Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mid-May Planting Warm Season Crops

Hi Portland gardening friends!

What a delightful two days of warmer sunny weather we are having! Given the 7-day forecast I am finally giving the green light for the planting of tomatoes and other warm-season crops. Remember these plants like night temperatures consistently above 55 degrees. Cooler wet weather will cause them to be stressed, stunted, and likely die.

Here are the warm season crops to start planting now:

Melons & Watermelon
Summer Squash
Tomatillos & Ground Cherries
Winter Squash

Continue planting these crops we started planting in the cooler months:

Brussels sprouts (for winter harvest)
Cabbage (pick summer varieties)
Parsnips (for winter harvest)
Rutabaga (for winter harvest)
Swiss Chard

Stop planting these cool season crops that do not like the warm weather of summer:
Asian Greens
Mustard Greens

I also think it is getting a little too late to plant leeks, onions, and shallots with the exception of quick growing scallions/green onions.

Keep planting all your perennial and annual herbs, as well as any fruit like strawberries, blueberries, etc.

Enjoy the sunshine and remember to keep all those new transplants and seed beds well watered in as we approach that extreme temperature spike into the 90s on Monday & Tuesday.

Happy Gardening,

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Growing Organic Cucumbers

May greetings Portland gardeners!

As the weather warms I am interested in once again eating fresh salads, after a winter of soups. And for me salad means cucumbers! Cucumbers are a favorite warm season edible for the home gardener. A cucumber harvested at the peak of freshness from the summer garden is hands down better than any cucumber you will ever get from the grocery store.

Growing cucumbers in Portland is relatively easy if you plant them at the right time. Though we are eager, now is not yet the time. Cucumbers need ground temperature of 60-65 degrees and night air temperature of at least 55 degrees. Typically in Portland this is mid May to early June. If the weather is not warm and dry, cucumber plants will grow slowly and fall prey to disease.

Cucumis sativus, cucumbers, are member of the cucurbits family along with zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and melons. Cucumbers require a full sun location with at least 6 hours of sun per day. They are rambling vine plants that need to be spaced 3-4 feet apart in all directions. I have successfully grown cucumbers up a trellis in my raised beds. These days there are also patio varieties that don't get as large and are excellent for growing in small spaces including containers and raised beds. ‘Patio Snacker’ produced an excellent yield in my 2015 garden.

Cucumbers require very rich well draining soil. They will rot out in the thick clay of native Portland soil. Prepare your planting bed by adding fresh compost. Better yet grow cucumbers in a raised bed filled with fresh planting mix.

In Portland you can plant cucumbers by seed or by transplant. Cucumbers are “heavy feeders” and benefit from an organic granular vegetable fertilizer in the planting hole. Additional applications of organic granular fertilizer are every 4 weeks during the growing season. Once plants have grown to a decent size and are beginning to set flowers begin applying an organic liquid bloom fertilizer every 2-3 weeks.

More than 90% water, cucumbers are stressed by insufficient watering. Cucumbers want average to moist watering while growing, about 2 inches a week. Water stress can be the cause of bitter tasting fruit and odd shaped fruit that is smaller in one end. How often you water will depend on your soil and location.

The cucurbits family, including cucumbers, has separate male and female flowers on the same plant that require pollination for fruit set. If your plants develop flowers and then the subsequent tiny fruits fall off, lack of pollination is the cause. Be sure to plant plenty of flowers in your biodiverse garden to encourage pollinators and keep them safe by gardening organically and avoiding the use of sprays throughout your yard.

In Portland it is inevitable for cucumbers to fall prey to the dreaded powdery mildew. The leaves will develop a white residue and then shrivel up with crispy brown edges. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that flourishes in the summer in Portland. During the growing season you can prevent powdery mildew by spacing your plants appropriately to provide good air circulation. Water the soil, not the plant, by use of a watering wand, drip irrigation or soaker house. If you use overhead watering the fungal disease easily spreads by splashing from leaf to leaf and soil to leaf. Practice crop rotation and in the fall clean up all plant debris.

Compost has long been recognized by organic gardeners for promoting overall garden health. Beyond stimulating plant growth, compost and compost tea can actually fight off diseases by inoculating plants with beneficial organisms like bacteria, yeasts and fungi. These tiny organisms are beneficial if they form a physical barrier against pathogens, or if they effectively compete with or attack the plant pathogens.

