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How does your garden grow?

I have two thumbs but neither are green.  My husband has a green thumb.  For the first couple of years here in Portland, I was pretty green with envy at folks talking about their berry bushes and spinach crop.  They told me of their children frolicking in their yard, plucking from their veggie beds whenever they needed snacks.  I thought: "Wow."

Last year, after lots and lots of reading and consulting others, my husband built two vegetable beds and we planted our own veggies for the first time.  One week last summer, I was eating radishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Another week, I was eating romaine lettuce day in and out.  "Regularity" was not an issue for me.

This year, we are working more closely together to decide what items we love to eat and want to plant.  We have also dug out another two big areas to grow more and are plotting / phasing our growing so we have some diversity in what we harvest at any given time.  I still feel so overwhelmed, though.  I am just glad that my husband has taken the lead on this project.

I've talked with other mamas that are just as daunted by this whole gardening thing.  So, if you don't mind, could you please share your bestest tips?  Do we start from seed?  Indoors?  Buy starts?  Aren't they expensive?  What part of the yard should we plant in?  What are your favorite vegetables to plant?  Favorite fruits?   How about a book where we can learn all the ins and outs of growing our own?

This conversation is inspired by a recent thread on one of my mama yahoo groups: shout out to the mamanandas!


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Yes, I'm working like mad to get those raised beds constructed so I can start planting my veggies too. The book I've found most helpful is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. And for the kids, it's all about the bean-pole teepee.

With the exception of strawberries I am trying my hand at growing everything from seed this year (I'm used starts in the past, which DOES get expensive). I have five raised garden box beds and one "berm" that we are using for lettuces and arugula.

So far I've planted and have teeny tiny little sprouts of sugar snap peas, lettuce and arugula, beets and carrots. The strawberries seem to be digging into their new home. I have not yet planted but have seeds for mustard greens, squash, okra, and edamame. From what I've read it's still a little early/cold but I hope to get them into the ground in the next couple of weeks.

I also have seeds for tomatoes and peppers that I plan to grow in pots and will start indoors but I've been really negligent on getting that going. Yikes!

All my veggies love full sun with the exception of the lettuce and arugula. I know that strawberries do best with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Tomatoes and peppers also do best with a lot of heat.

Hooray for gardening mamas and papas!

I am absolutely awful with plants, but have been planting a garden (also with my husband's help and expertise) for the last few years with varying success. For me, it's worked extremely well using the little greenhouses and soil pellets for starts indoors. The pellets can be transplanted directly into the garden when they're ready and when it's warm enough, and I don't have multitudes of tiny plastic planter pots to deal with and the greenhouses can be reused again and again with refill packs of the pellets.

Our favorites for outdoor snacking have been the cherry tomatoes and the sugar snap peas. We used hanging baskets for the strawberries last year, which kept them form getting trampled and full of weeds. I also love planing a smell garden for the kids...mint, basil, rosemary, lemon thyme and lavendar are all lovely to have on hand and the kids love to rub the leaves between their fingers and sniff.

I'm actually an "UrbanDad," but I've had some early success planting in square foot gardens. We have squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, and peppers (red, green, jalapenos).

We've had smaller gardens in the past, but this year have committed to growing more and expanding the garden. We're doing it because it's fun to grow things, but more because I'm committing to take greater efforts to eat locally. So, to that end, we've also joined a CSA and become regulars at our farmers market. I started a blog recently to chronicle these efforts. I'm no expert, but I'm putting in the gardening tips as I learn them:

The best thing you can do is visit your local nursery. We love Portland Nursery, and they have a great planting calendar that tells you when to plant specific seeds directly in the ground and when to start seedlings indoors (if you're willing).

Have fun!

Andrea, a more thorough guide to the free planting calendar from Portland Nursery is the Seattle Tilth's Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. You might want to check it out.

The must-have guide for vegetable gardening in our area is Steve Solomon's "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades". It's pretty expert-level and dense, but once you get through it all the way, you can go back and pick-and-choose the advice you want to apply. For instance, his instructions on compost suggest that it's really easy for nearly anyone to make good compost (just throw it all in a pile and wait). But he provides information on how to make the "best" compost, albeit with quite a bit more planning and work. Combine his book with Ed's WORD book (mentioned by Ash in the first comment), and you have all you need for this locale.

