What should you be planting in May?

A Tour of Summer Annuals with Garden Manager Doug Gosling

Doug and little LucyThe 2nd week of May is usually the time we put Summer crops in the ground, but it’s been so hot here in the Bay Area that I’d say it’s safe to plant them right now. Below are some of the annuals you could plant over the next couple of weeks.

It’s the season for everyone’s favorite garden vegetable: the tomato. At our upcoming Summer Biodiversity Plant Sale (May 4-5 & 11-12), we will be offering 127 of our best varieties!

  • Andy's Polish PinkOne of our all-time favorites at OAEC is Andy’s Polish Pink. The father of a friend of mine named Andy brought it over from Poland when he emigrated as a small boy in 1922, and he passed it on to me 22 years ago. This tomato is a huge, juicy and meaty pointed pink tomato with almost no seeds. It has a smooth, creamy texture and is perfect for hamburgers (or veggie burgers) and BLT’s.
  • Another European variety we offer is Tiger. I’ve been growing this Czechoslovakian heirloom at OAEC since 1983.  It’s a small, red, tart tomato with orange stripes and is often the first slicer to ripen in our garden.Tiger tomato
  • 23 of the tomato varieties we offer are black tomatoes. Besides being stunningly beautiful—their color tends to be charcoal black-red—black tomatoes have a deep, “tomato-y” flavor. Brown tomatoes, such as the productive, medium-sized Brazilian Beauty, are also lovely and tasty.
  • We had a request to start offering the Vintage Wine tomato, so we just had to grow it this year. It’s a beautiful, red, sweet slicing tomato with silvery green stripes.
  • We again have the Sebastopol Cherry Tomato, a variety grown by a local woman for over 70 years.  We’re also offering another locally bred heirloom, Burbank’s Red Slicer, a variety developed by Santa Rosa plant wizard Luther Burbank.

SquashNext up, we have squash. If you’re looking forward to summer squash soon and want to harvest winter squash and pumpkins in the Fall, think ahead and plant them in your garden now.

  • An Australian heirloom we offer called Triamble is one of the most beautiful varieties of winter squash there ever was. It’s blue-grey in color and trilocular (has 3 lobes). Its small seed cavity means lots of meat—the flesh is dense, sweet and brilliantly orange—and it can have a shelf life of up to a year! Special thanks to David Cavagnaro of the Seed Saver’s Exchange for introducing us to this beauty.
  • If you’re looking to adorn your garden with hauntingly beautiful white pumpkins, may I suggest Lumina or Valenciano? These varieties make for nice autumnal porch decorations.
  • Want to enter the giant pumpkin contests at a county fair or the National Heirloom Exposition? With our Big Mac, Patanca Giant or Dill’s Atlantic Giant, you could be a winner.
  • One of my favorite summer squashes is the round Mexican heirloom Zapallo del Tronco. The sweet, smooth flesh is wonderful roasted.

AmaranthAre you interested in trying to grow your own grain? Now is a good time to plant amaranth and quinoa. The OAEC Nursery is excited to offer a wide selection of other fascinating annual Incan Crops, including multiple varieties of quinoa.

Cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and basil are all fair game once the risk of cold, wet nights has passed. And it’s OK to continue planting some of the cool season crops. It’s not too late for broccoli, chard, leeks, cabbage, collards, and kale. They can tolerate the summer heat and even thrive in it.

Salad greens

If you use some shade protection, you can also continue to plant lettuce, salad and sauté greens. It’s the sun and not necessarily the heat that makes them unhappy. At our upcoming Summer Plant Sale, we’re offering some crops that are comfortable in the Summer heat:

  • Magenta Lamb's QuartersWe will have one of our favorites, Magenta Lambs Quarters, an iron-rich summer garden annual, originally from Europe, that can grow up to 6 feet tall, is heat- and drought-tolerant, and is covered with brilliant, incandescent magenta hairs.
  • Another wonderful warm season salad and sauté green is Huazontle—also called “Aztec Spinach.” Central American indigenous populations cooked the leaves and harvested the seeds as a high protein grain. One recipe calls for batter-frying the immature seed heads. Yum!
  • Something we now plant in the Summer garden every year is New Zealand Spinach. It’s a wonderful sauté green that tastes like spinach but isn’t related at all. And unlike spinach, it can handle the heat.

Finally, if you’re a fan of edamame (a salty snack rich in protein and fiber), OAEC has 3 varieties of soybeans that do well in a warm garden.Edamame soybeans

Come on over to the OAEC Nursery for our Summer Biodiversity Plant Sale this month (now two weekends—May 4-5 & 11-12) to find the perfect 100% California Certified Organic summer annuals for your garden. We have a wonderful selection of perennials, too.

Good luck with your garden this summer, and remember—your plants are not the only ones that need to stay hydrated!