Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rain Gardening (or more accurately, gardening IN the rain...)

Photo credit: Bill Larson
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the pouring rain, planting and harvesting at one of the gardens I help tend.  I work this one with fellow Master Gardeners and we donate all the produce to our local Food Bank.   It’s on property managed by our Fire Department, who graciously allows us to have 8 raised beds and to store our materials and tools inside the building. 

Photo credit:  Bill Larson
 But, this post is about working in the rain.  I am a self-declared fair-weather gardener, without a doubt.  I don’t like to be cold and wet and really detest soggy feet.  It’s one of the reasons I’ll never be a farmer—those people are amazing!  Usually, when the sky is dripping and the temperature is below 60, I find something else to do and pretend I don’t see the garden.  The weather changes quickly around here, so it’s rarely a problem to skip a day.  That works just fine for my home garden, but we only meet once a week at the Fire Dept. and had already missed last week due to rain and wind.  We really needed to get some stuff done this week. 

I headed out feeling pretty grumpy about the whole thing, wearing boots and a hat and raincoat, wishing I’d put on rain pants.  I got out of my car into a downpour to greet my garden cohort Judy,  and was instantly soaked.  She took one look at me and we both started laughing like crazy.  After that, it was great—we couldn’t get any wetter, so just jumped in and started slogging through ankle deep puddles. 
Photo credit:  Judy Guttormson
Now the tomatoes are snugly planted in their tunnel, the lettuce and spinach are all harvested, succession crops are planted and what’s left of the peas are protected from the marauding bunnies.  And I got to go home and put on dry socks.

Photo credit:  Judy Guttormson

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vegetable Gardening Classes for the PNW

We all know that there are several styles of learning.  Some folks retain information from reading material, some from hearing it and some do best with a hands-on experience.  Here's a list of my upcoming classes through Poulsbo Parks & Recreation.  Some are hands-on and all involve both visual and auditory presentations. 
You can register for any (or all!) of these classes by calling Poulsbo Parks & Recreation at 360 779 9898.

Intro to Crop Rotation and Succession Planting

Some of the most confusing things about vegetable gardening are deciding what and when to plant for healthy plants and continuous harvests.   Crop rotation helps prevent disease and pest problems, as well as balance soil nutrient levels and structure.  Succession planting is a system for timing your harvests to fit your needs. 

Thursday, May 23  6:30 to 8:00 PM
Poulsbo Parks & Rec building

Organic Vegetable Gardening—Tips and Tricks for Terrific Tomatoes

Learn the tricks and techniques successful gardeners use to ripen tomatoes and peppers in our chilly NW summers. Topics include: timing, varieties, protection from the weather & disease and harvesting tips.  Plant starts available for sale at the class.

Saturday, May 25  10:00 to 11:30 AM
Pheasant Fields Farm, Silverdale
Organic Vegetable Gardening—Grow Your Own Salad Bowl!

Learn what vegetables you can plant together in one container to harvest complete salads! Students will plant and take home their own Salad Garden Bowl. Plants and materials provided.

Saturday, June 1  9:30 to noon
Poulsbo Parks & Rec building

Organic Vegetable Gardening—Container Gardening

No room for a garden plot? You can still grow lots of great veggies on your patio or deck in containers! Learn what to look for in a container, what kinds of soil to use and which vegetables to choose. You’ll be surprised at what you can grow in a small space!

Saturday, June 8  10:00 to noon
Poulsbo Parks & Rec building

Organic Vegetable Gardening—Grow Your Own Herb Garden Bowl

Here is a fun opportunity to celebrate Dad’s day with your child, or to make a gift together for that special someone!  Make your own herb garden and learn what to do to keep it happy and providing you with fresh herbs year-round.  Planting bowl and potting soil provided, students will choose and purchase plants at the class.

Saturday, June 15  9:00 to noon
Pheasant Fields Farm, Silverdale

Fall/Winter Gardening

Want to be harvesting parsnips and kale all winter?  Broccoli and cabbage in early spring?  It feels too early, but NOW is the time to start planning and planting your fall/winter garden!  Topics covered include plant choices, timing and protection from winter weather.  Plant starts available for sale at the class.

Saturday, June 22  10:00 AM to noon
Pheasant Fields Farm, Silverdale

Saving Seeds from Your Garden

By saving seeds from your garden vegetables, you can save money and develop plants that are exactly suited to your specific growing conditions.  Learn to select the best plants for seed saving, collection techniques and storage methods.

