Our home garden began in 2016 when we purchased this property, and while it is tiny from a farming perspective it somehow manages to occupy a fair proportion of our free time. All of our beds are four feet wide and 50 feet long. There are two blocks: six beds running E-W in our front yard (with somewhat gravelly and compacted soil from past activities) and seven beds running N-S in our side yard (with very good soil, but with a low section that is soggy in winter). The total area is 3250 square feet (7.5% of an acre), of which 2600 square feet is beds and the remainder is pathways. Our rotation scheme involves moving back and forth between the two plots and between the sides of each. We only manage a 2-3 year rotation for brassicas and 3-4 years for most other crops. Each year, one side has a winter garden which transitions to May-June planted warm season crops and then eventually garlic and winter cover crops, while the other side has garlic and cover crops that transition to early spring plantings and eventually the next year’s winter garden. We initially tilled the sod with a BCS tiller, but since then have done all of our ground prep with a digging fork, a rake, and a wheel hoe. Irrigation is entirely drip tape (plus hand watering for germination) and operates in four zones overnight at a rate of about 4 gallons per minute from our well. We follow organic practices for fertility and pest control. We don’t use any black plastic or hoophouses for added heat.
This year will be remembered by most as a drought. Between June 11 and September 11 we had no measurable rain – and the mid-September rains were quite localized. As I write this on October 18, many areas are still waiting for their first significant rain of fall. We had no deep cold in the winter, with lows of 19.5ºF in December and 20.6ºF in February, but we may forget that late winter was unusually chilly, with the March average temperature the same as January and February two degrees colder. Those with early-blooming fruits like peaches and apricots suffered very poor fruit set. April had 16 days of rain, limiting early bed prep and preventing the bees from gathering much honey from the bigleaf maple bloom. Then with only 20% of average rainfall in May and 50% of average in June, the stage was set for a parched summer. We are thankful for our reliable well as others dropped or ran dry.
The May-July period was much warmer than normal – especially July at 3.1º above average – but despite 17 days above 90ºF we didn’t have any truly oppressive heat waves and the warmest day was August 9 at 97.9ºF. We may have to thank the shading effect of wildfire smoke for keeping the temperature bearable in August. After a few early fall rain teases, we settled into an extremely dry pattern over the last two weeks that also brought our first freeze (31.0ºF) slightly earlier than average on October 15. Aside from the drought and distant fires, this has been a comparatively benign weather year in our part of the Pacific Northwest, with none of the major windstorms and flooding that have affected much of the rest of the country.
Challenges and blessings
Overall 2018 seemed like a good year in the garden. We had no crop failures, but it was not without its challenges. Light leaf spot – a recently established brassica disease – ended our overwintering Brassica rapa and B. juncea mustards prior to bolting in February. Our garlic was in a location with substantial compaction/poor drainage, and the soggy April weather allowed a basal plate rot (we think Fusarium) to take out roughly a quarter of the crop. Small gray slugs were abundant in the spring and forced us to replant some of our direct seedings including carrots and quinoa. Aphids had a banner year thanks to the lack of spring rainfall; after two seasons with no spraying we brought out the Pyganic to save our transplanted cabbage and broccoli. Root maggots affected a minority of our brassica transplants. Flea beetles arrived in force in mid-July; our early July seeding of fall cabbage survived but our next seeding of fall/winter brassicas later in the month was completely wiped out. We replanted in the greenhouse and transplanted after the “fleabs” were less of a problem. Thrips and downy mildew were hard on many local onion crops this year. Ours were a bit smaller than past years but still generally successful. Deer are just problematic enough that we consider fencing occasionally, though it would be rather unsightly to cage in our front yard. We fenced the orchard (which doubled as a chicken run) and used repellent sprays successfully on the grapes and raspberries. In the garden they mowed off the fall peas, snacked regularly on chicory and peppers with little impact on yield, and mostly left other things alone. We’ve been attempting to trap a lone very large gopher for the last month, so far without success though the only casualties have been a few leeks. We even upped the ante with the exploding Molecat trap, and the gopher set it off seemingly without injury.
