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
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.