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 Winter Garden

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted November 23, 2022

With the advent of cold weather, the winter garden comes into its own.


Broccoli, Romanesco cauliflower, red and green cabbages, as well as Brussels sprouts, emerged a month ago from their summertime tunnel of floating row cover and have formed mature heads. An Italian variety of leaf broccoli, Spigariello Liscia, now a 4-foot tall bush resembling broccoli Raab, was also under row cover during the summer. I uncovered the Liscia along with the other brassicas, but the slender leaves at the top were slightly nipped by the recent cold, so it went back under its white fabric.

Romanesco and peppers

The semi-hardy Mizuna Japanese mustard, the fall turnip greens, as well as the White Icicle radishes, have been picked steadily for the past month; they now need covering as well against the nighttime temperatures hovering around 32F. Nearby, the slow-growing but very hardy mache is just beginning to spread, perhaps planted a bit late, but it will slowly expand during the warm spells.

Spigariello Liscia

For a successful winter garden, you have to plant the brassica starts in mid-summer, and protect them from the start with a secure row cover against the endemic cabbage root maggot fly and the fluttering, white cabbage butterflies. A few butterflies managed to sneak inside the cover this season, but given the large number of plants in a wide row 40 feet long the overall damage was limited.

With the extended summer drought I had to water heavily every 2-3 days to keep the plants thriving and to prevent bolting. In the closed, moist environment under the row cover, however, the potato bugs and the small grey slugs proliferated, but affected mostly the lower, ground-level foliage. As the intense summer growing season extended into early fall, the brassicas grew immense, tropical-sized leaves before maturing. Fortunately the garden relies on an artesian well drawing from the south side of the Mt.Erie/Whistle Lake drainage.

Semi-hardy Greens

The semi-hardy leafy greens need to be planted starting in mid-to-late August and into early September to attain a productive level of maturity before the cool weather sets in. With row cover protection, they grow slowly through the winter, offering a steady supply of leaves and roots. Essentially, the garden never really sleeps; you have tender greens all winter long in spite of the cold temperatures.

Other more hardy leafy crops include Winter Bloomsdale Spinach, which will survive handily even exposed to the snow, as well as Tah Tsai Tatsoi, an Oriental mustard that grows in a tight crown low to the soil. The fully hardy kales and collards also stand up to the cold on their own, and in very early spring form edible buds when not much else is producing in the garden.


I rely on a bed of leeks for a steady winter supply of fresh alliums. This year the leeks were hit by orange rust during our extended warm spell in early autumn, but I kept removing the outer, more affected leaves to slow down the spread of the spores. The recent cold, which finally eliminated any lingering red fungal spots, is another advantage of winter gardening: less disease, particularly fungi, as well as fewer insects. Aphids, however, will always be a problem, emerging in winter warm spells to infest the tender growing tips of Brussels sprouts and other brassicas. Remove aphids quickly using a mild detergent spray before they spread to new spring seedlings.

Winter Cover Crops

The first cover crop, a mix of annual rye, clover, and Alaska peas, was sown in mid-September; it also needed lots of watering to sprout during the fall dry spell. Another late cover crop was sown in mid-November inside the hoop house, once the tomato, cucumber and pepper plants were removed. With the cold nights but relatively warm sunny days, the plastic cover will stay in place just long enough to sprout the rye. Once the cover crop is up, the plastic cover will be removed to expose the crop to the winter rain. It’s the hoop house’s final extension of the fall planting season.

cover crop

The Hoop House

Built in 2014 with heavy duty, nursery quality plastic, the hoop house cover has lasted at least 8 years, which was well worth the added investment. It is securely held in place by horizontal panels of wiggle-wire at the mid-point of the arched hoops along each side; exterior carpenter clamps as needed during windy days; and two 40-foot long plastic pipes on the bottom side edges that can be secured to the ground at night, and easily rolled up for ventilation during the day. The ends and doors are opened up during the day and closed at night to keep in the warmth. The plastic is removed in the winter to prevent storm damage and deterioration from exposure to UV light.

