Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lessons from the Phoenix Summer

I know it's not even mid-summer yet, but since the thermometer is reaching far over 100, the garden has started to feel like summer.

As temperatures go up, Phoenix gardeners have to deal with a whole new array of pests, diseases, and issues. Our reward, however, is all the delicious warm season crops that people can't get enough of. Now that the garden is into it's second summer, we've learned a bit about what grows well and what dries out in Phoenix's notorious heat.

ArtichokeAbove is our first artichoke plant. We'll have five more if our most recent transplants survive. It's not really all that exciting...which is why we like it. Artichokes are consistent perennial producers and we haven't had issues with pests, diseases, or anything. Basically, this is a veggie you can plant and ignore until you see a tasty looking artichoke head to snip off.

Our bean plants have had an interesting year. Here are our scarlet runner beans:
That fence is about 7 feet high so it looks as though they are doing quite well. The only strange part is that the plants have not produced a single bean.

On the other hand, these are our yard-long beans:
These small, but mighty plants have been growing well since the temperatures hit the 100s. Not only have they been growing, but they have been producing a lot of very tasty beans. Very tasty and very strange. Yard long beans look like you would expect, yard long green beans (technically, we have not gotten any over two feet, but we have high hopes).

For those of you who find new veggies intimidating, I have good news. Yard long beans are delicious. They taste similar to a green bean but with just a little more asparagus-y goodness. I would highly suggest planting a number of these in your garden. They don't take up much space and they love the summer heat.

ChardAfter the onslaught of greens we had in the garden over winter, I don't really have an urge for more. However, for those of you needing your greens fix all year long, chard is your best (only) option. All of our other greens have either bolted or dried to a crisp, but chard is still producing.

We decided to try a bed of sweet corn at the garden. The good news is that our sweet corn grew nice and tall. The bad news is that we tried to squeeze three rows into a 4 foot by 8 foot bed. In the beginning the corn looked just a little crowded. Now, it looks like the corn is imitating a three stooges skit.
Ideally, sweet corn requires a lot of plants to get good ear growth and you don't get that much from an individual plant. Because of this, I would discourage anyone from growing sweet corn in their yard unless they have a LOT of extra space that they need to fill.

In the spring, I had heard that cucumbers did not grow that well in Phoenix, so we only planted one seedling in the garden.
I am beginning to regret that mistake. As far as individual plants go, this cucumber has been producing more than any other in our garden. On average, I have been pulling one cucumber per day from this plant for the last two weeks.

Our melon seedlings started so slowly that I worried that we were going to miss out on all the cantaloupe and watermelons this season. Fortunately, the plants have turned around quickly and we've already harvested five watermelons with many more on the way.We are fortunate to have many different melon seeds to try growing. I am becoming a huge fan of the smaller ones. They mature faster, their vines are smaller, and you are more likely to get multiple harvests from them.

Being a huge part of the native foodways and Arizona cuisine, I should have guessed that peppers would grow well around here.
They sure are growing well! We've been having a hard time keeping our plants picked. The food bank is giving away multiple pounds of peppers per day.
The one hint I have for those of you looking to grow a few pepper plants is to start small. Don't start trying to grow gigantic bell peppers, that is the one variety we have had no success with. (Ours turn out the size of golf balls.) What you should start out growing is jalapenos, habaneros, or (for those of you who aren't into spicy food) anaheim peppers. In general, plants with smaller peppers will grow faster and you will grow a lot more peppers.

Here, one of our container sized varieties. The plant is smaller but you don't lose much of your harvest.
In the Midwest, summer squash has a reputation for producing a LOT. They can produce so much that not only do the gardeners get tired of summer squash, but all of the gardeners' neighbors grow tired of it as well.

Fortunately for us, we have lot of neighbors and our summer squash are growing well. We only have 6 plants, but they are growing quickly and we still have not seen much of our arch-nemesis: the squash bug.

Our current method for repelling the squash but is to coat our plants with diotomaceous earth. This organic dust feels like tiny rasor blades and irritates any insects that walk on it. However, it is completely harmless to more thick-skinned organisms (like plants and people!). We have seen a squash bug walk around in it, but we don't think it was enjoying itself.

SunflowersLooking at it from a purely food growing perspective, sunflowers are not worth growing in a garden. But if your goal is to make a 3rd grader stop in his tracks and say "whoa!" then the sunflower is the plant for you.Sunflowers seem to grow quite well in the Valley and have really brightened up our garden. The uses for sunflowers will not fade after the flower is gone either. We have planted climbing beans at the base of our sunflowers so that they can use the flower stalk as a trellis.

This year, we planted about 50 tomato plants in the garden. Now that the summer has set in, it feels like we have 50 new tomato issues every day. The dry heat is not treating our tomatoes well.
As you can tell from the picture, we do have a lot of nice green tomatoes. My hope is that our plants can hold on for long enough to turn those green tomatoes into red ones. Even if they do, I would hesitate to plant many tomatoes next year. We've had to invest a lot of time into trellising the tomatoes and keeping them healthy. It would be much easier to plant more low maintenance squash and peppers.

Phew! That's all for now from the garden. I think I need to head back out to pick our okra. Did I mention that okra grows quickly around here?

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