Category Archives: Questions

12 Easy Strategies for Making the Most of Your Garden

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile now. It’s part in response to a question I get asked all the time, “How much time do you spend on your garden?” Or similarly, “How do you have time for all this?” I know most people look at my situation and think, “She’s  single and has the summers off. She has all the time in the world.”  It’s true that I spend a substantial amount of my free time sowing seeds, harvesting vegetables, pulling weeds, planting starts, cooking vegetables, preserving my harvest, saving seeds, taking pictures and writing about it. And yes, I do have more time off than in many professions. But the truth is, my schedule gets filled up with the best of them. I have relationships that need attention and appointments that need attending. I have to be strategic. I’ve always been goal-oriented and am super productive with my time, but truth be told, it’s one of my current life goals to learn how to slow down and enjoy the life I’ve (literally) cultivated around me. As a working girl, I’ve figured out a way to make it work. I had to – this is a passion that gives me fuel for life.

So, I’m writing this post today to answer that question, “How do you have time for all this?” with some strategies I put into practice around my urban farm. I want to share a few nuggets of garden wisdom that I have learned along the way – wisdom I’ve learned by trying, succeeding, failing, and trying again, without much time to spare.

1) Abandon the goal of perfection. This was a hard one for me, but has been the most important lesson. Trust your garden and give it time to grow. If something “fails,” it’s a lesson your garden is teaching you. Some plants will live and others will die. You win some, you lose some. Keep calm and carry on.

2) Pre-make your lunch. On days when I’m going to tackle big garden projects, it helps to have something already prepared in the fridge for lunch so that when I take a break, I can focus on nourishing myself instead of making a big mess in the kitchen.

3) Add only one new thing a season – one new raised bed, one new type of plant, one new container. This allows you to ease it into your current maintenance system.

4) Buy starts – that doesn’t mean you’re a failure of a gardener! Of course, sowing seeds is more economical and in many cases, easy to grow (i.e. squash and beans). But especially when thinking about planting a fall and winter garden, planting starts can be helpful. It’s hot in August and it can be hard to keep new seed beds moist for germination. Try and find locally-grown sources, like Rents Due Ranch or Cascadian Edible Landscapes (they even have a plant start CSA – sign up ASAP!)

5) Know your limitations and don’t be afraid to depend on local farmers for those. Brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts never do well in my garden. Plus, their huge leaves take up valuable space. Remember my thing about potatoes? I’m not saying give up, but it’s ok to grow some things, and leave others to the experts!

6) Think “Right plant, right place!” You can make your work a lot easier by planting things that grow well here. Tomatoes and peppers are possible north of the Cascades, but kale and leafy greens will leap out of the soil with little effort. There’s something to that.

7) Know the rules and try to follow them, but don’t be afraid to break them every once in awhile. Remember my watering confessional? Case in point.

8) Barter and share the load. A friend, who lives on the east side of the Cascades, mentioned her trouble growing kale. Yet in her hot, dry climate, peppers practically fall off the vine. So what should she do? Trade peppers for kale from me! Be creative. Think about what your neighbor could grow and what you could grow and then trade.

9) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make an easy, fun beverage to reward (and entice) your helpers!

10) Pick one area a day to focus on instead of trying to tackle the whole yard. Instead of making a to-do list, look around at that designated part of your yard and accomplish what you can.

11) If you don’t have all day, pick an hour, make a list of what needs to be done, prioritize your list to determine what’s most important and tackle those first. I recently read somewhere that we’re most productive in the morning hours, so use that to your advantage if you can.

12) Take time to enjoy it because if you don’t, what’s the point?

So friends, now I pose the question to you: How do you make it work?

Video: Tips for Your New Plants

I’m a day early with this week’s video post, but it felt timely. Tis the weekend of plant sales and surely you have a flat full of new vegetable and herb starts to put into your garden. It’s supposed to be a sunny one today and I’m sure I won’t be the only one getting my hands dirty. Before you start planting all those seedlings you bought, I wanted to share some tips to help you get them off to a great start! Watch this video for some helpful hints to get your garden growing!

Gourmet Gardening or Urban Farming?

Hey Maple Leafers and North Seattle Gardeners (and anyone else willing to drive over our way)! You should join me this evening for a class/conversation about the joys of urban farming.

What: A class/discussion titled: “Gourmet Gardening or Urban Farming? Tomatoes, Chickens & Bees! Neighbors Share Adventures & Resources”

Who: The Thornton Creek Alliance (Watershed), me, and other local gardeners and urban farmers

Where: The Meadowbrook Community Center, 10517 35th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98125

When: Tonight! Thursday, September 22, 2011, starting promptly at 7pm

Why:  It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to share ideas and meet your neighbors and other like-minded gardeners.

I hope to see you there!

Ask a Gardener: Sure-fire Vegetables for Beginners

This idea occurred to me a few weeks ago when I was sitting at the farmers’ market table answering questions as a Master Gardener. I was giving a newbie gardener some advice about his peppers when I told him, “You should realize that you’re growing one of the most challenging vegetables you can grow this side of the Cascades. So, if you don’t succeed this summer, keep it up! Don’t stop gardening!” And that’s pretty much the drill every time I’m there. I spend countless hours coaching people about growing tomatoes when they’re a challenge for even the most experienced gardener. In this climate, we use lots of strategies (remember these?) to help our tomatoes thrive and even so, they may not succeed. Ask any northwest gardener about last year’s summer and they’ll probably tell you how they put all their green tomatoes to use.

So, here’s my message to you, new gardener. Start simple! Tomatoes and peppers are in your future, but for your first plot west of the Cascades, start with veggies that will thrive. I want you to be successful because I know from experience, the more things grow and the more fresh vegetables you taste from your own garden, the more excited you will be about growing your own food. And the more likely you’ll be to garden again next season. So here is a list of easy-to-grow vegetables that you can grow for the spring and fall! Plant these seeds in August and September (with the exception of the plants listed for summer) for a fall harvest:

Greens – these seeds are super tiny so the biggest tip I can give you is to not sow these too deep. Water the bed, sprinkle seeds on the surface, cover with a fine layer of soil, and press down gently. Keep the seed bed moist and water with some fish emulsion fertilizer (nitrogen to promote leafy growth) when the first few leaves appear.
• lettuce
• arugula
• spinach (although I don’t have the best history with spinach success so don’t feel bad if you don’t either)
• swiss chard
• kale

Peas (and beans in the summer) – grow snap peas for their pods and their shoots. Peas can be grown in a container too. Just remember they may need a trellis. Beans are planted for the summer, but peas can be sown in February for a spring harvest and in July for a fall harvest. Save shelling peas for another day or for your local farmer – you need to grow A LOT of shelling peas to yield a usable quantity.

Radishes – they love to live between your lettuces (click here for more about companion planting).

Zucchini (summer) – just plant one! Or plant two in case one dies, but seriously, one will give you all the food you need. The biggest mistake you can make with zucchini is overcrowding, which can cause them to develop the dreaded powdery mildew. The more air that can circulate among the leaves, the better.

Herbs – I grow all these herbs in pots, especially the mint. I didn’t include basil because while it’s delicious and somewhat easy to grow, it is more delicate and needy like tomatoes. Lots of people ask me questions about their sad basil plants and usually it’s because they started too early. You also have to stay on top of the harvest because when basil goes to flower, it will change the flavor of the leaves. See what I mean? It’s delicate. Stick with these sure-fire herbs, which are also delicious dried. Just keep those pots watered.
• mint
• thyme
• oregano
• rosemary
• dill

Happy sowing!