On the plus side – probably thanks to the dry weather – we had almost no powdery mildew on our cucurbits until late September, and no disease problems in our potatoes or tomatoes.
Thanks to our connections in the seed world and our love of diversity, we are always trying new varieties and planting a wide diversity. We don’t always keep the best notes on our results, but this is what stuck with us…
We grew the same four snap bean varieties as last year from our own saved seed: Wade (green), Beurre de Rocquencourt (yellow wax), Robert’s Royalty (purple), and Sequoia (purple romano). Wade seems especially susceptible to cucumber beetle damage after germination, but otherwise all did well and we made around 20 quarts of dilly beans and quite a few bags of frozen romano beans for winter stir fries.
We had three small (~6’) blocks of dry beans: Nora’s Baudette Baking (white) and Tiger’s Eye from our own seed, and Black Coco thanks to Hank Keogh. Black Coco was the highest yielding, 25-30% higher than the others and probably around 0.4 lbs/bed foot, while also drying down uniformly in early September. We may finally have found the black bean we have been looking for. (Last year we tried the Alubia di Tolosa pole bean from Uprising, which was a bit too tall and too late to mature.)
We grew our perennial favorite Annie Jackson pole beans up the stalks of our popcorn and flour corn as part of an experimental Three Sisters arrangement. Yield, though lower than a monocrop, was satisfactory (~4-5 lbs total) without noticeably affecting the productivity of the corn. Overall we were happy with the arrangement, though we will have to weigh the time savings of avoiding a trellis against the increased time required to pick the bean pods individually vs. cutting down the trellis in one piece and stomping whole plants. I think we will try it again next year.
We always grow too many beets, as we simply don’t eat them that often. The cylindrical Formanova (Sero Seeds – Territorial) is still our favorite, but we grew some Chioggia (Adaptive) for variety.
OSU Grex (Siskiyou Seeds) produced central heads of varying sizes and abundant side shoots over a long season, while Belstar F1 (Johnny’s) grew a single large head as advertised with no side shoots.
We have Red Arrow Sprouting Broccoli (Adaptive) heading into winter as another spring hunger gap crop; we’ll report on it next year.
This was our first year growing winter cabbage, and January King (Adaptive Seeds) did a wonderful job of holding through February and providing us with fresh cabbage all winter. Our planting for the coming winter was set back a bit by flea beetles; we’re hoping they will get big enough to make winter heads.
Quick Start F1 (Territorial) produced solid early summer heads from spring transplanting, while our beloved Kalibos (Fruition) proved less suited to spring-summer growth and rather vulnerable to root maggots. Our fall Kalibos is sizing up nicely for harvest in a few weeks, and the Filderkraut (uprising) is coming along. Filderkraut would benefit from planting in June for fall harvest, but in our current rotation scheme we don’t have any fall crop space until the fava beans come out in late June/early July.
As with many of our crops, we’re not quite as good at eating cabbage as we are at growing it; we still have at least a gallon of sauerkraut left from last year’s Filderkraut to eat…
We picked up a free 10,000 seed packet of Dolciva (High Mowing) at the OSA conference in February, and we’re happy with the carrots but especially pleased with the near-100% germination as carrots can often be spotty. Aside from that we mostly planted a variety of holdover varieties from our seed stash and haven’t really compared them side by side.
We were disappointed by the germination rate and seedling vigor of Goodman (High Mowing); Snow Crown F1 (Territorial) was somewhat better. Roughly a third of the plants failed to produce a normal head after stress from aphids and root maggots, but we had enough cauliflower for our needs.
In our winter garden, we especially loved Purple Cape (Adaptive Seeds), which produced abundantly in March and April when we had very little else from the garden. The curds are a bit different – more like micro-broccoli-florets – but beautiful and delicious. We’ll have more next year, along with All the Year Round (Uprising) as a comparison.
