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.

Our leeks are huge, and along with some Bright Lights chard and some carrots, are the only vegetables still growing in the garden.

Both winter and summer squashes did well, but our cucumbers did not. I haven’t figured out why.
Last year, Nancy and I had some good success growing potatoes in special bags on the patio, and that worked OK again this year. We decided to expand, and bought a rectangular bag in which we planted one bush tomato, one pepper and one bush zucchini.

The plants did OK, not great, but I really disliked the design of the bag. It did not hold its shape, the fabric ripped and it looked messy. We threw it out at the end of the season. If I want to grow other vegetables, I will just convert the potato bag into a vegetable bag.

It also was a great year for flowers – except the gladioli, which got hit with a bad case of thrips, which in my ignorance I misidentified as gladiolus rust. I will soak the bulbs in Lysol and hope for better performance next year.  (Note to anyone wishing to buy bottles of liquid Lysol: Try amazon.com.)

The dahlias were wonderful. We were busy in the spring and planted them a bit later than normal, and we didn’t get blossoms until August – but we got a lot of them. One of the last bouquets is on my desk as I write this.

Everything was early, and seemed to have an extended bloom. We expanded our daylily collection this year. We removed some grasses bordering our patio that we have looked at for a decade or so from the window by our kitchen sink, and replaced them with a wide variety of unusual, large daylilies.Some are from the Barth collection of Maine plants sold at O’Donal’s; others are just large and unusual flowers. They had a long period of flowering.

The warm winter followed by a cooler spring certainly extended the blooms on a lot of shrubs. The hydrangeas, rhododendrons and azaleas bloomed long and fully. Our Rose of Sharon was excellent, and our perennial hibiscus “Clown” bloomed until last week. We still haven’t cleaned out our garden borders completely, because the asters (“Purple Dome”) and Eupatoriums are still in bloom. Our “Autumn Joys” are going to stay where they are until next spring, but they’re still looking great.

 
This year, we had enough raspberries to grow sick of them (not really – just fed up with picking constantly). We had some blueberries, but not as many as we would have liked (our “Pink Lemonade” blueberries haven’t produced fruit yet – maybe next year?).

We did miss getting strawberries this year, but our row of Sparkles is green and lush, and I expect we will get a lot of them next year. Something to look forward to over the long, cold winter.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:
tomatwell@me.com

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