When I say I live in Portland, Oregon lots of people say, “Well, the weather is pretty similar to the UK there anyway.” And I well it is. If you mean it rains a lot in the Winter. But it’s not quite the same. It’s hotter and drier in the summer and this can have a big impact on plants. It’s taken me three years to really get my head around this and change the way I garden accordingly.
Having 11 plus years under my belt as a vegetable gardening could make me think that I know it all. I don’t. Even year to year things can go hideously wrong due to weather changes, random pest invasion and complacency. Add to that the changes that you encounter moving from Europe to the Pacific Northwest and some sizeable cock ups could occur. Believe me.
Cock-up – that’s a phrase that American’s should use more.
In the UK I didn’t have a greenhouse so this one is a little cheaty. But last year in Portland I got a bit excited about growing Tomatoes and sowed them way too early – gosh, I think at the end of January! Anyway, I ended up with some pretty big Tomato plants with some nicely yellowing leaves by the time it was safe to plant them outdoors. Lesson learned = Only sow greenhouse grown Tomatoes early, leave the rest until the end of March so you can get short stocky, robust plants to go outside. Or buy them!
One major difference between here and the UK is that in a Portland Spring when it’s wet its’s wet but when the sun comes out it can get pretty hot quick! For the past three years I’ve been happily bumbling along, sowing my seeds, potting on, planting out. Then sometime in June – erm… what? the summer is here and it’s scorchio? It’s like there’s no warning and someone has just flicked a switch that says ‘summer now’. You have to be ready. Because once that switch is flicked you can kiss goodbye to any cold season crop germinating (no more Lettuce for a few months). Any that you have in the ground will already be planning to go to seed. Lesson learned = get sowing while it’s cool.
Again this is a greenhouse problem but when the sun comes out be ready with the shade. Any plants in the greenhouse will be toast in about an hour if they are shut up in a rapidly heating greenhouse. One year, I lost about 12 Pepper plants, with peppers on them because I went out for the day and forgot to water them! Lesson learned = get ready with the shade cloth.
In the UK I was lucky if I got a handful of Tomatoes from my blight-ridden specimens. So I assumed it was the same here. Over cater on the Tomatoes and you might be in with a chance. No need. The dry weather means virtually no blight and so for the last couple of years I have been over run with Tomatoes – especially the cherry type which fall all over the pathway and end up germinating through the brick work. I know, ridiculous. I have Tomato weeds! Lesson learned = you only need three Tomato plants. Really only three.
I feel like most of these lessons are about Tomatoes. Hmmm…
Other vegetables that I was never really able to grow in the UK have become available to me like Sweetcorn and Melon. Last year I grew about six Sweetcorn plants – we ate the harvest in one BBQ. I made a note in my diary to ‘plant MORE Sweetcorn’ underlined several times. Lesson learned = you need a field of corn.
So, so, so – all of these lessons are really about me treating my Portland garden in much the same way as my UK garden and getting it fantastically wrong. But all of the knowledge I had was learned by doing things the same way every year. I thought I had it down-pat. Not so.
Vegetable gardening is mostly about weather watching. Watch what it’s doing and act accordingly. Sticking my head in a book and following the instructions works some of the time but I find that making an educated guess when to plant things out and being ready if you’re wrong is better. Gardening is not an exact science – that’s why I chose it.