Saturday, May 15, 2010

For our readers in those warm zones

Gardening in those warm places?

I know I have devoted this blog to the Pacific Northwest but after I put a counter on the blog I find you, in the warmer states, are my biggest readers so it's time to help you out a bit.

Before moving to the Northwest I lived in wine county with very warm summers, so warm that when we got past 108 degrees I would pack up and go camping on the coast. I can remember how lovely things would grow if I was careful about direct sun. So this post will address those issues of enjoying the extra heat units without burning up our plants. (read about heat units in the postings links on the right)

Vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun. In Southern Calif. and Texas, Arizona and other warm places you easily get heat for enough hours to support those heat loving plants, tomato, cucumber, squash, eggplant, okra, melons etc. The problem you have is keeping the plants watered enough and from direct sunlight at a time of day that would be damaging. You will be looking for shady spots for many veggies, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach (just use chard) the choi's etc. we look for sun in the PNW.

WATER at night or early in the morning before the sun gets up so that the plants can drink without the constant evaporation that takes place on a hot day. If they can enjoy a long cool drink to fill their roots and stems and leaves in the evening they will be very healthy. Watering during the heat of the day can also burn the plants if you splash onto the plants.

Mulch (a thin layer over the soil to hold in moisture and protect the soil and plant) is a must for any plant that is left in the long heat of summer in a Southern climate. Covering your garden soil with another layer that protects the moisture in that soil will help your plants have moisture in the heat of the day. There are many things you can use for mulch. Avoid black plastic as it will heat the soil much too much in your warm climates. Plastic also limits the water going in unless you have a drip system underneath it. Dry grass can be put on as a mulch and a good compost will also work. I find mulch to buy is different in each region. You don't need this very deep. An inch would help hold in the moisture in if the coverage is good around the plant. Don't over do the depth as it will attract bugs that like to stay cool and too much of some kinds of mulch could rob your plants as the mulch brakes down.

Shade covers is the next thing you need to consider. Because this group was started for square foot gardeners I think it is easy to cover and create shade for your plants. You can create shade for a 4x4 box much easier than a couple of long rows of plants. Here in the Pacific Northwest we create pvc frames to put plastic on to protect from the cold and bad weather. You can make the same frame work but instead of plastic you can use shade cloth. It doesn't block in the heat to cook the plants but is a mesh that allows airflow. It does create shade and your plants will be glad you protected them. Mother Earth News has this article on all the things you can made shade with:

You can do an online search by putting in garden shade covers and see what they are look like and what they are costing. Your local garden shop or co-op should carry them, mine does not. My suggestions is a 50% cover for most areas but if you have bearing down long hot summers go for much higher.

All the shade cloth I looked at had grommets for hanging and looked like they would last for several years. Choose a size for your garden area put up a PVC pipe frame or put a bamboo stick in each corner and in several of the inside squares and lay the shade cloth over the top. You won't need to cover the sides of the garden just make a top for shade. It's amazing how you can set back your plants as much as three weeks with a shock of cold or overly warm weather, also periods of very wet and then very dry soil. What happy plants you will have with a shade cover and no burns to weary a growing plant. Remember only cover the top. With that in mind a bamboo roll shade is usually inexpensive.

Planting for your seasons will help you grow more. My sister is a regular reader of Gourmet Gardening Gals and already they are in the 90's F. I did some research for Veggies in Southern Cal. and what I found was their Spring with Spring plantings is in Jan, Feb and early March. By the time late March hits they have already harvested peas and lettuce and cabbage etc which would bolt to seed in such warm late springs. Think about that by march you are done growing all the cool crops until fall. In March we are just starting our cool crops. In Southern Calif. then from march to Aug it is their hot season. If the warm loving plants are started in late march then they will harvest all their summer veggies and have a chance to plant once again the spring cool loving plants of lettuce, peas cabbage, etc in Oct, Nov and Dec. Try to know your planting calendar for your area and plant early enough to give the plants time to get rooted and some size before your heat hits in a big way.

Buy "slow to bolt" varieties
A plants goal is to reseed it's self. In the cool weather the plant puts down roots and grows big so that is can produce as much seed as possible. If it gets heat too soon it will go to seed or "bolt" and produce very little. We often eat the seeding parts and it isn't to our advantage for the plant to "bolt" before it has strong roots and has grown big. Read the back of the packet of seeds for the slow bolt comment many companies don't put it on the front.

Starting seeds in the heat can be a challenge. All seeds need to stay moist to germinate. You can help this along by starting the seeds indoors where you can see them and keep them moist. You don't need to grow full size plants indoors. Just get the seedling to sprout and become stable and strong. If you air condition your home find a room that isn't and keep the seedlings growing a few inches from a light source . The protection of the house will let those babies grow without burning as they might outside. This is another reason why you should start your crops a bit earlier than your last frost date in a warm climate. Letting those seeds get started in a few weeks of cool can really help them along. If you do seed outside it helps to put a seed a bit deeper than normal to shield it from the drying sun. You must still keep that seed wet but with your warmth it will germinate quickly so you will be fine.

I hope you are enjoying your gardens as I see in May you would be into the heat of your area. It must be amazing to see how fast a plant can grow where I only get to watch my veggie grow very slowly at this time of year.

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