Portland Edible Gardens 2017 Spring Photo Journal

Ahoy!

It has been quite a little while since I posted here on the PEG Bog, and it is high time for an update on the activities of Portland Edible Gardens!  Today's rain looks like it just might give way to a run of beautiful weather, so before we get back to it, I thought I would give an update about our recent activities!

Despite the unseasonably wet Winter and Spring that has been our lot here in the Pacific Northwest this year, Portland Edible Gardens has been forging ahead.  We have been busy bees building raised garden beds, planting Spring vegetables, and helping Portlanders get started growing their own organic food!  It turns out that you don't need sunny weather in the 70's to grow an abundance of roots and greens.  So without further ado, here is the PEG Spring Photo Journal!

 

Chicken Coop Project for Steviva Ingredients, Inc.

DH Strongheart, the visionary, pondering the chicken palace

Ready for insulation and siding

Nest boxes on the finished product

Step inside!

North Portland Corner Garden

First plantings in the ground!

Vancouver Showcase Garden

Spring Miscellany

Yeti the dog:  Much more lovable than helpful.

Planting seeds: 

A Spring vegetable garden coming into its prime

Another Spring planting with the employees at the Steviva Ingredients garden

Improvising in the rain with these unflappable vegetable gardeners!

Some extra tall Cedar raised garden beds for this SE Portland Residence

A victorious tomato planting!

Cherriette Radish: A classic.

Spring Bounty from a SW Portland Veggie Garden

Planting with Family is the best!

Thanks so much for staying up to date with Portland Edible Gardens!  And don't forget to set up an initial consultation ASAP if you want support in growing your own food this Summer!

Happy Growing!

- Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

Compost: The Perfect Amendment

Just. Add. Compost.

With the abundance of snow and ice recently here in the Portland area, it is hard to imagine just a month or two forward to the time for planting our Spring vegetable gardens!  But that time will come sooner than we know it and our seeds will take to the dark earth and grow into these ever longer days.  

But before I do any planting in my own vegetable garden, I will need to do the important work of preparing my soil and creating an environment in which the things I plant will flourish.  The hardest work I do in my garden each year is, and should be, in preparing the soil for the year ahead.  And though there can be a lot to this process, in many ways it all boils down to one thing:

Just Add Compost!

 

Compost is one of the most important and transformative tools that we have as organic vegetable gardeners.  It is a miraculous substance that has immeasurable benefits for your garden.  So I thought I should take the time to sing it's praises today...

What is compost?

Compost is, quite simply, fully decomposed organic matter.  It is both a substance and the end result of a process of decomposition that every plant goes through at the end of it's life.  This incredible process is accomplished by literally millions of actors.  Innumerable soil microbes like fungi, bacteria, and protozoa work in conjunction with larger pill bugs, earthworms, mites, beetles, flies, and others.  All of these organisms, macro and micro, do the important work of feeding on and breaking down plant matter.  Their waste products make up the nutrient rich humus of finished compost.

All soil is made up of Minerals (sand, silt, and clay), Air, Water, and Organic Matter.  While mineral components of soil are somewhat fixed, levels of soil organic matter can fluctuate significantly based on what we do, what we grow, and how we treat our soil.  And in general, the best soils for growing vegetables (or just about anything, for that matter) are high in organic matter.  So if you follow, compost is pretty important stuff.

The process of decomposition is accomplished by a diverse cast of characters, both microorganisms like bacteria and fungi as well as larger ones like earthworms

The process of decomposition is accomplished by a diverse cast of characters, both microorganisms like bacteria and fungi as well as larger ones like earthworms

What are the benefits of compost in soil?

Improves Soil "Structure":

Soil "Structure" refers to the way that particles of soil bind together.  Soils with good structure or good "tilth" are crumbly and well aggregated with lots of pore spaces for water, air, roots, and microbes.  Soils with bad structure are compacted and poorly joined together.  The higher the level of organic matter in your soil, the better structure your soil will have.  Soil structure is important for erosion control, root and water penetration, and plant and microbe respiration, among other things.

Improves moisture retention/drainage:

Very sandy soils typically have problems retaining moisture and need to be watered quite frequently for optimum plant health.  Clay soils, on the other hand, have issues with drainage and can become waterlogged during rainy periods.  Both of these scenarios present problems for our vegetables, and compost is the great stabilizer for both situations!  The porous yet well aggregated quality of compost will help sandy soils hold onto valuable water resources and help heavy clay soils drain more quickly!

Increases population/diversity of soil microbes:

Compost is teeming with life.  It is full of bacteria and fungi that are necessary to the health of your garden.  Even though we never see these microscopic populations, the work they do consuming dead and decaying plant material adds humus to your soil and makes nutrients available to your vegetables!   They also protect your plants from many pests and diseases.  So don't neglect the microbes!  Adding compost will maintain a healthy population of this all important army of garden helpers.

Increases nutrient retention/availability for plants:

Compost is an incredibly rich and stable source of plant nutrients.  And unlike many fertilizers, both chemical and organic, compost releases these nutrients slowly over time.  Many plant nutrients are also water soluble, so even adding them in the form of organic fertilizer doesn't guarantee that they will all get to your plants.  Think of the compost you add to your soil like a savings account of nutrients.  If you add a little every year your vegetables will have a steady supply of the things they need to thrive.

Maintains optimum pH:

pH is extremely important in your plants' abilities to take up and make use of the nutrients that are present in your soil.  Most compost has a pH of between 6.5 and 8, an optimum range for your vegetables.  So if you have soil that is too acidic or basic, adding compost will help buffer your pH!

Should I buy compost or make my own?

The simple answer is, you should make your own!  If you are an avid gardener, then you are probably used to having an abundance of plant material at different times throughout the year, whether pruning perennials, mowing grass, raking up leaves in the fall, or pulling out vegetables that have finished their life, your garden is in a continuous state of both growth and decay.  So gathering the spoils of your garden and letting them compost in one place is the best way to capture and recirculate the valuable nutrients, microbes, and organic matter that you have generated!

I am not going to take up the question of how to set up a good compost system in this blog post, but if you are interested in learning more, I recommend checking out the aptly titled, Let It Rot by Stu Campbell, a wonderful resource for learning all about compost, including guidance on composting at home.

If you aren't able to compost at home, buying bags of compost or ordering a delivery of bulk compost are both great approaches as well.  If you are lucky, you live in a place with lots of choices when it comes to buying compost.  If so, it can be overwhelming choosing the right product, so ask at your local nursery what is recommended for organic vegetable gardening.  I find many compost products to have a high proportion of woody materials.  These composts are very slow to break down in soil and I prefer compost that looks and feels more like soil than like barkdust.  Look for compost with a dark color and a pleasant earthy odor.

Some favorite bagged composts that are available in the Portland Area:  EB Stone Organics Planting Compost, Master Nursery Bumper Crop, and Oly Mountain Fish

Some favorite bagged composts that are available in the Portland Area:  EB Stone Organics Planting Compost, Master Nursery Bumper Crop, and Oly Mountain Fish

If you aren't able to compost at home, buying bags of compost or ordering a delivery of bulk compost are both great approaches as well.  If you are lucky, you live in a place with lots of choices when it comes to buying compost.  If so, it can be overwhelming choosing the right product, so ask at your local nursery what is recommended for organic vegetable gardening.  I find many compost products to have a high proportion of woody materials.  These composts are very slow to break down in soil and I prefer compost that looks and feels more like soil than like barkdust.  Look for compost with a dark color and a pleasant earthy odor. 

When buying compost, I like products that come from plant materials, but "mushroom composts", "vermicompost", and "composted manures" are also options.  Be sparing in your use of these other composts in your vegetable garden as they can be excessively high in nitrogen or imbalanced in other ways.  Combining a small amount of these other products with vegetable based compost is an excellent approach!

A Few Tips For Composting At Home:

Creating compost at home has the obvious advantages of being free and providing the most sustainable approach to composting, but it is important to follow a few guidelines to make sure that the compost you create provides the maximum benefit to your garden:

• Home scale compost should be moist but not wet!  Too much moisture can cause anaerobic conditions and the growth of pathogens in your compost.

• Don't add animal products to home scale compost or you will attract rats and other rodents!

• Never add unfinished compost to your garden. Fully finished compost should have a pleasant earthy smell and you shouldn't be able to identify any of the original ingredients that you started with.

• Don't add weeds to your compost pile.  Though hot compost can kill weed seeds, achieving these temperatures isn't easy and it is safest to send weeds to the city compost to avoid introducing weeds into your vegetable garden

There are many different types of home composts systems, both commercially available and DIY.  Pictured here: One bin system, DIY 3 bin system, and tumbler style.

There are many different types of home composts systems, both commercially available and DIY.  Pictured here: One bin system, DIY 3 bin system, and tumbler style.

How To Amend Soil With Compost

So how do you actually go about the work of adding compost to your vegetable garden?  In order to get the greatest benefit in your garden, it is important that compost is "incorporated" and well mixed into the top 6-8" of your soil.  This work of "tilling" the compost in is much better than just laying it on top of the ground and accomplishes several things:  It distributes nutrients, organic matter, and microorganisms throughout the soil, it introduces air into soil that has likely been compacted by winter rain improving drainage, and respiration, and it creates a homogenous mixture where roots and water can travel easily through the soil profile.

In smaller urban gardens, the best way to till compost into your soil is using hand tools.  In my experience, a digging fork is the very best tool for the job.  In larger spaces, the use of a small rototiller will make the work much easier, but has the disadvantage of damaging soil structure, killing microorganism and worms, and creating layers of hardpan.  These adverse effects are especially pronounced when soil is too wet or too dry at the time of tilling.  Even when using hand tools, it is extremely important to work your soil at an ideal moisture!  A good test for soil moisture is to pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball.  If it won't maintain a ball shape, it is probably too dry.  If it makes a ball, but won't break apart when bounced in your hand, it is probably too wet.

It is important to till compost in to the top 6-8" of soil before Springplanting

It is important to till compost in to the top 6-8" of soil before Springplanting

Tilling is hard work by hand, but it does less damage to soil over time than using a rototiller

Tilling is hard work by hand, but it does less damage to soil over time than using a rototiller

 

Every Spring I add about 2" of high quality compost and till it into my garden where I have grown vegetables in the past.  I also add a heavy dusting of organic granular fertilizer to add the extra nutrients that will likely be needed to sustain my vegetables through the season.  If you are breaking ground on a new garden, or where soil needs more improvement, you may want to add more like 4-6" of compost to do that extra work of conditioning your soil in year 1.

Understanding the incredible value of compost and how to use it in your garden will serve you for years to come.  So when your soil finally begins to dry out in early Spring, you know what to do:  Spread that compost, till it in, and plant those first seeds.  Your soil and your vegetables will be so happy that you did.  Happy growing, and may Spring come early for us all this year!

Grow Your Own Garlic!

Well that just about does it for this year's planting season.  Hopefully you had the foresight to plant Fall and Winter vegetables in August and September.  Our Fall vegetables are just coming into their prime as we settle in for the rainy season.  Arugula, Kale, Lettuce, Broccoli, Cabbage, Radicchio, Carrots, Turnips--  These are just a few of the veggies you can harvest from your home garden in the months ahead. 

But if you have missed the boat on Fall and Winter vegetables, or if you are just looking to add something fun and unique to your Winter garden, listen upThere is still one vegetable that you can plant in the cold and rain of October:  Garlic, of course!!!

If you have never grown garlic before, your time has come!  Garlic is easy to plant, easy to grow, fun to harvest, and stores for months.  So take a trip to your favorite nursery and pick up some garlic for planting today. 

Here's how to grow your own garlic...

A Little Background

Garlic is in the Allium family (with onions, leeks, and shallots) and it sort of runs on its own schedule.  It is planted in the Fall because it requires the cold temperatures of Winter to break dormancy triggering it to grow into a bulb in the Spring.

Garlic is grown not from seeds or from starts, but grown from the whole cloves from a head of garlic.  So yes, its as simple as taking a clove of garlic and sticking it in the ground.  Well... almost.  While any garlic clove from the store can be planted in your garden, it is wise to try and obtain high quality "seed garlic" from a local nursery or online retailer.  Though more expensive, purchasing seed garlic will assure a quality crop that is disease free.  Also remember to select the largest bulbs possible as larger cloves generally produce larger bulbs.

Mulching with straw on top of your garlic planting will help insulate soil from cold air temperatures and encourage deeper root growth leading to larger garlic bulbs.

"Softneck" vs. "Hardneck" Garlic

If you have only ever bought garlic from the grocery store, you have almost certainly been eating "softneck" garlic for your entire life.  Softneck garlic lacks a rigid central stock and forms a head with many cloves of different sizes.  Softneck garlic has a milder flavor and stores very well (up to 9 months).  Long shelf life and mild flavor have made softnecks the obvious choice for commercial growers for years.

