Disappointing tomatoes, crazy lemon cucumbers and more from the garden

Still life with lemon cucumbers

Way too many 90+-degree days and way too little rain this summer. Is that why there is no tomato glut? Or is it more because this is the first year in a long time that we haven’t planted sungold cherry tomatoes?

The Early Girl tomatoes have been a disappointment. We planted various tomato plants in early May, had to protect them from that surprise killer frost just before Mother’s Day .. and what happened to that claim of fruit 50 days after planting?? Not even the first to ripen. Three months in, and the plant is still a disappointment, to be honest, as is the baby boomer cherry tomato.

The first tomatoes

Surprisingly, the beefsteak may be doing best of all. Thank goodness for the volunteer plants in last year’s tomato bed (now mostly peas, kale and chard) — we should have some generous cherry tomatoes later this month.

What’s gone crazy is this lemon cucumber plant. It’s taken over the cuke area and refuses to be confined. Not just to its section of the raised bed but to the raised bed, period. Only now are the deer starting to munch a bit, but it’s still sprawling outside and yellow flowers are everywhere. For all that flowering activity, though, there’s not as many cukes as I’d expect.

Bursting out of the raised bed

The cucumbers look like oranges as much as lemons, but there’s no citrusy zing to them. And there are too many seeds. Not a repeat in 2021.

Bush beans have been a winner this year. The pole beans, using seeds from a few years ago, struggled to germinate — maybe I should have started them inside? But now we are getting plenty of purple ones.

Kale is getting eaten by bugs, but chard has been abundant. We’ve even gotten some nice beets. Maybe the horse manure is really improving the soil?


I thinned out the black-eyed Susans in the fall and then the deer did some munching this summer. So that’s surprisingly tame.

Deer also munched day lilies. Oh well. I’ll divide them this fall and fill in gaps left by black-eyed Susans.

What I’ve loved, loved, loved this summer is the cluster of crocosmia along the front porch railing. I’m going to stretch it out this fall, all the way behind the lavender.

Some rose campion (another favorite) and coreopsis from earlier in the summer:

A lesson in patience

Last Friday night temperatures were going down toward freezing and we had a fire going inside. Yes, on May 8! A week later, on Friday night, we are grilling and eating outside after temperatures topped 80 during the day and we got light sunburns while biking.

It was also hot two weekends ago, though not quite as hot as today. And we all figured winter was over, we are now zone 7a, not 6b thanks to climate change, so last frost isn’t as late as Mother’s Day. So why not plant the tomatoes, the peppers, zucchini, basil and whatever else we had?

Oh how foolish we were. Impatient too.

The soil really hadn’t warmed up enough, so the plants would still feel chilly anyway and not do much. And then we got this Canadian invasion — a weather “cyclone bomb” from the north with not only dropping temperatures but strong winds to boot.

We scrambled to protect our warm-weather plants.

Where’s some tarp? Plastic? Could we use some hoops bought years ago and shelter the peppers if we pull out the tomato cages already around some of them? Empty little plastic flower pots to protect individual plants?

We kind of pulled it off, though the wind was fierce enough to shove off the wood holding down the tarps (almost decapitating a tomato plant!) and then scattering some of the tarps and plastics as well.

Saturday’s forecast was still grim. Back up went the tarps and plastic, this time with bricks on top of the wood and holding down edges of plastic at the bottom. We lit another fire.

It was already dark when our neighbor, who also had planted his warm-weather plants, and his 13-year-old son knocked on the door.

“Would you like some toe warmers?”

Turns out they had who-knows-how-many left over from the abbreviated ski season and they were about to expire (yeah, right, I don’t take expiration dates that seriously), and perhaps these could take the chill off our plants in our improvised tents.

We laughed. And then we grabbed some scissors, bundled up in our fleeces and went outside to open the packets and leave them next to a few pepper and tomato plants.

This time the plastic stayed in place. The toe warmers were still warm the next morning. And while a few leaves show evidence of frostbite, we only lost one plant, a wax bean that probably hadn’t been hardened off enough to withstand the nasty wind.