To prevent powdery mildew on cucumber plants, apply compost tea to your garden soil and as a foliar spray on cucumber leaves at 2-3 week intervals beginning at planting time. The great news for NE Portland urban gardeners is that our neighborhood nursery Garden Fever Nursery at 3433 NE 24th Avenue carries freshly brewed compost tea for sale by the gallon.

Be sure to plant your cucumber plants with dill plants for pickling later in the summer. Garden on Portland!


Monday, May 1, 2017

What to Plant in the May Edible Garden

Greetings Portland Gardeners,

Happy May Day! The first day of May has traditionally been celebrated as the beginning of the growing season, a time of cleansing from the winter, and purification of livestock. Children gave baskets of flowers to family, neighbors, and friends. All danced around the may pole. This seasonal holiday still has relevance to us in modern times. It is an excellent opportunity to take some time strolling in nature, get off the concrete and onto dirt or grass. Observe the spring unfolding all around us. Bring some fragrant lilacs, tulips, or iris into your home or office. This morning I cut and brought fresh lilacs inside, and now my home smells so delicious. Clean out your pantry and donate to the local food bank. Light a candle and thank Mother Nature for her brightness and bounty.

In my edible garden I am harvesting 2 varieties of kale, beautiful red leaf lettuce, and so many herbs! The snow and sugar snap peas are tall and luscious. They just set their first flowers, pods will soon be on the way in the next couple of weeks. Radish seeds have germinated, but the carrot seeds have been slow to sprout. I keep the seed bed covered with a frost blanket, so that marauding squirrels and cats can't destroy the exposed soil.

Lovage, chives, thyme, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, sage, chervil, marjoram, and sweet bay are all hopping into my culinary creations. Raspberry canes have leafed out and blueberry bushes are covered in flowers.

Last Friday was a lovely sunny 60 degree day and I did lots of gardening. The past few days have been overcast, cool, windy, and wet. The forecast this Wednesday and Thursday is for sunny and 80 degrees! Wow, that is something else. In case you are tempted to plant your tomatoes this week, please understand it is TOO EARLY TO PLANT TOMATOES! Tomatoes need night temperatures consistently above 55 degrees, and we are still averaging night temps in the 40s. Please wait a few more weeks for your tomato plants. Planting them too early only causes plants to be stressed, stunted, or die. You don't get any "jump start" by planting heat loving vegetable when the weather is too cool. For full information on organic tomato gardening please read this post.

There is still a lot you can plant in the edible garden including most herbs, fruit, and lots of "cool season" vegetables. With warming soil temperatures, May is the perfect time to direct seed your root vegetables. If you want peas get them planted now! Peas wither in the hot heat of summer, so they are ideally planted March-April, and as late as early May.

Here's what to plant now:
Asian Greens
Broccoli & Broccoli Raab
Brussels Sprouts
Florence Fennel
Mustard Greens
Salad Greens: arugula, cress, endive, radicchio
Swiss Chard

These are WARM SEASON crops that need night temperatures consistently above 55 degrees. Typically planted mid May to early June depending on the year. Please wait and do not plant these crops yet: basil, beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, gourd, ground cherries, melons, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, winter squash, and zucchini.

Even though it is still too early to plant tomatoes, I mark their space in the garden with tomato cages. That way I don't get too overzealous planting cool season crops and don't save any space for warm season crops with later planting dates. I keep all of my unplanted raised bed soil covered with a frost blanket too keep out the critters. Check out that fall-planted garlic!

Be sure to tuck in several annual flowers in your edible garden. They help attract beneficial bugs. Some of my favorites: alyssum, calendula, cleome, cosmos, marigold, nasturtium, petunia, snapdragons, sunflower, zinnia. May is the ideal month for finding the best selection of annual bedding flowers.

Happy May and Happy Gardening,

Organic Tomato Gardening

Greetings May Gardeners!

Spring has sprung full force in Portland. In May we are itching to fill up the edible garden for our summer harvest. Tomatoes are a favorite of gardeners everywhere. One of my all time favorite garden quotes comes from public radio show host Mike McGrath "Everybody wants to grow tomatoes. Tomatoes are the gateway drug to all of gardening."

It is especially tempting to plant tomatoes this week when the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is 80 degrees!! However, I assure you it is still TOO EARLY TO PLANT TOMATOES.

