Category Archives: Edible Landscaping

Summer has Finally Arrived in the Northwest

strawberry plant

A ripe strawberry growing at the community garden plot. Yum!

Strawberries are ripe at my community garden plot. This week I harvested about 1 1/2 pounds along with several bunches of radishes, a huge head of leaf lettuce, and a few baby potatoes. The strawberry plants had been on in the patio garden, but despite growing quite happily there, produced very few actual berries. It was just too shady for them. So I moved them to the sunny community garden and decided to focus on herbs and greens on the patio.

The patio garden is under the shade of some lovely douglas fir trees, and so only gets sun early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Most edible plants are annuals that need full sun or close to it. However, plants that are grown for their edible leaves are the most likely to do well in partial shade. For example, in areas with hot summers it works well to grow lettuce and other salad greens under some shade to prevent bolting. (Lettuce, of course, prefers cool weather and will “bolt” or go to seed quickly in the heat of summer. This means that the lettuce leaves get bitter. Shade and lots of water can help a bit with this if you want to grow lettuce in August.

Red leaf lettuce

Red leaf lettuce and garden cress growing in a container on the patio.

As you can see, my garden is having the opposite problem. Even leafy plants like this red lettuce and garden cress are becoming “leggy” because of lack of light. They also grow much more slowly on the shaded patio than they would in a sunny spot. Still, I have gotten several salads from the patio this spring, despite the cool and rainy weather. Rather than harvesting the entire head of lettuce, I cut off the largest individual leaves and let the plant continue growing. There really is nothing to be done about legginess other than moving the plant to a sunnier spot. Still, the leaves will grow, if somewhat slowly. To speed things up, I’m doing my best to provide plenty of nutrients by watering weekly with fertilizer.

What challenges are you facing in your garden this year? How are you handling them? I want to hear from other gardeners!

Spring Patio Garden Happenings

I have been a busy graduate student with little time for gardening or garden blogging. This winter I passed my qualifying exams and now the only thing between me and a PhD is my dissertation. Last month I won a plot in a community garden, so I will soon write some posts about my adventures there. So far spring in the Pacific Northwest has been cool and rainy. I’m still getting used to gardening in this climate. Today is the last frost date here, but it was still cool and overcast today.

Portsmouth fuschias
Creative Commons License photo credit: Muffet

I had a busy weekend, so didn’t get to the community garden plot to start planting out warm weather crops today. Instead I puttered around my patio garden. Since my garden is mostly under the high shade of some douglas firs, I have given up on growing any sun loving crops. The strawberries have been replanted in the CG plot, making space for lots of greens and herbs.

This week I harvested one salad and tonight we had stirfry with chinese broccoli. I replanted those spaces with arugula and calendula. I have a batch of seedlings growing, including some chard, dill, and lettuce. Today I planted more seeds: asian greens, Italian parsley, cilantro, simpson curly green lettuce, rouge d’hiver lettuce, and speckled trout romaine.

I also planted a fuschia in a hanging basket and hung it up outside the back door. It makes me happy.

Improving Your Soil with Cover Crops

When I planted my peas a couple of weeks ago I also planted some fava beans. Now fava beans are a sort of Italian delicacy, but I’m too lazy to eat and grow fava beans because they need a lot of shelling. The reason I planted fava beans is to use them as a cover crop or “green manure” crop. When the fava beans grow up a bit and I’m ready to plant something else I will turn the not yet fully grown bean plants into the soil where they will break down and enrich it.

Broad beans
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

Cover crops can be particularly important if you have a small garden or weed problems. I have a terrible problem with crab grass so I’m hoping that by planting fava beans I will be reducing the growth of the crab grass because the fava beans will grow up and compete for light. If you have a small garden like I do you can never get too many organic fertilizers. I make compost for my garden, but I don’t have a lot of time or money to spend collecting or buy soil additives for my garden. A “green manure” crops enrich the soil in a similar way to animal manures.

If you have the time and the space I would highly recommend keeping some small animals to produce manure for your garden. Rabbits or chickens can be good sources of manure. Even if you just have a child with a small animal pet like a guinea pig or a hamster you can add that bedding to your compost pile. However, if you are like me and live in an apartment or don’t have the time to commit to keeping animals, green manure crops are a great option for improving your soil.

Five Tips for Planting Peas

Row of peas
Creative Commons License photo credit: lobo235

Update: It looks like lots of people are wanting to know when to plant peas, so I am going to cover that right now, before I get to how to plant them.

  1. Plant by soil temperature, not date! Pea seeds can germinate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees but it will take forever and the seeds may rot, so plant them as soon as the soil temperatures is consistently above 50 degrees.
  2. Peas like cool weather, so don’t wait too long! Once those warm summer days start coming, your pea plants will not be happy.
  3.  If possible, you have prepare the soil in the fall and have everything ready for planting as soon as the soil warms up just a bit.
  4. If you want an extra early harvest, experiment with transplanting. In the comments below, Jay mentions he has good luck starting his peas inside and transplanting the seedlings. I never bother with transplanting for two reasons. First, I want to plant hundreds of peas and I don’t have a greenhouse. Second, transplanting can slow the growth of the little plants if not done carefully, sometimes transplants never manage to grow strong roots which makes for stunted plants. To see if you are getting a benefiting from transplanting, start some seeds inside on the same day you plant some outside, then compare their growth and harvest dates.

