Garden Review 2021: Warm-Weather Vegetables

This past year I grew a variety of warm-weather vegetables as well. My favorites are the winter squash and watermelons.

Cucumber, Baby Persian–My second year growing these, and still no luck 😦 I’ll keep trying. These are my favorite cukes to snack on during the summer.
Cucumber, Silver Slicer–I grew this variety mainly due to Jess from Roots and Refuge. It grew well, but the skin was thinker than I’d like and it was slightly bitter. (To be fair, I’m highly sensitive to bitter foods.)
Cucumber, Snow’s Fancy Pickling–Grew pretty well. The variety originated in my hometown, which is why I decided to try it. It’s a basic pickling cucumber, and grew pretty well.
Melon, Delice de la Table–I only harvested one of these, and it was right after a big rain and the melon had split. Very tasty lobed cantaloupe variety with a matte orange rind. I’ll grow again this year.
Melon, Kajari–Another variety I grew mainly due to Jess’s ravings about how good it was. Like my other melon, though I only harvested one, right after it split. It tasted like a basic small honeydew melon, imho, though the rind is a pretty orange with green stripes. Will not be growing this year.
Watermelon, Mini Love–I picked this one up on Amazon and tried it because I had not have a lot of luck with larger watermelons, and I’m the only one who likes watermelons in my house in any event. I planted it late in the season and only harvested one fruit, but that fruit was amazing–perfectly sweet, firm flesh, not too many seeds, and just the right size for one person. Upon doing more research I found it was a Johnny’s Seeds F1 variety, and an All American Select winter. It’s also one of Johnny’s most expense varieties. I fully understand why. I will definitely be growing this one again next year.

Summer would not be the same without the nightshade family. I really went overboard in this category as I’m trying to find the varieties that are worth the acid reflux that they usually bring.

Eggplant, Listada de Gandia–This was my first year trying eggplants. This eggplant produced cute, 4″ long purple and white striped eggplants. Very pretty, but as I found out, most eggplants are covered in thick spikes. Probably will not be growing eggplants again this year as I rarely cook with them.
Pepper, Alma Paprika (sweet)–This variety was productive, but unfortunately not as spicy as I had hoped.
Pepper, Aurora (hot, decorative)–This was a decorative pepper that produced yellow, orange, red, and purple 2″ long peppers on a small plant. It made for a nice decorative plant until the peppers started to get overripe, at which point they turned from purple to a grayish-violet color that was pretty gross looking.
Pepper, Bangles Blend–This variety is meant to be a stuffing pepper. It was very prolific but the peppers were small which very thick flesh and a hard skin–no one who I gave them to liked them.
Pepper, Biquinho Yellow (hot)–Cute, small novelty pepper. Moderately hot, slightly lemony taste. This variety took the longest to mature by far–at least five months. Once the plants were up and running, though, they were very productive.
Pepper, Black Pearl (decorative)–The longest growing decorative pepper I’ve grown yet; took four months before it set some fruit. Very cute pepper plant–black-purple leave sand little black berries. I’d actually recommend this one as a nice medium-height decorative plant for a garden.
Pepper, Fish (hot)–Grew relatively fast but took forever to bear fruit. Did not become very prolific until the very end of the season. The varigation was on the leaves and peppers, but it was very slight.
Pepper, Pasilla Bajio Chile Chilaca (mild/hot)–Received this one from Botanical Interests as part of my “black plants” buying spree. I’m pretty sure the seeds they sent were not this variety at all; they look more like Shishito peppers. The peppers never turned black and were smaller that they should have been. That said, I really loved the flavor–mild and sweet with the perfect level of heat for my tastes of heat. Great for stir-frys for the flavor only, as the peppers themselves are not more that 4″ long and think skinned. This variety also grew very fast and started putting out fruit early and often.
Tomatillo, Grande Rio Verde–All of my tomatillos grew a lot faster and a lot taller than the seed packets stated. This one, in particular, grew really tall. Both of them ended up toppling over several times b/c I had them in grow pots that were too small. Because of this they both got some kind of bumpy growth on the stems and started to wilt, and neither produced fruit. Will try again this year.
Tomatillo, Purple–Same as above.
Tomato, Barry’s Crazy Cherry–These took a while to start fruiting, but once they did it was relentless. The pale yellow fruit was moderately sweet and had a hard, spiky end.
Tomato, Carbon–Moderatley productive. Tasted less complex than a Paul Robeson.
Tomato, Paul Robeson–Moderately productive. Due to our really dry summer, many of the tomatoes had catfacing. Still, the ones I harvested tasted amazing fresh, especially sprinkled with salt. A must-grow for this season.
Tomato, Sun Gold Pole Cherry–A very profilic and tasty orange-yellow cherry tomato. Very sweet, think skinned. Everyone seemed to like them.  
Tomato, Thornburn’s Terracotta–This one was moderately productive, with an interestingly matte red/orange color. t was not very tasty, however.
Tomato, White Tomesol–This was a free seed packed I received from Baker Creek. It was by far the most prolific tomato I grew that wasn’t a cherry tomato. The medium-sized tomatoes turn a slight slickly yellow when ripe. The taste reminded me of a watered-down Paul Robeson. 

