Reflections on this past gardening season – Daily Freeman

This is likely to be my final column, written from New York in 2021 as I prepare to head to Florida for the winter.

I just found my clipboard with my gardening notes from last season and I’m glad I took the time to write things down! I used to assume that I would remember the details of what I did a few months ago, but the truth is, the older I get, the less I remember. Hopefully I will learn from my mistakes and not repeat them next year. Writing things down is a great habit for any gardener!

The 2021 gardening season started on schedule around May 10th with my first asparagus harvest. The two all-male varieties that I grow, Jersey Giant and Jersey Knight, still deliver very good yields even after 18 years. My 5 x 2 meter high raised bed brings more than I can eat, but I’ve learned that no one refuses a gift of fresh asparagus!

As a child, I wouldn’t eat asparagus at all because there was only canned food. Canned asparagus, like canned peas, is a poor substitute for fresh ones. Frozen asparagus is not an easy substitute either.

After more than 40 years of seriously trying to grow my favorite vegetables, I’ve learned a few things. I choose the all-male strains because they don’t produce seeds, which allows the plant to direct its energy into the roots for storage rather than reproduction. Female plants produce red berries, which sometimes produce seedlings.

While producing new plants may seem beneficial in terms of increasing the number of plants in the bed, it is not necessary if the existing plants are healthy. A healthy asparagus “crown” is able to send up a dozen or more harvestable shoots each spring and does not require the care and maintenance that seedlings do. Cultivating a bed of the same age is much easier than dealing with plants of different ages and maturities.

Asparagus does not generally compete well with weeds. It pays to remove all perennial weeds as they appear while maintaining a heavy mulch to smother most weed seedlings. After a bed is well established, table salt can be used to prevent weed growth, as asparagus is quite salt tolerant while most annual weeds are not. I also believe that the salt causes a little sickness
Resistance for the crowns. I cut off the asparagus fern only yesterday because it is starting to turn yellow after the hard frost last weekend. I will put up to six inches of mulch on the bed for the winter. My favorite mulch is sugar maple leaves if I can get them! I have also been using clean straw or wood chips for a number of years. Asparagus can easily push its way through six inches or more of soft mulch.

On May 21st, I planted red cabbage, potatoes, onions, and four big beef tomato grafts. I already had a decent harvest of “voluntary” potatoes grown in two different raised beds from the 2019 and 2020 plantings. No matter how diligently I try to dig up all the potatoes every fall, I always seem to miss some.

As it turned out, my potato harvest this year was a disaster. The plants grew well, but at some point in late summer I noticed lots of tunnels in most of my raised beds and spotted a few voles scurrying in and out. I blame chipmunks and moles for building the tunnels that the voles took over. I should probably have harvested the potatoes earlier than last week, because almost all of the tubers had been eaten or at least partially eaten by the voles. I think I might stop growing potatoes next season unless I’m sure I have the voles under control. I don’t want to risk my beet or carrot harvest! Once living things like voles have established themselves in a garden, they are very difficult to get rid of.

The red cabbage grew well and only needed a few cabbage worm insecticide sprays, and I harvested the last head last week. In May, doing tomato transplants in my cold location is generally not a good idea, but I had a well-prepared raised bed covered with black plastic mulch and my purchased grafts have been seriously overgrown. I have four grafts reserved for another bed. As I expected, the early grafts languish in the cold earth and I harvested the first ripe fruits from them on the same day as the four I brought up on June 5th Quality, Disease Resistance and Taste!

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