Category Archives: springtime

Plant for Pollinators, by Linda Z

by Linda Z

posted May 6, 2023

Plant for Pollinators

May 13 is the Skagit Master Gardeners Annual  Plant Fair at the Skagit County Fair Grounds – come say hi! As a Xerces Society representative, I’ll have an exhibit in the educational/info tables with info on how to set up pollinator habitat in your home garden.  The Washington Native Plant Society will be in the same section, as will Virgene Link, who’ll give a presentation on “Love Those Bugs!” Come and connect with folks who are stressing the keystone importance of both our native invertebrates, and our native plants.

Here’s the website for the Plant Fair (notice that you can click on “Plant List” to find many of the plants that will be for sale):

Plant Fair

Additionally, the Master Gardeners have created a Pollinator Garden at the Discovery Garden, with 50 flowering native and non-native shrubs & plants. You can find a list and more info here:

Pollinator Garden

I plant for bloom from early spring through late winter in my home garden, to provide bees, moths, and butterflies with nectar and pollen. Lately I’ve noticed that a very small bee species is busy visiting the turnip flowers that I allowed to go to seed. The bright yellow flowers are very cheerful to see while my new veg plants are getting started and aren’t much to get visually delighted about yet!

blooming turnip

Transition Fidalgo’s Seed Share at the Anacortes Library currently (May 1st) has phacelia, nigella, cosmos, and scarlet runner bean seeds to plant NOW for your garden’s bees, if our soil is FINALLY about 60 degrees, that is.  I will plant scarlet runner beans, cosmos, sunflower, phacelia, and alyssum in the first week of May. If you plant seeds, make sure they are not treated with pesticides, and that the sunflowers are not  the pollenless variety.

My fruit trees are all in bloom now (May 1). I hope those pollinator bees are warm enough to fly and do their job! 50-55 degrees is what they need, both to hatch out of their overwintering nests, and to be warm enough to fly. Last year, we had cold and windy conditions during fruit tree bloom, and many reported that their apple trees weren’t adequately pollinated. Native bees, by the way, can forage in slightly cooler temps and windier conditions than can honey bees.

apple tree

As beautiful as Skagit’s tulip and daffodil fields are, their blooms have nothing to offer our pollinators in the way of pollen and nectar.

Let’s hear it for home gardens planted with Oregon grape, red-flowering currant, wind anemones, heath, vinca, grape hyacinth, pieris japonica, snow drops, crocus, primrose,sarcococca, hellebore, cyclamen, aubretia,and Indian plum: all feature nectar and pollen. These early bloomers of February, March, and April, provide food for the bumble bee queens stumbling out of hibernation, and for mason, leaf cutter, and other smaller native bees newly emerging from their nests.

Bumble bee on crocus




Winter to Spring Gardening

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted April 21, 2023

One of the rewards of having a thriving winter garden is that it keeps offering fresh produce deep into the spring planting season. Just as we start to sow seeds and move transplants into the slowly warming soil, the last survivors of freezing snows and heavy rain storms keep us supplied with fresh leaves, buds, and a few weathered but still edible bulbs.

Leeks and radish greens

Leeks are my main hardy in-ground allium, which remain available long after my storage onions have run out. The outer leaf sheaths get a bit mushy from the cold but are easily stripped off. The lower mixed green and white sections, protected from frost by being deeply rooted in the soil, are still fresh, solid and full of bite. The tattered tops can be used for soup stock or for feeding the livestock in worm bins. And of course leeks pair traditionally with the last of the stored potatoes for winter soup. As the days lengthen and warm up, a hard inner stalk will develop as the leeks start to go to seed. The thin solid core can be easily removed when the stalk is cut in half lengthwise. Chopped leeks serve as my basic vegetable soup or stir-fry starter, along with the last of the stored garlic heads that haven’t gone soft yet.

Winter cabbages

My hardy winter variety cabbages made it through the cold, with the green cabbages being culled first, followed by the dark reds, with the green Savoy lasting the longest as the heads started to go to seed. If you carefully cut off just the main head, leaving most of the outer leaves, the remaining stalk will soon sprout a ring of fresh side shoots that can be snapped off as tender greens. To spruce up fresh cabbage salads, I add apple slices, some dried currants or cranberries that have been finely chopped and macerated in a honey-vinaigrette dressing, and a handful of buds of the chive plants that have re-sprouted and are already overflowing their pots in my kitchen garden.

Savoy cabbage

Garlic chives, also grown in containers, is another hardy perennial, which if protected by row cover or tarps during heavy freezes, will start rapid growth in early spring. I use them chopped into soups as a last minute addition, as well as in making kimchi, my latest expansion into fermented foods, using the dried Korean hot peppers I grew last year.

Purple sprouting broccoli

Brassica buds are the most common spring edible. In the past I relied on overwintering Purple Sprouting Broccoli, grown specifically for the heavy set of purple seed heads in spring. This year I had a winter purple broccoli that usually heads up in mid-February but was delayed by the heavy snowfall. By spring it had morphed into a bush of small purple broccoli heads. If you keep harvesting the buds, the lower side buds will expand but be smaller. I also tried a semi-cold hardy Italian leaf broccoli that required protection under row cover all winter. It made very dark green buds and white flowers that were easily chopped for soup. The Lacinato kale, a standard winter plant these days, also offers an endless supply of buds, often lasting deep into May.