"Hardneck" garlic has large regular cloves that are organized around a rigid central stock.  Hardneck varieties tend to have more complex and spicier flavor and don't store as long as softnecks (up to about 6 months).  Though they don't store as long, I find hardneck varieties to be more interesting to grow and eat.  Because they don't have smaller cloves, they are also much easier to use in the kitchen!

Softneck garlic has irregular cloves, lacks a rigid central stock, milder flavor and stores longest (up to 9 months!)

Softneck garlic has irregular cloves, lacks a rigid central stock, milder flavor and stores longest (up to 9 months!)

Hardneck garlic has large regular cloves organized around a rigid central stock.  Hardnecks are spicier and don't store as long as softnecks (3-6 months).

Hardneck garlic has large regular cloves organized around a rigid central stock.  Hardnecks are spicier and don't store as long as softnecks (3-6 months).

When and How to Plant Garlic

In the Pacific Northwest, garlic should be planted between October 1st and October 15th.  Garlic that is planted too early in the year will put on too much top growth heading into the coldest months where a hard frost can be damaging.  Garlic that is planted too late in the Fall will not be able to establish good root growth and the result will be smaller bulbs in the Spring and Summer.

Prepare garden soil by adding some high quality compost and tilling into the top 6-8".  Garlic does not like growing in heavy or compacted soil which causes small and stunted bulbs.  Once soil is prepared for planting, carefully break apart the bulbs into their respective cloves.  Cloves of hardneck varieties will be quite similar in size, however cloves from softnecks will vary greatly.  For softnecks, separate the medium and large cloves from the smallest cloves.

Garlic does poorly in compacted soil.  If necessary, prepare by working compost into the top 6" of soil before planting

Don't forget to label your rows before planting like we did!  Once you have planted your cloves it can be easy to forget where you planted them.  Prioritize planting the largest cloves in your garden.  Plant cloves 4-6" apart in rows 6-12" apart.  Plant each clove double it's depth (approximately 1-2" deep).  Make sure that the root end (the blunt side) of each clove is pointing down in the soil.

Separate cloves from bulbs and create a furrow about 2-3" deep to plant into.

Separate cloves from bulbs and create a furrow about 2-3" deep to plant into.

Plant largest cloves for larger heads.  Space cloves minimum 6" apart root end down

Because they won't ever grow to a large bulb, I like to plant the smaller leftover cloves with 2-3" spacing in rows 6" apart to grow for "green garlic."  Green garlic is garlic that is harvested in the Spring at an immature stage before the cloves have divided and formed a head.  Green garlic is mild in flavor and delicious!  At this stage the stem is succulent and soft and can be chopped up along with the immature head and used just like garlic.

Caring for your Garlic

Now that your garlic is planted, most of the work is done!  In our climate, your garlic likely won't need to be watered for months unless we have an unseasonably dry stretch.  Garlic should be kept well weeded throughout its life, as weeds can crowd out young shoots and inhibit growth of the bulb in Spring. 

If you have planted hardneck garlic, in the Spring each plant will send up shoots called "scapes."  Once these scapes wrap around themselves (see photo) they are ready to be harvested and eaten!  Simply grasp tightly and pull them until they snap at their base.  They can be roasted like asparagus or chopped and sauteed with other vegetables.  Yummmm.

Garlic "scapes" are a delicious bonus to growing hardneck varieties.  In the spring, harvest scapes once they loop upon themselves.

Starting in late May or June you may notice the lowest leaves beginning to yellow and die back.  Believe it or not, this is a good thing, and a sign that your garlic is reaching full size and is getting ready to cure.  This also means that if you have been irrigating, it is time to stop watering your garlic.  For the last few weeks of it's life in the ground, garlic should be left alone.  This is the time when the plant forms the dry protective papering that encloses each clove and the bulb and protects it for long term storage in your pantry!

Harvesting, Curing, and Storing your Garlic

Once all of the leaves have completely dried back and the plant looks, well... dead, it is likely time to harvest your garlic.  Get as much soil off of the roots as possible to reduce moisture.  At this point much of the moisture has left the plant, but the final curing process is important in finishing the job and keeping your garlic from molding.  Hang garlic in a warm, dry location with good ventilation or lay out on screens.  Too much exposure to light can cause premature sprouting so a dark location is ideal.  An easy method is simply to store garlic in a warm, dry location in paper grocery bags. 

After 2-3 weeks your garlic should be cured and ready for long term storage.  Best conditions for long term storage are cool, dry and dark (i.e. a dry basement).  Depending on what type of garlic you have grown, your cured bulbs should last from 3-9 months.  And if you have enjoyed this process, make sure to save the very largest and best bulbs for planting in October!!!

...And that's the circle of garlic

So go plant that garlic!!!

Top Ten Winter Vegetables For Your Home Garden

While you watch your first tomatoes ripen on the vine, and seek out summer swimming holes, the thought of roasted winter roots, or a January kale salad are probably the last things on your mind.  But if you want to be feasting from your garden in the dreary dark days of Winter, the time to think about what to plant is now!

kale

The Importance of Timing

Every Fall I get calls from clients telling me how excited they are to plant a Winter garden this year.  And I have to spoil the party and tell them they are about two months too late!!

Though it may be counter-intuitive, most of the Winter vegetables that can be harvested from October-March are planted in a narrow and important window from late July to Mid-August.  Vegetables planted earlier than this window will become over mature and be finished before Winter temperatures set in.  Most vegetables planted later than the middle of August will not have enough time when days are longer and temperatures are warmer to grow to maturity.

But Why Should I Grow a Winter Veggie Garden?

The Willamette Valley has an amazing climate for growing vegetables over the Winter.  Many people think that growing a Winter veggie garden requires special equipment or expert knowledge, but it's not true!!  There is an incredible diversity of things that will grow in your garden, outside, without any special protection.  All of the vegetables listed here will also tolerate sub-freezing temperatures without complaint! 

The other great thing about growing Winter vegetables is that they are a lot less work than Summer veggies!  Because of the colder/shorter days of Fall, if you keep your garden weeded in the late summer, the weeds won't have a chance to rebound.  And you can forget about watering as well because winter precipitation offers more than enough.

Growing your own Winter vegetables doesn't require cold frames, greenhouses, or special equipment.  All you have to do is plant the right Winter hardy veggies at the right time!

Growing your own Winter vegetables doesn't require cold frames, greenhouses, or special equipment.  All you have to do is plant the right Winter hardy veggies at the right time!

Top Ten Vegetables for your Winter Garden

Beets:  These beloved roots can grow nearly year round, but are actually sweetest when grown in colder Winter temperatures.  Because they are root vegetables, they should always be grown from seeds.  Beet greens are delicious as well and can be used like chard.

Seeding Date: 7/15

Cabbage:  Another vegetable that has much better flavor when grown in Winter than when grown in warm Summer temperatures.  When planted in early-mid August (from transplants), cabbage, depending on the variety, will reach full maturity between December and February.  One of my favorite varieties for a Winter harvest is called "January King." 

Planting Date: 8/15

Winter cabbage grows larger and ripens sweeter than summer grown cabbage.

Winter cabbage grows larger and ripens sweeter than summer grown cabbage.

Cauliflower: Late Winter cauliflower is an incredible treat.  These wondrous vegetables grow very large in Winter.  You only get one head of cauliflower per plant, but it all feels like it's worth it in the end.  Cauliflower is great in a curried soup or roasted in the oven with most things on this list.

Planting Date: 8/15

Carrots:  Carrots are one of the most important vegetables in my garden.  They are an incredibly efficient use of space, versatile in the kitchen, can be harvested 10 months out of the year, and have incredible tolerance for cold temperatures!  So why wouldn't you grow them in your winter vegetable garden?

Seeding Date: 8/1

Carrots are a necessity in my Winter garden.  I sow them from seeds planted directly into the garden around August 1st.

Carrots are a necessity in my Winter garden.  I sow them from seeds planted directly into the garden around August 1st.

Collard Greens: Most people associate collards with the summer flavors of southern cuisine, but Collards are actually very well suited for Winter growing in our climate.  A single plant will produce many many leaves over the Fall and Winter.  In the Spring, when your Collards finish their life and begin to "bolt" you can harvest the flower buds before they bloom and have delicious sweet collard "raab" or "rapini"!  My favorite variety for Winter planting is "Champion," true to its name.

Planting Date: 8/15

Kale:  In the same family as collard greens, kale is grown in much the same way.  Kale has a much bigger following among foodies than collards, but both are indispensible in my winter garden.  I usually grow several varieties of kale for Winter.  'Lacinato' or 'Dino' kale has superior flavor in my opinion, but is less productive and a little less hardy than some of the Russian types like 'Red Russian' and 'Siberian.'  And you can never have too much kale, so grow a few varieties!

Planting Date: 8/15

Kale is another great choice for Winter planting.  It produces for many months and can tolerate sub-freezing temperatures without a problem!

Kale is another great choice for Winter planting.  It produces for many months and can tolerate sub-freezing temperatures without a problem!

Kohlrabi:  This vegetable gets a lot of flack for its odd name, unconventional shape, and lack of familiarity for many people.  But Winter kohlrabi offers a sweetness and succulent crispness that is unmatched.  Winter Kohlrabi can also grow several times as large as kohlrabi grown in the Summer! My favorite way to use kohlrabi is to grate it and make a nice slaw with an Asian style dressing with rice vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic. Yum!

Planting Date: 8/15

Parsnips:  You have to wait a long time for parsnips to mature, but when they do come, they offer a totally unique and wonderful flavor to your Winter kitchen.  I like to roast them as "fries" with or without potatoes and season them with a little paprika, chili powder, and salt.  They are also great roasted thoroughly and then blended into a soup with potatoes.

Seeding Date: 7/1-7/15

Rutabaga:  Another underappreciated vegetable in my opinion.  A relative of the turnip, rutabaga offers the sweetness of turnips and the starchiness of potatoes.  Of all of the root vegetables, rutabagas are among the most cold tolerant, and can survive temperatures into the low teens!  They also store extremely well.  My favorite varieties for winter planting are 'Helenor' and 'American Purple Top'

Seeding Date: 8/1

Rutabaga, the underappreciated relative of the Turnip, is extremely cold hardy and very long storing.

Rutabaga, the underappreciated relative of the Turnip, is extremely cold hardy and very long storing.

Spinach:  Spinach is one of the few more tender salad greens that can withstand the torments of Winter.  It despises the heat of Summer, and so it is always a welcome sign of the changing seasons when I am finally eating spinach from my garden again.  It is quick to grow and can be planted a little later than some other winter vegetables.  My favorite varieties for Winter are 'Giant Winter' and 'Bloomsdale'.

Planting Date: 9/1

Sprouting Broccoli:  Traditional broccoli doesn't do well in the Winter and is best grown in the Fall and Spring seasons.  'Sprouting Broccoli', however, is a lesser known relative of broccoli that is an exceptional addition to a Winter garden.  The very best varieties produce small purple florets in late Winter.  When they come on, they do so in abundance, and they are one of my very favorite Winter vegetables!  They can be used just like regular broccoli, or broccolini, and they bring a sweetness and vibrance that is hard to come by in most gardens in February.  Best varieties are 'Rudolph' and 'Purple Sprouting Broccoli'.

Planting Date: 8/15

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a late Winter delight, is as delicious as it is beautiful!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a late Winter delight, is as delicious as it is beautiful!

Turnips:  Turnips are a Winter standby.  They are reliable, fairly easy to grow, frost tolerant, and delicious!  There are many types of turnips so make sure to choose varieties that are noted for cold tolerance as not all turnips make the cut.  Since they are root vegetables, they should always be grown from seed (like carrots, beets, and parsnips).  The classic turnip for Winter production is 'Purple Top White Globe'.

Seeding Date: 8/15

 

August is right around the corner, so don't let your opportunity for a Winter garden pass you by.  Mark your calendars and get some of these veggies planted ASAP!!!

 

Happy Growing, 

Ian Wilson

Owner, Portland Edible Gardens

 


Portland Edible Gardens Spring Photo Journal!

It has been a busy busy Spring for Portland Edible Gardens this year.  I haven't been a good blogger lately because we have been having too much fun in the sun!  Check out the work we have been doing building and planting vegetable gardens over the last couple of months.

...And remember, it's not too late to plant your vegetable garden for the year!  Contact us ASAP if you would like to get your own organic edible garden going at your home.

Happy Summer!

- Ian


11 hours in 30 seconds:


Spring has Sprung:

Bok Choi: succulent Spring treat

Onion Sets are great for early planting and an early harvest!

