Archive for Home Gardens

Growing Gardens 8th Annual Tour de Coops!

We are inspired by the creativity of Portland’s urban chicken keepers and we think you will be too.  That’s why we’re excited about our 2011 Tour de Coops!

Saturday, July 16 – 10am-3pm

There are 22 amazing coops on this year’s tour.  From green roofs to cob building, water catchment features to repurposed materials, you will see lots of fantastic coops some lucky chickens call home.  Navigating the tour is easy.  You can get out of your car and bike or walk because we organized the coops into neighborhood clusters.

The ticket to the tour is the booklet. Booklets are $15 and one booklet is good for a group of people.  The booklets include pictures, descriptions, maps and our comprehensive list of coop building tips.  Booklets are on sale Friday, July 8 – 1pm Saturday, July 16.  You can pick up your booklet at one of the following locations:

Garden Fever! – 3433 NE 24th Ave.

Urban Farm Store – 2100 SE Belmont St.

People’s Co-op – 3029 SE 21st Ave.

All of the booklet sales locations will also be selling raffle tickets to win The Garden Ark mobile chicken coop built in a Growing Gardens workshop, taught by John Carr from The Garden Coop  Raffle tickets are one for $5 or three for $12.

you can also order snazzy Tour de Coops 2011 Henlandia t-shirts online!

Want a sneak peak of what you’ll see on the tour? Here is Mitchell Snyder and Shelley Martin’s coop in NE Portland.

Photo by John Clark

“With backgrounds in architecture, we approached the design and building of our coop with much consideration.  We thought about the best location, the space, what materials would be most appropriate and durable, and how our hens would use their new home.  Comfort and protection from the elements were most important for our hens, so we framed the walls to allow insulation to keep them warm in the winter while providing multiple ventilation options and a green roof for hot summer months.  Inside, two perches made from branches are comfortable resting places, and two egg boxes can be accessed through a long door on the outside of the run.  the run is fully enclosed to provide protection from predators when we are not able to let our chickens in the yard.  The “kitchen” is a small, separate enclosure in the run that keeps the food dry and the water clean, and is easily accessible from the exterior for changing.  With those considerations in mind, we kept the design of the hen house as simple as possible while also – most importantly – keeping our hens as happy as possible.”

If any of you have ever gone on the tour or shown your coop on the tour, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us some of the inspiring things you saw or learned from all those creative coops.

We’d like to thank our Tour de Coops “Egg-cellent Layer Circle” Sponsors:

The Garden Coop

Concentrates, Inc.

Living Room Realtors

We hope to see you all on the tour next Saturday, July 16!


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Garden Tips: Making a Garden Plan

Spring is around the corner, and empty garden patches are beckoning.  A little bit of planning now, though, can save you time, prevent confusion, and increase your chances of a successful harvest later in the season.  Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan out this year’s vegetable garden.

What should I plant?

Seed catalogs can be good sources of inspiration when you’re trying to figure out what to plant in your garden.  If the many options get overwhelming, think about this:

  • What do you like to eat?  Growing your own can be an exciting way to try interesting or rare new vegetables, but there’s no point in giving garden space to foods that you know you or your family don’t like.

    You can harvest leaves off one chard plant all season long.

  • What has done well in the past?  If there was something you really enjoyed growing last year, plant it again!
  • What will produce the most food?  You can keep harvesting from beans or greens over a long period of time.  Tomatoes will produce many pounds of fruit in a short time.  Corn or cabbage, on the other hand, take up a lot of space but produce relatively little.
  • What will save you the most money?  Tomatoes and salad greens are both expensive at the store or market, but are easy to grow at home.  Potatoes are cheap, so you might want to leave them out of your home garden.

When should I plant it?

Reference a Pacific Northwest garden calendar (here or here) or check out OSU Extension’s garden calendar to find the best time to plant a particular vegetable.  Check the seed packet for each vegetable’s “days to harvest”—how long you can expect it to be in your garden.

  • Remember that you can plant some fast growing crops like lettuces or radishes multiple times throughout the season, to have a continuous supply.  Other, cold tolerant crops can be planted once in early spring for a summer harvest, then again in mid summer for a fall and winter harvest.
  • Also note whether each plant can be planted from seed, or must be transplanted.    Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers all need a longer growing season then our climate allows.  You need to give these plants a head-start by transplanting them into your garden as starts.

