Preparing the Garden

The first and most important requirement for success in vegetable gardening is good soil in a sunny spot. A vegetable garden needs full sun, ten hours a day in mid-summer. If you do not have a sunny spot in the yard, you may have a sunny deck or porch that can be used for containers. If you have too much shade, grow shade-loving flowers or shrubs in your yard and look for another place to grow vegetables.

If your garden has been part of a lawn, you need to remove the grass. In the spring, it is not too hard to just dig under the sod and pull it up in pieces. (Pile the chucks of sod upside down and cover the pile with a tarp or with enough yard debris to exclude the light and it will turn into fabulous compost in about a year.) Then double dig. Here are some good instructions:

This is really hard work, but it only needs to be done once if the garden is well maintained. It is better to grow vegetables in a small plot that has been properly prepared than in a large plot of marginal quality.

If your garden has been used for vegetables recently, it may only need a thorough weeding and light digging to incorporate some organic matter, such as your own compost, purchased composted manure, and/or peat moss. Every garden can produce its own compost. You can get a compost bin and accessories from Metro:


It's good to do your transplanting in the evening or on a cloudy day. Water the pots before you remove the vegetables, and as soon as you have finished planting, water the newly transplanted vegetables well to settle them into the ground and establish good contact between the soil and the roots.

Some of our starts, like tomatoes, are planted one to a pot. Others, like lettuce and onions, contain many plants in a single pot. These multiples need to be separated and planted with the right spacing. As a general rule, for the multiples, you incorporate fertilizer into the top 2-3 inches of the bed. For the single plants, you put the fertilizer (about half a cup for tomatoes, squash and cucumbers, a little less for peppers and eggplant) in the bottom of the planting hole, mix it into the soil, and then add a layer of dirt over it before planting the vegetable. That way, the plant will recover from transplanting and its roots will encounter the fertilizer just when it is ready to start growing.

Note - Squash, gourds, and cucumbers come two or three to a pot. They do not want to be separated. Plant them in the center of a hill (a mound of dirt), disturbing the roots as little as possible.

Please use organic fertilizer. It is better than chemical fertilizer for the plants, for the soil, and for the crucial micro-organisms which maintain soil health. Excellent pre-mixed organic fertilizers are readily available (look for the OMRI seal), or you can mix your own. We use a formula from Steve Solomon's excellent book, Growing Organic Vegetables West of the Cascades

  • 4 parts fish meal (for nitrogen)
  • ½ part bone meal (for phosphorus)
  • 1 part kelp meal (for potassium)
  • 1 part Calpril (this is lime, which improves the soil Ph)
All of these are available in bulk at Portland Nursery. Every vegetable will require fertilizer unless your garden soil is exceptionally rich. Herbs, on the other hand, develop the best flavor if they are not fertilized

Here's how to separate plants growing in the same pot, like lettuce, onions, and basil (remember, do not separate squash and cucumbers):

  • Water the pot really well.
  • Turn it upside down to remove the soil and plants in one piece.
  • Gently pull an individual plant from the edge and plant it.
  • Keep removing and planting.

Be gentle but firm. Unless all of the roots come off, the plant will recover nicely from the trauma of transplanting. Don't fail to separate them. Two plants in the same space will not thrive.


  • Squash, Pumpkins, and Cucumbers 36"
  • Tomatoes 30"
  • Eggplant, Peppers, Chard 14"
  • Lettuce, Sorrel 8-12"
  • Onions 4-6"
  • Peas 2"
  • Parsley, Basil, Chives 4-6"

Direct Seeding

We sell seeds for a few herbs and vegetables which do not want to be transplanted.

Dill and Cilantro: Prepare a patch of soil and sprinkle the seeds very lightly. Rake them in or sift a thin layer of soil or peat moss over them. Dill can be planted just once, in March, April, or May. Cilantro goes through its entire life in about six weeks, so it's best to plant a few seeds at a time, and replant every other week.

Bush Beans: Plant them when the soil feels warm (at least 60?? F) an inch or so below the surface. If the soil is too cold, the bean seeds will rot instead of germinating. Use a pointed hoe to make a 3" deep trench. (We put two rows about 14 inches apart in one of our raised beds.) Put a very light layer of mixed fertilizer along the bottom of the trench, and mix it into the soil. Lay the seeds at the bottom of the trench about an inch apart. Fill in the trench so that the seeds are covered with an inch of soil. Firm the soil over the seed to establish good contact between the seeds and the soil. Don't water them. If the soil is reasonably moist, the beans will germinate nicely. Watering will chill the soil, and the beans want it warm.

Growing Sorrel

Sorrel is both a salad green and an herb. The tangy lemony leaves are best added to salads while young and tender.

Space the plants about 8 inches apart. You can begin harvesting the leaves when they are 4-6 inches high. Cut off the flower stalks as they emerge, unless you do want it to self sow. Cut it all the way down when it starts to look ragged, and it will grow back quickly. Sorrel can also be grown in containers or indoors. It can be placed in full or partial sun. Sorrel will stay green all winter, but will not grow as quickly. It's good until late November, and starts growing again in February.