Category Archives: Patio Gardening

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!

Four Ways to Prevent Dampening Off

One of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging is that whenever I started writing about gardening I found myself on another rant about climate change. There is nothing like paying close attention to the weather to make one notice strange patterns. So rather than going on another rant, I will simply reference this Sac Bee article on the changes in the jet stream that has made this winter-spring so cold in much of the West.

A mixed bunch of seedlings (with the names in notes, roll your mouse over ...)
Creative Commons License photo credit: hardworkinghippy

Here in the Williamette Valley temperatures are still below normal. I lost some basil to dampening off. When conditions are cold and damp they stress tiny seedlings and promote the growth of fungus. If this happens seedlings will suddenly just fall over and die. So sad.

So here are four things to do to prevent dampening off.

1. Clean your containers. Recycling old containers is very environmentally friendly, but without a good cleaning they can harbor diseases. Before reusing your containers, wash them with very hot water and a biodegradable soap. If you still have trouble, you can mix a small amount of bleach in to help sterilize things.

2. Sterilize your seed starting mix. If you are reusing old potting mix it also could be hiding diseases. Commercial mixes aren’t always sterile either. You can bake your potting soil in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. However this process does involve a smell that some might not enjoy. Another option is to cook your seed starting mix in the microwave. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes until steaming. Allow to cool.

3. Provide ventilation. Seeds need to stay moist in order to germinate, but there can be too much of a good thing. Providing a little fan for your seedlings can help them grow strong and stocky as well.

4. Avoid overwatering. You don’t need to water unless you see the top of the soil is starting to get dry, especially once the seeds have germinated. I find that even tiny seedlings without their first “true leaves” often have roots going right down to the bottom of the container.

Truthfully most of the time I find I can just buy some seed starting mix, pop it in a container, water, add seeds, water again, and presto! Baby plants! However, if you are starting seeds when it is cold and wet, dampening off can be a problem. Depending on what seeds you are starting, you might need to provide a seedling heating mat to avoid stressing your little darlings. In general, the more ideal the conditions, the less you have to worry. So give them lots of warmth and light too!

Hopefully warm, sunny weather will be on the way soon and we can forget all about the dreaded dampening off.

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.

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?

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…

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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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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:

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