Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What to do in the February Garden

Good afternoon gardening friends,

I have come to love this time of year. Certainly many of you will laugh and think I am crazy. You might skeptically ask what about the ice, rain, rain/snow mix, freezing rain, thunderstorms, and variation upon variation of Portland’s “liquid sunshine?” For me February is a dreamy month when I take the last restorative pause of winter before frantic spring arrives. It is my deep breath, in anticipation of a very full 9 months of home gardening, hiking and nature walks, nursery visits, and my seasonal gardening business takes off at rocket speed. I give thanks for a break from the work of gardening, a restful winter mostly spent indoors, and prepare for rebirth of spring and awakening of nature.

February in Portland is an unpredictable mix of wintery weather with small hopeful glimpses of impending spring. Rainy days I’ve enjoyed inside reading and dreaming of spring. On the warmer days the winter sunshine is a seductive siren luring me into the garden for some gentle exercise and the healing power of nature.

A short stroll around the February garden reveals signs of spring abound! Winter daphne, hellebores, and spring flowering bulbs. In the autumn I planted several pots of spring flowering bulbs. Defiant of rain and frost the brave green shoots of daffodil, crocus, and hyacinth are all now poking up out of the winter soil.

This month my fragrant winter daphne started to bloom. Thinning some of its evergreen branches to provide more room for under-planted hellebores provided ample blossoming stems for indoor cut flower arrangements. Oh my, the sweet fragrance of daphne wafts throughout my small home as the tiny but powerful buds open!

Speaking of hellebores, as they are beginning their late winter flowering, you can help them out by completely pruning back to the ground all of the old foliage. Make sure to cut back only the foliage not the new flower buds. By getting rid of the large glossy evergreen leaves you showcase the low-growing dramatic flowers that otherwise would get lost. Don’t worry; after the hellebore plant is done blooming it will grow new evergreen leaves.

Honestly some of the warmer days near 50 degrees have sparked what can only be described as an epidemic of spring fever. I gently remind myself that spring is still five weeks away. A fantastic and fun seasonally appropriate gardening activity is to visit your local nursery to check out the late winter offerings.

If you didn’t plant spring-blooming bulbs in the autumn, February into March your local nursery will be packed with a selection of potted daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, miniature iris, grape hyacinth, crocus, anemone, and ranunculus. Keep an eye out for one of my favorites, the delicate “checkered lily” Fritillaria meleagris.

This is also a wonderful time of year to purchase and plant cool-season flowering annuals like cyclamen, pansy, primrose, and viola. I tuck these fresh flowering annuals into the pots on my deck to brighten up the front entrance. You can even bring some into your home to grow on a sunny windowsill. After a dreary winter, these welcome flowers are a sure sign spring is on its way.

The local florist is teaming with cut daffodils and tulips in February. Also be on the look out for flowering branches-cherry, plum, quince, forsythia, and pussy willow. I adore forcing these blooming branches indoors during the rainy and dark late winter months. Pretty spring wreaths start showing up. I christen the onset of spring with a pussy willow wreath on my front door. There are so many ways to get more nature in your life even when the weather is not yet cooperative for gardening.

February is a perfect time to do your garden planning, enjoy your seed catalogs, begin purchasing seeds & bulbs, inventory, repair and purchase new gardening tools and supplies. During the winter month of February you could expand your gardening knowledge by taking a gardening workshop, reading a gardening book, or subscribing to a gardening magazine.

Check out my upcoming gardening workshops in February and March.

February weather in Portland is extremely unpredictable and full of garden-threatening frost. Please keep in mind gardening in soil when it is still wet is very damaging. By walking, shoveling, tilling, and planting in wet soil you cause more compaction that equals a challenging living environment for plant roots and beneficial soil microorganisms.

When the temperatures are mild and the rain stops for a few days, February can afford the first opportunity of the year to garden. On those days I enjoy raking up autumn leaves and cleaning up winter storm debris. It is a good time to replace plant markers and lay on a fresh layer of mulch or compost.

The average last frost in Portland is March 15 and this is conveniently close to the spring equinox when we are halfway between winter and summer. This is important because it means the longest days and closest sun distance are on their way. Edible garden plants benefit from the warmer air temperatures, warmer soil temperatures, longer days, and brighter closer sun.

