The Year in Review: My P-Patch Garden

Well, it’s official. I am wrapping up a full year as a Seattle P-Patch gardener. The P-Patches here in Seattle are a network of 88 organic community gardens dotted throughout the city. Operated by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the gardens have a legacy that dates back to about 1973 when the first one was started at Picardo Farm.

My little one-hundred square foot garden is located at the Haller Lake P-Patch, which is in North Seattle and only  stone’s throw from I-5. Located in a quiet corner of a church parking lots, it’s been a delightful oasis and experiment for me this last year.

I’ve messed around with inter planting, growing small garden varieties, companion planting, succession planting and a whole lot more.  Inspired by some vintage  U.S. Government Victory Garden booklets that I found at an estate sale, I inter planted aggressively, pulled plants once they were totally spent, and replanted something new shortly thereafter in order to keep the produce coming. The rewards and yields were  massive considering the tight quarters.

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Some of the items, such as beets, peas, kales, chards and carrots were planted directly in the beds. Other things like Savoy cabbages, yellow pear tomatoes, and Red Iceberg lettuce were put in as starter plants purchased at the nursery.  In mid June some items like winter kale and Brussels sprouts were started by seed at home and when transplanted to my P-Patch, simply tucked under the tomato plants. I figured the loftier tomato plants would protect the little starts from harsh summer sun and heat.

The garden organizers at my P-Patch keep telling us that we have til October 31 to plant our beds for the winter or simply clean them up, mulch them and let them take a snooze til spring. This year, I’ve opted to plant mine with cold weather varieties such as elephant garlic, kales, chards, rutabagas, purple kale, Nordic Brussel sprouts, and winter carrots.  I wasn’t able to have a winter garden in  my plot last year simply because I got my plot too late in the season. I’ve had a winter garden at home every year for about two decades now but I am really excited to push the proverbial limit and see what I can get in a SMALL space winter garden! Now, that’s a victory!

Stay tuned…and stay warm!

Wnter Garden October 2016.JPG

February in the Garden: Organizing a Big Hot Mess of Seeds

Things are getting brighter here in Seattle. We are scheduled for a full week of sun this week and by next Monday, which is President’s Day, we should be gearing up to plant our first round of spring peas.

Compost 2016This weekend we had a “family work party” in the garden. This involved wrangling teenage boys out of the house and into the garden. One of those teenagers picked up and hauled home two cubic yards of steamy Cedar Grove compost which was spread on my raised beds. We also had a family lesson in mechanics because my youngest son learned how to fix the wheel on the secondhand wheelbarrow. Family dynamics took a turn for the worse when it came time to deal with the big messy compost heap in the corner of the yard. I feed that heap with leaves, clippings, and coffee grounds through the winter.  No one likes that arduous and sloppy task but the worms, those quiet garden workhorses, needed a little attention.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli February 2016Last night, I finally got around to seriously perusing the seed catalogs. I have been poking through them intermittently but last night I sat down with pen and paper to craft my list. I must say I was surprised to see how much seeds prices have skyrocketed this year. One of my favorite purveyors wants $5 for ten tomato seeds. This reality check sent me on a housecleaning mission this morning….it was time to inventory my unruly collection of seed packets. I have packets stashed in Ziploc bags in a box. Not the best system admittedly but it has worked pretty well…until now.

This morning I spent a few minutes sorting those packets by variety. I then took note of the date on each packet and how much was left in each packet. Even after that I realized my sorting wouldn’t be very useful while placing mail orders or buying off the seed rack at the garden store. I really wanted to have a quick way to survey my stock and decide if I need to risk using older seeds or if it would be better to buy new.

So, I decided to take an inventory and create an Excel spreadsheet, categorizing each type of vegetable and then noting the variety, date on the packet and how much is left in each pack. Now, some of you might be masters of the Excel spreadsheet…I must admit, however, that I’ve never done one for this type of project but it came out great and I can now easily sort and peruse exactly what I have and what I need. (I just Googled an inventory spreadsheet template, downloaded it and it worked great.)  I’ve even stored the list in my Dropbox so I can access it from my phone while shopping.

I suspect I will still buy a few more packets than I technically need but I think my little seed inventory sheet will be very helpful when buying, planning, and planting for 2016.

Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette for a Winter Salad

Yesterday, I wrote about winter salads and in that post I mentioned using a robust dressing…one that can stand up to the bulky textures and flavors of cabbages and kale.

To follow up on that note, I decided to write about making a basic food processor vinaigrette in today’s post. Admittedly, I use bottled dressings in my kitchen. They add incredible convenience and if I choose carefully, they add flavor without a ton of fat. (I prefer the nonfat balsamic dressing from Trader Joe’s.)

However, there are many days when I make my own vinaigrette and without a doubt my trusty Cuisinart food processor or mini chopper is the tool for the task. Whisking the mixture in a bowl can do the trick but I find that my food processor lightens my dicing load and blends everything together beautifully.  I also like making my own vinaigrette because it saves me money and lets me tweak to my preference.

The basic approach is to use one part vinegar (or acid) to three parts oil. It’s then important to add an emulsifier, or blending agent, like mustard or garlic to hold the mixture together. I vary my vinaigrettes seasonally. In the summer when I make a rice and black bean salad, I make a garlic, cilantro and cumin-laced dressing. For those days when I am craving classic French salads, I make a tarragon shallot vinaigrette. Right now, because my garden is producing winter cabbages and kale, I am making hearty salads and reaching for robust vinaigrettes.

This morning, I made one of my favorites–a Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette. Using fresh ginger, lime, cilantro and curry powder, this concoction brings the warm flavors of curry and ginger to big bowls of crunchy seasonal produce. Here’s the recipe. Feel free to tweak it to your taste:

Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette

one 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peel and chopped into chunks

2 teaspoons curry powder

juice of 1 lime

1 Tablespoon honey

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stems included

In a mini chopper fitted with the metal blade, put the ginger root, curry powder, lime juice, and  honey. Blend for 30 seconds to chop the ginger root and combine the ingredients. Add the oils and the salt and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cilantro and process for another 15 t0 20 seconds to chop the cilantro. Transfer to a small jar and keep refrigerated. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Note: When using this vinaigrette, use a big bowl, toss well, add toasted seeds or nuts to the mix and toss in fresh seasonal fruit or  a little cheese if that suits your taste.

 

 

 

 

Warm up to Winter Salads!

Let’s face it.  Salad doesn’t get a lot of press during the dark days of winter. For sure it’s the stews, chowders and chilis that hog the limelight for much of the colder months of the year.

That being said, I still eat salad during the winter and the fact of the matter is that I simply craft my winter salads differently than my summer ones. In the summer, tender refreshing cucumbers, homegrown tomatoes, aromatic basil and light dressings rule the roost.

During January and February, I sharpen my chef’s knife and hunker down to use heartier produce like cabbage, kale, chard, carrots, red onions, apples, and pears. Over the years, I’ve learned that a winter salad can be downright satisfying when dressed with a more robust dressing and served with a warm soup.

Here are some tips on how to create and compose a satisfying winter salad:

Use the Boxed Mixed Lettuces as a Base

During the winter, I can’t grow enough lettuce to meet my  family’s salad needs so I rely on the large boxes of mixed organic greens or spinach sold at Sam’s and Costco. These lettuces offer tons of convenience because they are pre washed and make a solid foundation for building my salad. To prevent the greens from going mushy, I’ve learned to pull some out of the big  box and store them in separate plastic bag. By aerating and fluffing the greens I find that the greens keep better overall.

 

Winter Salad Kale Chard 2016Go for Color

We all need more color in our lives during the winter months so when you start to plan a winter salad, seriously consider adding items like red cabbage, dark green kale, or colorful chard. The trick to using these sturdier brassicas is to sharpen your knife and slice them thinly. This can take some practice but it makes a huge difference. When working with chard or kale, stack the leaves, roll them up like a cigar and slice them crosswise, which will result in an array of thin ribbons. As for cabbage, cut the head into smaller manageable hunks and slice thinly over the leaves.

Add Some Crunch

Create some crunch by adding croutons, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and even chow mein noodles. This might seem like an obvious tip but items like sunflower and pumpkin seeds can add a significant nutritional boost and a welcome nutty flavor that complement the whole shebang.

