Gardening

Every home cook benefits from a little kitchen garden. This can be as simple as a pot of herbs on the windowsill. In our climate it’s pretty easy to grow greens and cool weather vegetables. Warm weather crops like tomatoes, corn and peppers are trickier, but many gardeners grow them successfully here too. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

Raised beds

These are great for locations where it isn’t possible to dig into the dirt, as in many urban spots. Raised beds also let you garden off the ground, helpful for aging backs! The basic idea is to construct a bottomless box and fill it with dirt. The wood doesn’t have to be the best in the lumber yard and the joins can be pretty simple too.

Size: all you really need is a foot of height. My first raised beds were double beds, two feet in height, and remain my favorites because they’re so easy to work in. Width: best to stick to four feet or less, to make it easy to reach into the bed. Length: you can run the beds the length of the boards. My double height beds are four feet square, the one foot beds run eight feet.

A few refinements: put weed block under the boxes to keep the weeds down. For a one foot box you’ll want reasonably good soil. In the double boxes I started with a layer of stones, then newspaper, less good dirt, good soil, and a top of compost. Fancy!

You can also find people selling raised beds at farmers markets and on Front Street in Poulsbo.

Sunset Magazine article on building raised beds

Square foot garden

This is a trademarked garden method using raised beds. I started with this system, it got me into gardening in a friendly and easy way. The trademark prevents us Master Gardeners from teaching it, so here’s the web site: Square Foot Gardening.

Gardening under plastic

Any degree of heat you can buy increases the chances your tomatoes and peppers will ripen before winter and protect greens through light frosts. There are lots of ways to get plastic over your beds. If you have raised beds, try arching plastic pipe from one side to another to provide a support for the plastic. Voila! Instant hoop house. Some gardeners swear by greenhouse plastic, others just use the rolls available at the hardware store.

I went to the trouble of buying and installing a commercial greenhouse. The one I use most though is the little plastic-covered shelf system I bought on sale one fall that sits on my porch. It’s great for starting flats and holding purchased starts until I can plant them.

Compost

Your own compost is the best fertilizer for your crops. You know what went into the mix! It’s hard to tell with commercial compost; one year I got mushrooms in our compost along with a squash blight, and several farmers and gardeners have ended up with manure from animals which ate hay treated with herbicides, which also dampen the growth of vegetables.

Making compost is so easy it’s embarrassing. The idea is to heap up organic materials and let them decompose. You can contain them in something as simple as a wire circle. There are fancy composting bins available, the ones we have settled on are round and square plastic. A couple of notes: you will need to turn them over once in a while. Save your grass clippings to add to the mix. Don’t put diseased plants or weeds in your own compost, save those for the yard waste containers.

Make your own compost and you will thank yourself every spring! There are many good instructional books and web sites out there – here’s one to get you started: Composting 101.

Pea patches

Pea patches are a great place to visit to get ideas for your own garden. You’ll find raised beds, plastic tunnels, potatoes grown in stacked tires, homemade compost bins, and rows of great vegetables. We have two publicly available patches in Kitsap: Kitsap Pea Patches 2012.

Ask the Master Gardeners!

Most farmers markets include a Master Gardener booth. This program is sponsored by WSU to bring scientific knowledge of gardening out into the public. Master Gardeners don’t know everything, but we often have a lot of experience, and we have a lot of resources to help answer questions. Go ask a question next time you’re at the market, you may make a new friend! You can also look up plants, weeds, and pests on the WSU knowledge base: Hortsense.