The cold winter/spring delayed the usual summer growing season but it was great for getting tomatoes started. I couldn’t resist trying a tomato variety called Mater Sandwich tomato this year. It was compact, producing big tomatoes –just right for a BLT. Momotaro Gold (Kitazawa Seed) and Jamestown Hybrid also contributed some nice tomatoes. Then, inevitably, it got hot. The tomatoes stopped setting and the stinkbugs/Leaf-footed bugs worked over most of what was left. We still had plenty for canning— roasted Italian tomato sauce, Chipotle tomato sauce, Petite diced tomatoes and Rotel tomatoes. A few cherries like Sugar Rush Red and Sungold kept us in tomatoes for the rest of the summer.
The okra crop picked up late in the summer. We like to fry bits of tomato with our okra just like Grandma did so we made do with any tomatoes left on the kitchen cabinets. We tried out some new okra varieties this year. Okinawa Pink is a beautiful plant with reddish leaves, red petioles and pink okra—breaded and fried, you won’t know the difference. If you pickle it, the juice will be pink. Not sure how it will look stewed with tomatoes, but that’s not one of my favorite dishes. I overcooked some canned okra back in my college days and every piece of okra stuck to the plate with slime. I contracted an intestinal something about that same time and, needless to say, stewed okra hasn’t been on the menu since… until this year (forgive and forget). Must be my wife’s good cooking (Debbi edits my copy. Can you tell?)
In early August we harvested some zucchini, yellow crooknecks, Delicata squash, lots more okra and a few long green cukes every day. The kitchen cabinets were still covered along with a few bags of veggies on the floor.
The pear trees set a good crop of fruit this year. We picked a number of Tennisui pears (a chance seedling of Tennessee that may have crossed with Hosui) and loads of Leona pears. We tried out a recipe for pear cake which was pretty tasty.
The jujube crop was huge as always. Most were eaten fresh during the August harvest, and we dried some for later. I actually like all of the 20 or so jujube varieties that we grow but some always stand out. This year the Russian number 2 (Kitaiski 60) really excited my taste buds for its crisp, sugar-sweet and juicy flavor. Most of my jujubes came from the Roger Meyer Nursery in California. Roger passed away a few years ago and an internet search hasn’t turned up anything available except the most common varieties as mail order trees. These trees are also quite expensive and relatively small. Beverly at Arbor Gate has a nice selection of jujubes grown locally that should get your collection of this wonderful fruit tree started. Back in the day, I was able to order graft wood (scions) from California, but since I haven’t found another source, I’ll stick with what I have, and, frankly, I have more jujubes than the law (and my wife) should allow. Arbor Gate will be offering some of my jujube seedlings from improved varieties and some grafted varieties (a few with two varieties per tree). Grafted jujubes do require a long-term management program. Essentially you have to keep the wild rootstock from sprouting out below the graft and taking over or from root sprouts that can emerge anywhere from a few feet away to fifteen feet on the other side of an asphalt drive. Great rootstock, but they’re vigorous little monsters. In the early years of my jujube orchard, I grafted the ones that came up in a good location. Now I’m planting seedlings of improved varieties, and after observing fruit production for three years or so, I may decide that the seedling’s fruit is nothing spectacular and I’ll use the seedlings for rootstock and graft them over to improved varieties.
It’s late September now and the okra is still producing as are the eggplants and lots of peppers. The number of pepper varieties is so extensive these days I can’t help but overproduce peppers, especially the hot ones. I like spicier food than Debbi who doesn’t always share my same passions—one jalapeno in a bowl of Pico de Gallo (rich with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, creole seasoning salt, lime juice and store-bought cilantro (we can’t grow it in the summer) is her choice for flavor. Some of my favorite hot peppers for 2021 are Aji Charapita (said to be the secret of Peruvian Cuisine), Lemon Spice (a beautiful yellow pepper with some kick), Wa Mae Wo (a hot red Korean pepper with emphasis on the WO!) and Pasilla Baijlo (two inches long with some serious heat). Two or three are plenty for a good hot sauce.
Just Sweet and several Italian sweet peppers were delicious in salads or with Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches.
The Chinese String eggplants were the hit of the eggplant show. We diced them up, breaded with Louisiana Fish Fry, and fried them along with the okra. They were crisp on the outside and creamy good on the inside. Thai Purple Ribbed and our favorite Louisiana Oval Green (LOG for short) were also delicious.
We tried out several basils this year. Pesto Party from Burpee Seed is a favorite as it really produces a lot of leaves without going to seed like so many varieties. Purple basil was good and so pretty. Try tossing some on the coals next time you’re grilling. Debbi made a wonderful basil jelly, too.
I can’t remember ever growing sweet potatoes before, but this year I decided to try the Japanese variety Murasaki from Territorial Seed. It was described as having amethyst skin and a pearly flesh that’s creamy, sweet, and nutty. It was just too hard to resist, plus I had a heavy-duty tomato cage staked in a pile of tree mulch that was rotting from a stump we had ground out that was begging to be planted. I ordered slips that looked like they were on their last legs when they arrived, but they perked up almost immediately. I was hoping they would have purple-tinged foliage but it was just a nice green and it loved its new home. I haven’t harvested any yet but I saw the top of one of the purple beauties where an armadillo had been digging. The catalog suggested roasting and topping with butter and miso.
The bees and butterflies loved our zinnias this year. It literally pulled them out of the sky. Lots of hummingbirds showed up too. Debbi fell in love with a Calibrachoa at the local nursery and we planted it in a container. She added a clay watering funnel/wine bottle which has made it very happy and we refer to it as our ‘drunken Calibrachoa’.
It’s been a busy summer in the garden with no time to get lazy. Now it’s time to start planning the fall garden and looking for transplants of new and favorite varieties. Romanesco cauliflower/broccoli was a big hit last year and will likely make the cut this year as well.