It is officially Spring in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! What an amazing place we live in. I love how green and vibrant everything is at this time of year, and it’s inspiring daydreams about my summer vegetable garden. Urban farming is a huge trend right now, and for good reason – it is so rewarding to grow your own fruit, vegetables, and herbs, and luckily we live in a temperate climate where many plants flourish without too much effort. If you, too, have dreams of a summer veggie patch, now is the perfect time to begin planning! Let’s take a look at some steps to success.
1. Plan your space. Experts agree that the ideal location for a vegetable garden should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Observe the sun patterns in your yard to determine the best place. You may need to clean up or remove some surrounding plants or trees in order to allow more sun to reach the area. If you cannot find a sunny enough spot on your property, don’t despair – Portland has many community garden spaces that you can plant in! You can search for and sign up for a plot here.
2. Test your soil and prepare your garden space. Good soil quality is one of the key elements in growing a successful garden. The first step is learning as much as you can about your soil. Once you know what you’re working with, you can research what amendments are needed to optimize it for planting – the main issues are the soil’s texture, composition, drainage, acidity, and mineral density. You can perform some easy DIY tests (see step by step instructions here), or contact your local extension service or chapter of Master Gardeners who can conduct testing or point you towards an agricultural lab. Once major soil issues are corrected (such as pH levels), you can maintain the health of your soil by starting to compost and then mixing in the composted material before planting for the year. Larry Lyons, a Master Gardener who has been growing an organic garden in the Pacific Northwest since 1980, suggests that composting is the easiest way for an urban farmer to enrich their soil. “The more organic material you have in your soil, the more the soil retains water, the more organic food is available for your plants to absorb, and the more beneficial insects you will have,” states Lyons. “Healthy soil gives you healthy plants.”
3. Decide what to plant. This is the fun part! Think about what fruits and vegetables you and your family love, and then look them up here using your zip code to make sure they will do well in your specific growing zone. This is a great tool for making landscaping decisions as well as for planning your garden! “Get out of your comfort zone a little bit,” encourages Lyons. “Try some new vegetables that you have never eaten before – plant something new each year - it might become one of your favorite things!” Once you decide what you want to plant, map out the space. Each type of plant will have its own spacing recommendations – use them to determine how many plants you can fit in the space.
4. Figure out when to plant. This depends on whether you are planting seeds or starts. Check out this helpful calendar from Portland Nursery with planting date recommendations.
5. Plant, nurture, harvest, and enjoy your bounty all summer long! And don’t worry if you end up with too many cucumbers or a few extra tomatoes. “If you grow too much,” says Lyons, “you can always share with your neighbors – everyone loves home grown vegetables!”
Good luck with your summer veggie patch!
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