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Oregon’s free online vegetable gardening course draws in thousands following stay-home orders

As of April 1, more than 17,000 people had registered for the introductory course, according to OSU Extension, which waived the $45 fee through the end of April.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The coronavirus crisis has increased interest in individuals wanting to grow their own food during stay-at-home orders, massive layoffs and community planting postponements. About 1,000 people a day are signing up for a free, online vegetable gardening course offered by Oregon State University Extension Service.

As of April 1, more than 17,656 people had registered for the introductory course, according to OSU Extension, which waived the $45 fee through the end of April.

The course offers information that can be accessed anytime online on how to plan a garden, prepare the soil, care for plants and harvest.

People are also being encouraged to donate surplus produce to local food agencies through the Plant a Row for the Hungry effort.

The 24-page, downloadable Growing Your Own publication used in the course was written by OSU Extension horticulture professor Gail Langellotto, who is also the statewide coordinator of the Master Gardener program, which trains volunteers to teach others about the science and art of gardening.

Many of the Master Gardener program’s public activities have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, OSU Extension Master Gardeners supported 23 school gardens and 46 community gardens, and donated 52.5 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks and food pantries.

One of the biggest food providers, Grow an Extra Row Garden, can’t grow on the Clackamas Community College campus this spring due to stay-home orders. The program was started in 2004 to produce fresh fruits and vegetables for those in need while teaching gardening skills.

Master Gardeners in Polk and Lincoln counties donated vegetable seedlings to food pantries when plant sales were canceled, said Langellotto.

Gail Langellotto offers these tips for growing vegetables:

Sun: Choose a garden that gets eight hours of sun, at least half of which is direct sun. Morning sun is best, as it will allow the soil to heat up earlier in the day, and hold heat throughout the day.

Drainage: Avoid siting your garden in low areas. Otherwise, water drainage and cold drainage will be an issue.

  • Interplanting: Plant sun-loving plants together with shade-tolerant plants. Tomato and basil can be planted together (later in the season, when the weather warms enough to plant tomatoes), because the tomato plants will provide shade for the basil. This can prevent the basil from bolting (setting seed) too early.
  • Succession planting: Plant light feeders after heavy feeders. Leeks are a good choice to plant in beds, after lettuce or broccoli. Leek is a  relatively light feeder that doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer and can do well in beds that had been previously planted with heavy feeders, such as lettuce or broccoli.
  • Weeding: Now is a great time to try the stale seedbeed method for weed control. When you have selected your site for planting, lightly cultivate (till) the soil, irrigate or let it rain, and then wait one to two weeks. Weed seed in the soil will germinate, so that you can control weeds before you plant your vegetables.
  • Problems: You can often distinguish whether a problem with your plants is caused by an abiotic issue, such as a nutrient imbalance, or by a biotic issue, such as a pest, by looking for the patten and spread of the problem. Does the problem seem to be uniformly affecting all of the plants in your garden? If so, the problem is more likely to be with your an abiotic issue, such as soil nutrients, than with a living pest. If the problem is only affecting certain plants in your garden, it might be a pest problem.

Other resourceful publications are Vegetable Gardening in Oregon and Vegetable Variety Trials 2017.

The vegetable gardening course, which has been offered online since 2008, is part of the OSU Master Gardeners Short Course Series offered through OSU’s Professional and Continuing Education unit.

--Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

jeastman@oregonian.com | @janeteastman

This article was originally published by the Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.