What are you most happy with in your garden this year? I just moved houses and had to say good bye to one home garden, and hello to another, so my vegetable gardening was primarily limited to the display garden at the greenhouses. But there was much to learn and observe there. A few new varieties, and a few old favorites. It is always a balance to choose new things but also to crave the comfort of the old and dependable varieties. Here's a run down of what I want to note for next year's choices.
First, the tomatoes. We planted 8 new tomato varieties in the display garden this year. All were from California tomato breeder Bradley Gates at Wild Boar Farm. I found all of them to be quite productive and ranging in flavor from very good to excellent. Here's a run down of my experience with them (and I would love to hear about yours if you grew them):
Solar Flare- my favorite for flavor. Shape was a little strange and there was a fair amount of zippering, but the flavor was well balanced and the texture was juicy - perfect for salads. A little too juicy and oddly shaped for sandwiches.
For looks, I really liked Michael Polan. It is similar to a green zebra in flavor, but a minty green color when sliced open, and a cutely tapered shape. This is a saladette sized tomato, perfect sliced in half and tossed into a mixed salad where it keeps its shape and gives you a little surprise when you bite into it.
Precocious award goes to Pork Chop. It was ready long before the others, and in this cold season, I was surprised to get a fairly large tomato so quickly. It is yellow, a slightly flattened round shape, and very meaty. Very few seeds in this one.
I loved the two cherrys we grew - Barry's Crazy Cherry was, and still is, covered in yellow, tapered fruit. Really covered, actually fully draped, in clusters of yellow fruit. Napa Rosé was a small pink cherry tomato. Also a good producer but only not anything extra ordinary in terms of flavor.
And my absolute favorite of all of them was Berkeley Pink Tie Dyed. This was a very early tomato as well with a large, dark pink tomatoes with a faint green striping. They were unusual looking but well shaped, and they have a really good balance of meaty flesh that holds together and sweet juicy-ness. They were ready early and have kept on producing all season.
The Black and Brown Boar and Brad's Black Heart were also both excellent in terms of flavor, but they produced fewer fruit. Both are Oxheart type tomatoes - bulbous with a slightly pointed shape at the blossom end. My favorite tomato bite of the year was probably the very last slice of Brad's Black Heart I ate last week. Something about the September heat really brought out this tomato's flavor. It was so sweet and juicy and lively in a salad. But both of these tomatoes have fairly thick and tough skins. Not a quality I love. I do wonder if in a warmer season they might have thinner skins. I certainly felt like I needed a thicker skin this summer.
Some other successes to note:
Happy Rich Broccolini gave us a solid stand of broccoli shoots all spring, summer, and is still going strong into the fall. It is best to cut it back once or twice a week to keep it from flowering. And really would benefit from daily harvest, but who has time for that? I prepared the shoots in quick stir fries with scallions or garlic and sesame oil. Or roughly chopped them and threw them into salads raw. They stay very tender when picked regularly and are nothing like raw broccoli, which frankly, can feel like you are chewing on forest floor.
The Old Timey Blue collards were very pretty to look at and are delicious braised in broth. I found that they were a little too tough to simply sautee or stir fry. They needed the moisture from steaming or braising to soften up their texture. But their flavor makes up for it. It is earthy and satisfying and not too cabbage like. I just made some braised in chicken broth with thyme and new potatoes (I chopped the potatoes into half inch dice, simmered them in broth with thyme stems for about 8 minutes, added the finely sliced and de-stemmed collard leaves, and simmered an additional 10-12 minutes). It is a great dish to keep in the fridge for a quick meal, with a poached egg, or a piece of cheese; wholesome and grounding.
The star of the summer though has been the cut flowers. We grew so many new varieties. Some of my favorites were the lisianthus, the carnations, the scabiosas, and the dahlias. I also loved the new coral amaranth and the tall jester marigold. So many bouquets came out of a very small area all summer and they are still going strong. I am really recommending a small cutting garden to every customer I talk to next spring. Twelve or sixteen plants, planted on 8" centers take up only a few square feet of your garden's real estate but will give you a disproportionate amount of joy and bounty.
I will leave you with this beautiful image taken by a customer, Joannah Ralston. It is her harvest of Lavender 'Phenomenal' flowers. This is another new-ish variety for us, bred by Pennsylvania grower, Loyd Tavern. It is a huge plant, just covered in blooms, and best of all, it can take all the cold and all the heat and all the rain and all the dry that a Vermont summer dishes out. That is true resilience. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous bounty with us, Joannah.