Seed selection, garden planning and raised bed research occupied my mind this Spring. With the arrival this week of the Baker Creek seed catalog in the mail, this fervor has been re-awakened. I am already excited for the work to come in Spring. With the same fervor I once felt for planning cute outfits for warmer weather, making shopping lists in my mind and sketching fashions to fill my endless supply of blue cover spiral notebooks (needs to be blue, always blue- OCD much?), I now plan for fresh produce.
Last Spring I dwelled in the pages of the Whole Seed Catalog by the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company like it was a harlequin novel or the holiday issue of Vogue. My mind never stops planning, and so I woke up from dreams in which I was debating where to plant cabbage. (This overactive mind is a pretty annoying trait, and the biggest reason I practice yoga, to quiet the incessant thoughts.) I think if you plotted my feelings about gardening over the last two years on a line graph, you’d see a logarithmic function. The graph would range from “slightly OCD but otherwise normal young woman” to “old lady talking to her tomato plants” in a skyrocketing arc. I’m cool with that. Elderly Eccentric Southern Gardener is an arch type I aspire to, as I wrote about last year when I started my first ever kitchen garden. Since its a little early to begin obsessive planning for summer 2016, I figured I may as well check in and let you know how last year’s gardens did. This will also serve as a great diary for me to look back at next year before planting, so “check” and “check.”
First, Mr. Kelly and his brother worked on building me two 5×5 foot raised beds. The garden I left behind in our first home was my favorite place in our yard and I mourned its loss.
So these new, taller and prettier beds were a sight for sore eyes. He made them from cedar, untreated so they are safe for veggies, but able to withstand the PNW weather. Over the next several weekends, I weeded and filled in around the beds with large bark to keep away weeds and allow for clean, easy harvesting access. I gathered my large pots to use for herb planting and swathed the uglier plastic ones in burlap bags. They are much sassier after their make over. We made a squash arch to expand our growing area for delicata and hubbard squash out of PVC and chicken wire. This is a less than pretty but extremely practical addition to the garden that I am excited about. The final touch will be the garden gate in front of our grape arbor. It was hand welded by my Aunt Debbie and is just waiting to be hung by the hubs. A gate is necessary at our house, because after many kitchen begging sessions with me throwing him salad fixins’, our Labrador Retriever Leupold is a veggie lover.
This year I grew everything but my herbs and a couple of kale plants from seed . I started tomatoes in the kitchen window in various recycled containers, supplemented on cloudy days by a work light that Mr. Kelly supplied. A very big part of me was expecting failure, so I was generous with planting. After 4 weeks, I had 29 growing seedlings, 13 of which went into one of my beds and 16 that were brought to the farm. I scattered the rest of the seeds in the bed rows and began to hope, pray and obsessively checking for progress. The carrot seedlings sprouted first, followed by lettuce mix, one squash and nasturtiums. Mr. Kelly also helped me make some wooden trellises as part of my mother’s day gift. We loosely followed this design.
At the farm, Venise and farmer Ross built 4 giant beds, giving them about six times the space I have. Venise got her best post-baby work out yet digging post holes for the corners of their beds, which they built from aluminum siding and wood posts. We both got our dirt from C&D excavating in Bonney Lake, and supplemented it with a few inches of well mixed in compost. At the farm they’re using local cow manure, heated until sterile and cooled before using. This compost, labelled Scarecrow’s Pride, is sold in our area from a local organic farm. We opted for some easy bagged organic compost from the Ace hardware store in town but will definitely be trying the Scarecrow’s Pride next year.
The babies’ nanny, Heather, is another gardening enthusiast so she was stoked to have shared space to grow and took over the planting of the farm beds. Herb, veggie and even quinoa seeds went in. The garden gave her a fun workout all summer long while the babies napped, as well as a pretty good farmer’s tan and harvest. Her efforts turned out to be worth the work because the garden actually produced a lot more than expected. For a neater bed next year we will need to pull some starts and allow more space in between plants because they tended to ramble and crowd one another like 8 kids in a 3 bedroom farmhouse. Nothing wrong with it, and there’s lots to love, but don’t expect an easy time getting around!
Our gardens this year were a total adventure. We’re new to this area, new to growing from seed, and branching out to new varieties. After all of the feverish planning, all we really hoped for was gardens that would supply our kitchens with some of our favorite foods. At the end of the day, we basically scattered seeds and hoped for the best. To our relief and luck, we were successful. The harvests were bountiful, with many lessons among the gifts.
