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.

Dear Friends and Gardeners Week Six

Butterflies appreciate trumpet shaped flowers
Butterflies appreciate trumpet shaped flowers

Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I’m a bit late with my letter this evening.  We had an Easter soiree with thirty members of our family at my house today.  Also, thunderstorms flashing with lightning blasted through the state last night, and my Internet connection was down all day.  I just fixed it.

Rain, glorious rain fell nearly all day today.  Although it spoiled the outdoor egg hunt, no one here was sad.  We hunted  in the basement and the living room instead.  Thursday night, Oklahoma had historic fires all over the state, and 190 homes and businesses were destroyed.  The rain stamped out any remaining hot spots.   I discovered today from my niece that Tony’s Tree Farm (the landscaper who helped me with my front yard) burned to the ground.  I can’t tell you how sad this makes me.

I should go out and check the rain guage, but ‘er, no.  I took a shower, and now I’m in my jammies.  I don’t intend to move from the couch until I go to bed.

Last week, I didn’t spend much time in the garden.  The weather wasn’t the best (too much wind), and all of my children were ill with different maladies.  I was also busy preparing for the Easter party.  The kids were surprised that I spend so much time at the computer.  I explained that I write while they’re at school.  They don’t realize I work during the day.  It was quite enlightening for them.

Mid-week, I repotted most of my tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings into larger containers.  They were becoming leggy.  Luckily, you can plant tomatoes all the way up to their necks, and they will sprout roots along the stem.  I think, next year, that although the Burpee Eco pots warmed up faster than the Cow Pots, I’ll forgo the Burpee Eco pots.  Once the Cow Pots and the other larger containers caught up, they’ve done better overall.

While I was taking the two trays of Burpee cells and repotting them, I noticed that the seedlings in one tray were  significantly smaller and more puny looking.  I didn’t know why until I tore apart the cells.  Suddenly, I was swarmed by tiny, black ants, and they were everywhere.   They’d created a condo within and underneath the cells.  No wonder my poor plants weren’t doing very well.  Their growing space was housing baby ants.  It was all very interesting right up to the point where I washed all of them down the sink.  Now, I wonder if the tomatoes will regroup in their new containers with new soil.  It remains to be seen.  Please don’t be horrified about the ants.  I live in the country, and I often encounter all kinds of insects both indoors and out.

I’m still taking the seedlings outside to harden them off before planting them, probably in a week or so.  It depends on the weather.  I’m not planting them outside until I’m sure they will have the right conditions to survive.  I do think the freezes are behind us, but the soil still needs to warm.  I visited Guthrie Greenhouse yesterday though, and they had a lot of heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables.  I began to wonder why I was working so hard with my own seeds.

I did plant some basil seeds in the containers on the deck, and I planted a few flower seeds too:  bachelor buttons, Nicotiana and evening stock.

Yellow petunias and Lobelia
Yellow petunias and Lobelia

I bet you’re wondering about the Diva and the containers out front.  Well, in spite of feeling lousy with an infection, she went with me and my credit card to the local box store where she picked out the plants, and I paid for them.  Since this was her project, I didn’t interfere.  I only told her the area was in shade and needed a “thriller, filler and spiller.”  Then, I pushed the basket and followed her around the store.  She pointed to an orange Asiatic lily.

“Is that was a thriller?”

Kind of, I thought.   I cringed a little when I thought how it needed sun, and that the blooms wouldn’t last long in a container.  However, I said “Yes, it is.”

She then moved on to the petunias.  The Diva, like her father, loves petunias.  I don’t as a rule, because the Oklahoma wind is very hard on them.  I do like Proven Winners Supertunias.  They perform very well in Oklahoma.  She chose yellow ones.  Yellow petunias still seem a little odd to me, like blue roses, but they were her containers.

After the petunias, she chose a red Calibrochoa.  It was interesting that she chose only trumpet shaped blooms.  She also limited her selections to yellow, orange and red flowers, until the very end, when she tilted her pretty head.

“Why does it look so bland?” she asked.

“How about adding something purple to offset all of the flowers so close to each other on the color wheel?” I suggested.

“I don’t like purple,” she said.

“How about blue?”

“O.K.,” she said, as she plunked a couple of Lobelia into the cart.  I suggested she buy a couple more, but she didn’t feel well, and she was done.

The Diva's container
The Diva's container

The next day, I planted them for her and thought they looked pretty good, although they could use a little more blue, or perhaps, purple.  (Cue laugh track.)

Til next week, dear friends.