Archive for February, 2010

GG’s Latest Dig (Home Garden Version)

Growing Gardens' Home Gardener, April, enjoying her garden

The urban agriculture and food movement is quickly gaining momentum. As we look around the web the past couple weeks, there have been a ton of exciting new resources and articles.  Here is just a taste:

  • Visit GRIST to check out photos of the “Incredible Edible Urban Jungle“.  GRIST shows some creative ways folks have used urban spaces to grow food (My favorite is the garden pots stashed below street level in NYC-Pretty sweet!).
  • Take a look at Civil Eats’ article on Seattle’s Year of Urban Agriculture, and what Seattle has been doing related zoning laws and a pilot program for urban farming.
  • Finally, check out the great Cooking Up a Story video about the cookbook author Ivy Manning’s exploration of kale in the Northwest. Yum!

And in a special Youth Grow news note:

As lots of folks have reported, last week, Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver received the $100,000 TED Prize for his wish to “[C]reate a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” Check out his TED talk on school lunch and childhood obesity.


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Winter Gardening Tip #2: Garden Planning

As the spring crocus and daffodils begin to bloom, GROWINGGARDENS’ staff are spending more time outside, preparing for our spring Home Garden installations and planting seeds with students in our partner school gardens.   We’re also offering the first of many Learn and Grow and Parent-Child Workshops this upcoming weekend (Spots still available for Saturday, 2/20 !). As you begin to emerge from your cozy home and into the sunshine, we are happy to get you started in your garden.  Below is  a gardening tip contributed by GROWINGGARDENS volunteer Pam Garten. A big shout out to Pam for her great work!


If you haven’t already done it, sit down and make some rough plans for what you want to plant in your vegetable patch this year.

1Make a list of what you want to grow based on a combination of what you like and what you are curious to try.

2) Make a sketch that is at least roughly to scale, just to help ‘keep it real’.  Even experienced gardeners misjudge and plant things too close together, so look at seed packages for the needed spacing.

3)  Plant incrementally rather than all at once.  See below for a few techniques.

4) Find a regional planting chart (see sources below) so you are planting at the right times for our area.

5)  Get out there! Make a “planting appointment calendar,” or develop your own system to remind you when to get out and get planting.  Believe it or not, you can start pretty soon.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you are planning your garden:


A little planning and good timing provides a variety of delicious vegetables over a longer period of time.  Here are some methods that will keep your garden pumping out something delicious right up through the fall, and maybe longer!

A)   Successive or interval sowing: In lieu of planting a whole row of the same vegetable at once.  Several smaller sowings, each of the same vegetable, are made at 2-3 week intervals.  Do this with lettuce for instance, and assure yourself of a steady supply of crunchy greens for your salad bowl each week.  Otherwise, your overabundant crop gets bitter before you can pick and use it (or you use up a lot of space growing lettuce for your friends and neighbors).

Another reason for interval sowing is that some vegetables crop in several flushes (bush beans for instance).  Most varieties of bush beans initially crop heavily, but later start to bear more lightly with each flush.  If you’ve sow at 3-4 intervals you won’t mind because as the first planting slows down, the second and then the third interval plantings start coming on to keep you in steady supply.

B)  Sowing different varieties of the same vegetable: Another way to have a staggered harvest is to sow small amounts of the same veggie at the same time but use several varieties.  Choose varieties that will mature at different times.  Back to lettuce as an example..  Territorial Seed Catalog lists their leaf lettuce “New Red Fire” as maturing at 29 days, while their “Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed” butter head lettuce may not be ready for 55 days.  If you plant these two varieties and a couple of others with differing maturity dates, you may be able to achieve a staggered harvest.  (Note:  Some seed companies sell blends of several varieties in one packet.  If you like broccoli try Territorial’s Hybrid Broccoli blend.  Make a spring sowing, then another in late May or early June, and you can stretch your broccoli harvest through until fall.)