Don't forget Territorial Seed Company!

good luck!
it's so fun to be experimental with your garden. i've worked on organic farms in the past and have had veggie gardens at each of the rentals i've lived in; now we own a house and i feel like i'm learning more now than ever before. but still for me, every year is an experiment because suprises happen a plenty!

we love to grow sugar snap peas from seed for the kids to eat, as well as pole or bush beans.
we've done seeds of salads, squash, and tomatoes in the past but i have a hard time using a whole pack of seeds (even split between 2 years- a little goes a long way) so i've settled on buying starts for those.

plant your salad and dark greens (kale, chard, collards, broccoli) in march or april in a spot that gets lots of sun for spring/early summer eating; for later planting, put them in a shady spot to keep them from bolting (going to seed) too soon to maximize harvests.for those same foods you can plant them in july or august and then cover them with a hoop house (pipes and plastic cover)when the rain starts for winter eating- we've had salads and greens all through the winter if you get them in the ground in time and keep them warm but ventilated on sunny days.

we buy onion starts and love growing our own. last year i planted onions from seed and started them in a mini hoop house but if you buy the starts you get like a hundred little babies for a few bucks.
we also grow garlic; you plant it in the fall for a summer harvest so it hogs the garden for a while but i love it. you can plant your own cloves as long as it's organic/hasn't been treated with something that prevents sproutiing.

what else.... corn is hard to grow. you need a bunch of it all together to get it to do well and the worms like it. i felt like it wasnt' worth all the water i put into it.

melons are hard too because they need so much heat. the farm i grew melons on had them in a green house, open on the ends for air, to give them enough heat and also had black plastic on the ground to keep the ground hot.

summer and winter squash and cucumbers, however, are easy and fruitful. they just take off and you'll have tons of yeild. beware, you only need a few zuccini plants like 3 max, and pick them readily because they get huge and you'll be leaving them on neighbors' porches just like the fable goes!

carrots and beets are new to me. i got a few carrots last year and it was fun to pluck them but they were small and funny.

hope that helps! try whatever you want! it's a blast.

we live in northeast so portland nursery is nice but there are closer nurserys:
buffalo gardens on alberta, pistols on mississippi, garden fever on fremont, and marbotts on lombard. they all have seeds, starts, and knowledge; pick their brains! even new seasons has starts.

if the nurserys have starts of something, chances are it's a good time to plant it.

best, lesley

I advise starting with easy things. It's hard to go wrong with tomatoes or cucumbers, provided you have a sunny spot, and one start produces a ton of veggies so it's very cost effective.

Publications I love: Organic Gardening, and the Kitchen Gardener magazines.

re: seed or starts... i generally use starts for anything that takes 60+ days, but seed for anything that has quicker turnaround. that way, if the seeds don't take, or if i encounter any issues (like hail in april for instance) there's time to start over. so this means i usually buy starts of my tomatoes, because i don't want to take a chance since most don't fruit around here until august. i love the wide selection of heirlooms at portland nursery, and have also found interesting specimens at the PSU blocks farmers' market. despite my full southern exposure, i've never had luck here with bell peppers or eggplants - - perhaps due to the long growing season...? novice gardeners may want to skip them in favor of hot peppers, or maaaaybe cubanelles...

Here in CA, people planted their garden like a month and a half ago! Anyway, my husband has been lagging on building me my raised beds. How cool would I be if I built them myself? I am not that cool.
Anyway, I read somewhere that the new thing to do is to plant your garden in and among your current landscaping. So, next to my beloved rose bushes, I just planted sweet basil. I then planted some tomatoes in one of the beds that runs along the edge of our pool patio. It seems a little schizophrenic, but I like the idea. Rather than schizophrenic, I'll call it eclectic. Anyway, my husband is off the hook and we will also have fresh tomatoes, herbs, bell peppers and zucchini. A win-win.