Where should I plant it?

A map of your garden can help you decide where to plant each kind of vegetable.  It can also help you remember what you planted, and where.  As you’re drawing your garden map, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Space plants according to the directions on the back of the seed packet. Although it can be tempting to put plants close together to squeeze more in, too-close plants compete for sun and nutrients.  Your garden will produce more if plants have space to spread out.
  • Think about using space vertically.  Pole beans, peas, indeterminate tomatoes, winter squash, cucumbers and pumpkins can all be encouraged to grow up trellises, stakes, cages or strings.  The plants often do better grown this way, and it opens up garden space for other crops.   Put trellised plants and taller plants on the north side of the garden, so they don’t shade shorter plants.
  • Some types of veggies grow better when grown together; others can actually inhibit each others growth.  Check out this chart to see who to pair with whom, and who to keep apart in your garden.

A map for two four by eight food garden beds

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Putting your garden to bed for the winter

Fall is here, and although we hate to admit it the rains are on the way. As you enjoy those final summer veggies, it’s time start thinking about getting your garden ready for the winter.

Winterize any part of your garden that you aren’t using to grow winter food crops. Proper preparation not only protects beds from rain and weeds, but also enriches the soil for next season’s plantings. Here are two winterization techniques we like at Growing Gardens.

Be sure to record the layout of your garden first.  This will make planning next season’s crop rotations much easier!

These beds are sheet mulched and ready for rain

Cover Cropping:
Cover crops are grown to feed the soil, rather then people. They’re also called plant fertilizers or green manures. A good cover crop will protect the soil from erosion and compaction and crowds out weeds all winter long. In the spring, you can turn it in or compost it to provide nitrogen and and organic matter for the season’s veggies. Some of the best cover crops for our region are fava beans, crimson clover, winter rye and hairy vetch.

Plant cover crops in September or October. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the soil and around any summer plants, then gently push them in with your fingers. Don’t water—the seeds will sprout on their own 2-3 weeks after the rains begin.

Remove the cover crop in the spring, as it begins to flower. By not letting the it go to seed, you insure that more nutrients end up in the soil and that the cover crop doesn’t become a weed.  You have two options for removing your cover crop. Roughly chop the cover crop up with a shovel and gently turn the pieces under the soil about three weeks before you begin planting in the spring. Or you can chop the plants off at ground level, leave the roots in the soil and add the tops to your compost pile.  You can then plant right away.

Sheet Mulching:
Sheet mulching uses layers of organic matter to build a compost pile on top of your beds. Mulch your beds once all your plants have stopped producing.  The mulch will act as a protective layer over the soil and choke out weeds.  Plus by the spring, the sheet mulch will have broken down into rich soil! You can also use sheet mulching to build new garden beds for the spring.

Volunteers sheet mulching a bed

  1. Mow or cut any tall weeds or plants. Leave them where they are on the ground.
  2. Lay down a ¼ to 1 inch layer of manure or compost on top of the ground then gently water.
  3. Cover the area with cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper. This will kill all weeds and grass underneath. Weeds can grow through openings so be sure to cover any gaps. Water the cardboard thoroughly.
  4. Lay down another layer of compost or manure. Water the area.
  5. Now make several layers of whatever sheet mulching materials you have available from the list below. Try to alternate carbon-rich, “brown” materials and nitrogen-rich, “green” materials. Continue to layer until you have a bed 1-2 ft. tall, and be sure to water between each layer

Here are some sheet mulching materials we’ve used. Remember that there isn’t just one correct way to sheet mulch. Experiment with what is available to you:

Newspaper, cardboard, wood ash, crushed egg shells or shellfish shells
“Brown” or carbon-rich materials: straw (not hay), dry leaves, corn stalks
“Green” or nitrogen-rich materials: composted manure, compost, chopped cover crops, green leaves, grass clippings

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Spring Gardening Tip #2: Gardening with Containers

A few weeks back, GROWINGGARDENS was mentioned in a great blog post by Elizabeth Madrigal discussing where apartment-culture fits in the with urban agriculture movement.  There are also tons of examples floating around the web about how to grow food, no matter where you live.  As a supplement to our recent post about building in-ground garden beds, we wanted to share our experiences with container gardening.  For the many folks who don’t own their homes or live in apartments, container gardens may be the most manageable option for starting food gardening.  Check out the information below!


