Burning questions about growing vegetables in Oklahoma

Basil and chard I saw planted for fall in an AZ garden.

Basil and chard I saw planted for fall in an AZ garden.

Hi Winter Weary Gardeners!

I’ve been perusing search terms on my blog stats for the past week, and it seems like you’re interested in three things:

1. Best vegetables to grow in Oklahoma.

2. Will anything grow in Oklahoma? I had to laugh. That’s a great question. I like to think so, but 2011 and 2012 were enough to try a gardener’s soul.

3. Do David Austin roses grow in Oklahoma and the hot and humid south? This is a compilation of several questions all revolving around David Austin roses. I’ve grown them for many years, and they like the east side of my house best so far. I do live out in the country so when it’s cold here, it’s really cold with only trees to block the wind. A couple of years ago, I tested three new cultivars in my garden, and here are the results. Hint: ‘Darcey Bussell’ is a rose I would grow anywhere. In addition to David Austin roses, there are lots of other roses you can successfully grow here too.

Rosa 'Darcey Bussell,' one of the best David Austin, English roses out there hands down.

Rosa ‘Darcey Bussell,’ one of the best David Austin, English roses out there hands down.

Let’s start with veggies, including some of the best and easiest vegetables to grow in the red dirt state. Also, you won’t need this until later, but here’s how you pollinate squash. Lettuce is one of my favorite spring vegetables. What are your favorite seeds? What new varieties will you try this year? When I leaf through catalogs, the paper ones and online, I look for lettuces from Israel and Australia. In Oklahoma, we need spring crops that will endure some heat and quickly mature. Sometimes, though, I’m still lured into buying seed or a plant because of its history. I’ve always been a sucker for a good story so I am growing ‘Grandpa Admire’s’ butterhead lettuce this year. It’s named after George Admire, who was born in 1822 and was a Civil War veteran. His descendants saved this lettuce seed over the years and donated it to the Seed Savers Exchange in the 1970s. It is extremely slow bolting.

A salad I made last spring from my garden.

A salad I made last spring from my garden.

Other lettuces are:

Container-loving ‘Ruby and Emerald Duet’ and ‘Jade Gem’ both from Renee’s Garden
Heirloom ‘Kagraner Sommer’–heat tolerant
‘Drunken Woman’ from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Two mesclun favorites: ‘Monet’s Garden Mesclun’–so pretty and ‘Q’s Special Medley’ from Botanical Interests.
‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ is a favorite of mine. I always grow it.
‘Capitan,’a Dutch greenhouse variety that has both excellent and heat and cold tolerance.
‘Susan’s Red Bibb’ because it is beautiful.

Chinese mustard is a beautiful vegetable in the garden. It contrasts with green spinach and lettuces.

Chinese mustard is a beautiful vegetable in the garden. It contrasts with green spinach and lettuces.

I also grow a lot of other greens. A favorite last year was Chinese giant red mustard shown above. It is beautiful growing and has a peppery taste. Good in salads and to border early flower gardens of larkspur, calendula and nasturtiums and poppies. There’s also ‘Toy Choy’ bok choy, pak choi, ‘Spicy Green’ mustard, rocket–a favorite of English and French chefs, a quick Asian stir fry blend I’ll try, ‘Spring Rapini’ broccoli raab from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, heirloom ‘Giant Nobel’ spinach, ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ spinach and multi-colored Swiss chard.

Red nasturtium

Red nasturtium

Other cool crops are: ‘Purple Plum,’ ‘Chinese Red Meat’ and ‘Pink Beauty’ radishes, ‘Progess #9 peas–which need to go in NOW–, ‘Oregon Giant’ snow peas and ‘Cylindra’ beets.

While you’re ordering seeds though, think also about summer crops. Some should be started inside about the same time you plant your cold crops outdoors. Early spring is a busy time for gardeners.

