Each month in the garden brings new chores, projects and preparations. Check out our monthly garden tips and seasonal recipes by volunteer contributor Pam Garten to help you make the most of each part of the growing season!
April: Timing in the Garden
I. GARDEN PLANNING
If you haven’t already done it, sit down and make some rough plans for what you want to do in your vegetable patch this year.
1) Make a list of what you want to grow based on both what you like and what you are curious to try.
2) Make a sketch that is at least roughly to scale, just to help ‘keep it real’. Even experienced gardeners misjudge and plant things too close together, so look at seed packages for the needed spacing.
3) Plant incrementally rather than all at once. See below for a few techniques.
4) Find a regional planting chart (see sources below) so you are planting at the right times for our area.
5) Get out there! Make a “planting appointment calendar,” or develop your own system to remind you when to get out and get planting.
II. TECHNIQUES FOR STRETCHING THE HARVEST
A little planning and good timing provides a variety of delicious vegetables over a longer period of time. Here are some methods that will keep your garden pumping out something delicious right up through the fall, and maybe longer!
1) Successive or interval sowing: In lieu of planting a whole row of the same vegetable at once, perform several smaller sowings, each of the same vegetable, at 2-3 week intervals. Do this with lettuce for instance, and assure yourself of a steady supply of crunchy greens for your salad bowl each week. Otherwise, your overabundant crop gets bitter before you can pick and use it (or you use up a lot of space growing lettuce for your friends and neighbors). Another reason for interval sowing is that some vegetables crop several flushes (bush beans for instance). Most varieties of bush beans initially crop heavily, but later start to bear more lightly with each flush. If you’ve sown at 3-4 intervals you won’t mind because as the first planting slows down, the second and then the third interval plantings start coming on to keep you in steady supply.
2) Sowing different varieties of the same vegetable: Another way to have a staggered harvest is to sow small amounts of the same veggie at the same time, but use several varieties. Choose varieties that will mature at different times. Back to lettuce as an example; Territorial Seed Catalog lists their leaf lettuce “New Red Fire” as maturing at 29 days, while their “Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed” butter head lettuce may not be ready for 55 days. If you plant these two varieties and a couple of others with differing maturity dates, you may be able to achieve a staggered harvest. (Note: Some seed companies sell blends of several varieties in one packet. If you like broccoli try Territorial’s Hybrid Broccoli blend. Make a spring sowing, then another in late May or early June, and you can stretch your broccoli harvest through until fall.)
3) Succession planting: Different than successive sowings, this just means that you follow one crop with another, usually a different one, in the same place during the same season. This can be done because there are short season and long season crops. In one spot you might start in early spring with some radishes and arugula, which prefer cool weather and grow to maturity quickly. Follow those with tomatoes in May or June (depending on weather and methods) and occupy their space into late summer or early fall. As their fruiting and ripening slows with the waning days of summer you may want to pull the ‘maters out and plant something ultimately more productive for the space taken up; e.g., garlic, overwintering onions, or maybe a cover crop that will rebuild fertility or protect the soil from winter rains.
Care should be taken to replenish nutrients as needed after each crop.
4) Summer planting for winter eating: Yes it’s possible. Here, a planting calendar is even more crucial than early in the season. Plantings need to be timed to allow enough growth to hold the plant at a harvestable size through the winter, when things typically quit growing much. For planning purposes, it pays to take a look now at what you’ll need to be doing during the summer for fall and winter eating. (Another element of planning; some of these crops won’t survive without winter protection from our incessant rain! Better to learn how to make supported row covers during nice weather.)
III. PLANTING CALENDARS
Even in our mild climate, putting crops in too early or too late can result in seed or seedling loss, stunted growth, failure to mature, or a reduction in harvest. Avoid disappointing failures by hunting up a planting calendar. Some are quite simple and easy to follow, such as Steve Solomon’s “Year-Round Planting Calendar” in his invaluable gardening advice book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, 6th edition. I keep a copy of his chart with my seeds at all times.
There are also some good planting calendars accessible online.
Oregon State University’s Planting Calendar. Based on this chart we are Zone 2 (not to be confused with hardiness zones).
Oregon Tilth’s Planting and Harvest Calendar. Squares with dots indicate when to plant; blue squares show the approximate range for the harvest season. (While you’re there, be sure to check out Oregon Tilth’s Toolshed page, which offers Vegetable Fact Sheets, Garden Planning Worksheets, and other useful planning and tracking tools.)