Another hardy green, also kept under row cover as protection from wind and cold, is Mizuna mustard, a Japanese thin-leafed variety resembling dandelion leaves that is very mild and tender. The tops of over-wintered Oriental white radishes have slightly thicker greens, and will supply a few mature bulbs that can be grated for a horseradish-style condiment or added to a miso soup. Last fall I also potted up a few young volunteer Purple Mustard plants that I protected during the cold. By spring they had new large leaves and bright yellow buds that were very pungent, akin to Chinese mustard.

Mache and turnips

Mache, also known as corn salad, is a hardy but very tender green that comes into its own in early spring, forming a mound of soft greens and white flowers for salad. Finally, the hardy arugulas start to leaf up just about the same time as the ever present dandelions start to sprout. Of course dandelion greens are a standard spring tonic, salad green, and diuretic, known in France as pissenlit, or bed wetter.

As for spring planting in my large garden, so far I have early red and white potatoes in the ground, as well as transplants of green, red, and Chinese cabbage, plus broccolini, all under floating row cover as protection against the root maggot fly, as well as bulb fennel, also under cover as a defense against rabbits. Leeks will go in soon, to restart the allium cycle.

I have expanded my at-home kitchen garden with large containers of snow and snap peas, bok choy, yellow onion sets, as well as Cipolini and Walla Walla starts, lettuces, dill, cilantro, and endive. Note: I use nursery plants as a quick and reliable way to get started during the usual cold and wet spring weather. While I wait for the new generation of plants to grow, I can keep whittling away on the last of all the winter survivors.

Go SLOW on Garden Clean-up

by Linda Zielinski

posted April 3, 2023

Transition Fidalgo is delighted to welcome Linda Zielinski to our garden blog. Over the years, Linda has made her mark on our community by generously sharing her expertise in gardening, raising chickens, and ukulele strumming. Now she’s putting her energy and enthusiasm into the role of  “ambassador” for our oh-so-important pollinators. Thank you, Linda!

The Buzz from Linda ZZZielinski: Go Slow on Garden Clean-up














Our Skagit County native pollinators are just beginning to show up from their overwintering nesting sites! You already know that butterflies, bees, and many other insects are in sharp decline; probably you’ve noticed this in your own yard or at city parks. We humans can really help get some balance back in our environment by holding off on garden clean-up until May. That messy garden looks awfully good if you love the habitat it creates for insects, for the flowers that need pollinating, and for the birds who feed insects to their young broods. It’s such good news that we otherwise hard-working gardeners can lay off on yard clean-up until after the fruit tree blooms are finished. We can instead spend March/April planting seeds and starts, and wait until light-jacket-and-baseball-hat weather in May to clean up, after our pollinators’ new babies develop into adult bees, butterflies, and other insects that are part of our biodiversity. How many times in the past have I disturbed a queen bumblebee from her over-winter hibernation? Never again, say I! Here’s an enjoyable, educational read if you want to keep pollinator habitat in your yard by knowing when to “clean up”:

So think about turning your yard/farm/big ol’ flowerpot on your balcony into a wildlife refuge for pollinators! I’ve recently been “hired” as a volunteer for the Xerces Society, a 50-year-old science-based non-profit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates (such as bees, butterflies, and other species of pollinators) and their habitats. The specialists and scientists at Xerces are hard at work conferring and forming partnerships with agriculturists, entomologists, government agencies, companies such as Whole Foods and Dannon, foresters, and even land managers such as at the Portland International Airport, schoolkids, and property owners big and small (including townhouse/apartment dwellers with balconies and big flower pots!) 

Over 50 folks around the country were accepted as new “ambassadors” for Xerces late last fall, including myself (now one of three Western Washington volunteers). I’m just learning my new craft, and it’s a very re-energizing experience for my aging brain! On this blog, I hope to share with you some of the Xerces YouTubes, articles, and events, many of which you’ll be able to join from Transition Fidalgo’s site. Or, consider going straight to to dig through the volumes of readable and downloadable info.

I’ll be volunteering at tabling at events regarding pollinators and their habitats, and the threats these keystone animals face. Please let me know if I can be of service to you or your group!

Fidalgo Seed Share, by Julia Frisbie

Fidalgo Seed Share

by Julia Frisbie

Last Saturday on January 28th, which was National Seed Swap Day, a dream germinated here in town: we opened a seed library! It’s at the Anacortes Public Library near a nice display of gardening books. Anytime the library is open, you can go and “check out” free, locally-adapted seed: take it home, grow it for a season, save its seeds, and bring them back! Of course, there’s no penalty for not returning seeds. The most important thing is to grow them. Growing local seeds increases our resilience. As you drool over your seed catalogs this winter, I’d encourage you to shop here first!

There are more than 40 varieties of locally-grown seed available at the library. To entice you, here are three favorites grown in my own garden.

