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, April 12, 2010

Black Hero and Silverado tulips planted amidgst daylily foliage

Dear Carol, Mary Ann and all other gardening friends,

I hope you had a good weather week. Other than the hail on April 6th, and the one cold, but not freezing night, I think we are “go” for spring. A couple of the tomatoes I planted too early have succumbed to hail damage. I knew I was planting them before I should, but I’d watched the weather for low nights and found none. Who expected a stupid hail storm? Not I.

The first bed planted in the potager

So, today, I will pull them up, take the tags back to the store and buy new plants. Lesson learned again. Just wait.  Although, we could still get another hail storm.

Meanwhile, most of the lettuces are on to their second set of leaves, and I planted a salad bowl on the deck with a few varieties including ‘Forellenschuss’ and a mix from Renee’s called Garden Babies, a butter head type.

The onions are also recovering from the hail which makes me glad, and the garden has a more full appearance than it did even a week ago.  We can now plant beans, summer squash, corn, cucumbers and other warm weather seeds.  I’ll get right on that.

The lilacs are starting to bloom, and they serenade me as I plant and weed.

A couple of new seed varieties I’m trying is Dragon Tongue bush bean, Little Dumpling and Tatume squashes, along with Little Fingers eggplant.  In fact, I’m growing three varieties of eggplant, and if I find Fairy Tale somewhere, I’ll grow it too.  Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables especially the Thai and other Asian varieties.

As for squash, I think I counted nine varieties, some winter and some summer.  Yes, I’m a bit obsessed, but who cares?

Til next time,