Don’t you just love a rainy day?
Our respite from warm-and-sunny couldn’t be more welcome in my garden. The parched corners not quite reached by the watering system are greening up. A friend mentioned over coffee that she noticed marigolds really don’t like the heat, as they looked stressed but now are bright and, well, sunny again. It leaves the sky but shows up in the flowers – go figure.
So I took the opportunity to wander my wet garden with the camera, because the newly refreshed plants photograph well in the flat light of a cloudy day. Here’s my veggie photo review.
Join me this Saturday, July 12, for two garden events. In the morning, we’ll talk about getting the winter garden growing, and in the afternoon, we’ll walk to a couple of community gardens and explore other efforts old and new to transform our urban landscape.
City People’s Garden Store in Madison Valley is the site for my morning talk, “Start Now for Fall and Winter Vegetables,” which is part of our “Edible Year” series. It’s not too late to get things growing so you can eat from your garden nearly year-round. This free talk is 10-11 and includes a brief tour of the nursery to see what plants, tools and supplies they have to help you get growing.
I’ll head to lower Queen Anne for a 1 p.m. walk sponsored by MOHAI in their Neighborhood History Tour series. I will lead a tour called P-Patch at 40: From Uptown to Belltown. We’ll stroll from the UpGarden atop the Mercer Street parking garage to the Belltown P-Patch. We’ll consider the 40-year history of P-Patch along with exploring these gardens, one that is 2 years old and the other that is 20.
Along the way, our tour will stop and review the many landscaping efforts (one on a ridiculously grandiose scale) that Seattle people have done over the city’s history to bend nature to our will. It’s a two-hour urban tour with a few surprises, some delightful stops and a wonderful urban ramble.
There is a small fee for this tour, which supports the Museum of History and Industry’s efforts to bring unique aspects of Seattle’s history to its residents.
Please pre-register for either event (or join me for both!) at the links above.
It may seem crazy, but just as your cherry tomatoes are forming, it’s time to think about winter. But consider the stars of our winter garden: long-season broccoli, cabbage and Brussel’s sprouts. In order to get the sprouts bulging, the cabbage head firming up and the broccoli sending out its shoots, you need to grow a plant that is fairly mature before the onset of winter. That means starting soon.
The main challenge to winter gardening in the height of summer is water. These cool-season stars need to be grown through our warmest months, and they still might be seedlings when a hot spell hits. So, a cool-season gardener must keep the warm-season vacations short.
Here are a few techniques to make this challenge a bit easier to bear:
Start in flats. Rather than sowing directly into the garden bed, sow into pots and plan to transplant. That way you can keep a closer eye on the moisture content of the soil while the seeds are sprouting — a crucial moment.
Another bonus: the plants will be mobile. You can move them to the shade if you need to be gone for an extended period during a sunny period. Better yet, if you’re planning a weekend away, deliver the tray to a neighbor who can keep an eye on them for you.
Plants you start in pots now would be ready for transplanting near the end of July.
Cover them for shade. Floating row cover, the thin, spun-bonded fabric that lets light and water through, serves in summer as an excellent shade cloth. Drape it lightly over the plants and hold down the edges with earth staples or stones as weights.
An extra benefit of this technique is that the FRC will prevent pests from messing with your plants. The cabbage moth cannot land on leaves that have been covered, so it won’t be laying its eggs, which hatch into voracious larvae.
One caution, though: don’t expect the material to solve all your woes. Slugs and snails will still be looking for your tender seedlings, so patrol the area regularly until the plants are big enough to withstand such an assault. FRC will help the soil retain moisture, too, but again, don’t expect it to do all the work. Check regularly under the fabric to see that the plants are staying well-watered.
Use plenty of compost for moisture retention and a bit of fertilization. Digging in some compost before planting will improve the tilth of the soil, and top-dressing with it after the plants have put on some good leaf growth will provide an additional layer of moisture-holding capacity.
Be aware, though, that top-dressing (spreading a modest layer of material on the surface of the soil around the plant) can get crusty in summer application, which would cause water to run off rather than soak in. Cultivate it lightly before watering if it seems to be crusting over; this will allow the water to get through.
