I need help with my grow list.

lat0403December 9, 2013

Last year's garden was almost a complete failure. It may have pulled through if I hadn't given up on it but it was hot and very, very dry. I got frustrated that almost nothing was producing so I just gave up on it and quit watering. I've accepted the fact that I'm probably never going to have an amazingly productive garden here. I have three options: move, give up, adapt. Moving would probably be the smartest choice, but I'm just going to adapt instead.

I said all of that to say this: I need ideas for varieties that are drought-tolerant. Heat tolerance would be a nice bonus. And of course I'd like them to taste better than something I could buy at the grocery store. We had 119 days over 90 degrees this year and we've currently received a little more than 16 inches of rain. I'm not expecting either of those numbers to change. I will be able to water, but I'm not really sure how often.

Tomatoes: I am planning on Heidi and Principe Borghese and possibly JD's Special C-Tex. I tried Gary'O Sena last year and the plant was beautiful but all it did all year was drop blossoms. I'd like to add an early tomato and a couple of larger tomatoes. I'll probably grow Sungold as well.

Peppers: Last year I grew Yummy, Mucho Nacho, habanero, and a poblano. The Mucho Nachos did okay, but I don't think the varieties here were the problem. I think I'm just gonna have to water them more often. Any other ideas would be great.

Beans: I'm going to grow Rattlesnake, but that's all I've got so far. I think I just need to watch the dtm on bush beans.

Other vegetables: Any other ideas for varieties that fit my requirements are welcome. I don't think I need to worry about okra or southern peas but everything else is unknown.


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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Since your garden was a failure last year maybe you should cut down your list to things you like most. I plant too much in spring and then get tense in summer when it won't rain. From your tomato choice it sounds like you want to make salsa or cook with the tomatoes and peppers. Instead of trying for an amazing garden, maybe you should try for a small success like spring salads and tomatoes and peppers for salsa or whatever you make. It is easier to take care of a few plants. I have had luck with hot peppers and banana peppers in containers that can be grown on a patio. Green peppers seemed to be harder to grow. Your climate may be too hot for that. Small gardens are less of a burden in summer. I am not good at following my own advice, but I have quit squash and cole crops because fighting the bugs was not fun.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2013 at 4:20PM
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Leslie, Principe Borghese is a drying tomato. I hear that it hasn't got very good flavor fresh. I've grown Heidi, and it is a keeper. It cooks well, and it tastes pretty good, fresh out of hand. You might consider Sioux. Sioux is one of my favorite tomatoes for eating and cooking. It is also pretty well adapted for heat.

Rattlesnake should be a good bean. Do you like Okra? Almost any okra would be a good thing to grow in a hot climate.

Also, if you like winter squash, consider something like Seminole or Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkin. I grow the later and some on this forum grow Seminole. I feel secure in recommending either. They are very very hardy in our conditions and very productive.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   December 9, 2013 at 7:22PM
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I raised Principe Borghese this year and didn't eat any of them. Didn't get around to drying them either. (I did taste them.) I have found Early girl to be productive in hot dry conditions. Sungold does great for me. If you like chili rellenos, an anaheim type called Joe E. Parker is my favorite. It has very thick flesh and when roasted the skin peels off beautfully, much easier than the poblano. It is very drought and heat tolerant but doesn't do well if allowed to get cool early in the season. It is only mildly hot.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2013 at 10:26PM
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Helen, I did cut back some last year. And I quit growing cool season plants a couple of years ago, but I'd rather suffer through poor production than give up the rest of it. My garden is already pretty small. It can be very frustrating, but I feel like if I make smarter choices before planting, I'll make it easier on myself once the plants are in the ground.

George, I grew Principe Borghese as a drying tomato last year. It produced really well, so I'm going to grow it again. Heidi also produced pretty well last year and it's definitely going back on the list. I had seen Sioux listed somewhere, but I hate to rely on catalog descriptions. I'll add that to my list.

The only problem I had with okra last year is that I had too much of it, so I'm not worried at all about okra. I could just plant a garden full of okra and have amazing results.