Container gardening is a method of growing fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers in pots, hanging baskets, planters, and other containers. Container gardens are a great way for gardeners who don’t have lots of space to grow their own food!


To create a container garden, you will need:

  1. Containers
  2. Potting soil
  3. Seeds and/or plant starts
  4. Water and a watering can or hose.
  5. A natural fertilizer (compost tea or fish emulsion)

Step 1: Survey for Sun and Shade

Look around your home for the best place to put your container garden. Which areas get the most sun? Which areas are shaded? Put your containers in the spot with the most sun! Vegetable plants need lots of sunshine to grow and produce food.  For example:

  • Tomatoes, peppers & eggplant need full sun. Leafy greens & root vegetables can live with a little shade.
  • Patios, balconies, porches, and windowsills can all be good places for your garden.
  • If you have a fence or railing, you can use it like a trellis for peas or beans.

Step 2: Find Your Containers.

For most vegetable plants, you will need five-gallon containers, or larger. The containers must have holes in the bottom so that water can drain out. Otherwise the soil can become waterlogged and plant roots won’t be able to get the air they need to survive!

Step 3: Pick out Your Soil

Soil in a container garden needs to be good at holding water and nutrients. Potting soil is usually made with this in mind. Do not use soil from the ground, because it will not hold water or nutrients very well. You can buy potting soil at any garden store, but make sure the soil package says that it can be used in a vegetable garden. We recommend using organic potting soil, because it holds nutrients better and does not have chemicals.

Step 4: Selecting the Right Plants

Choose varieties of plants that are well-suited for growing in containers. Plants in containers will have less space and less soil than they would if they were planted in the ground. For example: Smaller (dwarf) plant varieties grow better in containers than larger varieties (i.e. cherry tomatoes grow better in a container than large slicing tomatoes).

Step 5: Water Often!

Plants growing in containers need a lot more watering than plants growing in a backyard garden. This is because water drains out through the holes in bottom. You can put a tray underneath your containers to catch the water that drains out. The plant will then absorb the water later.

  • During the summer, you will probably need to water your containers every day, especially if they are in full sun.
  • Water in the early morning or evening. When the sun is less strong, the plants will be able to absorb more water, and you will lose less water to evaporation.

Step 6: Make the Most Out of a Small Space

  • Grow Vertically! Use trellises, stakes, or a nearby fence to help your plants grow UP instead of across. This works with VINING PLANTS like squash, peas, beans, and tomatoes!
  • Companion Planting: Instead of planting one type of vegetable in each container, mix and match different vegetables! Most vegetables have other plants that they grow well with. These are called ‘companion plants’.

Step 7: Fertilizing and Soil Care

Well-fed plants are happy plants! Plants in a container garden need to be fertilized often, because nutrients in the soil wash out of the container’s holes every time you water. We recommend that you fertilize your containers at least once a month! This will make a big difference in the amount of food that your garden produces.

Fish emulsion and compost tea are good organic (non-chemical) fertilizers. They are safe for food, people and pets to be around:

  • Fish emulsion is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. You can buy it at any garden supply store. You will need to dilute it with water, then pour it on the soil around your plants. The bottle will tell you the proper mixture. It is actually made from fish parts—so it can be a little stinky!
  • Compost tea: Compost tea is a natural liquid fertilizer made from finished compost and water. Put a few cups of finished compost in a bucket of water and let it sit for 5-10 days, or until the water turns the color of weak coffee. Use the finished mixture to water your containers!
  • Worm composting is also great way to make your own fertilizer! Check out our blog in upcoming weeks for more information on worm composting.

Step 8: Preparing for Winter

You can use the same containers and soil for many years.

  • Every winter, cover the soil with a layer of mulch to protect it from weeds and rain. Fallen leaves make a great mulch!
  • Put the containers under cover if possible, to protect them from the rain.
  • Add fresh compost to the containers in the spring.

For more information about container gardening, check out this article!

Whether you choose a container garden, an in-ground garden, or a little bit of both, it is definitely time to get started.   Grow some tasty veggies for your friends and family this growing season!

