Local gardens are beginning to burst with flowers, vegetables and fruit as the sun continues to shine for the spring and summer season.
While the coronavirus pandemic has forced many to stay home, residents on the North Coast have used their new free time to start gardening projects and learn from local master gardeners.
Between January and mid-March, Oregon State University’s $45 vegetable gardening course had 15 enrolled students. Since the university waived the course fee in late March, more than 31,000 people have enrolled in the course.
The university has extension offices in counties around the state, including Clatsop County. In addition to the vegetable gardening course, the university has other free online courses. Master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions by email.
“We have an emphasis on gardening and horticulture through research-based information. We’re not just like ‘Go boil water and pour it on your dandelions and then they’ll be gone,’” said Camile Hickman, a master gardener in Nehalem. “We do everything from vegetables to insects, to plant disease.”
Locally, community gardens are seeing about the same amount of interest.
At the Gray School community garden in Astoria, only a few people haven’t been able to get a plot.
“Our garden has always been popular, in that we have waitlists for it every year,” said coordinator Erin Reding. “Over the last couple weeks I’ve gotten some inquiries from people who are moving to the area or who have just learned about the garden.”
In Seaside, the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s community garden, which was last managed by Friends of Clatsop Gardens, has recently been assigning interested gardeners plots. Other local gardens are either nearly full or reached capacity earlier this spring.
Though interest in community gardens hasn’t changed much, the reasons people are gardening have.
“While gardening in the past has been more of a recreational activity for many, there is more of a need now for fresh produce with stores being limited during the pandemic,” Reding said. “I’ve also talked with many gardeners who are specifically wanting a plot to have a project to do with their child who is now at home full-time due to school and day care closures.”
Gardening has also provided an option for people to get some time outdoors while following social distancing guidelines.
What to grow this time of year
“If you’ve got a flower pot you can put outside, you can garden vegetables,” Hickman said.
For beginners, Hickman suggests starting with a vegetable like peas, carrots, radishes or beets. Peas and carrots do well when planted through June.
“Or buy a package of seeds of something you like and throw them in a pot, it’s as simple as that,” Hickman said.
Other vegetables that do well this time of year on the coast include tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce, said Scott Thompson, owner of Blackberry Bog Farms.
“There’s a reason you don’t see cornfields in Gearhart,” Thompson said.
Growing herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano also works well, he said.
“Create a planter or a herb basket. Get yourself a container and put in your herbs, they’re wonderful,” Thompson said.
When choosing herbs, Thompson suggested researching the herb first, as some herbs like basil and mint grow aggressively and can take over the space of other herbs.
Where to grow your garden
When deciding where to start a garden, it’s important to consider how much sunlight and shade a space has during the day. Different types of seeds require different amounts of sunlight.
“So much of it is trial and error. It all depends on where you live. Every home has its own microclimate,” Hickman said. “If you’re living right on the coast line, the climate, with all the wind and salt, is going to be extremely different versus those homes inland.”
Using a container or raised beds to garden can work well for those who don’t have much space.
“You can use all kinds of things for containers, a five-gallon bucket, a pot, whiskey barrels, really anything that will hold an adequate amount of soil,” Thompson said. “It’s surprising what you can grow in containers, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers.”
Another useful strategy is to build a mini greenhouse for plants. These work in all spaces and can be made using materials like plastic or old windows.
“Plants will grow better, especially on the coast, if you provide them some kind of shelter,” Thompson said.
Another important variable to consider is the type of soil being used.
“If you’re using native soil, your own backyard’s soil, there’s a very high likelihood that your soil is very acidic. Vegetables in particular don’t like acidic soils so you have to amend the soil by adding lime to raise the pH,” Thompson said. “You’ll have much greater success.”
Adding nutrients to soil is another decision to consider. Local garden and feed stores are good resources for learning about different soils.
Maintaining the garden
When caring for the garden, it’s important to not over- or under-water plants.
“The typical rule of thumb is that plants need an inch of water a week,” Thompson said. “So probably two or three waterings. If you have a big plant in a small container, you of course have to water more often.”
Pulling weeds is also necessary for plant growth.
Most importantly, follow the instructions listed on the plant’s seed packet, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
“My word of wisdom, is try it,” Hickman said. “If you’ve never planted a plant before, don’t invest a lot of money. You can start out small and if you’re successful, repeat it. Try something new.”