Winter salad wooden bowl 2016

Get a Big Bowl and Toss

Don’t underestimate the power of a big wooden salad bowl and an energetic salad toss. Yes, you can make a salad in a small bowl but during the winter months it’s a lot more fun to do it in a large bowl. After all, all of the winter salad ingredients are more robust than those found in a summer salad and they can certainly take the heat of a few hefty heave hos with the salad tongs. Furthermore, the added value of using a big bowl is that the salad dressing gets distributed more evenly and you thus have to use less salad dressing!

 

 

 

Seattle’s Best Garden Resources

As someone who has been gardening in the Emerald City for twenty years now, I am rather opinionated about my green resources. I don’t have a huge garden or a perfect one for that matter, but I do have a kitchen garden that produces a lot of chow for my family of five.

Over the last two decades, I’ve learned to rely on some tried and true resources…the ones that give me great information, top quality reliable starts, friendly service, or just unusual plants that bring joy and diversity to my dinner table and my little urban oasis.

Sky Nursery-The Gardener’s Garden Store!

Family run since 1953, this large garden store is located in Shoreline, just north of Seattle. I head to Sky year round. During the winter months, I head there for bags of Cedar Grove Compost, Carpinato Chicken Manure, and soil amendments like Cascade Minerals Remineralizing Soil Booster. At Sky they make it easy for me to haul these hefty bags home because the guys in the pick up section grab the receipt and load everything into the back of my car. (At Home Depot, I’d be humping those bags from cart to car all by myself.)

When things are starting to spring to life in February, I rely on Sky’s massive greenhouse for inspiration and much needed respite from the dreary weather because the greenhouse is filled with primroses and forced bulbs. The staff is always informative and they have shared tons of information with me all these years. This is also when I start to mooch around their vast selection of seeds, potato starts, and vegetable starts.

Berries Geraniums Vertical Gardening
Kitchen Garden 2015

Swanson’s Nursery-Seattle’s Favorite Garden Store Since 1924

Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Swanson’s is where I have purchased all my edible fruit trees and berries over the years. My collection is pretty big now–two figs, columnar apples, grafted plum, espaliered cherry and pear, plus an array of raspberries and loganberries. Their dwarf fruit trees perform beautifully in my little urban yard. If you want to add some fruit trees to your garden, be sure to check out their Bare Root Sale coming up from February 11 to March 6th. Bare root fruit trees and berry canes are deeply discounted so it’s a great time to stock up and save. If you want information on Fruit Tree Health Care, check out this seminar being held at the nursery on January 23rd.

Seattle Tilth-The Garden Hotline! 

When I first moved to Seattle in 1995, I loved my new gardening climate but I had a lot to learn. I think it was the landlord at our little rental house who tipped me off to Tilth. And, oh what a great tip it was! Located in Wallingford at the Good Shepherd Center, Tilth became a wealth of inspiration for me. I became a member and visited their demonstration garden often. It was their hotline, however, that really got me digging. Whenever I had a random question, I’d call and they would answer. Admittedly, I haven’t had to call very often these days but it’s worth noting that their website is an excellent resource. Clearly their communal impact has expanded far beyond that land line I used to call. So, if you aren’t familiar with Tilth, check them out and mark your calendar for their annual March Edible Plant Sale on March 12th.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show-February 17-21, 2016

Although I haven’t been to the flower show in a couple years, I plan to go this year. For many years, my husband and I would go to the show, happily poking around and getting ideas, tips, and advice. For a while there it seemed that the show was losing some momentum so we didn’t go,  but this year it looks like they have their game on big time. Themed “America the Beautiful,” the show will feature 20 theme gardens, the massive marketplace, and a very impressive lineup of seminars covering everything from gardening with children to creating outdoor decor on a dime.

So even though it’s still rather dark and dreary out here in the Emerald City, rest assured that there are lots of delicious gardening resources ready to wet your whistle for the sunny summer months ahead. Do you have a favorite garden resource?

 

 

 

 

 

 

January in the Garden: Research and Resources

Garden resources and research
January in the garden…gearing up with resources and research

Even though I have a winter garden here in Seattle, I admit there isn’t all that much to do in the yard during the month of January.

My cabbages are stalwart while  the kales and lettuces are holding steady until the weather starts to get a bit warmer and the days get longer. The elephant garlic, planted in early October, is looking great and  will sprint to life in the spring. Any beds that aren’t planted for the winter are heavily mulched with compost, foraged leaves and manure and covered in a blanket of burlap.

