There’s nothing like the crunch of a fresh snap bean or the sweetness of a juicy tomato still warm from the sun. And the taste is even sweeter when it’s one you’ve grown yourself.
Whether your garden consists of one large pot with a tomato plant or a few hundred square feet in your yard, it’s easy to grow much of your own food with just a little bit of knowledge. However, the rewards really roll in when harvest time comes and you bring those fresh vegetables into the kitchen. (Recipes below!)
1 sweet potato plant
1 tomato plant
1 eggplant plant
1 pepper plant, sweet or hot
1 or more six-packs kale, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, broccoli, etc.
packets of corn, squash, cucumber, squash, spinach, etc. seeds
large planting containers, window box, or small garden plot
For a complete list of vegetables that can be grown in Western Washington and when/how to plant them, this chart is a great resource.
You can plant this garden in large pots or directly in the garden. Whether in a container or garden, plants need good light, soil, adequate space, and water. Choose a location that is somewhat flat and receives a minimum of 8-10 hours of full sunlight each day. More is always better. In addition, make sure you have a good source of water nearby. Western Washington summers are often very dry throughout July & August. Your vegetable garden will appreciate a good watering at least once a week during the growing season and daily watering if in containers.
If you are starting a new, in-ground garden, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested first. Your local conservation district should be able to help you with that task. You can also use raised beds or large pots/barrels. Fill them with clean soil and/or compost for an instant garden.
Mix 3-4 inches of compost into a new garden to improve its overall soil biology and health. If you already have a garden area, be sure to add 1-2 inches of compost each year to maintain soil health.
To ensure adequate nutrition for your garden, add a complete organic fertilizer (available at most garden and nursery centers) to the area to be planted and mix in well before planting. Be sure to follow directions for the product you are using; generally 1-2 cups per 10 square feet and broadcast across the area. For long season heavy feeders like squash, eggplant, corn, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. adding a top dressing around the plants of 1-inch of compost a month after planting can help keep them growing vigorously.
If growing in-ground, space kale, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, and cabbage about 24 inches apart; lettuce 10-12 inches apart, leeks 3-4 inches apart, and spinach 6-8 inches apart. When planting in containers, you can reduce that space by half or more.
Plant to bury kale stems to first set of good leaves. Be sure to bury the entire root ball of your lettuce, about 1/2 inch deeper than the pots they were in. Spinach has a crown in the center of the plant, where the new leaves come from. Plant to make sure crown is the soil level.
Plant sweet potatoes after the last frost date and until about June 20. They need about 85 days to mature, but the longer you keep them in the ground, the bigger they’ll get. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun a foot or so apart at the bottom of a 20-inch-deep trench. Hill up the soil as the plants grow, keeping 12 inches of foliage above the soil surface and a shallow trench for easy watering. On both sides of the trench, cover the bed with sheets of green or black plastic or ground cloth, letting the plants peek out and keeping the trench visible for effective watering. Mark your calendar to remove the plastic sheets in mid-August to make it more difficult for moles and voles to find the ripening tubers.
When seeding corn, planting a grid pattern helps ensure good pollination and a good crop. For example, plant seed 2-3 inches apart in three or more rows spaced one foot apart. Plant seed 1/2 inch deep and water frequently till they come up. Thin to 6 inches apart in-ground, closer when in containers.
Cucumbers and squash should be planted in hills 3-4 feet apart. Plant 3-5 seeds in each hill; thin to one plant per hill. Mixing a small shovel full of composted manure into each hill before planting will help feed them throughout the summer.
Weed, water, and nurture your plants through the summer. Make certain that your garden is always well watered, but not sopping wet. Have a rain gauge set up near your garden. Summer rains don’t often last long enough to soak our gardens well and often need additional irrigation. For more information on caring for your vegetable gardens, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington is a great resource. Also check out these publications from WSU on vegetable gardening.
Picking Fruits and Vegetables provides specifics to look for to harvest each vegetable for best flavor and nutrition.
Getting kids to eat their veggies can be easy! Check out these fun recipes, head out to harvest, and make a great-tasting meal.
Lettuce Peanut Butter Wraps
Romaine or other lettuce leaves. Try chard, spinach, or kale for something different.
1 tablespoon peanut (or other nut) butter per leaf
Spread peanut butter on leaf, roll tightly, and secure with a toothpick. Serve immediately or cover, chill and eat within 3-4 hours; lettuce goes limp quickly. Other greens hold longer when chilled.
Basic Stir-Fry Vegetables
3 cups raw vegetables, washed and cut into bite-size pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup water
Salt, pepper or low-sodium soy sauce, if desired
Prepare vegetables and set aside. Heat oil in 10 to 12-inch pan over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook just until it is limp. Stir in rest of vegetables. Add water, cover and cook 2 to 4 minutes until vegetables are just tender. Season with salt, pepper or soy sauce if desired. Serve immediately. Recipe courtesy WSU Food $ense.
2014 Fair GG Map & Veg Planting Guide