March 4, 2010

Winners and losers in a soggy season

— Leeks love liquid.

So this was a great year to plant our first crop of leeks. May, June and much of July were soggy months, with much more rain than normal. As a result, the leeks are tall, round, fat and tasty.

Granddaughter Maeve and I planted the King Richard leeks from Johnny's on the last weekend of April. It was wonderfully mindless activity, with me creating the hole and Maeve dropping in the leeks along a whole row. Maeve was not around when I planted the Lancelot leeks a week later.

I can't really tell the difference between the two varieties, and Nancy has already told me that we won't need so many next year. We are searching for more recipes that use leeks besides the potato and leek soup we already have tried.

One surprise from the leeks was their decorative value. About midsummer, I noticed scapes with flower buds coming up in 3-foot curly stems.

I knew you were supposed to cut out the scapes for garlic, and figured you would have to do the same for leeks. So I cut them and put them in the compost.

Nancy picked them up and put them in pin holders, and over the course of the summer, we watched them produce baseball-size globe flowers.

The leeks weren't the only rain-loving fruits and vegetables that did well this year. The peas did quite well, although our Sugar Snap peas let go of their support fence in a high-wind rainstorm and did not produce as well as they should have.

The shelling peas did not produce until July 12 -- no fresh peas for the Fourth of July -- but did keep producing in our succession plantings until mid-August, so that worked well.

We also had our best year ever for carrots. Our garden soil is stony, and I think that inhibited our carrot production.

In the early spring, I dug out a 6-inch-deep carrot bed, about 2 feet wide and 12 feet long.

I then filled this bed with compost and sifted garden soil, so there were no rocks to interfere with the growth of the carrots.

We had the carrots early, and we are still eating them.

We had a lot of strawberries -- enough for a lot of meals and some jam -- but I lamented all the ones that went moldy on the vines.

The blueberries were productive and tasty, as were the raspberries.

We have plenty of both in the freezer to get us through the winter.

For some reason, however, we had no peaches at all.

I am guessing that the peach blossoms came out during a period of heavy rain, and there simply was no pollination.

The rain was not kind to the tomato crop. Maine got hit with late blight, the fungus that caused the Irish famine. And even people who escaped the late blight lost their tomatoes to other water-related diseases.

Our tomatoes produced more than most, but as soon as I bragged a little about how our tomatoes were producing, they started dying off.

We did get probably 30 full-size tomatoes over the summer, but none after Labor Day.

The cherry tomatoes -- we went back to Sweet Million this year -- lasted quite a bit later, so we were not without tomatoes.

Our potatoes did surprisingly well, although they are also affected by late blight.

I still have not dug them all, but we have eaten a lot and have given quite a few away -- and we still have about two-thirds of the crop left to dig.

In taking a root-cellar class, I found out potatoes and leeks last longer if you leave them in the ground as late as possible.

When I do dig the potatoes, I am going to be as careful as possible to find all of them. Late blight will survive the Maine winter outside only in compost and in potatoes, according to Eric Sideman of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

There were some failures, however.

We somehow lost our watermelon seed left over from last year, but didn't discover it until after Fedco Seeds stopped taking orders for the year.

I tried Sugar Baby, which I got at Allen Sterling & Lothrop, but it did not do as well as the Peace watermelon from Fedco.

We failed twice with eggplant. We got seeds for the white eggplant Gretel, which did not produce strong seedlings.

So I got two other kinds of eggplant seedlings at the Portland farmers' market, and they produced some, but we really did not enjoy eating them.

The peppers didn't produce much, and only about two of them turned red.

I enjoyed having a rain barrel, even though I did not need it much. We used it a lot in April and May, and quite a bit in August and early September.

If the Portland Water District sells them again next spring, I suggest that everyone get one.

We had a lot of flowers this summer, with the dahlias and gladioli doing especially well.

Nancy does a great job cutting and arranging the flowers, and we had three or more vases in our house from early May until mid-October.

We did buy a new magnolia tree this year.

The saucer magnolia, which we have had since the early 1980s, got damaged in a storm two winters ago, and I had been hoping I could prune it and make it look good again. But it just kept looking sicker.

So in August, I planted a Leonard Messel, which was a Cary Award winner in 1998.

I planted it farther way from the house than the old magnolia -- which I haven't pulled yet.

The plan is to have a few blooms from the old one until the newer one gets established in three years.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

tatwell@pressherald.com

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