Well, as I end summer and enter Fall planting, I’d have to assess this last season as a mixed bag of successes and failures. I’d still categorize myself as a rank amateur and, as such, I continue to have some surprising successes. That is, some of my best crops have been things I’ve been warned that either wouldn’t do well in Sonoma or shouldn’t be attempted by the learning gardener. Now I try to pay attention to the former, but having had two years of success with cauliflower — a notoriously finicky vegetable that is supposed to be challenging to grow — I take the assessment of what’s easy and what’s hard to grow with a grain of salt. So here’s this season’s breakdown.
Lemon Cucumbers. This one has to be given two gold stars. Not only did I get a fairly good crop, but this was one vegetable Andy would actually eat. (As an Englishman, Andy has a very limited vegetable palette that doesn’t extend much beyond peas and carrots.) Anyway, I planted these too near melons, which is supposed to make them — or the melons — bitter. Both were fine. And Andy had a great time inventing different variations on the cucumber-based finger sandwich.
Okra. Here’s one everyone said I couldn’t possibly grow in Sonoma — with our dry days and relatively cool nights. But my okra — or bindhi as we know it in this household where the English use the Indian name — produced beautifully. The only challenge is that there is about a half a day between young and tender okra and large, tough and uncookable okra. Forget menu planning. When the okra is ready, you’re having okra. Didn’t matter. Ours was delicious and they have lovely flowers too.
Watermelon. I chose a new heirloom variety this year, a Russian type called Katanya. It’s little and super sweet, almost candy-like. I’ll be growing this one again and again.
Bush Beans and Leeks. Color me shocked. I had some old expired packages of seeds and a bed whose crops were harvested but wasn’t ready for the fall crop. So, on a whim, I threw in all my packets of bush beans and a row of leeks. I thought at least I might get a few bean plants to fix some nitrogen where I’d had heavy feeding crops. Surprise, all three bean varieties came up — green, purple and yellow. They always tell you that bush beans don’t bear as heavily as pole beans. Well, tell it to these babies! We’ve been having masses of beans for dinner every night and I’ve had to give away bags full to keep up with them. And the leeks — they are sweet and perfumed — even though grown out of season.
Pink Lady Apples. Tiny, sweet and cute, these are incredibly delicious with a cheese plate.
Other successes: lettuces, carrots, beets and pole beans in late spring/early summer and apricots and cantaloupes just recently.
Now for the Failures.
Corn. Ah, corn. Corn and me, we have a love hate relationship. One year I grew incredible corn that was so sweet and tender you could pull an ear off the stalk and eat it raw. Or at least that’s what John the Baptist’s crew tell me as they ate most of my crop that way. That corn is legendary. In three seasons, I’ve never matched it. This year was no exception. Those who are being kind to me are blaming the seeds which were Little Giant. My research tells me it was farmer error. In that I didn’t fertilize and add composted manure frequently during the growing season. It didn’t help that some workmen turned off the irrigation during a week when temperatures went suddenly from the 60s to 90s.
Crookneck Summer Squash. Failure is how you define it. This squash went nuts and was producing more than a large family of Italians could eat in three hearty meals EVERY DAY. The failure was that I even planted it. What the hell was I thinking? I HATE summer squash! Nasty bland tasteless vegetable. Why did I even grow this. Finally, I just ripped it all out even as it was still throwing out several squash a day.
Tomatoes. Maybe I’m categorizing this crop as a failure too soon. But, you’ll remember when all my starts were fried in the greenhouse when someone shut off the water to it for a week. Then I had to replant too late in the season. So here we are in September and I’m still coaxing Early Girls to ripen. Some of my sauce tomatoes have been nice, especially stewed with the okra. But I’m despairing of my heirlooms which don’t want to seem to ripen at all. With nighttime temperatures dipping down into the 40s, I think the clock has run out on these.
Mystery Winter Squash. Again, maybe I’m calling this too soon. Allegedly, at least according to the seed packet, this was supposed to be a butternut squash. But as you can see, it’s the size of your average terrier. Some have theorized that it is actually a banana squash or some strange hybrid of one. I cooked one and, although the flesh was a nice fluffy texture, it was sort of tasteless. I’ve been told winter squash really has to mature to develop full taste, so I’ve got one curing in the cellar and more on the vine.
Lavender Touch Eggplant. This is in the same category as the crookneck squash. It grew fine. It just wasn’t a variety I ended up liking much. I found there was too much skin to pulp ratio and they didn’t grill very well as the skins wouldn’t crisp up. I’m sure I could have found better recipes for it, but I’m a purist. I like my eggplants slathered with olive oil and Herbes de Provence and slapped on the grill. These just didn’t stand up.
So you are probably getting the picture that I’ve been a very Darwinian gardener. It’s survival of the fittest at Flying Terrier Farms. As I head into Fall planting, I resolve to do better. It’s fertilize, mulch and pamper for my upcoming crop of lettuces, carrots, beets, parsnips, leeks and onions.
We’ll see how that goes.