Our squash was a runaway hit. Like many Pacific North Westerners, we found ourselves pushing zucchini on neighbors and strangers alike. I processed and froze bags of it to make veggie pancakes for my carb-loving, veggie-hating toddler Henry. Spaghetti, Delicata and Butternut squash were successful as well and we will be growing a lot more of these next year, but plan to move them to mounded rows to free up the space in the raised beds since they tend to take over. Equally successful were tomatoes, though we accidentally mixe dup the starts and grew way too many small salad tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. These were delicious fresh and are great to freeze in bags to make fresh salsa with, but the mistake meant that we had to buy large heirloom and roma tomatoes from other local farms in order to make sauce and soups. I also spent the summer dreaming of a far past but never forgotten Portland Red Bike Café breakfast sandwich and purchased more large tomatoes to make Tomato Shallot jam. This stuff is amazing and will be justly hoarded in my pantry. If you receive any as a gift for Christmas please consider that this falls just below my first born in sacrificial status. Cucumbers also kept us busy with pickling and Venise tried several methods, including refrigerator, old fashioned brining, and hot water bath canning.
Full list of veggies I grew- all seeds from Baker Creek seed co.
- Crookneck Summer Squash- grew like the dickens, with a huge beautiful plant. Will move into the main gareden to save raised bed room next year.
- Chinese Yellow Cukes- delicious but thirsty, did not seem to love the vertical growth I tried so will try next year without the trellis
- Kudora Carrot- got some and they were tasty, but have decided that next year I probably won’t waste garden space for carrots when they are such an inexpensive veggie to buy organic
- Rocky top lettuce mix- fantastic taste and kept growing for about 3 months
- tomatoes- Chadwick Cherry and Glacier red (a slightly larger salad tomato that grew well and were delicious.) Plants were TALL, over 7 feet, and a real challenge to keep upright in the wind storms we had. In early September I loped off the tops of the plants to encourage ripening of the many green fruits left on the vine since it was beginning to get cold and rainy. This worked pretty well and I was able to save the crop that hadn’t ripened on its own. Next year I will start the plants even earlier to allow for a more productive season and will plant way more large plants.
- Zucchini- Black Beauty grew REALLY well, ’nuff said. Will move out of the raised bed next year.
- Southport White Globe Onion- grew in pots, but probably too close together as they never got bigger than a couple of inches
- Swiss Chard- rainbow mix grew very well and was an awesome addition to frittatas
- Alaska Nasturium- beautiful and tasty addition to the borders of the raised bed garden that grew wonderfully, however it seemed to attract aphids
- Blue Hubbard- utter failure. All fruits developed rot.
Herbs- all organic starts bought locally from our friend Jessica’s awesome business Pea Patch gardens:
- Basil- prolific, I am up to my ears in pesto and loving it
- Thyme- grew well, have a lot dried
- Rosemary- grew well, have a lot dried
- Kale- obviously not an herb but bought as a start also, and it was worth it! Prolific bounty through Fall
- Peas-same as above, fantastic early spring English and snap peas that loved the wooden trellis we built and finally got me, a heretofore raw pea hater, to become a believer.
Full list of Venise’s garden, all grown from seed:
- tomatoes – these did great but I planted WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough of the large ones that I use to make homemade sauce so a bunch went to waste.
- Zucchini – I grew five plants and had enough zucchini to feed a small army. Next year I will only plant 2-3 plants.
- Acorn Squash- Only two plants actually came up and the squash was pretty small. However, the taste is SO much better than ones I bought from the store that I can counting them as a win!
- Pickling cukes – these went out of control and I had plenty of pickles. We also ate them as regular cucumbers and the pigs got lots at the end of the season.
- Bush beans – I planted these with my pickles and they got pretty choked out. Luckily my neighbor’s were out of control so I had used theirs to can dilly beans.
- Corn – this was a fail. I am sure it was farmer error, but corn is so cheap to buy at the grocery store that I don’t think I will mess with it again.
- Quinoa – this was by far my favorite plant to look at in my garden. We planted the multi color version and it was really fun to watch it change colors. The problem is that it rained way too much before the seed heads got hard enough to harvest so the whole plant was a waste. I probably won’t grow it again unless I am looking to add some color.
- Loofah- cause why not? scrub a dub dub…. – I TOTALLY forgot I grew loofah until I looked at my list to write this blog. There were some weird shaped squash looking things in my garden that I couldn’t identify that ended up getting thrown to the pigs. Now I remember what they were and am pretty bummed I threw them away. FAIL!
- Basil- purple and green – This grew out of control and was one of my favorite parts of the garden. The only problem was that I had grand plans to make pesto, picked it all and then got really busy with life so it all went bad. Garden win, homemaker fail.
- Cilantro- I grew quite a bit of it but we eat a lot of cilantro in the summer (I LOVE Mexican food) so it never felt like enough. Next time I will grow more.
- Mint- The mint plants never came up which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I hear mint can be a total biotch in raised beds because it will completely take over. Next time I will probably just buy a start and put it in a container.
- Garlic – we grow this commercially but its worth putting on my list because its my favorite crop. I love garlic because you can use it almost all year because it stores so well. I REALLY recommend it for any garden, but remember it is a winter crop so you plant in the fall and harvest in the summer!
If you have advice about raised bed gardening in the PNW, or a recipe for a killer onion jam, please chat with us in the comments!