Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer Garden Plants for the Desert

Corn, a great late summer crop for the desert garden.
Here in the Sonoran Desert gardening is quite different from what typical temperate gardens.  The summer heat and sun intensity are so extreme most summer plants of the temperate region, such as cucumber and tomatoes, are easily scorched by the sun and killed.  It can be difficult growing some of these plants without shade.  Corn is another example of a crop that doesn't produce well in the summer.  The corn plant absolutely loves the heat and sun of the desert, and certain varieties can tolerate the dryness as well.   Oddly though, producing corn cobs with seed in them can be a huge problem in the summer though.  Heat and dryness can cause a major problem with pollination, preventing seeds from growing on a cob.  It is quite disappointing to plant corn in April, May, or June then to have it tassel and produce silks during the peak of the summer, only to produce cobs without hardly any seed on them.  The reason for this is that the dryness causes corn silks to dry-out before they can be pollinated.  Temperatures round 100 degrees or higher also kill corn pollen.  Both of these things always result in extremely poor corn production.

Despite this, corn is a great desert crop.  It does well with the heat, intense sun, and dryness.  To make it productive however, you just have to plant it at the right time of year.  The most productive times to plant corn are in early March so the corn is done pollinating before temperatures consistently break the 100 degree mark.  With the year round growing season a second crop of corn can be planted in late July, after the extreme heat of summer has passed and once the monsoon rains start.  If planted in this way to avoid pollination during the extreme heat of the summer corn can be extremely productive in the desert.  Even at the ideal times of year though corn production can be greatly helped by hand pollination.
Okra, another great desert summer crop.
Okra is another garden plant that seems to love everything about growing in a desert summer garden.  It doesn't need extreme amounts of water and it absolutely thrives in the extreme heat and intense sun.  In-fact, it seems the more sun and heat Okra can get the faster it grows and the more it produces.  If planted in March, Okra will begin producing in May and continue with harvests through the end of October.  During peak production, say June through September, okra will need to be harvested every other day or so.  The odd thing about okra is that if you don't harvest it, it will stop producing.  So the more often you pick the more it will produce.  Unfortunately, okra can be quite irritating to harvest with its prickles which sort of remind me of stinging nettles.  The prickles are probably worse for me than most people though being I am allergic to the plant and it can make my sinuses and eyes go crazy.
Armenian cucumbers, an unbelievable summer crop for the desert garden.
Armenian cucumbers are the last amazing summer garden crop I will mention here.  These are different from regular cucumbers and are actually a type of melon.  They taste somewhat like a cross between a cucumber and a melon without the sweetness.  As with okra, armenian's don't need huge amounts of water and they absolutely love the summer heat and sun.  The more they can get the better.  A single armenian cucumber plant can easily overtake a whole garden and produce tens of pounds more than any family could ever eat.  For some reason, some plants don't always do well in my experience.  But plants that become established can simply go crazy.  Their productivity is simply amazing.  If planted in May, they seem to do best July through September.

I have also found that certain varieties of summer and winter squash also do well through most of the summer.  Summer squash especially can be a great producer but generally need more water than the above mentioned crops.  Beans also, especially bush beans don't seem to mind the heat at all.  If anyone knows of other crops that grow well in the desert summer heat and sun I would love to know about it.

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