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This is a great time for planting a spring and early summer garden, but our heat, especially this past year, may be cause for concern.

How can we work with nature and have vegetables too?

Here are a few tips for planning and planting a nutritious vegetable garden in our hot climate.

Plant Heat Loving Crops

March is the perfect time to plant small melons, beans (string beans and yard long beans), eggplant, cucumber, okra, southern peas (highly nutritious, like Black eye peas), peppers, pumpkin and winter squash, summer squash, sweet potato, Malabar spinach, and tomatoes.

Unless you have lots of water available and plenty of room, I would not recommend planting watermelon or sweet corn. Watermelons only produce an average of 2 to 3 melons per vine and require lots of room. The smaller melons offer sweet fruit in a shorter time and, if planted now, will add up to less water spent on a faster crop. And, corn, which is wind pollinated, requires multiple rows to assure pollination.

Plant Seedlings

Purchase seedlings at your favorite garden store or farmers market and get a head start on eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumber. Bell peppers struggle in our heat. The hot pepper varieties grow best. The small heirloom yellow pear tomato will survive longer than most other tomatoes. Once temperatures reach the low 90s, peppers and tomatoes struggle, so ask for varieties that were bred for the heat.

Garden Beds and Heat

Raised beds tend to dry out faster than in-ground beds. This is something to consider when planning. Yes, they are easier to use, but you will need to monitor them often and especially on windy days. This may mean more water than in- ground plants. Also, give your plants a bit of extra space to ensure they are not competing for resources and are well ventilated.

I prefer to remove grass and weeds with a hoe, cover the space in very thick cardboard, then apply topsoil (or garden soil) and compost mix. Use 1 bag of compost to every 3 to 4 bags of garden soil. Use tall edging to hold in the soil or 6 inch cedar boards. When planning, you can cover a future garden area with a tarp, weigh it down, and give it about 5 weeks in our hot summer to kill grass and weeds.

You can still do this to expand your garden, just be sure to cover the area with thick cardboard, after you remove the dead grass, and plant a crop of fast-growing Malabar spinach into the soil and compost mixture. Malabar spinach will shade out weeds that the birds might drop along the way.

Let’s talk

If you have questions about vegetable gardening, I will be at the Farmer’s Market from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at 201 North 1st St. in McAllen.

Additionally, Master Gardeners will be on hand to provide gardening advice. Vegetable Planting Guides and other gardening handouts are also available free.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist who writes about plants that grow well in South Texas. You can follow her on Facebook.