Low Maintenance, Highly Productive, Annual, Summer Vegetables.

The things I grow in summer are things that I don’t have to baby. Today our “feel like” temperature was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not interested in doing manual labor in that sort of heat (Although, I did. I was out in that heat for about an hour and a half yesterday weeding and pulling corn stalks. My husband says I’m Thor in my garden.) I try to do most of my garden work in spring and fall, when the temperatures are more agreeable!

My beds are made in hugelkultur/keyhole designs and I rarely need to water, even in our 100+ degree heat. The instructions for both beds are here: Hugelkultur, Keyhole Gardens: Bridging Ideas

And here: Mother’s Day Raised Hugelkultur Bed!

So, what vegetables do well in the heat, down here in Texas? There are some summer veggies that are incredible producers in our high heat. Some of my favorites are below:

Okra I know a lot of people don’t care for cooked okra because of the texture. Or the extent of their okra cooking knowledge is using it as a thickener or breaded and fried. I don’t usually do either of those (although I do love them breaded and fried!) I usually eat them fresh. They are one of my very favorite summer vegetables and they rarely make it inside of the house. I stand out there and munch on them in the garden!

They are not slimey when they are fresh, although the seeds are slippery. Okra doesn’t get slimey until you cook it. Okra gets woody as it ages and will get very long and tough. This is a vegetable that needs to be picked young to enjoy.

Another of my favorite ways to consume okra is as pickles. They are delicious (and again: not slimey) pickled. Vinegar and salt in the pickling brine keeps the slimey texture, that okra can get, from forming. Use with any pickle recipe that would use cucumbers.

My favorite pickles are horseradish pickles! We used to get them from Porubsky’s restaurant in Topeka Kansas. Oh, man, they’re good! This is a great horseradish pickle recipe: (You can sub greenbeans or okra for the cucumbers.) horseradish pickles

High Heat Cucumbers Next on my list of awesome high heat veggies: is a high heat cucumber. I grow a cucumber that was originally grown near the city of Pune (in the state of Maharashtra) in western India. I’ve grown it every year, for 7 years and I love it! In Texas: there’s no better summer cucumber. This cucumber doesn’t get bitter in the heat (unless it is severely underwatered.) The variety is called poona kheera and many places carry it.

The stage I like to eat mine at.

Mature poona kheera cucumbers.

It’s getting more popular every year because: it tastes delicious and can handle high heat. Some people let them get to a mature stage (where they are brown, netted and look more like a potato than a cucumber). At that stage the seeds can get tough, but then they make good pickles.

Inside the poona kheera. It tastes like a slicing cucumber. At a more mature state, they can easily be pickled. Very sweet and juicy. I highly recommend them.

I eat mine when they first blush at one end, this is when they’re juicy and almost sweet. The vines have new cucumbers ripening daily. I never have to go without them! I most frequently eat these fresh with a little salt or in a German or Thai style cucumber salad. (Recipes are in those links.)

I usually buy the seed from seedsavers.org (I really like that seed company because they are a genetic library of heirloom seeds. They grow out heirlooms, sell some and save some. Without companies like theirs, varieties of heirloom vegetables and flowers can forever disappear.)

High Heat Greens

Malabar (a vining plant that needs support) and New Zealand spinach (which is in the fig-marigold family and is salt tolerant) and chard are good choices for summer leafy vegetables. Chard is sweeter than spinach, after it’s cooked. I always have a patch of chard growing. It prefers some afternoon shade and moist soil. I usually plant it where a sprinkler head is. It gets enormous down here, and as a biennial, it won’t bolt in the heat the first year it’s planted. Watch for flea beetles and leaf miners.

Melons I also grow Musk, Canary and Crenshaw melons and watermelons. I usually grow smaller varieties because they are easier to protect from critters and take less time to mature. I only let my vines produce two to four melons at a time (depending on the vigor of the vines) because: they are larger, sweeter and the flavor is more complex when the vines have fewer fruit.

I trellis my melons on concrete remesh. Remesh is super cheap and very sturdy: Simple Inexpensive Vine Support. If you use a trellis and have melons that “slip” from the vine: make sure you support them. Unfortunately, French and horned melons don’t do well for me, although I love both. If a plant needs me to baby it, I don’t grow it.

