Heat-lovin’ VEGETABLES
Several choice vegetables are just now coming into their prime growing season


July 17, 2008

By Roy Cook,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
As we move into the true heat of summer, a lot of the area gardeners move into the comfort of an air-conditioned home. But, there are a few of us that know the joy of gardening during the heat of summer.

Most likely, the vegetables you planted in the spring, like mine, are showing signs of stress from the heat. Even if the plants have a few blooms on them, they most likely will not set fruit because of the high summer temperatures. Some plants will not develop fruit when temps are above 90 degrees.

I have removed or am in the process of removing, heat-stressed, non-producing plants from my garden. All plants that are disease free go into the compost pile.
PHOTO CREDIT:  ROY COOK/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Southern peas, like these black eyes, planted the second week in June, can be grown during the summer months for pea production as well as their nitrogen fixing, soil building characteristics.
Purple hull peas, known for their purple hull color, like these in Master Gardener Roy Cook’s garden, are an excellent summer cover crop as well as a superb source of fresh peas for eating and canning.
Southern Peas or Cowpeas

There are several choice vegetables that are just now coming into their prime growing season. An old favorite is southern peas or cowpeas, which includes purple hulls, creams, crowders, and black eyes. These heat-loving vegetables are native to central Africa where they thrive under hot, humid conditions. You can continue to plant them throughout the summer.

Southern peas are legumes, which have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air through soil borne bacteria in nodules on their roots, enhancing the fertility of the soil. This makes them a good cover crop to grow in the summer even if you do not like to eat them.

Southern peas should be planted in a fertile, well-drained garden soil when the soil has warmed up to 70 degrees or above, typically from April through August. Plant the peas about 4 to 6 inches apart, and keep them well watered. If you are going to harvest and enjoy eating them, wait until the pods are well filled. If you are planting them just to improve the soil, till them under when they start to bloom.

Okra

Okra is another good one for our hot weather. The seeds have a hard seed coat and some gardeners have difficulty in getting them to germinate. To speed up germination, try soaking them overnight in water. Any seeds that are floating the next day can be discarded as they will not germinate. Once again, make sure you keep them well watered. Okra should be harvested every other day and sometimes everyday when the pods are young and tender. Okra pods more than 4 inches long will be tough. Some gardeners get skin irritations from okra as it secretes a sap that can be irritating. To be on the safe side, wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when working with it.

Eggplant

Eggplant doesn’t really prosper until the temps get into the 80s and 90s. Eggplant comes in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. They are usually very productive so one plant should produce enough for a family of four people. The plants should be planted in a sunny spot with well drained soil and should be staked as they can get large. The fruit needs to be harvested when it is still immature, large with a glossy skin. When the skin is dull looking, it is over mature and will be bitter.

If not veggies, then legumes

If black-eyed peas (or any other southern peas) and cornbread, fried eggplant, eggplant parmesan, fried okra or a pot of gumbo sound good to you, then summer gardening in this heat can be very productive and lots of fun. If none of these fit your fancy, plant legumes for soil enrichment or what is called a “green manure crop”, tilling them under as they mature. Remember to keep everything watered well and don’t forget to water yourself.

Look to Fall Production

Though often overlooked by the gardener, planting vegetables in July and August for fall production is an excellent practice. Mid-summer plantings of most vegetables will provide vigorous plants from which to harvest up to the first frost.

Prepare for next spring

Preparing your garden for next year is also very important. Even if you do not plan on doing any mid summer planting, or having a fall garden, now is the time to start cleaning up the non-producing crops from this year’s planting for next year. Salvage any usable produce and then remove and compost and mow off any spent crops or weeds and allow the chopped residue to dry. Heavily diseased and/or insect infested plants should be burned or put in the garbage to reduce the spread of pathogens. Weeds with seed heads should be disposed of in the garbage to prevent repopulating the garden with fresh seed.

If bed preparation and a green manure crop is done properly, it allows you to use less chemical fertilizers and create a better soil for growing your favorite crops. Never leave the soil uncovered for the weeds to take over and soil to compact. Use what nature gives us and keep those raked leaves out of the plastic bags and put them back into the soil.

Heat lovin’ or not –if at any time there is doubt in your mind, or you have any questions, contact the Victoria County Master Gardener Association or Texas AgriLife Extension Service – Victoria County office at 361-575-4581. There will be someone who loves to grow vegetables that can help.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or
vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.