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Enjoying the fruits of our labors

Fri., Sept. 5, 2008

This is the last monthly update on how my garden is doing, as the vegetable growing season soon will end. Traditionally, our first frost occurs in mid-September; this year it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will hit because our weather has been so unpredictable.

I’ve had both successes and disappointments this year. You can bet I’ll be jotting down a lot of notes in my garden journal in an effort to have better luck next year.

The successes

As I mentioned last month, I’m delighted with the Italian pole beans. The vines have grown up and over a 6-foot-tall bean tower and have produced large quantities of delicious beans. The bean tower takes up very little space in one of my raised beds, and it makes harvesting a breeze. I’m tempted to grow only pole beans next year instead of the usual mix of pole and bush beans.

The white onions I grew from seedlings have been a pleasant surprise. The size of the onion bulbs is amazing. I’ve always grown onions from sets, with satisfactory results, but I’m definitely going to plant more seedlings next year to see if they always get this large.

The Bush Spacemaster cucumber plants have cranked out large cucumbers that we have enjoyed in salads, sandwiches and marinades. This variety has been more productive than the lemon cucumber vines planted in the same bed.

The Japanese eggplants also have been productive, with some having a starring role in homemade ratatouille. The jalapeno and bell peppers that shared the bed with the eggplants also have been prolific, as have the summer squash. There’s no shortage of zucchini in the Mulvihill garden this year; fortunately, there are many ways to prepare them.

The Swiss chard patch has been our most productive ever. We recently discovered steamed leaves freeze well, so more of it will be harvested and frozen to enjoy during the winter. If we keep the remainder of the chard under a floating row cover, it should produce well until it gets very cold.

The disappointments

Two crops that have given me the most grief are the tomatoes and corn. Half of our tomato plants are stunted and unproductive while the other half are full-sized and covered with tomatoes. I have no idea why the tomatoes have varied so much. Our weird weather certainly didn’t help matters.

Our Silver Queen corn stalks grew to their full height of 8 feet but have not produced many ears; those we do have are quite small. I know I’m not the only one with this problem. Gardening friends have shown me stunted cornstalks and odd things such as ears growing out of the tops of the stalks next to the tassels.

Early-season problems included poor germination of the carrot and parsnip seeds and shallot bulbs rotting in the ground. In addition, the cauliflower plants bolted to seed before their heads developed. Can we chalk up all of these problems to our strange weather?

What’s next?

We all need to keep harvesting regularly from our gardens and try not to waste any of our bounty.

Keep an eye on the weather forecasts for any temperatures that get close to the freezing mark. Remember, there are many microclimates in this region, so some outlying areas could get nipped by frost sooner than others. Cover frost-susceptible plants such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons with blankets at night when frost is predicted. Later this month, I’ll address fall cleanup and putting the garden to bed for winter.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at


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