Only the strong survive

Survivors, the strong ones, the pioneers, the natives . . . am I speaking of people or plants? The same rules apply. You gotta be tough to make it out here.

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on ‘Ambrosia’ melon. Thanks for the i.d. from Gardens With Wings.

Perhaps, as the song says, “Only the good die young,” but I don’t think so. Instead, Billy Joel should sing, “Only the strong survive.”

Sometimes, they even thrive.

This year, in the vegetable garden, I purposely chose varieties from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I figured seeds grown in the south were the ones most likely to survive a summer from Hades. Then, I was lucky enough to meet Ira Wallace at the Garden Bloggers Fling in Asheville. Unfortunately, I was so busy conversing with her I forgot to get her photo. Ira is charming and thoughtful, and I understand why her company does so well. She writes for her own website and for Mother Earth News. Talking to her made me want to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello this year. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I’d like to try.

‘Bowling Red’ okra is as pretty as most flowers in the ornamental garden.

I sowed two kinds of red okra seeds: ‘Hill Country Heirloom Red’ and ‘Bowling Red.’ Both have been extremely productive, and they are pretty because they are red on the plant and cook up green. However, I won’t plant the first again because it gets tough too early. ‘Bowling Red’ will be my choice. A gorgeous plant and wonderful okra. I unabashedly love okra. My whole family does.

Hamburger patty with squash and sun-dried tomato risotto, sliced tomato and stuffed, fried squash blossom. All the vegetables were from the garden.

As for squash, I planted a gray zucchini from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. Again, they are out originally out of southern Missouri so I figured our weather isn’t all that different in summer. This summer it’s been more hot there than usual in fact. I’ve so enjoyed Zucchini ‘Gray’ I will grow it again next year. Tender skinned with sweet flesh, it is a winner whether you eat it raw, fry it, stir fry it, fritter it, eat the blossoms, etc.

As for yellow squash, you can’t beat the heirloom crookneck for flavor. Just pick them small. I did something different this year. I didn’t plant squash seeds until I was sure I would be home to patrol full time for squash bugs. It’s worked so far. I control adults by catching them early in the morning when they are slower moving, and I throw them in soapy water. They drown almost immediately. Today, I found some squash bug nymphs. They were too numerous to squish, so I did spray them with a soap and pyrethrin spray at the base of the plant, being very careful not to spray it anywhere the bees are. I use a hand spray bottle and don’t wet all of the foliage. I direct it just to the squash bugs nymphs. This spray is an organic control, but will harm bees if you spray them directly. I do not spray unless I can’t catch the bugs, and I make sure all bees vacate the area by gently shaking the plants. I also applied diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants, and every morning, I clear all dead foliage or debris. Adult squash bugs are the grayish color of diseased foliage and blend in with it. You can also lay a 2 x 4 in your garden, and sometimes, the adults will hide beneath it. Knock them into the water. They move slow in the mornings like me.

I also grew corn rather unsuccessfully. I think I got it in too late. One thing I’ve learned from this summer is we need to start our gardens earlier in spite of worrying about late frosts and freezes. I think our weather is changing at least in the short term, and perhaps, long term. I should have planted the corn three weeks earlier than I did, but Bill was plowing up a space for me, and life got in the way. I tried ‘Peaches & Cream’ sugary enhanced variety and another one I can’t recall.

Tomatoes have been easy and lovely until recently. Yesterday was 109F so I expect blossom drop now. Tomatoes don’t set fruit with temperatures above 100F, and it appears we will continue to have these for awhile. However, here’s the lineup of those varieties doing well:

‘Arkansas Traveler’ started pumping out pinkish tomatoes early and often. Still, I won’t plant it again. I hate the taste. Don’t hate on me, but it’s simply BORING!

‘Homestead’ a lovely red, semi-determinant tomato developed in the 1950s for the south. It’s been great.

‘Lumpy Red’ was the earliest, mainstay tomato, and it’s wonderful. Great acid/sweet balance.

‘Sun Sugar,’ a golden orange cherry tomato has kept me in strong supply all summer. Amazing really. I’ve eaten it for snacks, breakfast, froze some like marbles, etc.

