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Organic Gardening in Central Oregon

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Chapter One

There is a rumor that a garden can not be grown in Central Oregon. You only need look around to know that is not true. Beautiful gardens are grown all around the Central Oregon area, but carefully chosen plants are the key. The growing season is very short and frost can come on any day of the year.

We are in an ecotone, an area where two different ecologies meet. The west is the direction of the mountains; it has more rainfall, pines leading to fir and a more acidic soil. To the east is the Sagebrush Steppe, an arid, sandy-soiled, cold desert. In between is where the pines and sagebrush mix at the lower elevations of the mountains. Your location in Central Oregon, with its own particular mini-climate, will determine what you are able to grow.

There is a great deal of variability in what Central Oregonians are able to grow. The northern end of the area including Madras and Culver have the best growing climate. The conditions become more severe as you travel east, south and west-toward the desert and the mountains. Areas south of Bend have the most drastic conditions; in general La Pine and Fall River have an even shorter growing season than Bend. The altitude strongly affects this pattern, the higher you go the harsher the conditions. Madras is the low end of the area at 2200 feet above sea level; Bend heads upward to 3600. As you go south it continues to climb and LaPine is around 4000 feet.

Zone classifications used to determine which plants grow in an area are not reliable for Central Oregon. They are based primarily on winter temperatures, and our winter temperatures are generally not terribly low, but we have late frosts that can freeze the plants after they leaf out. Often a plant coded zone 3 or 4 will grow here, but the only reliable plant zone for sure is zone 1. Depending on your location, protection of some kind will be needed for frost delicate plants.

Another climatic drawback in Central Oregon are chilly evenings. This is appealing in the summer, as you can usually depend of the evenings to cool off so you can get a good night's sleep. But this extreme of temperature, as much as 50 degrees between night and day, is tough on plants. This is one reason many people have greenhouses or night covers for their tender plants. Some folks put their tender plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, in pots that can be moved in at night when cold threatens.

Organic Only

The approach to gardening in this book is from an organic perspective, which is gardening without chemicals or pesticides. You must build the soil with humus in the form of organic matter; manures, compost and cover crops. The purpose being to feed the soil, which is an immense community of organisms; insects, worms, fungi and bacteria. The soil then feed the plants. All of this turns your garden into a living entity, able to support the growth of your plants.

Where to Get Help

The county extension service is the best source of help available. They are knowledgeable, helpful, and offer many free publications. Call and ask for their Central Oregon gardening packet. They can also answer any specific questions you may have about herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.

The local Master Gardeners organization is connected with the extension service, and they are well-trained to answer your gardening questions. Another good source of information is usually from someone who has gardened here for years and has a feel for the climate and soil. Friends and neighbors are invaluable, as are gardening clubs.

The library has a good selection of gardening books and magazines. Gardening classes are usually offered in the spring from the extension service, Master Gardeners and Central Oregon Community College Continuing Education.

Garden Calendar

January
Easy times, stay by the fire and study the garden catalogs. Pruning of trees and shrubs can be done this month.
February
More easy times. You can start growing some bedding plants: petunias, peppers, onions, leeks, celery and perennial herbs and flowers. A greenhouse or artificial lighting is a big help for starting seeds this time of year. You may begin hauling manure to gardens. Plant dormant trees if the ground is not frozen. Days begin to get longer, so you can start planting your early greenhouse crops.
March
Plant more bedding plants to be planted out in six to eight weeks: tomatoes, marigolds, many annuals flowers and herbs. Depending on the weather, you may be able to do structural work, clear land, and remove weeds. Resist the temptation to remove winter mulches too early, the weather can still get very cold. Haul manure and compost and dig it into the soil. Dormant trees can still be planted. Cut out all of last years plant stalks left for the birds. Plant your early greenhouse salad greens if you have not already. If the weather cooperates you can start eating salads from your kale and perennial salad plants.
April
Plant peas, spinach, onions, garlic (if not planted in fall) and fava beans. Can begin moving and dividing perennials that have wintered over and are acclimated. Start your cabbage, broccoli and other cole crops and head lettuce inside. Topdress your perennials, herb beds, trees, lawns and other permanent plantings with well rotted manure or compost.
May
This is the busiest month because everything seems to need to be done at once. It is time to plant root crops, lettuce and most other vegetable crops. Plant pansies early in the month and other annual flowers later in month. You can still move your perennials around and plant potted nursery stock. About three to four weeks before it is time to plant them outside, you can start squash, cucumbers, corn and beans inside in peat pots. You will need to start and aggressive program for the elimination of weeds and this is a good time to spread mulch. Your tomatoes and peppers should be in the greenhouse by now. Salad greens in your greenhouse should be going full bore.
June
Continue planting tender crops and succession crops. Weeds are making their fastest headway, pay particular attention to the germinating seed beds as they can quickly be overcome. Keep spreading mulch.
July
Keep on top of the weeds and use them to make compost this month.
August
Plant your fall crops and start your fall bedding plants for the greenhouse. Keep your annuals deadheaded, which is the removal of the spent blossom before it can make seed. Since making seeds is the plants purpose, this will prolong the blooming time of the plant. Dig your onions and garlic when the tops fall over, and lay them out to dry.
September
Especially be on guard for frosts. Dig flowers and herbs to pot up for winter growing. Divide perennials and strawberries; plant garlic and cover crops. Harvest, harvest, harvest.
October
You will still be harvesting with any luck. Cut dead stalks in the garden, but leave plenty of seed heads for the birds. Plant spring blooming bulbs.
November
Spread leaves if you have them. Days are getting short and greenhouse growth becomes nonexistent.
December
Easy times. You can spread a winter mulch over your perennials and strawberries when the ground is frozen.
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