from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Getting the Most of a Short Growing Season in Oregon

Frames to protect crops

The curved metal frames support tarps that protect crops when nights are cold.

2013 garlic harvest

Garlic always does very well here. We love it, and the harvest keeps well through the winter.


And then there is the cabbage: pretty as a picture, and wonderful in sauerkraut!

When it comes to gardening, we find that the best teachers are other gardeners, such as Barbara Black, who lives in Oregon’s high desert. We’re amazed to see such and abundant and varied harvest in Barbara’s garden.

Although our mailing address is Burns, OR, we actually live 45-minutes from Burns, in an area made up of ranches sagebrush, poor soil (alkaline, sand) and, in our case, well water with so many minerals in it that we have to bring in gallons of drinking and cooking water from Burns on a weekly basis.

Other special challenges of growing anything in our area include the short growing season. A great example of this came in 2013, when our last frost came in mid-June, and the first frost came at the end of August! Scramble-time!

Even so, we harvested more than 100 pounds of potatoes (four varieties), onions (two varieties), carrots, turnips, squash, garlic, rhubarb, bush beans, tomatoes, lettuce and asparagus. Most varieties were chosen for their storage ability (length of time in a root cellar), and their track record in our garden.

How do we do it? We began six years ago with one raised bed, as a test. We filled it with new topsoil and compost. We have since grown to ten raised beds of all sizes, two full of rhubarb, one each with strawberries, raspberries and horseradish, and four large (three 4′ x 13′, one 3′ x 15′) rectangular beds that are used for vegetables and herbs. We add fresh topsoil, raised bed mix and compost every year; and we plant a cover crop at the end of each garden season (to be dug under before planting in the spring).

Just-harvested red onions

Root vegetables do well in the short-season, high-desert–and we always appreciate them so much in the winter!

Green beans

A wonderful surprise in this part of the world: green beans!

We use a variety of season-extending techniques. For example, the four large beds are covered nightly with large tarps. These lay on 3- to 4-foot-high arches made of bent pipe that has been bolted to the sides of the raised beds for stability. The tarps are anchored with rebar at the ends and one side, and attached permanently to the other side. We pull the tarps off each morning, and replace them each night. In addition, shorter bamboo arches are placed where needed (over cabbage, cauliflower) and fabric row covers are left on both day and night. Water-filled insulating rings are used encircle the tomato plants through June.

We extend our growing season by starting as many plants indoors as we can. For example, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes are all started in a small indoor greenhouse. We will try starting onions indoors from seed next spring, too.

Both our parents were gardeners, but we’ve learned even more in our own gardens. We read and talk to other gardeners in the area, study catalogs, read information available on the internet, and I have become an Oregon Master Gardener.

—Barbara Black

Barbara gardens in Oregon’s high desert, near Burns.
Salad greens

The colors, textures and flavors were so beautiful in this lettuce mix.


  1. Rob
    February 7, 2015    

    What are you using for the timbers to frame your raised beds? Cedar, or pressure treated.
    Thank you

    • gscadmin
      February 9, 2015    

      I’m not sure what Barbara is using, but it’s a good idea to avoid pressure-treated wood for food gardens. Reason: Chemicals from pressure-treating can leach into the soil. We use cedar, in combination with our metal Raised Bed Corners. Sturdy and durable. -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

      • Barbara Black
        March 3, 2015    

        Soooo true!

    • Barbara Black
      March 3, 2015    

      We used nonpressure-treated cedar ties

    • Barbara Black
      March 3, 2015    

      Good luck! You will love it, when you get it all done. Yes, the cedar ties were fairly expensive, but last forever: with our cold winters we needed something like this.

  2. Marie Johnson
    March 3, 2015    

    I loved your article and thanks so much for sharing your experience. Your situation is similar to my own and it gives me hope. I began with one raised bed which did very well last year. I am adding four more raised beds this year. Lumber is not cheap so I am taking my time and trying to recycle old lumber projects as I go along. Again thanks. Marie

  3. Barbara, As a newbie gardener I’d love to see a schedule for starting indoors then moving outdoors. We live in Fossil and like you our growing season is extremely short. Tomatoes are a real treasure here! Also, as a Master Gardener, would you be interested in doing workshops for the homesteading festival put on in September by the League of Oregon Rural-Frontier Homesteaders?

    BTW – We make use of the abundance of juniper for our raised beds. Often free to obtain if you cut your own and definitely free of unwanted chemicals.

  4. March 8, 2015    

    A wonderful resource is OSU-a land grant university which instructs Master Gardeners in your County. The website
    Has growing dates. The site also has the resource “Ask an Expert” and multiple on line videos and publications. Call your county extension office and ask for a Master Gardener for region specific information in Oregon

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