I’m not a huge summer squash fan, so I didn’t try to grow many. That said, I haven’t had much luck with them–either from seed or seedling. No buckets full of zuchinni–I feel like a failed Midwesterner 😦 Maybe this year.

Summer Squash, Fordhook Zucchini–Not much luck. Small plants.
Summer Squash, Yellow Scallop–Plants were good sized–bushy, and produced pretty well. I didn’t start this one until late summer so it did not have a long harvest season.

Winter squash, however, are definitely my favorites. I always try to grow more that my city lot can handle. Usually I’m pretty successful, but this past year was not a great squash year overall. Here are the varieties I tried this past year:

Pumpkin, Musquee de Provence (c. moschata)–My favorite pumpkin by far. It looks exactly like an antique Cinderella pumpkin–in fact , in many seed catalogues label this the “Cinderella pumpkin”. It is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s a full-sized pumpkin (15-20lbs average) grown on a long, vigorous vine, and I have a moderately-big city yard to grow in. The first year I grew it I let it take over my back fence and grow into the alley behind us, and I harvested one big pumpkin (and several smaller ones). This past year, however, I tried to limit the vines to one main vine and put it in a less sunny area, my blossoms never seemed to get fertilized and I did not get any pumpkins.
Pumpkin, Casparita (c. pepo, F1 hybrid)–This is an adorable small white pumpkin–it’s abotu as wide as a Jack-be Little pumpkin and twice as tall. They ended up being smaller than I had hoped, but they are still very cute–and given that it has a bush habit, I can grow it in a grow bag anywhere with no issues with space. Definitely growing this again next year.
Pumpkin, Jack Be Little (c. pepo)–This is that tiny little orange decorative pumpkin that you see in every store come fall. The vines for this one turned out to be longer and more vigorous than many full-sized squashes I grew. It was cute but not worth the space it took in my yard, especially when you can buy it anywhere.
Winter Squash, Blue Hubbard (c. maxmia)–This is our favorite winter squash–firm, dry orange flesh with no strings. This is a hard variety to get ahold of; the only place I can find it locally is at an apple orchard about 30 min away. My own plants grew pretty well at first, but then the squash vine borers took down 90%b of my winter squash plants. I did a second sowing in late July, which avoided the vine borers but did not give the fruit enough time to ripen. I ended up buying a few from the local apple orchard.
Winter Squash, Honeynut (hybrid, moschata/maxima)–This variety is one I got from Botanical Interests. It’s meant to be a baby butternut squash. I hoped that the vines would be shorter than the massive Waltham Butternut squash plants I grew last year. I had to re-sow these pants due to vine borers. I had plenty of time to do so but even so the squash did not get bigger than 4″ long, and remained mostly green. When we ate them, they were pretty stringy and the taste was eh. Not recommended.
Winter Squash, Butterscotch  (F1 Hybrid)–We got this variety from Johnny’s Seeds–I believe they bred it but I’m not sure. These squash had a medium sized vine and produced pale orange mini-butternut squashes which were 6″ or so long. I had to resow these due to the vine borers as well, and still got a decent harvest of them. They tasted fine.
Winter Squash, Jester F1 (Delicata) (c. pepo)–This ended up being my partner’s favorite squash this year. As with every other winter squash, the vine borers got to it. It has a nice bush habit, so it should fit in the garden fine next year. I ended up buying mine from the local orchard. This squash does not store well–ours were dried out by December. Until then they are very sweet and tender.
Winter Squash, Red Kuri (c. maxmia)–I had not luck growing this my first year, but I did have luck this past year. I did a second sowing in July, and I was able to harvest a few squash by October. These squash store pretty well–I cut into the last one this week as hte rind was starting to go, but the interior was as juicy as a newly harvested squash and showed no damage at all. Vines are medium length.
Winter Squash, Starry Night (Acorn) (c. pepo)–Again, the vine borers got it. I was able to harvest one from my second sowing. Bush habit.
Winter Squash, Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato (Acorn)–I planted these later in the summer and avoided the vine borers. The vines were very vigorous and grew medium length–I can see them goring longer given the chance, however. These vines were very prolific. I either harvested the squash too soon, or the flesh itself is very pale, but none of the squash I harvested stored very well or looked very appetizing when I cut into them. Probably not going to grow again.

