Summer Vegetable Review

August in the South is hot and muggy and buggy, but we can sometimes catch a glimpse of Fall just around the corner. It seems like yesterday we were sowing seeds for our Spring garden and now most of the crops have been harvested and summer is coming to a close. Since I wrote about our garden earlier in the year I’m sure folks are curious about how it turned out and I wanted to share the results!

Summer Vegetable Review!

We’ve been gardening without the use of pesticides for many, many years, but this was the first year we exclusively used USDA NOP certified or approved seed. We purchased most seed from two different sources – Johnny’s Seed and Seeds for Change – which I will list below. We bought some Aji Colorado Pepper seeds from Horizon Herbs and found some USDA NOP Clemson Spineless Okra seeds at Lowes and some untreated Park’s Whopper Seeds at Cousin’s Feed and Seed.

From Johnny’s Seeds: Rose Tomato, De Cico Broccoli, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Sugar Pearl Sweet Corn, and Rosa Bianca Eggplant.

From Seeds for Change: Oregon Trail Shell Pea, Oregon Giant Snow Pea, Roma 2 Bush Bean, Royal Burgundy Bush Bean, Straight Eight Cucumber, Sweet Marketmore Cucumber, Corno Di Toro Sweet Pepper, Costaluto Genovese Tomato, Arkansas Traveler Tomato, Roma Tomato, Lettuce Leaf Basil, Genovese Sweet Basil, Poppy Joe’s Basil, Lemon Basil, Red Velvet Okra, Crimson Sweet Watermelon, Ambrosia Cantaloupe.

Except for corn, beans and melons, we started all seeds inside under lights and some with a warming mat. Germination was excellent! What miraculous power within even the tiniest seed! It’s wonderful to see those tiny green sprouts in February!

With the exception of Aji Colorado, all the starts were beautiful! Actually we tried sowing Aji Colorado twice and germination was only about 25%. The seeds that germinated didn’t thrive which was disappointing. I’d not tried this variety before and they sounded so delicious. I can only suppose that for some reason these seeds weren’t viable and I keep meaning to call the good folks at Horizon Herbs to let them know.

De Cico Broccoli produced beautiful plants, but the timing was bad. Broccoli needs cool weather and I was hoping the long, cool spring would bring us lots of delicious shoots. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. The plants grew very large, but took too long to send out shoots. So our broccoli harvest was zero this spring. I will try more this fall/winter or perhaps winter/spring.

Fresh yellow crookneck squash are so delicious – especially when sautéed with Vidalia onions and basil! But within the last 6-7 years, it’s become more and more difficult to successfully grow yellow crookneck squash. These squash and other plants in the Cucurbitacae family are often plagued with squash bugs. We use interplanting techniques and rotate crops to try to outsmart the pests and it generally works well. We have many, many butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. This year, I tried to outsmart the bugs by planting the squash very early in out-of-the-way, mixed garden beds and odd spots. We were able to harvest a few times before noticing any signs of squash bugs. But by June, the critters found our plants. Initially, we hand picked all bugs and eggs that we could find, but as the summer progressed, we weren’t as diligent and they slowly but surely took over and the plants wilted and died. Next year we’ll try a different strategy.

Our early Oregon Giant Snow Pea and Oregon Trail Shell Pea were a great success and so delicious! I highly recommend them and wish we would have planted more! These peas are so tender and sweet that they can be eaten fresh out of the garden and I confess that I probably ate as many as I brought inside. These very tender peas can be used fresh in salads or gently cooked.

Beans and peas are very generous plants! As legumes, they have the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil while at the same time provide humans with nutritious and delicious food! Organic farming should always include beans and peas and other legumes!

My husband Earl looks forward to fresh corn every year. We’ve planted Silver Queen and several super sweet varieties over the years. We plant the corn in blocks and every year we have a great harvest! It’s very important to harvest and eat or freeze within a few hours to preserve the fresh, sweet flavor. Earl is the expert for this job and has it down to a science.

This year we planted USDA NOP Sugar Pearl from Johnny’s Seeds which looked like a good choice for early sweet corn. When the corn was about 4-5 inches tall, I fertilized with Hollytone and sowed Southern Peas along the rows. Corn requires huge amounts of nitrogen and I wanted to make sure we had enough in the soil. We weeded, watered, and nurtured the stalks for several weeks. The corn grew lush and green and the peas along with it. The corn was just about ready for harvest when the squirrels found it. In spite of the resin owl, the organic squirrel deterrent, Earl’s rock tossing (he missed every time), those fat squirrels got every single ear of corn. I suspect they were watching us the entire time and just waiting patiently to harvest it themselves. We’ll have to come up with a different strategy for next year. I’m thinking that Sir Thomas, one of our rescue cats who now lives in the garden, may be willing to help.

It’s interesting to note the differences in corn and peas. Corn is a rather selfish and demanding plant while peas are most generous. Corn requires a great amount of nitrogen, water, and lots of human energy to produce only one or two ears per stalk. Peas grow easily and quickly and produce generously while fixing nitrogen in the soil. And nutritionally speaking, peas are by far the best choice. I’ll vote for peas and beans.

The Roma 2 Bush Bean and Royal Burgundy Bush Bean were very tasty and produced well for about three weeks. Again, I only wish we would have planted more. Next year we will be sure to plant these varieties at intervals throughout the summer.