‘Sungold,’ another yellow cherry I planted just in case ‘Sun Sugar’ didn’t perform. It started later and isn’t as sweet.

‘Rutgers,’ a “general use” tomato with plenty of bite. Although considered an heirloom, it was developed in 1934 by Lyman Schermerhorn at Rutgers University.

‘Black Krim’ was purchased at a half-price sale because I’ve grown it successfully before. It has settled in, and I hope it will make tomatoes once the season cools just a bit. It is a great tomato, and I’ve done well with this heirloom in the past.

‘Beefmaster’ is one of the best tomato hybrids. I have tons of fruit. I’ve taken all of the tomatoes from all of the varieties and made tomato saucer per the instructions in The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year, by Spring Warren.

‘Park’s Whopper Improved’ is resistant to nematods, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt races 1 and 2 and tobacco mosaic virus. It also produces a lot of tomatoes.

Other tomatoes I tried didn’t do as well. I’m not growing these again. ‘Church’ has been slow. ‘Principe Borghese’ has weird-looking leaves, but seems to be hitting its stride. ‘Japanese Oxheart’ has low yields thus far. Zapotec Pink Ribbed’ has only produced one tomato, but it was tasty. The others didn’t perform.

Grasshoppers munched most of my green bean crop. However, the pinto beans are growing gangbusters in the vegetable garden. I’m also growing an heirloom watermelon, ‘Picnic,’ from Seed Savers Exchange that I bought on a rack at Wal-Mart in Guthrie of all places. None of the Wal-Mart shoppers knew what to think, but I grabbed some corn and the watermelon to try. Also growing a cantaloupe, ‘Ambrosia.’ It’s Bill’s favorite.

‘Picnic’ watermelon. Still waiting for it to ripen.

Growing ‘New Mexico Big Jim’ chilis, ‘Thai Hot Ornamental’ peppers–using in Thai dishes, and three plants of ‘Purple Beauty’ pepper I’m growing away from the hot chilis so it stays sweet.

As for my other favorite summer vegetable next to squash, peppers, okra, corn and cucumbers, I’m growing four different types of eggplant. I love Thai Basil Eggplant so my garden is full of aubergines. ‘Emerald Isle,’ ‘Lavender Touch,‘ ‘Little Fingers’ and ‘Fairy Tale,’ along with a white variety from Monticello. Helen Weis gave me the seeds. Little holes in the leaves indicate flea beetles so I’ve dusted the tops and bottoms of the leaves with diatomaceous earth. It works, but wear gloves when applying. It is very drying to your hands. It dehydrates insects and kills them this way so it is a mechanical control. Next year, I will apply black plastic to the soil to keep the insects from coming up from the ground and will cover with row covers. At least that’s my plan.

‘Little Fingers’ eggplant with flea beetle damage. Ugly, isn’t it?

Okra and eggplant are two of the most beautiful vegetables out there. They would look great in an herbaceous border don’t you think?

So, like the plants in my garden, I wait for the Death Star as–Pam puts it–to beat a retreat come September. Only the tough survive here, but when they do, they are fruitful and beautiful. Hope you’re having a fruitful year in your garden too.



  1. bon says:

    Hi Dee. I’ve been away this summer and stopped by to see how things were progressing (actually, NOT progressing) in this heatwave and, sure enough, I read “Only the strong survive”. While all the experienced gardeners are canning their tomatoes I’m planning for fall because my spring/summer crop went bust except for lots of tomatoes the size of marbles or smaller. I had tons of them, though, and they tasted great in the salads and some sauces. Gearing up for a fall round of squash, beans and my favorite brassica to include some Brussels this year. I hear they’re wonderful home grown and picked at just the right time. With the heat I decided to pop in some okra that is likely to produce a little before it cools off. I might brave an eggplant or two. I sure missed those. Bundle them up during the freeze in early October? I dunno.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Awesome! Thank you! I have been gardening for about 13 years, honestly, but have only had a few things ever grow. I have a home daycare and got to take a class about gardening with kids and learned the key things i was doing wrong so this is not my first year, but my first productive year. There have been a few things i’ve done right before, but not much. :O) I will look for your fall article. I am really interested in anything you put in for fall and even winter. I so want to do that! Thanks for your information!

