The heat is rising, and the harvests from your spring crops are giving out their last bounties. Many valley residents garden in the spring only to give up in the summer. There is, however, another way. Gardening in the summer can be just as rewarding as in the spring.
We asked Rita Applegate, Garden Manager of the Fountain Hills Community Garden, for some advice on growing crops through the transition from the warm springs to the hot summers and beyond here in the Phoenix area.
Shade and Watering
As the temperature increases, so does the amount of water and shade required to keep plants happy. To avoid sunburn on hot summer days, “you’re going to want a shade cloth with 50% coverage,” Rita recommends. Hotter temperatures also means that most crops will need more water to hold together during the summer. The average bed at the FH Community Garden will increase its watering from 10 minutes, twice a day to 15-30 minutes, twice a day.
Best Crops for a Summer Harvest
Many of the crops planted in the spring take time to develop and need to survive through the summer to reach maturity. Snap peas, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, onions, pumpkins, summer squashes, and sunflowers are some good examples. When it comes to choosing between seeds and starters, Rita says “after May 15th, only plant seeds. This lets plants acclimate to their surroundings, especially for cantaloupe, watermelon, and squash.”
Protecting from Birds and Bunnies
When it gets hotter, the birds and bunnies will have more motivation to tear up your garden for water and nutrients. Bird netting is a popular solution, but netting is known to accidentally trap and kill unsuspecting birds. Rita suggests a fabric called Tulle. Cover a garden bed with Tulle and leave a vent hole towards the top wide enough for bees and butterflies to safely travel through.
Rita typically harvests three times a year, so she revitalizes her soil three times a year. She prefers Kellogg Garden Organics’ Amend Garden Soil, along with mushroom compost and steer manure. Minerals such as Azomite are vital for healthy plant growth in any irrigated bed. She also recommends fertilizing with an organic fertilizer like Happy Frog on the 1st and 15th of every month.
Rita is a strong proponent of saving seeds. “Saving seeds promotes biodiversity and improves the hardiness of your plants over time.” By saving the seeds left by your best-performing plants, your chances of even better harvests next time increase greatly. Be sure to keep seeds in a cool, dry space in an air-tight container, like a mason jar or envelope.
“Happy gardening! Gardening is work, but it’s a great therapy, that will feed and nourish you in so many great ways.” – Rita Applegate