Name That Allium (& tote bag giveaway!)

We’re in the thick of winter, but it’s been damn near balmy here in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve barely had to don sleeves. Out in the gardens, spring plants are sprouting (spotted today: White Satin carrots, garlic, shallots & even scented geranium) and vegetables are starting to put on a decent amount of growth. Today, I cleaned up rows, weeded, thinned fall-sown carrots and killed a few slugs. I thought it would be fun to share some of the alliums I came across 'in the field', as they are all visually distinguishable, but only slightly. Can you recognize them simply by seeing the greens?

Before I give the answer away, I thought I’d turn this into a game. My friend, Jane Bills of Let There Be Bite  (a site dedicated to highlighting good food including guides to the best products and tips on when they’re worth the splurge) sent me a few extra canvas tote bags this winter after I thanked her for mine. Let There Be Bite totes are deep and wide, durable and functional and good-looking too. No big ugly logos and no flimsy straps – these are the real deal.

The first person to name ALL FOUR alliums correctly in the comments, gets a free tote mailed to them! (just like you’re reading, please answer L to R, Top to Bottom)

What To Do In The Gardens Now

Fall is most definitely here, even if the days are still warm where you live. (Lucky you!) So, while I know you want to hang on to those tomatoes and you're just praying for them to ripen, it's time to let go of the dream and pull those plants out.....Stat! As our days shorten, there is less time for fruits to ripen, so do yourself a favor this week (that's right - THIS one, the first week of October) and pull out and compost ALL tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, peppers and anything that has gone to flower. Clear your soil of all root hairs and debris and plant garlic & mulch or sow thickly with cover crop so that your soil has protection this winter.

How to Grow Leeks

January 2013

Whether you're growing leeks from seed (too late this fall, so wait till spring) or start (better get them in now!), you'll have to grow them in a trench if you want a nice bit of white. Why? Because covering the base of the leek with dirt blocks it from the sun and leaves the column of the leek soft and white. The same practice is done with frisee or endive in the field. If you do NOT plant in trenches, you'll still grow leeks, but the white bit will be super short and you'll be disappointed. Watch this video to see how leeks are planted and then covered as they grow & let me know what you think! It's my first ever how-to garden video and I hope to make more as time allows. How to Grow Leeks.

What to Do in The Gardens Now

The heat is on! There are several tactics to implement in gardens over summer that will ensure a successful and prolific harvest. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports. This keeps tomato stems from breaking and allows for easy pruning. I’ll be honest and tell you I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. This also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits. To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small "X" at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large "X" - these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position them about 5-feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!


Good Garden Bugs

I know plenty of home gardeners that will kill any bug they see in the garden  upon first sight. I was in Long Island recently, and my sister dug up an ant village for fear they would harm her newly planted starts. I can understand the inclination, as bugs are pretty creepy and even the good ones are hard to discern, but it is not a good habit to get into and most bugs you find are beneficial in some way. King County has put together a Good Bug Guide that I highly recommend as weeknight reading. Complete with close up pictures, it is an easy way to introduce bugs to the home gardener. I'm particularly fond of the centipede - I really hate these bugs and they gross me out, so it's a lesson of garden faith to leave them behind to work their magic. Centipede's attack slugs, and I absolutely hate slugs, so it's a winning relationship.

What insects are bugging you lately?? (Pun intended!) Leave a comment below and I'll happily offer an organic solution.


Growing Potatoes in a Bag

Potatoes, diggin upHere is some awesome garden geek information on the science behind how potatoes grow. You should really know this if you're planning on growing potatoes - whether in a bag, a pot or a garden bed. Read on!

Potatoes grow underground and are considered a "tuber" -- a plant that is enlarged to store nutrients and has the ability to make a new plant. Potatoes, yams and even dahlias are considered tubers. So why do you need to know what at tuber is?

Here is some great info for all your science nerds to help shed light on the growth pattern of potatoes. Ultimately, this information is meant to help you -- if you’re going to build a potato-loving system that is highly productive, you've got to think like the plant!

You care about what a tuber is because tubers produce plants from a stolon (a sub-soil, sprout-like, horizontal root). The stolon is formed from the axils of the plant -- the place where the stem and leaves connect. I bet you thought potatoes form and grow off of a piece of cut potato? Well instead, potatoes actually grow between the original seed piece you plant, and the above-ground leaves. They're the stem of the plant, not the root.

