Tomato Season Opens!

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted April 21, 2020
[To receive an email when the Fidalgo Grows! blog has a new post, enter your email in the blog subscription area to the right.]

Early May is the time to transplant tomatoes, perhaps the most wished-for home vegetable in the relatively cool Northwest.The raised beds inside my 40-foot long plastic hoop house have been warming up for several weeks. Tomatoes are a tropical vine that needs warm soil to start out as well as a minimum nighttime temperature of 50F degrees in order for the flowers to set fruit. And of course, warm daytime temps to fully ripen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where I garden even on the warmest days of summer the onshore wind starts to roll in every afternoon around 4 pm and the temperatures start to drop. Each evening the hoop house needs to be closed up to maintain a constant overnight warmth. Conversely, the house needs to be opened up early in the morning before it gets above 80-85 F inside, which can happen quite suddenly on a sunny morning with no wind. If it gets too hot, say above 90F, the flowers will drop off. In addition, condensation forms each night on the ceiling; the droplets need to air dry in place instead of falling on the plants and causing disease. And, for watering I let the chilly well water sit in a large tank for a few hours in order to warm up a bit. Warm soil, warm air, and slightly warm water, allows a tropical plant to grow well in the cool maritime Northwest.

What with watering, pruning and staking, and watching the temperature gauge, tomato production is a full time gardening chore. But large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, Italian Romas for sauce, and handfuls of cherry tomatoes for eating out of hand are worth all the work.

Note on transplanting using the Trench Method:

I use 1-2 foot tall starts (pinch off any flowers that may have appeared). If you dug a 2 foot deep hole in the ground, the roots would be buried in cool soil. To keep the roots close to the warm topsoil, and to propagate additional root growth, make a lateral trench with one end 8-12 inches deep, but with a gradual slope of dirt rising at 45 degrees up to the other end. Gather a small berm of dirt at the far end, rising 1-2 inches above ground level. Add a standard organic fertilizer for vegetables, mixed into the soil at the bottom of the trench.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trim off the lower suckers and branches, leaving intact the top three branches and the main growth bud at the top. Make a small puddle of water at the deep end, put the root ball into a small depression in the mud, lay the bare stem gently on the inclined plane, with the stem of the top 3 branches resting against the berm at the other end. Use a thin bamboo stake to gently secure the exposed top branches in a slightly vertical position. Fill in the trench and continue the berm around the entire root and stem planting area. This is the permanent watering crater.

Make sure you water consistently above where the roots are, not at the stake. Water by can or hose gently onto the soil, without splashing dirt up onto the leaves, which can transmit disease. I place the gallon plastic pots the tomatoes came in, with a few pebbles inside for stability, at the center of the crater and then water directly into the pots to avoid splashing dirt on the leaves. The water also drains out slowly into the crater instead of arriving all at once and possibly breaking through the berm. Never water from above; keep the foliage dry at all times to avoid the dreaded tomato blight.

Happy Tomatoes!

Free Vegetable Gardening Info for Home Gardeners from WSU Extension

by Jane Billinghurst, WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardener volunteer

Posted April 21, 2020
[To receive an email when the Fidalgo Grows! blog has a new post, enter your email in the blog subscription area to the right.]

Now is a great time to embark on new projects or brush off old skills. Vegetable gardening might be on your mind. There’s lots of info in books and on the internet, but how do you know what really works and whether the advice is appropriate for where you live?

The researchers at WSU Extension have put together a series of free downloadable bulletins to guide you through what works best in western Washington.

Here is the link to one way of accessing them: http://gardening.wsu.edu/home/. There’s a handy menu on the left-hand side of the page where the bulletins are sorted by subject, including Garden Construction, Organic Gardening, Pest Management, and—of course—Vegetable Gardening.

Alternatively, you can go directly to the WSU publications site at https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/general-gardening and browse through the offerings or type in key words for the subjects that interest you.

There are a lot of resources, so what’s a good way to sort through them?

An excellent place to start is “Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington,” which includes information on preparing your site, planning what to grow, when to plant, and ongoing maintenance.

Maybe you have a specific crop in mind? In that case you can look for bulletins on carrots , peas, or many other vegetables and small fruits.

Perhaps you are interested in attracting beneficial insects to your vegetable garden? Or using organic products?

If you don’t have a vegetable garden, you might have a strip along the roadway or space for a straw bale or two in your driveway. There are bulletins to help you grow vegetables here, too.

There are also publications on general topics such as soils and fertilizers and composting.

All the advice is free, science based, and specifically tailored for our area, so dive in and happy gardening!

 

It All Starts with the Soil

TWIG (“This Week In the Garden”) posts will appear weekly, on Mondays, to help you know what to focus on for a successful growing season.

This Week in the Garden (TWIG #1)

April 20, 2020

It all starts with the soil

Peter Heffelfinger

If you are new to gardening this year it is important to remember that everything begins with your soil. While Fidalgo Island is blessed with a moderate climate for year-round vegetable production, there are challenges in finding a good garden site. 

The first few gardens I had here lacked any real layer of topsoil, the healthy, friable layer of dark dirt that is the basic need for growing a crop. Due to the Ice Age glaciers and various former river beds, we have layers of gravel and clay or concrete-like hard pan that can lie right under a layer of regular soil. In the worst scenario, one needs to build an enclosed raised bed filled with new topsoil. It is vital, though, that the hard sub-soil be loosened up first with a spading fork to provide good drainage. Soggy soil means poor growth, more pests, and eventually dried-out unbreakable clods. Note: do not invert the gritty subsoil to the top layer; keep it at the bottom, underneath the topsoil.

I rake up the available dirt into raised beds 6-8 inches high to warm up the soil in spring and to drain better in the winter. It is important to regularly add composted organic matter to keep the soil loose for aeration and good tilth. Note: compost alone does not supply large amounts of balanced nutrition to your plants. Amendments are needed, whether from well-rotted manure or organic commercial mixes. I use a combination of both. In addition, given that our native soil is acidic, a dusting of slow-acting dolomite lime (not fast-acting industrial lime that may burn your plants) is also required (except where you plant potatoes, which prefer acid beds).

Given that we are well into spring, I would concentrate on planting early, cool-weather crops, such as lettuces, radishes, and greens such as spinach and Bok Choy, which will readily go to seed in summer heat. Once the soil heats up in early to mid-May, it is time to plant beans, squash and other warm weather varieties. I hold off on corn until June 1st. For tomatoes, peppers and cukes I use a grow tunnel for added heat during our cool night mists that roll in off the Sound. We are in a maritime climate, even as our summers get warmer and drier.

 

Fidalgo Grows is Alive!

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.