Lest we get too eager to start planting tomatoes, here are some tips for successful growing in Portland:

Tomatoes like warm weather. They need consistent minimal night temperatures of 55 degrees. In Portland this is typically between May 15-June 1. Planting your tomatoes too early will result in stunted or dead plants.

Tomatoes like warm soil. They need consistent soil temperatures of 60 degrees.

Plant your tomatoes into the garden by transplants/starts. Portland does not have a long enough or hot enough summer to facilitate direct seeding tomatoes. If you want to start tomatoes by seed start seeds indoors in mid-February.

Tomatoes need a full sun location, ideally south facing, where they receive 8-10 hours a day of sun. They will not set fruit in shady areas.

Tomatoes are "heavy feeders” and appreciate being planted with an organic granular fertilizer, which will slow release to your plants through out the season.

Tomatoes are prone to blossom end rot. To prevent the disease blossom end rot, add a calcium source into the planting hole, such as a spoonful each of rock phosphate or bone meal and lime.

Tomatoes have very long root systems (3-4 feet) and they need plenty of room to grow. Make sure your planting bed is deep enough for the tomato's roots.

Tomatoes are big plants and need proper spacing to thrive. Give the plants plenty of space between each other, at least 4 feet wide per plant.

Tomatoes need support. They have dense branches laden with heavy fruit. Install a tomato cage or other support system at planting time to prevent later damage to your plant.

Established tomatoes don't need a lot of water. Be consistent with a deep watering a few times per week throughout the growing season. Inconsistent watering contributes to fruit splitting and blossom end rot. Remember, new transplants are not yet established and need more frequent water, especially if it is hot and sunny.

Tomato plants take several months to produce in Portland. Expect your harvest to begin in late August and end in October when cold temperatures have set in.

Rotate your crops. Do not grow your tomatoes in the same place every year. This will create disease and pest problems. Use a 4-year rotation for all edible crops.

This year we are planting 3 tried and true family favorites in our garden: lemon boy, sungold, and yellow pear. What tomatoes are you excited about growing?

Happy gardening,

Friday, April 7, 2017

What to Plant in the April Edible Garden

Good morning gardeners!

April heralds a bright beginning to the gardening season in Portland. In the past two months I have already taught nine gardening workshops around the Portland area and met over 100 enthusiastic gardening students. If you have joined me in a gardening workshop, thank you!

In my garden I am continuing to enjoy the long-blooming winter daphne and hellebores. Spring bulbs, hyacinth, daffodil, tulip, and grape hyacinth have sprung up all around the garden. Lungwort and brunnera sport bright tiny blue and purple flowers. Fiddleheads are unfurling on evergreen ferns. Clematis, lily, peony, and bee balm have all bravely poked up from the warming soil. And this week my bleeding heart set it's first gorgeous bright pink flowers.

It is still a little too early to assess but I think I have lost lemon verbena and 3 varieties of sage. This was some winter with multiple snow and ice storms December through March. Gratefully that is all behind us now. On March 21st we happily celebrated the first day of spring.

Our average last frost date in Portland was April 15th for as long as I could remember. The last 2 years I have found online sources citing March 15th as our new average last frost date, which made sense considering how early and warm our springs have become. So I have been teaching March 15th in my classes and writing. This year has been cool and wet with most early plants a month or so behind-cherry trees, daffodils, etc. When I did an online search today I found a confusing array of average last frost dates for Portland anywhere from March 11-April 26. I'm going with this source which cites March 11-March 31 has the average last frost period.

So regardless of the accurate average last frost date, spring fever is upon us and perhaps you have planted some crops already and perhaps you are itching to get started. In April we are still planting cool season crops. In spite of a few warm sunny days in the 70s, it is still too cold to plant your warm season summer crops!! Please no tomatoes or basil yet.

In my garden I have already planted from starts-snow peas, sugar snap peas, kale, lettuce, chives, thyme, parsley, cilantro, and marjoram. I've planted from seed mache and chervil. Later this month when the soil warms up and dries out a bit I will plant seeds for carrots, radish, beets, turnip, rutabaga, parsnip, celeriac, and scallions.

Here's what to plant now:

Asian greens
Beets-great time to plant seeds in April
Brussels sprouts (plant in spring for a fall harvest)
Carrots-great time to plant seeds in April
Mustard Greens
Parsnips (plant now for a fall harvest)
Peas-don't like heat so get them in by the end of April
Salad greens-arugula, cress, endive, escarole, mache
Swiss Chard

Continue planting artichokes, rhubarb, potatoes, leeks, onions, shallots, garlic in April.