Two of my favorite Spring radishes glistening in the same bowl!:  'Cherriette' and 'French Breakfast'

The indomitable Joe Culhane preparing cedar in the wood shop

Planting from seeds makes people smile

...Spring Abundance, in an image

Planting with friends is the best

An ambitious first-time vegetable gardener focused on the task at hand


Staggered Sloped Raised Bed Project:


Little Rascals:


Rough-Cut Cedar Raised Bed Project:


Tualatin Homestead Garden (Current Project):


Thanks so much for staying connected, and as always, Happiest Growing!

- Ian Wilson, Owner Portland Edible Gardens, llc

Preparing Your Soil For Planting Vegetables

It is a glorious time to live in the Willamette Valley.  

It feels to me like the natural world around us has been at its absolute peak lately.  The Dogwood blossoms are erupting in shocks of pink and white and Spring feels like it is finally full-on.  This last stretch of sunshine has brought it all together.  It feels like there is a palpable sense of sweetness, joy, and a welcome softness everywhere.  A fortunate time indeed.

daphne
IMG_7018.JPG
arugula flower
Photos Courtesy of Joseph Culhane

Photos Courtesy of Joseph Culhane

With all of this sun and sweetness comes, of course, the promise of a bountiful vegetable gardening season!!  The soil is finally warming up, drying out, and things are ready to grow.  And not just the dogwoods and the lilacs, but the seeds and the starts we sow in our home veggie gardens!

If you are finally stirring from the sleep of winter and thinking about your edible garden, this post is for you!  Whether you are just starting an edible garden for the first time or tending the soil you have planted for years, before you begin, you must give your garden some love and care, preparing that soil for a long season of providing for you.

 
Radishes germinating in freshly tilled garden beds

Radishes germinating in freshly tilled garden beds

 

Breaking Ground on a New Garden:

At Portland Edible Gardens we are big proponents of Raised Garden Beds, which can makegrowing vegetable much easier, starting with a high quality, fertile, weed-free soil mixture that we deliver and install, rather than improving your soil over time by adding amendments.  Nonetheless, we are also big fans of the original (and in many ways more natural),  in-ground gardening method, which we will discuss here.

If you are starting a garden for the first time, you have a bit more work ahead of you than your friends who have existing gardens.  The first year is definitely the hardest as you are likely starting with an unimproved soil that needs a lot of work before vegetables will thrive in it!

 
Removing sod by hand is strenuous work!  Use a sharp garden spade and make sure that your soil is properly moistened before you begin.

Removing sod by hand is strenuous work!  Use a sharp garden spade and make sure that your soil is properly moistened before you begin.

 

Step 1: Choose a Sunny Location:

 To oversimplify, vegetables need three things: Sun, Soil, and Water.  And while poor soil can be improved, and water can be delivered to any part of your garden, shady places on your property will remain shady.  Even the most skilled gardeners will not be successful growing in shaded conditions.  So the first step to having a productive garden is to choose a sunny place that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day!

Step 2: Remove All Existing Vegetation:

Your vegetables will struggle if they have to compete with grass, weeds, or other plants while they grow, so it is important that your vegetable garden area is free of all vegetation at the time of planting.  Remove existing vegetation (roots and all) by hand, using a sharp garden spade, or other hand tools.  Send vegetation to a compost pile where it can be turned from a nuisance into a valuable amendment and plant food!  Avoid planting vegetables where you have ongoing weed problems as weed seeds may persist hidden in the soil.  If you are converting a lawn into an edible garden space, you may want to rent a sod-cutter to avoid the strenuous work of removing sod by hand.

 
Food Not Lawns!

Food Not Lawns!

 

Step 3: Apply 4-6” of Quality Compost on Top of Bare Soil:  

Compost is truly the miracle ingredient of organic gardening.  It’s benefits and contributions to your soil are too numerous and complex for this blog post, but among other things it improves drainage and moisture retention of soil, adds fertility and essential plant nutrients, increases diversity of soil biology, and improves soil structure.  The importance of the quality of the compost that you add to your soil cannot be understated.  Good quality home-scale compost can be excellent as long as it is completely composted, and has not been too wet (anaerobic) during decomposition.  Finished compost should have a pleasant earthy smell, not a rotten or sour aroma.  

 
For in-ground garden beds, 36" width is ideal: Narrow enough to reach the center, wide enough to make efficient use of your space.

For in-ground garden beds, 36" width is ideal: Narrow enough to reach the center, wide enough to make efficient use of your space.

 

Step 4: Work the Compost into the Top 12-15” of your Soil:  

This is the hard part.  And also the part where hard work will pay off!  “Tilling” your wonder compost thoroughly into your soil will do a number of things:  It will allow the compost to do its magic of integrating with your soil, it will disperse nutrients throughout, it will break up clods in your soil so plants and roots can grow more easily, and it will aerate your soil which will make plant growth happen at a much faster rate.  Use a flat spade and a garden fork for this activity, and take your time making sure that clods are well broken up and compost is well integrated!

 
Use a garden fork for working your compost deeply into your soil.

Use a garden fork for working your compost deeply into your soil.

 

***Important:*** Wait until a sunny stretch of Spring weather to do this final activity.  Working soil that is too wet can damage the structure of your soil.  To find out if your soil is dry enough to work, squeeze some soil into a ball in your hand.  When you drop it on the ground, it it breaks open it is probably dry enough to till.

 
Break up surface clods with a garden fork and hard rake leaving a fine soil texture on the surface for planting into.

Break up surface clods with a garden fork and hard rake leaving a fine soil texture on the surface for planting into.

 
 
...A Beginning!

...A Beginning!

 

Amending Soil in Your Existing Edible Garden (Raised Beds or In-Ground)

If you have a dedicated garden space that you have grown vegetables in before, the hardest work is behind you!  Your job now is to maintain and replenish your garden on a seasonal basis.  While you will never again have to hack away at stubborn sod or break up heavy clay with a pick axe, you do have important responsibilities in caring for and feeding the soil that feeds you.

 
Good Soil
 

Growing vegetables asks a lot of our gardens.  Not only are we growing a diversity of plants at a high density, year after year.  We are removing them from the garden and nourishing our bodies!  You are what you eat, and so, in so many ways, we are the nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and myriad other micro-nutrients that we are taking from our generous soils.  If we aren’t vigilant in replenishing those nutrients each year, our soils and our vegetables will become impoverished.  The two Spring ingredients that are key to your edible garden’s health are good quality compost and organic fertilizer.  

What follows is your simple guide to waking your garden from winter sleep and preparing your soil for the first successful garden plantings of the year!

Step 1: Remove Old Vegetables and/or Winter Mulch

Take the time to fully remove any vegetables that remain from last growing season.  If you have covered your garden in the Fall with a straw mulch, go ahead and collect it and put it in a compost pile where it can decompose and become valuable compost.  If you have vegetables that are still producing for you like Winter Kale or Leeks or Garlic, work around those plants removing everything else.  In the future, plan your winter plantings so that they are all in one part of your garden so you have a nice open space to work with in the Spring.

 
A raised garden bed that has been amended and fertilized: Ready to plant!

A raised garden bed that has been amended and fertilized: Ready to plant!

 

Step 2:  Add Compost and Organic Fertilizer

Compost and organic fertilizer are both very important and very different ingredients that will provide immeasurable benefit year after year.  Compost contributes some nutrients to your soil, but its main value is in the contribution of organic matter.  Organic matter plays many important roles in your soil including, building a nice crumbly soil structure or “tilth,” improving both drainage and moisture retention, maintaining and increasing soil biological life, preventing erosion, and making nutrients available to plant roots.  Organic fertilizer, on the other hand, provides many of the raw nutrients that vegetables need to thrive.

Apply 1-3” of good quality compost and a heavy dusting of organic fertilizer (specified for vegetables) on top of your bare garden soil.  The amount of compost and fertilizer needed will vary depending on the organic matter and nutrient levels of your soil.  A soil test can give you detailed information about just how much you need, but in general newer gardens with heavier soils of poorer quality, or with issues of vigor need more compost and more fertilizer.  Mature, healthy gardens that have been well maintained, need less.

Some excellent compost choices that are available locally:

Coast of Maine Bumper Crop

Coast of Maine Bumper Crop

Oly Mountain Fish Compost

Oly Mountain Fish Compost

Plan B Organics Ultra Compost

Plan B Organics Ultra Compost

Step 3: Work the Compost and Organic Fertilizer into the Top 8” of Soil.  

My tool of choice for this activity is a garden fork which does an excellent job of tilling soil, integrating compost, and breaking up any clods.  Make sure that amendments are well mixed.  Finish the process with a hard rake breaking up surface clods and raking to an even surface.  A fine surface texture is especially important for germination if you are going to be planting seeds in your garden bed.

As always, when working your soil it is very important that the soil is not too wet!  Working wet soil can damage soil structure.  It’s also just a big pain!  To find out if your soil is dry enough to work, squeeze some soil into a ball in your hand.  It should hold together, and when you drop it on the ground, it it breaks open it is probably dry enough to till.

IMG_6705.jpg

Congratulations!  You are ready to plant!  The most strenuous part of the garden season is already behind you.  Now it is just a matter of planting, tending, watering, and of course harvesting.  Happy Growing!!!

Making A Seasonal Plan For Your Edible Garden

Happy New Year from Portland Edible Gardens! 

Spring may still feel like a remote island somewhere far away, but take heart and take heed!  We are drifting steadily towards that shore!  Before we know it, the buds will be breaking and the sun that warms our soil will be nurturing the gardens that we plant (or the weeds that we don't).

Make a New Plan, Stan

Growing vegetables is easy.

There, I said it.  ...I know, I know.  This is a controversial statement and there is a lot to it, but truly:  These vegetables want to grow for us.  It's a matter of life and death for them!  Give them a sunny place, decent soil, and enough water, and you will have food.  It's growing vegetables well and getting the the vegetables you want, when you want them, that is the hard part.  And it's very hard.

Understanding how to grow an edible garden that meets your specific goals is what separates beginners from experts.  And there is only one way to meet your goals.  That is:  Have a damn good plan.

Seed Catalogs can provide a lot of inspiration and help in deciding what to grow in your edible garden.  ...A glass of wine and a warm fire help a lot too.

Seed Catalogs can provide a lot of inspiration and help in deciding what to grow in your edible garden.  ...A glass of wine and a warm fire help a lot too.

January is the perfect time for making such a plan.  So don't let another Winter slip into Summer leaving you and your garden in the dust.  Make a seasonal plan for your garden this year and take your edible gardening to the next level.  Your effort will be rewarded with the vegetables you most love flowing into your kitchen right on schedule.  Well... mostly on schedule.  ...This is still gardening after all.

Things to ask yourself before you plant a garden

Perhaps you already have the perfect dedicated edible garden space at your home.  If this is the case, then skip on ahead.  But if you are starting a new edible garden, there are a few extremely important considerations before any other planning.

Where do I get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight?

Without substantial sunlight throughout the day, even the most skilled gardeners will have sad vegetable gardens.  If you don't have a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight, find a way to reduce shade in your yard or get on a list for a community garden site

Creating an overhead view of your garden area can be very helpful in planning new garden space or creating a seasonal plan for an existing garden space. 

Creating an overhead view of your garden area can be very helpful in planning new garden space or creating a seasonal plan for an existing garden space. 

Is there vegetation that needs to be removed prior to planting?

Your vegetables will struggle if they have to compete with grass, weeds, or other plants while they grow, so it is important that your vegetable garden area is free of all vegetation at the time of planting

What is the soil like in my garden?

What is its texture? (Sandy, Clay, Loam?)  What is its color? (Darker generally indicated higher fertility)  Does it hold or shed water? Do things seem to like growing where I am planning my vegetable garden?  Here are some easy home tests that you can use to learn about your soil.

There are a variety of helpful tests that you can do at home to learn a ton about your soil!  A soil test submitted to a lab can tell you even more.

There are a variety of helpful tests that you can do at home to learn a ton about your soil!  A soil test submitted to a lab can tell you even more.

Will I need to amend my soil with compost or organic fertilizer prior to planting?

This can be largely answered based on simple evaluations as listed above, but getting an official soil test is easy, fun, and can provide much more extensive insight into the hidden qualities of your soil.  I recommend A & L Laboratories where a $14 test can tell you a ton including recommendations for how to improve your soil.

And of course (the most fun question), What do I want to be eating from my garden?

Make a list and educate yourself about the veggies you want to grow in your garden.  Especially important information for making a good garden plan:  Earliest and latest recommended planting dates, estimated time required to grow ("days to maturity"), estimated harvest window, and spacing requirements for mature plants.

When To Plant What In Your Garden

This is a complicated question!  Every vegetable has its own unique needs and ideal conditions.  But we will do our best to oversimplify it.