Trellising vines is also not a one time thing. I go out and move lower growing vines up onto the trellis regularly. If you don’t: you’ll end up with some vines growing out across the ground and that’s where pillbugs (aka roly pollies/sow bugs) and other insects can damage the underside of your fruit. Because I have rodents outside: I am going to wrap my fruit in wire mesh. Chicken wire has large openings, so I’ll be using something finer that that.

Healthy trellised melons, with tomatoes and basil in the front.

If I let the vines grow behind my bed and up against our privacy fence, the mice and rats eat the actual vines, they don’t even need fruit on them. I guess they want their mouse highway to remain open. They leave everything that’s growing on the trellises alone.

Squash I only grow one kind of winter squash. We have two seasons of squash vine borer here and I am tired of losing vines and fruit before they’re ripe. The only winter squash that I grow is butternut squash. It does not get borers. I love squash (summer and winter), but I am not interested in trying to thwart the borer invasion. It is too hot, and I have too much to do, to bother with battling borers.

Squash that are resistant to vine borers are: white bush scallop, acorn squash, summer crookneck, Dickinson pumpkin, green-striped cushaw, butternut squash and zucchetta squash. (This list and other SVB information can be found on this site) If you have better luck with borers than I do: most squash does well in summer heat.

Watch for wilting leaves. Squash is a great “indicator” plant. If the leaves are wilting: it’s time to water. They also get powdery mildew and aphids first. If your squash is healthy, chances are: your entire garden is, too.

Amaranth I love the look of amaranth. I grow both decorative and grain bearing amaranth. It is a good spinach or chard substitute. Threshing the super tiny seeds is time consuming and you need a larger size garden to grow enough grain amaranth for the seed. However, the leaves and stalks are edible too. I find that in my area, as the summer drags on: leaves on all my plants get bug eaten and wind and sun battered. If you aren’t growing amaranth for seed, pull your plants regularly and replace them with new seedlings. It allows the leaves to be at the peak of their desirability as an edible, and you don’t have to pick over the whole plant to find decent looking leaves. Use as you would chard or spinach.

Sweet Potatoes sweet potatoes are a perennial down here, but I’ll add these because they are so easy, for me, to grow. The main problem I have is the neighborhood squirrels. They found the tubers and ate all of them over the winter. The other problem I have is wire worms. These have a several year life cycle but are controllable with nematodes. Read my article on predatory nematodes, for more information: When Life Gives You Grubs, Serve Them Nematode Tea!

Sweet potatoes get huge down here. I usually just go out and bury whatever I have that’s sprouted in my pantry. I don’t usually buy them as slips, although it’s recommended that you do.

Summer Veggies!

Green Beans I grow pole beans every year. Beans are nitrogen fixers and they help fertilize my garden without adding separate granular fertilizer.

My green beans grow up a string trellis that I put out yearly. They really are a work horse in my garden. I end up pulling a lot of the vines when they try to grow over other plants, like my tomatoes.

Bush beans are a waste of space for me, so I grow the vining pole type instead. I have two vegetable beds, and I grow everything up and onto supports. I even have an old swingset metal base that I use as a support. I train the beans and other vines up onto it. It gives me much more room and I can follow a square foot planting program that way.

Sunflowers I love sunflower seeds. But some larger or specialty blooming sunflowers will end up with a ton of blanks (unfertilized, empty, seed shells). If you want to grow sunflowers for the seed: pick varieties that are proven heavy seed producers. Watch out for sunflower maggots (which bore into the stem).

If you have damage from snails, slugs or pillbugs on seedlings, they are all easy to control with repeated applications of organic, iron based, slug bait. If you are having trouble with birds eating your seedlings, place bird netting over the beds you have planted.

Corn our second season of corn is planted in late July. Yep, there’s two sweet corn seasons in San Antonio. The first one is planted in February. (We have around 271 days in our growing season.) Although, I don’t harvest summer planted corn until fall: corn is one of the few plants I can plant in our summer heat. I am having a rat and mouse issue this year. They left the plants alone until they were a week into silking and then they ate the silks. This meant about half of my corn cobs were not pollinized properly.

Thanks rats. I’m so grateful for the help in the garden! You can see where they ate the silk in the lower left hand side of the photo.

Then they ate the corn cobs after I had harvested about half of the corn, which was fine. Those were the ones that weren’t pollinated properly… because they ate the silks. Grr. OK. Not fine.

Losing fruit and vegetables to pests is just a part of gardening. Although, if anyone has any simple ideas on how to deal with mice and rats (outside of wet or dry trapping or poisoning… I’ve tried both homemade and store-bought poison), I’d love to hear it!

