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If You're New Here: Gardening in the High Desert

For those coming from warmer climates, growing food or flowers can be daunting—but doable

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If you're one of the transplants who've recently moved here from Seattle or Portland or the Bay Area (as we know a lot of you are), you might fancy yourself a fine gardener, imbued with the natural ability to coax flowers and food from the ground just by tossing out a few seeds or starts. Growing in those lower, wetter, warmer areas is bound to make you feel like an instant expert—until you meet the challenges of the high desert. With a higher, drier and cooler climate than you might be used to, there are plenty of things to learn. For those just getting started, a few resources will expand your knowledge and network.

Building a cloche—like one that can go over the frame seen here at left—can help keep sensitive plants, like tomatoes, warmer during Central Oregon's short growing season. - NICOLE VULCAN
  • Nicole Vulcan
  • Building a cloche—like one that can go over the frame seen here at left—can help keep sensitive plants, like tomatoes, warmer during Central Oregon's short growing season.

-Oregon State University Extension Service in Deschutes County has a host of resources designed to help people grow and preserve food, including its "Growing Vegetables in Central Oregon" video class, a one-hour tutorial. There's also a 24-page downloadable PDF by the same name, covering climate and how it relates to gardening, choosing a good site, how to mulch and irrigate and much more. Volunteers from the OSU Master Gardener program are available from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday and can be reached by calling the Deschutes County Extension Service office at 541-548-6088. People in Crook County can call Crook County Extension Wednesdays from 1-5 pm at 541-447-6228.

English and Spanish versions of Growing Vegetables in Central Oregon are available at: catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9128

-Oregon State University also offers a number of online courses centered around permaculture.

According to a definition by the Permaculture Research Institute, "Permaculture (the word, coined by Bill Mollison, is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems."

OSU's Permaculture Food Forests 101 course, taught by permaculture expert (and, full disclosure, my friend) Marisha Auerbach, is available as an instructor-led course or as a self-paced course. Take the self-directed portion, and then opt to continue on with the five-week instructor-led portion to design a food forest on your site.

Other courses available at varying times throughout the year include Advanced Permaculture Design for Climate Resilience, which starts May 3, and Permaculture: Rainwater Harvesting Online Course that starts June 3. OSU also offers a 10-week Permaculture Design Certificate online that surveys permaculture design systems.

NICOLE VULCAN
  • Nicole Vulcan

-The Central Oregon Gardeners Facebook group is among the most useful ongoing resources to get advice, support and even goodies that can help one start or maintain a garden. As its About page describes, it's a "place for Central Oregonians (and other areas now!) to talk and learn about gardening in the high desert—the struggles that can go along with that."

Have a bug you can't identify? Want to know why your plant is struggling? Want to swap seeds or plants? Chances are someone in the group, about 6,400 members strong as of this writing, will be there to assist. Find it at facebook.com/groups/feedthesoil.

-For those graduating from being a backyard gardener to a farmer or food producer, the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance is the place to find resources specific to this region. Find the organization at hdffa.org.

-Also check out this week's Outside story, "Secret Garden," which outlines a few hidden treasures in local gardens, and discusses the resources available at The Environmental Center in downtown Bend.

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. (Blame her for everything since then.) Favorite car: A Trek commuter bike. Favorite cat: An adopted dog who looks like a Jedi master. Favorite things, besides responding to your comments: Downton Abbey re-runs, Aretha Franklin albums, and pink wine.

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