Warm-Season Vegetables

By Karen Eaton, Conservation Garden Park

Now that cool season vegetables are coming up and establishing nicely, we can think about the warm season crops that we will be able plant in the next few weeks. As a review, cool season vegetables are those that can take some frost and still grow and be okay. Warm-season crops, on the other hand, do not do well in cold temperatures. In fact, most of them will die if hit by a hard frost.

The average last frost in Salt Lake County falls somewhere between the last of April and the middle of May. It is crucial to watch the weather to have some idea what you may be facing in the coming week.

Some warm-season plants such as snap beans, cucumbers, summer squash, and sweet corn are known as tender plants. We direct-seed most of these, but squash can be transplanted or direct-seeded. Often the seeded plants catch up to the transplanted ones. The soil should be warmed enough for these seeds to sprout, so if we are having unseasonably cool weather, it may be worth waiting a little longer as seeds may rot instead of sprout.

If you decide to plant a little earlier to get a head start, you can take measures to protect your crops. Floating row covers, walls of water, tents, or teepees are simple devices to shield your plants from cold night temperatures. An inexpensive way to do this is to surround your tender new transplants with gallon milk jugs filled with water.

The next sub-category of warm season crops is called very tender. These plants need slightly warmer temperatures than the tender group. They include: pumpkins, winter squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomato, eggplant, peppers, lima beans, and basil. Most of them can still be direct-seeded, but can also be planted as transplants. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need to be transplanted as the season is not long enough for them to mature in our growing season. You may still want to protect these plants at night for the first little while until the temperatures seem to be consistently warm.

Even though growing a vegetable garden is a very wise use of water, there are some best practices that can be followed in order to use water more efficiently in your vegetable garden. If you install a drip system to water your garden, you will use a lot less water and it will be applied primarily to the roots where it is most effective. Applying a layer of grass clippings, small wood chips, or straw can really reduce the amount of water evaporating from your garden as well as drastically reducing the amount of weeds that you need to battle.

You can re-plant lettuce, spinach, radishes, cilantro, and beets around the first of August for a second harvest in the fall. Other crops such as corn and carrots can be planted successively till July 1 so that your harvest is staggered for continuous fresh eating.

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