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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: Tomatoes, squash gave best output

2014 was an excellent year for growing tomatoes, particularly the paste tomatoes shown here. (Susan Mulvihill)

The 2014 garden season is rapidly coming to a close. I wanted to share with you what performed well in my garden and the lessons I’ve learned.

This was certainly the year of the tomato, perhaps due to all of our hot weather. The best performers were Italian Pompeii paste tomatoes, Jetstar slicing tomatoes and a particularly flavorful grafted plum tomato called Bellstar. I made sauce and ketchup with the paste tomatoes and enjoyed sharing boxes of the excess harvest with the food bank and my neighbors.

My first attempt at growing tomatillos went well. I planted Toma Verde and made two large batches of salsa verde (green sauce) with them. Did you know you can also make salsa verde with green tomatoes? I didn’t, and I haven’t tried it yet, but wanted to give you an idea for using up some of yours.

It was a banner year for winter squash and pumpkins. In previous years, I’ve had small harvests from acorn squash plants so had almost given up on them. I decided to try a white-skinned variety called Cream of the Crop and am astounded by how prolific they were. Other successful varieties were Delicata and Sweet Meat.

My pole bean harvest was underwhelming this year. Due to a seedling mix problem in early spring, there was minimal germination of my tried-and-true Italian pole bean seeds. I also grew Scarlet Runner beans. While I enjoyed the way their red flowers attracted hummingbirds and bees, I wasn’t very impressed with the beans’ quality and flavor.

I also grew French fillet bush beans, which more than made up for the shortcomings of the pole beans. They were tender, delicious and very prolific.

What did I learn this year?

Mulch, mulch, mulch. My biggest lesson was a reminder of how important it is to mulch around veggie plants. I should have taken more time to do this if for no other reason than to conserve soil moisture. While warm-season crops appreciated the high temperatures in July and August, they would have grown better if heavily mulched.

Plant crops that suffer in the heat later in the season. For example, cilantro should be planted in early August to time the peak of its leafy growth with tomato-harvesting season. Corn salad, also known as mache, grows best in late summer and fall, as do beets and cabbage.

Be aware of the sunlight in the garden. I didn’t realize how tall the trees on the east side of our garden were getting but the reduced sunlight affected the vigor and production in the easternmost row of my raised beds. It looks like some pruning is in order.

I’m continuing to learn about growing veggies through the colder months of the year and am excited to see how my two beds do. They are planted with lettuce, mizuna, tat soi, corn salad, arugula and kale – all cold-tolerant crops. My plan is to cover the beds with a small hoophouse structure for extra protection from our chilly temperatures and will provide updates on my blog.

Several of my idle beds have been planted with cover crops, which later will be turned into the soil to add nutrients for next year’s garden. I’ll soon be putting this garden to bed, which will involve the final harvests, composting spent plants and adding organic amendments to the soil.

This is my last column for the 2014 gardening season. I will update my blog throughout the fall and winter months so be sure to visit susansinthegarden. You can also find me on Facebook at susansinthegarden. And remember, if you have a gardening question, I’m just an email away at