The great tomato palooza

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Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.

Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter in one great tomato palooza.

Tomatoes, tomatoes everywhere! It’s more than an abundant harvest at this Oklahoma red dirt ranch. It’s a tomato palooza, all because the head gardener and planner made a rookie mistake even though she’s gardened for 30+ years. You would think that someone who wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff wouldn’t have fallen for the oldest trick in the world, but she did. I confess. I overplanted, and here’s how it happened. I always start seeds for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant along with flowers I can’t find locally in the spring . I also buy two or three tomato plants from my local nursery, like ‘Rutgers’, ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Supersteak’, proven varieties that perform especially well in Oklahoma. So, I usually plant about twenty tomato plants in total, some are determinate and others indeterminate. That way, I get a good crop of tomatoes all at once which makes my mother happy, and I also get a steady harvest from the indeterminates over the entire season.

'Black Krim' tomato sliced and ready to eat.

‘Black Krim’ tomato sliced and ready to eat.

However, this year, I got sucked into the happy neurosis of seed starting by names like ‘Pink Furry Boar’, ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Sherry’s Sweetheart.’ When all these young plants I’d nurtured from their first days grew into larger seedlings, I managed to whittle things down to three plants apiece. You can only imagine how hard it is to cull seedlings, one-by-one, but I did it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Here are the varieties I grew this year excluding the three or four plants I bought at my local nursery. I’ll give you my quick reviews next to each variety. First, the cherry tomatoes:

  1. ‘Black Cherry’–Absolutely delicious. Makes larger fruit than some of the other cherry varieties and a little less yield, but cherry tomatoes always produce too much anyway.
  2. ‘Sungold F-1’–Still one of the best yellow tomatoes ever produced. Delicious sweet flavor. Beautiful color.
  3. ‘Sweet 100 F-1’–Classic tomato flavor. Red fruit. Huge yield.
  4. ‘Sweet Gold F-1’–More orange than golden once ripe. Larger fruit than on ‘Sungold’ and sweeter. Delicious.

Then, there are the oddities:

  1. ‘Pink Furry Boar’–Super cute, medium-sized pink tomato. Taste is pretty good and skin is delicate. Not my absolute favorite tomato though. Probably won’t grow it again.
  2. Sherry’s Sweet Heart‘–Red fruit is distinctly pointed on the bottom and somewhat heart shaped. The taste is good. I might grow it again. However, ‘Lumpy Red’ tomato will probably win out next year.
  3. ‘Purple Dragon’–Prettiest tomato I’ve ever grown. When ripe, it’s purple near the stem and golden yellow on bottom. See below.
'Purple Dragon' tomato is the size of a medium egg and is the prettiest tomato I've ever grown.

‘Purple Dragon’ tomato is the size of a medium egg and is the prettiest tomato I’ve ever grown.

The Heirlooms:

  1. ‘Rutgers’–After some research, I see that the ‘Rutgers’ I’m growing may not be the one I grew a few years ago. It’s done okay anyway. Nice, round red fruits with a good acid balance. I like slightly acidic tomatoes. You may like super sweet ones. Pick accordingly. I’m also making a note here to try Ramapo‘ next year. I wonder if it will become another favorite. It’s considered the true Jersey tomato.
  2. ‘Black Krim’–Huge fruits that are black to pinkish when ripe. ‘Black Krim’ has really outdone itself this year producing a ton of fruit. The taste is very good and sweeter than I usually like. However, it’s a beautiful tomato and performs well in hot summers.
  3. ‘Abe Lincoln’ –Consistently round, medium sized, red fruits. Excellent producer. Fruit has slightly tough skin, but delicious and acidic. Old-time tomato taste. It’s an heirloom and indeterminate so expect fruit over a long period.
The perfect weekend breakfast, two slices of whole grain toast, two poached eggs and a 'St. Pierre' tomato sliced.

The perfect weekend breakfast, two slices of whole grain toast, two poached eggs and a ‘St. Pierre’ tomato sliced.

Basic tomatoes:

  1. ‘Roma’–Very disappointed in this one. It has consistently had blossom end rot where none of the other tomatoes have. I won’t be growing the plain ‘Roma’ anymore. I’ll replace it with another Italian tomato.
  2. ‘Super Sioux’–Good, basic slicer. Taste is very good. Nice round tomatoes, medium size. Plants are considered semi-determinate. I can attest that this tomato does perform well in hot and dry conditions. I often grow it.
  3. ‘Saint Pierre’–Wins hands down as the best tomato I’ve grown this year. It is a French salad tomato, and I bought the seeds from Franchi Seeds of Italy. I can’t say enough nice things about this wonderful red tomato. It’s isn’t a huge slicer, but the flavor is good and production is superb. The fruit is on the smallish side, but don’t have a tons of seeds and would be good for canning.

