The good, the bad and the ugly from this year’s garden

    With our old weeping fig tree dragged back into the house, the gardening season is officially at an end. Now it’s time to assess the results of this year’s gardening experiments.
     My tomato experiments were generally a failure. I ditched the new red slicer and both red cherry tomatoes by mid-summer. ‘Pretty in Pink,” a pink slicing tomato, and my old stand-by cherry tomato ‘Sunsugar’ are keepers, though, and I’ll plant both again next year.
    English cucumbers also won us over. This is the first year I had fresh cucumbers in October. I tried the English ones head-to-head with our old favorite ‘Diva,’ and while ‘Diva’ had a thinner skin, it didn’t have the production or taste of the English cucumbers. The two English plants produced several large cukes a week from early June until the end of September.
    I read once that a good Lebanese housewife is expected to know at least 100 ways to prepare eggplant, and this year I could have used that kind of expertise. We’ve grown ‘Black Beauty’ eggplants in the past and gotten a couple of fruits per plant, but this year I tried ‘Nadia’ instead. The fruits are a little smaller, about 7 inches long, but the yield was fantastic. Our two plants sometimes produced four or five eggplants a week. But they flowered at different times so the harvest kept coming. We roasted eggplant, made hummus, baba ganoush — if it had eggplant in it, I made it. ‘Nadia’ is a winner.
    Petunias are amazingly simple and cheap to grow from seed, and since I use a lot of them in the window boxes, I grow them every year. The hot new one in 2018 was ‘Evening Scentsation,’ which was touted for its fragrance. But its My Little Pony purple is an unfortunate color to combine with the orange roof on our house. The fragrance was mild, too. ‘Misty Lilac’ Waves petunia is a better match for the house and has more scent. Farewell ‘Evening Scentsation.’
    Zinnias were everybody’s popular annual this year, and I started several flats of them. I didn’t particularly like ‘Tequila Sunrise,’ which was spindly, but ‘Red Queen Lime’ was a big hit with the local butterflies. All of us liked ‘Candy Cane’ and ‘Red and White.’ too. They provided tons of flowers and were tall enough to keep the weeds down.
    The most fun plant experiment, though, was raising sesame. I harvested eight mature plants and two small ones. I planted them late, and when the temperatures dropped I had to cut the stems while the pods were still partly green and naturally open. I hand picked a couple of dozen pods before I remembered we had a dehydrator function on the oven. That dried the sesame beautifully so it was easy to shake the seeds out of the pods. The total harvest was about 5 ounces of seed, enough to fill two of the bottles in the spice rack at the grocery.             Yes, I could have purchased all these plants and the produce at the store, but part of the fun of being a gardener is the challenge growing new things. In the end, 2018 was a successful and tasty year in our garden, and now I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 brings.

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