November 10, 2013

Maine Gardener: A review of the 2013 growing season

Tomatoes were so-so, peppers were great, and more of what grew well and what didn’t.

By Tom Atwell

This year’s growing season had a few successes and a few failures, but nothing catastrophic.

The biggest disappointment was tomatoes – or the lack of nicely ripe, full-sized slicing tomatoes from our garden. We did not reach double digits for those prizes this year, and we were not alone.

Cool and rainy weather throughout the spring slowed the production of buds and fruit, and farm stands did not have many local tomatoes until late August, much later than normal. The lack of outdoor tomatoes was made worse because Backyard Farms, a greenhouse tomato producer in Madison, had to shut down temporarily because of a aphid problem.

As soon as the local farm stands had ripe tomatoes, we bought some to make up for the lack of them in our own garden.

We had better luck with cherry tomatoes.

Jasper, a new offering this year from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, lived up to its billing as far as production went. The two plants we had produced a lot of 1-inch-diameter fruit that was a gorgeous bright red and did not crack.

Nancy and I were disappointed with the flavor, however. They just did not have the sweet tomato flavor that we have had from Sweet 100 and Sweet Million in the past, and which we got from the Sun Gold yellow cherry tomatoes, which we grew for the first time this year. They had an intense, fruity flavor, but a lot of the Sun Golds did crack before we picked them.

Our peppers, however, did great. Both our New Ace and Carmen sweet peppers started turning red in August, and we had more than two months of red peppers. We also grew some Anchor peppers, which were prolific on the bush but did not turn red, coming in a dark, almost black green.

What I can’t figure out is why the same weather that slowed down production of full-sized tomatoes allowed the earlier production of fully ripe red peppers.

The rest of the vegetables were pretty good. We had a lot of cucumbers and zucchini, which to an extent made up for the lack of tomatoes, great lettuce and chard. The cold frame got us lettuce early in the season, but did not give us earlier carrots. I think I am doing something wrong with carrots, because they never do well.

Our strawberry crop was good for the second year of production, and we expect that next year will be the peak for these strawberry plants.

Raspberries were prolific, and since we grow the traditional early-harvest variety, we did not have any trouble with spotted-wing drosophila, which does not show up in any great numbers until mid-August.

We did not get any blueberries this year. Some of our plants are getting shaded out by our neighbor’s Norway maples, and we have moved some of blueberries bushes. But newer plants in sunnier locations did not even produce. The problem might be winter moth, which hit Cape Elizabeth hard this spring. If you see the moths around lights in December, they are probably winter moths. The inchworm caterpillar form of the moth appears in May, and among the foods they like are the flower and leaf buds of blueberries. If they eat the flower buds, you don’t get fruit.

Our ornamental plants were very good this year. We had more beautiful spring bulb blooms then ever this past spring, and we planted more bulbs this fall. The rudbeckia came in early and lasted a long time. The day lilies Nancy put in the back yard a couple years ago, right outside the kitchen window, were gorgeous, big and bloomed a long time. The driveway garden we started work on three or four years ago where previously there was bittersweet, multiflora roses and honeysuckle is coming into its own, with something in bloom from April through early November. The invasives we took out still want to come back, but we keep cutting them back in an effort to kill them.

We planted a lot of New Guinea impatiens and begonia this year, to replace the impatiens that were supposed to be killed by impatiens downy mildew. Some people had impatience survive all summer, but Nancy and I have decided we like New Guinea impatiens better anyway, even though it needs a bit more sun.

With all of the rain and the work we have done on it, even our lawn looked good this year.

THE GARDENING SEASON just ended and the holiday season is beginning. Jim Masse of Estabrook’s in Yarmouth will hold a workshop on making a boxwood centerpiece with a candle at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Cost is $20, which includes materials, and registration is required.

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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