Spring and Too Many Opportunities

  • Posted on: 1 March 2017
  • By: Cathy McGuire

Although no one knows if we’ll get another frost or even snow, it feels like spring is creeping up on us here in the Pacific NW. The camelia outside my window has broken open the buds that have been there since last November (talk about planning ahead!) and the hot pink tips remind me a bit of lipstick tubes.

This is the time of spring (or pre-spring) when we are all full of plans, looking over saved seeds, reviewing last year’s mistakes and successes, and generally being fooled into thinking we can use this information in the upcoming year. That delusion gets more iffy every year that the climate changes, but there still are basics that help.

Don’t Take on Too Much
As the title suggests, this is the time of year most tempting in all the possibilities. Even if I weren’t a lazy gardener, I couldn’t do all the things I want to. And if you’re starting out, one of the best rules is: Keep it Simple. Don’t plant 8 types of pepper or tomato; don’t try to plant one of every plant that’s in the grocery store. Start first with:

- Plants that are hardy and easy in your area (and that differs by region)
- Veggies and fruits that you like and will eat a lot of (in case you’re wildly successful)
- Plants whose growing season match your availability.

The complexities of Nature are hard enough without jumping in to the “advanced” veggies and fruits. Each year I get more convinced that I need to find the specific crops and cultivars that work in my garden and stick to them… simplify and hone my expertise with them.

Become Familiar with Your Soil
Since soil is the basis of good growing, it is important to know what you’ve got. There are several tests you can do to learn what minerals and important nutrients are there, and also what soil type you have (clay, loam, sand). I won’t go over that, because there are many places with that info. For example:

Soil Types and Testing

But it really is important to get an idea of what you’re starting with – worth the effort!

Become Familiar with Your Climate
Nothing is more frustrating and futile than reading a growing advice book that is based in a region with a wildly different climate! The first time I took as gospel the suggestion to mulch my veggie starts with straw, I ended up with the Slug Hilton and no veggies! It doesn’t work in the PNW, at least not before July.

A good book for descriptions of easy and hard veggies in the PNW is Steve’s Solomon’s “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades”. (Feel free to comment about good books for your region). And he also has a website where some great out of print books can be downloaded for free – or if not, these are titles to look for at book sales!

Book List

Take Notes
Although I am much worse at this than I want to be, I have benefited from taking notes – on success/failures of specific plants, on timing of growth, on bugs and other problems (or allies – some bugs are wonderful)… but don’t get too fussy about organization, unless you have endless energy (and most of that should go into the garden). I can’t tell you the number of times I started a spreadsheet, only to drop it by April! My most successful set up is to draw a map of the growing area(s), jot in where each item is planted and the date, and add brief notes on issues. I can refer back to old maps in order to rotate crops (an important item) and to see what worked and didn’t. If the paper is big enough, notes on the side about weather are good. I went so far one year as to layer tracing paper over and track the sun/shade for each location hourly, and did that weekly over the course of several months. (obviously one year is enough for that, unless you lose your notes).

Find Local And Organic Resources
There are so many more resources than I remember when I started gardening – in fact, this is another place where it’s good not to take too much on! But find a couple local resources, if you can – groups that know the local growing info, groups (like the one I went to yesterday) that sell organic fertilizer in bulk, and groups that share your perspectives on gardening.

The internet has such a plethora of helpful sites that it’s very hard to pick just a few. Certainly our Green Wizards Forum has discussions on gardening. Your local Extension service has publications for your locale. The Permaculture movement has lots about planning your site to maximize the benefits and work with nature, and there are several heirloom seed growers such as, Adaptive Seeds, Nichols Garden Nursery and Territorial Seeds (Again, specializing in the Pacific North West).

I enjoy reading The Contrary Farmer just for fun.

And I will tentatively recommend this group, Seed Savers as a resource for heirloom seeds (there was some controversy and change of administration, and I’m not sure how it was resolved). The times I joined, the book they send with lists of those who will give seeds for free or small charge was absolutely breathtaking!

So – start small, pay attention to what’s going on in your garden, don’t get discouraged… and have fun!