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Volume 8, Issue 12


December 2010

Summer Dreams: Garden Planning in the Pacific Northwest
By Donna Prock,

seed catalogsBelieve it or not, it is time to consider planning your spring and summer garden. December and January are the months when seed catalogues begin to show up in the mail, and with good reason. The cold climate of the Pacific Northwest offers us a short growing season and getting a jump on starting seeds is often our only guarantee that those plants will yield the succulent fruits we crave in time for harvest. Here is a great article on growing in the PNW:

While poring over these catalogues, I consider what I really like to eat. What do I purchase most when I go to the grocery store? What are the family staples? What would be good to store and preserve? What do the kids love? When we involve the kids in the planning stage by allowing them to choose their favorite vegetables and fruits, we also inspire them to be our little garden helpers.

PermaDonna's favorite seed companies

Territorial Seed

Botanical Interests

Uprising Seeds

Seed Savers exchange

Adaptive Seeds

Fedco Seeds

Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative

Horizon Herbs

Some of my favorite catalogues are listed in the box , left. Most of these offer locally adapted seeds, and all of them offer organic and heirloom varieties. You can read more about what heirloom varieties are in my October article.

Each seed packet will have directions on the back telling you when to sow indoors to transplant or direct-seed outdoors for that particular variety, according to the last frost date. The average last-frost date for Portland is April 26, but you can watch the weather forecast if conditions aren't average.

If you have the time and space, starting seeds in a portable mini-greenhouse works well. These are widely available, easy to set up, and suitable for even the apartment dweller. If not, you can start seeds indoors on a well-lighted south-facing windowsill.

If you don't have the time or space, purchasing plant starts at your local nursery is a great option. The most difficult plants to grow in our climate are the heat lovers—tomatoes, peppers, etc.—and those are readily available as starts.

When it is time to transplant the seedlings, you may want to use a cold frame or temporary hoop house/tunnel (these can also be used for direct seeding of some species). The simplest way to construct one of these is to bend one-inch PVC pipe over the beds with the ends firmly stuck in the ground, and cover the hoops with clear or opaque plastic. The sides can be secured with rocks, wood, or landscape staples. One of the major problems with spring gardening in the PNW is that it rains so late into the season. These are extremely useful for drying out water-logged beds and warming up the soil so that you can begin planting in early Spring. Here is a useful how-to article on the construction of a cold frame tunnel:

hoop house

A simple hoop-house for starting and protecting heat-loving veggies

If you're going to put in a new garden site, it is important to consider sun exposure (ideally the spot where the plants receive the most sunlight), access to water, and your own convenience. Depending on your particular situation this can mean a small plot in your backyard, containers on your deck or balcony, or a combination of both. There are several web software apps available to help you lay out, plan and manage your garden. Just search for "vegetable garden planner."

Soil preparation is the most important factor in the health of your plants. Most native PNW soils are clay based and require amendments in the form of compost and manure to add necessary "life" to the soil. For more detailed information on soil building see my July and August articles.

In my experience, there is always a surplus of food that I cannot consume at harvest time, so learning how to preserve (freezing, canning, drying, pickling, and cold storage) has been useful, and will let you "eat local" all year long. Storey Books publishes a series of "Country Wisdom Bulletins" on these subjects, and the Ball "Complete Book of Home Preserving" has been my favorite reference on the subject.

While most of us are "Dreaming of a White Christmas," I'll be dreaming of a green Spring and the abundance of the summer garden.




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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291