The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: pepper

What’s In The Garden Now? June 1, 2016

Eggplant in the foreground and tomatoes in the background.

Eggplant in the foreground and tomatoes in the background.

I’m always interested in hearing what others are growing in their gardens, so this post is about what is in my garden now. But first, a note about what my priorities are and how I choose what to grow:

  • Sustainability – Everything that I plant in my garden is open pollinated. Savings seeds is just as important to me as the vegetables that go on the table. Hybrids are not even considered when picking varieties.
  • Resilience – Rather than start with “What do I like?” and then try to make it grow here, my strategy is to ask “What will dependably grow here?” and then find ways to prepare it so that I enjoy it. (See the section on Squash below for any example).
  • Organic – I avoid the use of any chemical pesticides or herbicides. I’m not fanatical about it, but it’s been many years since I used any chemical pesticides on the garden. When needed, I use BT and Neem Oil, which are both organic pesticides that are safe to apply immediately before picking and eating.

Eggplant – This is a hot-weather favorite that keeps on producing through all but the very hottest summer days. In the past, I have always gone with Black Beauty, but this year I am growing the Florida High Bush variety. My hope is that, based on the description I read, the plants will be stronger and less likely to be blown over in a wind, yet still have the good taste and texture of the Black Beauty. This variety was developed in the 1940’s for commercial fields, and the objective was to keep the fruit up off the ground. So far, so good.

Tomato – What’s a garden without tomatoes? Several years ago, I did some fairly extensive testing for taste, quantity, and general quality. I grew several varieties and kept careful records. I counted the yield from each individual plant, and I wrote a number on the individual fruits and gave them to friends and relatives and asked them to rate them by various criteria. The overall winner was Homestead 24. That has become my standard tomato variety and I see no reason to change. There will be some other varieties that may taste slightly better or have other desirable qualities, but – all things considered – the Homestead 24 beats them all.

Bell Peppers – I’m trying a new variety this year: Chinese Giant. As the name implies, these are a very large fruited pepper. I have read that if thinned (something I haven’t tried yet), they can reach 5″ – 6″ in length and width. My previous variety was California Wonder; they were good, but I wanted to try something new.

Okra – Another great hot-weather producer. This year is a test of a strain of Clemson Spineless called “Heavy Hitter”. In the past, I always went with regular Clemson Spineless, but when I read about Heavy Hitter, I had to give it a try. Heavy Hitter has a different branching pattern which results in more branches – and thus more fruit – from each plant. It was developed by Mr. Ron Cook in Oklahoma. If it works as I think it will, I’ll be doing whatever I can to help promote this strain of okra. This was planted quite late since I wanted to put it in some new ground that had been lawn up until a few months ago.

Squash – I suppose this one doesn’t really belong here since I turned the entire crop under two days ago. In previous years, I decided “No more squash” because they were always ruined by worms boring holes and ruining the fruit. Stubbornly, I wanted to give it one more try. The first few were great, but then the worms came (I avoid the use of pesticides wherever possible). Not wanting to feed the worms, I used my BCS tractor with the roto-tiller attachment to turn that part of the garden into dirt. Next year, I’ll go back to planting Seminole Pumpkin and use it as a squash.

Cotton – I like planting cotton every once in a while just to have it. This year, I planted Red Foliated White Cotton that I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The stem parts of the plants are red – an interesting color in the garden – and it produces a short staple white cotton. What do I do with it? Not much. It is just interesting to grow, and there are plenty of folks who have never seen cotton growing.

So – what do you have in your garden now?

Cotton blossom, Red Foliated White Cotton.

Cotton blossom, Red Foliated White Cotton.

Hot Weather Crops

Here in The South, the intense summer heat limits your garden to only those few plant varieties that can truly handle the heat. Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens are when we get the nice lush growth, but with the heat and the insects it takes careful planning and selection to have a beautiful and productive garden.

