Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation

Heat-loving Harvest

by Susan Littlefield

August is a time of bountiful harvest, especially for those crops that revel in the heat. Tomatoes, beans, corn, and zucchini are picked by the bushel. But other, less commonly-grown crops also thrive in the warmth. One of the plants that basks in the midsummer sunshine is eggplant. While it may start slowly when spring weather is on the cool side, by now plants are hung with their beautiful fruits in an enticing array of colors. Another crop that relishes summer temperatures is okra. In addition to an edible harvest, its pale yellow flowers and beautifully colored pods add beauty to the garden. Heat also brings out best in tomatillos, tomato relatives that produce cherry tomato-like fruits in a papery husk that add flavor to Mexican dishes.

Planning Ahead

Eggplant planning starts in early spring. To grow your own seedlings, sow seeds indoors about 8 weeks before before you plan on setting them out in the garden. Supplying bottom heat will help with germination. Keep seedling vigorous by making sure they don't dry out and moving seedlings to larger containers as needed so they are never potbound. Wait until the soil is thoroughly warm, all danger of frost is past, and nights are reliably above 55 degrees before planting outside.

Okra also needs warm soil and air to flourish. Southern gardeners can plant seeds directly in the ground once it's warmed up to at least 60 degrees. Northern gardeners can start seeds indoors four to five weeks before it's time to set plants in the garden. Soaking seeds overnight before planting will improve germination.

Heat-loving tomatillos are much the same. In warmer climates, you can sow seeds directly in the ground when the soil is at least 60 degrees. In shorter-season areas, start seeds indoors about five to seven weeks before planting out.

Here are some of our heat-loving varieties that are great for adding interest to your late summer harvests:

'Black Beauty' Eggplant (74 days) —The rich, purple-black fruits of this very productive open-pollinated variety may weigh as much as 3 pounds.

'Purple Panther' Eggplant (60 days) —This variety produces 8 to 9 inch long, smooth, non-spiny, blackish-purple fruits.

'Burgundy' Okra (49-60 days) —These attractive, 4 foot tall plants have green leaves and burgundy stems, branches, and leaf ribs.

'Clemson Spineless #80' Okra (55 days) —A home and market garden favorite with tapered, medium dark green pods.

'Cowhorn 22' Okra ( 55 days) —Very tall (6-8 foot) plants with green pods of variable lengths.

'Lee' Okra (50 days) —6-7 inch long, dark green pods on a semi-dwarf plant make for easy harvesting.

'Annie Oakley' Okra (57 days) —The pods of this widely-adapted hybrid variety are slightly ribbed and spineless.

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