Potatoes are a member of the Nightshade family (alongside tomatoes, eggplant, and of course, the deadly nightshade), some of which are toxic plants. Nightshades are prone to soil disease and must be rotated around the garden year after year in order to minimize problems with the soil. For a home gardener working in beds, this means diligent planning or designating an area outside your beds for potatoes. (Good news! If you grow in bags on your patio, you don't have to worry about this!)

Lastly, here's an alternative to using soil to mound your potato plant: you can also layer the stem in straw. That's right — just straw. It acts as a growing medium for the potatoes — a clean, unmessy growing medium. No cleaning off soil when you harvest, as potatoes will grow directly into the straw. Even better, in warm climates (down south, for instance), the straw layers help moderate temperatures and insulate the bag, which is perfect for potatoes that don't do well in the heat.

Converting Your Yard to a Garden & Making a Plan!

cocoa mulchI swear I am the WORST at tying up all of my projects in one neat place. BUT, I'm finally taking time this morning to alert you to an awesome collaboration I made with, City Dirt. City Dirt is a step-by-step, seasonal, organic guide for anyone wanting to grow food at home. We will cover the basics in a detailed fashion, there will be weekly q&a for individual plots/regions/gardeners and all in all you should DEF bookmark this and make it your bi-monthly resource for all things urban farm related. It's a MUST.

This week, I covered how to convert yard space from lawn or shrub to lush organic material for planting vegetables this spring. NOW IS THE TIME, people! Break ground, did in and read the article (in addition to the first three on seed ordering & strategy!!) here on Food52. It runs every other Tuesday.

I'm pulling a GREAT question from the comments here, as a source of inspiration, and an example of a really great question:

A question that will reveal the depths of my novice-ness: when you make the forms for the bed (out of wood or whatever) are you laying them OVER the top layer you've created of burlap/newspaper/cardboard? And then putting the soil on top of that layer? Or do you remove that layer first (assuming it has not fully decomposed...)?

AMYP:  GREAT question!!! You can do it either way, really. Ideally, you would allow the burlap to decompose the organic material for a few weeks - 4 to 8 weeks depending on when you want to plant your first crop rotation. After that time, the materials should be decomposed at which point you can either a) remove the burlap and save it for another time (this is what I would do) OR b) you can dump soil over that burlap, as it will (eventually over several seasons, though not quickly) decompose.

As for 'filling' a raised bed, you can either pull soil from your rows or another spot in your yard OR order in topsoil/compost blend to fill the beds.

Any more q's? OR does this make sense yet? LET ME KNOW!

Best Garden Boots Ever

Bog bootsI was graced with a pair of Bogs boots in early fall. Bogs are known as the one-stop shop for farmers everywhere, and the shoes are an agricultural must. I was really looking forward to using them this spring, but I had the chance to break them in early this past December when I wore them to a Tuna Tinning. That's right, tuna tinning - 1050 pounds of albacore tuna and about 25 people working in tandem to break it down and preserve it. Brilliant. I was reminded of this as Seattle is under seige from snow just now and lacking snow boots, I threw on my Bogs. Heaven in a shoe. With wool socks, my feet are warm. They are air tight and no snow gets down them even if I'm making snow angels or sledding. And as a total bonus, they look great. If you live in a city with mild winter conditions and have the need for a garden/all around waterproof boot, I highly recommend them for 2012.

City Dirt on Food52

Starting today, I am writing  writing a biweekly column for FOOD52 on how to start growing your own food, no matter how tiny your garden-to-be is. (Food52 was launched a few years ago and I've followed them from day one. It is an awesome food site, a great resource and now even has a rad store with curated food finds.) So, mark your calendars, send your questions and make a plan...........I am THRILLED to have the resource available to foodies who want to grow.food52.jpg


Rooftop Farm - Before & After

One of my clients was running out of growing room this year. The three beds I gardened last year weren't enough to satisy, so we wanted to expand. Lo and behold, we decided to farm out the top of their garage. A few yards of soil and compost later, and VOILA - we're in business. The most challenging part of starting a large garden is cutting in rows. I didn't want to do standard row-farming. I wanted to create the illusion of fullness. To accomplish that, I zig zagged some rows in. When all the plants are full and in bloom, it will look abundant and nearly overcrowded. That's the goal!