“Coeur di Bue Albenga” tomato: I planted thirty of these out during the cold, wet spring of 2022 and watched them limp through June without high hopes. But in September, despite my mediocre management, they exploded with fruit! Sweet and juicy enough to eat out of hand or slice for sandwiches. Dense enough to make into sauce (good thing, because there were more tomatoes than we could manage to eat fresh). We saved the seed, and now urge you to give it a try.

“Withner’s White” pole bean: a relentless producer of tender, romano-type green beans all summer long, even in partial shade. (Make sure to trellis, especially in shade, because they like to climb!) This variety is recommended by Oregon seed breeder Carol Deppe. They have a sweet, rich flavor that I prefer to any other green bean I’ve grown. All summer long I bring in colanders overflowing with them, rinse and chop them into bite-sized pieces, and throw them into a greased cast iron skillet, stirring frequently until they turn bright green and blistered. Heaven.

“Withner’s White” pole bean


“New Mama” sweet corn: this is one of the first open-pollinated sh2 (supersweet) varieties available to home gardeners, and it is delicious! If you’re habituated to the sugary hybrids from the grocery store and have been disappointed with homegrown, open-pollinated corn before, give this one a try. Lackadaisical gardeners take note: this is an extremely forgiving variety. We got a good harvest even though our watering was inconsistent, our beans pulled half the corn plants over, and our fertilization regime was pretty much limited to “everyone pee on the corn whenever you think of it.” In fact, the corn stalks grew higher than the eaves of our house! Here they are in front of our six-foot fence.

“New Mama” sweet corn


Don’t worry about how wrinkly the seeds look; that’s just what happens when sweet corn dries down. Plant it when the soil’s warm enough for bare feet, arranged in dense blocks (not rows) of at least 25-30 plants… more, if you have space! We saved approximately 13,000 seeds. Don’t be shy.

sweet corn and sweet Lowen

Next time I get a full night’s sleep (HA HA HA) I’ll write about garden planning. It’s all I can think about. Tomatoes, beans, and sweet corn will be here before we know it!

The -New- Garden Plan — by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted June 14, 2022
We’re happy to welcome back long-time gardener and blogger Peter Heffelfinger!

For 2022 I am changing my overall garden strategy, reducing my large-scale production workload a bit and relying more on an expanded kitchen garden close to the house for quick year-round access to leafy greens, hardy alliums, and herbs.

















Purple Artichokes with beehives in the background

At the main garden, a few miles away from the house, I’m increasing the basic crops that I rely on: potatoes, onions, leeks, as well as early and late varieties of cabbages and broccoli. I’m also adding to the existing perennial beds of asparagus and artichokes as well as the hardy Portuguese flat-leaf kale that lasts several years.

As much as I like having them in the winter, I’ve decided to forego Brussels Sprouts since they inevitably harbor aphid infestations over the summer and appear again during warm spells in the winter. It’s easier to grow fall-planted January King winter cabbages for a brassica less impacted by insects and sweetened by frost.

















Since my usual garlic plot near Edison was flooded last fall I planted about #800 cloves of selected hardneck varieties in one large raised bed at my Campbell Lake site. I’m hoping the garlic will not be affected by the white root rot that I had there a decade ago. It’s looking healthy so far, and is benefiting from the steady rain and cool spring weather.

Last year the summer drought arrived a month early and my garlic was parched in the heavy clay soil of the Flats, with a loss of 30% of the crop. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of hardneck varieties including Music, Deja Vue, Korean Red, Russian Red, and recently added an unnamed purple-skinned variety from a nearby gardener.

At the big garden, I’m reducing my usual large plantings of Oriental snow and sugar snap peas, as well as cucumbers, since I had a surplus of frozen peas and pickles from last year. A few bulb fennel and snow pea starts went in early, but I’m leaving the snap peas, pole beans, zucchini, corn, and winter squash plantings to my garden partner. I’ll rely on the local farmers market for small items like radishes, Japanese white turnips, radicchio, and bok choy, and the food co-op for carrots and celery.


Portuguese flat leaved kale

At the house, which is too shady for main crop vegetables, I have pots and large containers of arugula, parsley, lettuces, regular and garlic chives, bulb fennel for greens, rosemary, winter savory, several thymes, a culinary bay bush, and a perennial bed of Greek oregano. The slugs got to my first cilantro starts, so I’ll try again. I also transplanted some of the perennial kale into a bed on a trial basis, and have a few snow peas in large tubs with a wire fencing to hopefully ward off the deer that come through each day.

I’m also trying to grow potatoes (Purple) in a few large tubs lined up against a south facing wall. My nearby bed of horseradish was set back by the cold winter; I’m hoping it will recover for some home-grown wasabi-like heat this fall.

The Hoop House

Hoop house with peppers and tomatoes

The 40×20 hoop house at the main garden has been moved to new ground, with a more efficient system of raising the sides for ventilation after last summer’s heat wave. I have Sungold and Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, plus an assortment of Romas for sauce, heirloom varieties of Beefsteak and Old German Striped, a Borghese Italian for traditional sun drying, and a new Japanese slicing variety Momotaro. There’s a Yellow Pear as well as Juliet, a larger grape-type cherry tomato that is also good for drying.

