November 2, 2012

Maine Gardener: Looking back, this gardening season was sow, sow bountiful

By Tom Atwell tatwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

With the first frost a couple of weeks ago, this garden season came to an end. And it was a good one. It started early, lasted late, and except for one dry spell in the middle, had enough rain that we did not have to get the sprinklers out much.

Let’s go first with the tomatoes. We ate tomatoes from very early August through early October, although I pulled all the plants in late September.

The absolute winner for tomatoes was Sweet 100, a cherry tomato that produced probably a half a pint a day for two full months. They were sweet and delicious, and very few of them split as they got ripe. Sweet 100 is an indeterminate tomato, and the vines grew about 7 feet tall by the time the season ended. I had them in cages and in spiral tomato supports, but once the vines outgrew those, I tied them to a post with strips of flannel sheeting that I found in my rag pile.

The absolute loser of the tomato crop was a variety called Oregon Spring. I bought a flat of six seedlings because the label said this variety did not need staking. The label was a lie.

The plants flopped as soon as they had any fruit on them, so I did stake them. The fruits did not get as large as advertised. As a determinate tomato, they all ripened at once, although many of themrotted before they got fully ripe.And the ones that did ripen didn’t have a very good flavor.

For full-sized tomatoes, the Rutgers and Mountain Pride did much better – although one of the six Rutgers plants never produced a tomato all year – lots of blossoms, but no plants.

Home gardeners, I have decided, should grow indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain height and stop, and tend to ripen their fruit at the same time. Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing and keep producing fruits over a longer time, which fits the way Nancy and I eat tomatoes – one or two fresh every day. If you want to can tomatoes, determinate might work – but they don’t work for us.

We grew our best eggplant ever this summer. Eggplant is a beautiful plant. We had one in a two-quart pot on our patio that produced about a dozen shiny, dark purple/black fruits over the course of the summer. And the one in the garden produced even more.

The only problem is that we really didn’t like eggplant that much. We grilled some in a mix with summer squash and peppers, and it just didn’t seem to add much. And we don’t consider eggplant Parmesan a summer food.

The peppers were superb. We grew banana peppers – one flat was called banana peppers, the other Cubanelle, and I couldn’t tell them apart – and they were prolific. Toward the end of the season, some of them turned red and were especially sweet. We will grow these again next summer, but only six plants rather than a dozen. Some of the New Ace bell peppers turned red in late August, and we enjoyed them immensely.

Our onions did very well, with many of them softball size. We put in seedlings of Sterling as a white onion, Copra as a yellow and Redwing as a red. All three are listed as storage onions, but Sterling has a spotty record, according to the Dixondale Farms website. It grew the largest of any of them.

Copra also produced well, and I expect it to store well. Redwing we grew last year, and it stored through early April. We ended up with fewer Redwings than the other two this year, but I think it was because we kept picking them early to eat during the summer.

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