Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
I might start out with the best-laid plans, but somewhere meandering around the garden centers and farmers markets each spring, a few surprises not on the list seem to make it into my garden flat, and I find myself back home, wondering exactly where I thought I was going to put that.
Sometimes it's a plant I bought for the name as much as anything. Like the Sun Sugar tomatoes, tiny orange tomatoes that have lived up to their name this year.
Other times it's a seeming bargain that tempts me: the woman at the farmers market this spring who was eager to make me a deal on a flat of her delphiniums. Since there were no pictures, I was curious to see how the plants billed as "mixed" would turn out. I was rewarded with a dozen double blooms of white and pale blue at about the price of one of my fancier hybrids. They had shorter bloom times, and we'll see what the reseed rate turns out like next year. At any rate, they filled in some gaps at a nice price.
I've never grown watermelons before, figuring that given my limited space, they were best left to the farmers market. But I yielded to the impulse to buy one billed as producing smaller melons. Unfortunately, the tag I carefully put in the soil next to it I now realize only had the price on it, not the variety name, so I'm left to other methods to determine when it's time for harvest. I plan to cut into one this weekend and see whether my $3.95 was worth it. Certainly it's been a prolific bloomer, and there are at least a few melons to show for it.
My favorite impulse purchase this year was a rose, at the pricier end of my whimsies. I was in the market for something to shade out the roots of a troubled clematis, and came home with a Blanc Double De Coubert shrub rose. It was so long between when I planted it and when it bloomed that I'd forgotten part of its billed attraction was its strong fragrance until I finally stopped to smell the roses, literally. Well worth the $16 I paid for it, and the clematis behind it is happier too.
What gems have fallen into your garden cart this year? It's always fun to step off the planned path and experiment. And if it doesn't work out, there's always next year in the garden.
My tomato dreams for the season are over -- wiped out by last week's hail storm.
At least a dozen tomatoes, in varying stages of ripening, were sheared off my plants and dumped rudely on my deck. I was hoping to salvage the tomatoes that managed to stay on the vine, but after inspecting them over the weekend, it was clear they were a lost cause. Every single one was damaged, the skin pierced in multiple spots by hailstones.
Since that's a recipe for disease, I reluctantly plucked them and threw them away.
So with six tomato plants, I harvested exactly one -- ONE -- tomato before the destruction. There's still hope for my beets, and I've been enjoying my basil, three kinds, all summer long, as well as mint and salad greens. But all in all, that's a pretty pathetic yield.
It's way too late to plant new tomatoes, obviously, but I'm thinking about late-season veggies I might try, so this year's growing season isn't such a bust.
The U of M extension service has some guidelines and suggestions for mid-to-late-summer planting on its website (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1227.html).
So tell me, fellow gardeners. What late-season veggies have you tried? What's worked for you? Or should I just resign myself to the farmer's market?
There's an almost-ripe, red tomato about a day away from being ready for my dinner table.
It seems like tomatoes are taking longer than usual to ripen this growing season. Many on my biggest plants have been big but hard and green for weeks. My smaller plants are still a long way from producing edible tomatoes.
I can't help being nostalgic for the weird, crazy growing season of 2010, when I spotted my first green tomato on May 24 and plucked two ripe ones for eating in late June.
This year appears much more typical, with tomatoes starting to ripen in mid-July. (For a calendar of what edibles ripen when in Minnesota, go to: http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm)
Will it be a good year for tomatoes? Or not? So far, I can't tell. My plants look mostly healthy so far, although there are spots on a few leaves, which could hint at end rot to come.
What's going on with your tomatoes this year?
It's State Fair time, which means it's also the beginning of Minnesota's apple season. Some of the early varieties like Zestar! are already available, with Honeycrisps, Minnesota's most popular apple, soon to follow.
Honeycrisps usually start appearing in mid-September, but they may arrive as early as next week, according to growers. Some apple varieties are two weeks ahead of schedule.
Minnesota's total apple crop will be down this year, about 60 to 70 percent of normal, estimated David Bedford, research scientist and apple breeder at the University of Minnesota (www.apples.umn.edu). But that's actually good news. Growers were on edge this spring after unusually warm weather in March brought early blossoming, followed by April frost that nipped tender buds.
