Vegetable gardening is a lot more fun when you are successful. Picking baskets of tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplants, and other herbs and vegetables makes the heart sing. From marvelous roasted vegetables and stir-frys to excellent canning to sharing extra with friends, a bounty from the garden is rewarding.
Written by Jackie Meinecke
However, achieving such bounty in our desert climate is challenging – though not impossible. We can mitigate the damage of intense sun and heat if we situate our garden beds and containers for some afternoon shade or create shade; water efficiently but generously; mulch and fertilize; and choose plants that shrug off the heat.
I’ve also found it improves production to create raised beds and use a square foot garden model. A raised bed allows a gardener to create rich, loose soil that holds water more efficiently and that most vegetables prefer (since none are native to the Chihuahuan desert). Raised beds also are easier to weed and harvest.
Choosing heat tolerant vegetables for your garden can be the difference between success and failure in the Southwest. Even within the various plant cultivars, some tolerate heat better than others. For most vegetables, the best growth and fruit set occurs between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Many vegetables will not produce much in the hottest temperatures, but will begin production again as soon as the temperature drops back below 90 degrees.
When reading descriptions in catalogs or on tags in the nurseries, look for vegetables with the following qualities to determine hardiness in summer heat:
• Short- to midseason maturity. Vegetables that flower early and reach the picking stage sooner can be harvested before our hottest days. Also look for vegetables that mature in the fewest number of days.
• Disease resistance. Early blight spreads easily in hot climates, especially look for powdery mildew and nematode resistance.
• Small fruit. Larger types of vegetables require more time for ripening, so it’s best to plant the small and medium-sized varieties in our desert – especially with tomatoes.
Many gardeners are most interested in growing tomatoes, since nothing in the grocery stores even comes close to the flavor of a fresh, from the garden tomato. In addition to looking for hardiness and disease resistance on tomato descriptions, gardeners should decide if they want determinate or indeterminate tomatoes.
Both varieties have their uses. However, I recommend the indeterminate variety because most years, we’ll get two crops of tomatoes from these – an early summer and a fall crop.
Here is a quick look at some vegetable plants that withstand hot days:
• Armenian cucumbers
• Black-eyed peas
• Eggplant Globe/Italian such as Black Beauty or Japanese
• Malabar spinach
• New Zealand Spinach
• Peppers, sweet (such as Sweet banana peppers)
• Peppers, hot (such as Jalapeno and Habanero)
• Summer squash
• Sweet Potatoes
Determinate varieties of tomatoes set their crop one time, which is great for canning, but not so great for long term harvesting.
We should not forget some of the wonderful herbs that flavor our summer, and, often, our winter dishes. Basil, oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary thrive in our summer garden, and many produce year round in our gardens. These herbs can be planted in pots, flowerbeds or among the vegetables in the vegetable garden.
Even experienced gardeners can have a rough year vegetable gardening in the Southwest. However, if you select your plants well and attend to the needs of the vegetable garden, you will always have success with something. It may not be the summer for tomatoes, but you may have a huge crop of squash and eggplant. So accept the vegetable gardening challenge and bring fresh food to your table. Once you’ve tasted the flavors, you will treasure your vegetable garden, whether it is a single pot or large plot.
Tomatoes that produce despite hot days:
Better Boy: Indeterminate, 75 days, red, large, VFNASt
Big Beef: Indeterminate, 73 days, red, medium size, VFFNTASt
Celebrity: Indeterminate, 70 days, red, medium, VFFNTA
Early Girl: Indeterminate 50 days, red, medium, VFF
Green Zebra: Indeterminate, heirloom, 78 days, green, small
Homestead 24: Determinate, 80 days, red, medium, FA
Husky Red Cherry: Dwarf indeterminate, 65 days, red, cherry, VFA
Juliet Roma Grape: Indeterminate, 60 days, red, small
Marvel Striped: Indeterminate, heirloom, 95 days, bi-color, beefsteak
Roma VF: Determinate, 75 days, red, paste, VF
Tomato Disease Resistance Codes
V Verticillium Wilt
F Fusarium Wilt
FF Fusarium, races 1 and 2
T Tobacco Mosaic Virus
St Stemphylium (Gray Leaf Spot)