February is the time to start tomatoes from seed indoors. The plants take several months to grow from seed to transplant for the Portland short summer growing season. Honestly, I don’t ever start tomatoes from seeds indoors. Once May rolls around and it is the appropriate warm weather for tomato planting outdoors in the garden, Portland Nursery stocks hundreds of varieties of heirloom and hybrid varieties of tomatoes plants. I always get my favorite and some new varieties for my small urban garden. I am confident you will also be impressed by their selection.

Say you really have the gardening bug this month and the unpredictable weather momentarily cooperates with a break in the rain and temperatures reach the upper 40s, what can you plant? First keep in mind cold, wet soil is not conducive to seed germination so make sure your raised bed or in-ground garden is equipped with the protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame, tunnel or greenhouse. You can then direct seed or transplant these cool-season crops:

Escarole & Endive
Florence fennel
Mesclun mix
Mustard greens

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that grows wonderfully in the Portland climate. Keep in mind, as a perennial crop they need a dedicated garden space to spread out. Be patient as they establish, full production of spears takes 2-3 years. Asparagus crowns are planted early in the growing season during February and March. Crowns are now available for sale at your local nursery.

February in Portland is the ideal time to purchase and plant fruit. Nurseries carry the best selection now and the cooler weather is conducive to planting fruit.

Trees: apples, apricots, Asian pears, European pears, cherries, plums, peaches, and nectarines
Vines: kiwi, grapes, and hops
Bushes: blueberries, currants, gooseberry, and huckleberry
Canes: raspberries and blackberries

And don't forget about your strawberry crowns. Strawberries grow awesome in Portland!

As I write to you this afternoon I am listening to the rain on the roof and the wind shaking the trees. I appreciate the life-giving rain filling up our reservoirs, rivers, and lakes. I am grateful for all the rain as it contributes to such a lush glorious garden. Remember while the garden may look mostly dormant, life is stirring, nature is quickening and spring is right around the corner.

Happy Gardening,

Monday, January 16, 2017

Garden Dreaming....

Good afternoon gardening friends!

Here in Portland we received 10-12 inches of snow last week and with daily temperatures below freezing all that snow is persistently and stubbornly sticking around. Snow days can be a writer's dream come true! Initially I was poetically writing about this unprecedented snowfall in Portland.

Day 1: "Fat fluffy white snowflakes magically dancing like soft whispers from the cold dark sky. Layers and layers of puffy glittery white snow weighing heavily on trees, shrubs, pots, hanging baskets, and the fence, all blanketed by mother nature. I love this weather. Thank you for this beautiful winter gift."

Day 2: "Mother Nature is just showing off this morning. Not a cloud in the sky, the brilliant bright sunrise is magically turning the blankets of snow into glistening pink cotton candy. I love this weather."

Day 3: "The sunshine and blue skies contrast brilliantly with the blinding white snow. I have cleaned the entire house, organized my dresser, closet, and all the kitchen & bathroom drawers. Thanks for another snow day."

Day 4: "Why am I only the only person in our neighborhood who actually shoveled their sidewalk? I slipped and slided trying to walk 4 blocks to the grocery store. It's slim pickings in our refrigerator and I am hangry. The store is mobbed and of course out of what I walked over for. Dumb snow."

Day 6: "With windchill it is 9 degrees outside this morning. Will I ever drive my car or go to work again?"

Portlanders, I am sure that you can relate! I usually am not affected by seasonal depression. I enjoy all the seasons of the year, even the restful winter season. However, this is the 4th snow/ice inclement weather event in Portland since the beginning of December.

A funny drawing by Joseph Tychonievich of Green Sparrow Gardens is floating around the Internet. He says, "The short dark winter days cause me to suffer from S.A.D. Seed Acquisition Disorder.” Gardening friends, I’m sure you can all relate to this! During the intensity of the holiday season we are happy to have a rest from our gardens.

At the beginning of every year the new seed catalogs arrive in my mailbox. Thankfully this year several arrived just in time for the long snow days spent indoors. I spend hours excitedly pouring over each catalog, wrapped in a blanket, drinking pots of my favorite tea and devouring every detail of the new and old favorite varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Usually in January I find myself in pajamas and boots, clipboard in hand patrolling my puddle-filled, mostly dormant garden. Typically I gaze at the lush fall-sown cover crops and I ponder what worked and didn't work last year. This week my garden is still coated in a 10 inch blanket of stubborn snow.

