What are some alternative CSA crops to grow during a hot Texas summer?
C.G.TexasAnswer: You are looking for crops that can be grown when temperatures can be in the upper 90s to 110?116 degrees F. during the day. You mentioned that you are trying chard, NZ spinach, pricklypear cactus (for pads), okra, yellow squash, and high-heat-setting tomato this summer and are looking for heat tolerant varieties of traditional American vegetables, as well as new vegetables from other hot climates for your CSA. The ATTRA publication on Specialty Vegetables may be of interest to you. Also, more information about any of the crops mentioned below is available from ATTRA.A Web search of the Texas A&M Extension site turned up a great deal of useful information. The Extension site offers lists of recommended vegetables for your region and planting dates. (Many are either spring or fall crops; this is a way of working around the extreme heat of the summer.) The site also provides a helpful list of specialty crops for Texas. It seems to me that you should definitely consider pigeon peas, tomatillos, and jicama. Ground cherries (Physallis spp.) are relatives of tomatillo used in cooking jams and pies. Yard-long (Chinese) beans (a relative of cowpea) have done well for me in Arkansas during extremely hot summers, as has edible luffa (Chinese okra). Both should be trellised. Jerusalem artichoke (a relative of sunflower) is extremely tough and, once established, goes right through hot summers. Don’t overlook melons and cantaloupes, which withstand heat very well if water is available for the roots. There are edible tropical gourds, as well, that withstand high temperatures. I’ve successfully raised Asian “bitter melon” during hot summers with little irrigation. (Bitter melon is definitely an acquired taste.) Malabar spinach is another possibility—especially for barrel culture. (Sweetpotato can also be raised in barrels. See the ATTRA publication Sweetpotato:Organic Production.)Have you considered eggplant? Many types are grown in Asia and Africa; it can be raised in containers.Vegetable amaranth is a heat-tolerant cooking green, known in the Caribbean as callaloo. (However, the type most commonly grown there —A. giganticus—is banned from entry into the U.S. because of its invasive nature. ‘Tri-color’ is the variety most commonly found in the U.S. Try Johnny’s Seed Company.) For more suggestions, see the on-line catalog of hot-weather vegetables of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) (www.echonet.org). I ordered two types of perennial okra from ECHO this year (Polynesian and African) and am eagerly waiting for results.Another organization offering seeds and a wealth of information for growing food crops under extreme conditions of drought, heat, and alkaline soils is Native Seeds/SEARCH (Tucson, AZ), with 2000 accessions. See www.nativeseeds.org. Native Seeds/SEARCH offers a guide to desert gardening in the American Southwest. An in-depth study of native foods of the Southwest was published in 1990 by the University of California’s Walter Ebeling, Handbook of Foods and Fibers of Arid America (900 + pages). It can be borrowed through InterLibrary Loan. Inquire at your nearest public or university library.Peanuts are recommended by A&M, and you might try a variety of tropical root crops. I am wondering whether you have considered Mexican type peppers, as well as sweet peppers. I raise them as perennial plants in 1-5 gal. pots for ease in moving them in during the winter and to conserve water. Although peppers appreciate some shade, mature plants can certainly withstand high temperatures and go right on setting fruit. Pasillas have done well for me, as have Caribbean types (habaneros/Congo pepper, Jamaican, etc.). In the presence of sufficient fertility and occasional watering, a single wintered-over, mature plant can produce 25 or 30 pasilla peppers during the season (fewer for other types). I have to assume that you are not in a frost-free area, so I’m inclined to recommend container culture (which can be half-barrels on rolling carts). Peppers start blooming and setting fruit in March, if wintered over. See the article listed below on uncommon species of chile pepper.You may also want to consider herbs—such as chia, epazote, and Mexican mint marigold—as additions to your CSA basket. Some of the crops recommended in Florida Extension’s Manual of Minor Vegetables might be adapted to your area. Also see the Web site http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.For seed sources, check the ATTRA database of Suppliers of Seed for Certified Organic Production and heirloom varieties.Advanced culture:A hoophouse modified for warm season production—open-sided for air circulation and fitted with a shade cloth—would be helpful in providing shade for some types of vegetables during extreme heat. See the ATTRA publication Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners for more information on hoophouses.You might also consider water vegetables grown in hot parts of Asia—such as lotus, water chestnuts, a sweet potato relative known as “water spinach,” etc. Two years ago I visited a demonstration garden for water vegetables on the outskirts of Fayetteville. It takes a lot of equipment.You did not mention water availability, nor how much specialized equipment you envision for producing crops. As Virginia Extension’s Andy Hankins has said, “You can raise anything anywhere—if you put enough money into it.” Some commercial operations in Mexico and Israel now use state-of-the art air-conditioned greenhouses for export crops.Resources:Harris, Scott. 2000. Native fruits of central Texas and the Hill Country. The Fruit Gardener. September?October. p. 12?13, 22.Holthe, Peter A. 1995. The uncommon cultivated species of chile peppers. The Fruit Gardener [California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.]. January?February. p. 16?17. Longbrake, Thomas D., Marvin L. Baker, Sam Comer, Jerry Parsons, Roland Roberts, and Larry Stein. 2006. Specialty Vegetables in Texas. 2 p.http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/specialty/index.htmlStephens, James M. 1988. Manual of Minor Vegetables. University of Florida Coop. Ext., Gainesville. p. v?viii.Texas A&M Extension. 2006. Gardening Regions for Texas. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/fallgarden/zones.htmlTexas A&M Extension. 2006. Spring Planting Guide for Vegetable Crops. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/fallgarden/zones.htmlFurther resources:Burr, Fearing, Jr. 1988. The Field and Garden Vegetables of America. Reprinted from 2nd edition, 1865, Boston. American Botanist, Booksellers, Chillicothe, IL. DeWitt, Dave, and Paul W. Bosland. 1993. The Pepper Garden. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. 240 p.DeWitt, the editor of Chile Pepper Magazine, has since published a series of cookbooks featuring hot peppers, including Hot and Spicy Caribbean, Hot and Spicy Latin American, Hot and Spicy African, and Callaloo, Callipso, and Carnival (cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago).