Gardening on Delmarva - Fall 2015

by Scott Duncan

Scott Duncan tells us about how his garden season finished up this fall.

Watch slideshow:

Nelson carrots Damaged Brussels sprouts Pawpaw harvest Pawpaw fruit size Debbie Nicholson with seedlings Mike McAllister transplanting seedlings Fall crop of broccoli at Pogo's Pantry Melons and blackberries

As the gardening year begins to wind down in the fall, many Delmarva gardeners are no doubt looking with satisfaction at the progress of their late season crops and enjoying the harvest bounty of squashes, corn, Brussels sprouts and other plantings. Me? Not so much.

While results from the first part of the gardening season were very satisfactory, I have yet to find a reasonable method to get vegetable crops started in the later stages or to keep all the slow maturing varieties, like Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, alive and healthy in the heat of July and August. Over the years I've tried a variety of approaches to get plants going in August including covering the seeds with burlap or using a shade cloth to diminish the heat of the sun, or transplanting seedlings, but the results have been spotty. Then this year I went away for 10 days in August, a time when weeding, watering, fertilizing and insect controls for the vegetables planted in May and June were crucial.

By my return, the Brussels sprouts were completely chewed up and the squash plants heavily infested with squash bugs, so neither produced much of a crop. I invited friends to help themselves to the harvest in my absence but could hardly expect them to take care of the gardening chores as well. To add insult to injury, during my time away we had several days of very high temperatures and almost no rain -- a combination that did in most of the other crops.

It wasn't all bleak, of course. The Red Norland and Kennebec potato and Centennial sweet potato harvests were strong, and my beets were good again this year. I had excellent results with a new variety of carrots (Nelson), the blackberries and melons were delicious, the Pawpaw tree produced a very fine crop of fruit, and I was even able to extract more honey from the beehive.

Another unexpected treat was discovering a late crop of asparagus recently. A few weeks after I cut down the stalks and fully weeded the asparagus bed, a dozen or so baby spears had already popped up and more are clearly on the way even now as October begins. Another surprise: while my attempt to coax out a second crop of potatoes seemed a failure in late summer, suddenly, in the last week of September - almost three months later - three healthy potato plants have emerged!

Debbie Nicholson and Mike McAllister at Pogo's Pantry farm can relate to my experience this season. Although they had good luck with many of their plantings - broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, eggplant were particularly abundant - overall the gardening year was full of challenges and disappointments.

First, everything was delayed by the late winter, and then two of their traditional crops, strawberries and peas, were damaged by the copious rainfall we had through the spring. The rain also produced such an enormous weed problem that, later in the summer, yields on other crops were greatly diminished. Numerous rows of corn never produced a single ear, the tomatoes all ripened at the same time, and the larger-than-usual insect populations destroyed most of the squash and pumpkin plants. The labor involved in responding to these conditions - weeding, repairing and replanting - took valuable time away from starting their fall crops.

When I visited the farm in mid-September, Mike and Debbie were just finishing transplanting cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli seedlings, hoping no hard frost arrives before they are ready to pick.

Well, as every optimistic gardener knows, even with these setbacks, there's always next year, and Debbie and Mike intend to have another go at it in 2016, as do I.

Earlier I mentioned the fine yield this year from my Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba). I encourage other gardeners on Delmarva to consider growing at least a couple of these trees - a couple because successful pollination requires at least one other tree. Pawpaws are native to our area, they attract almost no pests and produce a very tasty fruit. The flesh of the fruit is the consistency of custard or a banana - one person who tasted it for the first time described the flavor as "mango meets banana with a little hint of melon." Although they can grow to 35 feet tall, I pruned my Pawpaw at around 10 feet, and that's been the full extent of the work I've had to do to keep it flourishing.

I'll close this report with a reminder that before you close down your garden for the winter, be sure to clean up the beds by removing all plant debris and vegetable refuse. This isn't just for neatness sake - it's a sanitary measure that clears the garden of winter shelter for unwanted pests.

Well, that's it for this year. I'm Scott Duncan wishing you continued success gardening on Delmarva.

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