That's a photo of my raised beds!

Winter is an excellent time for me to make list after list of garden plans. Dreaming and fantasizing about peonies, dahlias, sunflowers, and lilies I mark up my seed catalogs and make online wish lists. I eat, drink, breath all the endless potential and promise my garden holds in the coming year, especially this cold snowed in January.

My unchecked gardening enthusiasm for heirlooms can also promise the emptying of my bank account if I do not practice some restraint. I could easily see that happening this week as I drooled over the 2017 Swan Island Dahlias catalog.

Heirloom seeds offer a diversity of old-fashioned quality, and are rich in taste, color and history. Heirlooms are commonly defined as open-pollinated varieties that have resulted from natural selection rather than a controlled hybridization process and were grown prior to 1950. Some excellent sources for heirloom seeds are Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interest, and Renee’s Garden.

When purchasing seeds you will see many terms like heirloom, cultivar, GE, GMO, open pollinated, hybrid, organic and treated. All of these can be confusing and are often misinterpreted by the gardener consumer. I found a handy online resource from Renee’s Garden called Seed Buying 101: A Seed Gardener’s Glossary.

If you are concerned about GMOs, signers of the safe seed pledge do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds. A list of companies that have signed the pledge is maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics, a non-profit with a stated mission of educating the public about and advocating for socially responsible use of new genetic technologies.

With so many seed choices, where does a gardener begin? First, make a list of all the things you are interested in growing, their growth habits and size at maturity. Take measurements of your garden and draw out where you might place things. You are invited to join me for the organic gardening workshops I am teaching this February, March, and April.

Winter is the perfect season to explore gardening books like: The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, and The Timber Press Guide to Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy every moment of the garden dreaming season before the hard work of spring begins!

In Health,

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What to Plant in September

Good morning gardening friends,

Two days left of August and today's cooler cloudy weather may be a signal Autumn is on it's way. Indeed Autumn Equinox is September 21st, however often we have delicious warm weather through September. Late summer in Portland means a garden bursting with fresh delicious produce. Summer's bounty includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, melon, corn, beans, and basil! Stone fruit is amazing this year and local apples and pears are beginning to ripen.

Four short days ago we had 99 degree weather in Portland. During those sweltering temperatures it is hard to imagine now is the time to begin thinking about a fall and winter garden. But believe it or not July and August are the months to begin planting your garden for a fall and winter harvest. Unfortunately the bad news is you may have missed your planting window for some winter crops. The good news is there is still plenty you can plant in early September.

Portland’s warm fall and mild winter temperatures make an ideal climate for food growing into winter.
According to the farmer’s almanac our average first frost date has now shifted to November 15th. When thinking about planting fall and winter edibles, in general you want them to be at harvestable maturity by this average first frost date. So if you are interested in planting broccoli and the variety you select says 90 days to maturity you need to count back 90 days from November 15th and plant on August 15th. Other factors that effect plant growth to consider are the shorter day lengths and farther position of the sun during fall and winter.

Some crops that do well in the cooler weather of fall and winter are:
brussels sprouts
chinese cabbage
collard greens
endive & escarole
herbs-chervil, cilantro, and parsley
mache/corn salad/vit
mesclun mix
mustard greens
salad greens
swiss chard

You can also plant seed potatoes in the summer for a late fall harvest.

Many crops are intended to overwinter. You plant them in the fall and they mature for harvest the following spring or summer. Fava beans, garlic, onions and shallots are all overwintering crops. There are also many overwintering varieties of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and leeks.

A great resource for timing your fall/winter garden planting is the Territorial Seed Company. Check out their very informative fall and winter growing guide.

Some of the longer maturing crops are brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, rutabaga and parsnip. It may be too late too plant those in September for a crop in time for winter. If you want to give it a try definitely use a transplant vs direct seeding and be prepared for season extension with a frost blanket or cold frame.

What I will be planting in my garden the first week of September:
From seed: arugula, endive, chervil, mache, mesclun mix, radish
From transplants/starts: beets, carrots, fennel, cilantro, kale, lettuce, parsley, peas-snow & snap, radicchio, scallions, spinach, swiss chard

In October I will plant bulbs for garlic and shallots to overwinter, as well as cover crops to help enrich the resting soil over the winter. And don't forget September and October are the perfect time for fall-planted spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and buttercups! Stay tuned for more details on these autumn garden tasks.

While you are enjoying the end of summer and reaping the abundant harvest of your garden, remember to grab a glass of iced tea and kick back with your fall and winter seed catalogs and planting calendar. When the winter weather sets in you will be grateful you planned and planted ahead for a cool-season harvest.

Happy Gardening,

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Healing Power of Nature

The Healing Power of Nature
Living with Chronic Illness

One week before my 14th birthday my mother died at age 42 after a three-year battle with breast cancer. I was staying with my father and stepfamily and I will always remember the pain of the phone call from hospice ringing in the middle of the night. The finality of that phone call tore into my tender 13-year-old heart. The next morning I went into the garage and found old seed packets for radishes, carrots and tomatoes. Armed with a shovel, seed packets and absolutely no instruction, I found a small patch of dirt between the house foundation and backyard lawn and I began digging. Repeatedly I slammed the shovel into the soil as an emotional release. I turned and turned the hard pack dry dusty soil. Without reading the seed packets, I planted them into the earth with my bare hands and watered them with the green hose.

What happened to my little first garden, I have no memory. What I do remember is the internal drive and instinct to seek out the soil and gardening as a means to cope with my intense grief. I imagine that experience was when the tiny seed of gardening was planted in my heart and where it lay dormant for the next ten years until I was again ready to put my hands into the soil.

The healing power of gardening was a powerful and patient seed, and at 25-years-old it awoke and gardening became my constant companion and teacher. Over the last 20 years of urban gardening I have gardened by any means possible; container gardening on apartments front stoops and patios, large scale backyard gardening, raised beds, community gardens, and everything in between.

My passionate love affair with plants has given meaning and direction to my often-confusing life. I believe in the inherent healing power of plants and nature and that is what led me in 2007 to my midlife career change to horticulture. In April 2015 I was blessed with the opportunity to start my own small business. As sole proprietor of The Gardening Goddess I happily devote myself full-time to garden design, garden consultation, garden writing, and teaching gardening workshops.

I was called to share my passion for the healing power of nature with others. In August 2015 I began a rigorous and prestigious horticultural therapy internship at Legacy Health with the goal of professional registration with the American Horticultural Therapy Association as a Horticultural Therapist. My internship was demanding and exciting providing with the opportunity for me to work in pediatrics, memory care, long-term care, intermediate care, skilled nursing, assisted living, and the Rehabilitative Institute of Oregon. I developed a therapeutic gardening program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This magical new professional life was a dream come true for me.

As the year progressed and my professional life became more demanding I struggled with several health problems. Ultimately in May 2016 a colonoscopy revealed ulcers in my small intestine and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease with no cure. Crohn's Disease is an auto immune disease that affects the entire gastro-intestinal system and is not completely understood.

How I personally experience Crohn’s Disease is a range of chronic GI symptoms including: mouth ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, chest pain, asthma, abdominal pain & cramping, abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, anal fissures, chronic blood loss, anemia, and nutrient malabsorption. My entire body aches in a state of chronic pain, insomnia gives me little restful sleep, and I am constantly fatigued and feeling like I’m running on empty.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness and managing the acute phase is profoundly life altering and the cause of deep emotional, mental, and physical stress. As an extremely driven and solution-oriented person I approached my illness with all the determination of an army tank. Within two weeks of diagnosis I was armed with my gastroenterologist, and also a new primary care MD, a new naturopathic doctor, and a new psychotherapist. I threw at my illness immunomodulation medication, multiple antibiotics, steroids, a multitude of naturopathic supplements, and a drastic change to a very restricted diet. I started a weekly routine of somatic psychotherapy, yoga, and meditation to dive into the emotional side of my illness. I was going to lick this Crohn’s Disease!

My body had other plans for me. The side effects from my medication caused me to be so nauseated I couldn’t see or smell food, let alone eat, without vomiting. I lost 20 pounds very quickly. I experienced cognitive impairment, normally a very organized person I could not remember details or words, I became easily confused while driving. Dizziness, vertigo, and headaches joined my plethora of symptoms. My right hip joint and muscles became so stiff and tight I could not cross my leg without excruciating pain. Muscle spasms and cramping became so uncomfortable my leg buckled when I tried to bear weight and walk. I was in and out of urgent care for painful urinary tract infections. All aspects of work and internship were becoming near impossible for me.

Within a month of diagnosis I had a complete physical and mental collapse. I was treated for dehydration and exhaustion. My “army tank” approach was not working. In the following months I was also diagnosed with gastro-esphogial reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, a multitude of food allergies, high cholesterol and interstitial cystitis. It was time to take a step back and listen to what my body and my mental health needed of me to begin my healing process.

Once again nature drew me into her supportive embrace and I discovered my healing process in my garden. My garden is the consistent throughout my life and especially during my illness. Most of the time I sit in my garden and do nothing. I find sitting very still and just observing nature to be so worthwhile. Nature encourages me to slow down.

My garden is my sanctuary. The trauma of being poked and prodded with weekly blood draws, injections, and being subjected to invasive medical procedures sends me running into my garden for refuge. When I feel defeated, hopeless, powerless, out of control, sick, in pain, fatigued, anxious, stressed, scared, depressed, confused, frustrated, or angry I come to my garden for release and comfort. My garden hears and holds all of my feelings.

In my garden my whole body relaxes. Here I breathe deeply and my muscles release tension. My heart rate calms and I let go of my worries. My pain and discomfort soften. Anxiety dissipates and stress melts away. Within a few minutes of being in my garden, my life makes sense and all is right in the world. Surrounded in nature, I am grounded, centered, and restored to balance.

My garden teaches me important lessons I relate to my own life. All plants have a birth, life, and death. Their life cycle includes both active growth and dormancy. Many plants experience disease, and often it is because they are weakened by stressors. I can throw lots of “things” at my garden like fertilizer, compost, weeding, pruning, staking, and ultimately I have no control over which plants thrive.

During the worst time of my illness, most days I could just muster enough energy to water and harvest my garden. The most minimal tending needed to keep it going. On good days I can spend an hour getting gentle exercise as I weed and prune. Every day I enjoy just sitting in my garden, listening to the breeze in the leaves, feel the warm sun on my skin, and watch the multitude of bugs and birds. The days I was too tired to get up, too fatigued to even read, I would lay on the couch and gaze out the window at my garden or look at the pictures in garden catalogs. Even a passive view of nature out the window or in print has healing powers.

There is always something new and delightful to notice in the garden. The abundant palette of colors, textures, shapes, sizes, fragrance, and tastes of my garden is endlessly exciting and surprising. Sitting in my garden inspires calmness and wonder.

As summer progresses I observe brilliant orange tiger lilies bloom next to dinner plate dahlias in a rainbow of colors. Beneficial bugs buzz everywhere I look. Damselflies, ladybugs, and a host of bees are regular visitors. Our resident hummingbird happily buzzes from splashing in the sprinkler to sipping nectar from purple agastache and brilliant red monarda blossoms. The tiniest “gray hairstreak” butterfly rests on a chamomile blossom and rubs her new wings together warming up for flight. Crow, blue jay, robin, swallow, finch, warbler, junco and chickadee alike take turns bathing and drinking from our birdbath.

Surrounded by nature’s wonder I will continue to seek refuge in my garden. No matter what my physical, emotional, and mental state my garden consistently provides an opportunity to restore my balance, find meaning in my life, and heal myself. During an adolescent time of great grief and trauma the tiny seed of gardening was planted in my young heart. The healing power of nature was a powerful and patient seed that has sustained me and grown strong giving my life meaning and joy. Nature is abundant in her healing power, she is always here waiting during every adversity, and here is where you will find me loving my life in my garden.

Warm Wishes for Your Vibrant Health,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hello from the July garden!

Hello gardening friends!

I hope your spring and early summer in the garden has been fantastic and fruitful! I have been recovering from the acute phase of a new chronic illness diagnosis and on medical leave from most aspects of my garden business, including writing. I am spending a lot of time sitting and resting in my garden. My garden has become a place of sanctuary and restoration for me. Thank you so much to my husband for taking all of these lovely photos of our garden for me to share with you.

We just harvested our first batch of small cucumbers for pickling. My husband harvested our first batch of 'kennebec' and 'all red' potatoes. Last month we had an abundant harvest of beets and carrots that were succession planted to make room for the sunburst patty pan summer squash. We've eaten 2 of those this week. Our beans are sky high and the scarlet runner types are blooming red. Our salad garden did great this spring and we continue to harvest fresh sweet lettuce from a succession planting. The early spring planted kale ultimately succumbed to aphids and we pulled it all out. The tomato plants are 4 feet and loaded with blossoms. The fall-planted garlic and shallots have been harvested to make room for basil.