Runner beans are the only type of bean that can be planted early. Plant some seeds now in April, like scarlet or sunset runner. They make beautiful ornamental plants grown up a trellis as a vine hummingbirds will love. Harvest the pods while very young and small for fresh green beans. Or wait until pods are large and dry out for shelling/dry beans.

Herbs-plant cool season annual herbs like cilantro and chervil. Plant all perennial herbs now. Plant hardier annual herbs like dill and german chamomile. Wait on tender warm-season annual herbs like basil and shiso until May.

Fruit-keep planting strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and fruit trees through April.

WAIT until mid to late May when night temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees to plant warm season crops like: beans, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, gourds, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, winter squash, and zucchini. Seriously, just wait until later in May. Planting now risks stunting or outright killing these plants.

In April annual bedding plants become available at nurseries. Don't forget to interplant your veggie garden with annual flowers and herbs as companion plants for beneficial bugs. Some of my favorites: alyssum, calendula, cosmos, marigolds, nasturtium, and zinnia.

Mid-April is a great time to plant sunflower seeds directly into the garden. April is time to plant lily, gladiola, and liatris bulbs. Wait until May to plant dahlia tubers.

Remember to apply Sluggo organic slug bait all around your edible and ornamental garden. Reapply at 2 week intervals to keep slugs under control.

Thank you for reading my blog and I am happy to receive your gardening questions here in a comment. Please contact me at if you are interested in scheduling an email edible gardening consultation. Happy gardening and happy April!

Warmly, Jolie

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Herb Gardening in Containers

Good morning gardeners,

Herbs are one of my favorite plants to grow in the garden. A garden of any size can squeeze in a few herbs. I grow about 50 varieties of herbs in my small urban garden. In my current garden of the last 6 years I dedicate one of my four raised beds exclusively to herbs. This allows the space for perennial herbs to thrive without interfering with my crop rotation of vegetables, annual herbs, and flowers in my three other raised beds. In addition to the one raised bed I grow about 20 containers of herbs.

Herb raised bed 5-30-2016

Many herbs grow well in containers given a few simple considerations. Make sure the containers are sited in the individual herb's sun preference, the container are at least 10 inches diameter, they receive adequate water, and are annually divided and repotted as needed.

Herbs are a diverse group of plants that grow in many shapes and sizes. It is helpful to understand if your herb plant is an annual, herbaceous perennial, or evergreen perennial and their size at maturity.

Containers of herbs, annual flowers, and vegetables 5-30-2016

I have successfully grown these herbs in containers:
Bay Leaf
Chamomile-German, Roman
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena
Mint-Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Peppermint, Spearmint
Oregano-Greek, Italian
Sage-Berggarten, Clary, Pineapple, Purple, Tricolor, and Tangerine
Scented Geranium
Society Garlic
Thyme-english, french, lemon, lime

A row of mint, lemon balm, and feverfew containers in a partly sunny location 5-30-2016

Mint and lemon balm spread aggressively in the garden by underground runners. I prefer growing these plants in pots so I can keep them under control. Mint grows successfully in containers and is a good example of a type of herb that needs an annual division and repotting. Mint roots are so aggressive they will literally choke the root ball when grown in a container.

Mint root ball taken out of container!

Other herbs grown in containers that benefit from dividing and repotting=lovage, lavender, rosemary, oregano, sage.

March is an excellent time for dividing and repotting perennial herbs. The weather is cool and most herbaceous perennial herb plants are just beginning to show signs of spring growth. Dividing and repotting perennial herbs will promote a healthier more lush plant with improved abundant harvest.

To prepare for dividing and repotting herbs here are the supplies you will need:
Bag of organic potting soil
Organic granular fertilizer
'Hori Hori' garden knife
Bucket of soapy water

Here's what I do to divide and repot mint grown in containers:

1. Bring pots to a raised work surface like potting bench or table
2. Prune off all dead stems and leaves to soil surface
3. Gently remove root ball from container
4. Set container aside, wash inside and out with soapy water, rinse well with hose
5. Take root ball and shake away old potting soil, compost or spread old soil around garden
5. Use garden knife to cut away any roots that have wrapped around in circles
6. Dispose of roots in trash or curbside recycling, never in your own compost bin or around your garden-unless you want mint to take over!
7. Use garden knife to cut root ball in half
8. Refill washed container half full with new potting soil and mix in organic fertilizer
9. Replace new half root ball and fill in with soil
10. Replace plant marker and water container
11. You can replant the excess root ball or roots in a new container for additional plants

Even if I am not dividing an herb plant, if it is grown in a container I annually top dress the container with organic granular fertilizer and a layer of fresh potting soil.

