Holiday weather blues? Don’t despair, plant!

It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather.

Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle will bring up brooding Dickensian thoughts. What should herald the start of summer here often disappoints. When all you want to do is take your kids hiking, go to a music festival, wheel off on a nice long bike ride, or simply just host a BBQ, you have to look to the skies, and judge the depth of the grey.

Why, then, would I start this post so optimistically? The best of weather, by what standards? Well, my Brussels sprouts love it.

Brussels sprouts seedlings

These Brussels sprouts, sown on May 7, got potted up to 4″ pots this week, and will be ready for the garden by mid-June.

At this stage of the year—what I call mid-spring in my catalog of mini-seasons—I am engaged in a garden tug-of-war. Part of me wants to grow the fattest red tomato on the block, so juicy it drips down my shirt. I want big pepper plants heavy with spicy pods. Some years, I even yearn for a stand of corn.

But my muscles yank me back to cool-season crops too, and possibly more to reality. Mid-spring is a time for struggle on the part of my tomato plants, and the peppers can stay under cover or fight for their survival. But it’s a glorious time of growth for cool-season vegetables. They celebrate this dreary holiday weekend weather like twirling hippies at a Phish concert.

And now, when you’re focused solely on getting those hot crops of summer in the ground, let the cool breezes of a maritime spring clue you in: time to give those long-season vegetables of next winter some love.

Tomatoes and Peppers in Greenhouse shelves

The tomatoes are getting leggy, and the peppers aren’t getting any younger in their pots. But the greenhouse shelves work great!

Here’s a quick list of what to sow now in pots for planting out in June and July:

  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (winter)
  • Parsnips

And here are some things to plant directly in the garden in mid-July for fall and winter eating:

  • Collards
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kohlrabi
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip

There are many other, shorter-season veggies that can be sown later in the summer and into the fall for fall and winter eating, but for right now, instead of trying to jump-start summer, skip over it and look to fall. Put on a Dead record and rave on with your brassicas.

Final presentation at City People’s

Many Seattle gardeners are mourning the impending loss of City People’s Garden Store on Madison, which got the land sold out from under it for the inevitable mixed-use development. It was the first nursery I used when I moved to Seattle in the mid-1980s, and I still hold it fondly in my mind. When it closes at the end of this year, it will be a major loss for city gardeners. I will miss it.

I’ve been giving a series of edible gardening talks there for years, and my last talk is coming up next weekend. On Sunday, June 5 at 11 a.m. I’ll do a seminar on starting long-season vegetables. Hope you can join me, support the store with some purchases and give City People’s a proper send-off.

Inspiration, Seed Swaps Focus of Upcoming Events

The season starts early for a cool-season gardener. Not just the planting season, but the speaking-at-events season too. I’ll be at nurseries, garden shows and seed swaps in the next month, evangelizing about getting your edible garden underway.

Seed swaps first

This Saturday I’ll be hosting the Great Seattle Seed Swap up on Phinney Ridge. This first one happens on National Seed Swap Day, and is the first of four area swaps — three in Seattle and one in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Brussels sprouts in pots

I’ll also be at the Snoqualmie Valley swap on Feb. 6. At both, I’ll be giving a short talk as well as staffing a table for Q&A and seed research.

The King County Seed Lending Library has received a wonderful donation from the Organic Seed Alliance of Port Townsend. They sent copies of their recent book, The Seed Garden, for each of our locations. What a resource! It’s comprehensive, easy to use for research and a great read. The book was co-published with Seed Savers Exchange, another essential resource.

OSA also sent a generous supply of their locally adapted Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed and phacalia tancetifolia, which has a flower that’s a pollinator magnet.

Come to the swaps to see the book and get the seed!

Nurseries coming

Before the swap on this Saturday I’ll give my first nursery presentation of the season, up at Swansons Nursery in northwest Seattle. It will naturally be about starting seeds, but also focus on soil-building at this time of year. And I’ll throw in some ideas about where to get inspiration for this year’s garden.

I’ll do another talk at Swansons on Feb. 27 on special techniques to get the most out of your veggie plot.

In March I begin my annual four-class series at another great Seattle nursery, City People’s Garden Store. I’ll head down to Madison Valley for the first talk on March 12 about starting the early-season garden.

Portland on tap

I’m getting out of town, too, with a pair of talks at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland. Walking the human-scale display gardens at this show always energizes me to try something new in the garden.

Get a book

At all the talks and shows, I’ll have my two books, Cool Season Gardener and Edible Heirlooms, available for sale, and I will happily personalize your copy with a signature.

I’m doing a special signing at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Find me at the University Book Store booth #211 on Friday, Feb. 19, 3-4 p.m.

Hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Starting Your Edible Year: Free Classes Begin Sunday

Do you want to get started in the vegetable garden, but are unsure what to do right now? Come to my first free class this Sunday, March 15 at City People’s Garden Store in Seattle’s Madison Park.

seedling closeup

I’ll share a bunch of timely reminders in “Start Edibles Early for Longer Harvests.”

Now is a great time to get an early batch of edibles into the ground, and plan for multiple harvests.

The class is the first of “The Edible Year, a four-part series that runs through early June. Each class is at 11 a.m.

Here’s the whole series:

  • March 15 — “Start Edibles Early for Longer Harvests”
  • March 21 — “Soil-building and Amending for Edibles”
  • April 18 — “Growing Great Tomatoes”
  • June 7 — “Think Next Spring: Starting Long-season Vegetables”

If you’re in West Seattle or across Puget Sound on the Kitsap Peninsula, you might be interested in these other talks on my calendar this spring:

  • April 12, 1-2 p.m. I’ll do an interactive “Season Extension Demo & Talk” at West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center. Please note: this is an outdoor location, under a tent, so dress for weather.
  • May 20, 9:30 a.m. I’ll travel to Kingston for a talk on “Planning For Year-round Edibles.” It’s sponsored by the Kingston Garden Club, but open to the public.

Gently Go Into Autumn

If you’re focused on growing food year round, you might almost forget the idea of putting the garden to bed. But it is still a good concept, for a couple of reasons:

1. You probably won’t have the time or energy or desire to keep your entire garden growing year round.

2. Soil needs to rest periodically, so that nutrient levels do not get entirely depleted.

Mulched lettuces

If you have a fall lettuce crop started, surround the plants with a straw mulch to protect them a bit in cooler fall weather.

As the summer vegetable garden fades, use cover crops and mulch to protect the soil over winter.

Cover crops:

These will help build soil as well as keep the soil well-covered so that winter rains or winds don’t damage it. They also provide a habitat for soil critters.

Mulch:

There are various types (straw, leaves, compost, sheet-mulch layers), and they all will help keep the soil from getting compacted by rain or dried out by wind, and provide a habitat for beneficial soil organisms. As they break down, they add carbon to the soil as well. Caution: You don’t want to provide a habitat for rats or other vermin. If you see signs of that, remove the mulch.

Garlic under leaf mulch

Planting garlic and then covering it with a leaf mulch is an easy fall project. Lay welded wire mesh atop the leaves to hold them in place.

Burlap bags:

These are available from coffee roasting companies and some nurseries or hardware stores. Laying these on the soil helps protect it from pounding rains, and keeps the soil a little warmer for the soil-dwelling critters.

 

Two simple growing steps

If you want to have something growing in the beds that won’t require any work, including harvest, here are two simple things to do:

* Grow some garlic! Plant it in late fall and harvest it mid-summer. Use a light mulch like straw or leaves over the bed after planting.

* Let the flowers be. If wildflowers have grown in around your veggies, don’t remove them when pulling the vegetable plants out. Some will reseed and even sprout this fall, and others will sit dormant until spring. Scatter a light compost mulch over the bed to encourage them.

 

More ideas in class

Want to delve more deeply into ideas about putting some of your garden to bed? Join me this Saturday, Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at City People’s Garden Store in Seattle’s Madison Valley, for our final class in the Edible Year series, “Preparing Your Edible Garden for Winter” will offer more ideas and techniques to gently ease your garden into another season.

 

Starting “The Edible Year”

You want to get growing now, don’t you? I know I do. So this Saturday seedpackI’ll kick things off with the first in my seven-class series at City People’s Garden Store in Seattle. I’ll discuss “Starting Your Earliest Edibles” and go into some detail on how to

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get the garden beds ready, what vegetables can be started now, and how to get them growing vigorously.

Through the spring, and again in summer and into fall, this class series will take us through the seasons in our vegetable gardens, from building soil to

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putting your produce on the holiday dinner table.

Here’s the lineup for “The Edible Year”:

  • 3/8, 11 a.m. – Starting Your Earliest Edibles
  • 3/29, 11 a.m. – Soil Building for the Vegetable Garden
  • 4/12, 11 a.m. – Season Extension for Growing Edibles
  • 4/26, 11 a.m. – Growing Great Tomatoes
  • 7/12, 10 a.m. – Start Now for Fall and Winter Edibles
  • 8/16, 10 a.m. – Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles
  • 9/20, 10 a.m. – Prepping the Edible Garden for Winter

Each class is one hour, and we often end it by walking through the nursery, choosing plants and supplies. If you’ve never been to City People’s Garden Store before, it’s a gem. Situated in the Madison Valley neighborhood of central Seattle, it is comprised of a colorful, enticing store, an attached greenhouse, and an outdoor yard chock full of interesting plant choices. It fits well into its neighborhood, which has diversions such as Cafe Flora and the Washington Park Arboretum.

The workshops are free, but please e-mail or call the store at (206) 324-0737 to pre-register.