Spring:  Cool season roots and greens

Summer: Heat loving summer veggies, + a whole lot more

Fall: Cool season roots and greens

Winter: Hardiest Winter roots and greens

Cool Season Vegetables

These veggies do best when they are grown during the cooler Spring and Fall seasons.  Many of these vegetables will bolt or become stunted when exposed to high temperatures.  Most can be grown in both Spring and Fall while some are best suited for one season or the other:

Plant For Spring Only: Snap Peas, Snow Peas, Fava Beans

Plant For Spring and Fall: Arugula*, Beets*, Broccoli, Broccoli Raab, Bok Choi, Cabbage*, Carrots*, Cauliflower, Collard Greens*, Kale*, Kohlrabi*, Lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley*, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips.

Plant For Fall Only: Brussels Sprouts, Celery*, Parsnips*, Leeks*

* = Tolerates some heat

This amazing Annual Veggie Calendar from Portland Nursery offers excellent suggestions of when to plant what in your garden

Hot Season Vegetables

These veggies do best maturing in the heat of the summer.  Many (like tomatoes and peppers) need hot summer days to mature their fruits.  Planting hot season vegetables too early in the year leads to unhealthy, unhappy plants, while planting too late in the season doesn't offer enough time to grow them to maturity.  Timing is everything with many of these beloved summer vegetables

Basil, Bush Beans, Pole Beans, Cilantro, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant,  Melons, Potatoes, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Winter Squash.

4 Season Vegetables

This short list includes some of the few vegetables that can be grown successfully in the height of summer and the dead of winter.  A truly exceptional bunch:

Arugula, Beets, Carrots, Chard, Collard Greens, Kale, Parsley

Creating a Comprehensive Planting Plan

 

Rubix cube

A comprehensive planting plan that yields specific veggies at desired times is extremely complex.  It shouldn't (and need not) be the goal of beginning gardeners.  It is the proving ground for your knowledge about the vegetables you love.  In order to create a solid plan, you will need to know some vital information about each vegetable that you want to grow.  You will also need a basic understand of "succession planting" (See our blog post Succession Planting: How To Plan For Plenty) if you want to have salad greens and roots throughout the season.

For each vegetable that you plan to grow gather the following information:

Earliest suggested planting date, Latest suggested planting date, Estimated days to maturity, Estimated harvest window, Estimated spacing requirements at maturity.

All of these factors will be affected by your specific climate and weather!  So your observations and past records from your own garden will be invaluable in creating an accurate plan.

Most seed packets will help you estimate proper spacing, and days to maturity, but your own observations and records from your garden will always be the most accurate

Most seed packets will help you estimate proper spacing, and days to maturity, but your own observations and records from your garden will always be the most accurate

Map Out Your Garden Space:

- Create an overhead view of your edible garden space with dimensions and measurements

- Expect each vegetable you plant to occupy its space for its total growth time (days to maturity + harvest window)

- Start by deciding where you will plant one-time, long to mature plantings (i.e. Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers) and pencil in their planned location and planting dates

- Move on to other quicker to mature vegetables and succession plantings (i.e. radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots) and pencil them in working around the major plantings

- Where possible, and if space is limited, "double crop," planting Summer or Fall vegetables where early-to-mature Spring plantings have already been grown and harvested

- IMPORTANT:  Remember, that in our Northern hemisphere, even in high summer, a shadow will be cast on the North side of any structure (or plant).  For this reason, I generally place the vegetables that will be tallest (think peas, pole beans, tomatoes...), at the north ends of garden beds

Creating an accurate overhead view of your plantable space is the first step towards creating a complete crop plan.  This 4'x4' garden bed will be used in our example.  (Top of the page is North)

Creating an accurate overhead view of your plantable space is the first step towards creating a complete crop plan.  This 4'x4' garden bed will be used in our example.  (Top of the page is North)

Example Planting Plan Exercise

So lets make a tiny planting plan.  Lets see how much food we can get out of a 4'x4' (16 sq. ft.) raised garden bed.  Let's assume that we want to grow Radishes, Spinach, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Peppers.  Here is a chart with the information we will need.  These values are based on my experience growing these vegetables in the Portland area:

Sample Table

...Bear with me as we try to make a real plan out of all of this information!...

Step 1:  Decide where one-time, long to mature plantings will go

Step 1:  Decide where one-time, long to mature plantings will go

...First, I have placed all of the one-time long-to-mature plantings.  They are planned for their earliest suggested planting dates and according to their expected mature size.  (Their total expected time in the ground is also noted).  The plantings that will be the tallest (tomatoes in this case) are planted at the North end of the garden bed so that they wont shade other plantings.

Although these plantings fill up the entire garden space, don't worry!  We can still get away with an early planting of radishes and spinach because they can be planted early and are so quick to mature that they will be harvested before it is time for planting tomatoes and peppers.

Step 2: See if any early, quick to mature plantings can be grown and harvested before later plantings are planned for planting.

Step 2: See if any early, quick to mature plantings can be grown and harvested before later plantings are planned for planting.

...I have now planned two rows each of spinach and radishes where tomatoes and peppers will later be planted.  They are planted at the earliest possible date of 3/15.  We expect to finish harvesting spinach on 5/15, and Radishes on 5/5.  We are unable to do an early planting of either of these vegetables in the vacant spot because we need it to be available on 5/1 for Cucumbers.

Step 3:  See if any summer plantings will be harvested in time for planting any cool season Fall crops.

Step 3:  See if any summer plantings will be harvested in time for planting any cool season Fall crops.

Although we were unable to plant any early vegetables where the cucumbers are planted, we are able to plant spinach after Cucumbers are harvested which we expect to be around 9/1 (120 days after planting).  In this manner, each location in the garden is able to produce two crops, maximizing our use of the space!!

The following two diagrams aggregate all of our work showing one garden bed with two plantings.  This is, in essence, your completed planting plan!

sample aggregate

So there you have it:  A glimpse into the process of creating a complete plan for your own garden. 

Now it's time to take the reins and make your own plan!!!  With what you have already learned and some help from the additional resources provided, you should be well on your way to a comprehensive planting plan that will produce an abundance of the vegetables you love at the times when you are most craving them!

And of course, if you get totally overwhelmed, feel free to contact us and using our experience we can create a seasonal planting plan for you!

Resources

Other PEG Blog posts that may help you in your planning process:

5 Favorite Tomato Varieties

Succession Planting: How to Plan for Plenty

Selecting Seeds and Varieties for Direct Sowing at Home

Sourcing your own Organic Vegetable Seeds

Growing Vegetables From Seeds Part 1:  Why Grow From Seed?

Growing Vegetables From Seed Part 2: Methods For Planting Seeds

 

Some great books to guide you:

How To Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons

This is the classic book on the "Biointensive" method of gardening.  Incredibly detailed information on spacing, timing, and, methodology for growing tons of food in a small space.

The Timber Press Guide To Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest by Lorene Edwards Forkner

This is a newer publication providing excellent information on a month-by-month basis for what you should be doing in your vegetable garden.

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

I recommend this book with some reservations.  Mel does a great job of taking something very complicated and simplifying it to the max.  He will offer a very different approach to planning your garden that verges on oversimplification.  This approach can be very helpful if you are new to vegetable gardening.

Last Chance To Plant!!!: ...Quick Fall Vegetables for September Planting

Well the Chimney Swifts are beginning to swirl in the September sky, the evenings have a bite that feels rather welcome, and I can't help but feel like summer is getting on.  One wouldn't know it, with temperatures climbing back into the 90's (!), but we all know that Fall and Winter will be ours soon enough.  Though it is far too late in the season for planting most vegetables, there are a handful of reliable and quick to mature vegetables that I am still planting in my garden and in my clients' gardens!!  If you are quick about it, you too can still squeeze a little more out of your garden this season. 

Sowing spinach seeds for a Fall vegetable garden.  Spinach is a great cold hardy and quick to mature vegetable for Fall!

Sowing spinach seeds for a Fall vegetable garden.  Spinach is a great cold hardy and quick to mature vegetable for Fall!

But don't delay!  With each day and week that passes we lose a little more potential to grow anything to maturity.  As Summer stretches into Fall, lower temperatures and decreasing sunlight and day length all add up to slower and slower vegetative growth.  In fact, from October-February, plant growth all but grinds to a halt.  Early establishment of cold-hardy vegetables heading into this time is key to being able to harvest food from your garden into the Fall and Winter.  The quickest maturing vegetables, planted even as late as mid-September, can still grow to full maturity! 

 

A selection of (the most reliable, lovable, and quick-to-mature) vegetables for a September planting:

Lettuce:

Though not the most cold-hardy vegetable, lettuce is fast growing and is great for a September planting and will even withstand light frost.  I suggest planting from starts, rather than from seeds, to ensure that lettuce heads will mature before our "average" first frost date of November 15th.  Choose romaine types rather than more tender butter or leaf lettuces.  And if you see that sub-freezing temperatures are coming before you are ready to harvest, cover your plants with insulative row covering to protect from frost!

Spinach:

Spinach, despite it's relatively tender leaves, is extremely cold tolerant, and can withstand temperatures into the low teens!  Spinach is fairly quick to mature and can be picked over several months in the Fall and Winter for an ongoing harvest.  Spinach is generally best and happiest when grown from seed but can also be transplanted from starts.  This late in the season, growing starts will assure that spinach can grow to maturity before slow Fall and Winter growing conditions.  My favorite varieties for winter production are the aptly named "Giant Winter" and "Renegade"

Radishes:

Like all root vegetables, radishes should be grown from seeds, not from starts.  Radishes are the very quickest to mature root vegetables and have serious cold hardiness making them an ideal choice for September planting.  Choose radishes that mature in "30 days" or less (though they will take longer because of September temperatures and day length), and not the longer to mature "Black Spanish" or "Watermelon" types, which should be sown in mid-late August.  Radishes sown in September can be harvested for months and will withstand temperatures into the high teens.  Even after harvest, they will store in your refrigerator for up to 2 months depending on the variety/type

A September seeding of radishes alongside a mature Kohlrabi planting.  Radishes, like all root vegetables, are best planted from seeds

A September seeding of radishes alongside a mature Kohlrabi planting.  Radishes, like all root vegetables, are best planted from seeds

Turnips:

Turnips are slightly slower to mature than radishes, but are still relatively quick compared to other root vegetables like carrots and parsnips.  The succulent, sweet, and bone-white "Hakurei" variety is a favorite of mine and is among the quickest turnips to mature.  Cold night time temperatures concentrate sugars in turnips and many other Fall/Winter vegetables.  Turnips will tolerate temperatures into the low 20's, and some varieties, like "Purple Top" can be stored for months even after harvesting!

Arugula:

Looking for a delicate winter salad or the perfect fresh topping for your rustic pizza?  Nothing is quite like arugula when it comes to an easy to grow and versatile winter green.  Where Kale, Collards and Cabbages are stewed, sauteed, braised, and roasted away with so many other winter roots, arugula is almost like a breath of summer in December.  Arugula is easily grown from seeds or from starts and will tolerate temperatures lower than most Portland Winters can throw at it.  Even in mid-September, arugula planted from seed will typically be ready for a Halloween harvest and can be picked off of for a couple of months!  My favorite variety for both Summer and Winter is "Astro."  If you like a spicier arugula consider "Sylvetta," a wild slower growing version of the same.

A client's late summer carrot harvest before planting Fall vegetables in her raised garden beds

A client's late summer carrot harvest before planting Fall vegetables in her raised garden beds

So... If you were lamenting the end of your summer garden, take solace and take heart in your new found knowledge.  It ain't over!  Hurry along and get some of these wonderful, quick, and easy-to-grow vegetables in the ground immediately!  You won't be sorry when your December kitchen is brimming with your outstanding and outlandish ongoing organic opulence!

 

Until next time, Happy Growing!

- Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

 

Padrón Peppers: So Good

I will never forget it...

It was the summer of 2009 at Gaining Ground Farm in Yamhill, Oregon.  Mike Paine, the farm's owner and Sensei toiled away in the kitchen while we farm apprentices lay scattered around his living room in various postures of exhaustion after a day of sweat and labor in the fields.  Dizzying aromas wafted from the kitchen.  As usual, we waited to unceremoniously devour whatever was produced.  Mike walked over with a plate of small, blackened... somethings, dripping in olive oil, and popped one into each of our mouths. 

I rolled the tender treasure over my tongue, savoring the flakes of sea salt that dissolved in the hot, olive oil.  I bit into something that instantly transported me somewhere far away.  There came an ethereal smokiness, and then a lurking heat and spiciness emerged, but never quite arrived.  I was utterly won over, and the object of my affection had a name:

Padrón.

