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How does your garden grow? Part II

It's that time of year again.  In fact, we may even be a little late to the game to start thinking: how does your garden grow?  An urbanMama recently emailed to glean ideas for their new family garden:

My family and I have the opportunity to garden a 400sq ft plot starting in the next couple of weeks.  Since we have no dirt of our own, or even any attached to our apartment, we are really excited to get started.  I am hoping that the gardening-mamas out there might be willing share their experiences in order that we can make the most of ours.  Any suggestions about what grows really well here (the plot is in close-in SE) and what doesn't grow well here even if it should?  I would also welcome book titles, websites, etc. that people have found they can't live without.  Lastly, I recently aquired my MIL's large canning pressure cooker and would love to put it to use.  I haven't the foggiest idea how to use it and don't think I should go another summer without learning if I even need the pressure cooker.  Is anyone interested in scheduling/hosting some canning parties this summer with the understanding that some of us will need a little instruction? 

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The Seattle Tilth book, The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, is great. It tells you what you can plant when.

If this is to be a permanent garden for you, I can't recommend enough planting some perennials. That means you get food year after year with very little effort on your part--rhubarb, blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, fruit trees. Ok, you don't have room for all of that, I'm sure! Doesn't it sound great, though?

As far as typical garden crops, I think peas, lettuce, chard, and potatoes are all good to start with and can be planted right now. They grow reliably around here and produce a lot of food. The peas will not survive once the weather gets hot (but we've got months till that happens!). The lettuce and the chard will bolt (start to flower and get bitter) in hot weather, but you will probably have eaten them all by then. The potatoes will grow all summer and be harvested in the fall, but in my experience they don't need much water, so they're a good crop for our dry summers.

My favorite thing to grow is tomatoes. This year Im going to double the amount I grew last year because it was the crop that saved me the most money. I made yummy sauces and froze them in canning jars (I would love to learn how to can properly) and it was a sad day when I ran out and had to buy store sauce for pasta. This year Im buying tomato starts and other seed from www.seedsavers.org (well as soon as we have 2 pennies to rub together)they are an awesome company that has been saving and distributing rare and heirloom seeds for years now. Go online and get a free catalog sent to you. I drooled over mine for hours. I have lots of other things Ive tried and new things I will try this year. Things that have not worked for me...onions (spring ones are great but full size ones didnt grow) and while lettuce grows easily, Im freaked out by all the eggs I find on the leaves and cant eat it. Things that grow well for me are beets, chard, strawberries, basil, carrots, snap peas, zucchini.

ditto to above, and check out territorial seed (http://www.territorialseed.com) for seeds and starts, both heirloom and new varieties. they're based out of cottage grove, and have loads of info about what does best in our climate.
also, btw, we harvested chard allllllllll last summer. i processed it just like spinach, blanching, squeezing, chopping, and packing in 10-12 oz portions in freezer bags. have used all winter as we would use frozen spinach. yum! also, pressure canners are used for canning anything low-acid (i.e. carrots, peas, green beans, etc.). i prefer to freeze these for a number of reasons. if you want to do things like jams, pickles, tomatoes, and applesauce, you only need a water bath canner.
good luck! (and get those peas in now if you're gonna do 'em!)

Get the "Ball Blue Book of Preserving". It's cheap and easy to use for canning.

should be www.territorialseed.com

I'll also say plant peas, and do it now! I plant cascade/cascadia? and they do very well. You can eat them in shells or let them get larger and shell them.
The best part is my boy eats them like crazy right off the vine.
They will need some staking.

To add to the above, a little trick that works for us is to plant pole beans on trellises and plant them so they will shade your cold weather greens (spinach, lettuces) and make them last a bit longer through the summer.

Hey, urban gardening is the topic of today's "Think Out Loud" radio program on OPB! Tune in...http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/

You should check out http://www.portlandgreenparenting.com/. Costs $10/yr for membership, but we have a gardening forum, do seed and cutting swaps and every once in awhile someone will host a canning party.

we *do* plan to have some canning parties this summer! I want to start with some rhubarb jam sometime near the end of April; stay tuned.

my favorite veggies for a beginning gardener: kale, lettuce, swiss chard, tomatoes, strawberries, peas, onions, zucchini, and every herb you can think of. this year i'm investing major focus into potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and peppers (all kinds) in addition to the "easy" ones.

my best lesson I've picked up from gardening knowledge so far: it's all about the soil. read steve solomon's book especially closely; he has a great "recipe" for organic fertilizer which is also in the maritime northwest guide; and get making compost as soon as you can. we just finally started *using* our compost this year and it's amazing how beautiful and rich it is. and according to what I've picked up, if you have really great soil, you won't have to weed as much or fight pests; the plants will be healthy and will do all the fighting for you. good luck!

I am the one who asked the question and just want to say thanks for all of the advice (I know this wasn't the hottest topic of the week). I was able to attend the vegetable gardening talk last night at People's and it was very helpful. The presenter also suggested Steve Solomon's book so I came home and went right to Powell's website and was able to purchase the last used copy of his book as well as the Seattle Tilth book and look forward to picking them up in the next day or two. I feel like now I can move forward with some success. Sarah, I look forward to some canning parties (especially after reading your Cafe Mama entry about jam!).

if your site's soil is not the best, at Mt. Scott Fuel on Foster Rd they sell a composted dairy manure from an organic dairy that is great stuff. a few inches spread on top of the soil and then dug in as you plant will have an amazing effect on plant vigor and productivity. it is not the cheapest stuff out there, but the quality is much better than other composts i have purchased. it might be somewhat difficult to produce your own this year, if you haven't started yet. they deliver if you don't have access to a truck.

I use my pressure canner both for pressure canning and water bath canning, i just leave the pressure valve open when doing water bath stuff. did your canner come with an instruction booklet? if not maybe you can get one online from the company that made the canner, if you see a brand printed on it somewhere. These booklets provide detailed information on how to use your canner safely. I use a pressure canner every year to can green beans, beets and corn. If you feel stuck I would be happy to help you figure out how to use your canner. it is not hard, but you want to be sure you are doing it correctly, both for safety and for quality of the food (not too mushy etc). good luck!!

You can also take a canning class through The Good Jar.

http://www.thegoodjar.com/TheGoodJar/Welcome.html

Just saw this announcment for a whole-day workshop (childcare available on request) being hosted by Our United Villages: http://www.portlandonline.com/oni/?c=29385&a=239820

Food Sharing Free Hands-On Workshop
Interested in gardening, cooking, gleaning, preserving or harvesting? Join us on Saturday, May 9th for a free hands-on workshop all about food. Come learn new food sharing skills. Take a cooking class. Watch a canning demonstration. Volunteer at a garden or urban farm. Meet at the Whole Foods Market Wellness Center at 9:00 am for a light breakfast and to pick your project. Lunch will also be provided.

Saturday, May 9th
9:00 am- 3:00 pm

Whole Foods Market Wellness Center
3535 NE 15th Avenue
Portland, OR 97212

Hosted by Community Outreach of Our United Villages, a local non-profit organization. Registration required by May 4th to info@ourunitedvillages.org or 503.546.7499. Child care, transportation, and interpretation upon request. http://www.ourunitedvillages.org

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