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Spring Gardening Tip #1: Building Garden Beds

This past week, GROWING GARDENS began our first round of spring Home Garden installations.  Last Thursday, our Home Garden Program collaborated with our Youth Grow program and Vernon K-8 in planning a service day for a class of 7th graders.  The Vernon 7th graders helped install 4 garden beds for the Vernon families that signed up for the Home Garden program (stay tuned for a blog post in the coming weeks about our 7th grade Vernon Garden installation day!).

As more people become interested in turning part of their lawn or yard into a garden space, we thought this would be a good time to talk about building in-ground garden beds.

GROWINGGARDENS uses a combination of double-digging and sheet-mulching to install gardens for people enrolled in our Home Gardens Program. We find that a combination of these methods work best for us, but you can use whatever works best for you, your space, and your strong (or not so strong) back and arms.

To start, we need to gather some materials:


For Double-Digging:

  1. Shovel(s)
  2. Forked spade (or another tool for loosening soil)
  3. Compost and/or Composted Manure (1 bag per 4×8 ft bed)
  4. Agricultural lime (1½ lbs per 4×8 ft bed or 5 lbs/100 sq ft)

For Sheet-Mulching:

  1. Cardboard or Newspaper
  2. Compost and/or Composted Manure (2 bags per 4×8 ft bed)
  3. Straw
  4. Any other organic matter you can find (leaves, grass clippings, etc.)
  5. Water

Now we can get started….


The purpose of this method is to loosen the soil deep down, without disturbing the soil structure and the many little creatures that make the soil healthy and productive. This method is strongly advocated for by John Jeavons, author of “How to Grow More Vegetables.”

  1. Begin by outlining your garden bed. Beds should not be more than 4 feet wide, so the middle is reachable.
  2. Remove sod (grass and its roots). Put it in a pile – you will use it later.
  3. Spread a bag of compost over the area.
  4. Remove a trench of soil one shovel-length deep and one shovel width wide. Put this soil aside. If the soil is very compacted, you might not be able to dig an entire foot deep. In that case, just go as deep as you can.
  5. Once you have a trench approximately one foot deep, use a forked spade to loosen the soil an additional foot deep.
  6. Dig a second trench of soil, moving this soil onto the first trench that you just dug.
  7. Once you have a trench about one foot deep, use a forked spade to loosen the soil an additional foot deep.
  8. Repeat steps 6 & 7 until the entire bed has been dug and loosened.
  9. Fill the last trench with the soil from the first trench.
  10. Sprinkle lime evenly over the area.
  11. Replace the sod, with the grass facing down and roots facing up.

Whew! You’re done. Now it’s time for sheet-mulching . . .


This is a great way to add nutrients and organic matter to the bed, creating very healthy and productive soil! Sheet mulching is a great thing to do in the fall to prepare your garden for the winter. It protects your garden from the cold, rain, and weeds! After removing your old summer plants, lay sheet mulching over the soil, and leave it there until spring. All of the layers will break down into rich garden soil.  You can also use sheet mulching in the spring, to help reduce the number of weeds in your garden bed, as well as build up organic matter throughout the spring and summer.  If you do sheet mulch in the spring, you should focus on planting plant starts (rather than seeds) during the first planting season.

  1. Cover the garden area with cardboard to prevent weeds from growing up.
  2. Water the cardboard thoroughly.
  3. Cover the cardboard with a layer of compost or composted manure.
  4. Water thoroughly.
  5. If you have any other organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, etc), add a layer, then water thoroughly.
  6. Add a layer of straw.
  7. Water thoroughly.
  8. Add 1 to 3 more alternating layers of compost, organic matter, and straw. Make sure to water between each layer. Straw should be the top layer of the bed.

And now, we can start planting!



  • Layer 1 inch of compost or planting mix over top of the sheet mulch, and place seeds on top.
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of compost or planting mix over the seeds to cover them.
  • Water gently.

Plant Starts:

  • Push the sheet mulch aside until you get to the cardboard below.
  • Cut an X in the cardboard, and plant the root-ball in the soil below the cardboard.
  • Stick your finger in the soil to make sure it’s moist. If not, add some water.
  • Replace the sheet mulching around the plant, taking care not to cover the leaves.
  • Make sure the leaves of the plant are above the sheet mulch.
  • If the plant it too short, fill the hole you created in the sheet mulch with some compost or planting mix, and plant the root ball into this.

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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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