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Gardening lessons learned

Some of the bounty from summer can carry over to autumn


by: COURTESY PHOTO - The author loves all the colors that come out of her garden.October has come this year like a warm breeze instead of a roaring gale. I think we’re all thankful for the few extra weeks of sunshine and fun that we’ve eked out of 2012.

I’ve received my notice from the community garden that we’re required to do our fall cleanup by Oct. 20. That gives me a little more time to enjoy my fall harvest and to muse over what I’ve learned this first summer with a community garden plot.

I still haven’t learned to allow enough room for the full size of most vegetables. My beets look like they’re squeezed 18 into an egg carton. My tomatoes are falling all over themselves, the beets and what’s left of my early lettuce. I spaced the tomatoes around two feet apart along the center of my raised bed, but I didn’t follow the example of our overly-precise engineer neighbor and cut the branches way back.

My tomatoes flopped all over, while his hugged tightly to their stake and stayed out of the dirt. I started out with three zucchini plants in an 8-by-4 foot bed, but one didn’t look very healthy, so I added a few more seeds and they all took off. I ended up with four plants in one bed and two more joining the basil, lettuce, onions and sweet peppers in the next bed.

They were strange bedfellows but tasty together in a salad.

We spaced the corn well. We had four 9-foot rows in a 9-by-9 foot bed. However, I planted the corn seed on little berms and the corn kept trying to blow down in the wind. I’ll have to read up on planting corn. My sweet husband Brian said his mom always planted corn on wee berms and it grew fine. I think she could have grown tomatoes in a crack in the sidewalk. That wonderful woman had the greenest of thumbs.

I was pretty happy with our veggie selection. We had yellow and green zucchinis. I can’t say if they taste different but they look very pretty together in a nice stir-fry. My red, orange and yellow sweet peppers are colorful and tasty. As you can tell, I like a lot of color in my garden and on my plants. Generally Brian feels the same way, but he had to admit that he wasn’t too thrilled to eat yellow and purple tomatoes. I guess he just didn’t read “Green Eggs and Ham” enough as a kid.

I grew spinach and mixed salad greens so we always had a nice variety of greens in our salad. I started a new row of lettuce and spinach each month so the fresh spinach was growing nicely before the last row had bolted. After the first planting in May, I usually planted the lettuce on the north side of a taller veggie. I think the shade kept them from bolting too quickly.

I also grew a basil selection called “Salad Leaf Heirloom.” It has a large curly leaf that is stiffer and chewier than common basil. We love its almost licorice flavor when added to the other salad greens. Most of my seeds came from a company called Renee’s Garden (reneesgarden.com). They have an excellent selection including packs with mixed colors or varieties. Last year I grew a mix of three colors of green beans and a mix of three colors of squash. This year I enjoyed their mixed salad greens. I always buy a few things as plants including tomatoes, peppers and onions. One pack of onion starts stretch over three gardens as we passed on what we didn’t use.

We decided to try growing edamame, aka soybeans. They tasted great when we steamed them and popped the beans right out of the pods into our mouths. They ripen around the same time as corn so we’d just add a handful into the corn pot as a side dish.

Our all-time favorite veggies this year were the corn and the carrots. I’m afraid the corn is just getting over, but we go out into the garden and eat the carrots like candy. We never get anything that crispy in the store. I’m sure none of them will last long enough to be cooked.

We will leave the carrots, chard, leeks and spinach in the ground when we clean up on the 20th. We hope to enjoy them all autumn. I guess the weather and our luck will tell the tale.

Ann has lived and practiced landscape design in Tualatin Valley since 1993. You can reach her at ann.nickerson.net or by phone at 503-846-1352.




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