by: Dean Gunderson
This has been an interesting year in the demonstration garden for sure. We miss all the people we usually get to see on Saturdays so wanted to give everyone an update on some successes and failures so far this year. Our biggest challenge was for several months we didn’t have any of our wonderful volunteers to help us and we were struggling. Thankfully we are now able to have some volunteer help and it has been incredibly beneficial in getting the garden growing beautifully. Our other challenges are things that I’m sure many of you have been dealing with in your own gardens. The frequent heavy rains have led to a lot of our tomatoes splitting and our brassicas have been inundated by cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and harlequin beetles. We also have a seemingly endless number of rabbits that have forced us to put fencing up around nearly every bed to prevent them from eating absolutely everything. These issues have forced us to be more vigilant about getting our fencing up, picking off harlequin bugs, cabbage worms, and cabbage loopers, and using DE and BT when necessary to control those pests.
Despite these challenges we have been able to grow some really delicious produce that is being donated to a local food pantry in East St. Louis every week. We have also done experiments that have already yielded interesting results and have several more in process that are progressing nicely.
Cauliflower is a vegetable that is one of the hardest vegetables to grow in St. Louis’ climate for most gardeners we know. So this spring we did a cauliflower trial in an attempt to find one that would be easy to grow in St. Louis. We selected varieties that were stated to be heat tolerant and fast maturing. They were all disappointing……except one. The variety named ‘Minuteman’ produced a small, but decent sized, head of cauliflower. We harvested the heads in late June, at which point they had endured 12 days of 90F degree or higher temperatures and yet the heads were still tender and delicious. So we are doing a larger planting of ‘Minuteman’ this fall to see how well it does as a fall-planted variety here.
In addition to the cauliflower trial, we are also growing several different types of white-fleshed and purple-fleshed sweet potatoes. We selected varieties that are claimed to mature in a similar number of days to the ever popular orange-fleshed ‘Beauregard’ sweet potato that we have always grown to see how they compare and if they would be good varieties to start growing regularly. So far they are all growing well so stay tuned for the update this fall when we harvest and do the comparison.
A few years ago we started on the adventure of making a “paddy” and growing flooded rice and it has been very successful (you can read all about it on our blog if you are interested). So this year we decided to go bigger and try other aquatic edible crops. We are growing water chestnuts in two flooded old plastic kiddie pools. We are also growing wapato (aka duck potato) in an old tank we used to use to wash lettuce. Water chestnuts and wapato both create nice crunchy edible tubers. We are also growing 4 different types water lotus. We are growing one tank with the native water lotus and three domesticated varieties of the Asian water lotus. Water lotus create large crunchy tubers similar in flavor and texture to a water chestnut but also create really interesting leaves and gorgeous flowers during the growing season that give way to seed pods with edible seeds.