Thursday, July 25 6:30 to 8:00 PM
Poulsbo Parks & Rec building

I'll also be participating as a WSU Kitsap Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Educator on July 13th, presenting a one day class on Fall/Winter Gardening.  This is a follow-up to a 4 day course on Organic Vegetable Gardening held in February and March, but everyone is welcome to attend.  We'll start at the Norm Dicks Building in Bremerton, then head out to Blueberry Park after lunch to get our hands dirty in the gardens there.  The cost is $45 and you can get more information and register online.  There are a lot of events on the page, so you may have to scroll down to find it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ripening Tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest

So, I LOVE living in Western Washington—'wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the country.  But I also LOVE tomatoes, which aren’t quite as fond of the climate as I am.  So, here are a few of the tricks I’ve learned to have my tomatoes and eat them too... 

Choose the right varieties!  If the catalog or seed packet says it will take more than 85 days to mature, you might want to start building that heated greenhouse... 
Keep them warm!  Tomatoes are tender, tropical plants and especially annoyed by the 20-30 degree drop in temperature we often have between day and night.  Cover them up, make use of reflected heat, move them around in containers, but keep them warm.

Keep them dry!  We live in the fungus capital of the world and some of those fungi prey on tomato plants.  Remember the Irish potato famine?  It’s called Late Blight when it attacks tomatoes.  Avoid overhead watering (or rain), mulch to prevent spores from splashing from the soil to the leaves, prune judiciously to encourage good air circulation.
Just a couple months later.  Definitely in need
of that judicious pruning!

Planted in tunnel cloche



Keep them focused!  Given their druthers, indeterminate tomato plants will grow and grow and grow and...  Pinch off suckers to direct energy to flowers and fruit making.  Towards the end of the season, remove all the new flowers and teensy fruit that won’t have time to ripen.

Make them just a little nervous!  The main goal of any plant is to make seed and reproduce.  As the season winds down towards fall, start reducing the water to stress the plants just enough to make them concentrate on ripening the fruit and making seeds in case something dreadful happens. 

And remember, if the first frost is threatening and there are still green fruits on the plants, you can pick them and ripen them in the house.   They won’t be quite the same, but they’ll still be better than the ones flown in from other parts of the world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Planning the Vegetable Garden

Grab your pencil, tape measure and boots—it’s time to figure out what you’re doing in your garden this year!  A few hours of planning now will mean many fewer hours of frustration later in the season.  Besides sitting in my comfy chair with a cup of tea, lapful of cat and stack of seed catalogs, this is one of my favorite ways to spend “gardening” time in the winter. 
Arlo helping...

Last night I went to a great presentation by a farmer friend who reminded us all how important it is to know what you’re working with before you get started.  This means knowing how much square footage is available in each of your beds or planting areas, where the coldest and warmest spots are and where the wind whips through, breaking plants and shredding the plastic off your hoop house.   It means knowing the path of the sun through your garden, knowing the soggy and dry spots.   It means... making a SITE ANALYSIS!

This can be as simple or complex as you like.  You can do a detailed scale drawing, or make a list.   Or something somewhere in between.  But, do something so you know what you’re working with.
This shows most of the info needed to decide where to plant--the vegetable garden ended up on the slope.  It gets full sun and drains quickly.  You don't  have to draw your entire property--just the part you're going to use. 

Once you know what you have, do some dreaming and figure out what you WANT.  This is the easy part...  What vegetables do you want to grow?  How much of each one can you handle?  Will you be eating everything fresh, or will you be putting food up for the winter?  When do you want to harvest?  If you’re planning a 3 week vacation in August, that would not be the ideal time for all the beans to be ready, now would it?  Temper your dreams with a little reality—will you have help, or is this your private project?  How much time will you have in the garden?

When you know WHAT you want to grow, do your research to find out what those plants want—how much space, how much water and fertilizer, what kind of soil conditions...  in other words, the cultural requirements of your plants.   Pay close attention to how long it takes for each variety to mature—if you’re starting from seeds, don’t forget to count the time between sowing and transplanting. 

Group plants that need the same conditions together—it will be easier on all of you.  Count backwards from your hoped-for harvest date to know when to start your seeds or plant your transplants.   Consider soil temperature and moisture content, remembering that depending on the weather and your topography, it may still be frigid and soggy until June some years.   Make plans—including a plan B, just in case...

I like to make a chart or calendar to keep me on track, so I know what I’ve decided I’m supposed to do on a given day or week.  There is also a lot of garden planning software available on line, if you’re so inclined. 
List everything you plan to grow and then fill in the dates

These beds are all different sizes--not the easiest way to do it,  but how it works on this piece of land.  A chart like this makes it easy to know what's where and is really helpful for planning crop rotations.

So, as soon as the sky clears, go on outside and measure your garden beds!  Take pictures and walk around, remembering where the snow lasted the longest and where the tomatoes ripened the earliest last year.  Make notes or draw it on your garden plan, but keep track!  Then settle down with that tea and the catalogs to dream a bit...