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Two online gardening classes are available now through OSU Master Gardeners

COURTESY PHOTO: OSU MASTER GARDENERS - It's time to get your hands dirty and make your garden happy with new gardening tips, classes  and information from OSU Master Gardeners.The response to the coronavirus pandemic has claimed another victim — the OSU Master Gardener™ Spring Fair/Tomato Sale is canceled for 2020

I know many of you will be disappointed. But we promise to come roaring back next year with the best Spring Fair ever!

Grow a Tomato … Give a Tomato!

The Grow a Tomato … Give a Tomato! Event is being hosted by the Columbia-Pacific Food Bank. Would you like to grow tomatoes for your community and your family? Reserve a spot to pick up a free plant beginning Thursday, April 30, then grow vegetables, feed your family and donate a portion back to the local food bank! Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to reserve plants or arrange to drop off donations. Post your photos of veggies you are growing using hashtag #growatomatocc.

Online classes

There are also two online gardening classes available now:

• Free online OSU vegetable gardening class: https://workspace.oregonstate.edu/course/master-gardener-series-vegetable-gardening

• Free online beginning OSU/Food Bank vegetable gardening class ("Seed to Supper": https://www.oregonfoodbank.org/our-work/programs/education/gardening/

Growing vegetables in containers

Peppers like warm roots. Given happy roots and otherwise normal care, they produce abundantly. So do eggplants and tomatoes. One way to improve root temperatures is to plant these vegetables in containers.

The planted containers should be placed where they get a decent amount of sun. Eight hours or more is best. Make sure it is easy to water them since containers may dry out more quickly than garden planted vegetables.

Another advantage is that if you have limited space in which to garden, putting these plants on patios or decks can add quite a bit to your total home vegetable production. We have a lot of people in South County who live in floating homes. Those are perfect for container gardening. Some intrepid aquatic gardeners create holes in their pots that allow their plants' roots to be watered naturally in Multnomah Channel.

Besides tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, you can grow lettuce and other greens (they like wider but shallower pots), radishes, carrots, cilantro and basil, potatoes and many other vegetables. Pole beans grow well if you build a trellis. So do cucumbers and snap peas which need a smaller trellis. Even a zucchini will perform well in a large container.

One other value of containers is that you can put them where deer can't destroy your vegetables. They can't fly to above-ground decks. I have heard of deer swimming in the Multnomah Channel, but not getting on floating decks to eat plants — but I wouldn't put it past them.

There are drawbacks, though, to containers. First, they need more attentive watering as noted above. And on very hot afternoons, it may be wise to pull them back into shade around 3 p.m. to reduce the risk of sunburn.

Second, some plants need to be staked and tied (peppers) or trained in a structure (tomatoes). Staking isn't too hard in containers, but getting or building a stable and large enough tomato cage that won't topple over in a container is a challenge.

Third, soil straight from your garden doesn't work well in containers, at least as the only material in pots. Clay-rich soil has very small pore spaces so it drains slowly — that can lead to waterlogged roots that lack oxygen and show poor growth. Most university publications advise against using garden soil.

But it is expensive to buy potting mix for containers. There is a minority opinion that says it is possible to mix good garden loam (with moderate to low clay) with other materials for vegetable containers. I have seen it done with good results. The containers are heavier (so they are less likely to blow over) and seem to be able to go between watering slightly longer. But I need to repeat, don't use heavy clay soils either alone or in the mix or it will get waterlogged.

Here are several soil mix recipes for containers that use garden soil. One calls for equal parts by volume of garden loam (your best soil), good compost and perlite. Another uses equal parts of potting mix, good soil, compost and perlite. A final possible mix is equal parts peat moss or well-rotted compost, loamy garden soil and clean, coarse builder's sand. With any of these mixes, you can add lime at about one quarter cup per four gallons of mix. Slow release organic or conventional fertilizers can also be added or the plants can be watered about every four days with a liquid fertilizer (organic or conventional) at about one-half strength.

Fourth, container shape and size influence how much water a container will hold and its potential for waterlogging toward the bottom of the pot. Two containers of equal volume, one that is 6 inches tall and wide, and one that is 12 inches tall but narrow, drain differently. Both will have perched water at the same height from the bottom of the pot. But with the low, wide container, 2 inches of water on the bottom represents 33% of its volume, while the same two inches in the 12-inch container represents only about 16% of the volume. To prove this, take a six inch sponge and soak it, then first drain it on its side and measure the height that drains. Then soak again and drain it upright and it will drain to the same height. Anything we can do to reduce waterlogging will produce better plants.

Finally, if you use five-gallon buckets or other makeshift containers, drill holes in the bottom and about one half inch along the side from the bottom to ensure decent drainage. Tomatoes and peppers need large, deep containers (at least 12 inches high and five gallons or more in volume) while lettuce can be planted in lower, wider containers of six inches or so.

If you want some great practical gardening information, see Grow Your Own, an Oregon State University publication you can find online. For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-397-3462.


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