10 Tips for Growing Vegetables in Central Oregon with Kids
10 Tips for Growing Vegetables in Central Oregon with Kids
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To start this off I should mention that I am far from a perfect gardener, I have killed my fair share of plants, and trees and bushes and for some reason succulents don’t like me. But I’ve been growing vegetables with my son for the last 6 years and I’ve got some great tips as to what works, how to make it fun and show you our set up.
We started this journey with a tiny little patio and some vegetables we grew in pots. I still use pots as they are the easiest way to beat Central Oregon frost. But we’ve definitely learned a few tricks in the last few growing seasons.
Here is what we are planting this year. I have a few go-to plants I use as well as I like to try a new variety each year to test it out.
We bought our veggie starts from Wilco this year. Local nurseries also carry great veggie starts.
Here is what I buy in starts instead of seeds. Roma Tomato, Patio Tomato, Slicing Cucumber, Zuchini, Green Beans. We also by potato seeds (which are just whole potatoes), Sugar Daddy Peas, Spinach, and Pumpkin. We also grow our sunflower seeds inside because they do better in our dry backyard if they have a head start.
Here are 10 Tips to grow vegetables this summer with your kids in Central Oregon
1. Start your veggies inside your home or greenhouse for much longer than you think. I heard in a class once that Central Oregon does not have a frost date because every day in the calendar has had frost at some point in history. We all know the stories of snow flurries on the Fourth of July in Bend (true story I remember it). So we start everything inside for best results.
2. Central Oregon grow season is very short, start your veggies with starts instead of seeds. Few things like snap peas, beans, pumpkins, carrots and flowers will grow successfully in one season from seeds. But most need a head start in our climate. Remember that veggie starts are still sensitive and will not survive the 30 degree nights we’ll have for the next few weeks/months. We put ours out on the deck in the day and bring them in each night.
3. Let your kids be involved from the beginning and they will grow to love vegetables. I can’t make any promises but it has truly evolved my kids’ perspective on vegetables. My stepdaughter who would eat mac and cheese every meal will eat the snap peas directly off the vine. Rarely do the vegetables make it into the house because my kids just love to eat them off the vine, and we let them eat as many as they want. Grape tomatoes, snap peas and spinach are great for this exact purpose.
4. Use a mini grow kit for your seeds. I store it and reuse it each year. It is almost impossible to kill your seeds in here. We put ours at kid level so they can see them grow each day. They also are able to water it on their own without killing them as it has a self-watering pad on the bottom (that’s the clincher that makes it awesome). This one is the one we use for veggies, and we use these for sunflowers that we start inside, we have the tray, peat pots and use the grow dirt for these. All of these can be bought in town or online.
5. Stick to small tomato varieties. Everyone wants to grow tomatoes. Even if you don’t eat tomatoes you want to grow them. They are so satisfying to grow. If you are new to vegetable gardens stick to small varieties like grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, patio tomatoes and romas. These varieties will grow faster and put less weight on the plant. You will still need a tomato cage (a needed $3 purchase) but they are a lot easier to grow then big tomatoes. If you prune off the leaves without flowers/tomatoes it will help your plant grow tall and full. Also remember that tomatoes need fresh soil each year in their pots, don’t reuse last years soil as all the nutrients have been used out of it. Tomatoes are picky so watch them carefully, generally they like it not to hot not to cold. So we do morning sun or our shaded west facing patio.
6. Central Oregon soil must be amended. Our soil is very sandy and doesn’t hold nutrients well, it also doesn’t hold water well. Planting directly into our soil with veggies is near impossible, I’ve yet to successfully do it. I’m sure some gardeners can do it, I’ve never been so lucky. My recommendation is to build a planter bed, buy a planter bed or use pots. We have a small 5x3 raised planter-bed and use pots. My husband built it out of old deck wood and put it high enough to make it easy for the kids. I like pots because they are easy to care for, easy to rotate and easy to move in on cold nights. In our bed we use fresh potting soil, compost and organic fertilizers.
7. Water daily. This is a great way for the kids to be involved on a daily basis. We let our kids, even the 1 year old water the veggies. Yes, my deck, the dogs, the rocks, and the house siding also get watered but my kids feel so much fulfillment out of watering the veggies. It keeps vegetables on the brain!
8. Keep a plant journal together. My homeschool son uses the plants as a weekly journal activity. He measures them and draws them. Its simple, but he recognizes his hard work when he has to journal it. Keeping a plant journal is also a great idea for you, to track what works and what doesn’t. Save the plant tags (That we all throw away instantly) so you can reflect at the end of the season as to what worked and what didn’t.
9. Plan your vegetables in stages. Some plants like tomatoes grow all season long. But lettuce varieties, peas and green beans do not. So we plant our spinach in two week increments so it grows at various times. This means we won’t have too much spinach at once before it bolts. Peas grow early and won’t come back after they bolt. So they are our early summer plant. We also like the later summer varieties like squash, pumpkins, carrots and potatoes. Keeps the kids engaged all season long.
10. Here is a chart of our favorites that grow well in Central Oregon.