back to top
Homepage / Special Features  / Gardening 101  / 4 Heritage Produce Seeds to Grow During Summer Monsoon Season

4 Heritage Produce Seeds to Grow During Summer Monsoon Season

With its boost in humidity and rainfall, the summer monsoon is a great time to plant produce, especially these desert-adapted heritage seeds recommended by Sheryl Joy at Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson (

Rarámuri Okite Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus)

Rarámuri Okite Amaranth

  • Annual
  • Summer blooms; dark pink/red
  • 36″-72″H by 36″-72″W
  • Well-drained sandy/loamy soil
  • Zones 9-10A
  • Full sun
  • Moderate water; low maintenance
  • Attracts bees, butterflies

This amaranth, with its brilliant red flowers and stems, is especially suited to the low desert but also performs well in the high desert. Amaranth was used as a food source in North and Central America as early as 4000 B.C., with the seeds ground into flour and the leaves cooked like spinach. The Zuni of New Mexico used it as a red food colorant. Why we like it: As Joy says, “What’s not to like? Beautiful flowers that are heat-tolerant, plus edible leaves and seeds. These showy plants can grow to 6 feet tall if given good soil and water. This variety comes from the hot and dry bottom of the Copper Canyon in Mexico, which is Rarámuri (Tarahumara) territory.”

O’odham Ke:li Ba:so Melon (Cucumis melo)

O’odham Ke:li Ba:so Melon

  • Annual
  • Summer blooms; yellow
  • 6″-12″H by 48″-72″W
  • Well-drained sandy/loamy soil
  • Zones 9A-10A
  • Full sun
  • Moderate water; moderate maintenance
  • Attracts bees, birds, butterflies

Due to the light green flesh and wrinkly appearance of these melons, the O’odham translation of the name is “old man’s chest.” While the origin of melons is still unclear, this trailing vine is thought to be of African or Asian origin and introduced to Europe during the Roman Empire. Why we like it: “These casaba-type melons have a sweet and refreshing flavor and are productive despite high heat as long as they get sufficient water,” Joy tells us. “They are a favorite of the Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham farmers, who have bred them for generations—and a favorite of us newcomers to the desert, too.”

Pinacate Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius)

Pinacate Tepary Bean

  • Annual
  • Summer blooms; white or pink
  • 6″-12″H by 12″-24″W
  • Well-drained sandy soil
  • Zones 9A-10A
  • Full sun
  • Low water; low maintenance

These mottled, light tan beans are extremely drought- and heat-tolerant and are known to have been grown in the Sonoran Desert by the Hohokam for thousands of years. Tepary beans are high in protein and fiber and have been central to contemporary cuisine among the O’odham for generations. Why we like it: “Both tasty and super nutritious, tepary beans are easy to grow and don’t mind high heat,” Joy says. “Once established, they’re actually less productive if they get too much rain. This variety comes from the most arid runoff farm in Mexico, located in the El Pinacate Protected Zone.”

Texas Wild Cherry Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Texas Wild Cherry Tomato

  • Annual
  • Summer blooms; yellow
  • 24″-60″H by 12″-36″W
  • Well-drained loamy soil
  • Zones 9A-10A
  • Full to partial sun
  • Moderate water; moderate maintenance
  • Attracts bees

This highly productive cherry tomato was so named after being originally collected from a patch of “wild” roadside tomatoes in southern Texas. Highly nutritious cherry tomatoes, in general, were originally domesticated by ancient Mesoamericans and are the predecessors to larger tomato cultivars. Why we like it: “It’s not easy growing tomatoes in the low desert, but once these productive plants get going, there’s no stopping them—they will continue bearing sweet little gems of flavor through the fall and even into winter if they’re in a sheltered spot,” Joy says.


Sign up for the Phoenix Home & Garden Newsletter

Stay up to date with everything Phoenix Home & Garden!

Our newsletter subscribers will have early access to things like:

  • Upcoming Events & Pre-Sales
  • Special Promotions
  • Exclusive Giveaways!