This has been an especially hot and dry summer, and the stink bugs were out in force. I have long since pulled up the tomato and squash plants that just couldn’t handle the heat. Here is what I have in the garden now (July 19, 2011).

Strawberries - they are not producing fruit now, but the plants are handling the heat just fine.

Bell peppers are producing well. They turn red before they get very big, but they produce far more than we can use ourselves.

Sweet potatoes. These are doing very well. There are 4 plants in this section of the garden.

Egg plant. The fruit doesn't get very big before harvest stage, but they still produce far more than we can use.

Egg plant ready to be picked

Okra - the Summer performer. No matter how hot the weather, okra just keeps on producing. The only pest is ants, and they are a minor problem and relatively easy to control.

Sweet potato being grown in a container

Lessons Learned – Part 1

I’m titling this one “Part 1”, not because I have a “Part 2” in mind, but because learning new things is an on-going process. I’ll write “Part 2” (and 3, and 4, and …) as soon as I have more lessons learned that I want to record.

More Plant Spacing – I have been planting too closely for most plants. By the time the plants mature, they are so densely packed together that the inner leaves do not get sufficient light, so they just yellow and die. There is not enough air circulation to dry the inner parts of the plants, and though I can’t prove it, I suspect that the plants would be healthier with more room to “breathe”.

Use Plant Cages – Primarily for tomatoes, but also for plants like peppers, some way to stabilize and contain the plants is a major advantage. Some of the tomato plants have grown over the sides of the garden and down to the ground. When they grow that big, they are much more difficult to work with, and much more susceptible to broken branches and other damage. We haven’t had any high winds yet, but plant cages will keep the plants from being blown over by the wind.

Prune Where Needed – The tomatoes ended up putting too much energy into growing branches and leaves rather than in growing fruit. Although pruning tomatoes is more commonly done in the northern parts of the country, I will be pruning my next crop of tomatoes. This is also related to using tomato cages to contain and train the plants.

Upon doing some more reading, it looks like this year’s poor blackberry crop may be due (in part) to not having done any pruning on them. I’ll do that next season. I also neglected to give them the fertilizer and water that they should have gotten.

Grow Up – Not Out – I had planned to use bush beans and determinate variety tomatoes and plant in stages, thinking that I would then get enough beans in a single flush to be able to can the surplus. Somehow, that just didn’t work out as planned. I’ll be going back to pole beans and indeterminate tomato varieties so the harvest is spread out over the life of the plant rather than one large flush of produce and then the plant dies. This also allows for better utilization of the available area in the garden. The various trellis designs that I have been experimenting with look very promising.

Better Planning – I have been pretty much planting wherever there was an empty space in the garden. That kind of haphazard planting just doesn’t work very well in the long term. I will be dividing the garden into 4 sections, and making sure that crops are rotated so that it will be 4 years before a section contains the same type of plant. That should help reduce soil-borne disease and balance out the nutrients in the soil.

Earlier starting – I did fairly well this year, but I still want to start my seeds for the Spring garden around the end of December or first of January. In this part of the country, with the seedling setup that I have, that should work out just fine. There may be some risk of a late frost, but the plants can be covered if needed. I usually try to have at least twice as many seedlings as I plan to use in case of a problem like that. If they aren’t needed, there are plenty of folks eager to take them.

Color Makes a Difference – This year, we planted both yellow squash and zucchini. Both grow about the same, both taste about the same, but both look very different. I discovered that the dark green zucchini is very easy to overlook among the dark green plant. Several times, I have discovered huge zucchinis that are far bigger than I wanted (although they do quite well when baked). They got that way because I overlooked them. Next year, we might be growing yellow squash and not zucchini, we’ll think that over carefully before planting. The bright yellow squash stands out and is a lot easier to see when it’s time to pick them.

Mix it up – I have noticed some differences in the sections of the garden that I can only attribute to not having mixed the growing mixture up well enough. When the hot weather garden is finished, I will be adding some more compost and doing a better job of mixing it up. Just to make sure though, I’ll be doing some soil testing.