Last year left me with a lot of planting pots. This is a good thing because I love starting plants by seed and the square ones fit nicely on my indoor grow table. Seeds and cuttings need a warm moist environment to grow and take root. Unfortunately, this is also the perfect environment for mildew and molds. Late February and early March is the perfect time to clean recycled containers. I also have to clean my seedling table to prevent spores from taking hold as seedlings grow. A simple and mild 1:1 bleach-water solution works out great for cleaning surfaces and reusable pots. I like to soak the pots for a bit before giving them a good scrub. Giving the pots a good rinse and setting them out to dry in the sun is a good idea too. I also apply the same cleaning regimen to my sturdy and decorative plant containers.
Outside in my planting beds, I’ve learned that now is the good time to set out slug traps before I transplant seedlings or plant seeds. Most of the Pacific North West slugs will lay eggs in the fall. Slug eggs can stay in the ground for roughly 100 days until the temperature and humidity are just right for hatching, thus baby slugs run ravage in March and April. I prefer to use a cornmeal slug trap. Cornmeal is cheaper, but may not attract as many slugs. Add a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar, then lay the jar on its side. Keep the cornmeal dry, and it will kill slugs by expanding inside them once eaten.
I’m really big on succession planting. I’ll start my seedlings indoor as early as mid-February and then again in early March. By around mid April, when the average last frost date has passed, I’ll do a single set of planting outdoors under cloches. If the weather looks promising in early April, I may sow directly outside some hardy winter crop like arugula, kale or Swiss chard.
I will also start hardening indoor starter plants, which takes about two weeks. For the first day of the first week, I set them out for about two hours then bring them back in. For each following day, I’ll increase the time they spend out, such that by the 7th day, they’ve spent a full 8 hours outside. On the second week, I’ll leave them outside in their pots, with a row cover material to protect them from wind and insects. On the third week, I set them out on the garden bed. Add a bit of mulch around it to prevent weeds and maybe cover with a cloche if the weather is not warm enough at night. A decent cloche will trap warmth in the soil to keep the plant happy.
Last year my Sungold tomatoes grew like mad; so much I ended up with way more than I could eat by myself. This year I’ll be growing less tomatoes, but more variety. I’ve added Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes along with Sungolds. I may try Indigo Rose if I can find the seeds in time. I will note, I only have a few spots in my garden where I can get 6+ hours of sun light. Tomatoes need a lot of light, heat and water. So I use a self-watering container system for my tomatoes.
Arugula and Other Tasties
I was happily surprised by the flavor of arugula that I grew in mass last year. This year I’ve decided on two kinds: Rocket (pretty standard, found in supermarkets) and Dragon’s Tongue – having I tried at a posh restaurant last year, I loved its peppery and sharp flavors. I’m also growing various lettuces and kale, much like last year and expect them to do well. I had a nice modest batch of carrots previously. So this year I’ve decided on a Carrot Calliope Blend (colored carrots), Tonda di Parigi, and Red Cored Chantenay. Tonda di Parigi are tender, sweet, small and round shaped – good for growing in shallow soil. Red Cored Chantenay grow up to 7 inches long and are good for soups and stews.
Newer plants in my garden are radishes: Crimson Red Radish (similar to the ones found at supermarkets) and Radish Watermelon Mantanghong – a hybrid variety which has a beautiful rosy-red interior filled with a sweet flavor and a tender-crisp texture. These might do okay in my partly shaded garden, but they do need quite a bit of sun to produce a nice root crop. I expect smaller root size than normal for harvest…or complete failure.
Another new experiment: artichokes. In the Seattle area, the can be grown as perennials but only with a lot of love. They need a lot of food in the form of additional compost and even regular fertilizing. And in the winter, their roots need to be protected with a lot of mulch or straw. If it works out well, I’ll have a harvest next year in the early summer.
I also want to grow onions and garlic. I will try green onions, but bulb onions do need a lot of sun. If I did plant them, I would expect a small yield. Same with Garlics.
Herbs grow very well in my small plot of land. I learned quickly that Basil needs to be planted outside in summer, when the ground is warm enough. Too early and they die off. I love oregano, not only because it smells good, but because of the way it attracts bees. Broadleaf Sage and English thyme were the only herbs that survived the winter. I was hoping my Russian Sage would survive, but sadly I think it died due to improper drainage. I’ll try again later this season, but in a different spot in the garden. I can’t seem to grow rosemary, they need sandy soil and at least 8 hours of sun. If I grow one, it will have to be in a large pot in the front yard.
Plants vs Pests
One experiment I’m eager to try are what I call “sacrificial” and “guardian” plants. Sacrificial plants are plants that pests prefer over the ones that I want to survive. Guardian plants are plants that repel pests by emitting a fragrance or smell. In my research, I found a few potentials, I am unsure of which to plant:
- Marigolds – Mexican marigolds are said to offend a host of destructive insects and wild rabbits as well. If you choose marigolds for your garden they must be scented to work as a repellant. And while this plant drives away many bad bugs, it also attracts spider mites and snails away from precious vegetables
- Nasturtiums – repels whiteflies, squash bugs, aphids, many beetles, and the cabbage looper. Aphids will try to eat the young flower buds, but something about the plant causes the bugs to die after having their fill. I’ve also read that nasturtiums ward of fungal diseases
- Petunias – These repel asparagus beetles, leafhoppers, a range of aphids, tomato worms, and a good many other pests.
- Borage – I love borage! It repels tomato hornworms and cabbage worms and attracts beneficial bees and wasps.
- Citronella – This plant is a part of the geranium family and is also called the mosquito plant. It carries the fragrance of citronella in its foliage. When a leaf is crushed and rubbed on the skin, it smells wonderful and helps naturally repel mosquitoes and some other flying insects.
- Catnip – This plant repels just about everything, except for cats. Keeps away flea beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, ants, and weevils. You can even use sachets of dried catnip to deter ants that invade your kitchen… but be warned they may end up some place else if you have cats. There is a breed called ‘Six Hills Giant’ which has a nice proliferation of sky blue blooms.
- Basil – The oils in basil are said to repel thrips, flies and mosquitoes. Bees and other pollinators love basil. Planting basil near tomatoes creates a larger, tastier crop.
- Red Clover – slugs, snails, and other pests love to eat red clover. Luring them away from your food crop.