Days to maturity question

AlyoshaKApril 14, 2014

Howdy. Haven't posted in a while. Finally got some land in OK! (40 acres, sandy loam, not far NE of Durant). Anyhow, was reading some old posts on starting seeds and came across the following comment regarding "days to maturity" (by Dawn I think):

"I don't plant so much by the calendar but rather by soil and air temperatures . . . I'm always aware what sorts of days-to-maturity my various edible crops have, and I know about which week of the year we generally get too hot for those crops to perform well . . ."

It's been vexing to try to anticipate time windows, and when I read that post I realized how great it would be to at least have a general idea of when it gets too hot for the various veggies to perform. Perhaps the issue is too bound to specific varieties to answer, or perhaps requires too much work, but if not, When generally does it get too hot? I'll be trying to grow most of the standard vegetables you guys post in your Grow-Lists.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Congrats on the new place.

I know when to expect our typical summer temperatures to get too hot at my house, based on having lived and gardened here for 15 years, but have no idea when the same conditions would happen at your place because I've never lived or gardened there. In gardening, location is everything and the microclimate in which your garden exists will determine how your crops produce every year. No one but you can figure out if your garden is in a part of your county that has average weather for that area, or if it is in a colder or warmer microclimate which needs to be taken into consideration when planting.

Our weather is so highly variable....almost ridiculously so.....and I can say I've never had two years exactly the same. Still, I do know that bush beans, for example, absolutely must be planted in April at least 9 years out of 10 in my garden in order for them to have a chance to bloom before the daytime highs get too hot and the blossoms start dropping off. If I cannot get my bush beans in the ground before May 1st, I might as well wait and plant them for fall. The one year out of 10? That will be a year with a consistently cool April and May, but you never really know because the heat still can crank up suddenly. That's one example. You need your bush beans in the ground early enough that they can bloom and form bean pods before your daytime highs are regularly exceeding the mid-80s and maybe even the upper 80s. Some years, we get that weather in southern OK in early May. Some years not until late June. It makes spring-planted bush beans tricky. I plant them anyway because I have the space to to it, but if space was an issue I'd save the space for something not so affected by the heat and plant bush beans in summer for a fall harvest. Pole beans do better for me as fall beans than as spring beans so that's generally when I plant them. If we are having a consistently cold spring without any 80+ degree days in April or 90+ degree days in May, then pole beans planted in early May have a good chance of setting beans in June, but we rarely are having cool springs any more. Instead we are having unstable springs where it might be 89 degrees at someone's house (like it was at mine last week) in early-April and then 30 degrees there the next week (like it is supposed to be early this morning). It makes it harder to guess what the general weather trend will be and to plan and plant accordingly.

No one but you can figure out what your weather will be like. The terrain where I live is gently rolling hills and valleys so a garden friend less than a mile south of me but at a slightly higher elevation usually can plant a couple of weeks earlier than I can. Another friend less than a mile north is at a slightly lower elevation than I am and plants later than I do. Another gardening family a mile or so farther up the road generally plants about when I do, and even gets ahead of me with okra. None of us necessarily start harvesting at the same time, but the onset of the dreaded summer heat means we finish up about the same time. All of us tend to get all the harvest we can eat and then preserve by canning or freezing, and we give some of it away, and we still have extra stuff left over....and it doesn't matter who planted first. The later planters will catch up in terms of overall harvest, even if their harvest starts a week or two later because they were planting for the right time for their soil, their elevation and their weather. No one else will have your exact soil, elevation and weather, unless you are lucky enough to have an experienced gardener right next door, so you just have to learn for yourself exactly what will work best for you.

If you're trying to figure out when the heat shuts down production of specific vegetables, list them and I'll tell you about when it shuts down production in my garden.

When we first moved here, I tried planting by the same dates I used in Fort Worth about 80 miles south of where I live now. That didn't work because the nights here can get colder a lot later in the year. Then I tried using OU-recommended dates, but some of those were really too late for my microclimate because it can go from too cold to too hot almost overnight here. So, slowly and from experience, I found the best dates for my specific location, and it was just from trial and error and also from learning to read our weather and our nature signs. By that, I mean I watch what our weather is doing week in and week out for trends, like staying too hot all the time in spring for example----which is a bad omen for summer. I watch the plants, the animals, the frogs, the bees, the birds, etc. and see if they are doing their usual thing at their usual time or if they are early...or late. Mother Nature drops hints for us about what is to come, but sometimes those hints are too vague to help much.

In 2011, when it hit 90 degrees here around April 10th, I started frantically planting everything as quickly as I could because I thought it was going to be a really hot year----and if you lived in OK then, you undoubtedly remember the unbearable heat we suffered through. The plants I got in the ground earliest produced the best. Some of the last things planted didn't produce anything because we got too hot too soon afterwards.