Our flowers are lovely this year. Companion planted alyssum, calendula, celosia, lobelia, nasturtium, petunia, snapdragon, statice, sunflower, and zinnia are a riot of color and beneficial bug activity inside and surrounding the raised beds. All 5 dahlia varieties are blooming in profusion. The orange tiger lilies began this week. Monarda, echinacea, and agastache are brightly blooming. Coreopsis, rudbeckia, and star-gazer lilies are budded and ready to bloom any moment.

Believe it or not it is almost time to start planting your garden for a fall and winter harvest! Please stay tuned for more details about that. My gardening workshops at Portland Nursery and monthly garden report in the Concordia News will resume in September.

Happy Gardening and Resting in the Garden,

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to Plant in the May Edible Garden

Good morning Portland gardeners!

Happy May Day and the beginning of the Beltane season! Gardens are bursting with spring color and everywhere you look there is new growth springing up. In the edible garden we have been planting cool season veggies, small fruit, and fruit trees since March. Hopefully you headed my earlier warnings about planting heat loving summer veggies too early in your garden. The entire group of summer veggies requires night temperatures consistently above 55 degrees and soil temperature to have warmed to 90 degrees. April was too early for planting tomatoes. Planting too early results in stressed, stunted, and dying plants. I know, I know, you've heard me say it a hundred times this spring!

Here is the good news. I think you are safe to plant the heat-loving summer veggies and herbs now. The forecast looks good for night temperatures consistently above 55 degrees. However, my disclaimer is tonight and tomorrow night look to be a little cooler down to 49 degrees. So either wait to plant until Tuesday or plant today and provide some nighttime protection like a frost blanket for these two cooler nights.

Great news, right? I know you have been dying to get those tomatoes and basil planted!!

I would continue to plant most of the cool season veggies through mid May and then lay off until late summer planting for a winter harvest. Spring planted peas like cooler weather and wither in the warm summer temperatures, so I wouldn't plant them anymore. Likewise cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and lettuce tend to bolt in the hot summer weather so make sure you are planting summer varieties that are more heat resistant. The window for planting asparagus and garlic is over.

Here's what to plant in May:

Beans-runner, bush, pole
Brussels sprouts-for a winter harvest
Celeriac/Celery Root
Ground Cherries
Summer Squash
Winter Squash

All types of annual and perennial herbs can be planted in May. You can also continue planting strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, and fruit trees in May.

It is helpful to plant veggie starts on cloudy and cooler days than on sunny hot days. Keep your veggie starts well watered until they are established. If planting seeds remember to keep the seed bed evenly moist for best germination. This can sometimes mean a daily light watering.

Prepare your planting bed with a good dose of organic granular fertilizer and some fresh compost. Apply organic slug bait "sluggo" to your new veggie garden to prevent slug attack of all your new seedlings.

Happy May and happy gardening!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Portland

Hello gardening friends!

My garden report in the May edition of Concordia News came out this week. In case you don't live in the neighborhood, it was all about tips for successful organic tomato growing in Portland. Tomatoes are so beautiful and delicious. Did you know they are the number one gardening plant in the united states? They are!

I know tomato plants are available at nurseries and garden centers, please let me reinforce for the hundredth time, it is still TOO EARLY to plant tomatoes in Portland. They need night temperatures CONSISTENTLY above 55 degrees. That has not happened yet. In fact last week we had night temperatures in the low 40s. Typically night temperatures are 55 and above any time between May 15-June 1st.

Planting your tomatoes too early will result in stressed, stunted, and dead plants.

This is also the same for other heat loving vegetables: basil, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, tomatillos, summer squash, winter squash, zucchini. It is too early to plant these yet in your gardens without some kind of protection such as a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame, tunnel, or greenhouse.

Tomatoes are not difficult to grow if you keep in mind a few simple principles.

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 like sun! 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.

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.

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.

I'm looking forward to planting 5 tomato plants this year and can't wait until it has warmed up even more in just a few short weeks. Have you selected your tomato varieties? I look forward to hearing what you are going to plant this year!

Happy Gardening,