My hoop house pepper collection includes the standard green/red sweets, plus Anaheim, Padron, Shishito, Early Habanero, Bull’s Horn and Green Marconi for roasting, Italian Sweet Yellow, as well as a Hungarian Black, a Yellow Cayenne and several hot Asian varieties. Finally, there’s a single tomatillo for salsa and a stand of early basil for both pesto and to adorn the first ripe tomato slices.

Ants & Aphids

While I knew that ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship, with ants harvesting the nectar that the aphids secrete as they suck out the juices of young plants, my garden had never really been impacted by it until now. I first noticed single ants on my young pepper plant leaves, but saw no real damage other than a suspicious sprinkling of tiny white flakes on the upper surfaces. I found the ant colonies next to punky wood in the greenhouse sills, removed as much as I could of the nests, and placed ant traps by the peppers. But the ants persisted, some moving their activity to the cucumber bed, while the scout ants were still showing up on the pepper plants.

Then I found the aphids: patches of young aphids on the undersides of the large lower leaves, and sprinklings of new activity on the upper buds and new leaves. I had to carefully spray the underside of each leaf with a mild solution of dish detergent and water as well as douse the buds at the top. I also rubbed off any soaped aphids as best I could without damaging the leaves. The soap dissolves the exoskeleton of the aphids. Hopefully I caught the infestation in time, and will spray again to make sure.

The hoop house was moved this spring to an area of the garden where I had previously grown Brussels Sprouts, as well as overwintering kale, which would have allowed the aphid population to build up over several seasons. Lesson learned.


The Atmospheric River

The heavy rainfalls so far this year have certainly been good for the trees and the mountain snow pack. It’s a reminder that we do live in a temperate rain forest.

Early potatoes

I bought all my seed potatoes early on, including Chieftain Red for new potatoes, Yukon Gold, Cal White, and a Clearwater Russet. But I could only plant one or two rows at a time, waiting for the rare sunny day when the soil was dry enough to work. The first section benefited from the all the rain, with just enough dry breaks to prevent the seed potatoes from rotting out. Given the intense irrigation from the skies, it has been a race to keep the zooming plants adequately hilled up. The second and third sections of potatoes will hopefully benefit from the latest river from the sky. Sometimes you catch the wave, and hopefully the wave will recede by July.

Peter H.

Julia’s last pre-partum post!

by Julia Frisbie

posted May 24, 2022

It’s been a wonderful week in the garden. This post is shorter than usual because I spent all my free time outside digging rather than inside typing. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

  • Preparing beds by mounding up the soil, and adding mulch to the trenches between beds to create paths
  • Transplanting ALLLLLLL the tomatoes and the summer squash, plus the first successions of corn and cucumbers
  • Transplanting tender flowers like marigolds and sunflowers
  • Direct sowing the first beans (after several hours of pre-soaking in warm water)
  • Starting seeds for my second successions of corn, cucumbers, and herbs
  • Hand watering while I continue to work on this year’s drip irrigation layout
  • Pulling/digging/torching weeds
  • Pulling tent caterpillars off the apple tree (before drowning them and feeding them to the ducks… this is a delicacy)
  • Building a bean tipi (otherwise known by my star-wars-loving kiddo as “the Jedi Temple”) and other trellises
  • Watching the red russian kale finish flowering and start setting its seed pods
  • Watching the songbirds collect fallen duck down with which to line their nests
  • Watching the fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora) come into their full glory at Ship Harbor
  • Watching my “Desert King” fig tree finally put out its first leaves of the season

I’m not sure how many more posts I will be able to share with you this summer, because I am nine months pregnant, with all “optional” things soon to be swept off my plate. However, gardening is NOT optional. It’s life-giving. There will still be a garden. So if you want to know how it’s growing, you’ll just have to come visit.

Editor’s note:
Transition Fidalgo and, we’re sure, all of Julia’s readers, are grateful to her for so enthusiastically sharing her garden adventures with us. While she pulls away from posting for a while, we’d like to invite others to send articles about their gardens to us at May we all continue to grow together!

Tender Annuals: Is it time yet? — by Julia Frisbie

by Julia Frisbie

posted May 10, 2022

I’ve only been growing here for six seasons, but still, I can’t remember ever waiting so long to transplant my tender annuals. I’m on a tight schedule this spring, and getting very antsy. But the dang weather forecast is still showing temps in the 40s and 50s for the next week! What to do? To guide my plantings, I’m considering recent garden records, phenological cues, historic temperature data, and the way the soil feels.


Having access to this information is one great reason to keep a garden journal. As I read through old entries, I found myself wishing that I’d recorded soil temps along with dates, so I’ll do that from now on. These are the notes I’ve taken about transplanting my heat-loving annuals over the past 6 years, along with some information that Peter Heffelfinger has shared right here on the Fidalgo Grows blog. Note: both of us grow with Southern exposure in raised mounds that allow our soil to dry out reasonably early, my garden has good wind protection, and he has a small hoop house.

  • 2016: I planted heat-lovers in mid April. (We’d just moved, and didn’t have any proper garden beds yet, so I did most of my tender annuals in straw bales that year. They heat up faster than the ground.)