This year, I just got a general feeling in January that spring would be late, i.e, the cold nights would hang on for a while, so I waited and started my tomato seeds 2 weeks later than usual, sweet pepper seeds 3 weeks later than usual and hot pepper seeds 5 weeks later than usual. That likely was a good decision. Here we are a couple of weeks past the time I like to put tomato plants in the ground, and my tomato plants are just now getting too large for the containers they're in, so I got the timing right on them. Had I started them at the usual time, they would have been outgrowing their containers a couple of weeks ago.

In 2012, I felt like we'd be able to plant early and started seeds early. When our last frost occurred around March 9th or 10th, I had a sense that the cold weather was done with us and starting slamming tomato plants into the ground as quickly as I could, followed by peppers, beans and everything else. It was a smart move. Our 2012 harvests were incredibly high thanks to the early start and also thanks to some good late spring rain. By the time heat and drought were shutting down some types of veggies, I was sick of looking at them, sick of eating them, sick of processing them, etc. and was thrilled to have the heat shut them down.

Those are examples of years in which some inner voice---you can call it instinct, or the voice of experience, or intuition, or whatever--told me when to plant and it worked out well. I don't necessarily sit and think about it logically and weigh the pros and the cons and then decide to plant such-and-such thing on such-and-such day or date. Rather, it is just a little voice in my head that says "plant corn today" and so I go out and do it. I'm inclined to think my brain subconsciously compares now to previous years with similar weather and figures how what to do when and then alerts me. I have better gardens in the years I listen to my subconscious mind than when I sit down with past weather records and recommended planting dates and try to choose a time to plant. I think it just comes from knowing what works in your location, your soil, your weather, etc. and the only way to get that knowledge is from doing it. It only took me 3 or 4 years of gardening here to figure out what worked for me, and since then, it is just a matter of paying attention to what is happening around me and to planting accordingly. Since about 2008 we have been having our last frost at our house the first week in May, which drives me up the wall. I cannot wait until then to plant because the hot temperatures arrive about a day to a week after that last frost, so instead I plant as much on-time as I can, and then cover up and protect the plants I have in the ground. It isn't ideal, but I have to work with the actual weather I have, not the weather I'd like to have.

What I am seeing in recent years is a bigger and bigger mismatch between observed soil temperatures in my garden and late cold air temperatures that arrive after warm-season plants are up and growing. I cannot do anything about the cold air repeatedly making a late showing, so I try to work around it and most years it works. It does mean I spend more time covering up plants now and then in springtime, but it also means I have a highly productive garden pretty much every year.

I have a garden friend who pushed me to plant as early as him every year when we first moved here. He'd put corn and bean seeds in the ground a good 3 weeks before I thought my soil temperatures would be warm enough. Eventually they'd sprout, and then without fail, a late cold night (like we're having right now) would freeze his plants back to the ground. By the time he was sowing seed to replace them, it was warm enough that I was sowing seed too--but it was only my first sowing of the year. So, what did I learn from him? Stay patient and don't plant too early.

Don't overthink it. Plant at the recommended times for your area and see if it works. Next year, change your planting dates as conditions dictate or, if a certain planting time didn't work out for you this year, adjust that one for next year.

Gardening has a million variables that combine in a trillion different ways. There are no guaranteed outcomes ever, ever, ever. We all take chances and we do the best we can. Sometimes Mother Nature helps us, but more often than not, it seems like she fights us at every turn. It doesn't matter what works for someone else in a different place---you have to figure out what works for you there.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 3:37AM
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I can only comment on peppers and tomatoes. Peppers have no problem all summer, but tomatoes require some luck to set any fruit after the first week of June. Some years the temps are already too high for all but a few small-fruited types in early June. Other years we get a few cool-downs in summer and we get fruit set even in July and Aug.

As for me, the days to maturity is a minimum of 17155, and it will possibly never arrive.

This post was edited by scottokla on Tue, Apr 15, 14 at 10:00

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 3:41AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

lol lol lol

And there I was thinking you already were mature.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 3:57AM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

LOL Scott. that is hilarious. I may be in the same boat as you though.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 9:49AM
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Yeah, no summer long enough for me.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 10:01AM
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(Y'all are funny. Maybe "years" or "decades" to maturity is a more accurate phrase.) Thanks Scott and Dawn. I have a general idea now about peppers, tomatoes and beans. But Dawn's general answer was the one I feared: too much variation and location-dependence to expect any rules or hard and fast dates.

