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Oregon State's Chip Bubl gives gardening tips for Columbia County residents, with or without a green thumb.

FILE - Chip BublWe are getting impatient — very impatient.

February and March were way too cold and wet. This left us with soggy soils.

You don't want to work up soils too early. There is a very simple test to tell if your soil is ready to till.

Dig up a shovel full, grab several handfuls from different depths, and squeeze each handful into a ball. Then take your thumb and try to break the handful apart. If you can't, your soil is too wet.

Patience is a virtue. If it crumbles, you are good to go. Our clay-rich soils don't dry as quickly as we may like. But if you roto-till wet soils, you will create clods that harden into brick-like creations. This is not good.

Despite the rain of the last month, after a stretch of nice weather, many soils may be ready for their first tilling.

Nitrogen and organic matter in gardens

Organic matter is a valuable addition to all gardens. It improves soil textures and adds nutrient holding capacity to the soil. The stimulation of biological life as the material breaks down can reduce disease problems.

However, adding organic matter can tie up nitrogen for a period of time. This can hurt plant growth, especially annual flowers and vegetables. The degree of tie-up relates to the relative amounts of humus and un-decomposed residues in the material. If the material has completely composted, there is almost no tie-up. If the material is mostly "raw," the tie-up can be substantial.

The way around the problem is to add extra nitrogen to feed the decomposer organisms. We have a great publication called "Fertilizing Home Gardens" available free from our office or on the web at catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1503. There is a huge amount of information packed into a few pages.

Other garden topics

Don't plant more garden than you can take care of. A 1,000-square-foot garden after initial tillage and planting will require at least two hours of care of each week.

Early weeding is especially important. This does not count harvesting and replanting. Start small and grow as your skills grow.

Chard is a beautiful and very productive garden vegetable. The "Rainbow" chard seed mix will give you stems of yellow, orange, red, and green to complement the deep green of the foliage. Chard is very tasty as well.

Leaf miners are chard's worst enemy. Manage with row covers to exclude the insect or the organic insecticide "spinosad" (read and follow all label instructions of any pesticide). One trade name is Captain Jack's Dead Bug Brew. There are others. Read the label for active ingredients in the mix.

Tomato and pepper seeds can still be started indoors for transplanting 6-8 weeks later. Sadly, the Spring Fair where our MGs sell over 5,000 tomatoes and other garden items is canceled due to COVID for one more (we hope, no more, year)

Paint the trunks of young trees with white latex paint to protect them from sunburn in the summer and freeze injury in the winter. Both problems often show up on the southwest side of the trees but paint the whole trunk.

Keep vegetation mowed tight around new trees to reduce the damage from field mice (more properly called "voles"). Vole numbers have been very high throughout the Willamette Valley and Columbia County the last 5-6 years. Your cat can only eat so many.

Slugs will be showing up in droves soon. (FYI: a group of snails is called a "rout," but there is nothing for slugs, yet. Here is your chance. Name suggestions welcome. The obvious is a "slime" of slugs, but there have to be others.) Treat the emerging slugs with baits or a steely eye and a hoe. Iron phosphate baits like Sluggo and others are safest around pets.

Keep the hummingbird feeders full.

Enjoy the visual, aural and olfactory anarchy of spring.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called "County Living"). All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call 503-397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at extension.oregonstate.edu/columbia/ and click on newsletters. You can call the office and leave a message if you have gardening questions, or email me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Chip Bubl is the Oregon State University Extension Service's agent for Columbia County.


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