C)  Succession planting: Different than successive sowings, this just means that you follow one crop with another, usually different one, in the same place, in the same season. This can be done because there are short season and long season crops.  In one spot, you might start in early spring with some radishes and arugula, which prefer cool weather and grow to maturity quickly.  Follow those with tomatoes, in May or June (depending on weather and methods), which occupy their space into late summer or early fall.  As their fruiting and ripening slows with the waning days of summer you may want to pull the ‘maters out and plant something ultimately more productive for the space taken up; e.g., garlic, overwintering onions, or maybe a cover crop that will rebuild fertility or protect the soil from winter rains.

Care should be taken to replenish nutrients as needed after each crop.

D) Summer planting for winter eating. Yes it’s possible.  Here, a planting calendar is even more crucial that early in the season.  Plantings need to be timed to allow enough growth to hold the plant at a harvestable size through the winter, when things typically quite growing much. For planning purposes, it pays to take a look now at what you’ll need to be planting during the summer for fall and winter eating.   (Another element of planning; some of these crops won’t survive without winter protection from our incessant rain!  Better to learn how to make supported row covers during nice weather.)


Even in our mild climate, putting crops in too early or too late can result in seed or seedling loss, stunted growth, failure to mature, or a reduction in harvest.  Avoid disappointing failures by hunting up a planting calendar.  Some are quite simple and easy to follow, such as Steve Solomon’s “Year-Round Planting Calendar” in his invaluable gardening advice book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, 6th edition.  I keep a copy of his chart with my seeds at all times.

There are also some good planting calendars accessible on-line.


Garden planning  & planting calendars will enhance your gardening success, but if you’re like me, you may need a system to remind you when to get out into the garden and get planting.   Steve Solomon suggests a “sowing appointment calendar. “  In the most recent edition of “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades,” he outlined his technique of using a dozen or so wide mouth mason jars into which he organized his seed packets.  He labels the jars with planting dates, stores them in an old refrigerator (with a desiccant package to draw off  moisture) and checks on them so he knows when it’s time to make the plantings.

I don’t always get all my seeds into containers right away, but I try to do at least 4-5 weeks at a time.  Since I’m starting to use more of my fruit jars for food storage (in place of plastics), I’ve begun seed organizing in date-marked quart sized clear plastic containers rescued from the recycling bin. Not lining up the whole season at once requires me to review my containers and “reload” 4-5 times over the season which is okay since planning always seems to need some fine tuning.  (After a sowing session, seeds for successive sowings are moved forward to a container dated for 2-3 weeks out.)

Garden Tip Contributed by Pam Garten (Please contact Pam with any questions at

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Spinach and Pear Salad: A Winter Hit!

This week in our Youth Grow Garden Club we’ve been doing tons of neat activities: Planting peas (a little early experiment), planting tomatoes and peppers under our grow lights, transplanting lettuces, building a worm bin, learning about seeds and seed dispersal, and making tea.

But the hit of the week (other than our fabulous worm bin) has been a simple pear and spinach salad for snack.   The recipe is as basic as you can get: Sliced pears on top of baby spinach greens, with a splash of lemon juice. It’s also a great recipe for teaching kids, because students can learn a little bit about seasonal fruits and veggies while eating a tasty snack! (i.e. Oregon/Washington grown pears, local spinach from a greenhouse, and the renegade lemon from California or Mexico).

See below for a jazzed up version of the recipe.

Spinach and Pear Salad

Serves 2-4


  • Spinach leaves
  • Pear
  • Optional: red or yellow onions, garlic, croutons, walnuts or other nuts, raisins,  other veggies, or parmesan cheese


  • 3 tablespoon oil
  • 1.5 tsp. vinegar
  • Optional: lemon juice, honey/sugar, garlic, salt, pepper

Rinse and drain spinach leaves and place in bowl.  Slice pear in long thin strips and place on top of spinach. In a small cup or bowl, mix oil and vinegar and any additional spices (see options above). Pour over spinach and pears and mix to coat the leaves. Add any additional toppings, (see options above) serve and enjoy!