Still, the general advice is helpful to rookies. I kinda hesitate to list all that I intend to grow, this year or next, bc it'll take some typing to answer, but hey, seems like y'all love talking about this kind of thing. I missed getting any cool weather crops in except for onions and potatoes, which are doing fine. But I'll plant them next spring for sure. Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, turnips and beets, and then greens like lettuce, chard, spinach and kale. Some of these I may try for the fall according to y'all's previous advice, so maybe that's another question (beating the arrival of cold weather), but I do intend to plant this spring: southern peas, cucumbers, melons (cantaloupes and watermelons), okra, corn and squash. The reason this info is so desired is that when I make calculations from DTMs to historical temperature rises (or cold/frost, in fall) I get that feeling in my gut that it's all theory and numbers and I might as well roll dice. I've no feel for my given area yet, whereas despite the local variations there are surely a few gardeners with similar weather patterns as I have near Durant. What's already been said about beans, peppers and tomatoes has been very valuable.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 2:14PM
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I'd like to add pumpkins to that list. It was the only thing I got in last summer/fall. Unfortunately I was a bit late, and just as they were getting close to being done the cold came. I got 2 or three, but there were more coming on the vines. Also, I've been watching my soil temps this spring, but then discovered from a friend just across the river in N TX that things I'd been waiting to plant had already been in her garden, germinated fine and begun growing. So it seems in my thinking I also need to be working backwards from some idea of when production shuts down, and not merely calculating DTMs from germination tables (as important as that is).

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 2:24PM
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I'm inexperienced with cool season veggies, so I'm still trying to get the hang of them myself. I do know that you want to plant lettuce asap because they will turn bitter in the heat.

As for the warm season veggies, there are some that produce great in the heat like okra, pole beans, yard long beans and hot peppers (bell peppers won't produce when it gets too hot), I think southern peas too but I've never grown them. So as long as you plant those after all danger of frost is gone you will be fine.

Have you seen the OSU Fall planting guide? They have dates to plant warm season veggies so as long as you plant by those dates you should get a harvest before it gets too cold.


Here is a link that might be useful: OSU Fall gardening

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:22PM
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Yes I have. Thanks for posting again though. Seems like there's 3 pieces of the puzzle: 1) planting date, 2) date to maturity (of specific seed your planting) and finally, some awareness of when temps become too hot (or too cold) in your region to allow production. It was when I came across that line from that old post ("I know about which week of the year we generally get too hot for those crops to perform well . . .") that I became aware of the 3rd and how little I currently know about it. Guess I could just plant according to the schedule and hope, but if for example I knew that, as Scott said, tomato fruit set is iffy by first week of June, I could ask myself, "Hmmm, these particular tomatoes have a DTM of X. Will be tough to get them home by June. You'd better start some transplants." or "You'd better plant these broccoli a bit early and get the frost blankets ready."

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:51PM
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The summer veggies I mentioned, you don't need to worry about DTM since they will produce in the heat. I'm a rookie with cool season veggies, so I can't say much about them, I planted as early as possible and hope for the best.

The main vegetables I have experience with worrying about DTM is tomatoes. Most of the tomatoes I grow has a DTM of 65-75 days. I get much larger harvest from smaller tomatoes rather than larger ones before it gets too hot. I'm also planting lots of cherry tomatoes since they do better with the heat.

It's too hard to plan exact dates because Oklahoma temps fluctuate so much. The last freeze could be in March or it could be in May. The 100+ temps could arrive in March/April or in July/August. It's a moving target making gardening in Oklahoma a gamble.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 7:39PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

With the fall garden, you and your plants are at the mercy of the weather and whenever the air temperatures get cold enough to stop production or to kill a specific type of plant, it will do so.

My earliest killing freeze in autumn since we moved here was September 28th or 29th. My latest killing freeze since we moved here was around December 14th or 15th. That is a huge variation, and in a "normal" (ha, when does OK ever have normal weather?) year, my first killing freeze usually is between mid-November and Thanksgiving. You're not that far from me geographically so your range of dates for first and last killing freezes or frosts in spring and fall ought to be fairly similar to mine.

When you are planting your fall garden beginning in late June or early July, you have no idea if this will be the year the first killing freeze is early or late, or right in the middle between the two. If you are growing both warm-season and cool-season crops in the fall garden, you might have to cover up and protect the warm-season crops once or twice so they can stay growing long enough to be productive. Most cool-season crops tolerate a lot of cold, so you often don't have to cover them up until really cold weather arrives in December or January. That leaves you a long period of time in which they have the potential to be productive. Often, we will have a very cold night or two in September or October that potentially can kill whatever warm-season crops are growing in your garden, but then we might have another 4 to 6 or more weeks of frost-free and freeze-free weather. So, it really can pay off to protect everything from damage or plant death during that first cold spell.