Eggplants and Peppers eggplants and peppers are the most heat loving members of the nightshade family.

Another member: the tomato, won’t fruit down here in summer because our temperatures (both night time and daytime) are too high. But, if your nights cool off to below 85 degrees, and your day time is under 95 degrees, you can expect tomatoes to do well for you throughout summer.

Fermenting homemade hot sauce

Down here: heat tolerant varieties of eggplants and peppers reliably fruit, even in the dog days of summer. But even peppers and eggplant can stop producing in high enough heat. Keep them well watered (from below) and throw shade cloth over the plants. This way you can add a bit more fruit to your summer harvest.

If you don’t know what to do with your eggplants: slicing, breading and frying creates a sublime vegetable side dish. If you end up with bitter eggplants, make sure you water well and shade the plants. If they’re still bitter: peel them and cut the ends off (this works for bitter cucumbers too) Try and use a high heat variety. Those are less likely to get bitter.

If you are growing peppers: hot peppers tend to be easier to grow in the heat than sweet peppers. But, unless you are giving away homemade hot sauce: you don’t need many plants (My husband eats Tabasco sauce on everything. Even with his high consumption of hot peppers, I don’t grow more than a couple of hot pepper plants a year.) Here’s a fantastic fermented hot sauce recipe: Hot Sauce

There are other annual vegetables that will take the heat, but they are either: unpalatable to my family (like cowpeas) or take too much space to efficiently grow them in the space I have (soy beans or butter beans.) Our summer is our down time for vegetables. I can grow spring veggies and full season root crops through our winters, but not much will take our summer heat. If you want a carefree summer garden, the above list is the way to go.

Then there’s some tropical plants that you can grow here… if you are insane. (Meekly raises own hand) Yep. I don’t have a greenhouse (hoa rules), but I have a two story entryway in my home. Last year I grew bananas and moved them inside after our Temps dropped below 60° and I didn’t put them back out until the night time Temps were above 60°.

So, can you grow tropical fruit in San Antonio (8b/9a zone) without a greenhouse? Yes. IF you have a family that will put up with your grow lights and gingerly walking around your 7 foot tall, super breakable banana plants. Dropping below 60 degrees happens for us in November and lasts until May. You can do it but, you kind of need to be a little crazy. Like: “Crazy: Plant Lady” crazy, which I happen to be.

I brought a lot of plants in last year (as I do every year) and we had to deal with things that came in on the plants. I didn’t have any snakes, scorpions or tarantulas, but I’m definitely checking all of my pots better before I drag them inside again!

Do you have any other high heat, easy to grow, summer vegetables? Let me know your favorites in the comment section!

Make sure you go out and get dirty in your garden!


29 thoughts on “Low Maintenance, Highly Productive, Annual, Summer Vegetables.

  1. Very interesting! We’re at the north end of the middle of the country, in Minnesota, and we have some opposite issues, especially way north with the short growing season. Far up north, almost to Canada, we don’t even see corn fields.

    1. I grew gardens in the foothills of Colorado and it was definitely the opposite of what it is down here. In Colorado the season is short and it’s very dry. I’ve learned that lots of garden rules don’t transfer, when you end up somewhere else. Thanks for coming by and commenting! I appreciate it.

  2. Love your posts! I’m in Colorado so my nights are too cool, rather than too warm. The Hugelkulture ideas are great for me. Thank you for all the ideas!

  3. Okra is still one of my favorites but I still do not grow it. I have not grown it in many years. Because nights cool off between warm days, okra does not grow as well as it does farther inland where night stay warm. Consequently, we must grow a lot of it to get a good volume of fruits. We might need to grow two or three times as much as those in your region grow, just to get a comparable volume of pods. Egglplant and peppers like warm nights too, but many people grow them anyway.

    1. Yes. Our heat issues are during both night and day. It’s sad I can’t grow tomatoes like I’d like to, but I can grow okra, so I guess it’s a trade off. Nothing happily grows everywhere. Moving states every few years keeps me on my toes! Every place has different rules.

      1. No tomatoes?! That would be rough. As impressed as I was by the pears and apples in the Pacific Northwest, I was dismayed by the lack of apricots and peaches.

