March garden checklist

Here we go! March marks the beginning of garden season. It is the time to make the final preparations for planting your seeds.

Plan your garden
If you haven’t decided what you want to grow and where you want to grow it, do it now. For help planning your garden, check out this post.

Build your garden
Create the infrastructure you need to grow food. Construct raised beds, mounded beds, or procure containers. This could also mean carving out any space in your yard. For example, I have extra space up against my back fence where I have planted strawberries, a hop plant, and summer squash. You don’t need to construct anything, just make sure the soil is in good shape for growing plants, learn how to prepare your soil for planting. This is also a good time to add drip irrigation and/or hoop housing.

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Hop plant climbing the back fence.

Build a trellis (or two)
If you plan to grow peas, raspberries,  or even cucumbers or squash, you will want to have a trellis in place to support these climbing plants or plants that need extra support.

Weed and prepare the soil
Be sure to weed the spaces that you are going to be planting seeds. After you weed, prepare the soil. If you have a container garden, you will also need to prepare the soil for your containers by purchasing potting soil, compost, and fertilizer. DSC_0014

Start planting seeds
You can plant pea, potato, arugula, lettuce, and spinach seeds outdoors in the Pacific Northwest in March. I plan to get all of these into the ground by the end of the month and will plant the majority of my seeds outdoors in early April.

Plant berries and bare-root plants
If you want blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, roses, or other bare-root or berry plants, get them in the ground this month. You can purchase these plants from your local nursery.

Divide perennials
If you have any perennials that you want to share or plant in another space in your yard/garden, you can dig them up, divide them, and replant. For example, I am going to dig up the roots of my mint plant, cut the root mass into separate chunks/divisions. Then replant the division or give one to a friend. You can do this with thyme, rhubarb (my rhubarb comes from a division from a friend), oregano, and chives.

Prune
This is a great time to prune your plants. Prune roses, hydrangeas, ferns, trees, blueberries, raspberries, grasses, and other bushes. Remove dead branches, and branches that rub up against one another to create more air circulation. This is important to maintain plants so that they stay healthy and strong.

Lastly, enjoy the fresh cut flowers that you planted in the Fall! Daffodils and tulips should be popping up. Did you miss the chance to plant flower bulbs in the Fall? Don’t fret, get ready now to plant dahlia tubers in May.

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Garden design inspiration

After the technical and strategic post How to plan a garden, I think it is time to let down our hair and day dream about how your garden could look and feel. This is why gardening is so great, you have the power to create a beautiful space and environment all by planting and caring for seeds! img_4849

My friend and garden muse, Tracey aka The Fake Farmgirl, inspires me to think creatively and to move outside the lines to create a beautiful, lush garden. In my 2016 reflections, I stated that my goal in 2017 is to get more colorful and experimental. To get my juices flowing, Tracey was gracious enough to share how she thinks about garden design and planning. The best part, she doesn’t overthink it. She pairs her garden knowledge with her vision and creates a space that is brimming with life. dsc_0040

Megan: When you first started gardening, did you have a vision for how you wanted the garden to look? 

Tracey: So when we moved into our house, 4 years ago, we had these hideous Junipers that took up 80% of our back yard. My poor husband was tasked with chopping them down and when he was done we had this gaping hole in our yard…And my journey began. He built me a few raised beds and I went to town. I started to look on Pinterest every day to get inspiration and became obsessed with Potager gardens. Potager is French for kitchen garden. I found that most of these gardens have a blend of veggies, flowers, and herbs that commingle to create an aesthetically pleasing space. There is also often a use of structures to create visual appeal. I love the idea because it allows me to create a beautiful space in my garden.

Megan: What does your dream garden look like and why?

Tracey: I hate dirt. I think that a garden teeming with life is the best use of space. My dream garden is alive with ornamentals, food, flowers and structures all co habituating and creating a space that invites people in. there are also a few chickens in my dream garden lol…img_5408

Megan: How do you plan your garden? Based on what you want to eat? How you want it to look? 

Tracey: All of that. I think about the veggies first, then I try to think about companion plants. What bugs are going to attack my veggies and what can I plant nearby to try to prevent infestations or detour pests? I love Borage so I always put a ton next to squash to encourage pollinators to visit. Sage near my brussel sprouts and kale to keep cabbage moths away. I also think about where I can put structures or grow vines… I want green everywhere.

