What’s growing on in the gardens here at EEC Forest Stewardship? Yes, we do produce some small crops through the winter for use here on the farm. Garlic is up in our main planting space, along with kale, spinach, and wild mustard. In the purely aesthetic side, tulips are pushing through winter compost, and sedum reach for the warm stone walkway. On a sunny late winter day, as soil warms, I took time to establish walkways, berm up beds, and sew a few cold weather crops like beets, radish, and more kale. Right after planting seeds I got out the garden hose for a good watering.
The garden this year will demand a lot of attention, as we have an infestation of morning glory, which is a vigorous taproot structure that spreads through disturbed soil seeking nutrients and water as it webs through the dirt. The nightmare of tangled roots easily transplant with any digging, so no soil can leave the garden. which makes replanting from the native plant nursery I established here a few years ago nearly impossible without spreading the noxious weed.
While the “bindweed” is dormant, I’ve taken time to map out established plants and put a few seeds down to see if I can still eat from this garden through the summer. It also motivates me to keep after the morning glory through the summer. If you keep green leaves from shooting up, the roots eventually recede (I hope). A good cover crop of mustard, forget me not, and other perennial vetches have protected the soil through the hard rain of winter, and now, I slowly begin to turn the beds, weeding and prepping for new plantings. A marked colony of chives are greening up, a signal of Spring.
Any cold crop like Alliums and Brassicas are good to plant now in Western Washington. Carrots are also encouraged, through I find I loos most of them to slugs early on if I direct sew this early. We may think slugs aren’t out yet, it’s too cold. Oh no, they are out, and a lot are tiny offspring that recently hatched, so they are small terrors! I recommend beer traps (covered yogurt containers with slits to let the slugs in on the sides filled with cheap beer) they work to keep populations down and lure the slugs away from your lush greens. It works!
Another important part of prepping the garden for Spring is turning the compost. I keep kitchen waste in a bin compost system in the garden. weeds, grass clippings (from the scythe) and cardboard add a rich mix for the worms to feast on. When the waste has sat for many months, stack another bin on and keep composting. Then, in late winter, when things warm back up. I pull out the bottom bin and see dark loam full of worms and good organic fertilizer for the gardens.
Since the main two kitchen gardens are full of morning glory, I really don’t want to put this fine compost there, so I opt for a less formal bed where currents and a cultivar crabapple are planted. This soil could use a boost, so I flip the layered chocolate cake over in the bed and walk away. It’s that easy! What about spreading it? Well, why spend such effort and physical labor myself when I have a flock of fine bird who will love doing that work for me, and getting some worms in the deal too. The soil will not go far, and my hens will have a fun treat, a win win for all of us.
The kitchen composting system is modest, but efficient, and low maintenance. I’ve put my hand on the bottom (now top) of the pile to show you the fantastic layer of black gold from food and yard waste, which will now enter the ecology of this planted space, boosting nutrients and moisture to this bed. The trees, shrubs, and dirt in this area will thrive on these additions, and it was all freely compiled through smart organic waste management. There could be a few weed seeds in this mix too, so I usually mulch a place soon after the compost is spread. This prevents the unwanted seeds germinating. But if you wish to take advantage of the prime germination station, plant right into it to ensure the plants you want coming out on top.
In the rock gardens, our herb spiral begins to reawaken, with thyme and lavender overwintering happily, along with sedum (which needs to be pruned back) and a little weeding to free up the established plants. Grass continued to hassle from the edges, and I do spend time hand pulling a lot through the growing season- but it goes right into the nearby compost to further next year’s planting. I also chose to plant strawberries around the base of these beds, and we get fruit throughout the summer, but there’s another side to strawberries- they take over!
The keyhole garden has been the most difficult to defend from the fruit runners. YOu can already see an assault in progress, even at the beginning of March. I have to be careful about weeding back the strawberry too much at this time, as the current growth will produce the fruit, and if I pull it all now, the plants will not ripen with berries until next Fall. I tend to wait till after the first flush of fruit before culling them back a bit. By then, I’ll see flowering parts and avoid pulling them.
This keyhole may look a little patchy right now, and that’s to be expected, as that large open patch is where my horseradish grows. Like many large leafy plants, it goes dormant in winter, and disappears from the surface of the soil, but just like the tulip bulbs, there is a living plant with established root systems living just out of site. It’s helpful to keep updated maps of your planted spaces to remind you of where all those hidden gems are sleeping. Yes, I have dug up bulbs and roots accidentally in winter, forgetting I’d planted there the year before. Stakes and cages also help in keeping spaces protected.
If you do get a chance to start your garden before Spring, and I hope you do, remember to be patient with new seeds. It’s still winter, and the cold frosts will come till the end of April at our elevation, so any expectations should be retrained till after the first planting dates in Late April, early May. On a side note- you can start plants inside, and without a greenhouse, many of your seeds should be sprouted indoors under a grow light if possible. I don’t do this, because my success rate has been so low, I gave up and rely on my greenhouse, which should be completed by May. I’ll most likely buy tomato starts at a local valley farm, where a devoted vegetable cultivator has tones of greenhouse space, and the setup to mass produce a good crop of hot house plants. It’s worth the investment and saves you a lot of time and frustration as a gardener here in our wet, cool climate.
At EEC Forest Stewardship, gardening is not a main focus, but it is an important way to cultivate a selection of native and cultivar food to supplement meals. It also keeps me connected to growing things, tending space, and paying attention to what’s growing on around me. What pests are around, what beneficial insects are helping out, and how the weather is affecting the living world through each season. It’s also a place of pride on the land where I can teach about edible landscape, what grows easily in our bio-region, and how to set up low maintenance systems to feed yourself. There’s nothing like getting your hands in the soil, and later picking your own asparagus, peas, and lettuce for the perfect home grown salad.