Chicory is the secret to the winter salad, particularly if one doesn’t wish to eat only brassicas and especially now that Light Leaf Spot tends to kill off the winter mustards by March. The trick is to plant enough of it in August so that it is well established by winter. Trieste Sweet (Adaptive) is an exceptionally good lettuce substitute with its big mild green leaves and indeterminate growth after picking. We even had a few plants from an early spring planting that lasted through the winter and the following spring. Palla Rossa (Wild Garden) and Gremulo Rosso (Adaptive) both have a diversity of colors, forms, and patterns for winter salad excitement. The radicchios are a bit trickier for winter as they tend to rot eventually once they form a head, but we have enjoyed Varigata di Chioggia (Adaptive) for several years, and this year added Rossa di Verona Arca (Adaptive) which has the most beautiful fuschia-maroon green-veined leaves. Deer nibbling has to some extent prevented heading, but that is OK as the loose leaves are just as delicious.
We grew a lot of varieties thanks to the OSA conference seed swap, knowing that they would cross but not too worried about it. For sweet corn, we went back to our old standard sugary enhanced (SE) hybrids Bodacious and Silver Queen (Territorial) after being disappointed by the yield and eating quality of open-pollinated sweet corn last year. Planting them in early May, we found Bodacious to have better cool soil emergence and vigor, and overall better yields.
The other corns were all planted in a pattern with beans and squash in our three sisters block, roughly 15’ square. Painted Mountain has amazing cold soil vigor and was twice the size of any other corn by the end of May. Yields are impressive (and beautiful!) for the size of the plant, but it is not a good choice for three sisters planting as the stalks are not tall enough or strong enough to support beans. Robin’s Egg, from the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, matured a bit late for our climate but made beautiful large ears. Of the three popcorns, Nash’s Black has a maternal dark color that came through uniformly while the other two (Confetti and Cassiopeia) intercrossed so completely that the ears were identical at harvest.
We now have a bookshelf full of beautiful dry corn, and will be grinding and popping it in the months ahead; we can’t report on eating quality as of yet. We have been enjoying the lavender-colored corn flour we ground from last year’s Glass Gem corn.
We love Shintokiwa (Fruition) as a long-season non-bitter slicing cucumber that continues almost until frost despite cool nights. Last year powdery mildew seemed to trigger bitterness, but with no disease this year we didn’t have that problem. For pickling cucumbers we again grew Homemade Pickles (Hudson Valley), National Pickling (High Mowing), and Vorgebirgstrauben (Uprising). The first two are not distinguishable and the vines intertwined, so we can’t compare except to say that we enjoyed the cukes. Vorgebirgstrauben produces a very heavy early flush of cucumbers which is great for pickling; however the skins are a bit softer so the pickles are not quite as crunchy. Overall, pickling cukes have only a 1-2 day window of ideal picking time, and they don’t store well once picked. As picklers, we would love to see a variety that can hold in the field at an ideal size/maturity for up to a week. I don’t know if that’s possible…
Eggplant does surprisingly well for a heat-loving plant. At Elizabeth’s request, we grew Fairy Tale F1 (Johnny’s) which was amazingly productive on tiny plants; we mostly grilled the little fruits whole. Long Purple (Botanical Interests) gave us many stir fries, and our two large varieties Black Beauty (High Mowing) and Black King F1 (Territorial) gave us many grilled slices and plenty of frozen baba ghanoush. The hybrid does not appear superior in any notable way.
We grew the same 13 varieties as the previous year, when Helen’s connections to garlic growers landed us a sampler pack. We lost a fair number to a basal plate rot in spring, we think Fusarium of some sort. Overall, I have to say that I have a hard time discerning nuance to garlic flavor beyond the gradation in heat; only Chesnok Red had a discernably different taste for me in our fresh/roasted comparison last year. We love Russian Red for its giant, easy-to-peel cloves and St. Helens and Oregon Blue softnecks for exceptionally long storage life. Basque matures extra early for the season’s first fresh garlic, and Ajo Rojo has exceptionally beautiful cloves. Aside from that, we seem to be preserving diversity simply because we have it.