Overall, the plastic-covered hoop house is a relatively recent innovation that enables Northwest maritime gardeners to reliably ripen tomatoes, all kinds of sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, as well as bumper crops of cukes. The hoop house protection enables slow-ripening peppers to be harvested late into October. The sweet peppers were roasted and then frozen in small packets, while most of the hot peppers were dried. The habaneros were made into a Louisiana-style hot sauce, kept in the fridge for immediate use. I’ve tried to grow melons several times, but not successfully; I leave them to the farmers’ market growers who are further inland and away from the cool evening onshore mists that roll in during the summers on Fidalgo Island.


After several years of using a small, simple dehydrator for cherry tomatoes, this fall I borrowed a large, ten-tray dehydrator with a fan, temperature control, and a timer. I was able to easily process 40 lb. boxes of pears and apples, all the varieties of hot peppers from the hoop house, as well as several trays of Juliet cherry tomatoes, a large, oval variety that dries well. I also tried other varieties of cherry tomatoes. Principe de Borghese, an Italian heirloom cherry tomato for sun-drying in warmer climes, produced much smaller and less abundant fruit. Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes were moderately sweet, but too small to dry. They do have firm skins that don’t split open when fully ripe, as is common with the popular Sungold and Sweet 100’s, and combine well with tomatillos for salsas and chili verde soup.

Juliet cherry tomatoes

Dried juliets

Dehydration preserves large amounts of fruit quickly without cooking, canning, or freezing. The Bartlett pears didn’t come out quite like the chewy commercial ones, but they were still very sweet, as were the dried apples. The dried cherry tomatoes will thicken up sauces and soups made later on from the already frozen quarts of regular tomatoes; the dried hot peppers will be ground as needed, or added whole to recipes. Overall, it was an efficient way of dealing with the cascade of fresh fruits in the fall. Plus, the freezer was already full. Note: turn the fruit over half way through to ensure even drying and put a few grains of rice in the bottom of each storage jar as a protective desiccant.

Ripened pears before slicing onto trays

Plums Next Year

Years ago as part of an oral history project, I interviewed Rosa Walrath, who had grown up on a San Juan Island Italian plum/prune farm back in the early days when the island orchards were the main source of fruit for Seattle. Her job as a child was tending the prunes on screens in the drying barns, turning them over for even drying and discarding the moldy ones. At the time, I was water bath canning jars of local Italian plums on a kitchen wood stove in an off the grid cabin; the plums turned out well, along with jars of peaches, apricots, and applesauce. Inspired by her story, I tried drying local Italian plums on screens over a small wood parlor stove, but with no success since it wasn’t consistently hot enough.

This year the plums are long gone, but I look forward to doing prunes next year in the automatic electric dehydrator that sits on the kitchen table, humming to itself and blinking off the extended hours. You do still have to turn the fruit by hand, though.

Peter Heffelfinger

Make your own Nature Farming Biofertilizers/Biostimulants … by Peter Jackson

By Peter Jackson, guest columnist

posted September 2, 2022

Nature Farming represents a myriad of styles of agriculture of East Asia, originating in Japan. A large focus is on not tilling or disturbing the soil, using mulch between harvests to build soil and suppress weeds, and an ethos that sees humans as part of Nature.

(For more information, see my website

There are three main routes of creating these brews but I’ll discuss two here.

First, we have the putrefactive “let things rot in a bucket” Green Manure, a Fermented Plant Extract pioneered by the Effective Microbes Research Organization.

The making of a Green Manure Tea is simple. Place chopped-up plant material such as comfrey, horsetail, nettles, etc… into a bucket with water, using a mesh bag to fill with the greens if you want to run it through an irrigation setup. Or, if you’re like me and just haul buckets around, simply weight it down with a large rock and then cover with water.

This recipe isn’t as structured as the other two, however the volume of plant material rotting will determine its potency later. Keep in the shade, covered lightly with a cloth or a lid.

The advantages of the Green Manure Tea lies in its simplicity, the disadvantages lie in its smell, so make sure to wear gloves when applying as the smell is hard to wash off.

