Even though the gardening year is not quite over yet, I want to take the time to spotlight a few of our star performers in the 2011 garden. This is not an all-inclusive list, and it isn’t limited to new varieties in the garden, though many of the stars are new to us.
Cherokee Purple is our new favorite slicing tomato, and it was the star of many BLT sandwiches this year. It had a flush of tomatoes come on early and mid-season, then it took a break when the heat of summer got here. But it came back and produced a few more tomatoes for fall. All in all, I got a little over 10 pounds of fruit from the two plants in one cage, which makes it one of the better producing large heirloom tomatoes I have ever grown. Next year I will devote at least two or three cages to it. I saved seed from a couple of nice ones for planting next year.
Eva Purple Ball tomato was a great producer for us. The plants were loaded with medium large fruits. While it wasn’t our favorite tasting tomato (see Cherokee Purple above), the vines had tomatoes on them all season long. I got the seeds from fellow MG Debbie J, who had good luck this year with Neves Azoreon Red, Kosovo and Wes tomatoes. I am going to see if I can swap some Happy Yummy pepper seed for some more of her favorite heirloom tomato seeds. It makes sense to me to try tomatoes that are proven to produce here in our hot, humid Ohio Valley summers. I saved seed from Eva as well for next year.
Another tomato winner this year was Jetsetter hybrid. The two plants growing in one cage produced over 30 pounds of tomatoes, fully 10% of our total tomato harvest! The large slicers have a great balanced taste, like others in the Jetstar line. I also grew Jetsonic, but it was planted later and never produced nearly as well as Jetsetter, which definitely earns more than one cage next year also.
Apache Blackberries continue to be some of our top producers in the garden. The berries are large, sweet and juicy, and consistently produce well for us. They are doing so well I decided to rip up the Arapaho plants, and half of the Triple Crown plants. We replanted with Ouachita, Natchez and Loch Ness plants. We will see how the new ones perform. Even with less plants producing, we still hauled in about 7 gallons of them in 2011, most of which wound up in the freezer. That will keep us supplied with cobblers, blackberry juice and leather for quite a while!
Another star in the garden this year was the yardlong beans. I planted Red Noodle and Akasanjaku (seed from Kitazawa Seed), and they both held up well in the summer heat and kept on producing when the pole beans gave up. They are quite versatile in the kitchen as well, appearing in stir frys, soups, and in Green Papaya Salad. They’ve both earned a place in the 2012 garden for sure, and are worth considering in areas where summers are hot and other beans often struggle.
Always a star here is the Small Wonder spaghetti squash. We had some for dinner just the other night, baked in the oven then tossed with butter, ginger and honey. Two vines produced over 36 pounds of spaghetti squash this year. They keep well too, lasting all winter long and well into spring for us. The squashes themselves are smaller than many varieties, but still plenty big, averaging in the 1.5 pound range here, which is just right for smaller families.
Two great newcomers here this year were the heirloom Jimmy Nardello pepper and the Dasher 2 hybrid slicer cucumber. These peppers were the sweetest in the garden this year, and prolific as well. I planted Dasher 2 in early May and it gave us cucumbers starting in early July and continuing for 5 weeks before I pulled the vines to make room for something else. Summer Dance did well as a late planted cucumber too, as did Tasty Green.
One final star here this year was the Hernandez sweet potatoes. They outperformed my old standbys Beauregard and Centennial, giving us a big haul of great tasting sweet potatoes with a nice size and shape. Centennial did so poorly this year I won’t be growing it again. Hernandez was recommended by the folks at Robin’s Nest garden center in Boonville (where I got my slips), which goes to show that it pays to grow varieties that are suited for your unique growing conditions.
That’s a look at some of the most notable garden superstars here in 2011. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and I hope you find your own stars in 2012!