I can feel the vibe from here: when can we set out our tomatoes? A neighbor already has done it. Gangly plants in gallon-size pots are front-and-center in the stores. The questions go beyond tomatoes, though: how will you get your vegetables off to their best start? And what’s the right timing for planting the summer garden?
How? Season Extension
I’m on the verge of being a nag on this topic, but a great way to ensure a better start is to shelter your spring plantings with season extension devices.
This Sunday, April 12, 1-2 p.m., I’ll be showing and telling all about season extension at the West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center. I will explain in more detail why these devices help, and then I’ll show off a few of my designs and things sold by the nursery. You can “kick the tires,” so to speak, and think about what might work for you.
When? Be Conservative
It’s tempting to march out to the garden, clear away last year’s detritus, and just plop everything in the ground — seeds, starts, trellises, cloches. One big afternoon of work and you can just sit back and wait for the harvest, right? Well, maybe. Go ahead and try it. I would counsel patience.
I like to take a couple of steps at a time, slowly building my garden throughout the spring. I do it this way partly because I enjoy the process, and also because things will grow better if planted at the right time. As with so many things, timing is everything.
Right now, my spring greens, root crops and peas are up and growing nicely. I’m still a couple of weeks away from fresh salads, but we’re just finishing the last of the winter salad greens.
Also, I’m clearing and prepping the beds for my hot summer crops. The cover crop and flowering brassicas are coming out, lime is being dug into the soil where needed, and all the old stuff is being chopped up to make compost.
Soon I’ll dig in compost and fertilizers, as needed, based on the planting plan.
I continue to plant small quantities of root crops and greens, so that I’ll have a longer continuous harvest of these crops. I eat a lot of them.
The green manure provided by chopped-in cover crops, and the lime, have to settle into the soil for a week or two before planting. That will bring me to the end of April, which is just about right timing to shake out the bean seeds. Then I’ll think about getting warm-season transplants like tomatoes and peppers in the ground.
By mid-May, those will all be planted, and then I’ll do the last of the summer plantings: squash.
Meanwhile, I am also planning my fall and winter garden. Yes, well before summer has come! By early June, I’ll be planting fall brassicas, and by July, most of my winter and overwintering crops will be in the ground.
All that will be left to plant are short-season fall crops, which will go in after the heat of our summer has dissipated, around late August.
Right now I’m enjoying watching the orchard mason bees. They have emerged from their cocoons and are busy pollinating my fruit trees. Soon they’ll start laying eggs in the holes in my wooden bee house.
If I want to really see all this activity, I need to slow down, and stand or sit near the bee box for a while. (Don’t worry, they’re not aggressive.) My eyes need to adjust to their erratic activity, to see their patterns.
The bees are not working on my schedule. In order to learn from them, I must accustom myself to their ways.
Observance of the natural world takes time. I must take it on its own terms. Growing a vegetable garden also requires relinquishing my own concept of schedules and needs, replacing those with a studied observance of the weather, growth habits of plants, and messages from nature.
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.
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:
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:
If you haven’t yet taken a class at Craftsy.com, now is your chance. It’s the perfect time to learn some new gardening techniques. And, I am collaborating with them on a free class giveaway!
Here’s the video trailer for my class, “The Extended Harvest: Vegetables for Every Season.” We’ll be giving a free class to one lucky entrant who checks out Craftsy between now and Friday, March 13.
To enter the contest, follow the link to my Craftsy class and create a free account. That’s all you need to do to be entered. While you’re on the site, browse around. You’ll find a number of short, free classes that will give you a great idea of how to use Craftsy.
I appreciated the professional, thorough approach the Craftsy folks took in helping me create this class.
We went through an extensive process to plan and organize the class material. Then, a producer, videographer and other staff came to film in my garden — three intense days of work that produced more than 30 hours of video!
They edited it down to 7 lesson, each about 20 minutes, for a total class that’s just over two hours.
You can watch one lesson at a time, or just parts of each, picking up where you left off. Re-watch any or all of it, as many times as you want. You can take notes, ask questions, and share with the class your own gardening projects. It’s easy and interactive.
I’ve become a fan of other classes, too, learning new gardening tips from other instructors, delving into a photography class, and trying an art class on drawing. There are many other topics, too, from knitting to cake decorating — a wide array of crafts and skills.
These online classes at Craftsy help you keep learning for life and mastering new skills. That certainly sounds like a formula for a healthy mind and a great garden!
Finally, the pak choi is ready to harvest.
With a sharp knife, I quickly cut the loose head of green leaves with their snowy white stems. I will leave the base of the stem and the root in place inside the cold frame. They often sprout new leaves when cut this time of year.
Pak choi (aka bok choy, or Chinese cabbage) is an amazingly simple plant, and yet it’s a bit elusive to grow. If started in the wrong season, or exposed to a bout of unseasonable weather, it will bolt (go to seed) almost immediately, providing you with only a tiny, if still edible, plant. It’s shallow-rooted, so if you cultivate around it too much, or let the weeds get too close, it will perform badly.
But when it is happy, the gardener is happy. The spoon-shaped leaves seem to double in size overnight as the late winter weather improves. An impressive volume of small leaves sprout from its center.
There are a number of chois, and I seem to have better luck with the loose-headed, white stemmed variety. The cupped leaves grow to 8 inches long and half as wide. They fan out to give space to the tender new shoots. Their white stalks take on the shape and manner of celery, although not as thick. When cut, the leaves are tender and the stalks are crisp. Everything — including the flower head, if it happens to send one up before you get to it — is edible.
Yesterday I harvested the first full heads (we’d been swiping leaves for salad). Some had made it into the ground as doubles, with two seedlings close together, so I took pains to leave behind the second, smaller plant when cutting the larger one.
Three plants were enough for a succulent side dish with shiitake mushrooms in the wok. The pliable, earthy mushrooms were a wonderful counterpoint to the crisp, juicy pak choi stems and the mildly bitter, mustardy leaves.
February is the perfect time to harvest this overwintered vegetable. It is also a great time to plant another crop. With consistent weather conditions and water, a crop planted now will yield more stir-fry dishes in 6 to 8 weeks, and be out of the garden by May. It’s a good crop to put into the tomato bed before the tomatoes.
Getting started on an edible year is so simple, really. Here are five key thoughts from my upcoming talk this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Swansons Nursery, “Plan and Prep for Your Edible Garden.” Hope you can join me!