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).
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.