FROM THE RIVER BANK…An Occasional Newsletter
By Kay Jennings
Topic: How to Grow Vegetables – August 13, 2020
I don’t just sit here all day writing and reading – no sirree…I also grow vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. Some people think I’m good at it, so I thought I’d share some tips today, as more people are interested in growing their own food since the pandemic started.
We all know our economy has cratered, but the one retail category that’s up is ‘Garden Supplies’, not surprising with people stuck at home, and some shortages in our food chain. I always order my vegetable seeds in January, and thank goodness I did so this year because many favorites are sold out. Plus I moved from a small, too-much-shade plot to a one-half acre, all in the sun, with amazing garden potential. I ordered more seeds than usual because I wanted to try different varieties to see which performed best in my new space, and I’m now starting to see some results of these tests.
But, first things first. In addition to plentiful sun, the single most important thing to your ultimate success or failure in growing vegetables is soil. I inherited a big-ass meadow in the space I wanted to use for my vegetable garden, so the first thing I had to do was kill A LOT of grass…and I had to do it in a hurry in order to get a spring 2020 garden underway. I won’t use pesticides because I grow organic food, so I knew killing the grass would be a challenge in just the couple of months I had.
I made a ‘lasagna’ in the meadow. First, we rototilled up the garden space as best we could. Then had a dump truck load of organic mushroom compost spread over my four plots (we left intersecting grass paths). The compost was covered with cardboard, and then plastic tarps. Yes, it was a very difficult job, and more days than I care to remember, I was out there in the pouring rain and wind trying to secure the tarps.
Mostly it worked. I say ‘mostly’ because I will battle grass for another season in two of the four plots where we didn’t do as good a job laying down cardboard. But in all four plots, my soil is amazing. Compost is the critical factor, and you MUST add it if you are starting a new garden.
Now, the fun part – what to grow? Grow what you like to eat. Duh. But I also consider value; what can I grow more cheaply than what it costs in the grocery store? The third consideration is your plant zone. I live in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – zone 8b – where I can grow most vegetables and fruits, but I still consider my best options for success. No pineapple, in other words. If you don’t know your plant zone, it’s easy to find online.
We eat salads almost every night, so lettuce is a no-brainer. It also aces the value test; I buy my seeds from Territorial Seeds, and a packet of lettuce ranges from $2.95 to $4.65. My five rows of lettuce have fed us, friends, and two trips to my local foodbank so far this summer – that’s value. Some of our favorites are: Buttercrunch, Red Sails, Forellenschluss (also called Flashy Trout’s Back), Gondar, and Milagro. I also planted two rows of Rhodos Endive, which I’m addicted to.
The big winner so far this season has been Swiss Chard ‘Five Color Silverbeet’, an Australian heirloom chard. It’s absolutely gorgeous in my garden, prolific, and delicious. I’ve always planted ‘Bright Lights’, and I’ve got some of that coming in my chard succession, but it’s going to be tough to beat ‘Silverbeet’.
Radishes are quick and easy, and my favorites are ‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Cherry Belle’. But I’m about to have a new favorite, I think – Daikon. I planted ‘Minowase Summer Cross’, which I think is a Japanese variety, and yesterday I harvested two 8-inch beauties. I’m going to take Territorial’s recommendation and make a salad tonight of Daikon, Bulb Fennel and Parsley (both of which I also planted).
My other veggie addiction is Lemon Cucumbers, and I went a bit overboard with four plants – these I buy as plant starts, along with my tomatoes and eggplant, instead of seeds because of the length of time in the hot sun we have. Where possible, I buy grafted plants in these three categories, because they combine vigorous growth with wonderful heirloom taste. I’m eating the Lemon Cukes as fast as I can, but each plant is loaded.
Here’s a list of what else I’ve planted – remember I have ½ acre: sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage, kale, celery, carrots, spinach, onions (both bulb red and green salad onions, which I eat every day and is why I will live to 100 like my grandmother!), artichokes, asparagus (my first ever asparagus bed), beans (Romano, my favorites, and French filet), beets, potatoes, zucchini (one green, one yellow) peas, and a lovely herb patch with dill, oregano, thyme, lavender, and cilantro…so far. I’m happy to tell you the varieties I chose and the performance on any of these.
Now, you tell me what you’re growing.