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This year’s garden review: Some hits and a few misses

This year’s garden review: Some hits and a few misses

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The results are in! It’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for my 2020 vegetable garden.

First up, the good...

Egg Plant: I nearly gave up growing eggplant in Central Virginia. I have better results growing the long cylindrical Japanese varieties. Flea beetles plague my garden every spring. This year I grew Burpee Green Knight, a Japanese variety with—yes, green skin. I froze, pickled and even dehydrated eggplant—I had THAT many. I will grow Green Knight again.

Cucumbers: The cucumbers were the best I’ve had in years. I prepared tzatziki, all sorts of pickles, and still had enough to give away fresh every week. I will recommend Burpee Hybrid 11.

Cantaloupe: I grew the heirloom Hale’s Best as well as Hybrid Melon Goddess from Seeds & Such. Both varieties were late to succumb to blight. Perhaps they weren’t as sweet as I had hoped, but I had enough to dehydrate as well as to preserve in vodka. Both methods make interesting and fun holiday gifts.

Watermelon: Year after year I grow the heirloom Moon and Stars variety. I save the seeds. They’ve never let me down. Moon and Stars has a strong natural disease resistance, and deer seem to ignore the speckled foliage as well as the dark green blotchy melons.

Okra: I’ve grown burgundy and other red okras. They’re quite lovely, but turn green when they’re cooked or pickled. The fresh red pods turn pink when dried and are interesting in autumn arrangements. This year I returned to Clemson Spineless. I had so much okra, I dehydrated dozens every week. Dehydrated, okra has a nutty light flavor. Attention okra haters: no slime. I bag mine up. It makes a healthy and satisfying winter snack to munch on.

Now for the bad...

Squash: Year after year, all my squash plants succumb to something. This year I had vine borers in the heirloom Table Queen acorn squash as well as squash beetles later on. I grew Burpee “Pic-N-Pic” hybrid, a yellow crook neck summer squash, beside a row of basil plants. Squash beetles and vine borers moved in despite the basil’s aroma. The summer squash plants were poor producers…. Yet my basil did great.

And, finally, the ugly

Tomatoes: I had over 20 plants. Only a few were pretty enough to give away. Yet I canned more of these ugly beasts than before record keeping even began. Well, at least for me. Unfortunately, thanks to August’s rainy weather, my heirloom tomatoes succumbed to blight by Labor Day. The North Carolina bred Mountain series of hybrids such as Mountain Magic, however, still continued to pump out fruits. Why? This tasty hybrid is resistant to both early blight and late blight as well as other diseases.

What Can We Do?

We can grow things here we can’t in other regions. Yet at the same time the climate in Central Virginia is challenging for many cultivars. Even if you were born and raised in this area, new plant diseases, insect varieties and blights have emerged that weren’t common 20 or 30 years ago.

When the seed catalogs begin arriving in December and January, don’t forget what worked and what didn’t in your vegetable garden. For example I won’t be growing the heirloom tomato, Cherokee Purple again. I will leave that up to better growers, more patient than myself.

Where else can I learn which plant and vegetable varieties work best in Central Virginia? The answer is easy. The Virginia Cooperative Extension has the information readily available – and it’s free.

Vegetables Recommended for Virginia

Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates,

The Soil Test

The third rail in gardening is the soil test. If you’re planning a new garden or if your vegetable plants didn’t yield the anticipated bounty, not getting a soil test could be the problem.

Most fruits and vegetables grow best in neutral soil with a pH of about 6.2 to 7.2. However, blueberry bushes, for example, prefer an acidic or a low pH level. Performing a soil test now will give you the entire winter to slowly amend the soil pH and chemistry in time for the next growing season. Low-cost soil tests are available at Cooperative Extension offices. The soil test not only provides information on the soil, pH, and available levels of phosphorous, but on potassium and other essential elements or nutrients. The Virginia Tech soil test report also offers instructions on how to adjust or modify problems in the soil. Test results can be received either by mail or email.

Virginia McCown is a master gardener living in Central Virginia along with her garden and assorted creatures both great and small.

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