Editor's Note: Every fourth Thursday, the co-editors of Gardening, Etcetera answer your gardening questions. To submit a question, please see the contact information below.
Dear Master Gardener,
It’s August and I’ve seen a lot vegetable gardens around town. I’ve always heard it’s hard to grow vegetables in Flagstaff, but obviously people are doing it. If I were to buy some seeds and try a garden, what vegetables would you suggest I get?
One of the first things I heard when I moved to Flagstaff fourteen years ago was that growing vegetables was impossible. Well, it isn’t if you know what to plant and when to plant it. Here are five, great edibles to increase your odds of success.
1. BEANS, BEANS THE MUSICAL FRUIT
For centuries people in this area have been growing beans for personal consumption and profit. Beans can be broken down into two categories: bush and pole. Bush beans produce fruit sooner, but pole beans produce more. Beans are one of the best plants to grow, because not only do they produce an easily stored food, but they also increase the available nitrogen in the soil. Beans can be eaten in multiple ways: raw, cooked as young pods, shelled fresh, or dried for use in chilis and stews. While growing, most require less water than other vegetables, with some like tepary beans needing hardly any at all. My personal favorite varieties are Scarlet Emperor Runner Beans, Bolita Beans, indigenous varieties of black beans, and White Tepary Beans (especially good as hummus).
2. ASIAN GREEN ENVY
Asian greens are extremely cold hardy, grow fast, and are high in many nutrients. Most are spicy and are among the few edibles which grow year-round in our area. Simply cover the garden bed with a cloth on cold nights or during freezing day temperatures. Mustard varieties like ‘Mizuna’ have a milder flavor and can tolerate temperatures in the twenties. Mache, or corn salad, is the hardiest and has a distinct, peppery flavor. Not too keen on spicy salad mixes? You can always grow spinach as an alternative. Although spinach bolts during the hot temperatures of June and slows its growth December through February, it is a reliable and low maintenance crop all other months of the year.
3. RAD RADISHES
Radishes are a quick-growing crop well-suited to our short summers and cool falls. Radishes handle some frost and best of all, most are harvestable within forty-five days. Radish seeds can be interspersed with long season crops, and by the time the other crops begin to take up more space, it is time to pull out and eat the radishes anyway. Beware of aphids with radishes, however, and should any appear, a teaspoon of dish soap diluted in a spray bottle of water applied to the plants should take care of them. My favorite varieties are French Breakfast and Watermelon because of their texture, colors, and mild flavor.
4. SQUASHING MYTHS
Zucchinis and Yellow Summer Squash are vegetables gardeners can’t get rid of fast enough in August. Though they need water and a watchful eye to protect them from beetles, there is little else required to keep summer squash producing fruit. Winter squash do well too, though patience is required as many take at least three months to produce edible fruit. Utilize ones especially adapted to our region, like specific cushaw and hubbard varieties.
5. BEETS GO ON
Beets are another great, cold-tolerant crop. Add the greens to salads or stir-fries and roast or pickle the root for multiple uses. Make sure to keep the soil watered evenly and often for maximum root growth. Favorite varieties of mine are Golden and Chioggia.
No garden success is better than the success you can both taste and see. Hopefully armed with this list, you can have the courage to plant and grow edibles from seed. Then when next August rolls around, people will be envying your vegetable garden, wondering how you beat the odds too.
Jackee Alston is the new co-editor of Gardening Etc., a Coconino Master Gardener and has been growing food in Flagstaff for 14 years. Send in questions and topics to firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to the Master Gardener hotline at 928-773-6115.
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