So, during January, I pretty much shift into research and development mode. The garden catalogs hold center stage on the kitchen table and the holiday cookbooks are put away and replaced with my motley collection of current and vintage gardening books. This is when I analyze what I did last year, coming to terms with what worked and what didn’t. I review all my garden photos to prompt my memory and then start to scratch out a game plan and goals for the year.

Last year, one of my goals was to maximize my yields in my small garden and I think I hit that goal in early July when I harvested about 80 pounds of zucchini in the first two weeks of the month.  I also definitely met that mark in terms of tomatoes. Thanks to some seriously sunny and hot weather here in Seattle, I got a bumper crop that kept on giving through October.

For 2016 one of my kitchen garden goals is again to maximize my yields in my relatively small yard. In order to do this, I will be exploring different varieties and planting methods and I’ll be looking to confiscate any unused garden space. This year, it’s all fair game.

So whether you are an experienced green thumb or a garden newbie, rest assured that January is a great time to sow the seeds of a serious garden goal.  To help get you started here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Territorial Seed Company in Oregon: I’ve been ordering many of my seeds (lettuces, kales, beets, winter cabbages and more) from this fabulous company for nearly 20 years now. Their catalog is filled with information and their seeds produce beautifully. Their customer service reps have always been great when I call and they can usually find an answer to my quirky question.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: An excellent resource on the East Coast, Johnny’s catalog and offerings are off the hook. Get the catalog. Get inspired. Order and Sow. I bought my micro green seeds from them last year and they were great.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Yes, I know this one seems like an antiquated blast from the past,  but I have my dear Dad, who was a Master Gardener,  to thank for this one. For as long I can remember my Dad always had the current copy of this almanac at the ready. He’d consult it often and then prattle off into the garden. I bought a copy last year and checked the predictions for the summer in the Pacific Northwest. They predicted hot and dry so I rolled the dice, commandeered the sunniest corner of the yard, and invested in more tomatoes. The results were stupendous.

So, if you are struggling to get through the dreary days of January, cheer up, do some research and spring ahead to the bright days of summer!

 

 

 

January in the Garden: Community Gardening

P-Patch Community Garden Seattle
New Year’s Day 2016 at my P-Patch Community Garden. Wonders await under burlap!

2016 marks a new year and a gardening adventure revisited for me.

Twenty years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle, I wrote an article for The New York Times on Seattle’s wonderful P-Patch Community Gardening Program.

Back then I was enchanted with the program and eventually landed a plot of my own. Located only a stone’s throw from our rental house in View Ridge, this garden, which was once an orchard, was a beautiful oasis.

Nestled on a hill overlooking Lake Washington and surrounded by heirloom fruit trees, my P-Patch plot was a blank slate for me. Gardening in the Pacific Northwest was new to me back then and I loved getting my boots wet by working in that lovely garden. I met fellow gardeners, surveyed their plots, gained inspiration and learned many tips and tricks for growing in Seattle’s temperate maritime climate. I was shocked at how easily plants grew here and I was delighted when I was told that I could grow a winter kitchen garden!

My  P-Patch participation was short lived because we eventually bought our first home, which had an enormous sunny garden suitable for growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables and berries. Sadly, that P-Patch garden itself was eventually mowed over and the land is now occupied by offices for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

I’ve been an active gardener since and still maintain an organic 400-square foot kitchen garden. Last spring, I spontaneously decided to visit a few community gardens around town and without a doubt the P-Patch bug bit me again…hard. I loved the diversity displayed between each of the individual plots and was fascinated with how the program has grown and expanded over the years.

With little delay, I decided to sign up for a plot. I was put on a waiting list for various gardens in my area and last fall I received an exciting email informing me that I was being offered one. Did I still want it? Yes, of course.  I replied within minutes.

With little delay, I went through P-Patch orientation on one ridiculously cold and rainy morning, paid my annual fee of about $40, and loaded up my 100-square foot plot with additional compost, numerous bags of foraged leaves, and lots of manure. Now, nestled under a cozy layer of recycled burlap, my P-Patch awaits. I’m planning, researching, gathering and plotting.

Not sure what my community garden plot will yield, but it sure feels great to come full circle.