Category Archives: Growing Food

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?

Eating your Harvest: Sunchokes

Bug Shot in Westboro
Creative Commons License photo credit: m.gifford

One of my favorite fall crops is sunchokes (also known as jerusalem artichokes). The plants are tall with small sunflower like flowers. The part people eat are the tubers, which look a bit like iris or ginger tubers, sort of knobby and white. I use to grow sunchokes when I was gardening in Southern Ohio, but haven’t had a chance to plant any since then. They are native to North America and perennial, so are super easy to grow.

The problem with sunchokes is that they can be invasive, since they spread by growing new tubers. Even if you dig them out in the fall it’s very difficult to get every single piece of root, so you need to be careful about where you plant them.

Ideally, if you have a sunny back fence or narrow side yard where they will be out of the way they will continue to provide you food year after year with little to no effort on your part. Generally you dig the tubers once the tops have started to die back and the weather has gotten cool. The tubers can then be washed and stored in the fridge. If I was digging my own I would pick out the less knobby ones to eat and replant the rest since you are going to have to peel them.

jerusalem artichoke
Creative Commons License photo credit: cuttlefish

Last week I bought some sunchoke tubers from the local farmers market because I don’t have a place of my own to plant them. Tonight we made a delicious sunchoke mash out of them as an alternative to mashed potatoes. Sunchokes have a lot of inulin (a type of fiber)  in them and I believe are better for diabetics (and other folks who need to watch their blood sugar) than potatoes.  Like a lot of healthy vegetables, sunchokes can produce gas when being digested, so be warned. (I haven’t noticed a problem, but everyone is different.)

Sunchoke Mash

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Sunchokes (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 Tbls butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • (or substitute a spoonful of Better Than Bouillon for salt and butter)

Steam the sunchokes for about 15 minutes until tender when poked with a fork. Dump in a food processor with the butter and salt and process until smooth. Alternately you could mash them by hand.

Yum! They do taste a bit like an artichoke I think.

Arugula Recipes – What to when you are tired of pasta and pesto…

One thing I’m enjoying harvesting from the garden right now is arugula. I like arugula in salad, but it rapidly grows a bit tough and spicy for salads. This fall my husband and I are working on losing weight using the South Beach Diet, so pasta and bread are both mostly off our menu. (I have lost 10 pounds since Sept 1 and he has lost about 15.) So I have to find something else to do with all of our garden fresh arugula.

The first recipe I tried this evening was Pear and Arugula salad from Hot off the Garlic Press. I added a bit of walnuts. It was delicious.

Clagett Farm CSA 2008 Week 3
Creative Commons License photo credit: thebittenword.com

I have also been searching the web for pasta/bread free recipes with cooked arugula. Here are a few on my list to try.

Herby Goat Cheese Arugula Omelet from il piatto blue

Chicken Roll Ups with Goat Cheese and Arugula from sweet and saucy

and this Burnt Carrots with Goat Cheese, Arugula, and Crispy Garlic Chips from Ezra Pound Cake looks fabulous!

As you can tell I like goat cheese. I’m intolerant of most dairy products, but eat a bit of goat or sheep cheese without too much trouble.

The one thing that I haven’t been able to figure out about arugula is why it is so expensive in the store. Arugula has to be the easiest, fastest thing to grow in the garden. I first grew it over ten years ago when I was manager for the organic garden at my college. I know it was sort of a fad with chef’s for a while in the 90s (?), but how did it end up as this elitist vegetable?

Planting a Fall Vegetable Garden

One of the strange things about gardening is that everyone plants in a brief period in the spring and harvests in the summer and fall, no matter what kind of climate we live in. I live in a the Northwest and yet it’s still difficult for me to remember to plant fall garden. This is my first year gardening in Oregon, so I’m still getting use to the climate here. I couldn’t believe how long my peas lasted. I was still eating peas from my yardshare garden in July.

This week my mom visited from California and we spent some time weeding the garden. Sadly, the garden is overrun by bind weed. It’s nasty stuff. We pulled up the peas and potatoes, making room for some fall crops. Then we planted carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, arugula and bulbing fennel. I’m trying to use up all my older seeds so I’m not sure whether or not everything will sprout. So far the radishes and arugula have come up.

Another challenging element of planting a fall garden is getting seeds to germinate during the heat of July and August. I laid down some row cover, flat against the ground to help keep the soil moist. Carrots are the especially slow to start, so I’m hoping that I manage to get some to come up.
Cabbage
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

How is the garden growing? The patio garden

I have been so busy with my graduate studies, I have barely had time to garden, let alone blog about gardening. I’m not sure how you all do it!