With all the cool-season crops in late winter/early spring, it is important to plant them as early as you can do so without risking them freezing. By planting as early as reasonably possible, you have the longest window of opportunity for them to produce. Some years the weather will get too hot too early for the cool-season stuff to produce and there is nothing you can do to prevent that. 2011 was like that. It got hot so early that the broccoli underperformed and so did the sugar snap peas. I just accept that in a certain percentage of years the heat will arrive too early and those crops will burn up in the heat or bolt before they produce. Unless the hot weather arrived to stay very early, like in February, I'm going to plant the cool-season crops and hope for the best. Having said that, we went through a period in the early to mid-2000s where the winter weather was way too hot and I totally skipped planting cool-season plants for a few years until that unnaturally hot winter weather went away. It kept getting unnaturally hot and staying that way and the cool-season crops would bolt, so planting them in spring during those years was pointless.

Carrots, turnips and beets can perform well as long as the ground over them is mulched to keep it cool. Planting them at the proper time in spring gives them time to produce. They are not as vulnerable to changing weather as many other crops.

Greens are easy. They love growing in spring's mild weather, and fall's as well. Sometimes you may have to cover them up when very cold weather (around the low 20s) threatens, but they seldom fail to provide a harvest unless the heat arrives extra early and then stays. Some years I can grow oodles of greens from September through February without them freezing. Other years, we drop into the teens and they will suffer massive damage if not covered up. In spring, they do better in a long, cool, wet spring but aren't happy if we keep hitting the upper 80s or lower 90s too early in the season.

Southern peas are the easiest thing in the world to grow. All they need is warm soil (I usually wait until it is at least 70 degrees, but they'll germinate, albeit more slowly, in temperatures of 60-65 degrees) and a little moisture. The heat rarely shuts down their production, but in 2011 once our high temperatures were exceeding about 108-110 on a daily basis, the southern peas stalled and didn't produce for a while. Once the temperatures dropped around the third week of August, they flowered and set peas again. I succession sow them often in the beds of cool-season crops that have finished up, so sometimes am planting them even in late July or early August.

Cucumbers and melons, in general, do not have any trouble growing, flowering and producing a harvest in the heat. Even last year, which was a fairly hot, dry and droughty summer, we had cukes and melons in production from June through November. One key is to keep them well-watered, and by that I mean consistently, evenly moist soil, but not heavily waterlogged or growing in really soggy soil. The quality of cukes and even their productivity are compromised if they are moisture-stressed. Some people think that means they don't produce in the heat, but that's not true---they produce well in heat if they have adequate moisture to keep them in production.

Sweet corn is one crop where the hot temperatures can impact your harvest. Once your daytime highs hit 95 and start staying there, you may not get good pollination. It is sort of iffy---the corn pollen sheds in the early morning hours when the weather is cooler, but the developing pollen is exposed to hot temperatures all day before it sheds the next morning. I have to get my corn in the ground by the end of April, no matter what the weather is doing, in order for the corn to be tasseling and silking before the air temps get too hot. I think there have been 3 years in 15 here that I had heat-related sweet corn pollen issues, so it isn't an issue most years as long as you plant early enough.

Squash seems to produce better the hotter it gets. You shouldn't encounter any temperature-related issues with squash in our climate. With squash, the issues are generally fungal issues in a very wet and humid year, and pest issues (squash vine borers and squash bugs) most years.

Okra is easy and heat won't impact it in a negative way most years, but a lack of moisture will. So, if you keep your okra growing in moist soil, it will go crazy and produce like mad in the heat. I'm not sure how hot it would have to get to shut down okra production, as long as there is adequate moisture available. Now, if you aren't watering the okra in very hot weather, it can stall and become non-productive. Generally, though, okra loves heat and produces so well in the heat that you almost have to harvest it daily so the okra pods don't get too big and tough.

Let me try to run you through my spring briefly and see if it helps you see when you could have planted cool season crops and if it shows you what you can be planting right now and in the next few weeks.

February--I plant onions, and sometimes sow seed of radishes and lettuce in late February. If not, then I sow them in early March. Although the OU-recommended dates for most cool-season crops are February 15-March 10, about the only thing I absolutely get into the ground in mid-Feb is the three items I mentioned above. I am in a cold microclimate where my overnight lows often go 6-8 degrees lower than forecast, so sometimes February is too cold in my garden for most cool-season plants. I do try to get them in the ground in early March though. With radishes, I succession sow a couple dozen seeds every few weeks so we always have new ones coming along. You don't want to sow 200 radish seeds all at once unless you intend to eat 200 radishes in a fairly short time frame.