I'm new to gardening (although I grew up on a farm, I'm new to doing it myself), and my approach consists of starting everything from seed indoors and then transplanting whatever takes. So far I have heirloom ground cherry, cilantro, purple basil, thai basil, rainbow chard, mesclun greens, radishes, strawberries, strawberry spinach, watermelon, 3 kinds of tomato, bell pepper, broccolini, sweet peas, beets, cardoon, lemongrass (bought as a start), mint, garlic chives, and two grapevines I ordered online. I figure if I'm going to do the organic, local thing I might as well give it my best shot. My husband runs a little organic, vegetarian Jamaican restaurant so he is more than on board with the tilling and planting. I'm good at sprouting and weeding, he tills and hoes and we both water . It's great for our son to be outside so much every day also. We just bought our first home and I plan on making our yard a sanctuary for all of us complete with edible landscaping and plenty of flowers. Not that I know what I'm doing by any means... I just figured we'd invest 50-60 bucks on seeds and see what happened. Experience is the best teacher. Gardenweb has been helpful, although I've noticed some of the more experienced gardeners are rude and less than willing to help a novice gardener. Old, crotchety know-it-alls! I hope to be one someday... hopefully this is the first of many, many gardens to come :-)

I dont have a yard large enough for raised beds, so when we started planting our yard 2 years ago we got a friend of a friend to help us design a landscape that incorporated fruits/veggies into the overall plan. It's been great and so easy to do. Along one side of the yard I have roses and blueberry bushes planted, with strawberries as ground cover. I highly recommend strawberries--they are easy to grow, make a great ground cover and spread rapidly, and of course, the kids love them! My back fence (the sunniest part of the yard) is where I plant the majority of my food--tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, herbs, etc. but I've got dahlias, peonies and other flowers mixed in. And next to the sand box where the kids play we built the tee-pee for green beans and peas--it's so much fun! I've got one more area where I'm planting swiss chard, spinach, carrots and beets among my shasta daisies and other perennial flowers. It's a great way to plant a yard if you dont have the space for raised beds and you want the flowers and pretty stuff too. Also, if you plant marigolds among your veggies they keep some of the invasive bugs away so it has some benefits too.

Another great book I don't think has been mentioned yet is Steve Solomon's Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. It is probably our most used gardening book.

You can also get a copy of the Oregon/Washington Master Gardner's Handbook, which is another great resource. I believe you can see the individual sections here, for free (click on category on right side):
I can't seem to find the whole handbook together that we ordered a few years ago, but I'd guess it is available in there somewhere.

I have all the books, Steve Solomon, the Seattle Tilth book, Square Foot Gardening, and Camellia lent me her Food Not Lawns book...

and really, I totally suck as a gardener but I'm learning. this year I started seedlings but I'm really screwing it up, Gilda the chicken keeps knocking over my pots when I set them out in the sun because I'm too scattered to figure out grow lights, then I either have a little seedling in a pile of dirt, or at the very least dislodge my pretty galvanized metal plant markers from IKEA and I have no idea what kind of tomato that is. guess i'll discover when (if) I ever plant them. anyway...

I have great results with using a combination of the square foot gardening and steve solomon. so far, i'm using his fertilizer requirements to the letter, using a mix of boxes and raised beds, and planting an enormous variety of stuff sort of close together (where he really deviates from sq ft gardening is his suggestion to give plants TONS of space). however i'm slow in getting my garden in this year. i've already got peas and some lettuces and watercress and one kind of kale and a couple of really awesome artichokes coming up like gangbusters; this week i plan to plant potatoes, carrots, beets, and beans, lots more kale and chard and lettuce and peas, broccoli and celery and chervil and spinach. phew. i'm not planting corn this year because of solomon's reminder that it's not a very good use of resources (takes lots of space and it's cheap to buy local corn in season). i think ;)

i agree that tomatoes are a great idea. i like the 'gold nugget cherry' and it's a good reminder to buy varieties that do well here -- especially those sold by local seed companies like territorial (which, incidentally, steve solomon founded). i'm hoping to can a bunch this summer, and dry the principe borghese in true barbara kingsolver fashion.

the other thing i'm going nuts with is berries. strawberries are growing great, and i now have seven blueberry bushes, one huckleberry, two currants, and a good dozen raspberries. we eat *so many* berries and they're super easy to grow here. i also planted three grapes, wish me luck!

oh, and i also started an asparagus bed from seed (more solomon advice) and am planning on having feasts daily in two years, april or may ;)

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