Over the past few weeks, the morning air has had the slightest suggestion of a chill. With these lower temperatures and some regular rain, the garden has bounced back from our dry, scorching summer. The change in the season is also a good time to pause and take stock of what's gone well or not so much and plan for next year.
All the plants seems seem to be making up for lost time after a hot summer. Tomatoes and peppers are finally setting, producing plenty for our kitchen. We had lots of disease in the tomatoes this year, but the Early Girl and Mortgage Lifter varieties have both done very well in the past few weeks. We also enjoyed Sungold. On the pepper front, we managed to grow a handful of New Mexico Hatch-type Sandia chiles and a decent crop of shishitos.
Also, the okra has finally started to grow and bloom. Its flowers would be great enough in the garden, but fresh okra may be one of our favorite garden vegetables. We have three or four globe-spanning okra dishes that will be in a solid rotation as long as the plants last. We planted both Clemson Spineless and Red Burgundy, but the former performs so well that the latter is likely not really necessary -- except for adding a splash of color.
An August planting of Duke of Windsor summer potatoes is going splendidly and already setting blooms. We have never planted potatoes outside of winter when everything takes more time, but their growth in the cool and rainy days lately has been remarkable. They will be a lovely addition to fall recipes, and we should still have enough to save as seed for the winter planting. Winter days in Georgia can't be too dissimilar from the average English summer day, right?
Another great success was our sweet corn. An old-timey favorite, Silver Queen, did remarkably well in a new bed with little amending. After telling this story to family back home, an uncle gave us seed from a top secret variety. Tomatoes get a lot of attention as a summer vegetable, but there is nothing like home grown sweet corn.
The biggest pleasant surprise of the late summer garden has been the Kentucky Wonder pole beans. We have typically shied away from beans given their need to be picked daily at the height of mosquito season, but pole beans are an old favorite that remain difficult to buy in markets. Once these took off, ten or so plants produced about a handful of beans (enough for dinner for two people) every other day. The beans are so tender when they’re braised and they store well in the fridge.
The biggest disappointment of the year were the cucurbits, especially the squashes. These are always a challenge. They tend to start off with a bang and collapse, by which time it is too late to plant anything behind them. Nonetheless, we had some success with Straight 8 and Mexican sour cucumbers, the latter of which are to cucumbers what cherry tomatoes are to tomatoes.
After such a lackluster summer, our recent bounty has us quite excited about the fall garden. We removed plants that weren’t producing and have been filling in the empty spaces with fall crops -- carrots, beets, lettuce, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kalettes, peas, and potatoes. They all seem to be loving the new weather (and the fresh chicken manure compost helps), so we should have plenty of farm to table recipes to share in the coming months.
Next year, we hope to take note of this year and refine our selections a bit more. Every year, we make plans and then get seduced by those January seed catalogs. Here's what we plan to do:
Tomatoes: Although we didn't plant them this year, Johnny's Artisan Tomato Collection, has proven itself in other seasons and were greatly missed. To this, we will add the perennial favorite Early Girl and newer favorites Sungold and Mortgage Lifter. As tempting as they might be, we have to resist Black Krim, Yellow Taxi, Cherokee Purple, and the other heirlooms that are simply don't perform as well for us.
Peppers: Sandia, Shishito, Yellow Bell, Chiltepin, and Hot Lemon
Okra: Clemson Spineless, Red Burgundy
Beans: Kentucky Wonder
Cucurbits: Straight 8 and Mexican sour cucumbers and no squashes.
Potatoes: The August planting merits repeating, and perhaps we will try other varieties.
Eggplant: These performed reasonably well, but we don't have a favorite variety.
Peas: We planted some red crowder peas with inoculant to suppress weeds and fix nitrogen around tomatoes. You need several plants to make it a food crop, but not as many as it might seem. We might also try other varieties with this same planting strategy.
Let us know what you've been planting and what's working well in your gardens.