An Introduction to Vegetable Gardening in Central Oregon
Mid May’s forecast predicted highs in the mid 60s and lows in the upper 30s and lower 40s. Not freezing. Yes. So, out I went to plant a mix of wildflower seeds. Compost was spread, weeds were pulled, bumps and lumps smoothed, rocks were ignored, and seeds were scattered and raked into the warmed soil. The irrigation was set for germination, and the partly cloudy days and showers made for an ideal growing environment. Alas, two days into my happy anticipation awaiting little seedlings to pop up, the weekend forecast predicted temperatures at and below freezing! Augh! Central Oregon. As I am writing this article in mid May, I won’t know if they survived the cold temperatures for awhile yet. I’ll let you know.
Frost can happen any day of the year here. And it does. We’ve experienced snow and hail in the first week of July on several occasions. In fact, I have replanted tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins the first week of July after a killing frost more than once. Frost any day of the year is by far our biggest challenge to gardening in Central Oregon. Our other challenges are poor soils, dry winters, drying winds, and deer and other herbivores. The latter group of challenges is easier to work with. We can create better soil with compost, water plants when they need it, and protect plants from drying winds and herbivores. Frost on any day of the year is a bigger challenge. We can watch the forecast and cover tender vegetables with row covers or blankets. We can plant cold tolerant varieties of vegetables and winter crops that aren’t bothered by an occasional freeze. Or we can plant in cold frames and green houses.
My tomato strategy is to by the biggest tomato plants I can and plant them in walls of water. I leave the walls of water on through fall, but open them up in the heat of the summer so that they do not cook the plants. I also buy a variety of tomatoes and always the varieties with the least number of days to ripe fruit. I plant at least one cherry tomato as they tend to ripen faster than the standard sized tomatoes. Some years we have a long beautiful summer and lots of tomatoes. Other years we do not.
If you are new to vegetable gardening, start with cold season plants such as lettuce, chard, peas, arugula, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Last year’s kale lived through -20 degrees in December and started growing happily again by early February. We were eating it in salads and soups by mid March. Kale gets sweeter with frost.
In mid April, I planted lettuce, chard, peas, arugula, kale, cilantro, and beets. They are all coming up and look healthy even thought they have experienced temperatures in the mid 20s. So don’t get discouraged. There is nothing like fresh vegetables from your garden. Gardening is fun, children and adults love it, and there are always successes. For additional expert advice on gardening and landscaping go to http://extension.oregonstate.edu/ and click on gardening in the left column.
Originally printed in Central Oregon Family News, June 2010 http://www.cofamilynews.com/