Variations on the general idea include adding forest soil as an inoculant, and making plant specific brews. If you’re growing crops such as strawberries, tomatoes or apples, make a liquid fertilizer from your crop residues to act as a biostimulant crafted to the plants’ specific nutritional profile. (Down in South America, Jairo Restrepo, will add fire ash, rock dusts, milk, molasses, along with the plant matter.) Dilution rates should be at least 1:100 to start, to avoid burning, with awareness that it will get more potent as it ages. If you think metrically, it will be easier to properly calculate ratios.

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The second method, a Fermented Plant Extract (FPE), can be made using Lactic Acid Bacteria sources such as a salt brine or whey. The goal is capturing plant hormones and bioactive substances and a diversity of plants is encouraged.

Harvest early morning at first light to capture the most phytohormones, as they’re produced at night. Harvest abundant and vigorous fresh growing tips in the spring from plants or almost anything medicinal or edible. Fruits and flowers can be fermented for a late season blooming/budding fertilizer. Chop plant matter into 1/2 to 1/4 inch pieces.

Use two gallons plant matter, two gallons unchlorinated water, one quart molasses, one quart Lactic Acid Bacteria inoculant/ or commercial EM-1. Keep covered, stirring daily for a week and then strain through a cloth into sealed bottles for storage when pH is below 3.5 or the result tastes like a kombucha or vinegar.

Strongly flavored and medicinal values are encouraged, and a pest control variation is described in the APNAN literature called EM-5 in which garlic, hot pepper, and other spicy herbs are fermented and then stabilized with distilled alcohol and vinegar. FPE’s store for 90 days adequately in a cool dark place, but best use is fresh before that window closes (in temperate climates we probably have a longer window). 1:1000 soil drench or 1:500 foliar for application.

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Rule Zero of Nature Farming is to always use what you have available, so many arguments can be had about which recipe is best suited for which bioregion. In some places, access to fresh plant matter is more seasonal, in some places sugar may be more expensive. Both recipes can be used every third watering if necessary.

After eight years of making these different recipes I prefer to teach about the FPE’s, as they’re already more predigested, still edible and can be quite tasty if made with non-toxic plants. Both of these recipes can be useful in making healthier plants in soils that may be lacking, and over time you’ll find less and less of a need to inoculate microbes or spray nutritive solutions if proper soil mineral balancing is achieved alongside continual mulching or cover cropping. If you aren’t poisoning the soil or disrupting fungal networks continuously, Nature will provide everything you need for healthy foods and healthy humans.

Peter Jackson is a lifelong resident of Fidalgo Island, and has been Nature Farming for the past dozen years. He also finds inspiration from Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Ancestral Fermentation, Permaculture, Biodynamics, Agroecology, and Syntropic Agriculture, while blending it all together into what he calls Permadynamic Bioculture. Since 2017, through his organization Cascadian Natural Farming he has hosted speakers from S. Korea and Hawaii, taught at the NW Permaculture Convergence, the Regenerative Hemp and Agriculture Conference on Orcas, and the Global Earth Repair Conference, as well as organizing the online International Nature Farming Convergence. Home Garden Consultations are available.

August Challenges — by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted August 30, 2022

Tomato Blight: Early and Late

Tomatoes are susceptible to two different kinds of fungal blight, an early mid-season variety, and then a different late-season type. In past years I’ve only had to deal with moderate attacks of late blight, which emerged towards the end of the growing season, initially blackening the main stems and then moving onto the outer branches and leaves. Usually it only had a minor effect on the main crop of tomatoes, which had already ripened on the vine. Many of the still-green tomatoes would have enough of a slight orange or yellow tinge to eventually ripen if laid out on newspaper in a warm room. Even fully green, hard tomatoes would also eventually color up to a degree, sometimes lasting until Thanksgiving, and could be cut in half and fried until fully soft.