Padron Peppers

I think Padróns were my first vegetable love.  Not the general love of a freshly picked tomato, or the appreciation of "home grown carrots" vs. store bought carrots (though these are special too) but the singular kind of love that comes from a flavor totally unique in the world.  Since that first taste, I have grown Padróns every summer, and will continue to do so, 'til death do us part. 

And even though these transcendent moments with our food can make us feel like they evolved, and were grown for us alone, we know it isn't true.  Even as you read this, we are less alone, me and Padrón.  And that's the point after all.  That's what makes planting, growing, tending, harvesting, cooking, eating food so amazing.  It is intimate and it is shared.  What a gift.

So who is your Padrón?  Do tell.


And if I have captured your imagination just enough, here is some information to help you grow your own!!

Background/Origin:

Padrón Peppers, or "Pemento de Padrón," originate from Galicia, in Northwestern Spain, and they bear the name of a municipality in the province of A Coruña.  These unique peppers have been widely disseminated and have become quite popular in the last ten years among chefs in the United States.

Growing Padróns:

These peppers are especially beloved by farmers and gardeners because they are extremely early and highly productive!  Unlike many bell and sweet peppers which produce one fruit set, Padróns (somewhat like cherry tomatoes) continue to flower and produce new fruits over a long period of time.  So what's not to love about them?

Padron Plant

I generally plant my Padróns when I plant the rest of my peppers.  In our Willamette Valley climate this is usually between May 1st and May 15th, depending on the weather.  My appetite for Padrón's is insatiable and I usually plant 5-6 plants although just a couple of plants will give a generous harvest.  Peppers, like all solanaceous vegetables, are fairly heavy feeders and I generally add some supplemental organic fertilizer at the time of planting.  If you have low soil fertility, consider a second application of organic fertilizer when your plants begin to set flowers.

Peppers require even watering throughout their growth.  Too much water can lead to poor fruit production and fungal issues, while underwatering can cause stunted growth, fruit ejection, and a host of other issues.

Harvesting Padróns

Padróns should be harvested when they are 2-4" in length.  If left on the plant, fruits will grow much larger and reach up to 8" in length.  These fruits however have very tough skin and are often extremely spicy!!   Smaller fruits are more tender, palatable, and have a manageable heat.  Even when harvested small, one in ten or so fruits have a mysterious habit of being surprisingly spicy!  This is part of the fun, as far as I am concerned and only adds to the mystique and intrigue.

Padron Peppers

Padróns should not be eaten raw.  In fact, if you taste a raw Padrón, you will likely think I am a crazy person for singing their praises, but when cooked, and cooked well, they are completely transformed.  It's alchemy as far as I can tell.  The best part is that preparing Padróns couldn't be easier!

Cooking Padróns

Blackened Salty Smoky Blistered Padrón Recipe

 

Ingredients:

Whole Padron Peppers 2-4" length

Sea Salt

Olive Oil

Water

 

Instructions:

1. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Let it get goooood and hot.

2. Drop whole Padróns onto dry skillet, let them crackle and blister turning and agitating every 30 seconds. 

3. Once Padróns are mostly blackened, add 1 tablespoon of water to hot pan and cover for 30 seconds.

4.  Remove Padróns to plate and drizzle with olive oil and coarse sea salt

5. Devour, repeat.

 

Photo Courtesy of Bon Appétit

Photo Courtesy of Bon Appétit

...If you don't believe how easy this is, just ask the folks at Bon Appétit.  They have even less ingredients than I have included here (And they are notorious for making things complicated).

Summary:

Origin:  Galicia, Northwestern Spain

Why Grow 'Em?:  Easy to grow, early to mature, highly productive, scrumptious

Growing Padrons:  Transplant May 1st - May 15th, even watering, fertilize w/ organic fertilizer at time of planting and at flower set

Harvesting Padrons: Harvest 2-4" long fruits

Cooking Padrons: Medium-High dry heat til blackened and shriveled, finish with olive oil and coarse sea salt


Well there you have it.  If you didn't plant Padrón Peppers in your garden this year, not to worry.  You will not find Padróns at the grocery store, but you will find them at a good farmers market.  So look around, ask around, and don't miss this unique, delicious, and beloved pepper!!

 

- Ian Wilson

Owner, Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

 

 

5 Favorite Tomatoes

Hey Fellow Gardeners,

It's just about to be June, which means it's high time you got those tomatoes in the ground! (if you haven't already).   Tomatoes are among the MOST beloved vegetables (and, yes, fruits) for many gardeners.  Everyone seems to have their dearly held opinions, secrets, methods, and madnesses about these mysterious and wonderful treasures.

heirloom tomatoes

I wouldn't call myself a tomato fanatic, but I do look forward as expectantly as anyone to the first tomatoes, and feel a certain sadness when the first Fall rains turn them to mush.  But I always aim to have enough canned, frozen, and dried to carry me through the darkest winter hours.

To honor the tomato today (this hottest day of the year!) I thought I would share 5 of my very most favorite tomato varieties.  Most of these are available locally, though you may have to do some exploring to find all of them.  This is a list that has been painstakingly whittled down for your enjoyment. 

The List:

Sungold:  I know I'm not the only one out there for whom this delectable cherry tomato is a favorite.  With its immense yields, unmatched sweetness, precocious fruiting, and stunning orange color at ripeness, Sungold is my number one Cherry tomato.  If you are late in planting your tomatoes, Cherry types are a must as they are the earliest to produce.  No one wants to be waiting around for tomatoes while their neighbors are feasting.  Sungold won't let you down.

Sungold

Stupice:  If you are looking for another early to bare and highly productive tomato with more broad appeal in the kitchen, look no further.  Stupice is an heirloom of Czechoslovakian descent.  Small round red fruits produce early and often and carry incredible density of flavor and sweetness.  My very favorite thing to do with Stupice is to toss halved fruits with olive oil, sea salt, and chopped fresh herbs and slow roast in the oven until they condense.  As such, they are excellent over pasta, on crostinis, or packed in gallon freezer bags and frozen for an instant taste of summer many months later!!

Stupice

Blush:  Blush is a relative newcomer on the tomato block, and while I love a late summer heirloom, this newer variety has a special place in my heart.  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to taste these tomatoes before they were released publicly at the farm of tomato breeder Fred Hempel in Sunol, California.  I was won over immediately by a tomato with incredible texture, and the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.  It doesn't hurt that the fruits are stunning with a golden base layer and a fiery "blush" of red-orange on small oval shaped fruits.  Find them, grow them, love them.  ...You will.

Blush

Anna Russian:  Heirloom tomatoes are extraordinary, and there are good reasons why they that have withstood the test of time are still here making us swoon.  Anna Russian is one of my very favorite heirlooms.  It's meaty pink heart shaped fruits are delicate, tender, and sweet, and like all of the best heirlooms, they are at their very finest when harvested within a stones throw of a cutting board and some fine balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  This variety has an interesting story that is both close to and far from home for Oregonians.  To read more about Anna Russian and its journey from Russia to Oregon and back out into the world, check out this article.

Cherokee Purple:  Cherokee Purple was perhaps my first tomato love.  It seems to follow me on my winding journey through farms and gardens and blogs too, I guess.  It is a true heirloom, dating back to the 1890's.  It bears large burgundy fruits that retain a purple green hue close to the stem.  Flesh is notably dark, dense, and sweet.  It is among the most classicly beautiful (and delicious) heirloom tomatoes.  My garden would just feel incomplete without it!!

Cherokee Purple

So there you have it.  I have born my tomato soul for all to see.  And how could I not share?  These are the tomatoes that have sustained me for years and years and I can only hope that they bring each of you as much joy as they have brought to me.

Now get to it! Round up some tomato starts and put them in the ground before this heat wave subsides!

Succession Planting: How to Plan for Plenty

The weather of late has had me very much out in the gardens!  We have been tilling up our Spring beds, adding loads of compost, turning it in, and preparing the soil for seeds and starts and all that soon will follow.  With all the soil warming and sunshine recently, in many of our clients gardens we have already done our first seedings of Arugula, Carrots, Spinach, Snap Peas, Fava Beans, and Lettuces!

Spring Plantings

Well the rain has finally returned, at least for a minute here, and I am seizing the opportunity to stay inside and put together an overdue blog post!


People often ask me about "succession planting..."  "What's the deal with it? Why do you do it? How do you do it?"  Well today I am going to delve into those very questions and share my perspective and experience with successions. 

For me, succession planting is one of the things that marks the shift from a beginning gardener who grows vegetables without a clear plan to an advanced gardener who grows with purpose and intention.  With a little bit of planning and some basic guidelines, your garden will go from ordinary to extraordinary, yielding the vegetables that you want when you want them throughout the year.

What is Succession Planting?

Succession planting, in a sentence, is the practice of planting the same vegetable more than once during a season to ensure a longer and more consistent harvest of that vegetable throughout the year.

Many beginning gardeners have had the experience of doing a big spring planting of all of their favorite vegetables, watering them, caring for them, doting upon them, and (with a little luck) harvesting them when they are ready, and eating them.  And for many gardeners this alone is enough! 

But after the satisfaction of eating that June salad of lettuce, spring radishes, and carrots, many gardeners return to their garden and find that there are no more carrots, radishes or lettuce that are nearly ready to be harvested.  So they plant more, and are met with the reality that their next salad is 6-8 weeks away!

Multiple plantings of certain vegetables throughout the season assures a consistent harvest of the veggies you want the most!

Multiple plantings of certain vegetables throughout the season assures a consistent harvest of the veggies you want the most!

So how do we avoid these lean times in the heart of our growing season? 

...You guessed it:   Succession Planting!

By planning ahead, we are able to ensure a steady harvest of the things we want to eat, maximizing our time, our space, and our satisfaction during the precious growing season!

What are Good Vegetables for Successions?

Not all vegetables are suitable for succession planting.  Some vegetables take a long time to mature and then have a long "harvest window" producing for a long period of time.  Because of these factors, these vegetables are usually planted only once per season and are not good choices for succession planting.  Generally, by the time the first planting is done producing, the growing season is nearly over. 

Most vegetables however, are either quicker to mature or have a shorter harvest window (or both), and are good choices for succession plantings. 

Leafy greens like spinach (pictured), lettuce and arugula are quick to mature and have short harvest windows making them excellent choices for growing as successions

Leafy greens like spinach (pictured), lettuce and arugula are quick to mature and have short harvest windows making them excellent choices for growing as successions

Vegetables that are not generally grown as succession plantings include: Cucumbers, Eggplant, Fava Beans, Garlic, Leeks, Melons, Storage Onions, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Winter Squash

Vegetables that are often grown as succession plantings include:  Arugula, Basil, Beets, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Broccoli Raab, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Chard, Cilantro, Collards, Fennel, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, and Turnips.

How Do I Plan a Succession Planting?

Lettuce use an example...

Lettuce Specs

Lettuce is a classic vegetable for succession planting.  It is beloved by many, quick to mature, and quick to "bolt" or flower prematurely, meaning it has a very short harvest window, especially during hot weather. 

If you are a Lettuce lover and you want salads all summer long, then listen up.  You will need to plant lettuce several times throughout the year to get a steady harvest.

What follows is a simplified planting plan for the lettuce lover:

 

Lettuce Succession Spreadsheet

You will see that 7 lettuce starts are planted out every two weeks starting on 3/1, (the earliest suggested planting date for lettuce.)  The first planting is first harvested on 4/10, (40 days later since lettuce takes about 40 days to mature)  The last harvest from the first planting is two weeks later on 4/24 (since lettuce has an average 14 day harvest window).  The second planting (which was planted on 3/15), is first harvested on 4/25 (as soon as the first planting is exhausted).  Following this pattern, 7 lettuce heads will come into maturity every two weeks starting around 4/10 and offering a head of lettuce every couple of days for your kitchen!

You will also see that there is a 6 week break from lettuce planting between 6/1 and 7/15.  This is because these plantings would mature between late July and late August, typically the hottest part of our Portland area summer!  In my experience, these plantings never do very well and so I take a little break from lettuce and other leafy greens during this time of year.

***Note:  The "days to maturity" for a given vegetable is highly variable.  It can be influenced by the variety, the weather, stress factors and the season!  In general, things that are planted in early Spring and later Fall are notably slower to mature than the same thing planted in the middle of the summer.  Be observant and you will get better and better at planning the perfect successions! 

The Next Level: Creating a Comprehensive Planting Plan

Creating a comprehensive planting plan that meets your needs is complicated!  Start with a simple plan, have fun with it, and learn as you go.

Creating a comprehensive planting plan that meets your needs is complicated!  Start with a simple plan, have fun with it, and learn as you go.

You can see that even planning for a bounty of even a single vegetable is no simple task.  Creating a more comprehensive planting plan that meets all of your needs and tastes is even more complicated and requires a lot of forethought.  Your skills in planning successions will evolve each year as you put your new knowledge into practice!