I didn't grow any winter squash last year. I may try one of those two.

Dorothy, I may try Early Girl. Sungold has always performed well for me, but last year the one plant I had was damaged early on and never really recovered. I'll try it again this year. I think I have seeds for Joe E. Parker but I've never grown it.

Thanks for all of your comments.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 11:04AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

I don't think your last year's garden was a failure. Maybe you need to celebrate your successes more. My garden is a battle between me and the bugs and the weather. I don't expect everything to do well. I complain about my weather but then I read about Dawn with early warm weather but possible late frost hauling plants in and out of a building. Some people go to great lengths to grow plants. If your garden looks bad and it isn't raining, quitting is a wise strategy. Do you have luck with early things like potatoes and salad stuff? If you get something out of your garden before the heat hits, that is a success.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 12:18PM
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I have a very short window here for cool season stuff. I think our last freeze is usually in the first week of April and we see highs in the 90's by the middle of April (in 2011 & 2012 it was the 100's). This year we hit 90 before our last freeze, but we did have a late freeze. I didn't grow potatoes this year, but they did really well in 2012 even with major cutworm damage and the heat. I was planning to try them again next year. The heat doesn't seem to bother them as much as other cool season crops. I feel like planting any of the others is just tempting fate.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 12:47PM
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Two more suggestions/ideas:
1) Cowpeas should be very dependable for you.
2) Sweet potatoes! I know, the name sounds like "potato." But they are totally different. Sweet potatoes LOVE heat.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 3:05PM
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Yeah, cowpeas should grow fine here. I don't like them that much, but I'll plant some anyway.

I don't think I have enough room to grow sweet potatoes. Maybe if the grass in my front yard doesn't come back I can just plant sweet potatoes and let them take over the yard lol. Maybe I'll end up with room this year or I might try to find a place away from the garden for them. This is probably a good year to try them.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 4:06PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

If I were you, I would not grow anything I don't like to eat or use in some way (like as a soil improver). Things like that make you feel guilty if you don't do something with them and they take up your time and space. Someone on this forum used sweet potatoes out front as an ornamental and posted pictures. I think it was Larry but my memory is not that good.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 5:08PM
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Here is a picture of my sweet potato bed for this year. Except for the harvest it is the easiest thing I grow, no weeding, I just ride the mower around it making the circle a little larger each week. I get a lot of comments on it.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Leslie, Your grow list is fine You just need better weather. (grin) You know, if I lived where you live, I'd google and read about gardening in Phoenix and see what varieties they grow there. Your climate really is almost a desert climate, and your area tends to go from too cold to too hot almost overnight in spring That's tough on gardeners and their gardens because about the time the garden should start producing, y'all get ridiculously hot and the plants stall or drop blossoms.

If Heidi did well for you, then I think it likely that Phoenix F-1 and Wuhib would as well. I love Gary 'O Sena, but it produces best for me when I get it into the ground in February or early March, which might not be possible for you with your colder spring weather. If I wait until late March or early April to plant Gary O Sena, , we often get too hot for it to set well long before it has set many fruit. In my best Gary O Sena year, I put the plants in the ground in early March and just covered them up with floating row cover on cold nights. In hot climates where blossom drop is common, plants that produce smaller fruit, like Jaune Flammee and Fourth of July (not my favorite in terms of taste and texture, but it does produce well in heat) and even Early Girl will set more fruit per plant than varieties that produce larger fruit like Gary O Sena, True Black Brandywine or JD's Special C-Tex. I've gotten nice yields the last few years in hot weather from Early Girl, Cherry Falls (fruit are large for a cherry but too small to be considered anything else I guess), Heidi, Porter, Porter Improved, Jaune Flammee, sometimes from Black Cherry though it seems to shut down a while in the worst heat, SunGold and SunSugar of course, and other paste types like Schiavonne's Italian Paste and Speckled Roman. The varieties that produce tomatoes larger than a tennis ball can shut down fast in heat due to blossom drop, so I can see why they don't produce well in SW OK. I grew both Sioux and Super Sioux for a long time, but over a period of years, they seemed to produce less well each year than the year before, so I finally stopped growing them. For me, Rutgers is more dependable in our heat that Sioux. Jubilee also does well here in Oklahoma, though I haven't grown it as far west as you live.