  • 2017: The soil was 55 degrees by April 11. It felt like I started heat-loving seed both too early (April 25) and too late (May 10), so we purchased starts from Christianson’s and planted them around Mother’s Day. But… we still didn’t get many tomatoes. I had a new baby that year, and my garden journal sadly admits: “Anything that needed special attention suffered.”
  • 2018: I planted tomatoes and cucumbers into holes in plastic mulch on April 28 and May 5. I covered them with a remay frost blanket when I first transplanted them, and took the remay off on May 11. This led to my first tomato ripening on July 7, and great harvests into late summer and fall.
  • 2019: we got a week of gentle rain and mild temps, so in a fit of enthusiasm, I started transplanting tender annuals into raised mounds of soil warmed by plastic mulch during the first week of April. I finished planting dahlias by April 27, the first red poppy bloomed on May 8, and of course we finished the drip irrigation system over Mother’s Day weekend.
  • 2020: I planted out my dahlias and heat-loving veggies from May 1-6 (most were transplanted, beans and corn were direct sown). Peter wrote that early May was the time to transplant tomatoes, once the soil is warm and nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees.
  • 2021: I planted dahlias (and got my inaugural sunburn of the year) on April 14 because the lilacs were already budding and I could comfortably walk barefoot on the soil. The first heat-lovers got transplanted into plastic mulch on April 18, dahlias had emerged by the 27th, and I transplanted the last cucumbers on May 19th. Peter bought his tomato starts and began hardening them off around April 27.


My neighbor’s lilacs are now in full rolling bloom. I learned from one of the long-time growers of the Whatcom County Dahlia Society that when the lilacs are budding, it’s safe to plant dahlias in raised beds or mounds, so that was my go-ahead; I finished planting my dahlias last week.

In 1996, the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education instructed my seed-saving mentor Rowen White that, “When the leaves of the dogwood are the size of a squirrel’s ear, it’s time to plant corn.” I don’t have any native dogwoods, so I keep track of the blossoms on an ornamental dogwood who has been in this spot longer than we have and knows it better than we do. Blossom development seems right on schedule:

My mentor Rowen suggests another cue to watch for: wild blackberry buds. She says that when they’re swollen and just barely starting to open, it’s time to plant. I encourage you to find the wild blackberries closest to your garden that share a similar orientation (north, south, east, or west) and check on them. Here are the south-facing wild blackberry buds closest to me:

They don’t look like they’re going to open up this week.


If you toggle the right settings, the website will allow you to see current temperature data superimposed over historic averages. Here’s a look at April and May 2022:

Look how much the gray marks are hanging out in the blue rather than the red, and how the trend of the gray marks doesn’t match the upward slope of the average historical trends yet. Compared to past years, this has been a cool spring.


If you’re a regular reader, you know that I enjoy gardening barefoot. This gives me a lot of sensory information that I wouldn’t have otherwise. But if you want to keep your shoes on, you could get similar information by…

  • Kneeling. How wet do the knees of your pants get?
  • Pulling weeds without gloves on so that your hands are in it.
  • Using a soil thermometer. (Just remember that the results may vary from bed to bed; measure them all!)

At this point, some areas in my garden have reasonably dry, warm soil… and some parts are still cold mud.

The bottom line is: the calendar says it’s time. Phenological cues say maybe. Historic vs. current weather patterns say maybe not. At this point, it all depends on your planting area. Is it raised? Sheltered from wind? Covered in plastic? If so, go for it! If not, better keep touching the soil regularly. There is simply no substitute for sensory input.

Let me know in the comments what your soil feels like and what you’ve planted so far!

Late April: Harvesting, Planting, Working on– by Julia Frisbie

by Julia Frisbie

posted April 26, 2022

We just had a glorious sunny weekend, and I spent almost all of it in the garden. There’s always a lot going on in late April. Rather than doing a deep dive on any particular subject, today I’ll share a birds-eye view of what I’ve been harvesting, planting, and working on.


HARVESTING: Eggs, asparagus, rhubarb, kale florets, dandelion, raspberry leaves

Every bird in the garden is now laying eggs like crazy, inspired by increasing day-length to amass clutches in creative hidey-holes where they might be able to brood. The result is that every day in April, we get to go on an Easter Egg hunt in the chicken and duck yard. We feast on egg-heavy recipes– frittata, custard, egg salad– and give thanks.

Fresh, raw asparagus is so sumptuous that I never seem to amass enough of it for cooking. Whatever makes it into the kitchen usually gets sliced thinly and added to a salad. It’s unbelievably sweet!

As for rhubarb, the early growth is the tenderest of the year. I harvest just one or two early stalks from each of my rhubarb plants anytime after they’re longer than a foot and thicker than my thumb. It’s not enough for pie at this point, so I make rhubarb scones.


Our red russian kale feeds us year-round, and this is the season for each individual plant’s final offerings before going to seed. In April, the kale mamas get ready to flower, and I cut some of the flower stalks before the buds open and prepare them like broccoli (usually by roasting them in a 400 degree oven for just a few minutes until bright green). As long as the individual plant seems healthy and strong, I cut the central flower stalk in order to encourage lateral branching from the base of the plant, which creates both a longer harvest of florets and a larger eventual harvest of seed. This is also the time of year when I completely remove any less vigorous individuals from my backyard kale population so that their pollen doesn’t get added to the mix and influence the next generation.

