Weather Be Damned, Garden Festival Delivers Green Warmth

I’m itching to get out in my garden, but the chill wind and leftover snow disabuse me of that idea. So I do what tens of thousands of others do in February, head to the second largest indoor garden show in the country.

The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival is going on now at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. See my photos below from wandering the show yesterday.

If you’re coming today, stick around for my talk tonight at 7 p.m. I’ll try to fit your gardening to your lifestyle with “Make a Date With Your Garden.” The show continues through Sunday.

Arb garden
The Arboretum Foundation’s garden featured an Italian country house and a very prolific orange tree.
mideast
cover crop
Cover crop in a display garden, with a rain barrel. Build soil and save water!
Chinese dragaon
The Chinese dragon in this display garden was the show’s big hit.
chinese garden
greenhouse
al fresco
water
glamping
hobbit
pruning demo
Christina Pfeiffer does a pruning demo at the DIY stage.
wasabi
Raintree Nursery is selling a number of perennial vegetables, including wasabi.
Plant Amnesty
Plant Amnesty is in the non-profit exhibit area. Note their upcoming pruning day.
we need water
loop
King CD booth
Gwen talks to a visitor to the King Conservation District booth. Go to their website for information on free soil tests for county residents.
Douglas Fir
A quiz in the King Conservation District booth. OK, I’ll tell you: Douglas fir!
Ikebana
The annual Ikebana display always calms me down.
Gardeners Supply
Gardeners Supply Company brought their new Vertex Lifetime Tomato Cage to the show. Cool.
Diggit
Some of my favorite small tools are Diggit, made locally.
conifer soc
atrium garden
A cozy atrium garden, with the Pike Place Market visible down the street.
This is a great firepit, made by the folks at Ballard Reuse.

Sharp Idea: Clean Your Tools This Winter

Heather from a Southern California beach town contacted me recently about using sand for cleaning garden tools. She had come across my Seattle Times article on tool maintenance. This seemed like a good time to revisit this task, which I do every winter.

Hi Bill,

Someone from my local gardening group keeps her garden tools in a bucket of sand and swears by it. Then I posed the question if it has to be beach sand with salt and then refreshed once in a while and kept out of the rain or garden sand with no salt. She didn’t know either. And of course my google detective work isn’t panning out.

I look forward to your suggestions,

Heather

Hi Heather,

Cleaning garden tools in a bucket of sand is a great maintenance technique. I often just plunge them into the sand 4 or 5 times, then brush them off with a rag and store them in a rack or on a shelf. But you can keep them in the sand too.

tools in sand

I would not use sand that has salt in it – salt is corrosive to metals. Get a bag of play sand or construction sand (used to set patio pavers) from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Try to store the bucket of sand under cover, so it’s not too wet.

If you’re gardening near the beach in soil that has salty sand in it, I’d clean the tools promptly after gardening to get that salt off.

Some people mix a bit of oil into the sand (motor oil or vegetable oil) because oil on metal tools inhibits rust. But the oil is not strictly necessary.

If the tools already have rust or caked on stuff you can scrub that off with a wire brush or steel wool. A bit of oil while doing that helps too. You might want to wear gloves for that job.

Another great thing to do for your tools with wooden handles is to clean and smooth the wood with sandpaper once a year and rub in some linseed oil. That keeps the wood from cracking.

Final tip: sharpen digging tools like spades, shovels and trowels with a file (a “mill bastard” type, available at most hardware stores) in the winter. Then they’ll be all ready to use next season.

There, now you know more than you ever wanted to about garden tool maintenance.

Happy growing,
Bill

Autumn Garden Blazes

Autumn in my edible garden is a growing and even blooming season. With a backdrop of blazing fall tree color, cool season vegetables inch upwards like a roomful of nieces and nephews whose growth is notable at a holiday dinner visit.

If family visits our place for a winter feast, some of it will come from the leafy greens and brassicas that flourish in our mild fall maritime weather.

