A few weeks ago, I listed 5 vegetable and herb seeds that are easy to start indoors for better success. In many parts of the Southwest, it’s now time to think about those vegetables and herbs you can start, or sow, right outdoors. Here are five easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs that grow from seed outdoors in one season to produce food. Many can take heat, but if it’s too hot in your area of the Southwest to start new plants, consider starting some in later summer or early fall. The best advice for timing is to learn your average first and last frost dates and when locals sow their seeds.
This is one of the best veggies to grow from seeds outdoors. Cucumbers have some of the highest pesticide levels on their peels of any vegetable in your store. They also get a waxy coating to make them look better in the store bins; the coating keeps them fresh longer and is safe to eat, but if you grow and pick your own cucumbers the day you want to eat them, they are much, much fresher and likely healthier.
Start cucumber seeds outside in full sun when temperatures range between 60 and 90 degrees (soil temperature of 65 degrees). I have planted them when the soil is too cool and they failed to germinate. But even if you have to start them later, they grow fast in the right conditions and catch up with other vegetables. I love growing Japanese or Armenian cucumbers, which are longer and thinner but sweeter. You also can grow seedless varieties. Instructions might say to mound the soil. In our dry climate, I skip that step; they need all the water they can to get started.
Carrots germinate at lower temperatures than cucumbers – around 50 to 85 degrees. In colder Southwest zones like mine, we can sow seeds outdoors a few weeks before our last freeze. I’ve also kept carrots in the ground well into cool fall temperatures and continued harvesting. The carrot fruit (root) will get lots of fibers and not taste as sweet when peak heat hits. The seeds take about a week to sprout. Be sure to thin the seedlings to give those edible roots plenty of room to grow.
Squash are relatives of cucumbers and also do better grown from seeds directly outdoors than they would transplanted. Zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to start from seed and grow, so it’s a great starter plant for people reluctant to try growing food. Zucchini seeds love warm soil so outside temperatures of at least 70 degrees are best. If you want to try winter squash, sow the seeds outdoors when temperatures will be between 70 and 90 degrees for several weeks.
Green beans also love heat. My favorite variety is Blue Lake. You can grow beans from seeds in spring after danger of frost has passed or in fall 10 to 12 weeks before your first expected frost. The seeds sprout easily; I’ve had volunteer beans come up in my garden the following year. They are fun to harvest and so much better than store-bought beans. You can grow bush or pole varieties.
This easy-to-grow herb is a garden delight, even if you don’t harvest it. Both the leaves (dill weed) and seeds are used in cooking. I love the fact dill can grow in poor and warm soil. Once it heats up, the dill plant can bolt, or grow rapidly. So, if you don’t want dill everywhere in your garden the next year, harvest those seed heads as they brown up and dry. And harvest the weed, or leaves, before the dill flowers for best flavor. Or you can let some flower to enjoy how they look and watch as butterfly caterpillars strip the rest.
All of these seeds need good, moist and warm conditions to get started. And the mature plants need more water when temperatures near 90 degrees. Give one of these edible plants a try by planting a few seeds this year.
It’s easier than you think to grow fresh herbs and vegetables for your table. Try any of these plants and catch the yard-to-table bug!