03 Sep

If you can’t stand the heat, you’re not a nightshade

This was a hell of a hot summer, with weeks in the 90’s and hundreds. That helped some crops and definitely inhibited others.

The good: After 8 lousy years of tomato production (lost mostly to blight), we have more healthy fruit than we can keep track of: Early Girl, Oregon Spring, and Black Krim slicers; Romas (a heirloom variety) for paste and soup, and Sungold cherry tomatoes to take over their corner of the garden (and be delicious). I love tomatoes, Debby is allergic and eats them sparingly, and Sophie and Noah only like them in salsa or soup. Fortunately, they keep if cooked down or dried and packed, and our older kids and parents like them.  The tomatoes are all growing in the 2 keyhole gardens. And our peppers–a poblano and a long sweet red variety–are still producing, with only a few burnt fruit. They’re also in the keyhole gardens.

Eggplant are the Japanese variety, slender and softskinned, not as hardy but also not as bitter as the rotund variety. We’re like a lot of people: we like eggplant but can only eat so much. The two plants are very productive–especially the plant in the keyhole garden.

It’s also the season of the winter banana squash–two plants of apparent Amazonian stock rebred for the PNW took over the front garden, including sending two runners up over the bean frame (7 feet high) while we were on vacation for a week. I took hedge clippers to some of the vines just to keep them in check. The squash took that as a personal challenge to grow faster. So, needless to say, we have banana squash and need a song for it. Pounds and pounds of it–very tasty, but we’re pressed to preserve it in the recent heat.

We grew a new summer squash this year that we’ll grow again: a light skinned “Sweet Gourmet” zuke that’s rotund from the get go and even when it puts on a bit a weight (e.g., the zucchini club) is much less woody than the dark skinned type. We stir fry and steam it, make “noodles” with it (a really nice replacement for starched noodles), and of course shred it for backing.

Not the season for onions, beans, or carrots. At least, for us. Foliage was very healthy, but not much fruit. I don’t think we fertilized the onions enough or adequately protected the carrots from ground pests. Beans are the long purple variety. We’ve grown them in the past and couldn’t keep up. This year, we’ve picked enough for perhaps two meals. With the weather cooling, maybe we’ll still get a reasonable crop.

We always grow a big set of kale and chard from our favorite local nursery. It’s a combo of black and curly kale (the green, not the Russian), and, well, chard. The curly is succeptible to aphid conventions, even with spray. We also like it the least. Next year we’ll stick with the black kale (long, dark green rumply leaves) and chard.

Basil was fawltless and is still producing. We grew sweet, Genovese, a purple big leafy variety that our nursery person forced on us, and a variegated variety. The latter two don’t produce seedheads and will probably last longest. Both are fine in salads and soups, but neither really suits us for pesto. Cilantro also did well and is still producing.

First in the ground, our sugar peas did well, giving us tasty snappers into July.

Biggest disappointment: pumpkins. Usually we can’t keep up with them. Our 4 Cinderella pumpkin plants were anemic and never produced fruit. We had one volunteer with healthy vines that produced exactly one, average sized fruit.

Fruit from trees and bushes: purple plum trees were loaded, but in the heat ripened too fast, turning the half the fruit into juice bombs while we were camping. We shared the crop with the neighbors, who decided to see if they could make a bottle or two of wine from the riper fruit. Figs ate up the heat, as you’d expect. We always get a respectable first crop, although usually the second crop starts and then fails to ripen as the weather turns. This year has been warm enough for both crops. Blueberries did fine. They don’t like heat spikes (which are more typical)–so consistent heat during fruit season may have helped them stabilize.

Next year, it looks like another hot summer. If I remember, I’m going to try ginger and tumeric, for the heck of it.