Now, add to this three or four tomato plants I couldn’t resist at the store. You see what happened. I have five rows with eight tomatoes each. That’s a lot of plants so it’s a tomato palooza at my house right now, and I don’t even mind. I’m giving fruit away, and I’m freezing some for winter too. This post is part of our Dear Friend and Gardener Virtual Garden Club series. Join us if you’d like. Link back to the badge, and I’ll add you to the clubhouse. Meanwhile, Carol at May Dreams Gardens has a postcard from her garden. Just check out the vegetable haul she had.


Vegetables harvested after vacation

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

It’s hard to take a trip in the summer. when you’re a gardener. It’s even harder when you’re a vegetable gardener. Most vegetables are annuals or tropicals grown as annuals, and they want to produce like crazy in summer’s heat. Oklahoma also had abundant rain this year. and the vegetables are all the more happy for it. I did this crazy thing and planted five rows of tomatoes with at least eight plants each. I started most of these from seed, and I made the classic mistake and planted too many plants.

Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.

Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.

I know better, but I couldn’t stop myself. So, this is a going to a be a tomato year to the max. I also harvest one of the three kinds of garlic I planted last fall. I can’t think of the name right now, but it’s a hardneck variety. Beautiful stuff. I’m using it in a shrimp sauté tonight with spaghetti squash as the base instead of noodles. It should be good. We’re also going to have the eggplant. I’ve fought potato beetles all spring on that poor eggplant, and I’m finally getting a few fruits for all of my labor. I grew the eggplant from seed too.

Corn and eggplant I grew in the garden this year.

Corn and eggplant I grew in the garden this year.

There’s corn too. Yummy, yummy corn. I knew it was ready when the I found corn husks in the yard. The bad raccoons are on the corn prowl. Well, I harvested most of it. They will be sad they lost out. I don’t have squash or cucumbers yet because I planted them late. I waited on the squash because I’m trying to outwit the squash bugs, and I simply forgot cucumbers until recently.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

So, that’s my harvest. Good stuff all from a few packets of seed. For more vegetable gardening tips and ideas, see The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

That’s all from the Red Dirt Ranch for now. What’s growing your garden? Share your links below so we can visit.

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Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden

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Today we visited the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, and I saw this beautiful vegetable garden. I thought you’d like to see it too.

Field fence arbor and vegetables at the Idaho Botanical Garden. Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Field fence arbor and vegetables at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Whenever I travel, I always try to visit the local botanical garden. I get such inspiration from their plantings. You can see new varieties of vegetables and flowers to brighten your own garden. Botanical gardens often have AAS plant trials, and it’s a good way to see how new plants perform in a particular area.

I just thought this vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden was so pretty this time of year.

I just thought this vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden was so pretty this time of year.

They also have enough money in their budget to do things in a big way. You can see different planting styles, structures and techniques like waterwise gardening and then adapt these ideas to your own personal space.

The herb garden with two kinds of basil along with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall, or shade cloth in the hot summer.

The herb garden with two kinds of basil along with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall, or shade cloth in the hot summer.

Above is part of the herb garden complete with picket fence. In the back of this photo is kale and cardoons with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall to provide protection from freezing temperatures. In the summer, the same hoops can be used for shade cloth, or for bug protection as part of an integrated pest management system.

This circular garden is especially nice.

This circular garden is especially nice. Kales and chard are the stars here.

So, when you get a chance to travel, try out the local botanical garden. From North Carolina to Idaho, there’s one near you.


Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation

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If you’re already tired of watering those containers on your deck or patio, install a drip irrigation system. Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation. Because we have more than twenty containers on our back deck, we used two kits from our local box store when we installed our drip system.

Install Drip irrigation for container plants. See how in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide.

Even strawberries in a large container like this whiskey barrel benefit from drip irrigation.

You’ll need:

  • A drip irrigation kit
  • Backflow regulator
  • Garden hose with a brass Y-connector for strength
  • Battery operated timer
  • Filter to keep sediment out of the system
  • Drip emitters in various sizes and flow rates.

The timer is essential because, believe me, you’ll forget to turn on the water. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to turn on mine over the years. Summer sun is unforgiving and will kill plants faster than you think. I explain how to install a drip system for containers step-by-step in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. Right now, the book is a steal on Amazon.

Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation. I couldn't grow these blueberries in containers without drip irrigation. These have overwintered on my back deck for three seasons.