With peppers, hots outproduce sweets in our hot weather, and small mini bells or Yummy Orange peppers produce much earlier than regular, larger sweet bells. I harvest hot peppers all summer and fall, but the sweets usually give me one early summer harvest and then stall a long time before they produce a bunch more to harvest in the fall. They just don't do well in our heat.

With green beans, bush types that have DTMs in the upper 40s and low 50s have a pretty good chance of producing well before it gets too hot. In my garden, pole beans usually don't produce much from a spring planting before it gets too hot, but do much better, producing a harvest in October from a mid-summer planting. Also, I have found that the bean varieties that produce flat, roma-type beans instead of rounded, green snap types, do better in heat. From a spring planting, I get good harvests from the rounded snap beans like Contender, Top Crop, Purple Queen, Royal Burgundy and Provider, and from roma types like Roma or Roma II, Tanya's Pink Pod, Purple Dove, Red Swan, Purpuriat, and the golden types of romas that produce yellow bean pods like Capitano. With pole beans, I get a better harvest in fall from seed sown in mid-summer than I get in summer from seed sown in fall. It is all heat-related. Pole beans that have produced well for me in heat, in addition to Rattlesnake, include white half-runner, Jiminez, Musica and Garrafal Oro. Most of the pole beans from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange that I've grown have produced better in our climate in fall than in spring, so I usually plant bush types for the summer harvest and pole types for a fall harvest, and in the dead of summer, we grow a wide variety of southern peas. If you don't like the flavor and/or texture of the typical blackeyed peas, you might like Pinkeye Purplehull, or any variety of lady peas, zipper peas or cream peas.

Do you grow any melons or winter squash? They handle heat better than almost anything else I grow. I plant then with the okra and let them carpet the ground underneath the okra as a living mulch, while the partial shade from the okra plants provides shade that helps keep the melons, in particular, from sunburning in the vicious summer heat. I prefer to grow the smaller refrigerator melons like Sugar Baby, Blacktail Mountain, Yellow Doll, Yellow Baby, and Tiger Baby because they take up a lot less space than full-sized melons and have quicker DTMs as well. Seminole pumpkin, which is a very drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant winter squash, produces better for me in the heat than almost anything else. Armenian cucumber, which actually is a melon you can harvest at the immature stage and use like a cucumber, produces well in summer heat, but some years it is prone to mosaic virus. This year, though, mine produced until November. My go-to varieties for cantaloupes (actually the ones we grow here in the USA are muskmelons, not true cantaloupes) are Hale's Best Jumbo and Carole.

Do you grow cucumbers? They produce well in heat as long as they are well-watered. 2013 was probably the best cucumber year I ever had, and the varieties that tolerated the heat for almost the entire summer were Sumter and County Fair. After I had made enough pickles for all of southern OK to eat for the next year, I started slicing up the excess cukes and feeding them to my chickens and to the deer. I think the last cucumber plants finally gave up and died in the latter half of August, a few weeks after I stopped watering them.

You might want to go to the website of Native Seed/SEARCH and look for desert varieties grown by indigenous tribes. You have to read their descriptions carefully because some of their varieties only do well in the high mountain regions where nights are cooler, but they also have varieties that do well in extreme heat and drought.

Another seed company that sells varieties that are proven to grown in our region is Willhite Seed in Poolville Texas I've never had poor production from their varieties, though my weather tends to be more gentle than yours. Sometimes when I want to grow a variety that is new to me, I check to see if WIllhite carries it. If they don't, I instantly have doubts that it will do well here. I noticed they offered Phoenix F-1 tomato for several years before I finally bought seed and tried growing it. Then, it did so well here that I wished i had tried it earlier than I did.