Dandelions! I don’t grow them on purpose, but here they are, and I’m not sorry. The humans in the household have yet to develop a taste for them. (Please share your recipes in the comment section; I am always game to try again!) I leave lots for the bees as a source of early pollen, but each day in the spring I try to pull at least one dandelion plant up, rip it into small pieces, float it in clean water, and offer it to my ducks. This “dandelion soup” is extremely nutritious, and as we round the bend into the later half of their mating and egg laying season, their bodies are hungry for it. It’s the equivalent of a daily multivitamin, and they relish it.

My raspberry plants have now sent up hundreds of babies in all the wrong places. With help from friends, I’ve sent dozens off to new homes, but I still have a surplus. I harvest some for greenery in spring bouquets with daffodils and tulips, and cut the rest for red raspberry leaf tea. (If you’ve seen me in person recently, you might have some idea why it’s my new beverage of choice!)


PLANTING: Tender annuals under cover, Peas, leafy greens, and the first dahlias

Two weeks ago at the farmer’s market we did a soil blocking demonstration, and I started a tray of corn, a tray of cucumbers, a tray of tomatoes, a tray of herbs, and a tray of tender annual flowers. They’re on my heated propagation table right now, and almost everyone has germinated! Only my cucumbers failed to show up to the party, probably because the seed was packed in 2017, so after five years under mediocre storage conditions, it must have come to the end of its viable life. No problem; there’s still plenty of time. This weekend I started another tray of cucumbers with fresh seed to make up for it.

As regular readers will know, so far I’ve only direct-sown peas and leafy greens. (I did put in a row of Olympia spinach according to the instructions that Anna Torgeson left as a comment on the post about planting salad– thank you, Anna!) If you haven’t done yours yet, it’s not too late. At this point I’m hand watering lots of pea and salad seedlings because I haven’t gotten the drip irrigation set up for the year yet.

I planted the first dahlia tubers this past weekend. Most spots are still too cold for this, but if you’re working with raised beds in a favorable microclimate, it might be time. The batch of tubers I did this weekend went into a fluffy, newly-prepared bed against the southern eaves of my neighbor’s house. I told her not to worry about watering them until they emerge from the soil line; otherwise, they might get too damp and rot underground. I’ll probably begin to plant my own dahlia tubers into raised mounds of soil next weekend.


WORKING ON: soil prep, paths, irrigation, trellises, pest control

The major task in April is bed prep. Any energy you can invest into good infrastructure in your garden at this stage will pay you back with compound interest later in the season.

The first thing, of course, is weeding. Although I often allow them to flourish in perennial beds, deep rooted perennial or biennial weeds have to be dug out of annual beds, because they’ve got so much energy stored in their roots that they will outcompete seedlings. For example, I’ve been digging out dozens and dozens of dock plants. They’re here to help with excess magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus in my soil, and help loosen compacted subsoil. I thank them as I dig them out of my annual beds. Every root I remove leaves behind a deep and narrow hole that will allow water to drain and air to penetrate the soil. I soothe my aching back by telling myself that the dock removal project serves the same purpose as broadforking and is probably almost as effective.

Once a bed is free of deep-rooted weeds, it’s time to deal with all the little tiny seedlings of annual weeds. Getting around to this in April rather than May means that most can be eliminated just by surface disturbance. As I rake the soil into low mounds according to Peter Heffelfinger’s instructions, I create enough disturbance to wipe out weeds that are at the baby-leaf stage. (Once this year’s beds are fully formed, I won’t rake anymore, so I’ll have to rely on timely flame weeding or untimely manual removal. I’ll do that until the soil is warm enough that I feel like I can add a layer of weed-suppressing arborist wood chip mulch without slowing down the tender annuals’ progress, and then I let my plants fend for themselves for the rest of the season.)

A lot of what I’m doing when I form my garden beds is simply moving topsoil from the areas where I plan to have paths into the areas where I plan to have annual garden beds. In other words, I’m digging out the paths in order to build up the beds. But I don’t want to leave bare subsoil in the paths, because that’s an invitation to more weeds, and it also gets compacted by foot traffic and won’t drain well… in other words, not very cozy. So I add a two- to four-inch layer of arborist mulch into the paths I’ve dug out between garden beds. The channels of mulch act like mini-swales which soak up rainwater like sponges and then slowly release it to the beds adjacent.

Above: the bed is on the right, and the woodchipped path through the perennials is to the left.

After I’ve got beds (and paths) formed, it’s a good time for me to double check my drip irrigation lines, because I’ve just uncovered them with all that weeding and raking. I can fine-tune the system later (usually during Mother’s Day weekend when I’ve requested the gift of unpaid garden labor from my family), so at this stage I just want to make sure that I can see the lines and they’re in the right neighborhood.