I couldn’t grow these blueberries in containers without drip irrigation. These have overwintered on my back deck for three seasons.

More summer garden tips:

  • Use large containers. The whiskey barrel, above, is ideal.
  • Fertilize now with a balanced, organic fertilizer. You can use a manure or compost tea, or you can sprinkle dry organic fertilizer on top of potting soil. Containers leach out nutrients because they are watered every day–sometimes, twice a day.
  • Pick any fruit as soon as possible to keep plants bearing and disease free.
  • Place compost or other biodegradable mulch at the base of plants to keep roots cool and comfortable.
  • Stake or tie up any vegetables wandering onto the ground beneath your containers to prevent damage and disease.
  • Watch our for insects. Caterpillars and worms are very likely mid-summer. So are striped potato beetles. Frass is an indication that problems are afoot.

I hope these tips keep your containers happy for the rest of the summer. Install drip irrigation for best results.


Dear Friend and Gardener: June vegetable garden update

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Vegetable garden update. The potager in June when we've had loads of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash and melons in here now.

The potager in June after lots of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash, cucumbers and melons for summer.

Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I have so much to tell you for the vegetable garden update this month. It has rained almost weekly in Oklahoma since late spring. These aren’t true drought busters, but still good news for the vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the potager and the rest of the garden. It’s bad news for grassy weeds. They’re growing like . . . well, weeds, and keeping up with them is more work than almost any gardener can do.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

The green bean harvest is ongoing, but I planted squash late to avoid squash bugs. The little plants are up , but still small. There are also two kinds of melons growing, one being ‘Collective Farm Woman.’ I also noticed in the larger veggie garden, i.e., the jungle, that I have volunteer watermelons. This happens when you grow heirlooms.

Some of the French green beans I've harvested.

Some of the French green beans I’ve harvested.

The garlic is ready or nearly so. I’ll harvest it next week. The potatoes in bags have been very successful in spite of all the traveling I’ve done this month and last. Yes, my son watered while I was gone, but we also had rain which helped more than anything. The potatoes are blooming so I’ll be harvesting soon.

Garlic ready to harvest and 'Gray' zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves.

Garlic ready to harvest and ‘Gray’ zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves. The grassy weeds are also difficult to fight.

I planted heirloom yellow crookneck squash and ‘Gray’ zucchini because they are considered more resistant to squash bugs. I also planted seeds of a ‘Lemon’ zucchini that was given as a bonus in an order. I inspect the plants everyday for squash bug problems. I planted the squash, melons and cucumbers in the potager this year for crop rotation.

'Carmen' sweet Italian frying pepper.

‘Carmen’ sweet Italian frying pepper.

In the big garden is corn, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers. Italian frying peppers are isolated from the hot peppers in case I want to save seed. I also planted some zinnias and sunflowers in the larger garden for beauty and to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

I had an infestation of striped potato beetles on my eggplant. I picked them off for two weeks, but I finally decided to spray them with pyrethrum. I waited until there were no other insects on the plants, and I only sprayed what was needed directly on the potato beetles. I hated to spray even though pyrethrum is organic, because it is a broad spectrum insecticide. I try never to use even organic insecticides unless I must. I did save the eggplants which are already looking better this morning.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

Well, that’s it in this report from Oklahoma. What do you have growing in your garden this month? Join our Garden Club and tell us what you’ve got growing.

 

 

 

 

 


Dear Friend and Gardener

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I finally figured out how to make a Mr. Linky type of list for our Dear Friend and Gardener posts. I’m using InLinkz because I blog on WordPress instead of Blogger. We’ll see how it goes.

Dear Friend and Gardener: Isn't this romaine a/k/a cos lettuce simply beautiful with the sunlight behind it's tender leaves?

Isn’t this romaine a/k/a cos lettuce simply beautiful with the sunlight behind it’s tender leaves?

In the garden, things are really starting to grow. My pole beans are climbing their poles. The tomatoes are setting down roots, and the small eggplant plants are barely surviving. Maybe I put the eggplant out too early and too small. We had a lot of unseasonably cold weather after I planted them. Oh well, these things happen. It’s supposed to get hot this week. I say bring it.

Garlic I planted last fall with red and green leaf lettuce.

Garlic I planted last fall with red and green leaf lettuce.

We are inundated with lettuce and tatsoi right now. It’s all so good, and the spring or green onions are delicious. I’ve made Grandma Nita’s wilted lettuce salad several times. Here’s the recipe if anyone wants to make it.