Here are scenes from my autumn garden, with a list of seed sources for these varieties at the end. Happy fall!

Fall peas

The fall crop of Sugar Snap peas is just starting to size up, their white flowers in contrast to the brilliant fall color of the Crape Myrtle tree.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Two Purple Sprouting broccoli plants are set along the edge of a bed, with a cherry tomato plant still trying to produce behind them.

Groninger Brussels sprouts

These Groninger Brussels Sprouts are sizing up nicely. A few more are sprinkled around the garden because, ooh la la, you can’t have too many of these mini winter cabbages!

Kale plus

Russian Red Kale will be very accessible from the front of this raised bed.

Filderkraut cabbage

This Filderkraut cabbage, planted in March, has lots of loose leaves around a surprisingly shaped head.

Cabbage 2

Once the outer leaves are stripped away, the cabbage is much smaller.

Cabbage 3

Connie shows off the gnome’s hat shape of the Filderkraut cabbage. Delightful to look at — and makes a great cole slaw!

Sunday harvest

Red Kuri squash, Jack Be Little Pumpkins, tomatillos and even a few ripening tomatoes in the harvesting hod.

Green Tomatoes

Jaune Flamme produced a crop of tomatoes that are still slowly ripening – maybe one per week. At this rate, a green tomato pie is in our near future.

Mr. Lincoln tomato

Mr. Lincoln was tall and slender, both the president and this plant. One more tomato turning, but still a few that will probably not make it. To honor one of our greatest presidents, we will have fried green tomatoes.

Castelfranco radicchio

Perhaps the most beautiful salad green in the garden, this Castelfranco radicchio is providing tender inner leaves on plants that hung tough during a hot summer. Some went to seed, and the pale blue flowers are floating nearby. Note the leaves of forgotten parsnips that are poking up around this crop.

Castelfranco radicchio

The beautiful flower and intricate seed head of Castelfranco radicchio.

Chard

Peppermint and Rhubarb chard keep on giving, and a row of Early Wonder Tall Top beets size up behind. The chard was planted in March and have provided many cuttings. Clearly there are more to come!

Chard in and out of cloche

Some overwintering chard will be covered by this plastic cloche, and we’ll see if it makes a difference in health compared to the rest of the chard behind it.

Tomatillos

Tomatillos ripen in front of a raised bed cold frame which holds tiny starts of winter “cut-and-come-again” salad greens.

Little Gem lettuce

Little Gem romaine lettuce is growing nicely under a plastic tunnel cloche with zippered windows. But what is the prolific brassica that has sprouted in its bed?

Spinach

Abundant Bloomsdale spinach is protected under the Triangle Tunnel.

Asters

A pot of fall asters brightens the walkway near my vegetable bed and provides pollinator delight.

Squash

Seed sources:

Groninger Brussels Sprouts

Fliderkraut Cabbage

Sugar Snap Peas

Red Kuri Squash

Jack Be Little Pumpkins

Little Gem Lettuce

Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach

Castelfranco Radicchio

Peppermint Chard

Early Wonder Tall Top Beets

Harvest Visit to UW Farm

Biking by the UW Farm on University of Washington’s east campus this week, I was drawn by a glorious field of colorful chard, so I decided to stop and take a little tour.

UW Farm is a teaching space, and it includes not only UW students but other programs, such as Seattle Youth Garden Works, a program for youth to learn entrepreneurial skills as well as the techniques of growing food.

Here are some harvest images of my visit to the farm.

field of chard

Bright Lights chard, in a glorious field.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes growing the Italian style, trained along a single cord coming from overhead. Productive!

Tomatoes pruned to two stems

The tomatoes are pruned to two main stems, which are then trained and tied (if necessary) to line that comes down from overhead. It’s a very efficient way to grow.

strawberrry tower

This strawberry tower is a great design — just needs a few more plants.

Garden Works tunnel

A high tunnel, with door decoration by Garden Works youth.

SYGW mural

Seattle Youth Garden Works created a wonderful mural on the end of this high tunnel hoop house. I was tempted to pull down the weeds in front of the mural, but then I saw birds flitting in and out, eating the seed heads. Best to let nature take its course.

pumpkin patch

A beautiful striped pumpkin is getting ripe in the patch.

Peppers and tomatoes

Black plastic is laid between the rows of peppers and tomatoes, increasing the heat for these hot-season crops and reducing the need to weed.

UW Farm sign

A “compost fence” creates a wall for the UW Farm food processing area, and a chalkboard announces the current crops.

Charging Into Winter Gardening

If you’ve tackled a big garden project on a hot summer day, you know how fast you can drain your internal batteries. The heat seems to sap it out of me. But as weird as it may seem at the height of summer, right now we should be recharging our garden’s batteries with some new plants for winter.

Peas in a pot

I planted peas in this pot next to my compost pile, and now they’re ready to be moved into the sun and under a trellis.

In the Maritime Northwest, August and early September are great times to plant. I’ll tell you what seedlings I’ve got in pots and in the ground right now, and what you can get from the nurseries in the coming weeks if you don’t want to sprout your own.

If you can start from seed, I recommend it. It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in a summer garden. Parsnips, which are notoriously finicky seeds, sprouted in just four days during one of our recent warm spells. And they came up in such a prolific little forest that I had to get down there and do some serious thinning.

I’ve also started Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, beets, carrots, peas and arugula.

Beets

Beets and other seeds will sprout fast in warm summer soil. Be sure to thin to proper spacing. These beets need to be thinned to 4 inches apart.

Of course, with warm days and no rain, I’ve been hand-watering the seedlings to supplement my automatic watering regimen.

What to start now

Greens:

  • Arugula
  • Asian greens (mustards, bok choi, tatsoi, shungiku)
  • Corn salad (aka mache)
  • Cress
  • Endive/radicchio
  • Lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons, Continuity, Merlot, Red Oak Leaf, Green Deer Tongue, Forellenschluss, Little Gem… so many – plant a rainbow salad!)
  • Swiss chard

Brassicas:

  • Broccoli (fall)
  • Broccoli raab
  • Cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale (choose Lacinato, aka Dinosaur/Palm Tree, the best tasting of all)

Dino kale

The best tasting kale, and very reliable in a mild maritime winter.

Roots:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radish (winter varieties, like Black Spanish)

Alliums:

  • Leeks

More alliums go in later this fall, but you can plan now. Leave space for garlic and shallots.

Seeds or starts?

Most of these plants can be directly sown into the garden, and many of them can now be found as starts in good quality plant nurseries. I always recommend planting root crops only from seed, not transplanting.

If you’re starting from seed and want more control over the plantings, consider starting many of these in pots. It helps you keep a better eye on the seedlings to keep them well watered. You can move a flat of pots into the shade on hot days, or even protect them under some hoops and floating row cover for extra shade and to maintain soil moisture.

greens ready to plant

A flat of salad greens, ready for planting.

When space comes available in the garden and the plants have grown enough to establish hearty roots, you can transplant them. Remember that transplanting in summer is pretty stressful on young plants. Do it on a cooler, cloudy day if you can, and pay extra attention to watering until they’re showing new growth. You can also move the starts to a very large pot and keep them growing there until harvest.

Peas under a trellis

We’ll have plenty of peas for fall. I planted this batch along the house where spring salad greens had been.

More for fall

Also, plan ahead to fill the space when summer vegetables are done. Purchase a supply of cover crop seeds (often sold as a blend, which is a good way to go) and have them on hand to throw down when you pull out the tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. You can plant a cover-crop blend up until late October.

If you have crops coming out even later, plant fava beans. They can be sown into early November and will reliably sprout in that late-fall cold soil.

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