But next year? Remind me to read this. And then hold off until mid-May, if not Memorial Day weekend.

Tackling our zucchini glut (it’s a struggle)

These got out of hand…

In previous years, I’ve complained about how our zucchini plants give up and die after producing only a handful of vegetables.

Not this year.

We came home after not even a week away to four XXXL zucchini, each give or take 4 pounds. Since then, I have found one more mega squash hiding under the leaves and have harvested many more regular ones that are perfect for grilling or spiralizing.

I’m still going through the XXXL ones, though. They can be turned into an awesome, super-moist chocolate zucchini cake, and you wouldn’t know there was zucchini if I didn’t tell you (I like to tweak it with lots of ginger plus fresh cranberries that were stashed in the freezer around Thanksgiving). It’s been so hot, though, that I haven’t wanted to turn on the oven much. No excuse for not grating them all and freezing them, though.

I don’t have the recipe handy right now and can’t find it online, but I’ll post it in an update.

The bigger question is why has this year been so much better. More rain? More heat? That we used upside-down tomato cages to get them to grow upward first, before they started sprawling? Did any of that keep the bugs away? Or the steady stream of eggshells I crushed and dropped around them?

Finally, zucchini plants are heavy feeders, and this year I was determined to give them some nutrients. We had perhaps 11/2 bottles of Terra Cycle’s worm poop that a Master Gardener neighbor had given me a few years back that I would repeatedly forget about until it was really late in the season. This year I was determined to use it all up … and I have. Is that the reason?

9BA8AD47-7522-4A3D-8883-16CB96490A03To be fair, I have not used this natural fertilizer on our cucumber plants, which have been way too prolific for my taste. We came back from that same vacation to 10 cukes. I gave a bunch to neighbors. Maybe two weeks later I gave away another dozen…

Oh, and then there is the rhubarb. We have the green kind. We’ve been better about harvesting it this year, though unfortunately we have been less successful about pairing it with strawberries in something yummy, like pie. Good thing there’s a freezer.


Ah, garlic scapes

0F4B6E9F-260A-4D1C-8DED-F4624BA9BA46I harvested 34 garlic scapes earlier this week and just added another two that I’d overlooked.

I’m now looking for ideas beyond garlic scape pesto. What should I cook? Any suggestions?

I admit I’m mostly hoping for fat garlic bulbs when I harvest in a month or two. Probably closer to two given how weird the weather has been.


Leeks, and a resolution for next year

IMG_1395(How did this not get published when I wrote it in November??))

The leeks we bought in Maine in June have been amazing!

No work, most did really well (and I will take the blame for those that didn’t, because they ended up having to fight with tomatoes). I don’t know that we have ever had some this thick and with this much white.

Next year I will call the place in late May/early June (unless we find ourselves headed to Maine) and mail-order a flat of 72 or whatever it takes. At 16 cents a plug, and a healthy one, not like a hair strand, is there a better deal? I’m sure we can find room in the beds. Even at the expense of tomatoes– famous last words! (Kale could shrink first?) And if you want to be part of my order, speak up.

Here are some other late harvests: a mixing bowl of hot peppers (guess I better freeze some) and lemongrass headed for a pot to overwinter (will see how freezing some stalks works out).


See what vegetable in our garden survived the winter

92331542-26ED-4E80-AD9D-1A56C5993EF2Back a few months ago, when it was regularly falling well below freezing, I decided to try to save some kale that was still growing in one of our raised beds. I knew kale was hardy, but just how hardy? I pulled out some old sheets to create an ad hoc row cover. It rained, then snowed and snowed some more. The wet sheets stayed in place for about three months, as much out of inertia as any snow cover that would disappear within a few days.

Finally, as the calendar (if not the weather) turned to spring, I pulled off the covers.

Most of the kale stalks had rotted. But to my surprise, some were showing little shoots of green leaves. Now that I’ve given them more time and light, they’ve gone even greener. Time to start eating from the garden again (or adding this to my favorite Instant Pot recipe of the moment, Melissa Clark’s Moroccan Chickpeas with Kale.)