Wild Garden Seed has an endless diversity of greens, and most of them have found a home in our garden. Belle Isle Cress for foolproof, disease-proof, freeze-proof winter survival. Arugula whenever the fleabs are away. Bekana mild mustard if we can eat it before the slugs do. Vibrant Ultraviolet mustard for beauty. A bit of Green Wave and Pungent Mix for heat and braising greens. Chard for winter salads. Fennel for spice. Spinach year round, best in the fall.
We much prefer the flavor of Goldie (High Mowing) to any other ground cherry we have grown. They have very high weed potential, and while we usually start them with tomatoes and transplant them we found that some of our volunteer plants looked healthier and produced larger fruits.
We still favor Dazzling Blue (Wild Garden) as the ultimate four-season, aphid-resistant, heat-resistant, freeze-resistant kale. We have a 4’ tall patch transplanted in early spring that is looking healthy going into winter, having survived the aphids and flea beetles of summer, as well as a new batch of September transplants. We’re also growing regular lacinato, Winter Red, Red Ursa, and
White Russian kales from fall transplants, all from Wild Garden.
We finally grew some this year (Kolibri), but then we didn’t eat it and gave it away to all takers. I don’t think kohlrabi is for us.
Last year we transplanted Blue Solaise and Belgian Breeder’s Mix (both Wild Garden) along both sides of the pole bean trellis. They were mostly shaded in the summer but took off in fall sun. The Blue Solaise were far superior in flavor. This year we’re growing Blue Solaise around some new asparagus that is establishing. They’re currently serving as gopher bait in the ongoing battle that will hopefully conclude before garlic planting in the next few weeks.
Wild Garden has a nearly infinite selection, and we often just grow the mix for a variety of types. For individual varieties, we have been enjoying Platonic Romaine for sturdy non-bitter heat-resistant leaves, 21st Century Fire for salad beauty, Flashy Trout Back for all seasons, Winter Density, Maraveille d’Inverno, and Blush Butter Oak for overwintering.
We’ve been growing the Farthest North Galia Mix (Adaptive) for the past three years. There is an exceptional diversity of flavors in the mix, and this year we lost the lottery with two vines producing inedibly insipid melons and another merely mediocre. Last year we had one that we really loved; we should have saved the seeds. Oregon Delicious (Adaptive) either has a similar diversity of flavor or else a very narrow window of optimum ripeness; a few melons were delicious but others were quite bland. Early Moonbeam (Adaptive) performed well, and we love the small, extra-sweet, yellow-fleshed melons that store a surprisingly long time.
After falling in love with Sharlyn melons at the grange melon tasting last year, we bought some seed from Siskiyou Seeds despite having doubts that it would ripen here. They were indeed very late, but the first ripe melon on September 12 was definitely the best melon we have ever grown, and the remainder of the fruits ripened through early October though the flavor diminished from mind-blowing tropical pina colada to merely delicious as the weather cooled. Next year we are excited to try more of the Siskiyou melon offerings, particularly Galina and Haogen.
My digestive system seems increasingly intolerant of onions, so perhaps we will need to grow fewer in the future. We mostly stuck with our usual varieties from Adaptive: Newburg for longest storage, Karmen for red storage, Cipolla di Rovato as a cippolini. We added Siskiyou Sweet (Siskiyou) for summer fresh onions, and Red Marble – a small red cippolini type from the OSA seed swap. Abundant thrips and associated downy mildew reduced size somewhat across the board, but all did well and we should still have plenty to last the winter (and maybe we won’t have to give 50 pounds to the food bank in May this year).