Other things to plant now: parsnips, carrots, beets, chard, kohlrabi, collards…an amazing array of choices for fall and winter eating.
Soon it will be time to start a second or third planting of short-season crops, like lettuce and peas, for fall harvest. But for now, as you pinch tomato suckers and anticipate the first blush from a chorus line of cheery cherries, think a bit further ahead, to the tasty cool-season crops you’ll want to put on your holiday dinner table.
If you think that your cloche is only for fall and winter gardening, you’re missing out. It is great for your summer crops too.
A cloche is versatile. You can set it up over your heat-loving crops and get them growing more robustly. Sure, tomatoes will survive in our weather, but they are at heart tropical plants. If you create greenhouse conditions, you will help them thrive.
A couple of caveats:
Be careful right after you plant them. Transplanting can cause shock. If the plant goes from the equivalent of a spring camping weekend at Mt. Rainier to a Mexican resort – well, wouldn’t we all be a bit befuddled? I’m quite certain that I could quickly adjust; not so sure about the plant.
Pay more attention to watering. At the Ohanapecosh campground, you and your belongings will have plenty
of chances to get wet, while it’s much less likely to rain on your Cabo Wabo parade. Plus, you’re sitting under a beach umbrella down there. But how do you escape the rain when in the shadow of The Mountain? Retreat to the tent! Or pull out the ubiquitous blue tarp.
Perhaps I’ve taken the metaphor a bit far (ya think?) but the point is this: your plant will dry out much faster under the cloche, where it’s always Mexico. You need to play cabana boy and regularly bring it a cool drink.
Cloching other plants
Perhaps, like me, you use the Wall o’Water to protect your tomatoes. I swear by them. So the cloche can be used for other plants that need the heat.
If you’re crazy enough to try melons, you will definitely need the cloche. But all those other heat-loving plants can benefit from a warmer start that the cloche provides. For squashes, pumpkins, melons and basil, you will get a much faster and more assured germination of the seeds. For transplants, you will again be giving them the conditions they are genetically predisposed to expect.
You won’t be leaving the cloche on all summer; just until, oh, let’s say Bastille Day. We should be good and sick of our long, lingering spring by then – off with its head!
Between now and then, as you pay attention to the needs of your hot crops, also plan ahead for the day that the cloche will be removed.
Open up for natural watering
If spring showers are predicted for a warm day, pull back the cloche cover and let the rain shine in.
It’s best to do this if it’s predicted to rain in the morning and then get nice, because you’ll want the plants to have enough time for their leaves to dry before covering again. This is especially important for tomatoes and squashes. Water standing on the tomato’s leaves and stems will promote late blight. Water on the squash leaves can promote powdery mildew.
So, for the same reason that you don’t use overhead watering on these plants, don’t expose them to too much rain. And if it does rain on them, hopefully there’s also a breeze that will dry the leaves or enough time for evaporation before you re-cloche them.
Taper off the heat
Just like ending a vacation by allowing thoughts of your commitments to seep back in, you want to wean your plants off their Mexico environment when it’s time for them to return to the Pacific Northwest. Pulling off the cloche one day like a magician unveiling a trick could again cause a shock to the plants. Best to ease the plant into its natural conditions. How?
Inconsistent weather is a hallmark of a Maritime spring, and using a cloche can help our plants have a little vacation in Mexico, without ever leaving the yard.
Bonus tip: use the cloche for shade. Once you’ve pulled the cloche off the warm-season crops, move it over to your summer plantings of lettuce and other greens. Cover it with floating row cover (Reemay, etc.) to shade the tender lettuces during our warmest time. You can also use it this way to keep insect pests off of your plants – especially helpful when they’re young seedlings.
This delightful community garden is called the UpGarden, and it’s on top of a large municipal parking garage in Seattle near the Space Needle. It’s a recent addition to the 40-year-old P-Patch Program.
To honor the program and share it’s history, I’ll be leading two Neighborhood History Walks for our Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) this summer
We’ll visit the recent UpGarden, and the 20-year-old Belltown P-Patch, one of my favorite small gardens.
We’ll also see some of our other public gardens and spaces, old and new. Here’s a peek at some of our locations.
And to reward you for getting this deep into the post, here are a few more pictures of the unique UpGarden.