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Lots of communities have restrictions on what homeowners can do. Our rural neighborhood bans poultry. In the town where I grew up, you can’t park an RV in your driveway. One homeowners’ association in nearby Bend, OR bars residents from hanging laundry to dry outdoors.
But Orlando’s law against having a sustainable vegetable garden in your front yard, reported in this interesting story in the New York Times, is the epitome of stupidity!


You don’t have to live in the High Desert to know that conserving water is a good thing, but it is especially important in this arid climate. I was glad to see recently crews working on replacing some street median plantings in Bend OR with native plants and rock mulch. At my own place I continue to work on crafting an attractive landscape with native and other drought-tolerant plants, and I see more and more homeowners adopting the principles of xeriscaping too.
If you have a good-looking landscape that uses drip irrigation, or native/drought-tolerant plantings, or greatly limits turfgrass, enter this photo contest. You could inspire others to do likewise.

More evidence of Oregon’s green ways: The state Department of Transportation, Portland General Electric, and the Oregon State University Master Gardeners have collaborated on a solar highway project that features a huge solar array bordered by a community garden of waterwise plants.

I’ve discovered a new labor-saving gardening tool. And it’s stored in the cloud, not in your garage.

garden plan on

Here’s an example: A portion of my own garden plan on

Here’s a shot of a portion of my plan for this year for my expanded garden, now 32 by 84 feet. Although the price to buy this tool is only $25, you can also get a free trial for 30 days, plenty of time to create a garden plan. When you select a variety of vegetable to plant and draw it like a text box on your plan, the software automatically calculates for you how many plants will fit in the space. So your plan also does the spacing for you. It’s pretty slick.

It’s one of the hundreds of things I have learned about from the Oregon State University Extension Service and our fantastic horticulture professor in Central Oregon, Amy Jo Detweiler.

A year ago I wrote about discovering an organic version of Preen weed preventer that I was going to try in my vegetable garden. It utilizes corn gluten to prevent weeds. I applied it last July, and it did do a pretty good job of preventing new weeds among my lettuce, beans and peas, so I was happy. Until this spring, when in a OSU Master Gardeners ™ advanced training class I learned about some recent research on the effectiveness of corn gluten. We master gardeners are all about science and what is proven to work. As professor Linda Chalker of Washington State University explains in this cogent summary, researchers found corn gluten can be effective against new weeds in controlled conditions, but it is no more effective than good mulching, which is a LOT cheaper. And corn gluten isn’t very effective in the Western US if applied in the spring when conditions are moist. A five-pound container of organic Preen costs $15 at Home Depot. If you have materials like grass clippings, sawdust, or bark on hand, you can gain as much benefit by mulching well with those.

Just back from Chicago after spending Mother’s Day with my mother. It was a beautiful time to visit at the Morton Arboretum. Flowering trees, shrubs, daffodils and tulips all in bloom. After the very cold spring here in Central Oregon — the coldest April in about 30 years — this was especially delightful.
Now finally it is warming up. Time to get my own garden ready.

Redbud trees in bloom, Morton Arboretum

Redbud trees are in bloom in the background, with daffodils and jonquils filling the meadow in foreground. Photo by Ed Hedborn, thanks to Go to their site to see more.

I had 15 yards of garden soil (2/3 sandy loam, 1/3 organic mushroom compost) delivered a couple of weeks ago for my planned vegetable garden expansion to create a second 20 x 20 raised plot. I’ve rented a tractor, and this weekend my friend David who knows how to drive one (he grew up in Texas, which explains a few other things about him as well, like his love of country music) is coming over to place boulders to form my plot, and fill it with the garden soil.
Meanwhile, in my original plot, this week I’m planting my cold-tolerant seeds and starts: lettuces, spinach, carrots, radishes, asparagus crowns, seed potatoes, beets, chard, and several kinds of peas.
When the soil in the new plot is warm enough (I’m investing in a soil thermometer), the more tender veggies will go there: tomatoes, eggplant, squash, beans, corn, peppers and more.

Disturbing news today that genetically modified alfalfa has been approved. If you are a horse owner (like me) then of course you care if you feed alfalfa. But if you’re an urban dweller, you should care because of biotech contamination. What’s that? It is what happens in farm fields every day. Fields of crops attract pollinators and birds, who range widely, spreading seeds from one place to another, just as the wind does. Therefore, if a field of organic corn, for example, is near a field of genetically modified corn, wind, pollinators and birds can contaminate the organic field with seeds of modified corn. And what if that modified alfalfa might be growing near a wheat field that’s a source for flour you use in cooking? Read more about it.

Oregon State University’s extension service, like all aspects of state government, is facing budget cuts and looking at ways to reduce expenses, including layoffs. I want efficient government as much as the next person, but cutting back a free service on which so many farmers, ranchers, growers, 4-H kids and ordinary backyard gardeners rely would be a mistake. The extension service promotes sustainability across many dimensions: conserving water, building soil health, promoting integrated pest management and reducing use of pesticides,  supporting the local food movement, and distributing research-based, scientifically proven information about how to grow crops and gardens and raise animals in ways that are good for the planet. AND IT’S ALL FREE!

The university (and state government generally) should be focused on streamlining its layers of management and bloated bureaucracy, not reducing services rendered directly to taxpayers.

This article on addresses the impact here in the High Desert.

Preen Organic Vegetable Garden Weed PreventerBecause I want pure food, and I love my pets and wildlife that roam my property, I prefer to garden without chemicals. Vegetable garden always is strictly organic. I use organic methods on as much of the rest of my 5 acres as I can manage too. But all the hand weeding that entails is a lot of work!

Recently I discovered that Preen makes an organic version that utilizes corn gluten. If this really does work for four to six weeks as the label claims, I will be thrilled. Put it down yesterday in vegetable garden. We’ll see what happens.

Cover of "Xeriscaping in the High Desert"

"Xeriscaping in the High Desert" is available free from the OSU Extension Service

Flowers and color are two of the things I enjoy most in life. But that doesn’t mean I want a showy garden of bright blooms.

Why not?

Because we live in the High Desert and I believe we should respect that environment, work with it, and celebrate the plants that are well adapted to it — not try to make the desert into something it’s not. I loved my rhodies and tended them lovingly when I lived in Seattle. But I would never plant rhododendrons here because they don’t belong here. Yes, with enough shade and water they will survive. But they don’t look right because they aren’t right.

I hate the fact that so many landscapes in Central Oregon look as if they could be in the Midwest, or New England, or the Willamette Valley. Wake up, gardeners! An English country garden belongs in England. Lush greenery is naturally beautiful on the wet west side of the Cascades. It doesn’t belong here.

There’s a lot of color and seasonal interest to be found in low-water-use plants that are native to this area, or to similar high mountain dry environments like Idaho, Colorado and Utah. If you doubt it, read Amy Jo Detweiler’s fantastic well-illustrated publication “Xeriscaping in the High Desert,” published by OSU. It’s free at the Deschutes County Extension office at the fairgrounds, or at the farmer’s markets in Bend on Wednesdays and Prineville on Saturdays. Just look for the OSU Master Gardeners table and ask for one.

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