Early blight on tomatoes

This year is the first time I’ve had to deal with early blight, which first blackens and kills the leaves and then gradually moves onto the main stems in blotches of white. The only strategy at this late stage is to keep cutting off the affected leaf stems and removing them from the garden to inhibit the spread of the spores. The fruit is still edible, but the ripening process seems to be slowed down, given the loss of leaves, and the total yield of the crop has been reduced. Many of the already red tomatoes remain firm on the vine but don’t seem to get to the fully soft, ripe stage, even when picked and laid out on a table for several days. A few of the large Italian heirlooms got truly ripe prior to the early blight; now, I’m still waiting for the Mennonite Stripe and Heirloom Beefsteak varieties to fully ripen, as well as the standard Big Boy. The determinate Romas, being smaller bushes that have reached their full height, lost most of their leaves to the blight and are toppling over from the weight of the semi-ripe fruit.

All the indeterminate vines are still producing suckers and new foliage at the top, but the main leaf area has become a mass of blackened and dead leaves. The early blight emerged about a month ago, about the same time that the local maples trees in shaded areas developed a white coating on their leaves, as if covered with a thin film of frost. A local retired nurseryman said it was linked to the cool night time temps combined with the heat waves. The only chemical treatment would be to spray with copper, but at this point it’s too late for that to work. Maybe next year an early, preventive treatment with copper, and then repeated applications during the season would help stave off both the early and the late blight. Since the dried, blackened leaves shatter easily as they’re removed, the spores are already getting into the soil and will emerge again next year.

For now, I’m preserving as many of the tomatoes as I can, processing them skins and all and freezing in quarts. To sweeten the mix up a bit I add a number of fully ripe Sungold and Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes, which fully ripened much earlier and were initially less affected by the early blight. I’m also drying two types of larger, more oval cherry tomatoes: the Italian heirloom Principe de Borghese, originally bred for sun-drying, and the modern variety Juliet, which given its classical name is perhaps a related Italian descendent. As an experiment I’m also drying the small Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes, which aren’t as sweet tasting as the Sungolds but have more solid flesh. Trying to cover all the tomato bases.


Fortunately the pepper plants adjacent to the tomatoes are not affected by the blight and are producing bumper crops that are healthy so far. I harvested a large number of mildly hot Green Padron peppers, which I roasted in safflower oil for freezing in pouches. I’m waiting for a crop of hotter Red Padron as well as Green/Red Shishito roasting peppers. Other hot peppers include: Hungarian Black/Red: Korean Dangjo Cheongsam Yang Purple/Red peppers, similar to Serranos; a Korean drying pepper, moderately hot; Sarit Gat, a Yellow Cayenne; Bangkok Hot, a long thin, fiery hot Thai chili for sauce or drying; a slightly milder type of Habanero; Black Pearl, a decorative pepper with upright facing fruit that also ripen into very hot red edibles; and a regular Anaheim. I have already used the first ripe orange Habaneros to make Piri-Piri/Pili-Pili, a Brazilian/African fresh vinaigrette sauce made with garlic, onion and lemon juice. Definitely hot.

Red Padron Pepper

Sarit Gat Yellow pepper

Habanero pepper

Sweet peppers include the standard North Star Green/Red peppers, and three Italian varieties for roasting: Giant Marconi and Sweet Bull’s Horn, both very long green/red varieties; and Cornito Giallo, a yellow to orange tapered pepper.

Sweet Bull’s Horn pepper

My one green tomatillo plant, unaffected by the blight since it’s not related to tomatoes, is producing a steady crop. Along with the green tomatoes and green Padron peppers tomatillos are useful for making salsa verdes and a classic Mexican chicken chipotle stew. Since my cilantro plants went to seed in the heat, I have also been using the green seeds (now considered coriander) as an alternative to leaf cilantro, as well as the spice for home cured salmon gravlax, instead of the traditional dill leaf. Use what you have on hand.


The standard salad cukes are now hanging on the trellis in the hoop house. I use them mostly to make the Greek appetizer tsaziki: peeled and grated cucumber, squeezed gently to remove excess moisture, then mixed with Greek yogurt, garlic, red wine vinegar, salt and cumin. I find it’is a way of dealing with a surfeit of cucumbers before they soften off the vine. A refreshingly cool dip useful during the heat dome days.

