What I’m Planting Now…
A seasoned gardening veteran, giving up on planting a garden for the first time in 20 years?! That’s what he told me last year in our tasting room, due to our miserably late and cool spring. He just didn’t think it would be worth it. And here we are again, with possibly an even later start to the growing season (just ask the grape vines!). But don’t despair. Don’t give up on your kitchen garden! Despite the fact that I’m going to be away for a month, and despite the fact that my garden is attached to a house that is for sale, it’s still more than worth my while to put a few things in the ground. I’ll recoup the costs with the first harvest of greens and it’s just good for the soul to get your hands in the dirt.
Here are a couple of shots to show you that even with a slow start like last year, it is always worth planting!
And I don’t know about you, but it’s also the time of year here in the Willamette Valley that I get what I call the “garden woes.” I’m not as organized as I was last year, when I poured over seed catalogs. I’m later than I was last year. My little garden feels more haphazard than last year. Let go of the woes, plant a few things, and you’ll have forgotten all about these misgivings in July and August when you are eating your crops night after night. Promise! There is sunshine (finally) on tap for the weekend, so get planting.
Here then are my tips for the easiest, most productive and rewarding vegetables for our climate.
Bush beans! Plant these from seeds and they will pop up as quickly as the next week. They’ll get about a foot or 18 inches high and need no trellising and they are great producers. I’ve enjoyed a Burgundy Bush Bean variety that was stringless. Plant some green beans too, next to a trellis or tomato cage. I’ve planted several varieties of Blue Lake, from organic plant starts purchased at the Farmers Market. Very productive. If you end up with more beans than you need, just freeze them. Maybe blanch them in boiling salted water for less than a minute, shock them in cold water, let dry on paper towels and then freeze.
Purchase organic Kale and Chard plant starts. Plant about 4 of each, and you’ll keep your family in greens, just harvesting the outer leaves and letting the plants continue to grow all summer. I have photos that show I was still harvesting kale mid-September! So many recipes for kale are for braises or gratins. But here is a recipe for a family favorite, a bright, fresh kale salad enriched with a sprinkling of pine nuts, that will convert even those who claim to detest it. With excess kale, I quickly blanch leaves in salted water, drain, then roughly chop, then freeze. Great for vegetable galettes, or to top pizza or in pasta or mixed into mashed potatoes or minestrone. I just used up the last of my freezer supply a few weeks ago in a savory bread pudding with mushrooms and gruyere.
Lettuce! Plant from organic starts. A 4-pack of little starts might cost $2.50 and you’ll recoup that in a few weeks, the very first time you harvest the outer leaves. If you’re buying pre-washed organic lettuce in bags, you’re paying $9-12/pound for lettuce so this is one of the number one crops to save you money. You can grow lettuce anywhere!
Cherry tomatoes…yes, one plant, but nothing bigger. Tomato bullies might try to make you feel that you’re not a real man/gardener/foodie unless you plant heirlooms and lots of them. But from my experience, tomato plants are space and nutrition hogs. To add insult to injury, in this climate, by September, you’ve got to scramble to find a recipe for Green Tomato Jam. Instead, find a buddy with lots of land and sunshine (ie Eastern Oregon), and trade them their tomaotoes for your prodigious greens and beans! Yikes, look how just one cherry tomato plant took over! This was taken mid-August, and it is just beginning to flower, so quite a ways from ripe cherry tomatoes.
Potatoes! Easy, and an extra-fun treasure hunt for kids when digging them up. Bonus for me — I apparently didn’t dig up all of them out of the raised bed last year, so I’ve got volunteers this year. Take organic potatoes and cut them into quarters, so that each quarter has an eye or more. Before you plant them, let the pieces dry, indoors or in the sun, so that the cut sides are dried. Push them into the dirt and wait for the green vines to emerge. When you see flowers, see photo, you’ve got baby potatoes. When the vines start to flop over and dry out, you’ve got big potatoes. You can dig them up at any stage, as you need them.
These are just my top picks for hassle-free crops that give many pounds of production per square foot. Email me your best bets. Happy gardening. We WILL have sun and growth eventually!