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GG’s Latest Dig (Youth Grow Version)

A few of important tidbits from this week:

Tuesday morning (2/9/10), the Obama administration announced the first ever presidential task force on childhood obesity. Spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, the  Let’s Move campaign takes the administration’s work with the White House Garden a step further,  prioritizing work to address the childhood obesity epidemic.   The First Lady is working closely with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who was scheduled to speak the same day about the Reauthorization of Childhood Nutrition Act.  For a great overview of both of these news items , check out the info on Obama Foodorama.

Wishing for some warmer weather: A summer garden club lemon cucumber harvest

Also this week: Lisa Bennett, of the Center for Ecoliteracy recently wrote an essay (first available in a short version on the Huffington Post) in response to the recent Atlantic Monthly article on school gardens. Bennett’s article features comments by Oregon’s own farm-to-school and school garden celebrity Michelle Ratcliffe, who recently took over as the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School Program Manager.   The essay also presents a ton information on school garden research tied to social emotional learning, nutrition, and academic achievement.  Bennett’s article is a great response to the tough questions posed in the Atlantic Monthly.  Take a look!

Last, but not least:  In  all of our efforts to better address hunger and food insecurity,  it is important to understand the geography of our food system.  The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released the U.S.  Food Environment Atlas, that includes maps detailing information about each state’s food environment.  The Atlas pulls together statistical information from each state on issues tied directly to food access, food choices, health and well-being, and much more.  Understanding these issues is vital to best serving our communities. Check it out to learn more about what’s happening in our food system!

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Winter Gardening Tip #1: Starting Seeds Indoors

About the time February rolls around, I often find myself staring outside, imagining tomatoes ripening or carrot and radish tops peaking out of the soil.  I think our Home Gardeners and Youth Grow Students start feeling the same way, frustrated by the rainy winter months and wishing for a little sunshine. One way to cheer up ourselves (and our students) during the winter months is by starting seeds indoors.

Many vegetables, particularly those that grow slowly, do better when they are transplanted into your garden as young plants (starts) then when planted directly as seeds. Growing your own starts from seed is cheap, fun and gives you more choice in what you grow. And it’s a great way to get your hands in the dirt, even when it’s still chilly outside. Here’s how:

1) Gather supplies.  You’ll need:

Seeds and plastic bags

Pots: Clean out and reuse any left over pots from last year’s starts.  You can also use individual-serving sized yoghurt containers, or another similar-sized plastic pot.  Wash them out and punch a hole in the bottom to let water drain out.

Potting soil: combine equal parts of finished compost free of sticks and rocks, and one part good soil from your garden.  Mix it up well and break up any clumps.

2) Plant the seeds. Label the containers with the date and with the type of seed you will plant in them, then fill each about 3/4 of the way with potting soil.  Gently bury big seeds (cucumbers, squash, etc) about ¼ inch deep into the potting mix.  Place small seeds on top of the mix, then sprinkle a bit more soil on top of them.  Put two or three seeds in each pot, in case not all of them germinate.

3) Water until the planting mix is moist. Put the seeded pots into plastic bags to hold in moisture, then put them in a warm spot—the top of your fridge is good.  Check them regularly to see if the seeds have germinated and to be sure they don’t dry out.  Most types of seeds should sprout within 2 weeks, although it can take longer if it is cold or if they are buried deeply in the pots.

4) Once the seeds sprout, remove the pots from the plastic bag and place them in a greenhouse, under grow lights, or in a bright, south-facing window.  The plants will grow best if they’re kept between 65 and 72 degrees, and they like as much light as they can get.  As the plants get bigger, pinch off all but the strongest-looking seedlings in each pot.  Remember, don’t let the plants dry out!

5) Transplanting. Find approximate dates to start and to transplant different kinds of seeds in the chart above.  As a basic guide, the starts should be big enough to have true leaves but not so big that their roots fully fill the container .  To transplant, water the starts then gently tip the plant and potting mix out of the pot and into your hand.  Try to avoid touching the plant itself—instead, hold the block of potting mix it is growing in.  Plant the start in your garden bed, burying it up to just below its lowest leaves.  Hot sun will wilt the plants, so try to transplant them in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day.  Water the plants thoroughly after transplanting.  With a bit of luck, you’ll now have the pleasure of seeing your plants grow from seed to harvest.

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