Sweet potatoes do great in the heat, but drought can be hard on them, and the last three years I have had increasing trouble with voles eating them underground. So, if you have voles, the sweet potatoes might produce just fine in the heat but the voles might beat you to the harvest.

There are some hot-weather greens that do tolerably well, but I have found I don't like the flavors of some of them. Lambs quarters will grow all summer here, and so will amaranth, but we don't like to eat them. (My dad, on the other hand, loved lamb's quarters.) You also might try Egyptian spinach or New Zealand spinach, which I think is tetragonia. the problem I have found with most of the hot weather greens is that the pests really seem to flock to them.

Your climate is so close to being a desert type climate that I think it always is going to be incredibly challenging to garden there, and you'll only find what works for you in your specific weather with a lot of trial and error. Do you grow herbs? Often, when the heat has shut down everything else, my herbs still are growing like mad, so at least I have them to be happy about when the rest of the garden is hot and droopy (or dead).


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 11:52PM
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Here is a seed site you might find helpful which carries seed that might work for dry conditions in SW Oklahoma. Its an interesting site to look through.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://shop.nativeseeds.org/

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 1:22AM
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You say you've given up on cool season crops. Have you tried planting in the fall and overwintering them? I have had spinach survive 0 F in the open garden with a mulch of oak leaves tucked around them. Then I harvested in Feb-Mar. And before we built the greenhouse I kept spinach, lettuce and arugula going in a small (4'x4') cold frame with plastic over the top.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 10:03AM
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Dawn, you're right, I think I've been looking at it the wrong way. I thought I needed to change, when what I really need is just to have a talk with Mother Nature! lol Thank you so much for all of these recommendations. Your growing conditions are more like mine than anyone else's so I was looking forward to them.

I spent hours this morning reading about Phoenix gardening. First at the GW AZ forum (which seems to be mostly a bunch of people talking about cacti lol) and then through Google. After that I went to the Native Seeds site, which I had heard of but for some reason had never been there. They have a "low desert" category and I came away with a lot of ideas. The tomato varieties in the category were all new to me and I couldn't find much information about them when I Googled, but I may try them and see how they perform.

I have seeds for both Cherry Falls and Rutgers, so I think I'll try those to keep from having to buy too many new seeds. I've never grown Rutgers. I started seeds for Cherry Falls last year, but the seedlings never made it to their containers.

I think Yummy is the only sweet pepper I really want to grow. I think I just need to make sure the peppers are getting more water.

I'll try the fall planting of pole beans next year. They didn't do well this year and maybe that's why. I've been going through catalogs highlighting short dtm bush beans and I'd like to trial a few different varieties this year to see which ones perform best.

I would like to grow melons. I planted late this year so I think that was my problem. That's probably the problem with most of what didn't perform well (except tomatoes). I started a new job at the end of March and spent a few weeks away from home for training. I've never grown winter squash but I've seen Seminole pumpkins mentioned a lot here so those may need to go on my list.

I tried Homemade Pickles cucumbers this year. Nothing in my garden was well-watered, so maybe that was their problem. I planted them a week later than I would've liked as well. I'd like to be able to make pickles, so I'll make sure to plant on time and try to keep them watered.

I like Willhite and I usually order from them. I noticed they don't sell Phoenix anymore.

I live in town, so I'd like to say I won't have problems with voles. Of course, I saw a fox in someone's front yard last year, so I guess I shouldn't say that.

I wrote down quite a few lettuce varieties from the Native Seeds site to try. I've always been able to grow lettuce inside, so I've never really tried very hard to grow it in the garden.

Thanks again for taking the time to type all of that. I printed it out so I didn't have to scroll back and forth and it was three pages long (my reply is probably just as long). It was so helpful though, so I really appreciate it.

Dorothy, I've never tried overwintering the cool season crops. My ideal garden plan includes space for a cold frame, but that's a few years away. I'll try overwintering spinach next year and see how it does.

Thanks again, everyone. You've all been really helpful. I was trying to do this using catalog descriptions and it's hard to really trust what they say.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 4:34PM
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