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.

An ongoing and clandestine love affair

A green tomato waits for its moment in the sun.

This year, I swore no indoor seed growing.  Here’s why:

  • I really don’t have a place for them except the basement (where I’ll forget to water).
  • The seedlings get leggy from not enough light (although I use full spectrum, grow lights);
  • and quite frankly, I don’t wanna.

Photo of the urban community garden "Seeds" sign in North Carolina

After placing orders for those seeds I can direct sow (outdoors), I gathered up the  catalog multitude for recycling. Totally Tomatoes landed in a basket, and a small, lonely sigh escaped from within its depths.  I tried to ignore it, but then a tabbed page fell open to my deep, dark paramours.

Smitten by their charcoal beauty, I began leafing through their descriptions.

Carbon, Black Krim, Black from Tula, Japanese Black Truffle  or Trifele (new to me), Paul Robeson ((named after the African-American concert singer and activist) and Black Brandywine (more disease resistant in my garden than the original). Deep, rich, dark taste.  Sultry grace on a summer plate combined with an ability to co-mingle with the brighters colors in the tomato rainbow.  I confess we are in love, and, sadly, I’d nearly forgotten them.

Here, I would love to show a picture of one growing in my garden, but after looking through all of my photos, I discovered I don’t have a single one.  Apparently, I ate them too fast to take a picture.

As stated on the Cold Climate Tomato website, almost all of these originally hail from Russian locales.  I wonder if their darker color developed as a way to trap more sunlight.  At 75 to 80 days, many of them are mid-season tomatoes (another reason to love them).  They are indeterminate, and I like to grow a mix of determinate and indeterminate types.  Although black tomatoes were developed in a frigid climate, I’ve never had trouble growing them in Oklahoma (at least in those years when I could grow tomatoes at all).

Yes, I can buy plants of hybrids locally, but other than the now almost-ordinary Brandywine, heirlooms are bit hard to locate.  And, yes, I know I said hybrids will be my garden maintstays this year due to their built-in resistance to common diseases.  Ah, but the black tomatoes are nearly impossible to resist.

Carmen peppers, they're almost black

So, do I pull out the trays, or do I buy plants from Lisa Merrill, the Tomato Man’s Daughter?

That is the question.  She definitely has Carbon, Black Brandywine, Black from Tula and Cherokee Purple (which is nearly black).  I’m sorry Totally Tomatoes.  I’m taking the easy route this year and tearing up the asphalt to Tulsa.  I can also hit Whole Foods while I’m there.

Anyone up for a road trip?

She also has eggplant (the French aubergine is so much prettier don’t you think?) and pepper plants.  April 15, 2010 is her official opening day.

With all this bounty, my love can wait.