There is nothing that I enjoy more than sitting in the garden on a warm summer day nestled amidst trellised green beans and towering corn with a good book. I grew up with privilege and while I am aware of that now, as a small child I had no idea that I was living in the idyllic wonderland of my parents' creation.
My childhood home sat on a little over an acre in the Portland hills. Minutes from downtown, it might have been a world away. We were enclosed on three sides by forest and a sea of flowers, fruit and vegetable gardens. We even had a small orchard that included apple, pear and cherry trees. All of the grounds were tended by my own family and we worked hard. (Truth be told, I was more of a garden sprite and less helpful than I would like to admit. My brother, Tim and my parents are the real heroes here.)
Our pantry shelves were lined all year long with applesauce and quince, blackberry, boysenberry, and raspberry jams. My mother baked fresh bread every week, both sandwich bread and sourdough baguettes and she made pies from scratch from the bounty of our harvests. I lived the dream 100 times over and it has made me the woman that I am today.
I grew up with ideas and ideals that few people of my generation understand. We traveled little, but we ate like Kings (we still do). Food was, and is, the very backbone of our family. My father's godson was Jimi Brooks (I saw him as a big brother). I helped Jimi and my dad make wines from our grapes in the backyard. I even stomped on them in my bare feet. (Jimi later went on to become Oregon's first biodynamic winemaker and owner of Brooks Wine.)
I married young and when my children were babies, we didn't have a yard, so I had a plot in one of Portland's Community Gardens. I put in the school garden at The French American School with my dear friend Meri, of Thread & Whisk. Planning these gardens and working the land has always given me great joy. It reminds me of my childhood and my father, whom I dearly miss.
I love the concept of the World War II Victory Garden, where people turned their front yards into viable land to plant vegetables during a period when food was scarce and families needed to grow their own food and share with their neighbors.
I feel like it may be time to return to our roots and consider growing our own gardens once again. It's not just the COVID-19 scare that we should worry about. With America's farmers aging, the US faces a real (quality) food shortage problem. It is my deep hope that we will see an emergence of small, family owned farms and the return of community centered agriculture in the next decade.
It's been several years since I have put in my own garden and now with many of us spending a lot more time at home, I thought it might be a good time to reach out to my friend (and aMYLK customer extraordinaire) Laura Chall of Trowel and Thyme. Laura is a local edible garden coach who specializes in small space gardening. I asked Laura for some tips on planting a garden this year.
Laura, what advice would you give to the novice gardener?
Start simple. Everyone wants to go for things like tomatoes, peppers and cabbage, but these can be high maintenance (with the exception of cherry tomatoes), so I always recommend starting with a salad garden, which usually includes things like lettuce greens, carrots, radish, scallions, spinach, and all the herbs. Once you feel like you have a handle on those, then I recommend expanding to trickier plants.
Is right now a good time to plant?
Right now is a great time to plant! Here in the Pacific Northwest our grow season is generally from about March/ April - October/ November, and things like baby salad greens only take about 2 weeks to grow!
What seeds should we start and when?
If you're starting seed indoors right now you can start practically anything, but for indoor seed starting, you need grow lights because unfortunately we don't get enough light inside of our houses for seedlings. If you're direct seeding everything outside, it's all about timing and I actually do a post at the beginning of every month with a list of what seeds can be started here in the Pacific Northwest. Right now you can direct seed outside things like Arugula, Asian greens, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels, Cabbage, Carrots, Chard, Collard, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Peas, Radish, Spinach.
The seed packs all suggest planting after the last frost, but many of us have no idea when that was, or is. Can you help?
If you go to https://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates and type in your zip code it will tell you the projected last from date for your area and it will also tell you the projected first frost date in fall. Most seeds cannot survive a frost, kale, brussels, cabbage, peas being the exception. They can handle a light frost. If you've seeded outside and see there's a frost coming up at night, you can simply cover them with anything to keep the soil warm over night.
Do we need to start plants inside and if so, what kind of containers can we use?
Some crops are better off started inside. Usually the warm/hot season ones like tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, and cucumbers. It's good to start these indoors because they like temps between 70 - 80 degrees. The temperature in your house usually falls into this range. They do not like cold temps and either will not grow or will grow very slowly in anything cooler.
As far as what kinds of containers, that again can just depend on what kind of seed you're starting. Things like salad greens can be started in a 75 cell tray, and things like tomatoes, peppers, kale, and cabbage do better started in bigger 4" nursery pots. Which you can save from other plants you get from the nursery. Lastly, I have a blog post that's a quick 101 on starting seeds indoors and I have links to all the supplies you would need https://www.trowelandthyme.com/blog/seedstartingbasics .
What kind of soil do you recommend using for seedlings? Does it matter if it is organic? Compost?
This is kind of a hot topic in the gardening world. First I will say organic is a preference. If you want to have an organic garden then definitely look for organic soils and organic seed starting mix. My personal favorite seed starting mix is Jiffy's natural and organic seed starting mix . Definitely fertilize after your seedlings have popped up. I personally like to fertilize with NOOT which is another great company based in Portland.
What about seed predators? Every year I plant a garden, but the seedlings get eaten by slugs. How do we keep the pests at bay?
Slugs are hard, there's a meme of a slug crawling over knives because they can literally get anywhere. With them I've found the most effective thing has been leaving a shallow cup or bowl of beer in your garden. They're usually drawn to that instead of my plants.
You offer garden consulting, right? Can you do it virtually? How can we reach you and where can we follow you for tips and information?
I am! And I can! You can book a virtual coaching session on my website www.trowelandthyme.com. We do an initial video chat to talk about your needs, then I send back a detailed email with whatever information you need (as long as it's in my wheelhouse :). You can also follow me on Instagram . I try to give lots of tips and tricks on there!
Thank you, Laura! I can't wait to order my seeds and my dahlia bulbs this afternoon! I also think this will be a great activity for my children.
In closing, I'd like to dedicate this email post to my late father, "The Gardener", Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Schwarz and thank him and my mother, Nancy, for raising me to have a deep appreciation for the land and for the food that we grow to sustain ourselves. I am ever so grateful.