Grandma Nita’s Wilted Lettuce Salad

3 slices bacon (or three tablespoons of a good vegetable oil)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash of salt
Four cups of leaf lettuce like Black Seeded Simpson – rinsed, dried and
torn into pieces
5 green onions with tops, thinly sliced

1. Fry bacon, remove from skillet, crumble and set aside.
2. To the still-hot bacon drippings, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat until hot and bubbly. (Be careful during this step so that the drippings don’t splatter you.)
3. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce and green onions. Add the warm dressing and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and enjoy.

I’ve also expanded my salad repertoire. Last night, I made one with leaf lettuce, spring onions, mandarin oranges, dried cherries and pecans. I also made my own poppyseed dressing. We hardly ever buy bottled dressings anymore. It’s so easy to whip up something quick after the salad greens are washed. As for washing, I use a salad spinner like this Progressive CSS-2 Green Collapsible Salad Spinner – 3 Quart Capacity. Mine is an older model, but I like that it collapses for easier storage.

Dear Friend and Gardener: The larger vegetable garden. It's hard to believe these tiny plants will grow into towers of great tasting vegetables in less than two months.

The larger vegetable garden. It’s hard to believe these tiny plants will grow into towers of great tasting vegetables in less than two months.

Last week, I went through the larger vegetable garden and weeded everything. I still need to place straw as mulch between the remaining rows. My pole beans weren’t quite large enough to being attaching them to the poles. When I do this, I will use Luster Leaf Rapiclip Light Duty Soft Wire Tie 839 because it’s easier on the plants than twine, and it doesn’t seem to slip. I use it for all of my roses too. As I hoed the garden, I also hilled up the soil around the sweet corn and side-dressed it with manure. Corn is one of those high maintenance diva plants in the garden, but it’s worth the trouble. Now, that we have hotter weather, I think I’ll sow cucumber seeds in the potager and okra seeds in the larger garden. I noticed my sunflowers and zinnias are up and growing well in the larger garden. I think having flowers in the vegetable garden just makes sense to increase pollinator activity and also, beautify the space–not that vegetable gardens aren’t beautiful anyway.

Things in the garden are heating up this week, and I’m traveling to Austin to be on Central Texas Gardener–I’m thrilled to say–and I’m doing a radio appearance on Field and Feast on Austin’s local NPR affiliate. I will also be at The Natural Gardener, one of Austin’s best nurseries, where I’ll speak on all things edible. I hope you’re both having a wonderful spring.

For any of our gardening friends who want to join in on the fun this month, join up by adding a link to your blog below. Leave a comment here too if you’re so inclined. That way I can find and visit you!


Easy vegetable seeds to sow outdoors

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Black Seeded Simpson and red lettuce with garlic. Easy vegetable seeds to sow outdoors.

Black Seeded Simpson and red lettuce with garlic. I planted the garlic last fall. It will be ready for harvest this spring.

When I was a new vegetable gardener, I was scared to grow any vegetables I couldn’t directly sow outdoors. I was afraid to start seeds inside, and who could blame me? I was new at this gardening adventure. So, I scoured the nursery catalogs looking for any seeds that I could sow directly in the ground. Here’s the list I came up with long ago.

Starting with Spring:

1. Lettuce. If you live in the South, lettuce is very easy to start outside. I sow seeds the last week in February or first week of March. Depending upon where you live, sow lettuce seeds six weeks before your last frost date. Oklahoma’s is April 20. Cold crops like lettuce and spinach don’t mind frost or even a light freeze. I really love lots of looseleaf lettuce varieties with ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’ a perennial favorite. This spring I grew ‘Jericho,’ a romaine type that is very heat tolerant. ‘Flashy Troutback’ is dwarf spotted lettuce. Lettuce and other greens are very easy to grow in containers. In The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff, I show you how to grow the salad bowl shown below.

Salad bowl I grew for The 20-30 Something Garden Guide last year.

Salad bowl I grew for The 20-30 Something Garden Guide last year.

2. Spinach. Although our cool spring weather is very short to grow spinach, I get a nice fall crop every year. If you live in a cooler area, spinach is one of those greens that tastes so much better from the garden.

3. Tatsoi. I simply love this Asian green. You can direct sow it, and it will easily come up and grow.

4. Radishes. There is nothing easier to grow than a radish. I grew ‘Purple Plum’ this year, and it was simply the prettiest radish I’ve ever grown.

5. Onion sets. You can grow onions from seed too, but it takes so much longer. Instead, try onion sets. I grow purple ones mostly because I can buy yellow and white organic onions at the store, and I don’t have the space to deal with them. Onion sets are just immature plants so they’re not really seeds, but you set them out at the same time. Fresh green onions are a real delicacy from the garden.

