by Elizabeth Smith
July usually marks the season of monsoons in our dry Sonoran desert. There aren’t a whole lot of things we can plant at this time with temperatures so high, but there are a few things that will grow very nicely once the monsoons kick in. The traditional “Three Sisters” gardening method is one example and it’s a great way to create a Native American inspired monsoon garden. Plant 6-10 corn kernels of a short season corn variety, like “Yukon Chief” (or “Glass Gem” for popcorn) in a 2-3 foot diameter space and let them get to be about 6 inches tall. Then plant 1 or 2 beans next to each of the corn plants and at the same time, plant 2-3 squash seeds like zucchini or acorn squash in with the beans. The beans will start climbing the corn stalks and the squash will cover the ground. They all benefit each other: the corn providing some shade and a trellis for the beans; the squash providing living mulch that keeps the soil moist and cool and relatively weed free; and the beans fixing nitrogen into the soil.
Other things that grow well this time of year include all kinds of melons, black eyed peas and sunflowers. Another fun plant to try is climbing Malabar spinach. Not a true spinach, it loves the heat and provides edible leaves that taste like a cross between real spinach and okra.
Once the rains begin, you may get a new flourishing of tomato flowering. Many gardeners report their late summer, early fall tomato crops are even more amazing and more productive than their spring and summer crops so don’t give up on those straggly looking tomato plants too soon.
Try to direct rainwater runoff to your garden areas and tree wells to take advantage of the mineral rich, chlorine free rainwater. Did you know that rainwater collects nitrogen from the atmosphere as it falls to the ground? This is one of the reasons plants do so well right after a good rain shower. Enjoy the harvest from your monsoon gardens!