Megan: Do you draw a visual of what you want your garden to look like and then plant it? How do you time everything so that it is all blooming at the same time?

Tracey: Lol no, I should. I really just go for it.

Megan: How do you know what flowers, veggies, and herbs to pair together? Do you plant all of these in your beds or just focus on veggies?

Tracey: Everything goes in my beds, I read and take classes on companions. I focus on the veggies and what is best to plant near and away. img_5409

Megan: Do you suggest any MUST-HAVE veggies, flowers, herbs that we should plant in our garden beds? And why?

Tracey: I’m really into Pineapple Sage – I love how its red flowers pop amongst my brassicas, and it is such a hummingbird attracter! I also love Nasturtium. Be careful though, it ATTRACTS aphids so it can back fire. Plant it near tomatoes and the two will live in harmony. I’m also really into Borage, I’d try that if you haven’t, around squash. It’s a must-have. It re seeds so you will only need to plant it once. I’m also into artichokes, I like to let one bloom. I just planted leeks too, and plan to let them flower. img_1060

Just the name “Pineapple Sage” makes me feel all warm and fuzzy with excitement to grow plants. Yum! Beyond thinking about a space overflowing with vegetables, herbs, and fruit, you can also think about creating spaces in your garden where you can relax. For example, my childhood garden was built around a brick patio where my family enjoyed dinner together all summer long. There were two entrances to the garden, both trellised and covered in honeysuckle and clematis. It was dreamy. Your garden can be an outdoor extension of your home and a place of inspiration and peace. Dream big!

My 2016 garden. The plan is to add a lot more color in 2017!dsc_0040

A few months ago, Tracey also shared her insight about natural pest control in the garden, check it out.

January & February garden checklist

You won’t be getting too dirty in January and February, but you will get busy. Now is the time to plan and prepare your garden. Whether you are starting a garden for the first time, on your 5th year, or starting an herb pot, you want to put a little strategy behind your vision.

Your main task in January and February is to plan and make preparations to be ready to plant seeds and/or transplants in your garden, yard, and/or containers.

Before diving into what you will plant and where, there are a few other important items to-do.

January & February checklist

  • Purchase and plant bare root plants: roses, fruit trees, shrubs, etc. You will see these at your local nursery in February, possibly on sale. If you want roses, blueberries, raspberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, and other fruit and flowers like these, this is the time to make it happen. Learn more about planting bare root plants. 
  • Take inventory of garden supplies, seeds, fertilizers, and potting soil. Do you have what you need to plant seeds? Do you have the seeds you will be planting? Are your gloves still in good shape? Do you have enough fertilizer? 
  • Build structures to support growing plants. Are you planning to grow any plants that climb or need support? Like climbing peas or raspberries? You will need a trellis. Do you want to install irrigation this year? Do you want another raised bed? I have two raised beds and have decided it is time to add a third. I am creating a plan to build this bed before I need to plant seeds in this bed in March. DSC_0183
  • Prune perennial fruit trees/bushes and roses. Time to get everything cleaned up! 
  • Plant onion and leek seeds indoors. If you want to grow your own onion and leek transplants, now is the time to do it. These crops take a long time to grow so it is best to plant as transplants versus directly planting the seeds in the ground. 
  • Finish harvesting any crops that overwintered in your garden. It is time to finish off those leeks, carrots, and beets. Make room to plant in March! img_6704

While you are making preparations to be able to plant your seeds and transplants in March (specific to Seattle), you need to make a plan for what and where you will plant. 

Check out this post to create a plan for what crops you will grow and where they will be planted.

Time to start daydreaming about a yard full of flowers and edible food!DSC_0091

How to plan a garden

Deciding what vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers you want to grow can be exciting and overwhelming. It is fun to think about a garden full of life, beauty, and food. But it is daunting to figure out when and where to plant. img_7763

Since the goal of this blog is to make it easy to grow food, I am going to try to keep this really simple and digestible. This is a long post, but hopefully easy to skim for the information you need. 

