Category Archives: Small Spaces

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.

Seeds are sprouting!


Creative Commons License photo credit: mahalie
Last Saturday I took a study break and headed down to the Eugene Propagation Faire at the local community college. The organizers had gathered an amazing array of fruit tree cuttings: apples, pears, apricots, almonds, plums, nectarines, etc. Gathered around long tables were people watching local experts raptly as they grafted the cuttings onto rootstock. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a place to plant fruit trees at the moment and while I could plant a dwarf tree or two on my patio garden, I decided to wait until I was better prepared with the perfect container and planting mix.

Instead, I took advantage of the seed swamp happening on the other side of the cafeteria and went home with a nice mix of herb, flower, and vegetable seeds. When I got home I sorted through my box of old seeds and made myself a promise to plant all those old seeds this year. I have quite a collection of seeds of various ages going back about ten years.

Take note gardeners! This is not good practice. Seeds that are a year or two old are generally still viable, but the older seeds get, the less likely they are to sprout. Some types of seeds, like corn, age quite rapidly. I tend to be tempted to buy more seeds than I have time or energy to plant. Also, seed packets generally hold many more seeds than a home gardener would need in one year.

Saturday evening I planted something like ten different types of old seeds, figuring I would just experient and see what sprouts. I set my little plastic pots on the windowsill of my office and next to the sliding glass door were they could get some sun. Most of what I planted will take 10-20 days to sprout, but I woke up to find my first seedlings this morning!

Some of the seeds in my collection are from packets, some are seeds I collected from my own garden, and some are seeds I collected in my wanderings. When I see a flower I like somewhere going to seed I stick a few seed pods in my pocket to take home. My seedlings came from a plastic bag marked “unknown flower.” Also not good gardening practice! I’m excited to see what they turn out to be. When they get some real leaves I will try posting a photo and we can play name that plant.

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.

Squirrels! How to deal with Animal Pests in your Patio Garden

This weekend I did some work to get my patio garden really going. I mixed up some of my very own potting soil mix and bought a few winter greens and flowers to put out in my containers. I also pulled out my box of ancient seeds to see what I might be able to sprinkle on the soil. Now November is not the best time to start seeds of anything because many seeds are dependent on light to germinate, and shorter days doesn’t make for great sprouting. But I figured that if they didn’t sprout now, they might sit in the soil, getting ready for next spring. I sprinkled some mache, arugula, and watercress seeds in some containers on my patio, pressed them firmly into the soil and figured all would be well.

Little did I know that in a few hours I would discover squirrels digging in my newly planted containers! So now the question is what to do about the squirrels. Mammals can do a lot of damage to a garden, both through digging and by eating newly planted seedlings. Now if we manage to get our patio door latch fixed so that we can let the cats in and out easily they could guard my patio plantings. But the cats sleep at least 12 hours a day, so that isn’t a complete solution.

Since I’m mainly gardening in containers I don’t have to worry about groundhogs and moles like many gardeners do. (The solution there is to dig down into your soil, lay down some sort of gardening fence, like chicken wire, underground and then place the soil on top. Imagine making an underground cage for the roots of your plants so that the digging animals can’t get inside.)

For rabbits, squirrels, and mice or rats, which can all be garden pests, I would advocate protective coverings for your new plantings. There is nothing tastier than newly sprouted seedlings and mammals know that. Essentially, you need to make a cage above ground for your plants. The problem with this is it’s not very attractive. The other alternative is to fence your entire garden, but building a squirrel proof fence is a lot of work! My grandparents regularly put out poison and traps for rats and moles, but I can’t imagine trapping for squirrels. Anyway, once you start down that road you will have to continue, periodically to maintain your traps or put out more poison because new individual animals will move into the area around your garden, replacing those you kill. I kind of enjoy watching the squirrel hop around on the lawn, so I’m not planning to kill them. I would rather limit their access to my delicacies.

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…

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Patio Gardening – Six Common Mistakes in Choosing Containers

the flower riot
Creative Commons License photo credit: la fattina

This fall I’m starting a brand new patio garden at my new home in Eugene. One of my first steps was acquiring some nice containers. My patio does have some soil around the edges, but it’s fairly shady and the soil is filled with tree roots, so I’m focusing on planting in containers for now.

Plants in containers are much more susceptible to overheating, lack of water, or drying winds than plants in your garden beds. In order to be successful in growing plants in containers you need to choose your containers carefully. Here are six common mistakes gardeners make when choosing containers for their patio garden:

Continue reading

Patio Gardening – Geraniums

I love coming home to cheery flowers on my patio or front step. Geraniums are great easy perennial plants for patio gardening. When I say geraniums are great for a patio garden, I don’t mean actual Geraniums, although they might be nice as well, I mean pelergoniums. What’s the difference?

Geranium Nimbus
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mommy of Five

Here’s an actual geranium. It’s a member of the genus Geranium, sometimes also called “cranesbill.” Geraniums are a great plant for the front of a perennial border, but they aren’t what most people think of when one says “geranium.”

Geranium / Regal pelargonium 'Viola' / ?????
Creative Commons License photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (????)

Here’s what most people think of as geraniums. This plant is a member of the genus “Pelargonium.” It is a great plant to grow in pots on a sunny patio because it tolerates hot, dry conditions well. Pelargoniums also bloom over a long period, brightening up your patio all summer.

The common pelargoniums found at your local nursery will most likely come in bright colors such as hot pink, orange, or fire engine red. If very brightly colored flowers aren’t your style, you might consider planting “scented geraniums” on your patio instead. Scent geraniums are pelargoniums bred so that their leaves give off familiar scents. My favorite is “rose geranium” which has a wonderful scent of roses, soft fuzzy leaves, and lovely light pink flowers. Scented geraniums can actually be used as an herb to a their scent to sugar or baked goods. Once you discover how easy to grow and beautiful pelargoniums are you might even start collecting different varieties for your patio garden.

P1190343
Creative Commons License photo credit: shimgray

Patio Gardening – Succulents

Pictures 561
Creative Commons License photo credit: themissiah
One of the most difficult things about getting settled in a new home, is getting your garden restarted. I like to start with areas near the house, like patio gardens. Patio gardening can be very different than gardening in larger spaces because you need to be very conscious of the microclimate of your garden. One of my favorite things to grow on my patio is succulents, like the jade plant pictured above.

Plants in pots are much more sensitive to variations in temperature and moisture than plants whose roots have room to spread and find the nutrients and water they need. Because of this you have to plant your patio garden carefully, paying attention to sun and shade, wind and water.

Succulents such as jade plant, aloe, and hens and chicks seem to prefer to be neglected. (Whenever I pay too much attention to a succulent plant I manage to kill it with over watering.) They tolerate hot dry conditions extremely well, which is exactly the type of microclimate that tends to prevail on most people’s patios. I have also grown succulents well in partial shade, so don’t worry if you don’t have a super sunny spot.

The important thing is not to overwater your patio succulents! Water about every two weeks. I’m sure I have let my plants go longer without water and I have never killed them from lack of water. If you live in a colder climate, you will have to take your succulents inside when the weather turns cold, but they make fabulous easy care houseplants in a sunny spot.

Succulents are also traditionally associated with positive qualities. Most people know that aloe is a great remedy for burns and skin irritations. Jade plant is also called “money plant” because growing it is suppose to attract wealth to your home. Hens and chicks is a plant that was grown by the ancient romans to ward off lightening strikes. Including these lucky plants in your patio garden can’t hurt. Growing such easy plants will make you feel lucky to have discovered them.