It is easy to take a look at the late summer, less-than-perfectly cared for garden, view the tippy plants, diseased foliage, blank spaces and feel less than thrilled with the outcome. Sometimes our mood is impacted by the persistent heat and humidity, or just a sense of being a bit worn down (a topic I covered in my last blog).
Yet, with 6 newly canned quarts of tomatoes in the cupboard, an ever increasing sleeve of coin envelopes of saved seeds, and newly sprouted squash, cukes and beans, a bit of reflection reveals a quite different outcome. 2018 was actually quite a splendid gardening experience. It was instructive, delicious, and interesting - and remains so, as the last varieties of tomatoes and peppers begin to ripen.
It seems to be a good time and take a temperature check on the season, comparing expectations with results, even though there is still more to come.
some overall stats - varieties planted vs seed saved
- Total number of tomato plants in my driveway - 96
- Packets of saved tomato seeds from my driveway plants - 76
- Seeds from volunteers - 10 (a number that will surely rise soon!)
- Plants alive, optimistic for ripe fruit for seed saving- 4
- Plants alive but not optimistic for ripe fruit - 11
- Pepper plants growing - 16
- Pepper seed types saved - 16
- Eggplant plants growing - 6
- Eggplant types seed saved - 5
- Eggplant types pending ripe fruit - 1 (hoping it matures - one fruit set, very late start)
- So, from 118 plants total, there will likely be only 11 failures - 91% success rate. That more than meets my expectations, particularly in a year where I thought I'd have little to no garden!
...now for a bit of detail on various categories from my driveway garden
Indeterminate tomatoes in straw bales
I planted 15 of my favorite tall growing tomato varieties in straw bales on May 1, doubling up on Sun Gold. The following were stars both in terms of flavor and yield - Dester, Brandywine, Ferris Wheel, Cherokee Green, Cherokee Chocolate, Cherokee Purple, Polish and Egg Yolk. The flavor was great but the yield less so for Speckled Roman, OTV Brandywine and Lillian's Yellow Heirloom. One variety was either mislabel on my part...or perhaps a cross. Lucky Cross produced tomatoes that were oblate and a bronze chocolate color, more in what was expected from Abraham Brown (a variety grown last year; I grew lots of seedlings to distribute). Then again, Lucky Cross grew next to Abraham Brown last year, so it will take growing out saved seed next year to solve the mystery - wrong label, or chance hybrid. Sun Gold was delicious but disappointing in health...the two plants live on still, but have been the unhappiest looking plants in my garden all summer. It seems odd that there would be a straw bale problem two years in a row (last year Sun Gold performed similarly in a straw bale), so this is an as yet unsolved mystery. Well, except for poor Nepal, an even sadder story than the sick Sun Golds. Nepal went down quickly to either Fusarium wilt or Bacterial wilt; too bad, because it was loaded with green tomatoes and it is a long time favorite of ours. Finally, Red Brandywine yielded superbly, but the flavor is a tick off when compared with the best, listed above.
The main issue was one my ability to maintain the plants well. A summer beach vacation was sufficient interruption of my daily attention that control was lost by late July. I never did top them for reasons I'll explain in a later blog. All of the summer rain and humidity finally resulted in widespread issues with fungal attacks of the foliage.
One of the most interesting observations was that of comparative fruit set in a challenging season. Two varieties clearly didn't like the temps and/or humidity and were very skimpy with yield; Lillian's Yellow Heirloom and OTV Brandywine. Ferris Wheel went through a period of early blossom drop but then turned things around and was one of the biggest tomato producers of the summer. Dester, the three Cherokees, and Red Brandywine had little blossom drop and gave us lots of great tasting tomatoes.
All in all, this portion of my 2018 garden rates an overall grade of A.
Microdwarf tomatoes in 1 gallon grow bags
The microdwarfs - from seeds sent by my gardening friend Dan Follett, responsible for this sub-project (he carried out all of the crosses and subsequent selections that led to the seed he sent me) - provided some early season fun, but also confirmed that those early cherry tomatoes tend to get forgotten when the larger tomatoes ripen. All in all, the plants were productive, cute, potentially useful, but, ultimately, lacked the flavor of indeterminate cherry tomatoes. The best was a Dwarf Sweet Sue offspring that produced lots of nice yellow cherry tomatoes in a plant that was less than one foot tall. A second one of interest had fuzzy, dusty miller type foliage and produced red and gold striped, quite flavorful cherry tomatoes on a similarly short plant. Those, to me, are the two most promising; two plants have yet to produce a single tomato, but they live on.
This garden mini project gets a grade of B.
Indeterminate and dwarf tomatoes in 5 gallon grow bags or self watering containers
These got a relatively late start due to my time availability in the early spring, which, I feel, hurt them a bit. The seedlings in most cases were already coming down with some early blight and/or septoria leaf spot. The hot, humid and often wet days provided further challenges. Despite the cards being a bit stacked against things, results were quite stunning in most cases. The two new family heirlooms given to me at events - from Mimi Koch at the Carolina Arbors talk in RTP (unnamed family heirloom) and from Nora Wojciechowski at the Oakland County event near Detroit (20 year old seed from a tomato grown by AZ Cutler) - did very well, and I hope to find a way to get each released through a seed company. Most of my grow bag tomatoes live on and are providing daily joy. The biggest issue was having time to stay on top of diseased foliage removal, and my loss of control on these tomatoes coincided with our summer vacation.
The dwarf project plants in grow bags did very well, and I got a good look at some candidates from the Anthy, Acey, Speckly and Lampy families, along with a few others. This was never meant to be a big time dwarf project research year for me, so everything learned was a bonus.
The self watering containers I used last year (as a trial gift from Gardener Supply) were not as successful this year....a bit of a late start, less than optimal location, and some interruptions on care and maintenance.
Overall grade of this category - B+
Center straw bales - tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash, potatoes
I was utterly delighted with our Jade bush green beans, Zephyr and Raven summer squash, and Diva cucumbers. They all came on shockingly early (29 days from seed for the squash!), and produced very well. I've pulled the plants and reseeded them - the replants are up and growing. Straw bales are a great way to go with all of these. As for the potatoes, I planted some sprouted pieces from a friend, but not all of them thrived. There are still living vines in the bale, and I am yet to dig in to see if any potatoes developed....so, the jury is still out.
Overall grade of this category - A (with an Incomplete for the potato bale)
Peppers and eggplants in 5 gallon grow bags
As always, I find great success planting peppers and eggplants in black plastic 5 gallon grow bags, though last year's widespread attack of bacterial spot left me wondering what to expect this season. Happily, I had no disease issues at all with either peppers or eggplants. I was pleased to have advanced my eggplant Mardi Gras another generation, though my two Skinny Twilight plants did not fare all that well. Late planting once again seems to be the culprit. My Islander dehybridization peppers - Carolina Amethyst, Fire Opal and Royal Purple - all did wonderfully and we are right in the middle of peak harvest. Three plants from a variegated variety growing in a test garden at JC Raulston Arboretum are quite beautiful and prolific, and show slight differences...the best is that they are sweet, rather than hot. Finally, my single Espelette is thriving; rather shocking considering the one seedling I managed to germinate had a stuck seed coat issue and was at risk of never developing a central growing stem. We are just beginning to pick them.
Overall rating of this category - A-
Ornamental hot peppers in 1 gallon pots
I decided to revitalize my colorful pepper efforts, focusing on a named variety that is yet to be finished - Bouquet. Six plants from last year's saved seed, as well as a pepper plant from my friend Ralph that looks just like Trifetti, are providing color to the driveway and heat to our cooking. The six plants are all slightly to very different, and my job is to decide which is THE Bouquet that I want to further refine; all are attractive, so more selection and naming is likely.
Overall rating of this category - A
Dwarf tomatoes and basil in straw bales
This is my single disappointing category for this year's garden. My second batch of bales were prepared late, and the delayed planting put their maximum growth at a time when my garden attention wasn't what it should have been - staking, and diseased foliage removal, lapsed. Most of my tomato misses - no fruit at all - were in this category. The basil thrived, however.
Overall rating of this category - C-
In future blogs I will get a bit more specific about the dwarf project tomatoes, and share thoughts on what may be on the grow list for 2019. I will also discuss what will be planted for the late summer/fall into next spring containers (greens, beets, perhaps some microdwarf tomatoes). In fact, tomorrow I hope to start taking down the dead plants, rearranging the driveway, and starting some seeds.