March--I sow seeds of cabbage and broccoli indoors under lights and grow the seedlings indoors if the air temperatures still are in the 20s or lower at night. The ideal broccoli and cabbage transplant will be 3-5 weeks old when you put it in the ground and will have 3-5 true leaves. I like to get them in the ground near the end or March or early April. I can transplant them into the ground earlier, but if I do, they tend to be exposed to too many air temperature fluctuations that can cause the broccoli to produce button heads (that is broccoli heads that literally are the size of a button). Cabbage is easier. I rarely have it bolt and send up a flower stalk before I harvest it. I tend to choose both broccoli and cabbage varieties with estimated DTMs in shorter end of the available range because most years they need to have produced before the end of May, or sometimes into early June. Cabbage will tolerate heat longer than broccoli in my garden, but I tend to plant it where it gets morning sun and then gets shade beginning about 1 pm, so that shade may help it last a little more deeply into the summer. I try to get potatoes in the ground in March, but if it is a perpetually wet month, I might not get them in the ground until earliest April. I like to sprout my sugar snap pea seeds indoors (because they germinate faster indoors) and then plant them in the ground as early as possible in March to beat the heat. With sugar snap peas, once the high temperatures start hitting the 90s regularly, the pea quality declines. The peas usually continue to flower and form pods, but powdery mildew becomes a huge issue in May and Junes heat and humidity, and the PM makes the pods unattractive and unusable. That's why planting peas early is advised. Also they will tolerate a lot of cold weather and even snow. When the pea plants are very small, the cold doesn't even seem to bother them. If severe cold hits them later on when they are getting tall and blooming, it might freeze back the growing tips or cause the blossoms to drop off the plant, but the plants recover quickly. If I cannot get my peas in the ground around mid-March, I run the risk of having the early arrival of heat in late May or early June shut them down before they can produce.

I like to sow carrot seed in March but usually am running behind and don't ever get around to it until early April. That's okay. The carrot seed germinates more slowly in cold soil, so if there is anything I will deliberately plant late, it is carrots. If I plant them 2 or 3 weeks later than recommended, the soil is significantly warmer and the seed sprouts more quickly than seed sown earlier in the colder soil. Thus, late-planted carrots sometimes will produce at about the same time as seed that was sown on time but slower to sprout. Kale can be planted when it is still really cold in February, but most years I use it more as a fall crop than a spring one. Swiss Chard is a little cold-sensitive and can freeze in my garden in typical March conditions, but does fine in April. I also wait and grow spinach in fall most years because it is nice to have greens all winter long (collards are good all-winter-long crops here too). Beets and turnips grow as well in spring as in fall, but my garden is less crowded in fall so if I didn't sow their seed in February or early March, I save them for fall. While it is fun to grow everything, I have a huge garden and have to be careful not to grow more than we can harvest and use, so I leave some cool season crops for fall's less busy garden harvest season.

Sometime in March, I try to sneak the first couple of dozen tomato plants in the ground, with protection. Normally, if I do they, they are about knee-high and have lots of flowers and fruit by the time April rolls around and the weather stabilizes enough to put the main crop of tomato plants in the ground.

April is when my planting season explodes. I wait until the worst of the freeze/frost risk has passed and then transplant the main bunch of tomato plants into the ground. I usually plant between 100-200 more plants in April to go with the March plants, and how many is highly dependent on how many jars of canned salsa and other tomato products I want to produce that summer. Around the same time, I sow bean seed and corn seed into the ground. By the end of April, I should have sweet and hot peppers, summer squash and cucumbers planted as well. I also stay really busy in April planting tons and tons of herbs and flowers. I don't grow eggplant, but if you do, those go into the ground the same time as peppers. Sometimes when April stays too cold, a lot of those don't go in the ground until later in the month or even in early May. A special note about peppers: lots of people transplant them into the ground at the same time as tomato plants, but they are more sensitive to cold weather than tomatoes. Sometimes, pepper plants that were put in the ground when soil temps and air temps were lower than what they prefer, those plants will stall and sulk and be poor in production for weeks and weeks afterward.

When we first moved here in 1999, I planted peppers at the same time I planted tomatoes. The tomatoes produced just fine, but the peppers didn't. So, I started planted peppers later and later until I found what worked for them. Oddly, if I wait and put pepper plants into the ground in earliest May, I will get an earlier, heavier harvest from them than from plants put into the ground in early through mid-April. It is not unusual for me to be harvesting jalapeno peppers in June from plants put into the ground right at the beginning of May. Often the earliest bell pepper harvest is occurring at almost the same time. It works to perfection because I'll be getting the first jalapeno harvest at the same time as the first big round of the paste tomato and bell pepper harvest and along with the onion and garlic harvest, so that I can be making/canning salsa from ingredients produced in our garden.

May is when I plant the types of veggies that adore warm soil and warm air--okra, watermelons, muskmelons, southern peas (if I have space for them, otherwise they wait until broccoli, cabbage or peas come out, freeing up space for them), sweet potatoes, pumpkins and winter squash. Peppers might have gone into the ground in the last week of April but then maybe not until the first week in May. In a cold, wet May, I may push planting a little later in the month as opposed to earlier.