More Fall, Winter Plantings

Late August usually provides a small window of cooler weather and perhaps a bit of light rain, an opportunity to get in additional semi-hardy fall/winter crops. This week I sowed a tapered root White Icicle radish, a Watermelon Radish that produces white globes with a bright red interior, as well as Mizuna Mustard and Purple Top Turnip. I keep the soil of the freshly seeded rows moist at first by laying down cardboard to protect against the heat of the sun. Once the sprouts surface I replace the cardboard with the black plastic open lattice nursery trays to provide a bit of temporary shade for the young plants as well as protection against the local cats that love to use the freshly turned dirt as outdoor litter boxes.

I also have transplants of an Italian leaf broccoli, Spigariello Liscia, similar to broccoli Raab, which along with the other young fall/winter brassicas is under white row cover to protect against the cabbage butterflies that are now appearing. The semi-hardy Liscia leaf broccoli, if left under the row cover in the winter will provide fresh florets, stems, and leaves through the hard freezes. Think ahead to winter in late summer.

Watering in the Heat, and more… by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted August 16, 2022

Watering in the Heat

The first half of August usually brings the hottest weather of summer, but the impact of climate change has brought more intense heat waves, with the daytime temperatures on Fidalgo Island consistently in the 80’s. We are fortunate, being close to the cooling effect of Puget Sound, which creates late afternoon onshore breezes that can take the edge off the heat. The nighttime temperatures, however, have been staying in the 50’s, even during the heat domes. The cool nights, a harbinger of the fall weather that will start to creep in later in the month, have also created the grey mold on the leaves of the big leaf maples as well as on the foliage of some winter squash.The vegetable gardens, however, still require a great deal of water to deal with the overall summer drought.

Watering the hoophouse paths

The basic garden watering mantras hold: water early in the day, to avoid loss of water to evaporation, and to give the plants time to absorb prior water prior to the daytime rise in temperature; use a protective mulch of some kind to protect the surface of the soil from drying out and to keep the soil moist around the root zone of the plants; and, water deeply on a regular basis, when the soil begins to feel dry to the touch at a depth of 2-3 inches, usually every 2-3 days. Watering too lightly and too often keeps the roots close to the surface of the soil, and the plants are easily dried out on hot days. For some crops that are producing heavily right now, such as pole and bush beans, I water more frequently in order to ensure a sustained crop of tender and sweet beans. Unless you’re raising dry beans or saving seed, remove any pods that get too large and tough in order to keep the plant producing more flowers.

Asparagus and Artichoke plants needing water in August

Fall and Winter Plantings

Mulching the leek beds

It can be difficult to think about fall and winter crops while it’s still high summer, but now is the final window to put in over-wintering leeks, cabbages, late cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, and hardy leafy greens. I water the young transplants each morning to give their still-fragile root systems moisture to deal with the intense sun and extended day length of our northern latitude. The reward in late fall and through the winter is a sustained crop of fresh produce that can be harvested from the garden even on the coldest and wettest days.

winter brassica transplants, with grid to support temporary shade cover

Other semi-hardy winter vegetables to consider, which may need some protection from a row cover tunnel, include daikon and black Spanish radishes, non-bulbing leaf turnips, hardy mustard, broccoli Raab, and cold-resistant greens such as mache, arugula, and winter spinach. There is no need to shut down the garden in late fall. The key is to plant early enough in late summer to allow the plants to reach an adequate level of maturity before the cold and short days arrive. The plants then essentially coast through the winter, sprouting fresh shoots, leaves, and buds in response to the warmer days in between the storms. Winter is the fourth season of year-round gardening.

Other Watering

During August one should not forget to water existing perennial beds, such as asparagus and artichokes, which have already produced a main crop, but still need doses of water to keep their root structures growing until the cool fall rains arrive. For standard crops such as corn and squash, regular deep watering is needed to keep them on schedule. I do have some late planted large sweet onions that are still green since they are in half shade, which are still getting a bit more water. The main crop of storage onions, however, has reached maturity, and the half-brown tops have been bent flat to the ground to stop further growth and dry them out in the sun. It’s important as well to know when to turn the spigot off.