I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first year I have been this organized. I have never planned using an Excel spreadsheet, implemented crop rotation, or even considered the variety of crops.

I say all of this because YOU CAN GROW FOOD AS LONG AS YOU 1.) Get the seeds in the ground when they should be planted 2.) Tend to your garden. HOWEVER, if you spend the extra hour or two to strategize and document your plan, it will make it easier to plan year-over-year, you will yield more food, and it will be possible to make the most of the growing season.

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is based on what has worked for me personally. I am not saying it is the perfect way to plan. Also, like everything, you can get even more strategic and organized, but I am trying to keep it fairly simple.

Here we go!

If you use Excel, I strongly suggest using it for garden planning. You can also use an “Excel” Google Doc. This will allow you to easily make changes, stay organized, and save to reference year-over-year. Paper and pencil work great too. My Dad did want me to title this post “Garden planning for nerds”. 

In this order, plan what crops you will grow and where:

  1. Make a list of the plants yoplantandfamilynamesu want to grow. Consider your available space and what grows best in your region. 
  2. Label each plant with its family name. You will want to plant families together. This will make it easy to decide where to plant each crop and ensure that you rotate these families of crops to control pests and diseases. You can find each crop’s family name online or in a garden book like High-Yield Vegetable Gardening. To learn more about this topic, check out this podcast. Add a column “Family”. For example, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and bok choy are all part of the Brassicaceae family “Brassicas”.
  3. Determine the location you will plant your crops. This is where Excel really comes in handy.
    1. Sort the crops by family name. You want to plant families together.
    2. Choose a bed, trellis, or other location for your crops. Separate crops by bed, container, or other space in yard. I always put my tomatoes in containers because I think they are easier to manage in pots. I have a specific space in the yard with a trellis created for my Peas. I also consider if the crop is an annual or perennial. I prefer not to plant perennials in my raised beds. Perennials come back year after year so I want a location that I can dedicate to that crop. I found a space in my yard next to my back deck for perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, and sage.
    3. Decide what crops will go in which raised bed. Now that you know which crops will be planted in a raised bed, you can plan which crops will go in what bed. plantlocation
      1. Choose one crop and one bed. I started with Garlic because it is already planted in one of my raised beds, bed #1. I will plant the other crops in garlic’s family in that bed, these would be “Alliums” and include leeks and chives.
      2. Determine best companions. I reference this site or a garden book. Alliums (leeks, onions, etc) help Brassicas. So I will add all crops in the Brassicaceae/Brassica family into bed #1. Dill is also helpful to Brassicas, so I will add this to bed #1.
      3. Consider the space a crop needs to grow. I know that squash require a lot of space and room to sprawl. I think my bed #3 is best positioned for squash to sprawl out and over. Squash and beans are good companions so I will add beans to bed #3. Beans are good companions with spinach, swiss chard, and cilantro, all added to bed #3.
      4. What is left? That leaves me with carrots, lettuce, salad greens, arugula, and cucumbers. All will work well together and be put into my remaining bed #2. 
      5. Add flowers. One of my goals this year is to add more color and creativity to my raised beds. For the first year, I am going to plant beneficial flowers in my raised beds. I have added zinnias, calendula, and cosmos into beds #2 and #3. I had room to add them in bed #2 and purposely added to bed #3 to help attract insects to pollenate the squash.
  4. Plan where each crop will be planted within the bed. This will make it quick and easy to actually plant the seeds and transplants in your bed because you already know where to plant. To do this, I also drew my beds in Excel (10 columns wide and 15 columns long for my 10ft x 5ft beds). gardenplanning_inbed
    1. Consider the size of each crop. It is really helpful to make note of the height (short, medium, tall) that each crop will reach at full maturity. There have been so many times when I have planted a tall crop in front of a short crop and the short crop was always too shaded to reach its full potential. Now that you know which crop is going in each bed, you can plan the actual location of the crop in the bed by considering the height of the crop. Plant the taller crops on the north side of the garden or where shorter crops will not be shaded.
    2. How much you want of each crop. If you really love a certain crop, you want to make sure you have plenty of space dedicated to growing that crop. For example, my family loves lettuce, salad greens, spinach, and beans. I want to be sure to dedicate plenty of space to these crops.
    3. The life span of each crop. You need to know how long a plant will take up that space in the garden so that you are always growing something. It is such a bummer when you finish harvesting and have not prepared to replace that space with a new crop. For example, garlic will be harvested in July and that space will be available for a new crop. Decide now what you want to fill that space and can be planted in July/August.