IV. MAKE A SOWING APPOINTMENT CALENDAR
Garden planning and planting calendars will enhance your gardening success, but if you’re like me, you may need a system to remind you when to get out into the garden and get planting. To this end, Steve Solomon suggests a “sowing appointment calendar.“ In the most recent edition of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, he outlined his technique of using a dozen or so wide mouth mason jars into which he organized his seed packets. He labels the jars with planting dates, stores them in an old refrigerator (with a desiccant package to draw off moisture) and checks on them so he knows when it’s time to make the plantings.
I don’t always get all my seeds lined up right away, but I try to do at least 4-5 weeks at a time. Since I’m starting to use my fruit jars for food storage (in place of plastics), I’ve begun seed organizing in date-marked quart sized clear plastic containers rescued from the recycling bin. Not lining up the whole season at once requires me to review my containers and “reload” 4-5 times over the season which is okay since planning always seems to need some fine tuning. (After a sowing session, seeds for successive sowings are moved forward to a container dated for 2-3 weeks out.)
May: Patience, Provisions, and Planting for Beneficials
I. TIPS ON TIMING
Love those early warm spells, but don’t be in a rush to plant warm season vegetables. Warmer soil temperatures are important for the success of veggies like corn, beans and squash. If the soil is too cold and wet, germination will be slow and, worst case, seed may rot. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are really tropicals and prefer nighttime air temperatures consistently above 50 degrees. Nighttime lows below 50 will slow, if not permanently stunt their growth, so there is really no gain in transplanting them out too early, unless you put considerable time and effort into sheltering the plants until night temperatures warm; usually with heavy use of fossil fuel based products. (If you really feel compelled to plant them out early and build plastic tents, used wall-o-waters, etc. please wash and reuse the plastic product as many seasons as possible. To ultimately recycle, the plastic needs to be relatively clean. I put one piece at a time in with a load of laundry, then off to the recycler.)
Advice on Soil Temperature from the Oregon State University Extension Service
Crops that will germinate in the coolest soils (down to 40 degrees) include arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, pac choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radish and spinach seed.
With a soil temperature above 50 degrees, Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips can be planted.
When the soil warms to 60 degrees, warm season and many cool season vegetables can be sown, including beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower. But be forewarned – beans will not tolerate any frost and may have to be planted again if the temperature goes below freezing.
Wait until the soil warms to above 70 degrees to plant warm season vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are slow-growing and take many weeks to grow to the stage where you can plant them out in the garden, so you might want to purchase these as starts from your local garden center. On the other hand, squash, cucumbers and corn grow quickly and are easier to start from seed.
Deborah Kean, an Oregon State University vegetable researcher, provides these hints to ensure further success with early season vegetable gardening:
• Wait to plant until the soil reaches the proper temperature for a specific crop.
• Buy cold-tolerant or short-season varieties.
• Warm the soil with plastic mulch, a cloche, a Wall-o’-Water, spun fiber or fabric “floating” row cover or cold frame.
• Be prepared to protect things if a hard freeze is forecast. Just because a crop has germinated and is starting to grow doesn’t mean it can’t be hit by a late frost.
• Prepare well-aerated soil with plenty of organic matter for a seedbed.
By: Carol Savonen
Source: Deborah Kean
Thermometers to measure soil temperature can be purchased at well stocked nurseries, such as Portland Nursery in Portland; The Gardener’s Choice in Tigard, or ordered via mail from Territorial Seed Company.
Provide adequate nutrition according to the needs of each plant. Here is a table of veggie plant neediness.
asian cucumbers, asparagus, broccoli, early brussels sprouts, early cabbage, early kohlrabi chinese cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, leeks, early mustard greens, bulbing onions, large fruited peppers, spinach, early turnips
artichoke, sprouting broccoli, late brussels sprouts, late cabbage, corn, non-asian, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, spring onions, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, rutabaga, late spinach, squash, tomatoes, late turnips, watermelon
arugula, beans, beets, carrots, endive, escarole, fava beans, most herbs, jerusalem, artichoke, kale, parsnip, peas, swiss chard
legumes (clover, vetch, peas, soybeans)
grasses (ryegrass, wheat, oats, barley, alfalfa)
I mainly see two different brands of organic fertilizer mix in our neck of the woods: Dr. Earth and Edna’s Best, (usually $25-30 for the largest bag, which I believe is about 20 lbs) which are fine, but the out-of-pocket can be painful. It’s less expensive to make your own complete organic fertilizer and recipes abound. They need to include sources for nitrogen (N) phosphorous (P) and potassium (k), plus calcium and various other minerals and trace elements in small amount. For years I’ve used a recipe for complete organic fertilizer that originally came from Steve Solomon’s “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades” :
4 parts seed meal
1 part dolomite lime (1/2 agricultural ½ dolomite)
½ part bone meal -or- 1 part soft rock phosphate
½ part kelp meal
However, this year when I went to pick up fertilizer ingredients at the “Concentrates” Agriculture supplier (“Organic Agriculture Since 1938”), a very knowledgeable Naomi Montacre introduced me to her own lab tested mineral mix (50 lbs @$20). Mixed ½ and ½ with linseed meal (50 lbs @$23it’ll provide my main supply of complete organic fertilizer with much less mixing and measuring. I realize this makes a large amount, so if your garden is smaller, you could go in on the items with a neighbor. This stuff will keep for quite a while, as long as you keep it dry. (FYI: Naomi recommends you apply these separately, since different plants need differently levels of certain elements, such as nitrogen.)
