Growing Tomatoes, Peppers, and Squash, Oh My!
Growing vegetables in your own backyard is the best way to get that vine ripened peak of flavor taste that you just can’t find in store bought produce. If you grew ‘cool season’ veggies over the winter and early spring, it’s time now to switch to ‘warm season’ veggies. So pick the last of that lettuce and those crunchy snap peas and make some room for those tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and green beans!
Top 5 Favorite Summer Veggies
- Tomatoes – No surprise, tomatoes are the most popular veggie grown in home gardens. There are so many choices! From tried and true disease resistant hybrids like Early Girl and Celebrity to the super flavorful heirlooms like Brandywine and Green Zebra, try several and find your favorites. For a details on growing tomatoes, see post on Growing Tomatoes.
- Peppers – There are two types of peppers: sweet or hot. ‘Bell’ peppers are sweet peppers which remain sweet even after they ripen and change colors. A favorite sweet ‘bell’ pepper is ‘California Wonder’. Other sweet peppers are cherry peppers and slender Italian peppers. Hot peppers, also called chili peppers, can be mildly hot to scorching hot, so choose varieties according to the heat you can tolerate! ‘Anaheim’ is mildly spicy, while jalapeno peppers are hotter and the most popular.
- Squash – Both ‘summer’ squash and ‘winter’ squash are actually grown in the summer! ‘Winter’ squash, such as acorn and spaghetti squash, are harvested in the fall and will store into winter (that’s why they’re called ‘winter’ squash). Summer squash is meant to be eaten when the fruit is young and freshly picked. Zucchini, yellow crookneck, and patty pan are popular choices which yield large crops from just a few plants. Choose a bush type rather than a vining type if you don’t have a lot of space.
- Cucumbers – Cucumber vines take up a lot of space if you let them sprawl on the ground, so I like to grow them on trellises to save space. There are long, slicing cucumbers and short pickling cucumbers. If you’ve never made homemade pickles, it’s pretty easy. The Ball Canning website has complete instructions and recipes.
- Green Beans – Also known as snap beans, they can be yellow or purple as well as green. Pole types need trellises to climb on, bush types do not. The bush types bear earlier but the pole types are more productive. ‘Kentucky Wonder’ and ‘Blue Lake’ are two of the most popular varieties. I also like the ‘French filet’ type which are slender and quite tender when cooked.
How to Plant
These heat lovers need lots of sun! Plant in an area that gets at least 6 hours, but preferably 8 hours of full sun. If planting in containers, use fresh potting mix and large containers for best results. If planting in existing raised beds or directly in the ground, amend the soil with compost. Add fertilizer for vegetables at the time of planting according to package directions. Space the plants according to plant tags. Squash, cucumbers and beans can be planted from seed directly where they are to grow. Follow the seed packet directions for planting depth and plant spacing. Tomatoes and peppers are best planted from transplants. If you want to grow your own tomato and pepper transplants, start the seeds in mid to late winter (next year!), see post on Seed Starting Simplified for more info.
Once the warm weather arrives, be sure to water regularly and be on the lookout for pests. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests safely. Simply put, this means using the least toxic method of controlling pests such as hand picking snails and tomato hornworms or hosing off aphids. For more information about IPM, visit the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management website.
Hurray! This is the fun part! Harvest early in the day if possible when the veggies are full of moisture. Store tomatoes at room temperature for best flavor. Store the other veggies in the refrigerator if they won’t be used that day. Odds are you’ll have way more than you can use, so share with your friends and neighbors or learn to can!