Saturday was one of those rare sunny days here in Eugene, a perfect day for planting peas. Back in the day, by which I mean when I was running the community garden at my tiny college in Ohio, Saint Patrick’s Day was the favored day for planting peas. Here in Eugene I’m still experimenting to find the ideal time to plant peas.I was reading the Seed Ambassadors planting calendar for the Southern Willamette Valley last week and was excited to see the peas could be seeded here even in early February.  Last year I didn’t get started in my yardshare garden until April, but the first thing I planted was peas and they were one of my most successful crops. So Saturday I spent the afternoon hoeing down the tiny weeds that had started and planted a whole bed of peas. Peas are one of my favorite vegetables and definitely worth planting because they are expensive in the stores and tastiest when eaten fresh from the garden! Now here are a few tips for getting started when planting peas:

1. Always coat your pea seeds with inoculant. Peas, beans, and other legumes form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that helps them get the nitrogen they need to grow. They can only do this if there is a nice community of rhizobial bacteria already living in the soil. The inoculant is a black powder made of these live beneficial bacteria. Before planting your peas get them a bit wet and then roll them around in the powder to coat them.

2. Plant your peas close together. Unlike many garden vegetables that have trouble growing if planted too close together, I have never had problems with planting peas too closely. I plant tall peas in a double row on either side of whatever structure I’m planning to let them climb, about one inch apart. I don’t worry too much about spacing the seeds exactly and they always seem to do fine. Dwarf peas I plant in blocks of four rows, each only a few inches apart. This way the little pea plants grab onto each other and help hold each other up. This also makes it more difficult for weeds to grow in between them.

3. Don’t thin your peas. Peas don’t like to have their roots disturbed and pulling out the tiny seedlings weakens the roots of all the seedlings next to them.

4. Put the climbing structure for your peas up at the same time you plant. Again, tiny pea seedlings don’t like it when their roots are disturbed. If you wait until the peas have sprouted to add something for them to climb on you will risk killing some of your tiny seeds.

5. Protect your seedlings from hungry animals. If you have ever gone to a fancy Asian fusion restaurant you know that pea sprouts are very very tasty! Peas are one of the plants that birds, squirrels, and other animals seem to love to munch on. Once your pea seedlings are a bit bigger they toughen up and there is less chance that a hungry animal will come by and eat them all up. A bit of netting or floating row cover will protect your tiny treasures.

Anyone else have tips or tricks for growing peas? Last year I had good luck growing the snow pea “Oregon Sugar Pod II” and the snap pea “Sugar Sprint” but “Sugar Daddy” didn’t come up very thickly. Any favorite varieties?

Garden Blog Update

It has been very quiet around GardenSong the last few months. Although I managed to get some pots and mix myself up some potting soil, my little patio garden didn’t get planted before winter set in here. I haven’t had time to write for the last few months because my husband, Ian, and I have been dealing with his newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, which has left him somewhat disable and exhausted. It has been quite an adjustment for both of us. We are hopeful that his new medications will get him feeling a lot better in a few months, but in the meantime he can’t do much, which has left me super busy.

I’m waiting for March and warmer temperatures before planting my patio garden. When it’s warm enough I will begin planting culinary herbs, greens, and edible flowers. I’m also putting in an application for a community garden plot. The community garden plot will be where I grow the majority of our vegetable for the year. Here in Eugene, there is a lottery for community garden spaces, so wish me luck.

Patio Gardening – Kitchen Herbs for Your Patio

Thyme
Creative Commons License photo credit: tillwe

I’m still getting my patio garden set up and arranged, but one of the first things I bought to plant was some herbs. Herbs make me happy. They are beautiful, they like to grow in pots, and they then I don’t spend a bunch of money when I need some fresh herbs for cooking. I don’t know about you but I always feel like it’s such a waste to buy fresh herbs from the store. A small bunch of herbs costs $1-$1.50. I use a few springs and then the rest rots in my fridge, it’s such a waste. A small herb plant only costs $2-3 dollars and you can continue to pick sprigs off it almost year round here in Eugene.

Here are a few of my favorite perennial herbs for a patio…

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Sustainable Landscaping – Fall Planting

Bright & Cheerful

Creative Commons License photo credit: dawnzy58

Many people think of fall as the time to put your garden to bed or take a break from gardening, but fall is a great time to get a head start on your spring garden. Part of sustainable landscaping is planning your garden work so that it is personally sustainable for you. Getting a jump on your landscaping in the fall will save you a bunch of time in the spring when you will have more gardening tasks than time to do them.

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Growing Amaranth for Greens or Grain

Amaranth
Kelly at Planet Green writes about her adventure buying Amaranth greens at her local farmers market in
Try a New Vegetable: Amaranth. It’s true that calling it “pig weed” doesn’t make it sound very appetizing, but those pigs are onto something. Amaranth is tasty and easy to grow. Some varieties are grown for their nutritious greens while others have been bred to produce high yields seeds, which are tasty eaten as porridge or like rice. Still other species of Amaranth are grown for their exotic looking flower heads, particularly the old fashioned variety also known as “love-lies-bleeding.”

Amaranth is an easy to grow summer annual. In fact, in many parts of the country members of the genus grow as weeds as the name “pig weed” indicates. I wouldn’t recommend trying to grow it to harvest the seeds unless you have an exceptionally large garden, but the greens and flowers could both be pleasant additions to the home garden.

(Photo by Andedam used under creative commons license.)