I’ve been an Iowa State University Extension Master Gardener and member of the Story County Master Gardener Association since 2001. My favorite club activity is our annual Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend. I enjoy visiting with gardeners and helping them decide what plants would work best in their yards and their plan.

As a child I helped out with the family garden every summer reaping the fruits of my labor with joy. I also remember slipping away during visits to my grandfather’s farm to liberate some of his raspberries. However, gardening is more than just planting a flower, fruit or vegetable garden. We are conservators of the land and have a responsibility to protect the environment with a thoughtful plan for the land we manage.


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What I Did on My Summer Vacation
by Andrea Dorn - posted 10/26/13

As a Master Gardener I have responsibilities to fulfill and opportunities available to me. This summer I worked on a project that filled both of those roles.


Periodically from July until just this week I partnered with another Story County Master Gardener. We travelled up to Gilbert, IA to collect data for a research project at the ISU Horticulture Station. As a disclaimer I have to say that I did not analyze the data. Also I have only a rudimentary grasp of the project goals.  I would just like to report to you what I did and what I observed while on the project (all while having fun on the farm).


Basically we tended to three separate studies. Using two different varieties of tomatoes one study compared grafted plants to non-grafted plants. In another tomato study various beds were compared, traditional plantings, raised beds, raised beds with sides, soil bags and buckets. And the third study compared several varieties of peppers to show how each fared in this particular environment. My understanding is that they did this study in several locations around the state.


Raised bed Raised bed with sides

Our job was to measure the height and weight of several rows of tomatoes and peppers and eventually harvest them. At harvest we sorted the vegetables according to marketability (marketable or non-marketable) and recorded the quantity and weights.


Buckets Soil bags

Buckets                                                          Soil Bags

As I said, I won’t comment on the study results only the observations I made while working with these crops. I’d also like to mention that this was definitely not an ideal summer for growing vegetables. This crop didn’t even get planted until June.


I’m not big on regular-sized tomatoes but I’d have to say I wouldn’t recommend Cherokee Purple. I had expected to see purple fruit when ripe but we found that by the time they were some sort of purple it was too late. Even earlier they were soft and mushy and difficult to work with. Mountain Fresh was a much prettier variety and seemed stronger. Celebrity seemed to be the best of the three as far as quality of the fruit and production. I didn’t taste any of them so I can’t tell you if they were good or not.


  Cherokee Purple   Mountain Fresh

Cherokee Purple                                                Mountain Fresh

Now as for the peppers, yum! I could practically live on peppers so I just loved seeing them grow to harvest. I enjoy the aesthetics of gardening as much as I enjoy the harvest so the fact that we had multiple colors was a bonus. The earlier varieties that we worked with were the Tequila (purple) and Bianca (white to light yellow). In fact some of these were already at harvest stage by the time we started on the project in July. However, neither of these had a very strong flavor. If you like mild sweet peppers they would be okay.


 Tequila  Bianca

Tequila                                                              Bianca

I prefer the sweeter peppers so when the Summer Sweet and Flavor Burst started to ripen (both yellow) I was in heaven. I think the Flavor Burst was slightly more sweet and tasty that the Summer Sweet but I loved both of them. And they didn’t have to be completely yellow to taste good. The orange varieties Delirio and Tango weren’t as sweet but they had plenty of flavor. And finally the red varieties, Archimedes and Red Knight, were wonderfully sweet but they ripen so late in the season that few of them had ripened before the first freeze this week.


Flavor Burst Summer Sweet Delirio

Flavor Burst                                                       Summer Sweet                                                      Delirio        

As for size the Archimedes was definitely the largest of all these varieties with Flavor Burst coming in second. I think the Tequila and Bianca were the smallest but still of good size. Interestingly all varieties of the pepper plants were small and compact. They were on an automatic drip irrigation system so the drought didn’t affect them. However, sunscald was a big factor in some varieties (it seemed like the yellows were less affected by that – my totally unscientific observation).


Tango Archimedes Lulton

      Tango                                                             Archimedes                                                          Lulton                  

A couple more thoughts:

·      If this garden had been in my back yard I would have been out there every day to harvest and probably would have had less bug damage and sunscald. As it was we only visited once a week. I also would have harvested last weekend before the frost and had even more vegetables.

·      I would have caged the pepper plants so they didn’t collapse from the weight of those peppers.

·      I also would have tied up the tomato plants throughout the season to keep the tomatoes up off of the ground


 Red Knight

Red Knight


I can’t wait to see what the summary of the actual data shows. They’ll be looking at production, disease and insect resistance and probably green plant/vegetable ratios. What varieties will these researchers recommend for your part of the state?


So what did you do with your summer?



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