I have been enjoying patio garden. I planted a bunch of strawberries. They haven’t produced a lot of large berries, but the plants are attractive and they seem to be doing well in the high shade under the doug firs. I also planted some herbs and greens. In general the herbs are doing well. The sage seems to not be getting enough light. I have lots of oregano, chives, parsley, cilantro, thyme, lemon balm, mint, and rosemary. My attempts to grow vegetables though has been largely thwarted. I have managed a little lettuce, but it hasn’t looked healthy. The chard has been looking good, but I can’t produce much, even with us two of us.

There are lots of blogs and articles online the discuss growing vegetables in small spaces, but  frankly I doubt whether it’s really possible to grow much on an apartment balcony or patio. I think a patio is a great place to grow some herbs to enrich your boring menu, but I don’t think you can harvest much in such as smal space. Also, even larger containers require a lot more work than the same amount of actual garden soil.  You have to water and fertilize a lot more and the soil costs a lot more. Has anyone else had luck growing one thing or another on a patio?

Cool Season Planting

Since securing my new garden I have been busily pulling weeds and loosening the soil to get ready for planting. I have had several beautiful days out in the garden, marred only by the constant swearing coming from the alley behind the yard. The Whitaker is an interesting neighborhood, with a strange mix of early 20th century cottages with beautiful gardens, warehouses, artist studios, and hipster food places. The neighborhood also has a surprising number of people who seem to on drugs and/or drunk, including the folks who live behind my garden.

peaspeaspeas
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aunt Owwee

Since this spot has been an organic vegetable garden for many years, the soil is good. I’m limiting the amount of digging and turning of the soil I’m doing, since the soils seems to have nice structure already. I bought a fork and I’m simply loosening the soil with the fork and then pulling up all the weeds.  Organic vegetable gardening can be a hassle some days, whoever was gardening before me didn’t spend much time weeding. The grass was already 6-8 inches high when I first saw the garden. I managed to clear two beds, about 3.5ft wide and 20 ft long. Discovering in the process that they are both filled with bind weed. ACK! But I wanted to plant several things that are better direct seeded, rather than transplanted, so I cleared the bed rather than sheet mulching.

Here’s what I have planted so far:

  • broccoli
  • red cabbage
  • soft neck garlic
  • russet burbank potatoes
  • red pontiac potatoes
  • yellow granex-sweet vidalia type onion (short day)
  • red candy apple onion (intermediate day)
  • super star onion (intermediate day)
  • red wethersfield onion (long day)
  • texas supersweet onion (short day)
  • cascadia peas (bush snap peas)
  • sugar pod II (bush snow peas)
  • sugar daddy (bush snap peas)
  • yellow rock onion
  • white ebenezer onion
  • arugula
  • lettuce

This spring, since I’m gardening in a new place (and I’m a little behind schedule because I had to find a space) I stuck with varieties I could find at local nurseries, hoping that the nurseries were doing a good job of choosing varieties. Frankly, I don’t trust nurseries to do a good job of only selling what will grow well in their locale. Already I’m a little worried because it seems that some of the onions sets I bought are short and intermediate day when Eugene is a long day area. This doesn’t bode well for my onions. I also managed to save some garlic chives that I discovered there. I love all sorts of onion family plants and peas, I love peas. I may have overdone it planting peas and onions, but there is no way to have too many peas, and I’m planning to thin the onions for greens as they grow. Yum, I can’t wait!

How I lost the community garden lottery, but still got a garden…

Allotments in Chiswick
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ben30

A few weeks ago I lost the community garden lottery here in Eugene. The city was nice enough to send me a letter to let me know that I was number fifty seven on the waiting list. Apparently I’m not the only one with an urge to grow my own food. According to Oregon’s agricultural extension:

The number of names on a waiting list to rent plots in the Portland area’s 30 community gardens has grown to 1,000, according to Extension’s Clackamas County horticulturist Weston Miller, and landowners are offering to donate land for more community gardens.

I don’t know how long the list in Eugene is, but there are at least 57 people waiting. Further research would most likely reveal  long lists in other cities around the country. Faced with the depressing reality that I would have to make do with my little patio, I headed over to Down To Earth to buy a few containers. As I wandered from the nursery into the garden center, I noticed a bulletin board with various notices. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a post offering a backyard space for gardening. I called right away and now I have a lovely backyard space equal to a 600 sq ft community garden plot. It’s small, but as a grad student I have a limited amount of time for gardening.

Yardsharing is a new trend around the country, but the woman who is lending me her space has been doing it for years. The soil in my new garden is lovely, even if somewhat weedy.

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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