How Much Sun Do You Need?

I’ve known for some time that my vegetable garden boxes do not get as much sun as they should, especially for fruiting plants.

At minimum here are the sun requirements:

Fruiting Vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, vine crops) – 8 hours per day.

Root Vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.) – 6 hours per day.

Leafy Vegetables (lettuce, spinach and other greens) – 4 hours per day.

Depending on the time of year my beds are shaded in the morning by a fence and the neighbor’s very large apple tree. In the late afternoon and evening our house shades them as the sun drops.

In general Boxes A and D get 6+ hours per day. Box B gets maybe 5 hours and Box C gets a bit less than 5.

This means none of the beds get the 8 hours that tomatoes would do best in and Boxes B and C are more suitable for leafy vegetables and perhaps bean. Because I’ve rotated crops however I’ve used all of the boxes (except C) for tomatoes and peppers. Peppers never do well here and it is because of the lack of direct sunlight I am sure.

One of my gardening friends has his garden along a wire fence which never casts shade and a good 40 feet from the house. The entire bed gets 8-10+ hours of sun a day. His plants thrive and currently they are over twice the size of mine.

You can grow vegetables with less than optimum light but they will not do as well and I’ve struggled with that all along. I do not have the option of moving the garden now, so I have to make due. There is one possibility I suppose – I could remove most of the back lawn and convert it to veggies. That would provide at least 6 -7 hours of sun per day. I am not sure I want to do that however. Something to ponder for a future year.

Perhaps I’ve been too slow to fully realize this. I could remove the herb garden and use that space for tomatoes next year. I could move the herbs to one of the boxes that does not get quite so much light. That is something to consider.

I also should probably keep the tomatoes in Boxes A and D where the most light is and reserve Boxes B and C for greens.

Our weather has been very cool and that has been delightful to work in. This week however the heat is back. It was 84F today and should be in the mid to high 80s all week. That should give the plants a boost I hope.

The lesson here is to plan better. When I laid out the boxes many years ago I should have given more attention to sun exposure and designed things accordingly. Live and learn I guess.


Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Straw Mulch

Now that all my veggies are in (or most of them) I wanted to make sure and mulch them well this year to conserve moisture. I bought a bale of straw and used it around all the vegetable starts. I’ve already noticed that the plants are loving it. I will be testing for soil moisture tonight and then watering as needed.

I am not sure what kind of straw it is but I’ve inspected it and see no seeds which is good. I am told that best straw to get is wheat straw as it has the fewest seeds.

Weather here is perfect in the 70s F. I am still removing weeds and cleaning things up.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Planting Time

The last two days have been planting days! I know I am a bit late this spring. Partly we had some very wet weather earlier that made planting difficult or impossible. (Well I guess it is never impossible). Partly I got busy with other things.

I usually get the main veggies in by late April or early May and the tomatoes in by Mother’s Day. This year the tomatoes went in on 5/19 and the rest today (5/20).

Because I am late with things they are all starts, no seeds as yet. Not sure if I will put any seeds in, perhaps for some spinach. The starts are more expensive but give one a bit of a head start. That is unless the cut worms get them. I am holding my breath.

Here is what went in the past two days:

Dill (one plant)
Blue Lake bush beans x2
Cauliflower x6
Sweet Bell Pepper – yes I am trying yet again – just one plant
Brussels Sprouts – my first try on these; 6 plants
Broccoli x 6
Beefsteak tomato – country taste
Tomato: Standard Champion
Brandywine beefsteak tomato
Yellow cherry tomato
Roma paste tomato
Juliet cherry tomato

All the starts are small this year so it may take some time to catch up. We are getting afternoon sun the past few days but cloudy morning. The tomatoes and the pepper will need much more sun to do well. I am not wishing too loud for sun as yet – the heat will set in soon enough. Right now the highs are in the high 60s F. and low 70s F though there are some forecast for a few days at 80 F. soon.

It is so fun to play in the dirty again, planting and fertilizing and watering in. I love this time of year for that.

I plan to intersperse some flowers in the next week or two to help draw pollinators.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Fighting Weeds

Fighting weeds and wild onions

This weekend was spent, in part, fighting weeds. A number of weeds including the dreaded wild onion have popped up in the front beds. Last year I thought I’d made some headway by digging up many onions and removing them. However they have a very persistent survival technique. When you remove the bulb it leaves many tiny mini-bulbs behind, each of which turns into a new onion plant. Where there were three there are now a dozen.

This year’s strategy is to smother them. I wacked them off with the weed eater and covered them with many layers of newspaper. I covered that with some excellent organic compost. My fingers are crossed and I am hoping that they will not find a way through the paper and will be smothered and die. At the same time I smothered many other weeds that were growing up with the onions. Will let you know later how this works. The nice thing is that it does not require any poison. It is a totally organic approach.