Other Considerations:

  • Determine the month you will plant the seeds or transplant. You can find this information by searching on the internet, on the seed package, or in a garden book like Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard. You can also determine the month by knowing your last frost date. Most Spring crops can be planted after the last frost date. If you are using Excel, add a column and list the “Planting Month”. Some plants can be seeded continually every other week for multiple months. Note this by using “month – month”. So Lettuce can be directly seeded every week/ or every other week from March – September.
  • Consider crop variety. Until this year I did not pay much attention to the variety of crop. I just bought carrot seeds. Then I learned there are varieties that do best in my local environment. This year I am specifically researching the best varieties of each crop or at least documenting the varieties I choose so that I can better document the success of each crop. I love this Encyclopedia Botanica Podcast episode about garden planning and the best 2016 seed varieties.
  • Add a section for “date planted” and “notes“. It is super helpful to keep track of the day you actual planted your seeds/transplants. Also, add a note section for special notes on planting, harvesting, or anything else you want to note for this year or next. gardeningplanning

Please know, from personal experience, it is worth every minute to plan what you will grow and where it will be grown. Once plants starting sprouting, every extra minute you have will be used maintaining, harvesting, and enjoying your garden. You will not have the time or want to spend the time trying to figure out what to plant next and where to plant it.  Plus, when next year roles around, you already have a solid planning foundation in place.

Too much? Probably! I hope this post is helpful. Please share your tips, tricks, and questions in the comment section!

Need help planning your garden? Please contact me to learn more.

A year in review

This last year was a big one. I gave birth to my first child and I decided to leave my corporate job. It was a LOT of change, really fast. It was the first year, in a long time, in which I felt incredibly present. This sudden lifestyle change and entirely new focus gave me the ability to think more creatively. Ultimately enabling me to tap even deeper into my love for gardening. Lucky me! I learned a lot this  year, but even more, my passion and interest in edible gardening GREW big time! img_5666

When I think of ONE word to describe my gardening life in 2016, it is “productive”. I did a much better job at planning. I put seeds in the ground early enough to take advantage of growing food all year long. I invested the time to thin, weed, and fertilize, resulting in productive and healthy plants. When I think of ONE word to describe what I am aiming for in 2017, it is “diversity”. megan-11

Now that I better understand garden planning, timing, and growing cycles, it is time to have a little more fun! I tend to grow what I know I will eat i.e. what I can find at the grocery store. How boring. In 2017 I want to try growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers that are new to me and my family. I typically dedicate the space in my raised beds to edible food only. In 2017 I hope to create a larger ecosystem of vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown next to one another. Thanks to The Fake Farmgirl who opened my eyes to the concept of a Potager garden in which flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits are intermingled. Ultimately, creating a stronger ecosystem to pollenate, fertilize, and protect against unwanted pests. 2017 is the year of a more diverse, colorful, and experimental garden.

Last year at this time, I documented my key accomplishments and lessons learned. THIS IS A MUST to get closer to the garden that you want to have. I am happy to report that I put my learnings into action in 2016. So here I go again.

Key Accomplishments

  • Grew more of everything. I grew more vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers than the year before. This is because I actually planned and most importantly understood the timing of when I needed to get seeds and bulbs into the ground. To do this, I suggest having one or two really great gardening books on hand. Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard lists out what you need to do in the garden each month. Read the instructions on seed packages. I am embarrassed to say that I have not done this and then the seeds or bulbs don’t sprout because I planted too deep, didn’t soak bulbs, or planted at the wrong time. This seems so simple but is often overlooked.
    • Timing: directly planted seeds for my spring garden by end of March , summer garden in early May, Fall garden by end of July, and last planting beginning of September.
  • Had beautiful roses from May – October. We bought and planted bare root roses in February and enjoyed roses starting in May! Visit your local nursery for bare root roses that will do well in your environment.
  • Expanded my gardening community and knowledge. Through this blog, social channels, and reaching out to gardeners within my local community, I have created a network of people that inspire me to grow food, eat real food, and treat Mother Earth with love and care. I look forward to continuing to grow and connect with this community in 2017.

