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In the Garden

In the Garden: Variety means bounty – of sorts

After laboring in the garden all summer, it’s time to look back and see how it went.

Like most years, some things did exceedingly well, while others not so much. I spent the summer asking people how their gardens were growing and found we all had some common complaints.

“I have tons of tomatoes, but they aren’t ripening!” was the single-biggest problem everyone encountered this summer. You’d think with July’s heat the tomatoes would be early, but that is not the case – plants that were started in February still have not had a ripe tomato. Blame it on the weather!

“My squash plants were doing great, and then they died all of a sudden!” Blame it on the squash vine borers, which were having a record year.

“I have a jillion Japanese beetles even though I have one of those bag thingies you hang up to catch them.” I hear this one every year. Get rid of the bag thingy! It has a pheromone that lures beetles from across the neighborhood to your garden. Instead, put down milky spore this fall to kill them as grubs before they emerge next spring.

But enough of the blame game; there have been far more success stories than problems.

Everyone I have talked to has had an excellent cucumber year – us too! Plants we set out in June are still pumping out cukes. We have a second planting coming along, but the first planting is showing no signs of giving up soon.

People who managed to fend off the squash vine borers have had a bumper crop of summer squashes. The squash bugs were plentiful again this year, but they didn’t gain a foothold until the plants were big enough to stand up to the onslaught – unlike last year when the poor plants were overwhelmed by bugs before they had a chance. Even though we use row covers early in the season, the covers have to come off when the plants start to blossom. The squash bugs usually find their way under the covers anyway, so we try to kill the them and crush the eggs, but they still get ahead of us. Last year, our whole crop was wiped out early; this year, we’ve had a lot of summer squashes despite the bugs, and the winter squashes are coming along fine. Surprisingly, the Delicata are very productive this year, and they are usually one of the first plants to get killed by the squash bugs.

We’ve had the best year ever for Swiss chard and beets thanks to all the rainfall. The early lettuces also were great until the scorching days of July hit, and the beans have outdone themselves. I highly recommend Maxibel for green filet beans and Beurre de Rocquencourt for yellow beans. Both have been prolific. Broccoli was also a huge success. We kept it covered all season to thwart the cabbage moth, and it seems to have worked. I fretted about the broccoli overheating under the cover during the July heat wave, but it did fine, and we’ve had beautiful worm-free heads and side shoots all summer. It was a great year for fruit, too – blueberries, peaches, plums and nectarines all had bumper crops.

In my quest for a huge onion, we tried growing Walla Walla to see whether they would grow any larger than Ailsa Craig. They did give us bigger onions at first, but then good old Ailsa took off and surpassed them.

We tried some other new things this year, such as Malabar spinach, which is a vine spinach substitute that prefers hot weather. It was slow to get started but then took off, climbing the pea fence with abandon. The leaves were a great summer substitute not only for spinach, but also for lettuce in sandwiches. Yard-long beans were a first for us this year. They also had a slow start but have finally taken off and are climbing the same pea fence. The beans may not actually be 36 inches long, but they are at least 12 to 16 inches long before I notice they are beans and not new stems. They blossom in clusters, so a clump of beans will form from one spot, making them easy to pick.

If you want a trap crop for Japanese beetles, try soybeans.

I love fresh soybeans, but we usually don’t have the garden space for them. This year, we were able to fit them in, and they grew extremely well, but every time I walk by, they are loaded with Japanese beetles. I have taken to leaving a small pail of soapy water next to the plants, making it easy to knock the beetles into the water and a sudsy death. Even though the bugs have skeletonized some of the leaves, the plants had tons of fat little pods of edamame beans. The only other plants in my garden the beetles find more attractive are the roses.

One bug that has not plagued us this year is the green stink bug. Last year was the first time we saw them in our garden, and they were all over everything. This year, I have kept an eye out for them but have seen only a couple.

For me, the key to a successful gardening season is variety. If you plant a lot of vegetables, something is bound to do well.

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