Getting the garden boxes ready

I pulled up the remaining cover crop of red clover from the vegetable garden boxes today as well. I added a bit of sand and some more organic compost. There is rain forecast for the next week. I am hoping that by next weekend I can rake it all out well and start planting!

I failed to take photos today so you will have to use your mind’s eye to imagine weedy beds now all covered with rich black compost. It looks great.

We had showers throughout the day. I worked mostly in between them but for much of the compost hauling and spreading I had to work with the rain. Thankfully I did not melt.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Spring Chores

Spring weather has finally sprung upon us in the Willamette Valley. After weeks of cold and rain the sun is out. Today it will rise into the mid-60s F. and by Thursday it is predicted to hit the 80s F.

I spent a fair amount of time this weekend pulling the ten billion weeds that have thrived from all that rain, my inattention and now sun. My main compost bin is almost full of some old raked up maple leaves and about five wheel barrows of green weeds. I layered all that in hopes of some fine compost.

Cover Crop

I planted red clover in all the vegetable garden boxes last fall and it grew well. I am now removing it to the composts bin to get the beds ready to plant. I was going to put peas in earlier but the steady down pours discouraged that. They may well have grown but standing in a down pour planting peas in the muddy soil seemed undesirable to me for some reason. The photos on this page show the boxes with some of the clover removed and some yet to be pulled out.

I have some compost and a bit of sand to amend the boxes next weekend. Then they will be ready to plant.

Wild Onions

I continue to lose the war with the wild onions in the flower beds. Last year I removed so many of them by digging them out that I thought perhaps I’d made some head way. They’ve come back with a vengeance this spring. My strategy this year, at least for many of them, will be to whack them off with the weed eater, cover them with newspaper and then compost in hopes of smothering them. We shall see how that goes.

When to Plant

Every spring I go back and forth as to when it is best to plant what. I have learned that the calendar is near useless. It is the weather and the weather alone that determines when to plant. If warm weather is here to stay awhile, and I suspect it is, then planting will come soon. I will leave tomatoes to later, probably in mid-May to put in. I hope to have a good crop of veggies this year.

If you a gardener I wish you the best this spring in weeding and planting. The cycle continues.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Low Maintenance Gardening

No, I do not really have a low maintenance garden, though I do try to reduce maintenance in certain areas. It is possible however to design a relatively low maintenance garden.

Here are few ideas I have used:

  • Cover unplanted areas with bark dust or compost – it will reduce weed growth.
  • Use plants that do not require much watering or much pruning.
  • Consider native plants which often grow with no maintenance at all.
  • Plant in areas of your garden where conditions are best for your plants. Keep in mind needs for moisture and sunlight.
  • Plant perennials liberally. Most of them will last a long time.
  • Avoid plants that by their nature require frequent maintenance. You can look plants up on the internet before you consider getting them to find out what their maintenance needs are.

Of course, sometimes you will really want a plant because of how it looks or what it provides in fruit and the maintenance will be worth it. It is a trade-off you must plan on in advance.

No garden can be maintenance free unless you cover it all in concrete and plant it green. (not recommended).

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


This year I shall plant some peas. I do not plant them every year but decided this year I would do so. In preparation I did some research on the internet to learn more about peas and growing them.

It is recommended to sow them in the ground about 4-6 weeks before the last frost. I am a little late by that measure but it should be fine. I was always taught to plant the first ones around Valentine’s Day but it really depend on the weather.

I’ve also read the St. Patrick’s day is a good planting time, but again it depends on the frost schedule in your area.

Generally you plant the seeds one inch deep and about one inch apart. The soil temperature should be at least 45F. If you want to start earlier you can start them in a greenhouse or cold frame. See the video below for more on that.

Peas are sensitive to too much nitrogen so you do not want to fertilize heavily. Adding a bit of bone meal is recommended for the phosphorous content.

Peas are a legume and as such they will fix nitrogen in the soil which can help other plants. I’ve read that this may not be as helpful as once thought but it cannot hurt.

A few other tips for peas:

  1. Do not hoe around them as it can disturb their delicate root systems.
  2. Keep the area well cleared of weeds by pulling them out.
  3. Rotate peas each year to reduce soil-borne disease.
  4. Keep the soil moist but be careful not to over-water; they will rot in ground that is too wet.
  5. Keep the pods well picked as this will encourage the development of new ones.
  6. Recommended varieties include Snowbird Snow peas which are resistant to fusarium wilt; Sugar Ann snap peas which have a short vine and Green Arrow garden peas for a mid-season variety that gives high yields and is resistant to wilt.
  7. Peas do best with at least 6 hours of sun per day but will tolerate some shade. They are a cool weather crop and do not do well in the heat.

Sowing “early” peas is recommended because they tend to be hardiest.

The video below shows a clever way to use house gutter to start and plant peas early. Happy pea planting!

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy