In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2005
Regional Report

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Fresh baby beets are one of my all-time favorite vegetables.

Success and "Learning Experiences"

It's that time again, the point in the gardening season where it's a good idea to make an assessment of what has worked in the garden and what hasn't so far this year. Maybe you have a better memory than me, but if I don't make at least cursory notes, by next spring the recollections will be a jumble. In my first year of raising vegetables and fruits for a market garden, my focus is on those plants rather than flowers (they're fending for themselves this year). Hopefully, some of these insights will help you in planning for your fruits and vegetables still this year for a late-season garden or for next year.

Leeks. I've tried growing these from seed, and it takes a long time to get them up to transplant size. This year I purchased transplants, and they've been very easy to grow. Besides their traditional use in soups, try them grilled or braised.

Onions. Rather than storage onions, this year I wanted sweet onions for fresh eating. I planted transplants, not sets, of three different varieties in early spring. They matured at various rates for a long harvest period. The red ones were the slowest to develop any size. All varieties were day-neutral, or intermediate-day types. The harvest of April-planted transplants ended in mid-July.

Snow peas. I grew three varieties of snow peas: 'Golden Sweet', a 6-foot-tall variety with golden-chartreuse pods; the dwarf 'Snowbird' with small pods; and the 6-foot-tall heirloom variety 'Mammoth Melting Sugar'. All three produced prodigiously, but of the three I was most impressed with Mammoth. The plants continued to grow until the weather got very hot, and the pods remained very sweet.

Arugula. This nutty-flavored, slightly spicy green grows quickly in cool weather, but the crop ends almost as rapidly. The spring attack of flea beetles is best thwarted with row covers. Currently, I'm experimented with growing it under a 50 percent shade cover. The cool, wet weather from Hurricane Dennis has been good for quick germination, but how well will it do in the subsequent heat is the question.

Swiss chard. The chard germination was very erratic this year and growth has not been impressive. The good news with chard is that it is a very durable, long-lived vegetable, so I'm still hoping for better production (many years it will overwinter). Although the chard varieties with red or yellow stems is beautiful fresh, I find it less than appealing when cooked, so I focused on heirloom varieties with white stems. The best growth so far has been from the variety 'Erbette'.

Beets. Fresh baby beets are one of my all-time favorite vegetables. My feeling is that the many people who don't like beets have never had a really good one. Although I generally like to grow heirloom varieties, with beets I look to the hybrids. My favorite is 'Pacemaker III', which has sugar beet in its heritage. Unfortunately, I can't report on how other similar varieties compare because I've also learned that deer love beets, too, tops, roots, and all! There'll be more "rotten egg" spray around the next planting.

Beans. Only summer squash seems to beat beans for incredible production. Wax bean variety 'Indy Gold' has been churning out sweet, tender beans for weeks now. The heirloom half-runner bean 'Bountiful' is tender and stringless. The tiny French beans, also referred to as haricots vert, will overwhelm you with their productivity. No need to pay high prices when they're so easy to grow. 'Morgane' and 'Cupidon' are the two varieties I've grown so far.

Mexican gherkins. These aren't actually a cucumber, but are rather Melothria scabra. Resembling a tiny watermelon, they're picked when about the size of a quarter and have a cucumber-and-lemon flavor. The vines are vigorous, but the leaves are tiny and it takes a long time to get a crop. Fun, if you have the space.

Okra. I'm experimenting with nine varieties of okra. Among them, 'Cajun Delight' lives up to its billing of earliness and productivity. 'Thai' produces pale green pods that remain tender, even when 12 inches long. 'Beck's Big Buckhorn' is an heirloom German variety with short, fat pods that are tender and flavorful.

Summer squash. The heirloom 'Romanesco' squash, green with longitudinal ridges, remains my favorite. Firmer and with a nutty flavor, I much prefer it over regular zucchini. Of the yellow squash, 'Butterstick', 'Horn of Plenty', 'Crookneck', and 'Straightneck' can't be beat. 'Tromboncini', a vigorous vining squash with long fruit, are fun to grow and great to eat grilled.


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