Heads Up, Time to Look Down!

By Julie Bryan
Community Gardening Coordinator
P-Patch Community Gardening Program

Many seed packages encourage you to sow your seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost date.  Depending on which frost chart you choose to follow, in 2012, the last frost date is between  March 10 and April 6.  Either extreme you might choose, and we are in the sweet spot for beginning to sow indoor plant starts. For example, I want to grow annual fennel, Foeniculum vulgare this year.  I have chosen Fennel-Florence, Foeniculum vulgare var azoricum organic seed.  The  seed package instructions tell me to “Start seed indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost, or sow directly once the soil has reached 65*F. Fennel tastes best when grown in moderate weather; extreme hot or cold temperatures, or soil that’s too dry, tend to make the plants tough.”  You might be ahead of me, if not, its time to set up your lights and heating coils, seedling trays, and soil mixes. If you do and start your fennel indoors you can harvest your first sowing much earlier than sowing directly outdoors.

Speaking of outdoors, there are plenty of cool season crops that can now be sown. Have you been looking down at your garden soil?  I planted garlic and peas (flowering sweet peas too) last fall.  The peas have several true leaves! The self sown cilantro seed is popping up as well. As these seed sprout, they tell me I can now sow more seed of a similar nature. Examples of cool season outdoor crops are: cilantro, pak choy, peas, leeks, spinach, radishes etc. Plan ahead for crops that like a warmer soil temperature and consider shaping a raised bed with a high south facing side to capture the warming rays of the sun and shed excess water or covering a bed to dry it out a bit. What other techniques can you share that will help increase the soil temperature and create an earlier positive growing environment?

January and February are the time to be pruning fruit trees, P-Patches have many fruit trees, and their care is important.  If you need or want resources, City Fruit is a good resource, or call the P-Patch office or Seattle Tilth and we can direct you to knowledge and people with skills.

Think about attending one of the many educational opportunities in our area, and there are plenty of books and resources online to help you understand, decide and create a planting schedule for your garden space and the things you like to grow.  I ran across this  Pacific Northwest resource that I thought was interesting. I am sure you might have resources you would like to share.

Look at crops that are new to you, and experiment with your knowledge and taste-buds.  There are so many things out there that are edible and tasty too! I went to see the Hungry Planet: What the World Eats and Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound exhibit at the Burke Museum.  It was very interesting and fun to recognize commonalities and differences in what people eat.  The PNW Salish people have a very diverse listing of  foods eaten .  Wow, I certainly have more room to be a creative steward of the land and foods, there is so much to learn. Heads Up, Time to look down!