Peas were not a success. We tried Magnolia Blossom (Adaptive) and Oregon Giant. Slugs hammered our March planting pretty hard despite Sluggo applications, and then about half of the plants appeared virus-infected at maturity. We did get enough peas for fresh eating in June, but not enough to preserve. Our first attempt at fall peas, admittedly started a few weeks late, has been stymied by deer browsing.
Our favorite sweet pepper is still Liebesapfel (Adaptive), which is exceptionally sweet, thick-walled, beautiful, equally delicious roasted or raw in salads, and (most importantly) begins to ripen peppers nearly a month before any of our other varieties and continues until frost. We enjoyed Pippin’s Golden Honey Pepper (Hudson Valley), mostly sautéed like shishitos. Pappacelli di Nacimiento, a gift from Laura of High Desert Seeds at the OSA conference, was like a golden version of Liebesapfel, somewhat larger and even thicker-fleshed and equally delicious. Unfortunately it is a bit too late for our climate, fully ripening only three fruits before frost. We grew three Wild Garden roasting peppers: Gatherer’s Gold, Early Perfect, and Joelene’s Improved. They all began to ripen at the same time in late September, with Joelene’s Improved actually a few days earlier than the “Early”. All yielded heavily, and we have many bags of grilled peppers in the freezer for winter soups and sauces.
We usually grow too many too-hot peppers, though we’re getting better. Our favorite (and probably the winner of Best New Vegetable of 2018) was Aji Marchant (Adaptive), our first Capsicum baccatum pepper. Peppers were ready to pick in late July, two months ahead of some varieties, and our three plants gave us seven jars of pickled peppers from their first flush and substantial quantities later on. They have a unique and delicious flavor and fresh-picked aroma. Heat increases dramatically with ripeness; the sweet spot seems to be at the yellow-green stage. We would support selection for somewhat less heat at maturity.
We grew Korean hot peppers (Adaptive) for kimchi, Targu Mures (Adaptive) for hot paprika, and Early Thai Grex (Adaptive) for no particularly good reason, given that we have used less than 10% of the outrageously hot powder we made from them last year. All performed admirably. We grew two poblano types: Caballero F1 (Territorial) and Ancho Poblano (High Mowing). The hybrids produced larger but fewer peppers, and the OPs were very productive but all tipped over and required staking. Our favorite use of poblanos is to grill them filled with a seasoned egg and cheese mixture.
We fell in love with the flavor of heatless or low-heat habaneros after growing them in 2015, and we’ve been growing them ever since. This year, thanks to a warmer heat mat, we got them off to a better start in early March in the greenhouse and ended up with ripe fruits 2-3 weeks earlier. Our favorite is a line from independent plant breeder Doug Jones, given to us at the 2016 OSA conference. His have slightly thicker flesh, ripen to a bright orange-red, and have the best fruity-sweet flavor of any we have tried. We also grew NuMex Suave Orange (Johnny’s), which is slightly higher yielding but not quite as tasty and more likely to produce deformed fruit in cold weather, and Habanada (Fruition) which struggled all season and ripened only three fruits before frost with a watered-down flavor compared to the other two. It seems that the Habanada really needs a climate with warmer nights. We’re looking forward to trying Jim Myers’ habaneros when they are released.
We also grew a few hot habanero plants for hot sauce, but we underestimated the excessive productivity of Helios (Johnny’s) and we’re not sure what we’re going to do with three gallons of hot habaneros…
As usual, we picked up our seed potatoes at local Shonnard’s Nursery, and our choices were dictated by their availability. Some gnawing creature (rat? vole?) nibbled on many potatoes, though didn’t dramatically affect our yield. We experimented with shallower planting, which provided more uniform emergence and early vigor though perhaps at the expense of some yield since tubers are only initiated above the seed potato. Even so, we have plenty of potatoes for winter. Cal White and Yukon Gold did well with plenty of large potatoes. French Fingerling, with delicious red-hearted tubers, yielded more than many of our non-fingerlings. Huckleberry Gold was a new variety for us; yields were average but they are beautiful. We always grow All Blue for their color, but they are more mealy than most others. Red La Soda was a bit disappointing with small plants and few small potatoes. Purple Peruvian fingerlings were most interesting. The plants were indeterminate, formed new plants by spreading rhizomes, and did not senesce at the end of the season. The yields were not bad (though not as high as we expected given the size of the tops), and the long potatoes are deep purple inside and out, very dense, slow-cooking, and quite firm and mealy when cooked. They seem a bit like an ancestral potato, closer to the wild version than most varieties.