What do you and your family like to eat? I like corn, green beans, eggplant, summer squash, peppers, etc. I’m trying sweet peppers, ‘Bullnose’ and ‘Lipstick,’ and a whole host of caliente peppers:

‘Cayenne Long Thin’
‘Grandpa’s Home’
‘Caloro’ described as a yellow jalapeno.
‘Chile de Arbol’
Poblano, just because I love them. They are fantastic chopped up and sautéed with onions for scrambled eggs. They are also wonderful stuffed or roasted.

Take the stamen and gently rub the pollen onto the female squash blossom.

Take the stamen and gently rub the pollen onto the female squash blossom.

For green beans, I’ll be sowing ‘Harvester’ and ‘Landreth Stringless’ bush beans. I find that bush beans perform better than pole beans in hot Oklahoma. I’m not sure why.
I plant ‘Early Gold Summer Crookneck’ squash because it is more resistant to squash vine borer and squash bugs. I’m trying ‘Caserta’ and ‘Constata Romanesco’ zucchini from Sustainable Seed Company. Last year, I grew zucchini ‘Gray’ which is similar, and it was very resistant to squash bug damage. I bought seeds for ‘Dagon’s Egg’ cucumber, ‘Golden Jenny’ melons, Burmese okra–but I saved seeds of my own red okra too. Three eggplants, so far, have stolen my heart and pocketbook: ‘Fengyuan Purple,’ ‘Rosa Bianca’ and ‘Jade Sweet.’ Of these, I’ve only grown ‘Rosa Bianca’ before.

Lumpy Red tomato

‘Lumpy Red’ tomato, an indeterminate heirloom that made beautiful lumpy tomatoes all summer.

Tomatoes have their own section.

‘Goldman’s Italian American’
‘Lizzano Cherry’
‘Aussie,’ Indeterminate and from Australia, the land of hot summers. We shall see.
‘Cherokee Purple’ a standard heirloom for Oklahoma.
‘San Marzano Tall’ I’m not sure why I chose this one.
‘Vintage Wine’ has a deep chocolate red color. Darker tomatoes often perform well here. It also has green stripe. I’m a sucker for the weird and wonderful of vegetables.
‘Thessalonkj’ is a Greek variety with dense foliage to protect the fruit from the sun.
‘Coyote.’ What can I say? I like the name.

Last year, ‘Lumpy Red’ and ‘Park’s Improved Whopper’ were wonderful. ‘Sweet Gold’ cherry tomato and the heirloom, ‘Marianna’s Peace’ were also special. They simply ignored the hot weather. However, I started my tomatoes and other seeds earlier than usual which helped. I recently read the most interesting article by Jeff Cox called, “The earliest tomatoes” in The Heirloom Gardner magazine–put out by Baker Creek. He gave me much food for thought about getting fruit even earlier. I think sowing early with plant protection is the key to successful gardening in our current climate.

'Park's Whopper Improved' tomato was a determinate variety that kept me in tomatoes all summer.

‘Park’s Whopper Improved’ tomato was a determinate variety that kept me in tomatoes all summer.

I listed one melon above, but it’s also time to think about watermelons if you like them. I find them challenging to grow so I’ll just visit Rush Springs for the watermelon festival or buy them from the side of the road. I live at a country crossroads so someone is always selling watermelon, squash and tomatoes if we have a decent summer.

When my stats starting rising in January, I understood exactly how you feel. Our warm weather has given everyone the garden itch. Well, February can be a tease so I understand. Still, I wish we could ask ourselves and our gardens to wait. Our climate is so confusing now. When I first began gardening thirty years or so ago, we waited until the end of February to plant some of our cold vegetable crops. We planted potatoes before St. Patrick’s Day. Last year, however, I sowed seeds for kale, spinach, lettuce, beets, turnips, tatsoi mid-February at the latest. In fact, I’ll have a lot of my seed in this week. Row covers are ready for freezes. Cold crops are pretty hardy, but if we get an early dose of summer heat, they are toast. So, it’s important to plant them as soon as possible and watch the weather.

