Get Your Pots Out!

Reader Contribution by Susan Slape-Hoysagk

“Rain in the spring is as precious as oil” ~ old Chinese proverb

I doubt if this old Chinese proverb would have many fans here in my hometown this spring. Admittedly, Oregonians love to complain about the rain almost as much as they love coffee and/or micro-brewed beer. We oft lament the lack of the weather forecasters’ ability to accurately predict the outdoor happenings; or even come close. The weather apps (yes, multiple) disagree with each other, and to make me even more irritable, change in the blink of an eye. I quit checking them; easier to just look outside and have great flexibility in the plan for the day.

Well, this year’s rain went above and beyond the average rainfall by breaking a 96-year-old record.  Most thought we were just being exceptionally winter grumpy, even for us Astorians. As we hit day 167 of straight “measurable” rain – all felt vindicated – but still very grumpy. Meanwhile, Portlanders are having the same gripe, yet two hours away over the coast range our rainy season rainfall is nearly double their 46.65 inches in the same period of time. We kind of don’t feel sorry for them.

I had a new wetlands that not so magically appeared in my lower backyard during all this record breaking stuff. I would not have been surprised to see a flotilla of water birds hanging out down there in the swamp. Soggy clay soil often keeps us at bay in the winter, but a full-on marsh? How does one work around that?

Here I am chomping at the bit waiting for the ground to get workable so I can do some outdoor housekeeping, mark some plots, and do a little digging and weeding. I need to get my garden seeded! But oh no, not in the cards. What can make the winter rains pale in comparison? Stepping off a curb in nursing clogs and right foot buckles under me. SPLAT! Spread-eagle onto the pavement I go. Skinned myself up royally like I used to as a kid. So stunned I didn’t even have time to feel embarrassed. Gathered myself up and tried to shake it off but that darn foot was really paining me. Long story, short – you probably guessed it – broke the dang thing. Dreams of vegetable seeds and plants swirled down the drain as the very clear x-ray showed the fruits of my gracefulness.

Not to be daunted, I was determined to find a way around my water-logged soil and broken foot. Containers! Although my immediate issues are temporary, for many it is daily life. There are over 54 million Americans living with some type of disability making activities such as gardening difficult, or thought to be impossible. Growing your own food, herbs, and flowers is a way of reconnecting with the world while nourishing our bodies, minds, and souls. I am here to tell you – regardless of disability, gardening is for everyone. It is all a matter of making adjustments. Garden therapy! Containers! Yes! I am excited! Let’s get to it! Okay, I will park the exclamation points (for now).

Instead of getting overwhelmed with all the things that you can’t do – try to focus on things you can do and start small. Breaking an activity down into smaller, more manageable parts is an easy way to begin.

I will use the example of planting a pot of herbs. Choose herbs you like to use in cooking or flavoring your foods. Most starts grow very well in a sunny window (as long as you don’t have my cat noshing on them) and if desired, can be transplanted outside later. You can keep them in the house but they usually do better once outside if you aim to harvest frequently – these sun lovers want at least six hours of it a day.

You will need a pot with a hole for drainage, organic potting soil or seed starting mix, a coaster to keep the pot from ruining the sill, a small tub or similar to work in, and of course, your seeds.  You can recycle yogurt containers for a pot; just put some holes in the bottom and use the lid for a coaster. Gather supplies and put them where you will be working – you can do this at the kitchen table if you want. Rest. Have a snack. Pet that naughty cat.

I have one of those stunning mauve plastic hospital basins I use. You can use anything similar such as an aluminum pan or plastic tub from the dollar store. Working in one helps with damage and mess control. Start by moistening some soil and putting it in your pot. Rest again if needed. Rescue the packet of seeds from the cat and plant the seeds following the planting guide. Water well, yet gently, or you will flood your soil and seeds will spill over the pot’s rim. Place on your pot coaster in the window; take another break. Give the cat some catnip. (You can grow catnip indoors as well but I would strongly suggest keeping it in a locked, cat-free room. Trust me. I speak from experience with a huge mess and a very loaded cat.) Clean-up. Done!

Have a patio, deck, or similar? Many vegetables are adaptable to container life and vertical-growing. Cucumbers, peas, beans, squash, melons, and even small pumpkins can be trained up a trellis. Carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale, green onions, bush varieties of beans and peas, and tomatoes all can be grown in containers. Just make sure to choose the non-bush types for the vertical veggies, otherwise you might find yourself a tad frustrated and disappointed in the resulting height impaired crop.

Certain smaller varieties of berries are likewise suitable for containers. I have a “Top Hat” blueberry in a pot on my patio. This very pretty dwarf variety grows up to two feet high, is self-pollinating, and produces tasty treats in August. How about some day-neutral strawberries in a hanging basket? Or, newer thornless dwarfs such as raspberry “Shortcake®” and blackberry “Baby Cakes®.”

Companion planting is very doable in larger pots and you can and should include flowers! Stick some beautiful French marigolds (Tagetes patula) in with your tomatoes and peppers to deter root knot nematode invasions. I love sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritime) and its subtle, sweet scent and so do hoverflies (Allograpta oblique)! And what do hoverflies also love? The flowers of cilantro, fennel, garlic chives, oregano AND aphids, scale insects, caterpillars, and thrips! As an added bonus hoverflies are great pollinators. Not sure what a hoverfly looks like? They are those flies that look like wasps (smart group to identify with when you want predators to leave you alone). Except that hoverflies don’t have stingers, have fly heads, and only two wings compared to the wasps’ four.

Mother Earth News has a great companion planting chart here. The point is, you don’t need to do it all in one sitting and there is something extremely satisfying about growing, harvesting, and eating your own fresh organic food. Containers or raised beds make access and care easier. What edibles have you grown in containers?

Happy gardening! ~SSH

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