A note about green beans: they can start aborting blossoms after the temperatures begin regularly exceeding 85 degrees, making their performance vary a lot with the weather. I usually plant bush types for sure in spring, preferably in early to mid-April, and pole bean types for sure in mid- to late-summer for a fall harvest. Some years I plant pole beans in spring for a (hopefully) mid-summer harvest, but some years they don't produce in the summer because we're too hot and too dry. Rattlesnake is one variety that tends to produce really well despite high heat in the summer, though it doesn't produce as well as it does in milder temperatures. White Half-Runner or State half-runner also produces better in heat than most, and for me the half-runners often run amok through the garden climbing fences, trellises and tomato cages. I tend to just sit back and let them run wild because they do produce well in the heat when happy. Since our daytime highs often exceed 85 degrees fairly early in the year, pole bean production down here in southcentral OK can be iffy in summer, but it rocks in the fall. Sometimes I plant lima bean seed in May. I get better germination and plant growth if the limas weren't exposed to the pesky late cold nights that have been occurring in April and earliest May in recent years.

June--If I have gotten everything into the ground by May, I get a bit of a break from planting in June, which is a good thing because that's when I am busy canning and freezing the first big round of the harvest. It is not unusual for me to harvest and can for 12-18 hours a day 2 to 5 days a week in June, so it is just as well that there isn't much being planted in June because there wouldn't be time to plant. If I want to grow some different varieties of tomatoes for fall, I will start their seeds around mid-May and put those transplants into the ground in late June. If anything is failing---for example, if squash vine borers are killing squash plants, I'll sow more seed under floating row cover in a different part of the garden in June or July.

July is a tough month for planting because a lot of seeds don't like to germinate in hot soil, but sometimes I am sowing seeds indoors under lights to produce transplants for the fall garden. If the bush beans are running out of steam (their productivity will drop tremendously), I handle them one of two ways: either I shear them back to about half their height with garden scissors and water them, trying to get them back into a vegetative growth cycle that will result eventually in more beans, or I yank them out, throw the plants on the compost pile and then sow southern pea seed in their place.

Does that help? With the cool-season crops, once you miss the Feb-Mar planting window, you run the risk of having heat prevent you from getting a good harvest so it usually isn't worth it to plant them much later than the recommended time frame. However, down here at our house south of Marietta, we have had a late freeze or frost the first week in May every year except 2012 since 2008 and those late recurring cold spells have let me plant cool-season stuff a bit later and still get a good crop. It might not be as big of a crop as I'd get from an earlier planting, but it is worth having.

Lettuce is a good example of that. The lettuce I planted in March is harvestable now. The succession planting from later in March is not too far behind it. I bet I could direct-sow lettuce seed now, and we'd be harvesting baby lettuce from those plants in about a month. So, would it be worth it to sow lettuce now? Sure, if you have the seeds and have the space and want to plant it now, the worst thing that will happen is it will bolt and then, if you leave the plants alone and let them grow on and flower, finches and other little birds will adore you for providing them with lettuce seeds to eat---or you can collect the seeds when mature and save them for next year. Never be afraid to try planting something early or late, even if only to see what happens when you do it. You just might get a crop from it anyhow. No one here can say with any certainty that lettuce seed sown now is wasted because you're likely to get something from it, and if the weather turns back cold and wet in May or even into early June, you might get a huge late lettuce harvest. Lettuce is less likely to bolt in heat if kept well-watered and grown in partial shade. I like to grow some in containers I can push into progressively deeper shade as the weeks go by just for the challenge of having summer lettuce. In a normal to cooler year, and especially if it is a rainy one, the lettuce can last more deeply into summer than you'd think. Conversely, in a year where the heat arrives to stay early, the lettuce can bolt pretty early. Don't consider a late planting a failure if it doesn't produce---consider it an experiment and a learning opportunity.

Despite lots of drought last summer and way too many very hot days, my garden produced most things all summer long. It also was a great garden year in most of 2012 because we had good rainfall into June. The last really bad summer was 2011 and the last really outstanding one was 2010, but 2012 and 2013 weren't bad. Sometimes I think we focus too much on how hard it can be to get a crop in difficult conditions and we forget that while we might get a smaller crop in tough conditions, we still usually get a crop.

I know that if we all look at the calendar right now, we're going to get an "I'm late! I'm late!" thought running through our brains, but what I have noticed this year is that the persistent cold temperatures have everyone running behind. Every garden we've driven past this week mostly has the same stuff up and growing in it---onions, lettuce, potatoes, and maybe peas,broccoli and cabbage. Mostly though, I just see the first three. So, if we are late, so is everyone else around us. I haven't seen any tomato plants in any gardens here except mine, and with good reason---they would have frozen last night when we were at 28 degrees for several hours. I expect to see tomato plants going into the ground here beginning later this week. At this point, every gardener in our part of the state probably is looking up the data from 2013, 2012 and 2011 and trying to figure out when the high temps will arrive this year. We're kinda at the point now where tomato plants really need to be put into the ground ASAP in order to get some fruit set (hopefully lots of it) before temperatures in the 90s arrive. And, temperatures in the 90s are not far-fetched. At our house we have hit 89 degrees about 5 or 6 times already, and my sugar snap peas were unhappy with the heat last week and were starting to stall in growth and look a little yellow. I am assuming this week's cool spell made them happy.

