Now that summer is over, I wanted to share an update on our how our late summer garden is doing. Most importantly, how did the garden grow through the summer? What worked, what didn’t, and what I’m starting to plant again for the fall.
I have several key takeaways to share from my first zone 9b summer gardening experience here in Phoenix. For more details on how I setup the garden, what the square foot gardening method that I’m following is all about, or where to source native seeds for growing in the southwest desert, follow the links I’ve included.
So, what did we grow, and how did they fare? Click the links to jump to a specific section you are interested in!
- Armenian Cucumbers
- Laccinato Kale
- Swiss Chard
- Yellow Squash
- Other Greens
- Fall- what’s growing now?
Armenian cucumbers grow like crazy. If you have done any amount of research to see what might grow well during the Phoenix summers, you likely read about Armenian cucumbers. It is no joke – everything you read is likely true. This vine was incredibly hearty, and grew so proliferously that it took over the entire box – up the back wall and over the top. These pictures I show here were still early on in the season – the entire top was covered with this vine by the end!
Take a look at how huge these Armenian cucumbers can get! I lost track of this one, and by the time I found it hiding along the back of the trellis it was huge! I tried to pick them much smaller than this normally 🙂 Smaller means thinner skin and smaller seeds, so easier to eat.
There were a few pest problems I had to address, including 1) potato leafhoppers, 2) leaf miners, and 3) aphids (towards the end of summer). The biggest problem with the first two was that many of the leaves were damaged and discolored. But the plant was so large that it continued to thrive and produce fruits. The aphids brought ants, which are super annoying in large numbers.
I treated for the leafhoppers and aphids by spraying first with water (to knock off existing insects) and then with Neem Oil every week or so, to keep the bugs at bay. That seemed to help control the problem. And there was no impact to the cucumbers themselves, so that was good!
Laccinato Kale and Swiss Chard
One thing that really surprised me this summer was that the Kale and Chard just kept growing! It seems that if you have Kale and Chard already established from the cooler spring months, it will last, with partial shade, throughout the entire summer. Their leaves were smaller, and they weren’t as proliferous, but I was still able to harvest every couple weeks, enough for a salad or saute for dinner.
Zucchini and Yellow Squash
For me, summer squash was a fail this year. Which was particularly disappointing since everyone talks about how easy zucchini is to grow, and how they can barely use it all up. I planted one per square – 2 squares of zucchini and 1 of yellow squash. Because I am tight on space in the garden, I decided to try training them up a tomato ladder. This required a lot of maintenance, since they won’t vine themselves. I had to tie them up and keep adjusting the supports as the vines grew larger. It worked, space-wise, but I got very little yield. 2 zucchinis to be exact, at the very beginning of summer.
For the rest of the summer I had plenty of flowers, and even some zucchini that would start to set, but they all turned yellow and died off before getting too big. I even hand pollinated nearly every female flower that came along! (Just run a Q Tip inside a male flower to collect some pollen, then transfer that to the female and spread it around.) The yellow squash fared no better 🙁
I am not sure if it was an issue of not enough space (I later learned I should have planted one per 4 squares!), growing vertically, too hot, or not enough water. Oh well, that is part of the experiment. Next year we will try again! I’m hoping to have more gardening space by then so I won’t have to cram as much 🙂
Other warm-weather greens
If you remember, I tried planting a couple additional warm weather greens to see if I could continue harvesting fresh greens throughout the summer. I tried golden purslane, and malibar spinach. Unfortunately, neither of these ever took off. I suspect either they were in too much shade (from the Armenian cucumber vine), or I did not get them going early enough in the season. Perhaps if they had been already established before the summer heat set in they would have grown better. I will try again next summer, with a few modifications!
Chilis and Eggplants
I have several varieties of both chilis and eggplants growing now. The majority I planted back in March, but a few I started indoors in June and transplanted in late July after the monsoons started.
While both the chilis and eggplants stayed alive and healthy, they also stayed quite small during the warm summer months of June, July, and August. It wasn’t until the temps came down close to 100 during the day, and into the 80s for our lows, that they really started to grow. But now they are growing very well, and fruits are starting to come!
Early Fall – What’s Growing Now?
I decided to start turning over the plants in my garden about half way through September. The Armemian cucumber was starting to fade so I cut it down. (The leaves were really pale and yellow across much of the plant, I suspect from the long summer and insect stress.) I think it would have held on for longer, as it still had new fruits starting. But it was time to freshen things up.
Plus I needed a place to move some of my chili plants so they could be protected from the birds as the fruits started to set. (Yes, I finally have jalapeños starting!)
I pulled the remaining kale plants that were left (yes, they made it all the way through the summer!), as well as the failed purslane, malabar spinach, and zucchini plants.
The tomatoes I planted last spring are actually still alive! I thinned them a few times during the summer, trimming off all the dead branches, and keeping the height in check (they kept reaching through the top netting). Well, they are growing well again, and have tomatoes coming! So, we will see what type of fall harvest we can get before taking these guys down.
I planted some lettuce seeds in early September, but they did not start to sprout until the temperatures dropped even further – into the 80s for our daily highs. Finally, this past week, I planted a larger variety of greens – hopefully the weather is right and they will start to sprout! Along with several lettuce varieties, and repeating the kale, chard, and radishes from this spring, I am adding in collard greens and a stir fry mix. I’m also hoping that the arugula and spinach will do better in this cooler weather than it did last spring.
I have even more vegetables I want to try growing, but I don’t have much space, and our expansion plans are a little delayed. So, I may have to be patient for next season to expand even more. But that’s OK, I will be thrilled to get some fresh greens going again!
Stay tuned for more garden updates!