By Bob Beyfuss
For Capital Region Independent Media
Last week I wrote about some of the disasters I had with my 2022 vegetable garden, mostly due to my own fault, but some also due to the unprecedented hot and dry weather parts of our region experienced.
I forgot to mention another blunder, which was hooking up a soaker hose to my 250-gallon rainwater storage tank and then forgetting to close the valve overnight. Soaker hoses are great tools to apply water slowly over a period of hours, but leaving them on for 24 hours or so is not a good idea. In my case I lost most of my stored rainwater before I realized I had left it running!
On the plus side, my 20-year-old asparagus patch of “Jersey Knight” once again performed beautifully and I feasted on fresh asparagus from early May until the Fourth of July. The flavor is excellent, and this variety is resistant to rust, crown rot and fusarium. It also performs well in my heavy, clay soil.
This is an all-male variety that does not produce any female spears, which can be distinguished from the male shoots by the round, red berries the females produce. The advantage of this trait is that the plant does not expend any stored energy trying to ripen seed. The downside is that no new seedlings are produced, so no replacement plants can be established.
I use table salt to reduce weeds, which may also help prevent crown rot, since asparagus is remarkably tolerant of salt while many annual weeds are not! Only well-established beds, at least three years old, should be “salted” at a rate of about 2 pounds of rock salt per 100 square feet. I apply it in late spring, as many annual weeds are germinating.
Backyard asparagus is pretty much pest-free, except for occasionally being damaged by Japanese beetles and asparagus beetles, which are easily controlled by spraying an insecticide after the harvest season, or hand picking them as you are harvesting early in the season. My local deer seem to ignore them and even chipmunks, rabbits and woodchucks usually avoid them.
Here are some tips for growing asparagus. First, allow no weeds to compete. This is accomplished by diligent hand weeding early in the season, salting and applying a heavy mulch over the winter. My preferred winter mulch is sugar maple leaves, which are often available free at curbsides where many people bag them up for pick up by the town or village. I hope to go leaf stealing this weekend if I get the chance.
Avoid using oak or beech leaves, as they tend to mat and do not break down as sugar maple leaves do. I will use as much as a 10-inch layer of sugar maple leaves now, which breaks down to 3 inches or so by next summer. Asparagus is also a pretty heavy feeder, so I added a 50-pound bag of rabbit manure to the bed last week.
I tried a new onion variety this year called “Candy,” which also suffered from the drought, as well very uneven growth. I got some really large onions, but most were stunted and small. Next year I will go back to “Sweet Sandwich.” My leeks did well and they are the only remaining crop left to harvest, as I finish cleaning up my garden.
On June 3, I planted seven seeds each, of four different bush-bean varieties: Roma (a flat podded, Italian variety), Golden Butterwax (yellow pods), Royal Burgundy (purple pods) and Earli-Blue (green pods). All performed very well and matured within a few days of each other, with the best-tasting, in my opinion, being Golden Butterwax. This yellow variety is also the earliest and most prolific, followed by Royal Burgundy. I did not care as much for Roma or the green variety.
One 10-foot row of beans produces far more than I can eat! My “Detroit Dark Red” beets and multicolored (rainbow) carrots, also planted on June 3, also did pretty well, despite the drought.
Finally, I must thank my friends and especially my neighbor, Sally, who gave me some very late transplants of winter squash that did reasonably well. I will be bringing some butternut and spaghetti squash with me to Florida!
Sally gave me an “heirloom” (unnamed) paste-type tomato that, despite being transplanted in late July, produced an excellent crop of the largest, meatiest canning-type tomatoes I have ever seen! I harvested more than a dozen hard, very green fruit in early October. I put them in a paper bag with an apple and within three days, these green tomatoes turned red and they tasted wonderful!
I will save seed from one of these fruit for next year’s garden!