Beginnng tomorrow, I am going to be a planting machine. It is time.

Finally, we fret and worry about the weather getting too hot too early because that is what is happened over and over in most recent years, but every now and then, the opposite thing happens. I think of 2002 and 2004 as perfect garden years when I think back to how cool and wet the spring and summer were. I remember 2002 well because our son was graduating from high school in late May, and my father-in-law came down from Pittsburgh for the graduation and was expecting two weeks of gorgeous hot weather. He got two weeks of cold, wet weather and was bitterly disappointed because it was very similar to the weather at home he thought he was leaving behind. I was happy, though, because with lows in the 40s even late in May, all the cool-season crops were ridiculously happy and produced well into summer. 2004 was almost the same. Even in 2010 we had a really long spring cool season and the plants loved it. So, while we dwell on the awful hot, dry years, we still are going to have a nicer, wetter, cooler one every now and then. Maybe that will happen for us this year. (Likely it won't, but it would be nice if it did.)


    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 11:08PM
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Do you need wait a bit for your corn or will that be party of your frenzy? I'm getting impatient for my corn. It's a bit cooler here and I'm worried about having enough time for them to pollinate. Last week soil temps reach to 70, but not consistently.

But, really, if it doesn't I still have gobs of organic material for the compost.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 6:56AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Last week my soil temperatures reached 77 but didn't stay there obviously.

This morning I will be planting a variety well-known to germinate in cool soil temperatures. I always plant Early Sunglow because it is a short-DTM variety that produces ears by Memorial Day most years from seed sown the last week of March or first week of April. Since it already is mid-April, this year's early corn won't be ready to pick until mid-June.

If you are sowing a variety of normal sweet corn, you can sow when soil temperatures are in the 60-65 degree range. However if you're sowing one of the super sweet, triple sweet or synergistic corn varieties, it is better to wait for the soil temps to hit 70. That doesn't mean I always wait for 70 degrees though. Around here, if I wait too long to plant corn seed, the air temps will get too hot for good pollination so I often take a chance and sow seed with soil temps in the mid- to upper 60s. My soil temps can go from staying in the mid to upper 60s to the 70s in the blink of an eye. In 2011 (which warmed up too fast) the air temps were hitting 100 by the time the mid-season and late-season corn varieties were tasseling and silking. The only good corn we got that year was from Early Sunglow because it was quick enough to beat the heat. Even Texas Honey June had poor tip fill and it generally performs well in pretty hot temperatures.

Fred gives me a hard time about Early Sunglow because it produces little ears, but I always say "little ears are better than no ears".

Notwithstanding the fact that the big cold front cooled us down significantly, my soil is plenty warm enough for Early Sunglow. Last week I noticed hot-season volunteer plants like cosmos were popping up out of the ground. When the soil is warm enough for cosmos to sprout, it is warm enough for Early Sunglow.

I likely will wait a few days before sowing my main season corn, but that's only because I have all those tomato plants to get into the ground first (priorities, you know) and it is going to be very windy here this afternoon which means we may have fires. My part of the county is very greened-up but the colder western portions and northern portions are not very green yet so there could be problems out in those areas today.

I also want to see how quickly soil temperatures rebound. I think they will be plenty warm here again by the end of the weekend.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 7:42AM
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Little ears would be okay with me! I'll just be tickled pink to see corn stalks out there. I'm already ticked at what I have and it's really kinda pathetic.

Would you believe I haven't any peas? They only started kicking in growth when the weather warmed up last week. I've already put it in my mind to not worry if my spring garden doesn't measure up to my expectations. I'll just keep plugging and blame the weather.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 8:59AM
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Someone needs to print all of Dawn's post and make a book for all of us to buy.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 9:11AM
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I swear, if I had more time that's what I'd do. I worry that someone else is going to do that and steal it all. People are rotten! Besides, Dawn could use the money for more row covers. lol

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 9:25AM
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Dawn does a very good job wiith very informative posts.
I can only imagine her garden with her descriptive words. If there was any way she could get more informative, it would have to be with pitures included. Seriously, what a wealth of knowledge and experience.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 10:20AM
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Yes! This is the kind of information I need -- something to help me make vexing planting and seed-starting decisions. Thanks everyone, thanks Dawn for the extensive answer.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 2:38PM
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Dawn that was an awesome amount of info. I will clip this for sure !

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 5:18PM
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I live very far into northeastern Oklahoma and about 8 miles from Missouri, so I plant later than most of you, but one year I planted my summer things a week earlier than Dawn. She is over 300 miles from me, but had a serious cold front that we didn't get here.