2613 S.E. 8th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 503-234-7501 or 1-800-388-4870
You may also be able to find some fertilizer ingredients in bulk at feed stores (if you can find a feed store). Both Portland Nursery (50th and Stark) and Pistils Nursery (3811 N. Mississippi Ave.) stock them as well. I’m not sure about the range of product, and you’ll need to make your own price comparisons.
When applying fertilizers, you’ll have more control if you choose a calm day. Too breezy and you’ll end up fertilizing your neighbor’s garden. MAKE SURE TO WEAR A MASK WHEN MIXING and isolate the process from children and pets! I am not kidding! I dump everything into my wheelbarrow and mix it up with a shovel.
III. PLANTING FOR BENEFICIALS
Include plants for beneficial insects in your garden. Like it or not, gardeners are in for some thrilling and at times aggravating lessons in entomology, the scientific study of insects. According to Wikipedia, insects account for more than two-thirds of all known organisms, so we’re bound to bump into a few!
If we’re involuntarily introduced to so many bugs, why would we want to invite more of them into our garden? Because, other than functioning as pollinators, beneficial insects are a natural biological control for pests that are after more than a fair share of our garden bounty. Insects perform numerous behind-the-scenes functions and are part of the natural order. And they can be really beautiful.
Next to planting bug resistant species of vegetables and providing ample soil fertility, beneficial insects rate highly in the practice of growing healthy vegetables “naturally.” Often, just as you think an insect is getting more than its fair share of your crop, its natural enemy appears in the form of a “beneficial” insect, reducing incidence of crop damage enough that we can “let well enough alone.
In order to enjoy this sidelight of gardening, pick up a small magnifying glass and one or two “bug books.” Get to know your insects; friends and foe.
For all you know, that “worm” you’re about to squish is the larval stage of the Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly!
A Few Plants Known to Attract Beneficial Insects
Alyssum (Lobularia maritima): Attracts hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. Benefits fade as the blooms age, so shear the flowers periodically to keep ‘em coming.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): The flowers attract bees and other beneficials. The foliage supposedly repels aphids (of which we have many) and tomato hornworms (I haven’t seen these so far). TONS of Bees come to African Basil O. kilimandscharicum × basilicum and Thai Basil, O. basilicum var. thyrsiflorum, both stunning purple highlighted plants. Not my pick for culinary use, but I plant several Thai and African Basils around the vegetable garden and let them bloom to their heart’s content.
Cosmos: Attracts lacewings, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps, bees and lady-bugs. White is the best. These will self-sow and the new seedlings often bloom in the same season.
Dill (Anethum graveolens): We know this herb from use in pickles and various recipes. The umbel flowers attract lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. Touted as a “trap crop” for aphids. Occasionally self-sows.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena): annual with beautiful, blue flowers in early summer, followed by ornamental seed pods. The seeds are edible and can be used in fruit salads and baked goods. Nigella sativa (Black Cumin) has spicy, pepper-flavored seeds that I recently discovered are popular in Indian Cooking. Can be self-sowing.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): The umbel flowers attract hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. (Actually a biennial.) Let your parsley go to flower and you may also be rewarded with more parsley plants, a good thing since seeds can be tough to germinate. I’ve not had parsley self sow, but others claim it.
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans): use the single petal varieties for attracting hoverflies, parasitic wasps and butterflies.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): licorice-flavored leaves for tea. Spikes of blue flowers attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. Blooms the first year from seed.
Basket of Gold (Alyssum saxatile): The bright yellow flowers bloom in May, providing an early food source for ladybugs and hoverflies. The plants can get rather large and ratty looking after they blook. Just cut them to the ground when they’re done and they’ll make a neat mound of green in time and bloom again next year.