I know this looks like a lot of seeds, and there are many. Some I receive from companies because I’m a member of the Garden Writers Association. I also get seeds because I blog. I buy a lot too. You should see my Visa bill. It’s an addiction. I’ll just plant what I can and not worry about the rest because they’ll keep. You do the same and enjoy this good weather we’re having. Summer will be here soon enough.

I’ll try to tackle the other questions in another post. Enjoy searching, but don’t forget to order your seeds and start sowing. I’ll also be starting even more seeds indoors this year. In order to get the drifts of color I want, I’ll need to grow some of my own cottage flowers and of course, vegetables.

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19 comments on “Burning questions about growing vegetables in Oklahoma

  1. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening

    Wow, what a lot of good information! I think looking at climates similar to yours–Israel and Australia, in your case–for varieties to try is a good idea.

  2. brenda

    I grew Granpa Admire’s and Susan’s Red Bibb lettuce last year and it did pretty well where I live. It was very, very good. You can’t beat good greens!

    1. Dee Nash

      Glad to hear you liked them Brenda. I’m looking forward to trying new things this year, and greens are hard to beat. 🙂

  3. Marie at the Lazy W

    Woohoo!! Hi Dee! Loved this and shared it on Facebook. I adore your photos of springtime salads with flowers added. So pretty, so old fashioned and fresh at once. Thanks for the specifics plant names, very useful!! I am ITCHING to get seedlings big and fluffy, also a bit sad about Horn Seed still, so seed sources are on my radar.

    1. Dee Nash

      Thank you Marie. I love flowers as food too, and they make a spring salad sing.

      I am also sad about Horn Seed, but they were put in a tight spot after the fire.

  4. Joanne Drayson

    Hi Dee I am passionate about roses and most of mine are David Austin about 45 plus about 15 ramblers from D Austin.

    By all means use the photo no need to ask but can you mention my crusade to raise awareness of Lyme Disease and to read information on my blog. Thanks

    1. Dee Nash

      Joanne, thank you. Of course I will. I didn’t realize how many David Austin roses you have.~~Dee

        1. Dee Nash

          Thanks Joanne!

  5. VP

    The searches which arrive at my blog often make me chuckle. I quite often write a blog post to answer them 😉

    ‘Drunken Woman’ has to be my favourite lettuce name of all time 🙂

    Do you mind if I link to this for my ‘Salad Days’ series in a couple of weeks time? You have lots of good recommendations which will be of interest to my ‘Salad Challengers’. I see regular contributor Donna’s going to make use of them already.

    1. Dee Nash

      VP, I’d be honored. Of course, you can link to me. How fun.~~Dee

  6. Lucy Corrander

    Readers get directed to my blog for all sorts of irrelevant reasons. They won’t find their answers to questions about musical bands or tractors, not even greenhouse layout (t’s a wild flower and hedgerow blog – not a greenhouse in sight!). And I worry about all the people trying to find out about a fungus that looks like pasta – I did write about it once . . . to say I don’t know what it’s called. However, I hope, having arrived, they enjoy browsing! Your enquirers really do get proper answers! I realise, though, that I’d go wrong in an instant – I’d ignore your advice about finding appropriate varieties and choose almost exclusively by name. Aren’t there wonderful ones!

    1. Dee Nash

      Yes, Lucy, there definitely are. That’s how I ended up with Drunken Woman.

  7. I will have to note some of the interesting lettuces as I love to try new ones all the time to mix it up!

    1. Dee Nash

      Donna, I’m always up for something new.

  8. Les

    Should it rather be “which vegetables don’t burn in Oklahoma”? I sure hope that after the past summers you have had, that 2013 at least approaches normal.

    1. Dee Nash

      Yes Les, let’s hope. I’m ready for a better year.

  9. Robin Lambert

    I am going to take your tomatoes and run with them. I’ve grown beefsteaks and Cherokee purples pretty sucessfully~ I’m going to try your parks Whopper as well!

    1. Dee Nash

      Robin, I love Beefsteak and Cherokee Purple. Both are great tomatoes. Get the Parks Whopper Improved or II. They are even better at disease resistance.