Once beds are formed and irrigation lines are visible, we drive in t-posts at each end of any bed that will need a trellis this season. You can use loads of different stuff to make trellises, and different plants have different preferences. For climbing peas and beans, I use hortonova netting because their little tendrils seem to appreciate having thin stuff to grab. For tomatoes and cucumbers, I string some wire between two t-posts and then wind individual vines up to the wire on lengths of twine using a string trellis method.

A few years ago, April and May were months when I hunted slugs and snails at dawn and dusk, collecting and dispatching about a pint of them per day, because otherwise they would eat up all my seedlings. Now, all I do is throw a rogue one or two to the ducks when I come across it. Good job, ducks. Thank you for taking this disgusting chore off my to-do list.

That’s a snapshot of late April in my garden. Leave a comment and tell me what you’re harvesting, planting, and working on in your garden right now! I’m eager to know!

Potatoes, Making Beds, and Snails and Slugs

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted April 5, 2021

Potato Planting

With the unsettled weather of late, my low-lying, lakeside garden plot is still a bit too wet to plant potatoes. The winter ground cover of annual rye has been tilled twice during the sunny days in between the bouts of rain. Once the soil is somewhat drier, and the last of the rye has decomposed, the tubers can go in. To avoid having to cut large potato sets into smaller pieces, I try to select egg-sized starts. I think of laying the small ovals into the deep furrow, and carefully covering them up with soil, as a post-Easter hiding-the-eggs ritual.

Later on, the harvest of all the full-sized spuds is a delayed treasure hunt. The hope is to dig up good-sized potatoes with as little disease as possible, either black scab on the outer skin or soft brown rot inside.

Planting Potatoes (Video Guide) - BBC Gardeners' World ...

Given our relatively mild, wet winters, potato diseases tend to linger on in the soil. To prevent buildup of disease, it’s especially important to plant disease-free seed, to rotate plantings each year, and to promptly remove any potentially diseased seedlings that may sprout from unharvested tubers, missed by the potato fork in the fall. Potatoes are the one carbohydrate reliably grown in the home garden, so guard the crop each year against the spread of disease.


Remaking the Beds

One of the few dry spots in the spring garden are the raised beds of the over-wintered leeks. Once the last of the alliums are harvested, the soil on the high mounds dries out quickly and can be worked up easily with a fork. The soft, white leek roots will dissolve easily back into the soil, maintaining the airy tilth of the ground. Since I grow various brassicas year-round, I have to make sure there are beds opening up that were not previously planted with any member of the cabbage family. Thus, my leek beds become the first place for starts of early cabbage and broccoli. At the opposite end of the cycle, the last of the over-wintered cabbages are just being used up. The cut stalks left in the ground are pushing out small side sprouts that are perfect for stir-fries, late additions to soups, or eaten fresh.

Brassicas are easily grown in each season, but they do require protection from insects in the spring. The cabbage root maggot fly appears early in the year and it will decimate seedlings. The only protection is to cover the plants completely with floating row material such as Agribon, carefully sealing all the edges on the ground with boards, metal fence posts, or soil. The plants must be kept isolated from the small fly, which lays its eggs near the stalk of any young brassica. The maggots then migrate through the soil to feed on the soft roots, causing seemingly healthy six-inch starts to suddenly keel over.

Factsheet - Brassica club root (283)

As the brassicas grow under the protective tent, the white material can be supported by metal or plastic hoops and secured in the wind by clamps. You can water plants through the row cover, but you will need to lift the cover to remove weeds, which thrive under the slightly warmer temperatures under the small hoop house. Once the brassica plant is full-sized, and the stalk is thick, the plant is relatively safe and the cover can be taken off.

But, the next insect soon appears, the white cabbage butterfly, dancing over the leaves, looking for a mate. As long as the throng of butterflies is not too thick, I don’t mind a small number of green caterpillars that will show up later on. If it’s a problem, keep the maturing plants under the row cover until it is time to harvest.

Actually, it’s quite a thrill to finally remove the row cover and reveal mature, healthy broccolis or cabbages underneath. Almost like magic.


Snails and Slugs

Snails and slugs are an important part of the natural composting cycle in nature. Think of them as digesters of the plant or organic material that accumulates on the ground. In the garden, however, if you have too many, they can become a problem. They’re especially attracted to young vegetable starts, so it’s important to start removing the initial spring buildup of these creatures. I find the easiest method is to lay boards by the side of the garden beds, or near any particularly wet spot. After their nighttime forays, the snails and slugs will hide out under the boards during the day. Flip the boards over, remove or squish the critters and replace the flat traps for the next accumulation. Also, keep an eye out for any nest of small, pea-sized, translucent slug eggs in your garden soil, most likely in an undisturbed spot, hidden just under the surface. Squish again, to prevent a new wave. With the advent of dry summer weather, the population of slugs and snails diminishes.

Pin by Sandy Camp on Yard | Snail, Photo, Ipm

But it’s wise to keep the numbers in check all season long.

Snails will also gather on the large stalks of over-wintering cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, hidden by the thick layer of leaves and protected by their hard shells. My understanding is that the local population, which arrived here as an invasive species a few decades ago, are Asian land snails, not the edible variety consumed in Europe. Nor are they the small, but tasty Turk’s Head snails served along with sushi in Japan. A flock of free-range ducks would gladly eat the snails in your garden, but that involves another level of animal husbandry.

