Letter Re: If Life Gives You Tomatoes, Make Salsa!

Dear James,
Regarding the recent contribution from S.M.: If Life Gives You Tomatoes, Make Salsa! I have to question where exactly in Arizona they are. We’ve been in the Phoenix metroplex for eight years and I have to tell you nothing survives 115+ degrees.
Arizona has an amazing array of climates. Most people picture Arizona as the low desert that really only takes up about 1/3 of the state. With elevations anywhere from 300 feet (Yuma area) to 7,000 feet (Flagstaff area)
the growing zones really do vary more than you’d think.
I do agree with S.M.’s first comment of it being a huge challenge, but examining the context of their article, my best guess would be they live closer to a 2,500-3,000 foot level. And yes, there are places in Southern Arizona that are that high and higher. Elevation definitely affects plant survivability. Those places just don’t reach the temperature peaks that the low desert does.
This year we grew our usual cantaloupe and watermelons, tomatoes and sweet peppers, but also some corn for the first time. Unfortunately I got things going a little later than I should have so by the time late June rolled around, most everything baked. What happens here is this, in late June, before the monsoons kick in, is usually our hottest and driest time. I don’t care how much water you give your plants, with 115-120 degree temps with single digit humidity for even 4-5 days straight, things die. I always say, “if it’s outside, it’s fried”. This year I programmed our auto sprinklers for the raised beds for three times a day to help keep the foliage cool but everything eventually succumbed. The only survivors, (just barely) are the melons.
I definitely agree with the whole rest of S.M.’s article and feel they offer some excellent tips and advice,…my only contention is the timing of the crops. If you’re in the lower desert, you need to have already harvested
summer crops by the first parts of June. My suggestion for that is to get them going toward the end of January. This also adds to the challenge as Phoenix could still get a cold snap. It’s been a huge challenge and a lot of experimenting over the years for us and we’re still figuring things out but in a nut shell: summer crops start in late January and winter crops start in the first part of September.
I have been successful with sprouting seeds outside in the raised beds but inside is usually best that way you can keep the January stuff warm and the September stuff cool until the seasons adjust,…which really doesn’t take long.
With all of that said, if S.M. is in the low desert, I would like to know their secret. (Other than prayer, I have no idea.) Thanks and keep up the great work. – S.N. in Phoenix