While a few growers were hit very hard, losing almost all of this year's crop, most growers fared better than expected. "Pollination went well," Bedford said. "It's not a total disaster. It could have been a lot worse."
Early-blooming apples might be in shorter supply than usual, Bedford said, because they were a little more vulnerable to this spring's unusual weather. There may be fewer apples available for U-Pick and at farmer's markets. But Bedford doesn't expect apple shortages in stores because most apples are shipped from other growing regions, including Washington state. That's where Pepin Heights, the state's largest producer of apples, will be getting much of its fruit this year, said vice president Tim Byrne. Pepin Heights' 125,000 trees survived the early frost only to lose most of their fruit during May hailstorms.
"There will be plenty of apples," said Mike Dekarski, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and owner of Apple Jack Orchards in Delano (www.applejackorchards.com). "We will have enough for a lot of fall fun."
The Apple House at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (www.arboretum.umn.edu/applehouse.aspx) will open Sept. 1 offering freshly picked fruit including U of M introductions. Opening week will bring Zestar! and Chestnut crabapples. For up-to-date information about apple inventory, call 952-443-1409.
Also at the Apple House will be other freshly picked seasonal produce, as well as locally made ice cream, fudge, maple syrup and jams. The Apple House will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through early November. It's located about 1.5 miles west of the Arboretum entrance on Highway 5 in Chanhassen.
If you have a favorite apple or a favorite orchard you like to visit, it's a good idea to call ahead, especially this year, to make sure the apples you want will be available. For a list of local growers, visit the Minnesota Apple Growers Association website (www.minnesotaapple.org).
What's your favorite apple? And where do you like to get them -- do you pick 'em yourself at an orchard or buy 'em at the farmer's market or grocery store?
The subject line of an e-mail from my niece was "Help!" It contained no message, just the picture of the mound of kohlrabi on her counter, at right. I asked if that was self-inflicted or perpetrated by a CSA. She assured me it was one of the perils of CSA membership, and that the mound had been much bigger when it first arrived but she was getting tired of making salads with it. I sent along some additional suggestions (cut into cubes tossed with a vinaigrette and grilled in foil packets, for instance) and was glad I'd opted to let the farmers market folks raise the kohlrabi this year.
But it's not just CSAs that sometimes deliver too much of a good thing. CSAs are just macrocosms of our own smaller gardens, where everything turns ripe at once and demands attention right now to be at peak flavor and texture, so it's no wonder the bounty sometimes ends up a little lopsided to a particular veggie.
After wondering when my purple pole beans were going to produce, suddenly there they were, hiding at eye level where only a person intent on the weeds around them wouldn't notice them. And then there were lots of them, handfuls every day, leading to green bean and tomato salad (yum: www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Green-Bean-Yellow-Bean-and-Cherry-Tomato-Salad-103487), green beans Provencal style (to use more of the cute little yellow tomatoes weighing down the vines), and green beans with bacon and shallots. Because sometimes, as my niece said about the kohlrabi, making a healthy thing less healthy can yield very tasty results.
But of course, it's not just the beans to keep up with. There's the forest of kale, thicket of Swiss chard and, most demanding of all this year, the bumper crop of broccoli. Since it needs to be picked before it flowers, there's a narrow harvest window before it's too ripe, and this particular bunch has been rebudding prodigiously. So far this week the broccoli has shown up in pasta, risotto, as a side, and before the week is out, the rest of it is going to be made into a soup and frozen to eat later, when I'm slightly less tired of eating broccoli every day. And unlike tomatoes or zucchini, which you can put out at work and people will eventually wander off with them, I'm somehow thinking that might be less likely to happen with broccoli.....unless maybe I cut it up into florets and put out dip next to it....Hmmm.
Eventually, when the cucumbers threaten to overwhelm the counter, I'll break out the canner and make pickles. And remind myself to plant fewer next year. And to plant no more than two broccoli plants out of the four-pack and trade the rest at the plant swap.
But if you're really feeling overwhelmed with vegetable bounty this year, there's no need to let any of it go to compost. Any amount of fresh produce is a welcome sight at food shelves. Check out the Hunger-Free Minnesota site for links on where you can donate food at a site near you: www.hungerfreemn.org/seeking-good-gardeners
What's your strategy for managing peak produce season? And what would you do if faced with that mound of kohlrabi?
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