Delights and Disappointments of 2019 and Plans for 2020

My annual seed ordering always includes looking back on the past year and noting what vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and what vegetables disappointed.  I order more of the vegetables that brought delight, and for the vegetables that disappointed, I find replacements or try harder to grow them successfully this coming year.

The biggest disappointment by far was Territorial Seed’s Ancho Magnifico Pepper.  As I wrote to Territorial at the end of the season: “What happened to Ancho Magnifico Pepper seed this year?  I’ve grown them for years, appreciating their habit of turning from ‘green to bright red’ and their ‘classic poblano flavor.’  This year’s peppers turned from green to a chocolate/purple color and, more troubling, had no poblano flavor, instead just a dull bitterness.” Territorial responded: “We have made note of the inconsistencies to our buyers,” and they refunded the cost of the seeds. Still, nervous about another off year for Ancho Magnifico, I’m trying a new poblano, Caballero Ancho from Fedco , advertised as having “a perfect balance of heat and sweet rich flavor in their thick flesh and ribs” and maturing to a “deep brick red.”  I hope they will delight and give us lots of peppers to roast and freeze for winter 2021.

Other disappointments were my fault.  My winter squash crop was very light this year, and I think a factor was that I let the plants grow too many leaves while still in their pots before setting them out.  This year, I’ll try to follow my usual practice of starting squash seeds in 4” pots and setting them out as soon as the first true leaves form.  My onion crop was also light, a result, I think, of neglecting the starts as they grew in their 1-inch flat, letting them dry out and then overwatering them, so that the starts that finally went into the ground weren’t strong.  Finally, I had a very poor basil crop, both because the plants got a little pot bound and because I set them out in a less-than-ideal spot. The plants produced enough leaves to flavor platters of tomatoes but not enough for lots of pesto.

Despite these disappointments, the delights, both in the garden and at the table, were many. As I look down the list, I see that a lot started with the letter C: Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Chard, Chicories.

Flame Star Cauliflower: In 2018, I thought Purple of Sicily was my new favorite cauliflower, but then I tried yet another colorful cauliflower, the pastel orange Flame Star and think I have a new favorite.  Not only is it beautiful in the garden, glowing orange against the crown of green leaves, it is gorgeous and delicious at the table.

Cauliflower flameIt keeps its warm orange color after roasting and, more important, it has a rich, sweet flavor and creamy texture.  I grew it in both spring and fall and will plant again for each season this year.  And, not to leave out classic white cauliflowers, the over-wintered cauliflower All-the-year-round was a delicious wonder in early winter 2019.

Café corn: I’ve grown Café corn from Fedco since 2017, and 2019’s crop was the best so far.  As in past years, the seeds germinated well even in cool early May soil, and the plants grew quickly, setting 3 to 4 full ears on each stalk along with some half ears. What impressed me this year was how long the ears held on the plant without getting tough.  This meant I could bring corn on the cob to potlucks and serve it to guests at my table over several weeks.  And there was still plenty of corn to make a new favorite corn salad with Shishito peppers: Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad and to put up corn for the freezer.

Cucumbers: I haven’t grown cucumbers for years because I thought I was the only one in the family who liked them.  They are so tasty with tomatoes in a summer salad, though, that I had to grow them again.  My friend Anne recommended Marketmore 76, a classic green cucumber.  Even though my starts got a little pot-bound and I didn’t set the plants in a very good spot, they still produced lots of sweet, crisp cucumbers all season long.  I’ll grow Marketmore 76 again this year and also try Marketmore 86 for comparison.

Chard: As summer cooled into fall, we started eating chard from plants I’d started in mid-summer, and I was reminded how sweetly earthy and tender braised chard can be.  How could I have forgotten how good chard is, and how beautiful, especially Rainbow Chard?  The harvest has continued into late fall and early winter and, given chard’s hardiness, we should be enjoying it for the rest of the winter despite our recent cold and snow.  I will plant a larger crop for 2020.

Chicories:  I’ve relied on red radicchios and pale green sugarloaf chicories for many years for colorful winter salads.  Last year, I added variegated chicories and radicchios, plants whose heads and leaves are shades of red, pink and white as well as green with red speckles.  Variegata di Castelfranco Chicory and Variegata di Chioggia Radicchio both from Adaptive Seeds, are not only beautiful, they have the perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness characteristic of this Italian green.

Chicories:Radicchios 1.2020They make gorgeous salads on their own but also mix well with fall pears or roasted winter vegetables like turnips, rutabagas and carrots.  I’ll keep growing these beautiful winter greens and keep looking for more varieties to try.

Various peppers, radishes and tomatoes also delighted this past year.  Shishito pepper Takara from Fedco produced dozens and dozens of thin-walled, 1×3 inch peppers that blistered beautifully in a little oil in a hot frying pan to make a quick appetizer.  These shishitos were also the star of the corn and shishito pepper salad I mention above. They were delicious green and just as tasty when they turned red.

Radishes were also especially good this year and I most often sliced them and mixed them with yogurt to make a refreshing salad, tasty with roasted meat but also delicious on its own.  Varieties I grow are Cheriette and Champion from Fedco.

Yogurt Radish Salad

Makes 2 cups

 1–2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar, optional

2 teaspoons coarse salt, or to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

2 cups thinly sliced radishes

1 clove crushed garlic

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, drained if watery

 In a medium bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, salt and a little pepper. Toss in the radishes and allow to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Toss in the garlic and yogurt and serve.

Finally, my friend Carol give me a start of Green Doctors cherry tomato, named for Dr. Amy Goldman and Dr. Carolyn Male, both authors of excellent tomato books. I planted it between some already established plants, and it was slow to catch up, but when it eventually set tomatoes and they ripened, I loved the sweet/tart flavor and the pretty green with yellow blush of this one-inch cherry tomato. Carol is going to give me a few seeds to start my own plants this year. With Sweet Million, Orange Parouche, and Sunchocola, Green Doctors makes a colorful bowl of delicious red, orange, purple and green cherry tomatoes to take to potlucks or serve at our table or simply for snacks.

Looking back on past gardening years and ahead to the new gardening year are especially pleasant ways to spend cool, dark January days. Soon seed packets will be arriving, days will be getting longer, and it will be time to plant.  There’s lots to delight in the garden year ahead.  Happy seed ordering!

Note: In January 2018 I published a post listing all the seeds I was planning to plant that year, some brief comments about why I’d chosen these vegetables and these varieties, and links to posts I’d written about many of these vegetables.  In January 2019 I republished this table with updates on what I especially liked in 2018, what didn’t work so well and new varieties I was going to try in 2019. Today’s January 2020 planting plans post updates 2018 and 2019 posts in another format, paragraphs that describe vegetables delighted, both in the garden and at the table, and vegetables that disappointed.  Return to the 2018 and 2019 posts for a full alphabetical listing of all I’ll be planting.