  3. Hey girl-,

    Catholic girls start much to late.. Sorry, catholic buoy in me.

    My you’ve been busy, my 4ear friend. I grew as red okra as a kid and believe it was a long gone AAS winner. One of the few times I coo yet. kid what I grew because don’t believe I had tasted (foreigners.] Yes Im legal now. Go USA!

    Not sure Baker’s grow much of their own. Don’t you wish they would include measurements in their catalog?’

    Big news I believe a boy scout is going to do his eagle scout project by building us raised beds for a/ veggie garden. Im thinking 4′ X 4′ beds for easier access but 4 x 8 ones would give me more space. Advice?

    Well enough for now,

    Best, P.

  4. Dee, I am really impressed with the varieties of veggies that you have in your garden. What a great selection you have!!
    I am not a fan of okra but that Bowling Red is just beautiful! I could grow it just for those red stems and pretty blooms.

  5. Melanie says:

    Ah. .I am missing my okra this summer. .we are battling Johnson grass in the garden, and I refuse to let my hubby use chemical on it. .unfortunately, we covered up much of the garden space, and there simply wasn’t room for it. .we have enjoyed it fried and pickled the last couple years!! Grr! I love the red color of yours. .I will have to put that in my notebook of things to try! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi Dee,
    I didn’t get any okra planted this year. I don’t use it often, so sometimes don’t keep up with it. Still, it’s worth growing for its blooms. I can’t grow squashes or melons, because they get that insect in their stems, which kills the plant. I should look into organic pest control, but part of me is worried about killing other insects, and part of me can’t act fast enough to take care of it.

    I enjoyed your post on daylilies, too. I have lots of brown leaves that I’m trying to remove. I am in your deadhead and deadstem camp. I don’t get mine fertilized, either. I should probably find something for them this year.

  7. homeclynn says:

    Wonderful as always. I have an embarrassing question – how do you tell when your watermelon is ready to harvest. My little lot in Edmond is producing HUGE watermelons. I eagerly cut open the first one – it was all white inside. A man at church said “take a plug out – if it isnt ready – just tape it back in place” We did that – there was 1 inch of white then a pit of pink, then we could peek inside and see red. I have never seen a watermelon this big that wasn’t ripe and ready.

  8. Dee, my squash typically succumb to squash vine borer. But this year, I read that planting icicle radishes (and allowing them to flower) in the same bed as the squash helps deter squash vine borers. So far, it seems to work! I completely agree with you about ‘Arkansas Traveler’–definitely not my favorite. I planted about 80 varieties of the 160 I grew for my business, and it didn’t earn a spot in my garden this year. There are simply too many other delicious varieties I’d rather eat! 😉 Lovely okra blooms, by the way! Cheers!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Great idea about the radishes Julie. I had a bit of squash vine borer, but not like the squash bugs. I fight them everyday. Thank you for saying AT isn’t very good. It simply isn’t. I don’t care if it’s an heirloom or not. I’d be interested to hear about those varieties you love best.

  9. CurtissAnn says:

    Okay, honey-bunny, your post and a realization when looking at a daylily this morning apparently have convinced me I am willing to get a notebook and write down the names of the things we plant. I must get the strongest kind, because I’m a poor tender of gardens. So much of ours did nothing. Then I have a daylily suddenly blooming. I like it–and it must like our place, so I need to make note so that I can buy more! Lord help me.

  10. greggo says:

    I planted too late this year, asI had to remove a silver maple tree before I could start. I am definitely planting in late March next year with some of your recommeded varieties. Enjoyed you recent Oklahoma Gardening articles by the way.

    Secondly, my son has been diagnosed with gluten intolerance. So, I covet your gluten free advice.

    1. Dee says:

      Oh Greggo, I’m sorry about your son. If you’re on Facebook, I have a Dee-liciously Gluten Free page. You’re welcome to like it if you think it will help.

      I think I’m doing a fall garden this year and an early summer garden next year.

  11. Rose says:

    There seems to be a recurrent theme here in so many blog posts lately–I think we’re all finding out who the survivors of the summer from hell are:) Looks like your vegetable garden is doing so well, Dee! I’m not a big fan of okra and have never planted it before, but I would try the ‘Bowling Red’ just for its foliage and flowers. Thanks for the great tips for safer pest control on squash bugs; they’re one of my nemeses in the garden, though my squash plants are so small right now, I might not have to worry about them this year.