      2. Short spring and fall windows for tomatoes and only determinate ones. Peaches here are nothing like GA peaches. Everything is site specific, I think. Plus squirrels keep eating all of mine and netting the tree doesn’t work at all! I’m sewing a bunch of wire screen pouches I’m going to put on next year’s peaches. Evil squirrels! I will thwart them eventually!

      3. Oh, that is just too much work for peaches. I know people do it, but I don’t think I would. I can not imagine how orchards were so productive here at one time, but I suppose that with all their fruit ripening at the same time, the monoculture did not support a proliferation of squirrels. They would have had a lot to eat in certain seasons, but not in others, unless they stored seeds for all but mid summer. There are more squirrels now because the urban landscapes sustain them throughout the year.

      4. The peach was a gift from my non-gardening husband. I would not have chosen it, but “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” It’s my frustration planting! I’m tired of not knowing what these taste like. Eventually (this tree is 7 years old) I will have one and then I will happily make it into firewood! The squirrels are stealing everything at this point. I just need a couple of outdoor cats!

      5. Oh, I get it now. You MUST get peach from the tree.
        Peach trees are almost too productive here. Squirrels can not take all the fruit. One year, we spent a Friday evening getting ready for canning on Saturday. We got all the pots out and washed all the jars, and got everything we needed. When we went out to get the peaches in the morning, every one was GONE! The so-called ‘gardeners’ stripped the entire tree!

      6. I don’t know. It was such a shock the first few times they did it. They stripped every plant bare. Maybe they just weren’t honest people. I hope it was just the one company we had to hire while my husband was working out of state. I am reluctant to hire out services again because of that situation. It’s stealing, but unless the company owner is on site to watch their crews, all you can usually do is fire them. Makes me disappointed in human behavior in general.

      7. In some cases, they notice that so much fruit never gets harvested. Citrus is like that. They believe that most of it will go to waste anyway, and they are culturally apposed to that. The problem with that is that they so often take ‘everything’ and do so without asking.

  4. You have some beautiful veggies! I appreciate the link to the heirloom seeds. It’s hard to find places that still sell them. It’s nice you have found one and shared it. There is nothing better than food you have grown yourself. It is better for us and tastes so much better than anything that can be bought at a store. 🙂

    1. I agree whole heartedly! I’m glad you can use the link. It is hard to tell which mail order companies are legitimate. That one definitely is. Thanks for coming by! I appreciate the visit!

  5. My fiancé and I just started to grow our own vegetables and fruits! These are great tips thanks! Also do you watch Monty Dons gardening show? If not, I highly recommend it!

  6. Wow, great post. I’d love to learn to pickle and can. But cant seem to grow a thing down in my central Florida plot. Hot, humid, wet, the combination of which seems to cripple my produce early or mid season. Got a brown blight ridden thumb I guess lol My brother has a sizable garden in south AL, flourishing, and says all he does is weed it now and again. Shm One day I’ll have a salad I grew myself, one day. May have to move

    1. When I first moved down here, I went to a relative’s house, and she had such a beautiful yard. I asked her about her thoughts about growing down here and she said, “I can’t grow anything in the native soil. Everything has to be potted.” I thought she must be exaggerating but she was right. Our soil is very basic as is our water. Raised beds and 22″+ pots are the way to go in South Texas. It may be the same in Florida. Even with amended native soil in beds, it’s slow going I’ve been more successful with grass and weeds than anything else. I’d really recommend trying to grow in pots, where you can control the soil and moisture, and raised beds, which are just gigantic pots. I can’t think of another area hotter and more humid than we are other than Florida. So, even what works here may not work for you. Try your county extension office. They should have some suggestions for your specific area. Good luck!

  7. Aha! Thank you for helping me understand why none of my tomatoes (different varieties each year) have fruited for the last few years. When we first moved to the Houston area in 2003 I had a few good years of bumper crops of tomatoes. For at least the last 3 years my plants have done nothing. I would love to grow, eat and enjoy the heat loving eggplant and okra however my Brit husband intensely dislikes both.

    I just discovered your blog today while browsing for Halloween DIYs and was very excited to discover you were also in TX. I added your site to my news reader and look forward to reading more.

    Thank you for the info!

    1. My husband won’t eat okra either. I grow one plant a year and I eat most of it in the garden. Right about now my okra plant goes crazy with pods and I have the option to make pickles (but I’ll be the only one eating those too, so I will make a small batch every other year just for myself!😊) I’m really glad you found my, article useful. Thanks for coming by, I appreciate the visit!

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