All Southern gardeners grow tomatoes and by February we are already anticipating the July harvest! At Stoney Hill Farm, we plant our tomatoes in a row between two cattle panels adding about 4 inches of compost/mulch. This method works very well for us and every year for years and years we have had lots of tomatoes.

This year we planted our tomatoes in a new spot near the back of the fenced garden. In hindsight, this new spot was probably not ideal for planting early tomatoes and it’s a wonder they survived – I’ll explain why. The micro climate in this spot is slightly cooler and more sheltered than other areas of the garden. This year we mulched heavily with hardwood mulch. Hardwood mulch requires nitrogen to break down. Tomatoes don’t like cool and damp and were being robbed of nitrogen so these conditions were the opposite of what they needed and wanted! In addition, the heirloom tomatoes are not as resistant to the fungus diseases (Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt) that can plague tomatoes.

And I’m sorry to say that we lost several plants after the first month or so of planting into the garden. I felt so foolish and should have known better. I’ve grown tomatoes all my life and these were pitiful looking! One by one, the plants were dying and by early July we had not yet had our first tomato. Our neighbors felt sorry for us and gave us some of their Celebrity tomatoes which had thrived. We enjoyed those tomatoes for several weeks.

We had initially fertilized our tomatoes with Hollytone organic and compost at planting time, but the surviving plants were spindly and yellow and clearly still deficient in nitrogen. I felt so sorry for them and decided to try giving them a boost with a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer for a few weeks. By the end of July, the fertilizer along with the hot temperatures miraculously brought the remaining plants back to life and now they are thriving and producing – finally! The Rose tomato is by far the best! These big tomatoes are beautiful with a rich taste – very delicious! The Rose is perfect for slicing, for drying or for freezing or canning. The Rose tomato’s rich flavor reminds me of the tomatoes my Grandfather used to grow.

The Arkansas Traveler was a disappointment. It hasn’t produced well and the taste is rather bland. We won’t try this one again. The Costaluto Genovese is tasty, but tiny – about the size of cherry tomatoes – which is very unlike the description. The Park’s Whopper is good – not outstanding like the Rose – but good. The Roma’s are good and reliable as always. We had two or three Roma volunteers in other areas of the garden which was a nice surprise.

I’m not canning any tomatoes this year, but I have dried several pounds and stored in the freezer for use throughout the winter.

As mentioned, Southern Peas were interplanted with our corn and tomatoes. Like all legumes, these peas fix nitrogen in the soil and make a good companion crop. This year we planted Pink-eye Purple Hull and they are delicious. These peas are perfect for a children’s garden because they are easy to handle with close to 100% germination and fast growth. The pods look like string beans hanging from the vine and can be harvested when the pods turn purple. We shell the peas for eating fresh and can easily be frozen for eating throughout the winter months. Purple hull peas and rice with okra and tomatoes is one of my favorite meals! Absolutely delicious and so good for you!

And now for the late summer, heat loving plants! Okra, peppers, eggplant and melons!

I love Okra! Okra is in the same family as hibiscus and produces beautiful big flowers. The Red Velvet variety is quite ornamental and I plant it in all the garden beds amongst the other veggies and flowers. Okra loves hot weather and produces best in late summer. The pods grow quickly and must be cut every day. As soon as I harvest the pods, they are cut into pieces, placed in freezer bags and frozen.

Eggplant and peppers are happiest in hot weather and are now producing well. Eggplant and peppers sautéed with Vidalia onions, fresh thyme and basil in olive oil makes a great topping for homemade pizza – yummy!

Yesterday I made some Hot Pepper Jelly. Hot Pepper Jelly is a favorite and we like it with cream cheese on crackers.

All the basil is thriving and I use it in everything. I’m still making pesto, but I am using pecans instead of pine nuts. I’ll not buy any more pine nuts because of the problems associated with them. I actually prefer using the pecans and will experiment with other nuts too.

These are our wonderful Pinkeye Purple Hull Peas!

What’s better tasting on a hot summer afternoon than watermelon and cantaloupe? The Crimson Sweet and Ambrosia both have done well this year and we hope to enjoy them into the Fall.

Last week we picked a bushel or two of apples and are planning for more fruit trees to be planted this Fall. We have lots of blueberry bushes, thornless blackberry, and muscadine grape vines. We bought four Asian Persimmons and three PawPaws in pots last year and will be ordering Fig, Asian Pear, Apple, Jujube and perhaps Hardy Kiwi upon the recommendation of my friend Patti. We plan to plant these in October. We like growing disease resistant, tough fruit trees since we don’t have time to pamper them and don’t spray. We’ve never sprayed or fertilized our apple tree and it’s produced well for over 10 years.

Our muscadines are almost ready for harvest. Muscadines are tasty and good to eat right off the vine. On my way back and forth to the office/warehouse, I always stop by for a quick snack!

I like to make Muscadine Pineapple Sage Jam, apple juice and grape juice and hopefully will also have time to make wine this year.

The days are still hot, but noticeably shorter. Every plant is rushing to flower and send forth seed. The zinnias have peaked and are beginning to decline, but the butterflies and bees and hummingbirds and I are still enjoying them.

This week we will be sowing our Fall garden. We’ll sow turnips and mustard greens, chard and collards. I’ve not had much luck with carrots and beets, but I’m going to try them again. In September, we’ll sow Crimson Clover as our winter cover crop in areas that aren’t planted with Fall crops. Since it’s too hot here to grow lettuce outside, I will grow some Mesclun mix inside under lights. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how everything turns out!
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