. That’s where the money is so that’s where the GMO is). Synergistic varieties hold much longer, both on the stalk and after picked, before becoming starchy. Since I need an extended window for harvesting for market, this is what works for me. Both Honey Select and Providence are hybrids (as most sweet corns are). Wikipedia actually has a really well done piece on the genetics of sweet corn. Honey Select is a yellow corn. Providence is a bicolor. We ate them side by side this summer, and liked both equally well. I didn’t get the harvest this year that I did last year, which was disappointing. My market friend grows the Xtra-Tender variety, which stores REALLY well, but I’m pretty happy with the varieties I have right now.

DSC08212watermarkI also grew a popcorn, a Japanese ornamental corn, and some multicolored Indian corn this year, FAR away from the sweet corn (you don’t want them to cross pollinate or it affects the quality of the sweet corn). But unfortunately, these varieties were planted in marginally fertile ground and didn’t get much water or attention. So while we got a few ears, it was nothing spectacular. Next year I’ll do better…there’s always next year. Grin.

Beans. I didn’t grow green snap beans for market this year. Too much labor for what I can charge for them, and they don’t store well, which makes harvest even more difficult. I did try to grow Fortex, a French fillet bean, for myself, and they took FOREVER to start producing. I finally decided to just let them get mature and harvest the seed, is it is often unavailable from seed catalogs due to “crop failure”. Now I know why. It’s a slow poke to mature as well. But I did get a good cup or so of seed for next year. Beans tend to be self fertile, so its pretty easy to save seed and plant again next year. Beans don’t tend to be hybrids.

I also grew Hidatsa Shield Figure and Tiger’s Eye heirloom dried beans this year. I stopped growing Calypso ( also called yin yang). I loved the way yin yang beans looked, but wasn’t all that wild about their taste when cooked. The Hidatsa Shield Figure didn’t do real well for me last year, when I planted them amongst the flour corn, so I wanted to give them another shot. They did MUCH better this year. Tiger’s Eye wasn’t quite as productive as last year, but it is a nice early maturing bean. We pick and hand shell our dried beans, which takes a lot of work. I’m now on the look out for a good black bean to grow, and generally looking for MORE BEANS PER POD, which saves a lot of time/labor later. Using a bean inoculant is always a good idea to increase yield, but I didn’t do that this year. I can’t quite figure out how to get the inoculant onto the beans (you normally apply the inoculant powder to wet beans) and still use my wheel planter.

Squash. Every year I plant summer squash, just because its so easy to grow and take to market. I’ve finally come to the conclusion, after 20 years of trying to like it, that summer squash is just never gonna be my favorite vegetable. I’ll eat it, but I’m always kind of meh about it compared to, say, a pepper or a tomato or an ear of corn, or even a head of broccoli. And every year, I plant several hills near each other, and some do really well, and some don’t. I really really need to spread the hills out across the garden, and I never do. This year I caged a patty pan squash, using an old tomato cage, which I’ve never done before, and it grew like CRAZY. I have no idea if this had to do with it being caged. The squash bugs got into the summer squash, but not too dramatically, so they were still producing right up until frost. When frost came, I was SO done with them anyway, which pretty much every gardener experiences every year. Laugh.

Pie PumpkinsThe winter squash was seriously impacted by squash bugs, despite my full court press to seek and destroy them for pretty much the entire month of July. (I saw the first squash bug on July 4th, which is easy to remember, so now that’s my date to start looking next year). The larger pumpkin varieties, Lumina and Cinderella (Rouge Vif d’Etampes ) never had a chance. They got about 4 leaves and then died. The Japanese Kabocha types (I grew three different ones) all died as well. Didn’t get a single one. The small pie pumpkins (Baby Pam and New England Pie) always seem to manage to set a lot of fruit despite the bug pressure, so that harvest was OK, but I only got three delicata total. The spaghetti squash were also seriously affected, with a much reduced crop, though I did get 6 or 7. The Butternut, which is a different genus/species than most other winter squash, is more resistant to insect attack. So those did the best of all. Next year, I’ll plant in a new location entirely (which is what I should have done this year!), start seed in the greenhouse to ensure a good start, and patrol, patrol, patrol for bugs again next year.

New varieties to try next year will be doran, a pumpkin shaped butternut I got from my friend Ed, and a naked pumpkin seed squash (you grow them for the seeds), probably the Kakai variety. So many squash, so little time.

Mixed Hot Peppers

Future Awesome Sauce!

Peppers. It was a good pepper year. Not quite as spectacular as last year (we got really hot about 2 weeks earlier this year than last), but still a great harvest. I grow sweet bells (heirloom Bull Nose and Revolution) and Italian Frying Peppers (Golden Treasure and Marconi Red) for market (and our own use) and hot peppers for making what we are now calling Awesome Sauce. I take the tops and seeds off of a whole mess of mixed hot peppers, roughly chop, throw in a large pot with some water to keep them from scorching, soften, and put through a food mill. Then the pulp goes back into the pot with some vinegar, salt, and whatever spices we think it needs. It comes out different every year, but is always great. It’s our own version of sriracha sauce, and last year we ate about 10 pints of the stuff. I also dry a lot of hot peppers for various dishes, and use hot peppers in canned salsa (40 pints put up this year). This year I grew serrano, jalapeno, thai, habanero (free seeds), Joe Parker (a New Mexico green chili), Georgia Flame (from the country, not the state), cayenne, poblano, and some sweet paprika peppers. If I could make money doing it, I’d grow nothing but tomatoes and peppers. LOVE them. Next year I’ll add Big Jim to the Joe Parker – both are authentic New Mexico Green Chilies developed by New Mexico State University, and some Tien Tsin Chinese hot peppers (which are the kind you find floating around whole in General Tso’s Chicken).

