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PNW: What to Plant in December

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PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  Marc Iverson on 12/6/2014, 3:11 pm

From Gardenate, a meager schedule for 7a and 7b:

Asparagus Plant in garden. Harvest from 24 months
Onion        Plant in garden. Harvest from July

From Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley:

Inventory seeds
Order Catalogs
Check stored crops
Collect wood ashes
Dig and divide rhubarb. (This should be done every four years.)

On a side note:  

These guides depend so much on individual zones and conditions that they may be of limited use.  Your zones may not be much like mine, and even if they are mine, can function surprisingly differently.

Here in Oregon, we have so many zones and quick transition between zones that make even what works for a neighbor a quarter mile away inapplicable perhaps to our own gardens.  A few more or less trees shading the property, varying soil composition, sudden variations in altitude or shelter from wind and rain ... these are the kind of things that can make a neighbor's garden temperatures 8 degrees different, whether for an hour, a day, or who knows how long.  

In a very real way here, what even the experts and reliable locals know is of limited use as a foundation.  It functions more as a springboard for personal exploration.  Let's keep an open mind about zones and techniques, stay organized so we can properly evaluate our results, and find out what works for us.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  boffer on 12/6/2014, 3:45 pm

@Marc Iverson wrote:...
In a very real way here, what even the experts and reliable locals know is of limited use as a foundation.  It functions more as a springboard for personal exploration.  Let's keep an open mind about zones and techniques, stay organized so we can properly evaluate our results, and find out what works for us.

+1

Recently, I had a local gardener ask me when was  the best time to plant several different cool crops, and I didn't have a helpful answer.  Last year I planted cool crops every month from Feb. through Aug., and I didn't notice a 'best' time.  All I noticed was that some varieties of a crop did better than others.

I was more definitive about warm season crops: Be patient, and wait for at least a week or two after your last frost date before planting.  There's nothing to be gained by planting early, but all can be lost if hit by a freeze.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  boffer on 12/6/2014, 7:32 pm

Two different years, I tried to determine the 'best' time to plant lettuce.  Obviously, the best time will vary year-to-year, and will only be known well after the best time has come and gone.

I planted one linear foot of the same lettuce each week starting in Feb.  In this pic, the plant tags represent each week's planting.  The early seeds germinated, but grew slowly.  It wasn't until June's plantings that they started growing at a normal rate ('normal' meaning what I'm accustomed to seeing).  In contrast, the lettuce seeds that I had planted in TTs like usual, grew normally regardless of when I planted them.



I thought maybe my experiment didn't get enough sun, so the next year I moved them to a sunnier location.  Same results.



I also wondered if the gutter/planter was too shallow, but later in summer, they were growing normally.



Conclusions:  This experiment didn't determine a 'best' time to plant.  

What I may have demonstrated, however, is the need to have sufficient  soil volume  to hold adequate heat that  even  cool crops need.  Most summers, my nighttime temps drop into the low 40's F well into July.  Even with daytime temps in the low 80s, some of my plants are shivering until nearly noon.  

It's common knowledge that pots can easily overheat in the summer, so I'm thinking that they also can stay too cool for good growth.  Since this experiment, I've made an effort to graduate to larger and larger pots as I find them for cheap.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  Marc Iverson on 12/6/2014, 9:59 pm

Sounds like a good idea. I've found the same thing can happen with my marigolds, oregano, mints, and some other crops. And if you have especially hot summers, a bonus to big pots is they take longer to dry out. I'm less likely to find a plant looking severely wilted when I use a bigger pot.

I also find bigger pots easier to water. There's less of a fine line between watering just enough to soak the soil and so much the water overflows or runs out too quickly.

Edit: Even your conclusion that a hard and fast answer wasn't available was a useful discovery in itself.

I think I've found something similar here and there, in that planting more spinach or mustard or chard every week or two from some ideal planting date still grew plants. By spreading out the harvest, it made growing less an all or nothing proposition, too, which was useful. Sometimes you don't want three heads of lettuce in a day; you'd rather have a head or two a week.

So now I'm coming to realize that, the danger of plants being frozen aside, there tends to be a window of time in which to plant rather than a precise time. Our weather is so variable here anyway that sticking to the idea of a precise time to plant may be more dangerous than staggering planting dates over a week or two or even more. If I stagger my plantings, some of my seeds may not thrive or even come up, but if I only plant at an ideal time, none of my seeds may thrive or come up!
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  sanderson on 12/7/2014, 3:19 am

Jumping in on the volume issue.  I'm going with only the larger pots even for herbs.  The larger the volume, the easier to keep the soil cool and moist.  It may seem strange considering it only takes 6" of MM to grow most everything, but the width of the beds makes for volume.  I also prefer using thicker 2 x 4s instead of the 3/4" fencing planks.  The thin wood just dried out too quick in the summer.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  Marc Iverson on 12/7/2014, 3:59 am

I'm with you. I used great soil in my five-gallon tomato buckets, and in some of them I found the tomatoes sent roots all the way through the entire bucket and down to the very bottom. On some, I could hardly get the plant out come the end of tomato season because the entire bucket's worth of soil and plant came out at once in a solid, root-infested cylinder packed tightly into the bucket.

Not a bad thing at all, but it proved to me that even though a plant can grow well in a relatively small area of great growing medium, that doesn't mean it won't want and try to claim more. If it tries, it can't be spending that energy growing roots for nothing. I imagine it gave the tomatoes an easier chance to get whatever water they were given, to keep their roots cooler and thereby dissipate heat, and to find more nutrients more quickly. I suppose that it didn't hurt that more roots make a plant more stable in winds and under heavy loads, either.

There's a challenge to giving plants what seems just enough room and soil to live and seeing them actually thrive, but there's a lot to be said for having a little insurance so that the plants might even do better ... or weather the occasional neglect of a distracted gardener, for that matter. I know I'm occasionally guilty.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  boffer on 12/7/2014, 1:56 pm

@Marc Iverson wrote:...So now I'm coming to realize that, the danger of plants being frozen aside, there tends to be a window of time in which to plant rather than a precise time.  Our weather is so variable here anyway that sticking to the idea of a precise time to plant may be more dangerous than staggering planting dates over a week or two or even more.  If I stagger my plantings, some of my seeds may not thrive or even come up, but if I only plant at an ideal time, none of my seeds may thrive or come up!

Beginning gardeners look for guidelines that will ensure success; experienced gardeners know that there is no such thing.

I now do a lot of stagger planting primarily for the reason you mentioned.  However, I originally started stagger planting in an attempt to get a staggered harvest.  Occasionally I got a staggered harvest, but more often than not, it didn't work out that way.  What I came to realize is that my springs are so slow to warm up, that peas, planted in mid-March per the 'guidelines', don't produce any sooner than peas planted in late April.
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Re: PNW: What to Plant in December

Post  Marc Iverson on 12/7/2014, 4:22 pm

That's a lot like what I've found happens with my tomatoes. July, and sometimes August, is so hot that the flowers simply drop off and I get little or no fruit. This year I planted tomatoes in April, May, and June and got virtually no tomatoes until September. That's nuts, and what a waste of time and water tending to them.

Given conditions like that, what's the rush to tear out cool season crops to make way for the tomatoes? I'm going to let my peas go longer this spring, and use up square footage that normally I leave alone while waiting for the right time to plant tomatoes. I'll plant tomatoes later, so they aren't just sitting around marking time while waiting for the weather to cool down.
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