Vegetable gardens are a total joy even without a plan, so don't get hung up on the master plan right away.  And I can tell you from experience, even after years of crop planning for farms and gardens, I have never made a plan that didn't change somewhere along the way!  So go forth and make plans.  The most important thing is that you give it some thought and give it a try!

If you decide you want professional support in creating a planting plan for your garden, Portland Edible Gardens offers garden planning services catered to your particular space and tastes. 


Review

• "Succession Planting" is: the practice of planting a certain vegetable multiple times throughout the year for a longer harvest throughout the season.

• Not all vegetables require succession planting.  (See lists above)

• When Planning a succession of plantings keep in mind: earliest and latest suggested planting dates, average days to maturity, average harvest window, and how much of that vegetable you want to eat in the average harvest window.  Use this information to determine when and how much to plant.

• Be patient, keep good notes, and have fun!

• If you want professional support with a comprehensive planting plan, you know who to call...

 

Until next time, Happy Growing!

Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

A Few Favorite Varieties for Direct Seeding

A couple weeks ago I taught a class at the Portland Nursery on Growing Vegetables From Seeds.  I am always inspired when I get to teach a class and Saturday was no exception!  We wrapped up the class with a big seed giveaway from my own collection and people got to head home with seeds in hand!

Picking varieties for sowing in your home garden is a highly personal process.  Anyone who has grown a garden for more than a couple of years has their personal favorites.  I love hearing from other gardeners about what they are growing, what works well, and what they love.  In the spirit of exchange, I wanted to share a few of my own favorite varieties for direct sowing at home!

A Few Favorites

Turnips: "Hakurei."  Why am I starting with turnips you ask?  Because this turnip made a turnip lover out of me! Hakurei is a beautiful bone-white Japanese salad turnip.  This variety is easy to grow, fun to harvest, and succulent and sweet in a way that I have never known in another turnip.  I rarely cook it, slicing it thin, and eating it on some of the first spring salads!

Hakurei

Carrots: "Yaya."  I discovered this carrot just a couple of years ago.  It has incredible flavor, good size, and is relatively quick to mature as far as carrots go.  What's more, in winter plantings, it has proven itself to be extremely cold hardy withstanding temperatures in the low teens and coming through just fine!  A great all around carrot.

Radishes: "French Breakfast."  These slender red and white open-pollinated radishes are my preferred radish for early Spring plantings.  They have a very mild flavor lacking the spiciness that many radishes display.  It is called "French Breakfast" because in France they are often sliced very thin and eaten on buttered toast with a pinch of coarse salt.  I have certainly done the same on many occasions!

French Breakfast

Fava Beans: "Aquadulce."  People have strong feelings about fava beans. I love them.  They are notoriously difficult to harvest, peel, and process, but I swear its worth the work.  This heirloom variety comes from 19th century Spain, and its delicate buttery flavor is unrivaled.  I love to lightly boil the beans and eat them over a simple pasta with garlic, olive oil, herbs, and Parmesan cheese!

Aquadulce

Sugar Snap Peas: "Super Sugar Snap."  Sugar snap peas are one of the true treasures of a Spring garden.  There is nothing like chomping on a sugar snap pea fresh from the vine.  Even peas from the farmer's market never have the sweetness and crunch of the home grown type.  Super Sugar Snap is one of the best:  Extremely productive, and sweet like no other.  You won't be disappointed

Super Sugar Snap

I hope you enjoy these varieties as much as I do!!!  And please please please share your own favorites by commenting below!  If this early evening sunshine is any indication, this growing season is just about here  No rain in the forecast, and I'm thinking I might just get out there, spread some compost, and get some garden beds ready for Spring!!!

Stay tuned for more seasonal hints, tips, and suggestion for growing your edible garden here in the Portland area.

- Ian Wilson, Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

Selecting Seeds and Varieties for Direct Sowing at Home

In last month's blog post, Sourcing Your Own Organic Vegetable Seeds we discussed where and how to acquire organic vegetable seeds that can be planted in your garden at home.  This week we are going to talk about how to pick the right vegetables and varieties for "direct sowing" or planting outdoors directly into your garden.

Direct sowing is one of my absolute favorite garden activities.  Not only do we get to participate in a totally miraculous and unbelievable process, growing vegetables from seeds also has many benefits that can lead to healthier, happier, and more productive plants.

In this blog post we will: outline which vegetables grow best from seeds (rather than from nursery starts), demystify the often complicated language of seed packets, and finally, we will discuss how to evaluate if different varieties are appropriate for your garden!

Deciding Which Vegetables to Grow From Seeds

Its not surprising that many home gardeners forgo seeds altogether in favor of buying and planting vegetable starts purchased from local nurseries.  Growing a vegetable from a tiny seed is no small feat.  It can feel like nothing short of a miracle sometimes.  Getting seeds to germinate is the first challenge, and once they germinate, baby seedlings are delicate, needy, and extremely vulnerable.  Nursery starts enter the garden with clear advantages over tiny seedlings. 

So with all these challenges why grow from seeds at all?...

While many vegetables grow well when "transplanted" or grown from starts, some vegetables do not.  Root vegetables are highly intolerant of being transplanted, and should always be grown from seeds!  The single taproots that characterize most root vegetables are very delicate.  While vegetables with more fibrous or branched root systems have many pathways by which to get their nutrients, taproots have only one!  When taprooted vegetables are transplanted, they often suffer overwhelming trauma to their roots that result in stunted growth and poor plant health!

Root Vegetables like carrots, have very delicate taproots that are traumatized and damaged when transplanted.  For this reason, root vegetables are much happier being grown from seeds.

Root Vegetables like carrots, have very delicate taproots that are traumatized and damaged when transplanted.  For this reason, root vegetables are much happier being grown from seeds.

When any plant (root vegetable or not) is grown as a seedling in a container and transplanted into a new environment it inevitably suffers from "transplant shock" as its delicate roots are disturbed.  Even though growing vegetables from seeds has its challenges early on, I believe that well tended veggies grown from seed are stronger, healthier, and more resilient than veggies grown from starts.

The other significant advantage to growing vegetables from seeds is that you get to choose which varieties you plant in your garden!  When you purchase vegetable starts you are constrained by the selection available at local nurseries.  Don't get me wrong, Portland has exceptional diversity and selection when it comes to vegetable starts.  Nonetheless, the abundance and diversity encountered in the quest for seeds is hard to beat!

To simplify the question of what to grow from seed in your garden, I created a little chart which I offer to you now! 

Should I Grow from Seeds or from Starts???

Understanding Seed Catalogs and Seed Packets

Choosing seeds can be an overwhelming process.  Seed catalogs and seed packets present a dizzying range of information.  Before you can make informed decisions and pick your seeds, it is important to understand the information available to you.  Here is a small glossary of terms you may encounter in your seed quest.

Days to Maturity (DTM): Estimated number of days required from planting to reach harvestable size.  ***Note: This number is extremely variable depending on climate, temperature, weather, season, and other conditions.  Take it with a grain of salt***

Germination rate or %: Percentage of seeds in a batch that germinated under controlled conditions.  If germination rate is low, consider oversowing.

Seed packets provide a lot of information that can be overwhelming if you aren't familiar with some terminology!

Seed packets provide a lot of information that can be overwhelming if you aren't familiar with some terminology!

F1: Indicates that the seed is a hybrid.

OP: Indicates that the seed is open pollinated, meaning that seeds can be saved and replanted

Date: The date that the seed was harvested and stored.  Most seeds will remain viable for 2-3 years though some will only last 1 year while others can last for many depending on how they are stored.  For more information on seed viability check out this great chart from High Mowing Seeds

Seed Depth: How deep the seed should be planted for best germination

Seed Spacing: How far apart seeds should be spaced from each other within a row

Row Spacing: How far apart rows of a given vegetable should be from each other for optimum growth

Choosing Your Seed Varieties

Once you understand how to read seed packets and seed catalogs you are ready to choose the seeds for your garden!  The criteria you use in picking your seeds is very personal and unique for every garden and gardener. 

You might be choosing seeds solely based on flavor as it is described in a seed catalog.  If you are in a partial shade situation, or early in the season you might look for varieties that are quick to mature, or if you have had problems with fungal disease on your summer squash, you might look for varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew. 

...You get the idea.  This is the fun part!  Even after all my years of farming and gardening, I am still trying new varieties, and I do so with the same giddy excitement as from the beginning.  So don't get overwhelmed by all the information.  Just dive in and get some seeds!

Nonetheless, here are three basic guidelines to follow in choosing your seeds:

1. Be practical:  If you have adverse growing conditions, whether soil, climate, sun exposure, or pests and disease, look for varieties that will stand a chance in your garden.

2. Be Adventurous:  I know this sounds contradictory.  But growing a diversity of varieties even for the same vegetable will increase your chance for success and for learning.  Don't be scared to try something different.

3. Be Proactive:  Some of the best varieties are very popular and in limited supply, so use the winter time to do your homework and order your seeds early!  Or you may miss the boat on some of the best varieties.

Now you have everything you need to select and acquire your own seeds for direct sowing in your garden! And its already February, which means its time to put those very first sugar snap peas in the ground!!! Waste no time, for Spring is right around the corner.  In the meantime, keep your eyes out for a special blog post in which we share some of our very favorite varieties for home production.

- Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

Sourcing Your Own Organic Vegetable Seeds

The Quest For Seeds

Planting Spinach Seeds

Last Spring I wrote a blog entitled "The Pleasures of Growing From Seed," a two part series, my confessional about my passion and love for growing vegetables from seeds (as opposed to from starts).  There was also some useful information of course, about how to grow from seed.  I will spare you more of the same here, but if you don't have the seed bug, like I do, that blog post is a good place to start.  If you are in the camp of crazy for seeds, you will enjoy this blog post, where I take up the question of where and how to acquire your own organic vegetable seeds.

The search for and acquisition of seeds is my very first act of gardening each year.  For me, this process begins months before I amend my soil in the spring or plant the first pea seeds.  It is a process that I take deep pleasure in for several reasons. 

For one, it is something I can do curled up by a fire, over a steaming bowl of soup, or reclined on the couch, with a beloved seed catalog.  It is among the few "gardening activities" that are so cozy, and this alone recommends it!  It is also a way that I can indulge my gardening instincts in the darkness of winter, even in the darkest hour before we crawl back from the solstice towards Spring and Life and Fruit.  I get tremendous inspiration, education, and all sorts of ideas for the next year along the way.

Sourcing Seeds from Local Retailers

The beautiful organic seed display at Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, 2615 SE Schilller St.

The beautiful organic seed display at Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, 2615 SE Schilller St.

Ordering from catalogs is not the only way to come by your garden seeds.  In fact, most people who buy seeds never touch a catalog and get their seeds from local nurseries or even from grocery stores. 

The Portland area has incredible offerings when it comes to seeds, and we are extremely lucky to have access to such diversity and quality.  Some of the advantages of buying seeds locally include: Instant gratification! No waiting around for seeds to arrive by mail.  Limited Selection can be less overwhelming (There can be too much of a good thing). Guidance in selecting seeds from nursery staff can be helpful if you aren't sure just what you want.

Some disadvantages to buying locally include: less diversity/selection if you are looking for specific varieties.  Also, seeds can arrive at nurseries at unpredictable times.  Finally, Seeds are available later in Winter/early Spring at nurseries, than when ordered via catalog.

Here is a list of some local retailers who carry vegetable seeds!:

Naomi's Organic Farm Supply:  2615 SE Schiller St.

Naomi's is deeply committed to supporting organic, local, and sustainable practices and businesses.  This is reflected in all of their products and their seed collection is no exception.  All seeds at Naomi's are sourced from Pacific Northwest seed companies! Seeds they carry include: Adaptive Seeds, Siskiyou Seeds, Uprising Seeds, and Horizon Herbs

Garden Fever:  3433 NE 24th Ave

We love this NE Portland locale for their thoughtfully curated collection of seeds, plants, tools, and other gardening resources.  Friendly staff and quality products through and through.  They carry a unique collection of seeds from locally grown to specialty Italian bred.  Seeds they carry include: Botanical Interests, Renee's Garden Seeds, Nichol's Garden Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Company, Hudson Valley Seed Company, Horizon Herbs, and Italian-based Florsilva Ansaloni

Portland Nursery: 5050 SE Stark and 9000 SE Division

An institution for Portland area Gardeners and a great resource for all things garden related.  They carry a wide variety of both flower and vegetable seeds concentrating mostly on some of the bigger seed companies but carrying some regional collections as well.  Seeds they carry include: Renee's Garden Seeds, Lake Valley Seeds, Botanical Interests, Territorial Seed Company, and Ed Hume Seeds

Dennis' 7 Dees  Locations: Cedar Hillls, Lake Oswego, SE Portland, Seaside

If you live outside of the Portland area, you can still find quality seeds at a number of larger nurseries and garden centers. Dennis' 7 Dees has limited but quality selections of vegetable seeds.  Seeds they carry include: Territorial Seed Company, Renee's Garden Seeds, and Ed Hume Seeds

Home Depot: Many locations throughout the Portland Metro Area.