Onions drying in the sun

The Hoop House

The hoop house requires a more intense and sustained regimen to keep the tomatoes, peppers, cukes and tomatillos properly hydrated. To prepare for the hottest days I covered half the roof with two 40-foot bands of light green shade cloth, made from recycled soda bottles, as a way of cutting down on the sunlight. Not a drastic reduction, perhaps 10%, but a noticeable effect on the high temps up at the ridge pole, which can easily soar to 95F and above if left unchecked. The temperature down at ground level is usually 5-8 degrees cooler. Tomato plants will drop their flowers in response to the stress of extreme heat of temps above 90F. Being perennial vines, tomatoes will generate new blossoms fairly quickly but the final crop will naturally be reduced. Pepper plants, as bushes, may drop a few flowers even in normal growing conditions, and are slower to re-flower if impacted by high heat.

Given the still-cool nights, I lower the side walls and end flaps of the hoop house in the evening to keep the temperatures inside above 50 degrees to maintain fruit-setting. I open the house early in the day since the first rays of the sun can easily jack the thermometer to 80-90F. The key to cooling the semi-enclosed space is to keep the air flowing. When the weather is consistently hot I water the beds heavily every 2 days, making sure the mulch and the soil around each plant is properly saturated. On the extreme heat days, especially when there is no wind, I take the added precaution of flooding the paths, creating shallow pools between the raised beds to increase evaporation and to make sure the deep roots get water. Two 50-gallon drums on raised platforms with gravity-fed hoses supply the irrigation system for the hoop house. So far, I’ve managed to prevent any blossom drop due to water stress, relying on a well that feeds off the water table coming from the back side of Whistle Lake. This year there has been plenty of water, but in past Augusts the flow of the well has diminished. Hopefully the increased precipitation during recent winters due to climate change will be enough to continue to supply our gardens during the now extended Mediterranean dry summers.

Saving Seeds and Summer … by Julia and Sequoia

by Julia Frisbie, with Sequoia Ferrel

posted July 27, 2022

Ahhh, July! Finally we’re getting the heat that our corn, beans, and squash crave. They’re shooting up towards the sun. Other plants, like peas and many biennials, have quit putting on new growth and are instead focused on making seeds.

Home gardeners have a unique capacity to breed resilient vegetables. I’ve written before about why saving seed is important, and how to start. If it’s a project that appeals to you, this is a good time to keep an eye out for seeds that are ready to collect. Here are some that Sequoia Ferrel and I are noticing and saving this month.



The photo above shows Schweitzer Riesen snow peas. Sequoia writes: “I had plenty to harvest and am now letting them make seed as the plants are dying back. The peas have filled out in the pods and will be ready to pick when they start drying up. Peas are self pollinating so I’m not worried about cross pollination with my snap peas. The seed for these came from seed saved on my farm a few years back so this is the second time they have been selected for my growing conditions.”

As Sequoia noted, peas are mostly self-fertile, which makes them a great beginner seed saving crop. Suzanne Ainsworth, in her book Seed to Seed, recommends isolating different pea varieties from each other by 10 feet in order to maintain varietal purity. I laid my garden out with this in mind so that I could save three different pea varieties this year. As I noticed any off-type plants (a snow pea making fat pods, or a snap pea making flat ones, for example) I pulled them out to remove their genes from the gene pool. Here’s a look at a seed crop of peas called Waverex:

You can see that the plants are drying up, which is on purpose! I’ve quit watering them so that they can dry out before I try to store them. The pea pods’ texture needs to change from green and crunchy… to leathery… to brown and brittle before the seed harvest. Dry peas are hard as rocks. You can test if they’re dry enough by hitting them with a hammer; they should shatter rather than squish. In this variety, dried seed also gets wrinkly:

Shelling dried peas is a fun activity for kiddos. If you’re growing peas this year, and you can stand to watch them get dry and withered, try saving the seed!



If there are any green, leafy plants left in your garden from last year, check to see if they’re making seeds. My Red Russian kale has already done the deed, feeding songbirds and no doubt sowing its next generation all over my yard.

Beware of saving seed from broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, European kales, and any other plant in the Brassica oleracea species. They are insect pollinated and readily cross with each other, producing offspring that may be edible, but probably won’t be recognizable.