Valencia Tomatoes on the vine

This picture was taken on November 7th.

Tomatoes. Oh, tomatoes, how I love thee. This year, making a reappearance from last year, were German Pink, Dester, Brandywine, Super Sweet 100 cherry and Sun Gold cherry. New this year were Striped German, Valencia, Black Krim and a Black Cherry, and the three paste tomatoes I talked about in this post. The real winner was the Valencia. This 12 or so oz orange fruited plant just kept producing and producing and producing. The plants still looked fantastic right up to frost, when the other heirlooms had succumbed to late season heat or blight or whatever.  Nicely flavored, nicely sized and beautifully colored. I wish I could find a red tomato JUST like it.

Valencia Heirloom Tomato

This was the harvest on November 7th from two plants!

The Striped Germans were the runner up for newbies. HUGE fruit, some it it over a pound, wonderfully flavored and gorgeous. The plant produced really well for the first couple of months, but pittered out in October. The black krim did better than Cherokee purple, in terms of production (I’ve grown Cherokee in the past, but after the first flush of fruit, it never produced well for me – several years running, so I dropped it), but wasn’t anything all that special. The black cherry was pretty, but the flavor wasn’t even close to the sun gold. I’ve decided to only grow sun gold next year. It’s what everyone loves, including me. So next year, I’ll keep the German Pink, Dester, Striped German, Valencia and Sun Gold, along with the San Marzano Redorta paste tomato. I’ll probably drop the Brandywine (the particular variety I’m growing is smaller than Valencia) and try one or two new red varieties that are not too large, not too small, but just right. For market, people want a fruit that is large enough for slicing, but not so large that when you charge $3 or $4 a pound, they pay more than that for one tomato. So, a 12 oz size is about right.

Cantelope

Here you can see both types, the football and the softball.

Melons. A few years ago, I grew Hanna’s Choice cantaloupe. It’s a really wonderful hybrid. I saved seed from it and have been growing those out as well. I’ve ended up with one football shaped melon and one soft ball shaped melon. Both are lovely. I’ll probably buy some more actual Hanna next year, plus continue to plant out the others. I LOVE cantaloupe, and these, when they are ripe, perfume a room.

I also grew Blacktail Mountain watermelon this year. This is an heirloom variety with a short maturity time and fairly small size. But I had a difficult time with germination (direct seed) and so didn’t get very many melons. I was planting using landscape fabric and I suspect that the ground temperature was too warm with the black fabric. Next year I’ll germinate them in the greenhouse and then plant them out. I DID save seed from the ones I did grow, and so should have plenty for next year (vs the measly amount of seed that came in the seed packet).

Blacktail Mountain WatermelonCelery and celeriac. Fun to grow, but probably not worth bothering with next year. The celery, in particular, is difficult to grow and have it come out tender like we are used to in the store. It tends to be rather robust compared to what we are used to. I use a lot of celery in cooking, but its one of the few vegetables you will never see me munching on raw, even with peanut butter or ranch dressing.

Cucumbers. I grew a few, but this is not my favorite garden vegetable, and I can’t sell it for much at market, and its hard to keep up with the harvest. I’ll probably skip them next year, except for a few for summer salads and tabouli.

DSC08270watermarkThe funnest project last summer was growing sweet potatoes! I had one in my cupboard last spring that had sprouted. I knew that it was these sprouts, called slips, that were what you actually planted to grow a new plant. So I put the slips in water until they grew roots, then put them in 6″ pots until they were growing well. Then I put each plant into a BIG 15 gallon plastic pot. The pots had once been used to hold litter to catch the manure from the rabbits, so the sides were coated with dried crystallized rabbit urine (ewww – I know). Other than soil from the yard, and maybe a handful of organic fertilizer, that was all the special treatment they got, other than water every day. And when I turned the buckets over in the fall, they were FULL of sweet potatoes. I’m sure this isn’t how you are supposed to do it, but it worked, and now I know that I can grow them here. SO cool. Just an FYI, when you first harvest sweet potatoes, they need to be “cured” in a warm humid environment for a few days. This helps convert some of the starches to sugars. A greenhouse in late fall works quite well for this. I like my sweet potatoes orange, moist and sweet. I believe, but don’t know, that the variety I grew is Covington, or possibly Beauregard. I’d love to try growing the Japanese purple skinned variety that I recently bought at the store. I LOVE sweet potatoes!

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where we’re in that frantic time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and just trying to keep our head above water and a smile on our face. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, fill in the blank with your preferred salutation. May your days be merry and bright!

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