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Here in the temperate climate, we get to sample a wide range of different temperatures, from frozen winters to scorching summers. With the changes in weather, we have to adjust things in our gardens. Just like many vegetables will not grow before the last frost, others are not necessarily into 90-degree heat. In other words, it’s important to plant the right stuff at the right time.
For summertime gardens, the pickings tend to be fruiting vegetables rather than leafy stuff. Kales, lettuces, and cabbages much prefer the cool of spring and autumn. However, there are many favorites to grow when it gets hot, and of course, it is always worth cultivating some extra and preserving that local, homegrown produce for the winter months.
Sweet potatoes like the hot weather, and in fact, they won’t tolerate frost. These vining plants are actually tropical perennials, and they are closely related to morning glories. Sweet potatoes are planted from slips (little sprouts that come from the potatoes) rather than seeds. It’s possible to make your own slips at home, but it can take about six weeks. That means it’s best to start this indoors in the spring so the plants can be put in the ground by June.
Peppers, be them the bell or the Picante variety, like it when things are hot. Though notoriously difficult to cultivate from seed (they need really warm soil and plenty of time), peppers are a favorite for gardeners. Luckily, for those not up to the challenge of starting from seed, it’s easy enough to buy established pepper plants at nurseries, and there isn’t the need for many in the garden.
A favorite vegetable of the south, particularly Louisiana, where gumbo wouldn’t be the same without it, okra wants the weather to be hot and stay that way. Okra is actually a member of the hibiscus family. Not only does it put out the signature pods, but the leaves are edible and pretty tasty. Once okra plants start giving fruit (often within a couple of months), it’s good to check for new pods every two or three days.
Melons, especially watermelons, just seem to go hand in sweet, juicy hand with the heat of summer. And, that makes perfect sense because they aren’t at all interested in any kind of cold weather. Melons grow in about three or four months, so it’s important to get them in the ground as soon as the weather allows. One vine can give many pounds of food.
Summer squashes, unsurprisingly, like summer weather. Truth be known, so do autumn squashes. Squash plants, period, don’t survive frosts. Summer squashes, however, are smaller and have thinner skin, so they fruit faster than the autumn and winter varieties. Squash plants are easy to grow and produce prolifically.
The reality is that cucumbers are in the same family as squash and melons, so it’s no great surprise that they, too, like hot weather. However, they provide a wonderful cool flavor to help us beat the heat. Cucumbers also save well as pickles, so growing them in abundance can help provide something nice to eat all year long.
With all the GMO and industrial agriculture stuff, corn has gotten a bad name, and that’s a shame. Few things are as absolutely delightful as fresh, homegrown sweet corn picked just minutes before it’s prepared. Once the weather warms up, corn is very easy to grow, so it’s worth ordering up a heritage or organic variety. Note: You’ll only be able to grow one type in the garden as corn cross-pollinates and doesn’t stay true to the seed.
Tomatoes, the home garden’s superstar, is actually a tropical plant, and when it’s in the right location, it’s a perennial plant as well. In temperate climates, however, we grow our tomatoes as annual crops, put in the ground once all frosts are gone, and harvested from until the first frosts arrive. Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, so they are very fun to experiment with. Plus, they are great for canning and dehydrating.
With the exception of a few beans (fava) and peas (green), legumes are hot weather plants. They are also special because many are nitrogen-fixing plants, which take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, increasing fertility. They come in both bush (a couple of feet high) and vining (several feet tall) varieties. Many are great for drying and storing for winter meals, and others are fantastic picked young and tender as green beans.
The heat of summer is one of the most productive times in the garden. Fruiting crops provide much more food poundage than those greens and root veggies that prefer the cooler weather. That makes for some very rewarding gardening.
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