Best and easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma

The vegetable patch at the beginning of July, 2012
A tomato (left) and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce growing in the potager.
A tomato (left) and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce growing in the potager (kitchen garden.)

On my stats page, I’ve noticed I’m getting a lot of searches for which vegetables grow best in Oklahoma.  First let me say, growing anything in Oklahoma is a dare.  You never know if spring will suddenly end, and 108F weather will linger for days; or, whether a hail storm or a tornado will foul things up.  Oh, and God bless the freakin’ deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels.  What they don’t eat, they dig up and tear apart.

Whew!  Now, with those caveats, the following are my best picks for the easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma.

  • Lettuce. Get it in early enough (plant seeds outdoors at the end of February), and you will have success.  Spinach isn’t always so accommodating.  Lettuce grows very well in containers, so if you have even a small balcony, you can also have fresh salads.  The leaf, bibb and romaine types are the easiest in that order.  Black Seeded Simpson is a classic.
  • Kale and Chard. Plant seeds the same time as lettuce.  One word:  easy.

    Red chard is beautiful, tasty and good for you.
    Red chard is beautiful, tasty and really good for you.
  • Green or Spring onions. Plant onion sets (those little bulbs you see at the nursery) at the same time you plant your lettuce.  Again, simple and easy.
  • Snow peas and peas with edible pods.  Both of these types of peas are easily grown in Oklahoma.  Shelling peas are a bit harder because our spring can suddenly quit before the pods are fully filled out.
  • Most herbs love containers, so they are another good deck or balcony choice.  I usually buy one or two basil plants to get a head start and then plant seeds.  There are many, different types of basil.  Get the one you want for the type of cooking you like.  I’m especially fond of Genovese and Thai basil, but  I grow many others.  All are good.  Parsley, both curly and flat, is easy.  So are the many thymes.  The only one I’ve ever had trouble with is fuzzy thyme.  It wouldn’t grow for me.  Sage is easily grown and is perennial.  I found oregano to be invasive in my garden, so I would only grow it in a container.  All the mints are bad boys who want to take over, so again, use containers.  I especially like spearmint and chocolate mint.  Rosemary is a tender perennial here.  Sometimes it overwinters and sometimes not.  It is lovely in roasted chicken.  So is sage.

    Culinary sage is pretty in the garden.
    Culinary sage is pretty in the garden.
  • Summer squash.  What would summer in Oklahoma be without summer squash sauteed, wok fried, or fried like my Grandma Nita used to do?  Our family loves zucchini, yellow crookneck and straight neck and spaghetti squash.  I’m trying a couple of other varieties this year too.  We’ll see how they perform in my sunny potager.  Just remember to pick them small.  No one likes baseball-bat-sized zucchini.
  • Tomatoes.  Set out plants well after the last frost date (approx. April 20).  If you’re an inexperienced gardener, stick with those which have symbols for built-in disease resistance.  This will often be listed on the tag as a group of letters.  You’ll just save yourself a lot of time and agony.  Heirlooms do taste wonderful, but so does almost any homegrown tomato compared to that in the store.  I find heirlooms are often harder to grow with the exception of Cherokee Purple and Arkansas Traveler.  They generally perform well here.  My other picks are:  Super Fantastic, Park’s Whopper, Rutgers (often listed as an heirloom, but it was developed at Rutgers University, so I don’t know), Beefsteak and Supersteak for my slicers; Roma and Roma II are okay for a paste tomato; Celebrity is early, but not a fave of mine.  For cherry tomatoes, Supersweet 100, Sungold (the best yellow ever; wish I could find it), Yellow Pear, Chocolate Cherry and Sweet Million.  Cherry tomatoes are generally easy and adapt well to container gardening.
  • Beans, especially green beans are oh-so-easy.  The easiest for me are the bush beans like Contender and the regular Blue Lake.  I found the improved Blue Lakes had less vigor.  I don’t know why.  Sometimes you can’t improve on a good thing.
  • Melons like cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon are simple fruits to grow in our heat.  Their blooms are also beloved by pollinators. Our favorite cantaloupe is Ambrosia.  I like Moon and Stars watermelon, but I’m trying a couple of other varieties this year.
  • Pumpkins and other winter squash are pretty simple to grow too.  They require a long warm season to develop, so read the package to make sure you get your squash planted at just the right moment.  You don’t want the pumpkins to ripen before Halloween.
  • Potatoes, most any kind do well if you plant them by St. Patrick’s Day, easy to remember because he’s one of the patron saints of Ireland.  I like new, red potatoes so that’s the type I grow.  I always eat them before they get to full size.  I must have something with my green beans.