Sequoia writes: “Here is a Swiss chard plant going to seed. I decided to save this because it was a strong productive plant I was able to harvest throughout fall and winter and it survived without problems through our cold snap. It is a biennial so this is its second growing season. You can see in the closeup that the seeds aren’t developed yet.”

Sequoia continues: “This one [swiss chard] plant will make tons of seed! While it’s been flowering I made sure there weren’t other types of chard or any beets (which are the same species and will cross pollinate) flowering at the same time. I also have good isolation from other gardens in the larger area.”

Sequoia writes: “This is some mizuna that I have let make seed. I love mizuna in salads and it is sometimes hard to find the seeds. However these plants weren’t super vigorous and went to seed way too soon so it may not actually be a good idea to collect and plant these out. I have some new starts coming up so I will evaluate how those plants perform and maybe collect their seed if they do better. I can always spread undesirable seeds in any bare spots in the pasture because my sheep love plants in the brassica family.”

Sequoia writes: “These two lettuce plants would be good candidates for seed saving because they are both vigorous and flavorful plants that have held well as the weather warms without developing a seed stalk.” The varieties pictured are Merlot and Red Sails. Lettuce is mainly self-fertile, but because these two are planted so closely together, the resulting seed would likely be a cross. But it would probably be a good cross, so why not try it?!

Here is some of Sequoia’s fall lettuce that survived through the winter:

The capacity to survive through winter is “something I definitely want to select for,” writes Sequoia. “The flowers aren’t open yet so I will have to wait a while to collect the seed.”

Both of us are noticing lamb’s quarters going to seed in our gardens right now:

This spring/summer weed is in the spinach family, and Sequoia and I both agree that it’s delicious raw or cooked. In fact, it’s Sequoia’s favorite green. Neither of us actually collect the seeds; rather, we let this plant drop its seeds right where it stands, and trust that it will come up next spring without any interference from us.



Many plants in this family, with their characteristic umbrella-shaped seed clusters, are biennials. What you planted last year may be going to seed now.

Sequoia writes: “This is some red celery that was hardy and performed well although I have never been able to grow juicy celery. It will produce a lot of seed.”

If you planted parsley last year, check it for seed heads that look like this now:

But leave carrot seed alone; it readily crosses with wild Queen Anne’s Lace, and will not reproduce true to type.

I’m noticing seed clusters on my lovage plants, which I could save if I wanted more lovage, but I don’t:



Below is a row of cilantro that’s bolted, flowered, and is now going to seed. (It doesn’t cope well with warm weather.) But if your cilantro looks like this, don’t pull it out. Wait and observe, and when the delicate flowers turn into seeds, collect them so that you won’t have to buy seed next year.

Here are some dried-out chive blossoms. Look carefully and you will see little black seeds tucked inside them:

It’s a great time to cut these blossoms, tuck them into a brown paper bag, and put them someplace dark and dry until they’re completely crunchy. When they’re ready, shake and crush the bag vigorously to loosen the seeds, and then remove the fluffy flower remnants. The heavy black seed will fall to the bottom of the bag and be easy to collect.

If you’re interested in saving seed but not sure what you’ll do with it all, email We’ve got some big dreams of a local seed bank, and we’d love for you to be part of it!


PS: For those who are keeping track, I’ve been quiet on the blog lately. Two months ago I went into labor in my garden while squatting down to transplant some oregano and chives. We welcomed a furry, redheaded baby boy into the world six hours later. It’s too early to tell what his favorite plants are, but he smiles when the corn leaves tickle his feet, and he turns his head to catch the scent of tomato vines as we brush past them. We buried the placenta under the apple tree to say thank you to the soil. All is well.

Summer Heat, Summer Cuisine … by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted July 22, 2022

Purple flowers on red potatoes


With the arrival of hot weather the early spring crops are ending their run. The snow and sugar snap pea vines are turning yellow as the last of the pods swell with starchy seeds. The early Romaine and Bibb lettuces are getting bitter as they mature, even with regular watering. The last-planted rows of potatoes are finally flowering while the rest of the patch holds on to the green foliage for a short time before shriveling away. You can sneak a few potatoes to sample early, especially the delicate red or ‘new’ potatoes, but it is best to leave them in the ground for two weeks after the stalks have fully died down in order for the skins to harden up for storage.


