Tomatoes, Beets and Corn. Oh My!

August 10, 2017 Posted by: Jan Elder and Ellen Jones
A basket of tomatoes—fresh picked from the garden—was in the Fort Larned Visitor Center by mid-July. So far we've had many baskets of vegetables this year for visitors to sample. The variety we picked for this first basket was Large Red, a tomato described by Fearing Burr Jr. in 1863 as "…one of the most productive of all the varieties;…"1 Burr went on to state: "From the time of the introduction of the Tomato to its general use in this country, the Large Red was almost the only kind cultivated, or even commonly known.
The Crosby's Egyptian beets were very successful this year and many beets went home with visitors (a few were used for the Pickled Beets that Jan prepared for a living history demonstration). This variety of beet was introduced into this country in 1869.

The Golden Butterwax bush beans (commercially available in the 1870's) produced many pods eagerly picked by children visiting the fort. As of mid-July the plants were still producing a few beans while surviving 100o degree temperatures. The pole beans continue climbing their poles and have started blooming; we are hoping for a good late-summer crop.

Bowl of tomatoes.
The good news is we have some corn growing in the garden! The third planting of corn germinated in time to face the hot July weather, but it is still growing and may yet give us some late corn. The first two plantings of corn were almost a total loss this year. The two corn plants from the first planting that germinated and survived the cold/wet spring weather have produced two ears of corn (which no doubt the raccoon will harvest!).      

The high July temperatures made watering the garden a daily task for Ellen. Watering with a hose is an essential "modern" task we need to do to keep the historic garden growing and available for visitors. Some of the 19th century frontier forts had irrigation systems (mule and/or human powered) for their gardens. Jan visited Fort McKavett (central Texas) in 2015 and was surprised to learn this arid location had an irrigation pond and productive gardens.

We have large cabbages in the garden this year and they are the best we've grown. The variety—Premium Late Flat Dutch—is the same one we've grown in prior years, but we've seen less caterpillar damage than past years. The lower caterpillar population may have been due to the weather conditions in the spring or our efforts to minimize insect damage.
All insect control measures we use are organic and would have been available to 19th century gardeners. The "control" we used on cabbages this year was a regular and generous sprinkling of old dried herbs—hoping the herbal scent would make the cabbage patch less attractive to the Cabbage Looper moth. We're not ready to recommend dried herbs as an insect control measure, but we're definitely planning to try this again next year.

Fort vegetable garden in early July.  

 “…Company gardens have been cultivated this year
with good success…”
Lt. C. B. Hall, 19th Infantry, A.A.Q.M., July 1, 1875
(Annual Report for 1875 of Quartermaster of Fort Larned, Kansas)

1Fearing Burr Jr. 1863. The Field and Garden Vegetables of America. Crosby and Nichols, Boston.

historic gardens, Fort Larned garden, heirloom seeds, organic gardening

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Last updated: August 10, 2017

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