One year Dawn gave me a Hale's Jumbo melon plant in late April which had been planted at the same time she planted hers. I brought it home and planted it but starved for melon for almost a month when she talked about how many she was getting and mine just wouldn't get ripe. Same plant, same planting time, but very different growing conditions. It turned out to be a great plant, but ripened about a month later than in her southern Oklahoma location.

I plant bush beans and pole beans at about the same time, but the pole beans start about the time the bush beans are finishing.

I get bell pepper all summer and I don't notice them shutting down at all, but large tomatoes do. Most years I have plenty of rain so I think that keeps the peppers going. My hot peppers tend to be much later than most of you.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 10:30PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, Peas can stall for various reasons. I think they often stall when the weather fluctuates from hot to cold and back again. Mine were looking decent until we starting hitting highs in the upper 80s, and then they stalled. They still don't look happy, and I want to ask them
"Can you please perk up and get growing again? We just had a 28-degree night solely for the purpose of making you happy!" And, yes, it is always the weather's fault and never the gardener's fault. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Scott, Y'all are too kind. You don't have to buy a book. Just print the posts you find helpful and save them, and it only costs you the paper for your printer.

I do have all our money invested in row covers. I think it drives Tim crazy because I pile them up all over the garage. I tell him if it wasn't row covers, I'd be spending our money on shoes, purses or chocolate. Seems to me that row covers are more useful than a closetful of shoes, though not nearly as tasty as chocolate.

Hi, Busy One! Thank you for your kind words. I just don't do photos. I would obsess over them so long in trying to get them just so that the garden would die from lack of attention. The other night when we had the tornado warning, I was standing in the back yard with my cell phone trying to capture that huge anvil-shaped wall cloud in a photo for Chris, who was at work, and I had to take 15 shots to get one I thought worth sending to him. If the storm had been headed our way, I would have been blown away while shooting photos. (grin) Then, Chris sent back a message about a perfect photo of a perfect cloud structure and reminded me why he is my favorite son. Well, he is my only son, but he's still my favorite. : )

Charles, Next winter, once I have what I think is a firm idea of whether it will be a cold winter, which equals planting a bit later, or a warm one, which equals planting earlier, I'll let you know that I am starting seeds or whatever. I usually have my mind made up by mid-January. For what it is worth, this January I thought we'd have a long, cold spring and planted seeds late, and it seems like it is working out as expected. I am a pretty good guesser and usually make the right decision in January about when to start seeds.

Kim, Glad you found it useful. You'd likely plant everything in the same order we do, though I am not sure how much you'd have to slide the dates later because you are further north. Do you use planting dates similar to Amarillo's?

Carol, You know how people name their country places cute little names like "South Wind" or "Pleasant Valley" or "Happy Hills Farm" or whatever? Tim and I should just name ours "Late Freeze" or "Igloo Acres" because we get ridiculously cold ridiculously late given that we are in extreme southcentral OK. My least favorite garden month ever? I think it was 2000. We had a very cold night very late---it was about 19 or 20 degrees on April 9th, and then 103 degrees about the third week in May. It was not a great tomato year. About the time the late-planted tomatoes were blooming, there we were hitting 100 degrees. That was when I first realized that it was likely we'd go from too cold to too hot very quickly here in OK. In Fort Worth, I don't remember having the late cold nights like we have them here. I still was in shock from hitting 110-111 degrees in our first year here the previous summer. I don't know what shocked me more---111 degrees the first week of August or 103 degrees in late May.

I think we are overdue for another year like 2002, 2004 or 2007, when the weather all summer was really mild compared to what we have had the last few years. Do I think we'll have one? Probably not, but that won't stop me from wishing for another summer like that.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 11:19PM
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It depends on what you set as priorities, too, I think, especially in my case, as I direct sow almost everything.
Last year I was focused on getting our flower beds sorted out (more than a couple thousand square feet of empty beds, at the time) and the changing spring weather kicked my butt on the veggie garden. This year, I tried to focus on getting some more fruit bushes and canes in the ground and the changing spring weather kicked my butt on the early veggies...again.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 1:33AM
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Just checked Google maps. I'm about 55 miles E and maybe 10 N of Dawn. Was hoping for v similar microclimate to hers, but from what everyone says I can't rely much on that. Have to learn my own.

Wbonesteel, my priorities are vegetables. I'm one of those wackos who dislikes a lot of what he sees going on in the country, and thinks it a good time to develop skills that will let me be more independent. Which means I've gotta learn to preserve things also -- if I can grow anything.

Dawn, I'll be watching closely in January then. Will watch in late summer too to see what you're doing for fall. I'm not comfortable yet guessing at anything having to do with gardening.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 6:06PM
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