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Gardening Column

This was an interesting year to tend a garden.

Many people had more time to garden with COVID limitations on work and/or restrictions on normal social activities. At our office, the demand for gardening information increased significantly. Vegetable seed sold out at most of the local stores and even ordering online was more challenging. Transplants also were in short supply. But a lot of gardens were prepped and planted early.

Cool season crops started early like lettuce, cabbages, onions, beets, carrots and the like did well even when it turned quite cool and damp in May through early June. However, our heat-loving vegetables like corn, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and squash were slowed. It made no sense to plant tomatoes or peppers in those temperatures unless you had a way of keeping them warmer.

Gardeners discovered that modern corn varieties do not emerge well in cool soil conditions, especially left over seed from last year. Some corn had to be replanted when the weather warmed.

People also discovered that transplants of squash (summer and winter varieties), beans, and even corn did fairly well in that cool cycle. The virtue of transplants ready to put into the garden in late April and early May is that you can take advantage of the long days of spring. The more sun vegetables get, the faster they grow. It is a virtuous circle since, as plants grow bigger, they have more leaves to capture more sunlight to make even more leaves (and deeper roots).

The advantage of having your own greenhouse or even a modest 4 x 8 foot cold frame is that you can grow your own transplants and take advantage of even a cool, wet spring.

Once we really hit summer, we had excellent growing weather for all our crops. Tomatoes were a little more prone to blossom end rot (that disorder on the bottom of the tomato) but crops were heavy. Peppers absolutely thrived.

I felt that, in general, there were fewer cabbage butterflies this summer (the white one that produces the green caterpillars in your kale and broccoli) and maybe a few more aphids. Slugs, once it got hot, disappeared except in dense foliage plants like lettuce and the cabbage family that are generally heavily watered. It is worth noting that slugs are active and breeding now so some baiting is in order.

For berries and tree fruits, it was a good year. Some raspberries got sunburned if they matured during the hot periods. Blueberries did very well. We had bumper apple and pear crops. Good pollination weather in April helped. Since many apple varieties are “alternate” bearing, the crop will somewhat lower next year. Insect damage to apples was far less than normal. But that too will probably flip next year when they have fewer fruit to lay their eggs on.

Smoke from wildfires to the east of us did slow growth and maturity of some tomatoes, squash and tree fruit. That was most likely due to the reduced sunlight.

Finally, the tomato season ended with rains which enabled late blight to flourish and slightly earlier than normal hard frost. Now it is time to lime the garden if you till it in the fall and put the garden to bed with a nice leaf cover whether you till or not if you have the leaves. If you haven’t planted garlic, there is still time.

Winter weed control

The next several months offer some good opportunities for controlling some pesky weeds. The Little Bitter Cress (small green plant with white flowers and seeds that “pop”) that everyone will be cursing next spring has started to germinate. So have several other winter annuals. If you don’t use sprays, cover the beds with mulch to smother the germinating seedlings and stop others from starting.

Quackgrass is a difficult to control perennial grass. But it is green all winter and has to have sun to survive. In vegetable beds that won’t have a crop until spring, cover those beds with a tarp, landscape fabric, or black plastic to keep the grass in the dark. It will be dead by spring (except where it escapes along the tarp edges).

Have questions?

If you have questions on any of these topics or other home garden and/or farm questions, please contact Chip Bubl, Oregon State University Extension office in St. Helens at 503- 397-3462 or at

Pressure gauge testing

Free from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Oct. 28 at the Extension office in St. Helens. Contact by phone (leave a message for Jenny Rudolph) 503-397-3462 or by email at

COVID restrictions are still in place at our office located at 505 N. Columbia River Highway, St. Helens, Or 97051.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) writ-ten/edited by yours truly. 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 and click on newsletters.

Many Extension publications available online

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to Click on publications and start exploring.

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

Contact information 

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County


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