The old school advice for when to plant summer vegetables in our region is after Mother's Day. In the face of climate change, this remains solid advice because summer vegetables need consistent warmth to thrive. I mean, we have seen April and early May temperatures fluctuate all over the place this spring. While leafy greens don't mind nighttime dips below 50F, summer vegetables are weakened by the cold, causing them to grow more slowly. And it just kills basil dead.
Speaking of leafy greens, I'm still eating lots of homegrown lettuce, arugula, broccoli raab, mustard, collards, and kale, yum!
Now back to summer gardening: my favorite recommendation list for summer vegetables comes from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. DC summers certainly qualify as "very hot," which is what makes these recommendations indispensable. If three of my neighbors would allow me to borrow their backyards too, I might be able to grow everything on the list. Given my current constraints, I had to make some tough decisions. In addition to heat- and drought-tolerance, I'm also looking for prolific plants that will continually produce all summer long.
Here's what I am choosing for summer 2017:
Starting from the top left, I'm going with 'Brandy Sweet Plum,' 'Sweet 100,' and 'Sungold' as well as (bottom, left to right) 'White Cherry,' 'Green Grape,' and 'Black Cherry.'
I enjoy growing 'Burgundy' okra and snake gourd for their incredible flowers almost as much as I enjoy eating the vegetables. Okra is a relative of hibiscus and you can see the resemblance in the shape of the flower. 'Burgundy' okra is particularly stunning because the stems are also a deep red (though the pods turn green when cooked). I love okra fried, stewed with tomatoes, and roasted whole on the grill.
Snake gourd belongs to the cucurbit family along with cucumbers, squash, and melons. It tastes like a cross between cucumber and zucchini. Like a cucumber, it grows prolifically on large vines, so I grow mine on a trellis. I cook it like zucchini in all sorts of curries and stir-fries. Unlike most summer squash, snake gourd is not affected by squash vine borer, a devastating pest.
That's okra on the left with its red-tinged flower below, and snake gourd on the right with its white lacy flower below.
You know those insipid, spongy, pastel lumps that haunt breakfast buffets, the unrealized magnificence of honeydew and cantaloupe? See, ripe melons are absurdly delicate and perishable, so most melons are picked unripe for transport. Whereas homegrown sun-ripened melons only have to travel as far as from your garden to your mouth. I've been on a quest for the perfect city melon, one that can be easily grown on a space-saving trellis without sacrificing taste. I've previously grown and enjoyed the honey-and-nutmeg-flavored 'Eden's Gem,' the true French cantaloupe 'Noir de Carmes,' and the hilariously-named 'Ananas d'Amerique a Chair Verte' (green-fleshed American pineapple). This year, I'm trying 'Rampicante Zuccherino' (climbing sugar), described as the preferred melon for eating with prosciutto.
One more vegetable for trellising: yard long beans. I'm particularly fond of 'Chinese Red Noodle' beans for their ruby color. Once these beans start to produce, they pretty much don't stop. More savory and nutty than string beans, they can be eaten while slim and tender like string beans or when mature like black-eyed peas.
Being a chile-head, I'm planting four different kinds of hot peppers: my favorite for enchilada sauce 'Poblano,' the all-purpose hot 'Serrano,' the face-melting 'Habanero', and the Baltimore, MD heirloom 'Fish.' I'm also growing 4 kinds of basil: licorice-scented 'Thai,' citrusy 'Lime,' purple 'Amethyst,' and lettuce-leafed 'Mammoth.'