A variety of herbs and annual flowers in containers 5-13-2016

I hope you are inspired to try herb gardening in containers. Herbs are so magickal and beautiful in the garden, as well as irreplaceable and essential for delicious seasonal cooking.

You are invited to join me at one of my upcoming culinary herb gardening classes on March 18th or April 9th

Happy Gardening,

The herb raised bed garden is just waking up! 3-9-2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

What to Plant in the March Edible Garden

Good morning gardeners!

Our average last frost in Portland is March 15th and that is just 2 short days away! It is a good date to keep in mind when garden planning and planting. Frost occurs at 32 degrees and most annual vegetables and herbs are not able to survive temperatures that low. Please keep in mind this date is an AVERAGE based on previous years. We could still get an overnight frost. So far the 10 day forecast appears to be frost-free. This is great news for eager gardeners!

This Friday and Sunday saw partly sunny with 60 degree days here in Portland. Talk about spring fever, yikes! Wonderful days for gardening and getting some much needed sunshine on my skin! However, please remember it is not officially spring until March 21st and March weather is wildly unpredictable with rain, hail, wind, and fluctuating temperatures averaging in the 40s/50s.

For optimal planting conditions not only do day temperatures need to rise, the soil needs to warm, and dry out some. In wet cold soil potato tubers will rot, seeds won’t germinate and transplants will struggle to grow. As March proceeds into April we generally have more ideal planting conditions. Think cool season crops, it is way to early for summer heat lovers like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, etc--you will plant these crops after May 15th.

Working in wet gardens causes soil compaction that impacts plant health. I’ve had my raised beds covered with a frost blanket that is keeping the soil warm and drier through the rainy season. On a dry day at the beginning of March I prepared my raised beds by removing the frost blanket, hoeing the fall-planted crimson clover cover crop, leaving greens on soil, sprinkling on an organic granular fertilizer, adding a fresh layer of compost, and then replacing the frost blankets. By mid-end of March when I assess the weather the raised beds will be prepped and ready for planting.

During the sunny warmer weather on Friday and Sunday I worked on my herb garden-both containers and a raised bed. It is wonderful timing to divide and repot herbs and perennials grown in containers. The cool weather of spring was perfect for planting annual herbs that thrive in the cooler weather like chervil, cilantro, and parsley. As well as hardy perennials like english and lemon thyme varieties. I think that subject warrants an entire separate post that I am working on now!

Cool Season Crops to Plant in March:

Asparagus-from crowns
Garlic-from cloves
Horseradish-from roots
Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes-from tubers
Potatoes-from seed potato tubers
Onions-from bulbs or bunches
Shallots-from cloves

Direct seed in the garden with protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame or plant transplants directly into the garden

Asian Greens
Escarole & Endive
Florence Fennel
Leeks-transplants are best
Mesclun Mix
Mustard Greens
Radish-direct seed is best
Swiss Chard
Turnips-direct seed is best

I would wait a little later in March to see how the weather goes for planting: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. Or if you want to plant these now from transplants into the garden be sure to keep a warming frost blanket handy or use some other kind of protection from a cloche, cold frame or low tunnel. I would also hold off until late March into April for direct-seeding beets and carrots. Make sure the soil has warmed up or their seeds won't germinate!

March is a great time to get started with your herb garden. Cool-loving annual herbs like chervil and cilantro should be planted now from seed or transplants. Biennial parsley can be planted now. Additionally perennial herbs like chives, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme can all be planted from transplants in March.

Late winter into early spring is the ideal time to plant small fruit and fruit trees in your garden. This time of year you will also get the best selection at nurseries. Consider planting a dwarf or columnar fruit tree such as apple, Asian pear, pear, cherry, or plum which all grow excellent in Portland. Fruiting shrubs, canes, and vines include:


And don’t forget the strawberries!

Spring is right around the corner. Happy Planting!