Bulb Fennel

The bulb fennel, after sitting through the early weeks of cold and wet, is now filling out at the base, while also sending up a central cluster of foliage for future seed. The white, anise-flavored bulbs are one of my favorite crunchy vegetables. For a Mediterranean style appetizer, dip slices of fennel in olive oil flavored with mashed anchovies. I also like to use the cup-shaped ends, either whole or sliced in half, as vegetable scoops for hummus, tabouleh, or whatever salsa is available.

Fennel can also be roasted with sliced onions and large sweet Italian peppers such as Bull’s Horn or Green Marconi. Plus, the fronds make a slightly fragrant covering atop baked salmon.


Basil Buds & Pistou

While the green tomatoes are just starting to size up in the hoop house, the clumps of basil, transplanted at the same time as the tomatoes, have been in full leaf now for several weeks. To keep the basil producing the rest of the summer it is important to remove the flower buds at an early stage. Snip off the young buds and the immediately adjacent leaves on the same stem every 3-4 days to keep the plant bushy. Do not let any buds develop into white flower stalks, which will quickly happen in the heat; the plant then starts to die back as it shifts to seed formation.

Remember to keep the soil moist around the basil plants to maintain steady leaf growth and be available for use soon with ripe tomatoes.

To maintain its bright green color fresh basil must be processed immediately in a blender with olive or other oil, a bit of salt and a little lemon juice before it wilts and turns black. This becomes pistou (pesto without cheese), to be used as a salad dressing, mixed into soup, or as a general purpose table sauce. I use chopped walnuts in place of expensive pine nuts for the base. At first I was mixing the basil with garlic scapes, or early cloves of garlic; lately I’ve been adding tender grape leaves and even a few tomato leaves; cilantro also works well, along with garlic chives, and parsley of course. Any tender greens mixed with the basil will be good on toast, poached eggs, crackers, as well as pasta or noodles. The pistou can be frozen in pint jars for a taste of summer next winter. And you can always add the Parmesan at any time for traditional pesto.


Artichokes: Steamed, not Boiled

Summer has also brought the rush of artichokes, both the small purple Violetta de Provence variety, and the standard Green Globe. In the past I boiled the heads for 30-40 minutes, until the leaves pull off the base easily, but now I prefer to steam them, to prevent the heads from getting waterlogged and mushy. I use a large metal Oriental steamer to do up to six at a time, removing the smaller, more tender purple ones first, and letting the larger and stiffer green ones steam longer. I find that with steaming the leaves remain separate, and not clumped together, and more of the taste stays in the leaves since they haven’t been boiled. And of course you can use your basil sauce of the day as a dip, as an alternative to the traditional butter.


Garlic Setback

Unfortunately my garlic crop developed serious black mold with all the rain. Some of the heads may be saved, but the stalks are still green, having never fully dried out enough. Luckily it’s ordinary black fungus not the dreaded white root rot. So I am hoping the small percentage of undamaged heads will dry sufficiently to last in storage. I did process some of the rescued garlic cloves with olive oil and canning salt, to store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to a year, though the bite will become slightly sweet. But the luxury of having bags of solid heads of garlic all winter will be missed.

In any case, the garlic strains I have been maintaining for over a decade will have to be restarted with untainted seed stock and fresh ground, hopefully free of black mold. Growing garlic in the Northwest can be a challenge.


Day Lily buds

Day lilies are now in full bloom, offering a chance to graze in the flower garden, along with the local deer. As first noted in the classic foraging book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons back in 1960’s, unopened day lily buds can be lightly stir fried in butter, his usual treatment of most wild greens, including milkweed broccoli. Any vegetable oil will also work. The day lily buds can also be included in vegetable soups as a thickener, adding a decorative touch as they open slightly while simmering in the broth. I prefer the smaller, thinner buds of standard day lilies as opposed to the larger pods of a newer variety such as ‘Stella D’Oro.’ Note: dried day lily buds are also a traditional ingredient in Szechuan hot and sour soup.