This week, one of the sunniest February weeks I can remember, was my school’s mid-winter break. I could not have asked for better weather and as you’ve probably already guessed, I played outside in my yard all week. Since I had so much free time, I was able to start my lettuce bed under the cloche outside and was able to start my pepper and tomato seeds inside. I even planted the heirloom seeds I saved last year! This is the earliest I have ever started spinach and lettuce outside, but the cloche is doing an amazing job warming up the soil â€“ the soil thermometer registered 60 degrees in that bed! Those little seeds will germinate in no time.
Recently, several people, who are planning on growing vegetables for the first time, asked me for seed suggestions and gardening tips. So, in today’s post, I’m going back to the basics and will share a few things I’ve learned about growing veggies.
Despite getting tons of seed catalogs each year with beautiful photos of unique and exotic varieties, I select seeds of vegetables I like to eat. The beets always look beautiful, but I don’t like to eat them so they never make it into my garden.
When I choose seeds, I also consider what will grow well in our climate because I want to set myself up for success. We have long cool springs, so it’s a good idea to choose vegetables that do well in cool weather, like kale, lettuce, spinach, chard, and peas.
If you’re just getting started, I would suggest planting a salad garden. Lettuce is pretty easy to grow from seed and can provide you with a continual harvest â€“ just pick off the outer leaves and they’ll keep on growing back! If you plant several of the beautiful and delicious varieties, you can have an amazing mixed green salad. I buy most of my seeds from the local seed company, Territorial Seeds. Last year, I grew Jericho, Deer Tongue, and Merlot lettuce from Territorial. This year, I’m growing the same varieties plus the Cascade Lettuce Mix that I got for free from the Cascade Harvest Coalition at the Flower and Garden Show. There is nothing better than a salad, just picked fresh from your garden.
Lettuce seeds are really small, so plant them carefully. In a nut shell, seeds need water and warmth to germinate. Since lettuce seeds are so tiny and could get washed away with a watering can, I water the soil thoroughly before sowing my seeds. Then, I make a little indentation in the soil, pour some seeds into my hand, grab a pinch of seeds, and put them in the little spot I created. I carefully cover them with a little soil (not too deep!) and give it a little press to ensure that I got good soil to seed contact.
I also have to plug the Nasturtiums. I LOVE these beautiful edible flowers and grow them every year. I can’t tell you how lovely it was last year to watch huge bumble bees squeeze themselves inside the big red and orange blooms. Plus, you can harvest the flowers and put them in the salad you just harvested. It’s important to pick out a variety that is compact, since they have the potential to trail like crazy. I love the Empress of India variety. This year, I’m going to try the Black Velvet variety as well. It’s important to note that in addition to attracting lovely beneficial pollinators, they also tend to attract aphids (in my case, little black aphids), so if that happens, just spray them off with a strong stream of water or pull them out and plant something new.
Finally, if you haven’t done so already, plant some peas. According to my Seattle Tilth Maritime NW Garden Guide, it’s tradition in our area to sow peas by Presidents’ Day. Peas are easy to plant, fun to guide up a trellis, thrive in cool weather, and will provide you with a generous harvest. The Maritime NW Garden Guide, a planning calendar for year-round organic gardening, is worth the money, by the way. It is designed for gardeners in our area and gives recommendations as to what to plant and where (i.e. sow outdoors,
sow indoors, sow outdoors under a cloche) for every month of the year.
Starting seeds indoors merits a post of its own. It’s not terribly complicated, but requires some special materials and a little extra planning. So, if you’re not ready to dive into indoor seed starting this year, but still want to try growing some delicious heirloom tomatoes or some other interesting vegetable, you’re in luck. There are two amazing plant sales coming up that will have tons of fabulous starts (young plants) for your garden. The Master Gardener Foundation Plant Sale will be on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 and 2. After King County cut the funding for the Master Gardener program, the Master Gardener Foundation took over and made it possible for the program to continue. Without the MG Foundation, I wouldn’t be in the program right now! The MG plant sale is one of their biggest fund raisers, so you can buy the vegetable starts you want to grow and support an amazing community gardening program. Seattle Tilth is also having an Early Spring Edible Plant Sale on Saturday, March 20.
A garden journal can be a handy tool for keeping track of your garden experiments. Jot down what and when you plant and note later if it worked or not. Your notes can help you make decisions when you’re planning your garden next year. Remember, practice makes perfect. Pardon the pun, but it’s best to just dig in, plant some seeds, and have fun with it. You’ll probably have more success than you expect. Happy planting!