Stock Your Kitchen
SEED LOCAL. Portlanders love to buy local. Planting locally grown and adapted seeds has its advantages, too. Regional seed companies select varieties that do well in our climate, and growing your own—especially if you’re planting a large garden—is certainly cheaper than buying starts. For the local touch, buy your seeds from companies like Wild Garden Seed, Adaptive Seeds, Horizon Herbs, Uprising Seeds, and Siskiyou Seeds.
TAKE IT TO THE STREETS. Older neighborhoods with tightly packed houses and tall trees often have scant sun available. If the best light you have falls on the parking strip or front lawn, turn that dry turf into a flourishing vegetable garden. Don’t be daunted by dogs, marauding kids, and people stepping out of their cars onto the lettuce—you’re now part of an international movement called Food Not Lawns.
NURTURE FAMILY HEIRLOOMS. Developed for their flavor and texture (rather than a tough skin for shipping), heirlooms and open-pollinated vegetable varieties are excellent for home gardeners, both for culinary quality and because the seeds can be saved and planted next year. In fact, if home gardeners and small farmers didn’t grow them, heirlooms would disappear.
GROW FRUITS TO NUTS. Apples, plums, pears, Asian pears, cherries, figs, grapes, kiwis, raspberries, blueberries, walnuts, filberts—we are blessed to be able to grow these and many more edibles in Portland. On smaller lots, dwarf and espalier-form trees are your best option. If you have a large tree and can’t handle the abundance, don’t let it go to waste: donate your yield to the Portland Fruit Tree Project or Urban Gleaners. Volunteers are happy to harvest.
GROW ORGANIC. All plants really need is the proper light, moisture, nutrients, and temperature conditions, and they can outgrow most basic insect and disease problems, insecticide free. Diversity in your garden plot also helps, as does planting extra to allow for a certain percentage of loss. Consult Metro’s natural gardening website at oregonmetro.gov.
TRY POTS. Growing herbs and vegetables in containers is smart, even if you do have plenty of yard space. They can be beautiful. They keep food close at hand and the slugs out. And if you live in a cool pocket or higher-elevation area, heat-loving summer vegetables like tomatoes and melons can grow faster in sun-warmed containers.
POOP IS GOOD. If you have room for chickens, goats, ducks, or bunnies, all the better for your garden. But if keeping pets isn’t an option, try worms—they’re one of the best ways to boost the health and productivity of your vegetable garden soil. Follow the simple directions that come with a worm bin, keep it drained and emptied of worm castings, and you’ll be able to store it in or near your kitchen for easy compost disposal.
KEEP YOUR SCRAPS. It’s fabulous that we can dump our table leftovers in the green yard debris bins now, but kitchen scraps can also provide you with your own “gardeners’ gold.” Pick up an inexpensive compost bin from Metro to get started. Layer food scraps with dry lawn clippings, leaves, straw, or fine wood chips. If you eat in a lot, even better: get two containers so one can “cook” while you fill the other.
COVER UP. Crimson clover, winter peas, and fava beans are great to plant in fallow soil. Cover crops like these can break up compacted soil, stop erosion, and improve nutrient content and healthy fungi. Just dig up the soil enough to plant, pick a suitable cover crop for the season, and chop them down (usually just before flowering) so they decompose and improve the soil. Don’t assume the seeds are the right ones for the season just because they’re available at the store—ask.
Grow Your Own
Pat Collins | Retired flight attendant; avid gardener and chicken-keeper
The first vegetables I grew, years ago, were tomatoes and basil. They weren’t necessarily to eat. I wanted something beautiful to look at. But those first few tomato and basil plants were so productive, I got hooked. They’re quick and provide almost instant gratification—and they’re much less intimidating for beginning gardeners. Nowadays, I don’t care how my vegetable garden looks so much. I do it to feed my soul.
You can grow lettuce blindfolded. The list of easy vegetables to grow is so long: potatoes require almost no effort, figs are some of the easiest fruit trees, and strawberries are so wonderful to have. Even though you can get them fresh at farmers markets nearly all summer, it’s so great to pick them throughout the summer and pop them, fresh from the garden, in your cereal bowl.
Soil: There’s no replacing homemade compost for your vegetable garden. (See Metro’s guidelines at oregonmetro.gov.)
Plants:Keep it simple at first, planting kale, lettuce, and strawberries. Then branch out.