Note: I use Sluggo pellets in small amounts only when necessary to protect small starts during very wet weather. Any paste or liquid snail bait can be fatal to birds, who pick up the chemical on their feet.

Spring Weather

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted March 22, 2021

With the recent clear, cool nights and sunny days, spring has arrived several weeks early. The key difference is the relative absence of sustained rainfall. We’ve had a few sudden downpours, and even a bit of sleety hail, but not the sodden, extended weather that is expected around the spring equinox in the Pacific Maritime Northwest. The usual signs of spring are here: the red flowering currant bush is blooming and the Lenten hellebores are in full display, with the overwintering hummingbirds buzzing around both sets of blossoms. And, atop the highest fir tree the local pair of bald eagles have been making incessant calls to each other, as if to get the nesting season started early.

Last year at this time the ground was too soggy to plant potatoes, which didn’t go into the garden until April 17th. This year, the ground at my South Fidalgo garden is fluffy and workable, and the winter rye cover crop is being tilled in; the potatoes will be planted in a week or so, as soon as the rye roots and leaves decompose a bit. With the start of daylight saving, the garden weather clock seems to have moved ahead as well. The jump start may seem a boon to gardeners, hoping to get things in the ground soon, but the real message is the early drop off of the winter rains. The summer drought seems to be creeping in ahead of time.

Out on the Flats, where I have a large plot of garlic, the dry weather has caused the clay soil of the Valley to harden into a solid cake. Last year I applied a layer of woody compost to both deter the weeds and lighten up the ground, but the garlic crop suffered with a high percentage of moldy bulbs, approaching 30% in some beds. So, this winter I kept the beds bare, applying the usual mid-February fertilizer to jump start the garlic growth in the cool winter soil. (Note: I just use my standard, all-round organic fertilizer mix, not the blood meal or high nitrogen application often recommended.)

Of course, the ever present weed seeds also appreciated the sudden nutritional boost, forming a thick carpet of shot weed and other common occupiers of open soil. I’ve had to spend long hours using my stainless steel Japanese hand weeder, with a very sharp cutting edge and an offset blade, to cut through both the hard surface of clay as well as the already tough weed roots. Unfortunately, unless I am very careful, the sharp blade occasionally nicks off a soft garlic shoot. Hopefully the few plants sacrificed now will be less in number than the many that had to be thrown away last summer. Thankfully the mold last year was just common botrytis, not the feared white root rot that permanently affects garlic plots. Ultimately the cleaned garlic from last summer stored well, with the cloves just now starting to sprout or turn soft.

To preserve the remaining surplus of stored garlic I peel the good cloves, process them with a bit of olive oil and canning salt, and pack the rough mixture into pint jars for freezing. The mix can also be safely stored for a few months in the fridge, with the garlic bite turning very sweet. Be sure to keep a thin layer of oil on the surface to keep the garlic ‘refrigerator jam’ from drying out. You can also do a quick pickle of garlic. Whatever method you chose will serve to bridge the fresh garlic gap between now and the appearance of the first scapes in June.

I’ve also been making a traditional Spanish garlic soup: lots of sliced garlic sautéed with olive oil, paprika, cayenne and cumin, then mixed with chopped ham and chunks of day-old baguettes. Heat with stock or water, add whatever chopped spring green available and garnish with some newly-sprouted garlic chives. A proper spring tonic at the end of the garlic cycle.

Peas, Spring & Fall

For me, spring means fresh peas. It’s been many years since I grew traditional shelling or English peas. I now prefer Snap peas for quick eating or cooking in the shell, while my overall favorite is the Oriental Snow pea, particularly the variety Mammoth Melting Sugar. I find other varieties of snow peas to be not as large, sweet or tender.








In order to avoid spotty germination in the cool soil of early March, I bought starts of Super Snap peas and transplanted them in a raised bed lined with cedar boards. I kept the plants covered with large pots for a few days to shield them from the sun and wind while they develop their root systems. After I removed the pots, and the peas were standing 4 inches tall, I unfortunately forgot to cover them with my usual low arch of chicken wire to fend off any rabbits that might make it through the outer fencing. When a large gate was left open one night, the pesky critters trooped in and neatly trimmed off the tops and most leaves of the peas. There’s always a chink in the armor. So, once again giving thanks to local nursery suppliers, I replanted with fresh starts, which should still provide a slightly delayed, mid-spring taste of fresh peas.

The Mammoth Melting snow peas, which I dote on for stir-fries, have not been available locally as starts for several years. So this spring I soaked the seed overnight and planted it in the relatively dry soil of the same raised bed as the Sugar Snaps. To support the 6-8 foot tall pea plants of both varieties I’ll be using 4×8-foot cattle panels instead of makeshift arrangements of tall poles and twine. Not quite as homespun, but effective. I also bought extra snow pea seed for a late summer planting, which will supply a second crop, given the increasingly warm and dry autumn growing season. As the climate changes, fill the gaps.

Peter Heffelfinger