Growing Lettuce in Pots

forellenschluss startsI will be the first to admit I'm actually not thrilled about growing edibles in containers. Or really anything in containers! I much prefer to till fields (no matter how small and unfield-sy they can be) and work to create healthy soil over the long term. But I live in a small apartment and I have only my deck. My east-facing deck, I might add, where sun ducks behind the building by noon at the latest. That said, I can't not try (I mean, it's my job to grow food) and over the years, I have learned to adapt. Now, my deck is cluttered with pots and containers full of great-to-grow edibles that supply my kitchen and my pantry with produce for my meals. Lettuces, are one of the easiest most rewarding of plants to grow and I grow as many as I can in abundance. Here are some pics from a spring sowing that I am now offiicially harvesting the last of - sow'd from seed in early April and it's now end of June. From seed to harvest was just about six weeks. From there, I cut from each plant for the better part of a month. They are only now just beginning to falter and turn bitter in the heat.

June forellenschlussIf you sow lettuces this month, be sure to choose varieities that won't bolt in the summer heat. I like the heirloom Deer Tongue, Little Gem (a small-headed romaine) and Rogue d'Hiver - a red-tipped leaf that has a nice crisp leaf and rib, but also has tender leaves. Perfect.



Backyard Beekeeping

I am totally in love with the idea of beekeeping. As I don't have a yard, I was considering putting a few hives on my small urban patio, but my neighbor quickly halted that project! (Suggesting I keep rabbits or guinea pigs instead. You raise for meat?!) Either way, while I remain bee-less this city is buzzing with beekeepers and education for backyard honey production. beesI interviewed Corky Luster of Ballard Bee Company for the May/June issue of Edible Seattle and he is an absolute treasure trove of information. You can buy that issue on newstands now. Then, I wrote this sweet little article in Seattle's Child Magazine geared towards families and kids. Think beekeeping is unsafe? Afraid of getting stung? Read on to dispel some myths. My guess is you'll be stacking hives in your own backyard in no time. And let's not forget how very crucial bees are to pollination! If you're growing your own food, bees are the next best thing. Enjoy! (and let me know if I've convinced you to take the leap!)

Tomato Varieities

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to get-your-tomato-plants-in-the-ground week. If you haven't already (and really, you needn't have) this is the perfect weekend to select and plant your tomato bed. But what to plant? tomatos in a clocheIn the Pacific NW, it's best to chose varieties that mature quickly, as we have a shorter, cooler summer than say, Long Island. Big slicing tomatoes and juicy heirlooms will seldom ripen completely and should therefore be avoided. (Plus, you can buy them at the farmers markets from our Eastern Wa farmers.) A better choice is any cherry tomato variety. CHerry tomato plants produce smaller fruits, by nature. These small fruits are able to come to maturity AND still have time for sun-ripening sweetness. Ditto for the paste tomatoes, which are best for cooking. Paste tomatoes are your Romas, San Marzanos, Principhe Borghese, etc. These tomatoes are excellent for canning, as well, as they have strong flavor and a lower water content than slicers. If you're really craving a fuller fruit (good for slicing or panzanella salad) go for a medium-sized tomato at most. Taxi Yellow has grown popular over the last year and puts up a waxy yellow tomato with decent flavor and some acid, too. It's not overly sweet. Stupice are red tomatoes of the same size, though they are a bit sweeter. But really, the variety matters far less than the size of the tomato, so choose what you like sticking to this guideline.

Make sure to leave at least 18" between your plants, and be sure to water them deeply. I plant my tomatoes in an offset pattern to maximize space. In cooler climates, cloches are extremely helpful throughout June, as they really give the plants a nice strong start. In warm climates, just set them out directly.



How To Build a Cloche

A cloche is used in the garden in order to create a warm environment for plants. Cloches are made of several different materials, but for the most part I make small cloches over my veg beds in the same way that farms and nurseries use hoop houses.  With a little bit of PVC plastic piping, and a length of clear thin plastic sheeting, you can raise the temperature of the air and soil around your plants by 10 to 12 degrees. That is a pretty substantial difference in environment that certain heat loving plants really appreciate. Building a cloche

We do this in the garden in order to set out plants early. In Seattle, for instance, it's not warm enough to sow basil seeds until early June. But if you build a cloche and 'make' it warmer, you can sow your basil seeds in May. I use cloches in Spring, to set out plants early, and in fall, to prolong the season through the early days of winter.

