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Veggie Growing 101: Starting Your Kitchen Garden in Portland

My neighbor, Camellia Nieh, is a great gardener -- I often admire her skills from my window and have tasted many of her cherry tomatoes and other goodies. She offered to write an introduction to vegetable gardening in Portland, and I said, yes please!

Camellias_gardenAs weather begins to warm, Portland gardeners begin to anticipate the joys of the growing seasons. Waking up on a sunny morning, strolling outside, and harvesting a basket of fresh tomatoes, basil, spinach, and chives for your morning omelet. Sending the kids out into the yard to graze on sugar snap peas, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes when they clamor for a snack. Browsing a bounty of ripening cucumbers, eggplants, and summer squash as you decide on a vegetable for dinner. Snipping a bowlful of baby greens to bring to a dinner party and garnishing it with edible gem marigolds, day lilies, and sweet violets.

The gardening buzz is everywhere. You’ve heard about the Obamas’ breaking ground for their vegetable garden at the white house, and about the resurgent victory garden movement. You know all the reasons. There’s the statistic about how our average meal travels 1500 miles to reach our plates, and the fact that switching to a local diet is equivalent to driving about 1000 miles less per year. And you’re painfully aware that the average American consumes a pound of pesticides a year, and that we don’t yet know how that chemical load will affect our kids’ growing bodies.

But if you’ve never grown your own food before, perhaps you’re not sure where to start. Not to worry. Growing edibles in Portland is easier than wrangling a wild banana slug. There are tons of resources in this town to help you get started, many of them inexpensive or free.

What You Need

You’re off to a good start if you have a an hour or two per week to devote and a small patch of earth that gets at least six hours of sun per day (but even these ingredients aren’t a prerequisite—keep reading). Start small—you’ll be surprised how much you’ll produce with just a four by eight foot bed. Rustle up a shovel, a bag of compost, a pair of gloves, and some seeds or starts, and you’re well on your way.

Gardening Guides

Organic Gardening Magazine has a quick article that covers all the basics. For more in-depth reading, try Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, or Carl Elliot and Rob Peterson’s The Maritime Northwest Gardening Guide.

Hands-on Learning

If you prefer a live teacher, Portland Nursery offers free workshops at both nursery locations covering basic gardening and beyond. Metro offers free workshops and garden tours focused on organic and sustainable practices. Growing Gardens provides educational workshops for adults and children for a small fee ($5-$25 sliding scale), and hands-on work-learn parties, as does Zenger Farms. Sign the kids up for free gardening classes through Portland Parks and Rec.

What to Plant and When?

Some veggies are best planted early, like peas. Others, like tomatoes, won’t do much until temperatures get a bit warmer. OSU, Oregon Tilth, and other organizations offer charts, but I think the easiest to use is Portland Nursery's Veggie Calendar.

But I Don’t Have Time!

Don’t let that stop you from transforming your boring lawn into a lush cornucopia that feeds your family, attracts bees and butterflies, and sequesters carbon. In Portland, there are abundant resources for people with a patch of earth but no time to get dirt under their own fingernails. Consider offering up your space for a yardshare: local gardening groups will come in and do the work, beautifying the site and sharing the fruits of their labors with you. You can connect with interested gardeners at or www.yardsharing.org or www.hyperlocavore.com. Or if you want to keep the entire harvest and hire professionals to do the work, you can call Your Backyard Farmer. It’s up to you whether to entrust them with the full job or have them train you so that you can do it yourself next year.

But I Don’t Have a Yard!

If you don’t have any dirt of your own, you can apply for a plot at a community garden, or you can search for a yardshare in your area through the sites listed above.


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Thank you so much for sharing the love of green growing! Also, PCC offers many non-credit classes on mending soil, incorporating ducks or chicks in your backyard, honeybee keeping, things like that. If you want to see gardens/farms in action, Zenger Farms, Lovena, and Learning Gardens Lab all in SE offer a fun and informative field trip for the family. I heard there is a farm in SW called Tyron Farms (by Tyron Creek State Park)

Can you please repost (or post the actual article name) of the Organic Gardening article?
Thank you

We've been planning to build some raised beds. There's a guy on craigslist (go to "farm and garden" and do a search on "cedar")who is selling lower grade cedar for cheap in Sherwood. Also, there was this article in the Oregonian about placement of raised beds.


You might want to check with neighbors if you're planning raised beds in the parking strip. Happy Gardening!


Sorry about that. The correct link is:


Lori and Camellia: I'm sorry! somehow some of the links went blooey when I pasted them. they should be all fixed now.

I'd also like to mention Livingscape Nursery, which has classes on gardening and a host of other amazing things you can do in your backyard, from chickens to bees. http://www.livingscapenursery.com/workshops.htm

I signed up with The Backyard Farmers in January to teach me how to organically garden in my yard with the goal of producing vegetables enough to feed my family this summer and store some for the winter. They are GREAT so far, and my garder is already coming together nicely. Anyone interested in investing some time and money now to learn how to garden themselves for years to come should check them out!

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

Hey thanks for the link.
Portland Yard Sharing, Yardsharing.org is pleased to announce that we now have a classifieds section of our website. Now, not only can you find great places to have a garden or list your space, You can also find Tools, Community, Seeds and more.. We have even listed live stock Sharing. And Currently its TOTALLY FREE to post.. Come on over to Http://www.yardsharing.org/ and check out our new classifieds section.

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