    Best and easiest vegetables to grow in Oklahoma.
    Potatoes and asparagus. No, you’re not supposed to grow them together. Long story.
  • Okra, a relative of hibiscus, which adores our weather, needs its space, but it is also easy to grow.  Just remember to pick it daily once it starts forming pods.  Large pods are tough customers no one wants to eat.
  • Corn is wonderful if you can keep it from the raccoons.  I especially love the variety Bodacious.
  • Strawberries.  Takes about three years before you get a decent berry crop.  You’re supposed to pinch off the blossoms the first summer, and yes, I know it’s hard, but your berries will produce better in the following year.

That’s all I can think of for now.  This year, try growing some of your own veggies, you’ll be amazed at the taste.  Just start with a small raised garden.  I saw a couple of kits at Lowe’s this week.  Put down some black landscape cloth, buy decent soil, and plant a few seeds or plants.  Then, just water and wait.  You’ll thank me in a month or two.  Oh, and be sure to plant a few flowers for the pollinators.  The flowers are pretty and lure them in next to your veggies.

Dear friends and gardeners, 2010, week one

Does anyone remember the series of letters Carol from May Dreams Gardens and Mary Ann from Gardens of the Wild, Wild West and I wrote to each other last summer profiling our vegetable gardens?  We enjoyed our comparisons, and hope you did too, because we’re doing it again this year.  If you like, feel free to do something similar with your friends like plant the same variety of a particular vegetable or flower and compare notes.  Think of it as a weekly “Dear Friend and Gardener” meme.

Dear Carol and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

I sit in my cozy kitchen/office typing as I watch the sun rise in all its golden glory.  Yesterday, the north wind wasn’t too biting, so I got outside for the second time this year.  For me, and many other gardeners across the U.S., winter has stayed way past its welcome.  I can’t wait for even milder temperatures and the end of snow before planting, or I might miss the window of opportunity.  However, I admit the rain and snow have done my garden good.  The soil was nice and damp, but not too wet.  Like Goldilocks would say, it was just right.

Plan of the potager; the centerpiece is a fountain.

We haven’t finished building the new, kitchen potager, but hope to by the time it is tomato and pepper planting time (i.e., end of April or early May).  The bad economy took some of the oomph our of monetary sails, so we’re taking it slow.  We want to use tumbled, concrete pavers (because stone is cost prohibitive for this Oklahoma gardener) to edge the beds.  The red, brick walks between won’t cost anything except labor, because we recycled them from a paving job, and that’s where we’ll start first.

The weather hasn’t cooperated either, but the plan is drawn, and we’re doing it in stages.  At one end, is a greenhouse facing the garden.  A fountain, maybe a blue urn, will be the centerpiece and attract wildlife.  I saw one in an ornamental bed in Oklahoma Gardening’s studio garden, and I’d like to do something similar.  Here’s a shot which I took in September 2009 of their fountain.

Blue fountain surrounded by yellow lantana at the Oklahoma Gardening studio gardens

I have room in the back garden for my early spring crops.  It doesn’t get crowded until later.  Yesterday, I did some clearing and trimmed up a couple of roses.  Then, I planted.  In honor of my beloved Grandma Nita, I’m growing Alaska shelling peas.  Since the weather has been so cool, I’m hoping I’ll have time to reap a nice harvest.  Some years, warmth comes too quickly, and the peas don’t fill out their pods.  These, I planted along the north fence where I hope they’ll clamber with a bit of help.  HH did some fence repairs screwing the rails into some of the posts.  We also replaced a broken rail at the end of the garden.  I noticed my blueleaf honeysuckle was planted too close to a ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose, so I moved it before it broke dormancy.  I also dug up some old daylilies I no longer want.

The other seeds I planted were Little Finger baby carrots, Lacinato Nero Toscana kale, Early Wonder beets, Petrowski turnips, Tatsoi mustard, Bourdeaux spinach, three kinds of lettuce: Red Sails, De Morges Braun and Marvel of Four Seasons.  I still have my potatoes, snow peas, swiss chard, dwarf pak choy, and onions to get in the ground.  After today, the weather is supposed to be nice again.  I also realized I didn’t plant any Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, so I’ll need to buy some.  Weren’t we also going to plant Speckled Troutback (a/k/a Forellenschluss) lettuce together this year to see how it performs across our three zones?  I’ll get a packet of it too at TLC Nursery.  They have a lot of seed varieties.

Eating their favorite scratch. The white rooster on the left is Alex.

Also wanted to let you know the chickens are doing great and eating us out of house and home.  They should be laying eggs soon, and I’ll show you the different colors of the brown and rainbow eggs.  Remember cute, little Alex?  He’s the big, white rooster on the left.

Just getting out in the sun and touching the crumbly soil with my hands did this gardener good.  Oh, and I saw the first crocus of the season.  How are things in your neck of the woods?