So, how to build a cloche?

You need:

.1 length of 3/4" PVC cut into 10-12" lengths (most PVC comes in 10' lengths, so you'll have 8 to 10 pieces when you're through). You will use these to anchor your cloche

.2 to 4 lengths of 1/2" PVC - these will act as the 'hoops' on your cloche

.3mm clear plastic sheeting

.zip ties to secure the cloche

(Note to all the ladies: PVC is found in the plumbing section of most hardware stores, and the plastic sheeting is in the paint section)

Hammer your 3/4" PVC 'anchors' into each corner of your bed (so, you will use four pieces) until the top of the PVC is just about flush with the soil. Make sure they are secure and firmly in place, as they are the anchors and will act as the main source of support for

the cloche. Add these anchors to the length of the bed, so they are spaced 3 to 4 feet part. Make sure that you mirror your anchors on both sides of your bed so that they line up directly across from eachother. Stretch the 1/2" PVC pipe to fit in the anchors, essentially creating your hoop supports. When you're through, the bed will look like a covered wagon without the canvas.

Anchors in, hoops stretched

From here, you will unfold the clear plastic sheeting over the top of the hoops, running the length of the bed. Leave at least a foot of extra plastic on either end of the bed. Unfold the plastic down and around the sides of your hoops. Essentially, you're blanketing the bed - tucking in the plastic to the edges and make sure it's covered entirely. Now, you have to

A well-ventilated cloche

secure the plastic sheeting to the hoops so it doesn't blow off. Duh. You can do this several ways. You can use a clip to hold it in place (available at the hardware store), use garbage bag ties, etc. I prefer to use zip ties, as I can leave them a bit loose (as in, don't 'zip' them super snug to the hoop). This allows me to slide the plastic up and down to vent the cloche on really hot days. I pierce the plastic sheeting on either side of the PVC hoop, slide the zip tie through these two holes and zip tie the plastic loosely to the hoop. Voila!

When you're through, your plastic should be reasonably secured to your hoops. Your hoops should be sturdy in their anchors, and you should be able to slide your plastic up and down to water, vent, and access your plants. If you've accomplished all these things, you're money! Questions? Holler back.

A well-vented cloche

(photos courtesy of Carla Saunders. Garden beds are planted and tended for Springhill NW.)


Vegetable Seed Sources

seed storage recipe boxThere are a few great sources for buying seed, and a few I steer clear from. Last year, I posted something on seed ownership, and it's a great link to check out. Seeds of Change is a west coast company with testing fields in Oregon and beyond (I believe, but don't quote me on it!) and they have an awesome website with lots of great information. You still have to do your homework, as even though they are located in the Pacific NW, they sell varieties that won't do well here. Pay attention to the growing cycle of eat plant and make sure they don't require a long hot season is you're in a Maritime climate. If, like my family, you're in hot hot NY - plant some corn!

Seed Savers Exchange - oh my god, these folks have the bomb seeds. They are more costly than others, for sure. That kills me a little but, but it's a great great organization dedicated to saving and sharing rare and heirloom seeds. I just picked up a packet of "Crisp Mint Lettuce" when I was at Kettle Falls Meyers Market (as if I needed more seeds) last week for a book signing. It's a Romaine like lettuce with frilly leaves. Can't wait.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - this company is totally rad, but they carry a lot of hot varieities that would just not do well in the Pacific NW. Check them out for inspiration and rare seeds. They are small and wonderful.

Osborne Seeds - a local seed company that sells varieities just right for our climate. Sorry, east coasters, but HURRAH for us!




Garden Strategy - What to Plant & When

gaden wishlist2To plant peas or to not plant peas? That is the question that keeps looping in my mind, as I head out into the gardens in the last weeks of April. Snap peas and shelling peas have anywhere from a 55 day to 75 day life-cycle. There is still time to get the seeds in the ground and have the plants come to maturity for harvesting, but with that long of a cycle, it will be June before you can plant the bed again.

So what do plant in June?

