How our gardens grow in a given year is dependent on the weather. A quick recap of this year’s weather: We had above-average precipitation for the year, but precipitation in June, July, and August was below average. Ample early precipitation meant the ground had good water reserves. Temperatures in June, July, and August ran 2 degrees cooler than average. There was a hard frost on June 12; Belgrade set a record low of that morning of 29 degrees which froze out many valley gardens. Some areas of the valley had another light frost on July 4. Although we had a nice warm September, the late-in-the spring frosts gave us fewer frost-free days to garden than normal.
We covered our vegetable plants in anticipation of the frost June 12, however, it got so cold that the coverings were not enough; some of our corn and bean plants got nipped. Surprisingly they recovered. Our tomatoes were well protected in “walls of water”; I covered the tops of the walls of water so cold air couldn’t enter from above. Gardeners that did not anticipate the frost had to totally replant their tender plants that had emerged. I did not cover my zinnias and marigolds; they froze and I had to replant.
VEGETABLE GARDENS: Although some plants matured a little later than usual, our vegetable garden did well this year. Our Japanese cucumbers grew an unbelievable crop of large, tasty cucumbers. Carrots always seem to be an easy crop for us to grow. I grew the Napoli variety which has a rounded, not pointed, tip so they do not break off easily when pulling them. We grew nine varieties of tomatoes; Celebrity was one of the most productive. Sunsugar, an orange cherry tomato continues to be a winner for both productivity and flavor.
Again this year, Trinity was our best sweetcorn. It is reliable and early with big, sweet ears. I learned that, although sweet corn is a monocot that needs Nitrogen, one can overdo it. I put too much high nitrogen fertilizer on one of our rows of sweet corn; it grew tall and lush but with few ears.
FRUIT CROPS: This fall, two of our customers brought us samples of Contender peaches off trees they had purchased from us a few years ago. The peaches were good sized and delicious! Who knew peaches would do so well here! Our best-selling, and best-tasting, self-fertile plum, Mount Royal, produced well although the plums were smaller than normal. Our apple crops were good, especially State Fair and Honeycrisp varieties. If your apple trees did not bear well this year, remember, some varieties of apple trees bear every other year.
Raspberries, no doubt one of the easiest small fruits to grow here, produced well again. Summer-bearing Boyne and Souris are two of the best raspberry varieties. One of the Gallatin Garden Club members is successfully growing blackberries here under some shade. Everbearing strawberries (my husband Jerry recommends the Quinalt variety) do well here, often bearing a fall crop as big as the spring crop.
PESTS: I called 2017 “the year of the vole”. This year is the year of NO voles! I don’t know what happened to them, but my lawn and garden are glad they are gone. Deer continue to be a problem to gardeners. In many areas, the only way to have a vegetable garden is to put up a tall fence to keep the deer away.
“Blossom-end rot” is a common complaint of tomato growers. (You can still eat tomatoes with these black bottoms, but it is unsightly and there is less of the fruit for you to eat.) Plant tomato varieties that are resistant to blossom end rot. And keep the soil under your tomato plants evenly moist. Since blossom end rot is a Calcium deficiency, use a fertilizer that contains Calcium.
It’s not too late to wrap tender trees to protect them from sunscald, deer and rodents. Hopefully, most of your fall gardening tasks are done. Take time to reflect on the cycles of life and the joys of gardening this year and next.