So, 2021’s gardens was moderately successful, on the whole. I’m excited to see how 2022’s garden will turn out!

The Drought (Heat Wave, June 2021)

Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but here in the upper Midwest we’ve been experiencing some crazy heat. This, following an exceedingly dry spring (and now summer), has put us in a drought. And my plants are not happy.

We’ve been experiencing at least 90F highs since June 5. I had about four days between having to shelter my pepper plants in the house overnight due to frost warnings before the high temperatures kicking in. Spring? What Spring??

After a week of these high temps, I kind of gave up. I’d been watering my garden every night and checking each and every plant several times a day, every day, and even so I lost a bunch of them. I lost 4 out of 5 of my expensive Joan J thornless raspberries. All of their new growth had started to go brown, for some reason, right before the heat wave anyway, and when the heat wave hit, they went down like a house of cards. Even the largest one finally gave up the ghost today, apparently. Also, half of my strawberries have died–for the most part these are the ones from disreputable sellers that I would have been surprised if they had survived and produced fruit anyway, but still. And my sweet peas–out of season at this point, true, but still–need constant watering or they turn into prematurely dried sweet peas. At this point, my attitude is: If you’re not strong enough to survive this, then I don’t need you in my garden, no matter how valuable of a plant you are. Suck it up, buttercup.

My plants are also getting heavily hit by some kind of black speck that just looks like dirt got splashed up on the plant’s leaves, but is in fact some kind of nasty bug that is killing many of my plants. It appears to like my dahlias and poppies best, for some reason. And my cabbages! I expected the cabbages to be attacked by the cabbage worms, sure, but these tiny black bugs are even worse. An entire beautiful Napa cabbage plant turned to lace overnight. Cabbage worms, even at their worst, can’t do that. So I’m spraying BT and dusting with diatomaceous earth pretty much every day. My understanding is that this hot dry weather is perfect for these bugs, so until we get out of this drought, this is the situation we’re in. If nothing else, cabbage grows really quickly and I can try again in the fall.

Some good news?

As long as I keep on top of the watering, my potatoes are extremely happy. I’ve never grown potatoes, but they are big and lush and energetic despite the heat. My tomatoes are also coming along quite happily, and my squash seeds are germinating and sprouting really fast. Also, when they are not getting eaten alive, my dahlias are also loving this hot weather. And the rest of the strawberries–those strong enough to survive–are thriving and putting out a ton of fruit. I have my first home-grown strawberry (Albion, from Johnny’s) a week ago! It was tasty, but not mind-blowing. What was mind-blowing was tasting my first home-grown snap pea about two weeks ago (Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snap, Baker Creek); the flavor was amazingly sweet and complex.

Surprisingly, my snap peas and my lettuces are still growing apace. No issues there. I think it helps that I’m primarily growing Salanova lettuce varieties from Johnny’s, which have some kind of heat resistance. My peas in the Greenstalk are producing steadily and have huge vines. The ones in raised beds and containers (planted about a month or so later) are growing and starting to produce, but the vines maybe a bit shorter than they should be. As this is the first year that I’ve ever had any success with peas, I have no idea.

Also thriving are the old raspberry bushes in the yard. I had dug out most of them because they were old and worn out, and the bed was infested with a ton of large elm and maple saplings. (We have a huge problem with random tree saplings popping in our garden and lawn–anybody else have this issue?) But some raspberry canes on the far end of the bed did survive, and they are producing heavily this year. Also, my next-door neighbor’s out-of-control raspberry bushes jut through our fence and, this year, all of those errant canes are heavily laden with raspberries 🙂

I’ve had other setbacks– my mini butternut squash (Honey Nut, Botanical Interests) took 11 days to germinate; it was so slow that I ended up going online and bought a different type from a different seed store and started again (Butterscotch, bred by Johnny’s). Of course by the time the new seeds arrived, the old ones had finally sprouted. I also found out that the type of tulsi basil I had been attempting to grow (just called “tulsi basil”) was not the type I was looking for–the type I was growing turned out to be almost scentless, whereas the type I’m looking for should have a really strong spicy smell to it. So I had to track that variety down (called “Kapoor Tulsi” from Johnny’s; MI Gardener also apparently has it but they were sold out), buy the seeds, and start over my tulsi basil from scratch this month. I also accidentally topped off my only Dad’s Sunset tomato plant the day after I finally tossed the rest of my back-up tomato seedlings. Sigh. Maybe I’ll try it again next year.