6. Peas. Whether you’re growing edible podded peas like snow peas or sugar snap, or you’re growing shelling peas, know that peas are super easy to grow. Children especially like sowing peas because, like beans, they are easy for their small fingers to handle. There is nothing like peas from the garden. If you have a very short spring season, try sugar snap or snow peas first. You can always plant shelling peas next spring or fall.

Late Spring Into Summer:

Green bush beans

Green, bush beans.

1. Beans, any type, pole or bush. What’s the difference between pole and bush beans? Pole beans bear throughout the season and need support to do their thing. Bush beans put all of their energy into a harvest that lasts about a month before plants tire or become diseased. I grow both types, but I like bush beans best because they are so easy to pick. However, I grew a beautiful dark purple pole bean last year that I’m very fond of. To get a harvest throughout the season, plant bush beans every two weeks. Also, if you want your harvest to last, pick beans when they’re young. Once pole or bush beans begin to ripen their pods, any additional harvest is over. Whether you’re growing them for green (immature) beans, or waiting to shell and eat them, beans are super easy to grow. Some of my favorite varieties are:

‘Blue Lake 274 or 47’–55 days. If you want the traditional round podded green bean like those in the can or freezer bag, ‘Blue Lake’ is for you. It is still my husband’s favorite green bean although I’ve kinda moved on. ‘Blue Lake FM1k’ is a pole type of this variety.

‘Contender’–40-45 days. I don’t like the flavor as much as some other beans because ‘Contender’ is very mild. However, I’ve listed it here becaues it matures more quickly than many other bean varieties.

‘Kentucky Wonder’–57 days. ‘Kentucky Wonder’ comes in both pole and bush bean varieties. It’s a great bean for many reasons including the flavor. The pods are flatter than some of the other beans, but the plant holds the beans up off of the ground making for easier picking.

‘Dragon Tongue’–60 days. This is my favorite bean just for looks. The pods are so pretty I can hardly harvest them. ‘Dragon Tongue’ makes a great green bean and is wonderful harvested later when beans are mature.

Bumblebee pollinating cucumber blossom.

Bumblebee pollinating cucumber blossom.

2. Cucumbers. Whatever type of cucumber you decide to grow, they are pretty easy. Choose seeds of varieties that are disease resistant and know that the bitterness in cucumbers is what deters cucumber beetles. So, pickling cucumbers often have less trouble than slicing types. I’ve also grown ‘Lemon Cuke’ and ‘Dragon’s Egg,’ and they both fared well. Note that you can still eat pickling cucumbers out of hand, but their skin tends to be spiny so you may want to rub these off with a towel before slicing, or you can peel the skin which will take away some of their bitterness.

3. Melons. This group includes any melons you want to grow. We like ‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupe in our house because my husband doesn’t find it as difficult to digest. I think ‘Tuscany’ looks delicious too. I’ve grown ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon along with other melons, but I must be honest…I have trouble growing watermelon. I don’t know why.

4. Corn. Although corn is not the easiest crop to grow, the seeds are very simple to sow outside. I’m not going to lie–corn is labor intensive and a heavy feeder. You’ll need to top dress it with compost and manure or another type of high nitrogen fertilizer, and corn needs soil hilled up around it to keep stalks from blowing over in the wind. Still, fresh corn tastes like nothing like that you buy in the stores.

Summer squash container at Sunset Magazine.

Summer squash container at Sunset Magazine.

5. Summer and winter squash. I don’t grow much winter squash because I just don’t have the room. Plus, we aren’t as “into” it as we are summer squash. Summer squash, including yellow varieties and green zucchini are among my favorite plants. I grow organically so I’m waiting until mid-summer to plant my squash. I’m hoping the squash bugs will have moved on by then. One can hope…. I did find that ‘Gray’ zucchini is extremely resistant to squash bugs as is the heirloom ‘Yellow Crookneck.’ I grow both of these in my garden.

'Bowling Red' okra is another heirloom variety

‘Bowling Red’ okra is a red heirloom variety.

6. Okra. I love okra any way it is prepared. Fried is of course my favorite because my grandmother and mom both made it this way. I adore ‘Burgundy Red’ okra because of its color and tenderness. ‘Bowling Red’ is wonderful too, but you must pick it early because pods quickly toughen. The old standby ‘Clemson Spineless 80’ is a great variety too.  I’ve also grown ‘Annie Oakley’ with success.

These are the easiest seeds to sow directly in the ground, and it’s time to plant those summer crops. Let’s get growing, shall we?