Gardening tips: Vegetable garden 2021, part 1 | Chroniclers


This is probably my last column written from New York in 2021, as I prepare to travel to Florida for the winter. I just found my clipboard with my garden 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 just a few months ago, but the truth is, the older I get, the less I remember. I hope I will learn from my mistakes and not repeat them next year. Writing things down is a great habit for all gardeners.

The 2021 gardening season started as planned, around May 10, with my first asparagus harvest. The two all-male varieties I grow, Jersey Giant and Jersey Knight, continue to produce very good yields even after 18 years. My five-by-eight-foot raised bed gives more than I can eat, but I’ve learned that no one turns down a gift of fresh asparagus. As a child, I didn’t eat asparagus at all, because the only option was canned food. Canned asparagus, like canned peas, is a poor substitute for fresh. Even frozen asparagus is no close substitute.

After over 40 years of seriously trying to grow what is now one of my favorite vegetables, I have learned a few things. I choose all-male varieties because they don’t produce seeds, which allows the plant to direct its energy into the roots for storage, not reproduction. Female plants produce red berries which sometimes produce seedlings. While producing new plants may seem like an advantage in terms of increasing the number of plants in the bed, this is not necessary if the existing plants are healthy. A healthy asparagus “crown” is capable of sending out a dozen or more harvestable shoots each spring and does not require the care and maintenance that seedlings do. Managing an even-aged bed is much easier than looking after plants of different ages and maturities.

Asparagus does not compete well with weeds, in general. It is worth removing all the perennial weeds as they appear, while maintaining a thick mulch to smother most weed seedlings. Once a bed is established, table salt can be used to help prevent weed growth, as asparagus is fairly tolerant of salt unlike most annual weeds. I also believe that salt provides some disease resistance for the crowns. Just yesterday I cut the asparagus fern as it is starting to turn yellow after the severe frosts last weekend. I will add 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 used clean straw or wood chips in some years. Asparagus can easily grow up to six inches or more of soft mulch.

On May 21, I planted red cabbage, potatoes, onions and four, Big Beef, tomato plants. I already had a good crop of ‘volunteer’ potatoes growing in two different raised beds from the 2019 and 2020 plantings. No matter how dutifully I try to pluck all the potatoes each fall, it keeps me going. always seems to be lacking. It turned out that my potato harvest was a disaster this year. The plants grew well, but in late summer I noticed a lot of tunnels in most of my raised beds and spotted a few voles rushing in. I blame the chipmunks and moles for creating the tunnels that the voles invaded. I probably should have harvested the potatoes earlier than last week as almost all of the tubers had been eaten or, at least partially, eaten by the voles. I think I might give up growing potatoes next season unless I’m sure I got the voles under control. I don’t want to risk my beet or carrot crops. Once critters, like voles, have established themselves in a garden, it is very difficult to get rid of them.

The red cabbage grew well, only needing a few cabbage worm sprays, and I harvested the last head last week. Setting up tomato plants anytime in May is usually not a good idea in my cold location, but I had a well prepared raised bed covered with black plastic mulch and my purchased plants were seriously overgrown. I booked four grafts for a different bed. As I expected, the first grafts languished in the cold soil and I harvested the first ripe fruits on the same day as the four I had put on June 5th. As usual, Big Beef was exceptional in terms of overall yield, fruit quality, disease resistance and taste.

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