April 17, 2020
Welcome to Fidalgo Grows, where experienced local gardeners will help your garden be the best it can. We look forward to your comments and questions.
We’re happy to begin the blog with Fidalgo’s own beloved Peter Heffelfinger, who has gardened in the Fidalgo Island/Skagit Valley area for over 40 years. A Master Gardener, he has taught classes for the Eat Your Yard program, the Know & Grow series at the WSU Extension, the Anacortes Senior College, and Christianson’s Nursery. A former garden writer for Fidalgo Magazine, his column currently appears in the Whatcom Watch newsletter.
Introduction to Four Season Vegetable Gardening
by Peter Heffelfinger
Fidalgo Island has been rated by Seattle Tilth as the best site in the Maritime Northwest for growing vegetables year-round. With low rainfall due to the Olympic rain shadow, and cool temperatures moderated by the Salish Sea, one can plant a wide variety of crops starting in March and continuing on a monthly basis right through October. Early peas and lettuces in the spring; classic tomatoes, corn and beans for summer; hardy greens in the fall; and overwintering brassicas and leeks for harvest during the chill of winter. Not to forget potatoes, onions and winter squash for storage. And finally garlic, the fall-planted bulb that, like the tulips, appears in the spring.
It is best to think of gardening here not as a one-time rush to get everything in at once, but rather a steady monthly rhythm of “what do I plant today to harvest during the next succeeding season?”
Since the garden will be in use on a continual basis, it is important to rotate crops to avoid disease, maintain fertility with added organic matter and amendments, and sow winter cover crops to avoid erosion. Endemic pests and diseases come with our moderate climate, but there are strategies and tools to deal with them organically.
Climate change is now an added challenge that is expanding our main growing season at both ends, early and late. With warmer, drier summers and less winter snow-pack, water supply will be the critical issue.
All in all, gardening takes a watchful eye as well as flexibility when things go a bit awry. Given our fortunate locale, there’s always time to replant.
Hi, Peter – thanks so much for sharing your gardening wisdom. Looking forward to following your “This Week in the Garden” (TWIG) posts on Mondays to keep me on track.
You mentioned in your intro about how water will be an ever more critical issue in our drier summers here. Cliff Mass just noted it’s been an “extraordinarily dry” April. I’m on a well & rainwater system and already find myself hoping the water tanks will hold out through the growing season. Do you ( or anyone else) have any “best watering practices” to share?
Like last year, we’ve had an intense bout of steady sun in April, which has been hard on my new brassica starts under their cloche of floating row cover. To save water it’s best to irrigate early in the morning to avoid loss to evaporation and to give the plants needed moisture before the heat arrives.
I rely on an artesian well that feeds off the aquifer of Whistle Lake and the south flank of Mt. Erie. It slows down in August each year but until now has never completely dried up. During the hottest days I water intermittently at 2-3 hour intervals if possible to give the well a chance to recharge.
Also, when planting I rake up small 1-inch berms around the outer edges of my raised beds to prevent water from running off the sides, and I make circular berms around all tomato, pepper, and cuke plants in the grow tunnel, as well as around winter squash and cabbages outside. Little dikes to keep the water in and around the plants.
I should add that I do a lot of watering by hand, using a watering can to fill the mini-craters around individual plants. For tomatoes, watering only at the ground level is necessary in order to keep the foliage dry and prevent disease. In the general garden I find I can deliver the proper amount of water more efficiently and quicker than spraying over the whole area. I keep 30-gallon drums, filled by a hose, next to the grow tunnel and at further reaches of the garden, to allow for quick , repeated fill-ups of the watering cans (even if they are green plastic). I also find that a direct, solid stream from a watering can penetrates Reemay cloth directly over the plants underneath instead of rolling off the arched wall sides if you are spraying with hose nozzle.
For potatoes and corn I run a hose at the uphill end of the trench or hilled row and allow it to gradually fill the enclosed channel as it flows downhill.
And if there is enough water, I do enjoy watering with hose over a large area, especially since the hummingbirds like to fly through it.
What are the best plants for gardeners to plant to grow food for foodbanks?
I would say vegetables that don’t lose moisture right away, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, as well as green beans and snap peas with the stems left on. If you are doing carrots or beets, leave the stems and foliage on to keep the roots/bulbs fresh as long as possible. Later in the fall, winter squash and pumpkins, since they keep well.
Overall, it depends on how long the produce sits before it is picked up ad distributed.
Hi Peter. Thank you for this blog.
I want to add November to your planting months. I plant fava beans in November, and they grow slowly all winter. They have flowers already, now.
Also, Evelyn, I recommend a ‘rain’ barrel near the kitchen, so that you can dump your veg washing water in for use during the dry season.
I’m glad to see this project get underway. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the reminder on favas. I don’t plant them since I have a reaction to how they taste. I know they are planted out in the Valley as a winter cover crop that also fixes nitrogen in the soil.
I have planted garlic well into November though I prefer to get it in by Halloween before the rains settle in.
And, if I get way behind in sowing my fall rye, I have sown it in November, but I cover it with floating row cover to help it sprout in the cool weather and to protect the seed from the hungry birds.
So, I should include November in my calendar, especially considering how our fall season is extending later and later.