2016-12-27 / Home & Family

Garden year in review

Henry Homeyer

I had a great gardening year in 2016. Of course, I’m a mad-dog gardener, so that means I was born optimistic and wired to remember success, not failure. So I suppose I had some of both. But the weather was largely sunny and I got a great yield from most of my vegetables, especially my precious tomatoes. I have enough food put away that if all my newspapers fired me tomorrow, I could probably survive just eating out of my freezers and cold cellar all winter.

Tomatoes are bothered by early blight and late blight. Late blight is the bad one, the one with spores that float in on the wind, killing everything and turning fruit into mush. When it comes early, we don’t get tomatoes, but I dodged it this year. I did have some early blight, but less than most years, probably because of the dry weather.

I also mulched my tomatoes with hay early on, and cut off any diseased branches once or twice a week, reducing the spread of late blight. My Sun Gold cherry tomatoes produced hundreds of tomatoes each, I dehydrated them using my Excalibur brand dehydrator, and will enjoy them in soups and stews all winter.

I had great success with the one tomato plant in a raised bed made by Gardeners Supply, something they call a “VegTrug.” The tomato I planted in it was virtually disease free, and what’s more, the green tomatoes I picked from it before frost ripened perfectly and did not rot. I ate a few good tomatoes each week until Thanksgiving. The tomato was one called, “Summer Sunrise” and I got the seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Library. I shall grow it again, for sure. It had good flavor, right up to the end.

Kale is always a winner in the garden. It is easy to grow and this year I used a lot of it in green smoothies made with fresh mint, lettuce, a banana, blueberries, some juice and/or water, fresh ginger and half a lime. I’m still picking kale for smoothies, even though the greens are frozen when I pick them.

I grew four kinds of kale this year as I wanted to see if I liked anything as well as Winterbor and Ripbor, the two curly kale varieties I usually grow. No. Next year I will just grow one or the other of those two – they are tasty and so long-lasting in the garden. They are easy to store in the freezer - while keeping their character and flavor.

I grew two non-heading broccoli relatives this year, Happy Rich from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Piricicaba from Hudson Valley Seed Library. Both produce earlier than broccoli and continue producing little shoots well past frost. They produced so much food that I will plant fewer, just two or three plants of each, not six.

My potato harvest was hohum this year, but my grandkids had great production in their little 4-foot by 4-foot raised beds on my lawn. The difference? I tried to squeeze in too many plants in my rows, crowding them. The kids only planted two seed potatoes each, well apart. Even though they planted later than I did, their spuds were bigger.

I had no potato beetles at all this year, even though I looked for them every day for a while. I plant my potatoes in June, and believe (without real proof) that late planting helps to avoid the beetles.

New this year: I planted a second crop of potatoes in August from some seed potatoes that had been languishing in my cool dark cellar. I planted them in my garlic bed, after harvest. A third of those late-planted potatoes did not grow, but those that did grow produced full-sized potatoes by October.

I planted late lettuce, too. I got some 3-inch lettuce starts from a friend in early September, and planted them six inches apart. These did very well, and in November I moved my Gardeners Supply cold frame over the plants. They were good though November. They were helped by a layer of Reemay or row-cover over the leaves inside the cold frame.

New this year: In mid- October I dug two nice lettuce plants and moved them into an unglazed clay planter about 6- by 12-inches and 6- inches deep. I placed a layer of fluffy compost in the bottom as planting material, and filled in around the plants with pure compost. Then I moved them into the house, sitting in an east-facing window. Great success! I have eaten two or three leaves almost every day since sometime in November. Fresh greens for my sandwich at lunch. I had to water every other day. I will finish them off by New Years.

I grew flint corn this year for the first time ever. Flint corn is dried and ground to make corn flour or meal. The corn plants were huge, but the ears were relatively small. And while I was drying them some mice got in with the ears, so I didn’t want to use them. So I am feeding the corn to the blue jays and squirrels. I used some of the stalks for Halloween decorations and gave some stalks away.

The raccoons ate all my sweet corn but for half a dozen ears. Oh well. I am enjoying frozen tomatoes, summer squash and kale. I have plenty of winter squash, garlic and onions stored in a cool dry location. And root crops galore in an old fridge in the basement. It was a great gardening year, despite a few setbacks that I had already almost forgotten about.

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