No such thing as a perfect year

Every fishing and hunting season is different, and after a lifetime of recreational vegetable gardening, I doubt that a perfect year for that exists either. Every year is great for some crops and awful for others. But all years, this one included, are perfect for ants and weeds.

Every fishing and hunting season is different, and after a lifetime of recreational vegetable gardening, I doubt that a perfect year for that exists either. Every year is great for some crops and awful for others. But all years, this one included, are perfect for ants and weeds.

This year the vegetables that like it hot — corn, beans, basil, tomatoes, cukes and zukes — have flourished, while the cool-loving types — peas, broccoli, cauliflower, shallots — have all flirted with crop failure, so badly with the peas that I am suspecting the scourge of root rot.

Potatoes flourish with steady moisture, and we are now enjoying sweet, new Norland potatoes from our third planting. There’s something new every year.

New 40-day to maturity Patio Snacker hybrid slicing cucumber did well in granddaughter Sarah’s Edmonton container garden but, in our garden, simply could not match our longtime favourite, Salad Bush, which produces huge crops of the world’s tastiest slicer cukes. Pearl lettuce, an “improved” Little Gem, a combination of butterhead and romaine types, showed a lot of promise, producing delicious compact heads.

Black Magic kale, the first new “take” ever on our favourite, the ancient Black Tuscan kale, is a pale, pallid imitation of the original. The new Roma Supremo paste tomato beats the San Marzano maturity time by 20 days, but so far has not produced one ripe fruit on the vine, but then Roma is a determinate, non-staking bush tomato that have never done well for us.

By Aug. 17 of this late, short, but intense summer, five of seven varieties of the garlic cloves we had planted in mid-September last year were telling us (one half to two thirds of their leaves were yellowing or brown) that they were ready for harvest.

But our longtime favourite, Fish Lake #3, a hard neck Porcelain garlic, and the half dozen Russian Purple, from cloves taken from bulbs we found at the farmers’ market late last summer, were still mostly green and growing, so we left those two rows of three dozen bulbs.

Garlic enjoys its own company, and our 10 dozen bulbs were grown this year, in seven rows in a small patch just one by 2.5 metres.

The first garlic shoots did not emerge through the thick mulch of grass and leaves on the bed until very late April. May and June were cool and rainy, July was very hot, and then August got cool. There was both excitement and foreboding, because this was a strange year and we had tried new varieties and some new methods, such as foliar fertilization, by spraying the leaves with a fish-oil-seaweed concentrate mixed with water.

As always, there were surprises, aside from the big mud balls in the roots, from an untimely rain, that had to be combed from the roots of each bulb with a steel-tined dog comb.

After two years, the rare French, Rose de Lautrec, a Weakly-bolting hard neck garlic, the result of planting cloves from the one small bulb I was able to obtain from B.C. in 2012, finally decided it likes our terroir (climate, soil, etc.) and produced a dozen handsome bulbs, each much larger than their “parents.”

Next row up was the sublime-flavoured, hard-neck French Rocombole, and its bulbs were even larger this year (up to 9.5 inches in circumference) than the size they surprised us with in their first year in 2013.

Next row, Chesnok Red, a Purple stripe hard neck, showed good size in its first year in our ground and next to that, another Russian, superbly flavoured Red Toch, showed considerably more size that it did in its first year in 2013.

Red Toch is of the artichoke garlic family, the only soft neck that has done well for us, as they prefer warmer climates. It has a bright, clear flavour, and stores exceptionally well.

Finally, in the first round, we got to Tibetan, another Purple stripe hard neck, a first-timer with us, featuring very large bulbs and a strong flavour with a delayed hit of heat. On Aug. 24, we harvested the Russian Purple and the Fish Lake #3, still one to two weeks early, in my opinion, but the mud problem would only increase with the forecast rains. These bulbs were all huge: to 10-inch circumference for the Fish Lake; 10.5 for the Russian Purple.

Next year we’ll leave them until their leaves are mostly brown to see what size they attain with an extra two or three weeks of growth. At the farmer’s market, a stallholder was telling people he was headed to B.C. to get stock for getting into growing garlic.

I hope he hurried, because the three best B.C. suppliers I know of opened for sale on Aug. 20 and were sold out in 10 days. The GGG (grow good garlic) movement is growing, and some supermarkets are even starting to offer not-bad California soft neck garlic in addition to that pitiful, over-stored, often rotten soft neck Chinese import stuff.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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