Eat Fresh! Winter is the time to order seeds for spring gardens and seed companies have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as health and wellness moves to the forefront of the minds of not just gardeners, but consumers as well.
Western Washington gardeners are lucky because Ed Hume Seed company is located near Puyallup and as a local garden legend, Ed himself continues to oversee the operation of the seed varieties that do best in our cool summer climate. You can order seeds online at www.Edhumeseeds.com or just visit a local nursery or garden center and scan the display of seeds in the distinctive dark black seed packets.
The most important tip for successful gardening from seed is to read and follow the instructions on the label — and arm yourself with extra information on soil preparation and harvest tips to insure a productive experience.
Grow Fresh Tips for Western Washington:
1. Slugs will eat everything soft and tender — and are especially attracted to lettuce and other leafy greens. Plan ahead and bait for slugs before your lettuce seedlings sprout. One way to beat the slugs is to lay damp newspaper on top of your lettuce patch right after you plant the seeds. Tiny baby slugs will collect under the newspaper so you can gather them up easily.
2. Heat loving crops such as tomatoes, basil, eggplants and squash should not be planted too early. I wait until after Father’s Day to add these warmth-seeking plants to my garden.
3. Peas need to be planted in early spring because they fade quickly in hot weather. Pre-soak your pea seeds or wrap them in a damp dish towel so they are partly-sprouted before you plant. This helps to prevent sweet peas and garden peas from rotting in the cold wet soil.
4. It takes skill and lots of heat to grow Amaranth, the ancient grain now being sold as a complete protein and the darling of the heirloom seed companies. Stick with seeds that do well in cool soil — carrots, broccoli, cabbage and kale are crops to start with for beginners.
(Want to learn more about heirloom seeds? Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has great information and fresh seeds for sale. www.rareseeds.com)
5. Crops in pots is the answer for beginning gardeners. Patio tomatoes, bush cucumbers, basil and other herbs all benefit from the extra heat generated by setting a clay or ceramic container on a sunny patio.
6. Plastic pots and light weight foam containers (some look just like terra cotta and stone) keep the soil cool and do not release moisture. Gardeners in Western Washington have better luck growing vegetables by using clay or ceramic containers that absorb heat and release excess moisture. If you do use plastic pots — don’t over water.
7. Most potting soils are sterile or made form what is known as a “soil-less” mix of peat, sand and perlite. This makes the potting soil light weight and quick draining and excellent for preventing disease. But this also means that most potting soils have no nutrition for the plants. You must fertilize container gardens.
8. Berries are easier to grow in Western Washington than fruit from trees. This is because apples, pears and cherries are more prone to disease in our cool climate. Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries grow better here than almost anyplace in the world. Easiest of all, harvest native blackberries and huckleberries and reap the health benefits without planting a thing.
9. Perennial herbs from Mediterranean climates such as rosemary, thyme and oregano will return year after year but only if grown in a raised bed, rock garden or container with excellent drainage. Fresh herbs can be grown indoors but after a few months the plants will weaken from lack of sunshine. Most herbs do well in poor soil — they are great plants for beginning or busy gardeners.
10. Some crops grow too well. Mint will take over in a garden with damp soil and horseradish, hops, and kiwi have all generated lots of complaints about invasive growth from local gardeners. Just a reminder that growing your own food is not that difficult in our climate. So plan to plant something this spring — and eat fresh!
Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.