  12. I agree Dee that many edibles would look gorgeous in the border…I am trying okra for the first time and it is growing nicely…the veg garden is loving our hot and dry weather…except the pumpkins which don’t like warm nights or at least the female flowers don’t…

  13. The reward for surviving the extreme conditions is so sweet. I agree with starting earlier if one can. I should have put some stuff out despite my “normal” last frost date. I would have gotten more produce early. That okra is beautiful. I may have to grow some just for the color.

  14. Ann says:

    Do you have a special recipe for the sun-dried tomato risotto?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ann, I used this recipe, but sadly, I didn’t find it as full of flavor as I wanted. I may tweak it adding some fresh basil. If so, I’ll post about my experience.~~Dee

  15. Nom nom! We know how to survive summer’s Death Star, don’t we, and how to grow plants than can thrive under it. Won’t be long until the cool relief of fall is here — 2 months for you? (3 for me)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Not long now . . . .

  16. gail says:

    That okra is a beauty…and now I want that dried okra from Whole Foods!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Isn’t it pretty? I love those slender, red pods.

  17. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Thank goodness for heat hardy plants! It sounds like y’all are eating very well indeed despite heat and drought.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, thank goodness. We have eaten a lot out of the garden. I’m glad I started much of it earlier rather than later. Learned a bit for next year too.

  18. Carol says:

    Make a girl hungry! I’m enjoying some harvest from my garden now, in spite of the drought. I did water it some and that helped quite a bit.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Gosh, yes, Carol, with your drought, watering is essential. I can’t imagine a garden where I didn’t need to water much of the time.

  19. Christina Kamp says:

    Hi! I just started reading your blog and it’s so funny and informative. I am interested in what area of oklahoma you live in. I live in eastern oklahoma but i assume you are western since you have red dirt. I was just wondering if you are in the panhandle area or closer to okc. I was wanting to compare climates with the eastern side, okc area is closer to ours than panhandle weather. Anyway, i used to live in western oklahoma around the stillwater area and some of my family is there. I am going to keep your list of your favorite kinds of veggies, and try some of them next year. Do you grow anything in the winter or do a fall garden? I am new to gardening so i’m trying to learn learn learn! Thanks!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Christina! I live much, much closer to you in that I’m in the north central section of Oklahoma. I’ve got to say I’m glad I don’t live out west. I’d need to build a large fence for a wind block. I live in the rolling hills near Guthrie. I’ve planted a fall, veggie garden the last two years as our weather has become warmer. I am writing a piece for Fiskars today about vegetable gardening in the fall. Feel free to search my site on google and just put in Red Dirt Ramblings or Dee Nash, and you’ll find five years of stuff about gardening here. I’ve been gardening since I was 19 or so. Thank you so much for commenting and stopping by. I hope to hear from you again soon and enjoy gardening.~~Dee

  20. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am starved after reading about all your vegetables. 🙂 I wondered if you dry any of your okra? Just this past week I was introduced to dried okra. It was quite good with some dip. If you had an over abundance of okra you could dry some and have them for all those holiday dips. Don’t you just love it when someone thinks on one more thing for you to do?? have a great week.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I haven’t dried okra. I need to look into that. Cool. Is it like the okra at Whole Foods? I’ve wanted to do that. You have a great week too.

    2. Mary J. Reneau says:

      I have dried okra for years. I slice it in about 1/4″ rounds, sprinkle some with garlic salt, some with Lawry’s Season Salt, whatever flavors you enjoy, then put it in the dehydrator. Our daughter in Ft. Lauderdale absolutely LOVES it and when she’s here during the okra harvest time, we can’t keep enough of it for her. She took four quart-sized bags of it home with her last time she visited. Word of caution: Don’t eat the whole bag at once. Daughter in St. Louis, MO did and said she ran to the bathroom for 3 days. Beats Ex-Lax! 😉 Once the okra is dehydrated, it can also be frozen indefinitely and used in stews and soups. Good way to take care of the excess!

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