Bee Balm (Monarda citriodora): Like the name says, bees love it. The lemon or mint scented leaves are edible, and the often stunning tubular flower bracts attract butterflies and hummingbirds. May need dividing every 2-3 years to control clump size. Subject to powdery mildew. Even “resistant” varieties can get it, they’ll just survive and look kind of gross close up.)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): This perennial wildflower is sometimes listed as an herb because the roots are used in herbal medicine as an immune stimulant. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. These often have a scent, if you dare get your nose that close.
Sage (Salvia sp.): Many forms, loved by plant collectors. In flower, they all attract bees and butterflies, and the tubular flowers of some varieties attract hummingbirds. Many of these will self-sow. The culinary sages can be beautiful but typically don’t bloom as prolifically.
Thyme (Thymus sp.): Attracts bees, hoverflies, tachinid flies and parasitic mini-wasps.
Yarrow (Achillia filipendulina and millefolium): Attracts ladybugs, hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. In my experience, A. millefolium, both the species and many of the cultivars, are noticeably spreading by the third year in the ground. Don’t let it get away from you.)
OSU Master Gardener Offices:
Clackamas County: 503-655-8631 M-Th: 9am – 11:30am & 1pm – 3:30pm
Multnomah County: 503-445-4608 M-F: 10:00 am to 2 pm
Washington County: 503-821-1150 M-F: 9am -12pm & 1pm – 4pm
OSU “Pacific Northwest Management Handbook” http://uspest.org/pnw/insects
A Color Handbook of Biological Control in Plant Protection, by Neil Helyer, Kevin Brown, Nigel D. Cattkin
Insects of the Pacific Northwest, by Peter and Judy Haggard
Natural Enemies Handbook: The Illustrated Guide Biological Pest Control, by Mary Louise Flint and Steve H. Dreistadt
Pests of the Small Farm and Garden: A Growers Guide to Using Less Pesticide, by Mary Louise Flint
July: Planting Ideas for The Year-Round Garden
Or, "A Cure for the Food Garden Blues"
As far as food gardening, you may presently be:
* cryin’ the blues ‘cause you’re buried in snap peas and short on carrots.
* sad about the coming fall when your garden may be winding down as you harvest the last of the tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers.
*full of regret to be just now getting started in the garden and worried it’s too late to plant anything this year.
If so, I have just the cure for all of these conditions and I’ll admit, it’s not even a new idea. It’s called “Year-round Gardening,” and it’s suddenly a hot topic. Various organizations and nurseries offer year-round gardening classes now, as July is the time for a big push in planting for fall and winter harvests.
Learning to year-round garden may result in fewer crop gluts or shortages, because when you plan your garden, you’re thinking about the whole year, rather than rushing to plant everything between April and mid-June.And it means you don’t have to mourn the end of the garden season come September, and it means that yes, you can…start your garden in July!
A partial list of what you can plant this month (according to Territorial Seeds):
Broccoli: fall (transplant [TP] in August)
Broccoli: sprouting (TP in Sept)
Brussels Sprouts (TP in August)
Cabbage (fall: TP in August)
Cauliflower (overwintering: TP in Sept)
Chinese Cabbage (TP in August)
Collards (TP in September)
Scallions (green onions)
Spinach (Protect with row cover, October)
Swiss Chard (Protect with row cover, Oct)
August:The Year-Round Garden
Below is a list of the vegetables my favorite expert (Steve Solomon, founder of Territorial Seed and author of “Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades”) suggests you can still start from seed this month in the Maritime Northwest – for winter or early spring harvest.
Entire Month: endive, spinach
Before the 15th : overwintering cauliflower, loose-leaf lettuce
After the 15th : overwintering bulb onions.
Territorial Seed’s Winter Gardening chart suggests seeding arugula, cabbage, mache, endive, kohlrabi, spinach, lettuce, and a few typically fast growing greens that like the cooler weather coming up, plus turnips.
Due to the hot weather, I didn’t get my leeks transplanted from their little nurse bed, so I plan to do it as soon as the weather gets out of the 90’s! I also have some rather pathetic looking starts to transplant out through the first half of August for: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards and Kale. Again, I could not see the point of transplanting in the high temperatures.
Territorial Seed’s Winter Gardening chart suggests transplants can still go in for: fall broccoli, sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fall and winter cabbage, fall cauliflower and Chinese cabbage.
You may find starts and seeds at Portland Nursery, Buffalo Gardens or the Urban Farm Store. You may also see starts from Wildcat Mountain Farm at either People’s or Food Front Co-ops. Just keep an eye out.
Crops that go through the winter need to have some good growth on them before the cold slows or halts growth. On the other hand, they should not be fully mature either, or when regrowth starts come spring they’re likely to quickly go to seed.
Consider putting up some sort of cloche or row cover for certain veggies if you want them to get through our typically incessant rains from fall on; including mache, endive, lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard.