The spring weather was virtually ideal—lots of rain, but it was scattered so no water-logged soil. The cool season cover crops were impressive and somewhat daunting—giant daikon type radishes with roots 8-10 inches out of the ground and foliage taller than the tomato cages, a few turnips scattered about and in another section of the garden Hairy Vetchhad been planted. It completely filled the tomato cages and topped out with beautiful purple flowers. The field radishes were easy enough to take out—one slice with the scuffle hoe and the tops were tossed between rows for organic mulch. The left over roots gradually decayed leaving 6-8 inch holes that I had fun using for watering channels around the tomato plants. The Hairy Vetch was a bit more challenging and it was in bloom at tomato planting time. Fortunately I decided to try pulling the mass of foliage out of the cages and it wasn’t that difficult. The roots were tough to pull, but after realizing that leaving them only left the nitrogen-filled nodules behind for the tomatoes (organic fertilizer), I began to reconsider using them again in the tomato cages next season. Farmers with large fields plant vetch during the cool season and plow the crop under, but I don’t have a plow or a large field which makes this technique impossible on a small scale. The flowers were popular with butterflies so the biggest drawback was that I wanted to leave some for the Monarchs which meant getting the tomato cages planted late.
After the tomatoes were planted in the lower garden, I planted Mirai Hybrid enhanced supersweet corn between the plants and in several wider rows. The combination of plentiful rainfall and supplemental fertilizer (Arbor Gate 4-4-3 organic and slow-release lawn fertilizer (not the type with weed killer included) resulted in spirited growth of both the tomatoes and sweet corn. At one point we had so much sweet corn in gallon bags in the fridge I told Debbi that I’d found the lost gold of the Incas. After the corn harvest, the stalks were tossed down in the paths between tomatoes and soon turned into an attractive light brown mulch that helped to keep down the weeds.
Considering that I planted over 100 varieties of tomatoes, I really didn’t learn that much this year. I’ve taken to planting 2-4 plants per cage making sure they are dissimilar (in color, fruit size, etc) just to have enough space. The resulting jungle can make it difficult to evaluate individual varieties—did I mention also interplanting sweet corn plus 30 plus pepper varieties and a few eggplants. In addition there were a few cucumber varieties with Itachi (long whites) providing the bulk of our Bread and Butter pickles this year. They were great in a salad, too.The tomato crop was plenty abundant for the two of us and a number of friends. HT 1, a hybrid Heirloom type being developed by Kevin Crosby, Associate Professor at Texas A & M was a standout in this year’s planting. It was a strong grower, disease free and it produced beautiful, luscious tomatoes. Bad Horsey II is a selection I made from an unstable cross that I first planted last year that produced two types of tomato—one had some yellow coloration while the other plants produced more orange with red-streak fruits. I like the red-streaked one best so I saved seed from it as Bad Horsey II. Great tasting tomatoes-just the right acidity and homegrown heirloom flavor but the plants were a bit weak and susceptible to disease. I saved a few seeds so we will see if Bad Horsey III performs better in 2020.
Big Beef was a good producing and tasting tomato as usual. In fact, at the Arbor Gate tomato contest this year it was a close runner up to an heirloom (Paul Robeson ) for first place in the large tomato best tasting category. Red Anjou was a great tasting Italian paste tomato as was Pompeii paste and the production champ in this category was Tiren F1—seems like I picked a dozen that were turning red every day. They had good flavor and all were wonderful for canning and cooking. Damsel was a strong growing hybrid with big, delicious pink tomatoes.
We had a few Kosovo heart-shaped tomatoes—all smooth, delicious goodness but they don’t last too long into the heat of summer. The taste champion of the year was Sugar Rush cherry. Most cherries are good but this one really had a rush of sweetness and just the right acidity/homegrown flavor for a follow through. It even won first place in a taste test at the local herb society meeting.There were quite a few peppers represented in the garden this year. Some got overgrown by tomatoes but others hung in there and still produced more than we could eat in fresh salsas, with eggs and on cereal (just kidding). Dragon’s Toe sounds like it might be terminal but it was great in salsa and I was able to gnaw on it fresh (stopped short of popping it in my mouth and I always start from the end and avoid the placenta (white stuff) if the pain intensifies too rapidly. Crackle was a long thin, medium hot pepper that can be used green or after turning a beautiful, intense red. It made a nice big plant and it would look great in the background of a flower border.
I’ve been trying to grow a Fish pepper with both variegated leaves and fruit for several years. This is the hot pepper that is popular in seafood restaurants along the East Coast. It’s pretty hot so I’m speculating that some Texans got stranded on the East Coast and jumped on the first hot pepper they could find. All that good beer and seafood along the Atlantic should help to put the fire out to some degree. If hot and spicy doesn’t appeal to you then try Roulette, a pepper that looks like “fire in a pod” but you get the exotic flavors without the heat.
The okra crop was abundant as always this year. Most of the planting was F2 crosses from last year—Aunt Hettie’s Red X Bill’s Thick and Candle Fire X Bill’s Thick. The seed we planted in 2019 was open pollinated from last year’s crop but the red color infusion was still obvious . A few hills were planted with F1 crosses from the previous year’s seed. Late in the season I pollinated some Bill’s Skinny okra and Alaska okra with pollen from the Aunt Hettie’s X Bill’s Thick for next year’s crop. The ultimate goal is to develop a thick, meaty okra with a bit of red flare. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the Alaska okra before but I bought the seed from a vendor at the Warrenton Antique Show one year. I asked him why it was named Alaska since I doubted you could grow much okra in Alaska even in a greenhouse. His abrupt comment was “because it’s so big” and he was so right. It’s about the size of a hand grenade (pardon the politically incorrect reference) when the pods mature and I pick it when less than 2 inches long if we plan to eat some. I’m thinking “big and red”—if we can’t eat it, we will use it for dried Christmas ornaments.
It’s now September and we haven’t had measureable rain since early July. Fortunately we can irrigate but it’s nice to get a break from watering once in a while. Even in dry weather the weeds seem to proliferate, they respond rather well to irrigation. Presently I’m waiting for a cold front to launch my weed killing instincts so the cool season garden may be a little behind schedule this year. This was a great year for jujube fruit but I’m saving that for my next blog.