April Chores

So, I have a few friends who are starting gardens in the Portland area and I thought I could use this space to share some of the stuff I've gleaned from countless garden books and a decade of Portland gardening. Here's a quick run-down of what you can do right now and what not to do yet:

If you have an already prepared garden spot/raised bed: 

  • Clean out any dead plants from last season
  • Prune back dead growth on herbs and such if you haven't already 
  • Start planting! 
  • Now is a great time to plant peas, lettuces, green onions, chard, broccoli, beans, carrots and many herbs. 
  • Be careful not to overwork the soil!! If you need to work in amendments (if you didn't last fall you probably do) then you might need to wait to do this. It's been very wet. A good way to know if you can do this now or you need to wait is to test your soil. This is easy. Just take a handful of your dirt, clamp your hand around it like you're going to make a quick snowball. If the dirt makes a nice solid mass - it's too early to work the soil. If the soil stays nice and loose, then you are good to start digging and amending! 
  • If your soil is still too wet and you didn't add any fertilizers to the soil last fall (mulch, compost, manures etc.) then you are going to have to wait it out and plan to plant lots of starts this year. This fall you are going to prep the dirt for an early planting next spring! 
  • If you are planting now, and you are planting peas, be sure to use an inoculant. I've had much more success with my peas when I have used this. It's easy and not too expensive. (Just ask at a garden store for inoculant which comes in a powder. Soak your peas over night and then throw the still-wet pea seeds into a canning jar with some inoculant and shake until the seeds are evenly coated.) 
  • If you overwork the soil, if it is too wet still, you will compact your soil and ruin your garden. The compacted soil won't allow the roots to grow well, nor will beneficial bugs and worms be able to move around in your soil. You'll end up with solid chunks of hardened clay by mid-summer! It's totally worth the wait! 
  • If you had a garden last year and you know what was planted there, be sure not to plant the same plants in the same places. Don't plant squashes where you had squashes last year - even if it's a different kind of squash (like putting pumpkins where you had zucchini). Definitely don't plant beans/peas or tomatoes in the same places each year. I usually flip flop tomatoes and beans/peas each year. (They use and fix different amounts of nitrogen in the soil.) 

If you are just starting a garden bed in a new spot: 

  • Test your soil for moisture. If the soil stays loose when you pick up a handful and squash it into a ball, then start digging! If the soil makes a nice heavy clay mass, don't dig yet! Cover the area you want to make into a garden with newspapers, cardboard etc. to kill the grass/weeds that are currently there. Test it again in a few weeks. 
  • If you are building a raised bed and bringing in fresh dirt - go for it right now! This is an excellent time to plant. 
  • If you have a nice sunny window in your house, start some easy to transplant seeds indoors. Now would be a good time to start lettuces, flowers, basil, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, herbs, cucumbers, zucchini, and other squashes. These all transplant well. 
  • I haven't had good luck growing tomatoes from seed here, but I know people who have. If you've got a really sunny spot and can enclose your tomatoes until late June, you might have good luck with them. Otherwise, this is one thing I just always do from starts here. 
  • Make sure the wood you use hasn't been treated with chemicals you don't want in your garden. 
  • Old windows make great cold frames so that you can dry out your soil a bit, warm it up more quickly, and get to planting faster. They will also protect seedlings from extra hard rains and cold nights. If you use old windows for cold frames, make sure they are not flaking lead paint onto your garden soil. 
  • I usually work in a bit of Dr. Earth general fertilizer and three kinds of manures (chicken, steer and mushroom compost) before planting. I've also started added bone meal to my plantings, this is cheaper than adding it to your compost and working it into the entire bed. I add lots of compost tea to my garden throughout the season so the bone meal balances that (nitrogen/phosphorus). 
  • If you have a ripe compost pile, you can cut down on the compost/manures and work some of your compost dirt into your beds. 


Here's a quick video on inoculants and how to use them.

I like Territorial Seeds. They have many choices for non-GMO, open pollinators, and locally produced seeds. You can buy them at most local garden stores, New Seasons or online.

Please feel free to add your advice, questions, resources to the conversation!