Come June, you'll want to choose lettuce varieities that will thrive in summer heat, following a fertility rotation. (Leaf follows fruit.) Conversely, you can plant a quick growing cover crop, such as buckwheat, in your beds once the peas have finished. Buckwheat germinates quickly and is fast-growing and is an excellent choice for a space-saver so soil does not lay bare. You can turn buckwheat under in July and plant your winter beds.

Planting in this fashion only allows for two crop rotations this year, but it's a great way to get your fill of peas AND get a jump on winter-gardening.

Photo from Della Chen Photography

Mulch in the Garden

cocoa chaff mulchRemember when I told you all about mulch? Mulch is your garden-friend and can really help you in the heat of summer to aid in water retention and weed supression. However, mulch in the spring is another issue entirely. As I stood in line at my coffee shop and read the encouraging sign "Free Garden Mulch - Take Some Grounds Home!" ………... on a pile of bagged and spend coffee beans, I thought of some issues mulch may actually create.

When you use decaying 'greens' for mulch (coffee grinds, grass clippings, etc), not only are you inviting crucial microorganisms to your garden, you're inviting pests. That decaying mass of green or hay or torn paper strips is also an uber-hospitable environment for snails and slugs. If there is anything I truly despise of in my gardens, it's slugs. They have the ability to mow down entire rows of lettuce and chew off entire fennel bulb starts in the course of an evening. Breaks my heart to see.

So.............should you mulch in the spring time? It's really up to you. Try experimenting and mulching only half of your garden and see what happens. In my apartment garden (containers) I mulch with spent cocoa chaff that I pick up from Theo Chocolate - an organic chocolate roastery right by my house. (Cocoa will not work for anyone with dogs!) Or mulch when it's dry, but turn it in when it's gray and rainy for days on end. Whatever you decide, just be on the lookout for snails and keep in mind gardening is a delicate balance between benefit and detriment at times.

Installing a New Garden - Wet Soil

CompostSoilThermometer_1For anyone starting a garden at home for the first time, there are many variables to consider. Sun exposure, access to water and soil are three absolute requirments for a successful growing season. It's true that here in the Pacific NW we can dig in a bit earlier than other areas of the country. Our soil stays fairly temperate due to our mild winters.  BUT.......our soil also tends to be pretty soggy. Winter rains saturate the soil, and as a rule of thumb you should not work the soil when it's wet. Why? Because wet soil aids in packing particles close together. This condenses the space needed for air and water drainage within the soil - crucial for plants in any garden. You do not want to deal with compacted soil, either. Total drag that takes much much longer to remedy then waiting a week for your soil to dry out.

So, how do you tell if your soil it 'too' wet? A learned this handy DIY-trick from my dear farmer-friends at organic Oxbow Farm who grow food on a few acres in the Carnation Valley. Dig down a shovel-lengths deep and grab a handful of soil. Using, your fist, squeeze a portion into a ball and toss that ball in the air letting it fall onto your opened palm. If the soil-ball breaks apart easily your ground is a-ok to work. If it stays clumped together (even a small nucleous) it's a bit too wet and you're better off waiting another week or so and checking again. Need a tip for how to speed up drying out your soil? Drop me a line.

Do Seeds Expire?

seed storageI received a great email today from a gardener I helped mentor last year. We met for three hours, mapped out her year garden plan and she took off running! Her garden prospered last year, and I'm happy to hear she is ready to dig in for 2010. Here is her question, along with my answer: My question for you is about the dates on seed packets.  Are seeds only good for one year?  Should I not be using any of my leftover seeds from last year?  My Fedco seeds from last year are specifically stamped “09”.  Many of my Seeds of Change seeds from last year have 2010, or even 2011!  I’d love to use up these seeds, but wanted to see if “09” seeds were done for....I even have seeds that have a “sell by” date of 12/09.  Would they be OK to plant?

PLANT THOSE SEEDS! Certain families of plants have longer seed lifes than others, but definitely plant them and see if they germinate. If nothing sprouts in 2 weeks, they are 'bad' seeds. But the odds of that happening are 50-50, so definitely give them a go. I planted seeds from 2007 last year with success.

Also good to note......any left over seeds should be kept in glass jars with lids, sealed and held in a cool dark cupboard. This will extend their life from year to year!