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,