This is another reasonable option if you live further from the city center, carrying some of the largest seed producers.  Very limited organic selections.  Seeds they carry include: Burpee Seeds, Ferry-Morse Seeds, Stover Seeds, and Seeds of Change

Sourcing Seeds from Seed Catalogs

Protect-Heirloom-Seeds.jpg

While getting your seeds in the spring at local retailers has many advantages, it takes a lot of the fun out of it for me.  I get so much joy out of pouring through seed catalogs that I would never give it up.  But I'm a seed nut (oxymoron?) as you know, and I'm clearly biased. 

Even so, ordering from seed catalogs has some clear advantages over getting seeds from local retailers including: Nearly unlimited variety and selection, ability to acquire seeds early in the season, ability to plan ahead and know what you will be direct seeding, and of course the joy of browsing seed catalogs.  Even if you don't order any seeds from afar, I think you will find immeasurable joy and inspiration simply in browsing. 

But where do you get seed catalogs, and which ones should you check out?  Almost all catalogs are free but they aren't available locally and must be ordered in the mail.  Simply sign up and request a catalog at any of the websites that follow here and you should get a catalog in the mail within a few weeks.  There are dozens of seed companies and catalogs to choose from.  It can be totally overwhelming, and though I myself receive far too many in the mail, I would recommend starting with just one or two and leave some room for growth.

I have painstakingly whittled my list of favorite seed catalogs down to five that I will share with you today:  (drumroll)...

Johnny's Seeds:

Johnny's is sort of the old standby for seeds.  They are a large seed company but they go a very professional job and have extremely diverse offerings from conventional to organic to hybrid to heirloom.  They have been around for more than 40 years and they do a bang up job.  If I could only have one seed catalog it would probably be Johnny's.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:

Baker creek is an extremely unique seed company based in Missouri and carrying exclusively heirloom seeds.  They offer over 1700 varieties in fact!  If you are interested in heirloom fruits and vegetables or if you just want to look at the most beautiful seed catalog out there, check out Baker Creek.

Territorial Seed Company:

This local seed company, based in Cottage Grove, was founded by Steve Solomon, Author of the definitive gardening guide for our region "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades."  Territorial is now a large seed company with extensive offerings both organic and conventional.  Since Territorial is based in Oregon, their seeds are often well adapted for our climate.  An excellent source for all the seeds you needs.

High Mowing Organic Seeds:

Established in 1996, High Mowing ranks as one of the newer seed companies relative to others on this list.  They offer 100% certified organically grown seeds, which is a huge undertaking that no other seed company on this list can claim.  They are based in the Northeast and are well known for their hardy and diverse offerings.  Highly recommended by us.

Seed Savers Exchange:

Seed Savers Exchange is a unique and inspiring seed company/non-profit organization that offer's heirloom seeds that are saved, and distributed, to SSE by over 13,000 members in 40 countries across the world!  Their catalog represents the collection of all this work as they continue in their mission to preserve genetic diversity, and heirloom varieties.  Many rare and otherwise unavailable varieties are offered through their catalog.  Another beautiful seed catalog, by the way...Check it out!!

But Which Seeds Should I Choose?

...Stay tuned for the next blog post: "Selecting Seeds and Varieties for Direct Sowing at Home"

This post will cover what sorts of vegetables to choose for direct sowing in your garden, how to evaluate different varieties, as well as the inside line on some of our very favorite varieties that you won't find available locally. 

In the meantime, order some seed catalogs and put on that pot of soup!  Happy Holidays from Portland Edible Gardens and we will be back with more Edible Gardening hints and tips in 2015!!

Sincerely, Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC

Growing Cover Crops in Your Home Garden

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach a class at our own Portland Nursery on Growing Cover Crops in the Home Garden.  The turnout was impressive and it made me realize that there is more and more excitement and interest in this important organic gardening practice, so its time for a blog!!

When the first fall rains come here in Portland, and all the tomatoes turn to mush on the vine, it can often feel like the growing season is emphatically over.  If you haven't planned ahead and planted a winter garden, the growing season is indeed drawing to a rapid close.  But even if you won't be harvesting from your garden in the rainy season, there are a variety of things you can do to revitalize and take care of the garden that has taken such good care of you over the season.

Growing a living "Cover Crop" is one of the best ways to take care of and replenish your garden in the winter months.  Cover Crops offer an overwhelming variety of benefits to your garden insulating, protecting, conditioning and revitalizing your precious soil!  This blog post will give you the information you need to understand, choose, plant, and maintain your own home-grown cover crop!  So lets dig right in...

Mature Cover Crop at the UC Santa Cruz Farm.  Bell Beans, Oats, and Vetch

Mature Cover Crop at the UC Santa Cruz Farm.  Bell Beans, Oats, and Vetch

What are Cover Crops?

Cover Crops, sometimes also called "green manures," are crops/plants that are grown for a variety of reasons, other than for consumption, in larger quantities (to “cover” an area) and to maintain/improve the health of the soil and garden. They are most often planted during Winter, though not exclusively.

Farmers and gardeners have taken a hint from natural ecosystems in adopting cover cropping techniques.  If you take a look at any natural environment you will see cover cropping happening naturally!!  Whether in forests, grasslands, or even in deserts, growth and ground cover will happen wherever conditions will allow.

What are the advantages/benefits of growing cover crops?

So many!!!  Some of the most important include:

  • Adding fertility to soil by capturing atmospheric nitrogen (nitrogen fixation by legumes)

  • Increasing soil organic matter and increasing soil biological activity (by growing biomass)

  • Preventing soil erosion and compaction from fall and winter precipitation (by providing ground covering)

  • Capturing and cycling nutrients (especially leachable nitrogen)

  • Improving soil structure and “tilth” by the action of roots and in the decomposition of plant material

  • Improving drainage in soil through root penetration and increase in soil organic matter

  • Suppression of weeds and conservation of moisture (by providing ground cover)

  • Increasing habitat for beneficial insects

  • Pest and disease suppression

The fibrous root systems of grasses are especially helpful in cover cropping suppressing weeds, improving drainage, and conditioning soils.

The fibrous root systems of grasses are especially helpful in cover cropping suppressing weeds, improving drainage, and conditioning soils.

What are the different types of Cover crops?

Most cover crops fall into one of three categories representing different important and useful plant families.

Grasses/Grains

Plants in the grass family are extremely helpful in cover cropping for a variety of reasons.  Their extensive fibrous root systems are excellent at conditioning soil, improving soil structure, and water infiltration.  Their habitat of covering ground and crowding out other plants makes them excellent for weed suppression and prevention of erosion, while their vigrous vegetative growth help increase the level of organic matter in soils.

Common Grasses/Grains used in Cover Cropping include: Rye, Wheat, Oats, Barley, Triticale,  and Sudan Grass

Legumes

The Legume family is the one plant family in the whole plant kingdom which has the ability to capture Nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in the soil.  Legumes accomplish this through a complex cooperation with specific strains of bacteria that live on their roots.  For more info on Nitrogen Fixation check out this great article from ...  "Nitrogen Fixation" is definitely the most important contribution of Legumes, however they are also helpful in increasing soil organic matter, suppressing weeds, and providing habitat for beneficial insects

Common Legumes used in Cover Cropping include: Clovers (Crimson, Red, and White) Vetches (Common, Hairy, and Purple) Beans (Fava, Bell, Soy) and Peas (Field, Austrian Winter)

Crimson Clover is an excellent cover crop for fixing nitrogen in the soil.  It is grown widely in the Willamette Valley and the spring blooms are not to be missed!!

Crimson Clover is an excellent cover crop for fixing nitrogen in the soil.  It is grown widely in the Willamette Valley and the spring blooms are not to be missed!!

Brassica ("Cabbage" or "Mustard") Family

Certain members of the Brassica family play important roles in cover cropping.  Plants like Daikon Radish with powerful taproots are used in breaking up compaction in soils.  Other Brassicas are used in suppressing pests and diseases through the release of natural chemicals in their roots.  Because they are so deeply rooted, Brassicas also play an important role in scavenging and cycling nutrients.

Common Brassicas used in Cover Cropping include: Daikon Radish, Mustard, and Rape (Canola)

Buckwheat

Buckwheat is in a category all its own but is used extensively as a summer cover crop and so deserves mention here.  Buckwheat is a vigorous, heat loving plant which germinates and grows more quickly than most food crops and weeds.  It is often used as a quick growing cover crop in between food crops.  It is excellent for increasing soil organic matter and its precocious flowers provide incredible nectar and pollen sources for bees and other beneficial insects.

Which cover crop(s) should I use?

The first step in choosing your cover crop is to identify what your goal/goals are.   In most cases a combination of cover crops are used together (often a grass and a legume) for their complementary effects.

Sowing a mixture of cover crops is an excellent way to enjoy a range of benefits for your garden.  This mix from Johnny's Seeds contains: Clover, Rye, Peas, Oats, and Vetch

Sowing a mixture of cover crops is an excellent way to enjoy a range of benefits for your garden.  This mix from Johnny's Seeds contains: Clover, Rye, Peas, Oats, and Vetch

By matching your gardens specific needs to the benefits provided by different cover crops you will choose a combination that will best support your specific garden.

This "Cover Crop Solutions Chart" put out by Peaceful Valley Farm Supply is an excellent reference for choosing the perfect cover crop for your specific situation.

***If it is your first time ever growing a cover crop, I would suggest purchasing a cover crop mix from a local nursery.  Naomi's Organic Farm Supply and Portland Nursery both sell mixtures that include four or five different cover crops each offering different benefits for your soil. Remember to take note of the suggested seeding rate/area so you know how densely to sow your mixture!***

When Should I Plant My Cover Crop?

The timing on the planting of your cover crop will depend on which cover crop/s you choose and what you plan to do with it in the spring.  It will also depend on the weather which of course, is beyond our control.

Even given all of these variables, some general principles around planting can be followed...

A winter cover crop should be sown at such a time that it can become well established over the winter so as to do its jobs of covering soil, fixing nitrogen, suppressing weeds, etc...  A cover crop that is planted too late in the fall does not become well established and fails to offer the many benefits which it is capable of. 

On the other hand, a cover crop that is planted too early will become over mature and can become woody, and difficult to incorporate into the soil in the spring.  Additionally, if cover crops are not removed or incorporated on time they can go to seed and cause weed problems in the following season.

***In general, Winter cover crops should be sown between September 15th and November 1st.  If you are sowing a mix of seeds, October 1st-October 15th is a good planting window. ***

Image courtesy of Mother Earth News

Image courtesy of Mother Earth News

How Should I Plant My Cover Crop?

Step 1: Remove all vegetable and weed and other plant material from the area to be cover cropped.

Step 2:  Lightly till surface of soil with tilthing fork, hard rake, or garden claw.  When very small seeds are to be sown (such as clover) create a fine seed bed with minimal clods.  If larger seeds are to be sown (such as beans or peas) a coarse seedbed will suffice

Step 3: "Broadcast" or sprinkle seeds by hand following the recommended seeding rate.

Step 4: Incorporate the seeds you have sown using a chopping motion with a hard rake or hoe.

Step 5: Irrigate with an overhead sprinkler only if precipitation is not expected within a few days

Woohoo! Your done!  Cover crops are extremely self sufficient.  Winter rain will do the rest of the work, until you are called upon in the spring! Which leads us to...

Preparing a fine seedbed is especially important for small seeded cover crops like Clover

Preparing a fine seedbed is especially important for small seeded cover crops like Clover

What should I do with my cover crop in the Spring?

So you have grown yourself a cover crop...  You chose your seeds, prepared your soil, seeded the crop, and it has grown slowly but steadily throughout the winter.  If your timing for seeding was right, your cover crop is close to waist high, it's late February, and you are thinking about vegetables again!  So now what?

On most farms the answer would be, hop on the tractor and till it into the soil, chopping it into a million pieces where it would quickly begin to break down in your soil.  As gardeners, working mostly with our hands, such a task is not quite as simple.  When it comes to managing our cover crop we have a couple of choices.

Option 1: Incorporation

Using this method our task is, like the farmer on her tractor, to chop the mature cover crop into small pieces and turn it into the soil where it can decompose.  Using hand tools like garden shears, pruners, or machete,  and then turning the debris into the soil is no small task!  In a larger garden, a weed whacker or powerful mower can aid in the process and a small rototiller can help with incorporation. 

