This is a story about how to get the most from your vegetable garden. It starts, not in the garden, but wherever it is you read about plants you want to grow. It especially begins when you study, very carefully, the seed packet. That's right, one of the most important tools to maximizing harvest is a tiny notation on the seed packet — days to harvest.
Sometimes that message can be a little cryptic. Salad greens: 30 days. Translation: The time from planting seed to harvesting greens is 30 days. Assuming you don't have unlimited space for your vegetables, that number will help you determine whether and when to plant, whether you are looking at a 115-day squash, a 90-day tomato or a 22-day radish.
If you are just starting out as a gardener, or the Rogue Valley climate is new to you, consider attending all or part of "Ready-Set-Go, A Day for Beginners," scheduled for March 13, 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point.
Master gardeners will teach classes in seed starting, vegetable gardening, soil and water, and annual and perennial gardening. The classes are geared toward beginners. Each class costs $5 or take all four for $15.
The Jackson County Master Gardener Association has accumulated a lot of knowledge about gardening in this region, making this day a bargain that may save you money, time and labor.
Call the Extension at 541-776-7371 for information.
You don't have to overthink those numbers. Instead, put your garden vegetables in three categories: early- or spring-season, warm-season and fall-season crops, says Drew Matthews, nursery sales associate at the Grange Co-op in Medford. Then, break those into two subcategories: short- and long-season crops. Short-season crops go from seed to harvest very quickly, like some radishes, salad greens and spinach.
"You can grow those and, when you are finished harvesting, your warm-season vegetables can fill in that spot," says Matthews. "For instance, I will plant radishes where I plan to put tomatoes."
Bush peas are an excellent choice for a future corn patch. "Peas are legumes and will fix nitrogen," says Matthews. When it's time to plant corn (88 days give or take), cut the pea vines off at the ground, leaving the roots with their nodules full of nitrogen in the ground. The corn will flourish.
The sooner you plant cool-season crops, the more likely you will get them harvested before June's 100-degree days, he says.
With succession plantings of lettuce, you can eat from the garden even in hot weather when lettuce bolts quickly, says Jennifer Ewing, who is teaching about raised beds and succession gardening at North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland (see the March Garden Calendar for details). She says that knowing the days to harvest can also help determine when to plant a second crop of the same vegetable. That way, when you are eating from your short-season crop, you can have another planting maturing behind it.
"You can understand succession planting by reading the plant catalog and the seed packet," says Ewing, who suggests seeking catalogs with Northwest-specific varieties. "They will tell you all about the care. You don't even have to think."
Wait to plant your warm-season crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and the like) until Mother's Day to avoid the likelihood of frost damage. But don't wait too long. Long-season veggies such as winter squash could need more than 100 days to ripen. Matthews says they tend to "slow down" in the hottest part of August, so the earlier after Mother's Day, the better.
How much to plant? Divide space by personal preference, says Matthews. "What you will harvest and eat. Always experiment, but plant the old standbys that work in your garden and work for your family's table."
Don't expect to do everything perfectly, says Ewing. Every site is different, and every year is different.
"It takes planning, paying attention and understanding what you are growing," says Ewing. "Then you just experiment. That's what makes a gardener: always observing."