And finally , if you’ve read recent posts, I also had to toss a bunch of my dahlias for crown gall (or suspicion of having crow gall). I ended up digging out every single one of my dahlias just to make sure they didn’t have gall. A few I gave only cursory inspections of–if they had come from a small, independent grower who hand-picked each tuber, for example–but the rest were given a through examination. From that, I ended up throwing out another five tubers, and if they had arrived in bunches of 2 or three , those tubers as well. And, due to the heat, even the ones that didn’t have gall didn’t have a chance to regrow their roots before the heat kicked in, so… probably ⅔ of my dahlias, gone. I(Later that same day, though, that I got an email for a last chance sale on dahlias at Swan Island dahlias, so I ended up picking up a few more. Though their tubers are expensive, at least I know Swan Island rigorously inspects each their tubers. (the tuber’s name is stamped on the bulb itself).

But, man. This heat can stop ANY TIME now.

2020 Garden Recap: Squash

By far my most successful crop this year were my winter squashes. This group surprised me considerably, because I realized i didn’t know a thing about which type would vine and which wouldn’t. I hadn’t grown any squash since I was a kid, which was part of the problem, and I was working off of hazy 30-year-old memories of the garden we had when I was young. So I planted a bunch of different types, and learned a lot as I went.

Things I learned:

Zucchini and Yellow Crookneck are not vining squashes. It’s a huge, sprawling, bush plant that, next year, will be planted by its lonesome in a container. Also, the zucchini plants I bought at the local big box store did not produce at all, so I ended up buy seeds and planting them again right before fall for a quick harvest. Again, I did n’t get much zucchini (or yellow crookneck squash). I’m highly tempted not to plant any next year, but I did just pick up some seeds for a cute Patty Pan-type of zucchini, so I may have to give that one a go.

Butternut Squash is a vining squash. And how. This was by far my most productive squash, which is surprising as I had to toss my original batch of seedlings from the local nursery due to powdery mildew, and started from scratch with Waltham Butternut Squash seeds (Baker Creek) in mid-June. These seeds took off and never looked back. I ended up with eight mature squash, six of which were full-sized (two of them didn’t have time to finish growing before fall kicked in). Unfortunately, though they grew wonderfully, their taste turned out to be very mild. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at all. So, despite my luck with them, I don’t think I’ll be growing this variety next year.

i also picked up a few acorn squash plants from the local nursery. These, apparently, are not vining plants despite being winter squash. (A friend who received seedlings from the same pack had hers sprawl rather dramatically over her garden, but I’m not sure if it was actually vining or just a really big bush.) Either way, I only harvested one squash per plant, and they were not that tasty either, though it may just have been that I picked them too early.

A new squash I experimented with was the Red Kuri Winter Squash (seeds, Botanical Interests). I’d seen it on several websites where it was touted as being one of the most tasty of all winter squashes. I had good germination, but my plants all kept having what looked like sawdust build up around the base of the stem. It wasn’t until after I had pulled up one and was able to pull up another that I realized that they were suffering from the dreaded Squash Vine Borer. I did save my third (and final) plant by dissecting the stem and removing the grub, but alas, the lone Red Kuri squash did not fully ripen. I’m up in the air about planting this again next year, as it seemed especially susceptible to the vine borers–none of my other varieties of squash plants were affected. And yes, this is a vining variety, though it doesn’t get past 8′ as far as I can tell.

Last, but not least, is my all-time favorite squash from this year’s garden: the Musque de Provence pumpkin, and heirloom variety from southern France. I can’t say enough about this pumpkin. It’s absolutely gorgeous–it looks exactly the way Disney’s Cinderella’s pumpkin looked, deeply lobed with lovely curly tendrils. And the foliage is strikingly varigated–massive heart-shaped sage green leaves with white inkspots dotted throughout. The pumpkin can also be used for soups–the flesh is a deep orange and is slightly sweet, the flavor slightly reminiscent of cantaloupe. As the flesh is sweet and mildly stringy, I recommend it for soups and pies rather than roasting. Baker Creek states that you could even slice it thin and eat it fresh. (I tried this–it’s okay, but leaves a bit of a dry, powdery aftertaste.) If you have the room, I highly recommend planting this one. Be warned, though, it will grow at least 20′, if not longer, and will spread widely if you don’t keep it in check. I harvested four pumpkins off of one plant, though only one was large enough to decorate with (15.6 lbs.)