After being unhappy with the lower yield and higher saponin content of a black-seeded Kaslala selection last year, we returned to white seeds, a selection of Red Head (Wild Garden) that had been through nine days of rain in 2016 without head-sprouting. We direct seeded around May 8, and had to replant some when they were eaten by small gray slugs at the cotyledon stage. After that they thrived, and predatory minute piratebugs outnumbered lygus bugs until the last month, when the lygus managed to multiply. Our yield came to 15 lbs from 34 bed feet, which is not quite as good as 2016 but still quite satisfactory. (For comparison a half pound per bed foot is one pound per ten square feet or a little more than two tons per acre.) On a calories-per-acre basis, that puts quinoa up at the top alongside potatoes. We just washed it this week (in pillowcases in our washing machine), re-dried it, and filled five half-gallon jars which ought to be enough to keep us in quinoa for the next year without needing to import from the Andes.
We planted cherry belle and French breakfast type radishes throughout the summer for salads. In late August, we planted daikon (Territorial) for kimchi and Shunkyo (Wild Garden), Misato Rose (Wild Garden), and Runder Schwartzer Winter (Territorial) for winter salads. Misato Rose is exceptionally beautiful sliced thin, and Runder Schwartzer in particular holds extremely well; if rodents don’t eat it we can be eating radishes until they bolt in spring.
We planted Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop (Adaptive) and Dark Star zucchini (High Mowing). The zucchini, even just one hill, covered a massive area and produced many monsters that got away from us, though we had plenty to eat. It continued to set new fruits through 40-degree lows right up until first frost. The scallop was similarly productive, and we pickled and stir-fried many of the cute mini-squashes throughout the season.
We grew nine plants each of Willamette and Siletz (both Adaptive) determinate tomatoes primarily for canning. The Siletz set a few extra-early fruits for summer salads then ripened the majority along with the Willamette which was convenient for canning. Both varieties are determinate in plant size but still set and ripen fruits over quite a long season. Paul Robeson (Adaptive) is our favorite fresh eating tomato, though it is not exceptionally productive and tends to crack and rot quickly when the rains arrive. Three plants of Sungold hybrid cherries (Johnny’s) provided more than enough for us and all of our friends and neighbors. Damsel F1 (Earthwork Seeds), a free packet from the OSA conference, produced large, very firm pink tomatoes that colored up long before they were ripe: good for market perhaps but not our favorite.
Turnips are easier to grow than to eat. Our Scarlet Ohno (Wild Garden) turnips planted in late August are ready now in October, and Aprovecho Hardy (Adaptive) is a bit slower but will be ready in a month.
Squash was the neglected little sister in our three sisters garden, as we didn’t leave it enough space to get adequate light. The Nutterbutter (High Mowing) butternut and Rouge Vif d’Etamps pumpkin (Johnny’s) were particularly disadvantaged but still managed to set and nearly ripen some small fruits. Our Sweet Meat (Carol Deppe/Moondogs) and Potimarron (Uprising) did better by actually climbing the corn, something that the corn didn’t much appreciate especially as the fruits got heavier. Alongside the three sisters, our delicata (both Zeppelin-Wild Garden and Candystick Dessert-Carol Deppe/Moondogs) did well, as did the REBA Bush Acorn (Uprising). We haven’t compared the two delicatas yet, though the Zeppelin at the end was shaded by our ornamental sunflowers. As we have observed before, Candystick Dessert is relatively low yielding; we will have to see if the flavor is worth it.