Even with the help of these tools, this method will always require a waiting period before your cover crop has broken down enough to allow planting.  This waiting period can be from 1-2 months depending on how well your cover crop has broken down, and for a gardener in the Oregon Spring, this can seem like an eternity, especially if you don't have other garden space for early plantings.

Option 2: Composting Your Cover Crop

***This is my preferred method for managing a home grown cover crop.  Especially in raised garden beds where garden space is generally at a premium.***

Using this method your cover crop is harvested, roots and all, and sent to a home compost pile.  In your home compost, it can decompose slowly where all of the nutrients and fertility that have been captured can be stored and converted back into finished compost!  This compost can be applied back to your garden the following Spring where it will offer all of the same advantages to your garden that it would have offered were it turned into the soil in the prior year. 

The great advantage of this method is that you don't have to wait for cover crops to break down before planting into your garden in the Spring.  The disadvantage is that you won't have all of the benefits of your cover crop in the year that it is planted.  However, if you make cover cropping a part of your seasonal cycle, you will always have fertile finished compost to put back into your beds in the Spring!!

A mixed cover crop maturing:  Rye, Hairy Vetch, Clover, and Field Peas are all visible here.

A mixed cover crop maturing:  Rye, Hairy Vetch, Clover, and Field Peas are all visible here.


Congratulations!  You now have all the information you need to grow your own cover crop that meets the particular needs of your garden.  So don't delay!  Head over to your favorite nursery and load up on cover crop seed.  Your garden will thank you for the care and attention you are providing and will respond generously with vegetables in the years to come.

RECAP:

What are Cover Crops?  Crops grown for purposes other than consumption, for purposes of improving/maintaining health of soil and garden

What are the advantages/benefits of growing cover crops? Many! Fixing Nitrogen, increasing organic matter, preventing erosion/compaction, scavenging/cycling nutrients, improving soil structure, Improving drainage/water infiltration, weed suppression, insect habitat, pest and disease suppression.

What are the different types of Cover crops? Grains/Grasses, Legumes, Brassicas, Buckwheat

Which cover crop(s) should I use? Depends on your specific goals.  Generally a combination of legumes/grasses are used.  See "Cover Crop Solutions Chart"

When Should I Plant My Cover Crop? Depends on cover crop(s) selected.  Generally between September 15th and November 1st for Winter cover crops.

How Should I Plant My Cover Crop? Clear vegetation, prepare seedbed, broadcast seed following seeding rate, incorporate seed, irrigate (if precipitation is absent).

What should I do with my cover crop in the Spring? Option 1: Incorporate and wait for debris to decompose before planting Option 2: Remove cover crop to compost pile, apply finished compost to garden beds, plant.

Kale and Carrots and Leeks, Oh My!: Growing Your Winter Garden... In July

BUT WHY NOW?

On these delicious summer days, with the first tomatoes blushing on the vine, zucchinis growing right before our eyes, and sweet corn just around the corner, it is difficult to imagine the dark and dreary days of winter that will also be ours.  And yet, if you want kale in December, and carrots in February, or cauliflower in April the time to plant is, well... Now.

Yes indeed, it's already time to plant the vegetables that you will harvest all winter long!

These winter months are times when most of our vegetable gardens are asleep: covered with mulch, or a winter cover crop... or weeds.  We don't think of winter as a time for vegetable gardening, and for many of us gardening from Spring through Fall is enough...

...but not for me.

Western Oregonians know all too well how long our winters can be.  The wait for the first arugula and radishes of Spring plantings can seem interminable.  And I'm here to tell you:  It doesn't have to be that way!  Many people think you need a greenhouse or cold frames or wizard magic to have a successful winter garden, but its just not true.  The truth is, there are many hardy and delicious vegetables that will grow right on through the winter, unprotected, in your garden beds.  They can be harvested snow or shine during windows from November all the way through April!!

Most Kale varieties are extremely winter hardy and can withstand temperatures in the low teens !!  Black Tuscan is pictured here.

Most Kale varieties are extremely winter hardy and can withstand temperatures in the low teens !!  Black Tuscan is pictured here.

THE WINTER VEGETABLES

Arugula, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Chard, Collard Greens, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Parsley, Parsnips, Radicchio, Radishes, Rutabaga, Spinach, Sprouting Broccoli, and Turnips!

All of these vegetables can be harvested during different windows from November all the way through April.  Growing a Winter garden, doesn't have to be difficult, but as always, there are a few very important things to consider.  The most important factors in the success of your winter garden are your selection of vegetables to grow, selection of winter hardy varieties, and the seasonal timing of your planting.  Of secondary importance are things like pest protection, method and timing of your harvest, and additional frost protection for certain vegetables.

Winter gardening is fundamentally different than gardening during the rest of the year, and it is important to understand what your vegetables are expecting during their extra long path to your kitchen, so that you also know what to expect. 

The funny thing about winter gardening, is that 90% of the actual gardening happens in the Summer and Fall.  Winter is a time mostly for harvesting the vegetables that you have tended and nurtured in prior months.  Besides, who wants to spend too much time in their garden in a downpour?

Parsnips are one of the unique treats of a winter garden.  Cobham pictured here, is one of my favorite varieties.

Parsnips are one of the unique treats of a winter garden.  Cobham pictured here, is one of my favorite varieties.

WINTER GROWTH HABITS

After about the Fall Equinox (September 21st), you will notice that the growth of all plants in your garden will slow significantly.  This is due to the decreasing amount of available sunlight as well as diminishing temperatures.  From October 15th-February 15th your garden will all but have ground to a halt.  Leaves will drop, vines will wither, and your perennial plants will move into their various states of dormancy.  But not so for the all-star cast of your annual winter vegetables.  They will be slowly but surely moving into their prime!

It is this exceedingly slow winter growth that makes the timing of winter plantings so essential.  Kale, for instance, that is planted too early in the summer will have grown to maturity and likely be moving into its reproductive phase and past its prime when winter sets in.  On the other hand, kale that is planted too late in the year will still be a teenager when winter arrives and will never reach a harvestable size because of lack of available light and warmth.

Once you plant your winter vegetables, resist the urge to harvest!  Your ability to harvest these plantings is dependent on their approaching full maturity going into winter.  This serves the dual purposes of protecting them from winter frosts as well as giving you something to harvest through the winter. 

I always like to have a dedicated separate space for my winter vegetables to create some clear separation.  It also helps to have summer gardening spaces free of plants when its time to prepare garden beds for spring planting.

VARIETAL SELECTION

Once you know what vegetables you would like to grow for the winter, do a little research to identify varieties that are especially suited for winter production.  In our climate, cold and frost resistance is generally the most important quality when selecting varieties, however resistance to fungal disease is also an important quality during a long wet winter.  Do your own research, talk to local nurseries, and browse seed catalogs for special winter varieties.

I have my own favorite varieties for winter production for every vegetable listed above.  Feel free to e-mail me (ian@portlandediblegardens.com) or comment below if you have a specific question regarding varietal selection.

Many of the Savoy type cabbages are especially suited for winter growing.

Many of the Savoy type cabbages are especially suited for winter growing.

WINTER PLANTING DATES:

I cannot take up the specifics of ideal winter planting dates here, as they vary between each of the vegetables listed above, however, most vegetables intended for a winter harvest should be planted between July 15th and August 15th.  Yes, that's now!!  Notable exceptions are leeks which take many months to mature, and should be planted no later than June 1st in order to fully size up.  Also, arugula, and radishes should be closer to September 1st since they are so much quicker to mature and may otherwise bolt before winter temperatures/day length slow them down.

My strong suggestion would be to keep good notes about your planting dates for each vegetable so you can make meaningful adjustments in the years to come.

Also, check out this amazing Winter Gardening Chart put out by Territorial Seed Company regarding winter vegetable gardening.  It is a great place to start for planting dates as well as a bunch of other useful information.

Winter Gardening Chart courtesy of Territorial Seed Company

Winter Gardening Chart courtesy of Territorial Seed Company

RECAP

So you have been pulled out of your summer reverie and forced to plan ahead for the winter.  But you will be happy you did, because you are ready to plant your winter garden!

Things To Remember :

• Winter gardening is all about Summer plantings that mature in late Fall and grow little over the winter but are harvestable for many months

• Select vegetables that are well suited for winter production in your climate (see list above)

•Select varieties that are cold hardy and resistant to fungal diseases if possible

• Plant your winter garden between July 15th and August 15th (Exceptions: Leeks by June 1st, Arugula, Radishes, Spinach by September 1st

• Wait to harvest winter plantings until they reach full maturity

• Enjoy the freshest food in the universe, all winter long!

Controlling Common Garden Pests: Cabbage Loopers and Cabbage Moths

In my last post, I talked about several ways that you can prevent common garden pests from ever even arriving at your vegetable garden.  I talked about the ideas of vegetable rotation, inviting beneficial insects, and choosing the pest resistant vegetables and varieties. These measures can go a long way in managing pests. 

Even so, and even with the very best prevention practices, some number of pests are just an inevitability.  That being said, when we do find pest presence in our gardens, there are many measures that can be taken to exclude, harass, banish, and yes... eliminate these unwanted visitors.  And it can all be done without harmful and dangerous chemicals using entirely organic methods and products!

Close up of mature Cabbage Looper larvae

Close up of mature Cabbage Looper larvae

I will be posting periodically about common garden pests in the Portland area and the Willamette Valley.  Since each garden pest is unique, requiring different approaches, I will tackle them one at a time discussing how to identify them, what vegetables they most commonly affect, and how to deal with them!!!

It should be stated first, that aside from the prevention techniques I discussed in the last blog post, early identification and action are the best way to control garden pests!  This is yet another invitation for you to be a keen observer in your garden.  I truly believe that close observation and attention are the most important skills a gardener can have.


In today's post I am going to talk specifically about Cabbage Loopers.  These small green caterpillars can do serious damage to a whole range of vegetables, not just cabbages!  The name is apt however, since Cabbage Loopers are most commonly found in vegetables from the Cabbage or Brassica family.  Some of the most susceptible vegetables to Cabbage Loopers include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choi, cabbage, and collard greens.  Cabbage Loopers are pale green, and have faint white stripes that run the length of their bodies.  They are called loopers for their "looping" movement (think inchworm).

HABITS

Cabbage Loopers have voracious appetites and do most of their damage by consuming leaf tissues, eating large holes in leaves, and even boring into mature cauliflower and broccoli heads.  They can also cause damage by leaving their frass or waste in enfolded leaves of cabbages and broccolis.  Loopers are generally easy to see, feeding throughout the day, and at up to an inch long, they are large as far as invertebrate garden pests are concerned. 

Cabbage Loopers going to work on leaves of collard greens

Cabbage Loopers going to work on leaves of collard greens

NATURAL PREDATORS

Several species of parasitic wasps prey on cabbage loopers, and so planting for beneficials that attract these wasps can be effective in controlling populations.  The flowering plants of the carrot family (carrots, parsley, cilantro, celery, dill, fennel...) provide excellent pollen and nectar sources for parasitic wasps, so letting these herbs and vegetables go to flower can have an indirect effect on controlling Cabbage Loopers!

 

Providing nectar and pollen sources for parasitic wasps is a great way to encourage the natural predators of Cabbage Loopers in your garden!

Providing nectar and pollen sources for parasitic wasps is a great way to encourage the natural predators of Cabbage Loopers in your garden!

ORGANIC CONTROLS

Once the caterpillars have hatched, they are quick to grow, and it doesn't take much time for them to cause significant damage in the garden.  For this reason, the best time to control Cabbage Loopers is early in their life cycle.  An excellent way to establish early control is to identify their tiny pale green eggs, which are often visible on the undersides of the leaves of affected vegetables.  Removing and smooshing eggs is a great first step.

Once the larva hatch and begin consuming your vegetables, other measures are often required for control.  The most effective organic product that I have found for controlling Cabbage Loopers is Bt which stands for Bacillus thuringiensisBt is a bacteria that, when consumed by Cabbage Loopers, causes severe and ultimately lethal digestive disruption.  It is completely natural, entirely safe for human contact and consumption, and does minimal damage to other beneficial insects.  There are many commercial products containing Bt, and as long as they are OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified, you can be sure that they are safe and benign for humans.

Safer Brand Caterpillar Killer (above), and Monterey B.t. (below) are two effective commercially available forms of Bt.

I hope this is helpful to those of you who have had to deal with these little devils in the past!  Cabbage Loopers can be a real pain but with early identification and a proactive approach, you should be able to keep them at a healthy distance and enjoy your cabbages, etc... as you truly should!  Happy gardening and stay tuned for my next blog post about planting your Fall and Winter vegetable gardens!!