May and June are some of the hottest and driest months of the year in Baja Arizona. “It’s been pretty warm these last couple of months, so things have been growing faster,” says Gabriel Montoya of In the Beginning Farms. While limited rainfall and direct sunlight offer some challenges, the heat also encourages growth.
The arrival of spring varies highly throughout the region based on elevation and climate. In the Beginning Farms is located in Hereford in Cochise County, on four acres of sandy loam soil by the San Pedro River. “The last frost here is usually somewhere in April, but you never know,” says Montoya. Comparatively, the last frost date in central Tucson is weeks earlier, around mid-March.
For Montoya, growing in variable conditions is all about the process. In May and June, 200 to 300 tomato starts planted inside in April will be planted in the ground. Thin plastic is then spread over the plants to warm the soil and reflect UV light. Last, the plants are covered in shade cloth draped over metal hoops. “If I do it all right, I’m planning on having tomatoes by the end of May,” says Montoya.
May marks the beginning of the garlic harvest. “I planted 300 pounds, so I hope to harvest 800 to 1,000 pounds of garlic,” says Montoya. In the Beginning Farms will grow lush fields of bush beans, heirloom summer squash, okra, melons, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, sweet peppers, and purple tomatoes throughout May and June.
“Most people quit growing lettuce in the summer because it’s too hot, but I’ve found a way,” says Montoya. “I order shade cloth and use heat-tolerant varieties, so I basically have lettuce year-round.” Lettuce typically goes to seed under hot conditions. Montoya also plants red lettuce varieties, which he says are more heat resistant.
Squash, sweet onions, green beans, and some of the first tomatoes, specifically cherry tomatoes, will be sold at market in May and June. In the Beginning Farms sells at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market and the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park.
For Cathy Mead of Cochise Family Farm, May and June are spent harvesting peaches and berries. The farm’s 12 varieties of peaches ripen at two-week intervals, stretching the fruit’s season through the summer. Blackberries, golden raspberries, red raspberries, and black raspberries will also be fruiting.
Cochise Family Farms, a 40-acre working farm at an elevation of around 4,500 feet, has 600 apple, peach, pear, plum, and pomegranate trees, three acres of purple asparagus, and 15 acres of ground crops.
“Most of our time is spent mowing and weeding because we don’t use chemicals to kill weeds,” says Mead. Grass and weeds are cut back to reduce the risk of fire and snakes.
Ground crops grown at Cochise Family Farm include purple carrots, purple potatoes, purple rutabagas, pattypan squash, zephyr squash, zucchinis, lemon and pickling cucumbers, dill, summer squash, cantaloupes, and watermelon. “Asparagus will go into full effect in April and will continue through May and June,” says Mead. “We will harvest 100 pounds in morning and 100 pounds at night.” The farm will also be baking cobblers and pies in a newly approved country kitchen.
Pattypan, zephyr and spaghetti squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, purple asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, purple beans, sweet peas, shelled peas, and green beans will be ready to harvest on the farm by the end of June.
Cochise Family Farm sells at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market, the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, and the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park and Oro Valley.
Maggie’s Farm, a greenhouse and hydroponic farm in Marana, faces different challenges in the warm months of May and June.
“We use evaporative cooling, which is common in the Southwest for cooling greenhouses,” says Stacy Tollefson, the manager of Maggie’s Farm. Large exhaust fans pull air through cooling pads on each end of the farm’s 11 greenhouses, while horizontal air flow fans circulate air within the structure.
Maggie’s Farm will grow lettuce and leafy greens in a raft system throughout the summer. In this hydroponic system, porous net pots holding lightweight seedlings are floated in Styrofoam rafts with plant roots reaching into nutrient-rich water. Varieties include green leaf, red leaf and butter crunch lettuce, bok choy, dill, basil, and Swiss chard. Kale, beets, nasturtium, and purple amaranth will be grown in the ground.
Maggie’s Farm grows cucumbers, eggplant, and tomatoes out of the crop greenhouse in May and June. The farm will be planting a whole new greenhouse of tomatoes in May, including cherry, Roma, and beefsteak tomatoes. Maggie’s Farm also produces oyster mushrooms year-round. Tollefson has gained experience in hydroponics and mushroom production as a professor at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, and she transfers that knowledge over to Maggie’s.
Farm duties include weekly pruning and harvesting of tomatoes and peppers, caring for field crops, feeding and harvesting lettuce in the raft system, making bags of mushroom substrate, harvesting mushrooms, and sporadically planting.
Find Maggie’s Farm at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market. They also sell to restaurants including Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, Canyon Ranch, and Tohono Chul Garden Bistro. ✜
Rachel Wehr is a Tucson-based freelance journalist. She spends her free time in nature among cactus and pines.