 Lessons learned

  • I want to and can grow more. This will require another raised bed. I plan to build this bed in January to have it ready to roll for planting in March (blog post to come).
  • Grow more herbs. I learned how to air dry herbs this year and it was a success. These were great holiday gifts and I now have a container full of flavor from my own backyard. I definitely want to do this again in Fall 2017 and hope to have more herbs on hand to make twice as much. My two favorite herbs to air dry are Oregano and Thyme. dsc_0113
  • Grow more flowers. I said this last year. I did grow more flowers, but not nearly as many as I could have. Not only can these help create healthier vegetables, but who doesn’t want fresh flowers in their house all year long? I’m all about these flower recommendations from Seattle Urban Farm Company. img_4596
  • Onions need to be started as transplants in January. I directly seeded my onion seeds into the garden in late March. This didn’t work. Because I did not read any directions about growing onions, I just assumed I could directly plant the seeds into the garden in spring. It is best to plant onion transplants into the garden in late March and allow them to grow for 5-6 months before harvesting.
  • Sungold tomatoes rock! We had great success with this tomato variety and they are delicious. I personally like planting my tomato plants in large pots because they are easier for me to manage and don’t take up a lot of space in my raised bed.
  • Plant winter squash in the spring. I completely missed the boat on planting winter squash this year. You can direct seed winter squash and I will plan to do this by end of May. I hope to grow New England Pie Pumpkin and Honey Bear Acorn Squash.
  • Grow a “lettuce salad mix”. I love growing lettuce, I eat a lot of it and it is easy to grow in the PNW. This is the first year that I grew a lettuce mix. Not only was it fun to have a variety of lettuce leaves, but it also thrived in the garden. DSC_0022
  • Plant a fall garden. This year I was diligent about getting one more round of seeds into the ground at the beginning of September. This was well worth the effort and resulted in vegetables through January. It is such a treat to harvest carrots, beets, leeks, kale, and swiss chard on a cold, dark evening in the winter. dsc_0113
  • Reference a few key gardening resources. As mentioned before, it is so important to have a book or two on hand that makes it easier for you to know when to plant what. These are my go to gardening resources:

What has been your biggest learning in 2016? What is one thing you want to do in your garden in 2017?

I want to give a special THANK YOU to all of you who read my blog and support my gardening habits. Gardening would not be nearly as fun without those of you that help me learn, dig in the dirt, harvest, and enjoy the food!

Cheers to community and spreading the good gardening word in 2017!

With gratitude,

Megan megan

 

 

How to air dry and store herbs part 2

Three weeks after cutting and preparing my herbs for storing, they are dried! And by dry, you want them to be crackle dry. They may have been ready at two weeks, but I decided to give them one more for good measure. So now what? dsc_0105

Remove leaves from herb stems
This can be tedious, especially with thyme. I recommend putting on some music or a podcast, I listened to the latest episode of Encyclopedia Botanica podcast. What you need:

  • A big bowl – remove the leaves over the bowl so that you don’t lose any.dsc_0110
  • Use your hands to remove the leaves – try to be patient so that you keep the leaves intact.dsc_0113
  • Music or a podcast (I promise it doesn’t take that much time, but it will make the experience more enjoyable).

Store leaves in a container
You will need an airtight container to store the herbs, preferably glass. I used mason jars. If you are really on top of it, you can use old, cleaned spice and herb jars. dsc_0116

Label and date
After filling the containers with herbs. Be sure to label the container with the herb name and date.

Tie it with a bow
Consider gifting these dried herbs this holiday season (and don’t forget to save some for yourself). Use natural twine or a colorful ribbon to wrap the container! dsc_0119

A few notes

  • Dried herbs will store for up to eighteen months, one year is ideal.
  • I tried to air dry sage. It actually dried beautifully, but it smelt a little funky. It actually didn’t smell quite right when I cut it. Note to self: be sure to cut herbs before they have bloomed or become water logged. If they aren’t good fresh, they won’t be good dried.
  • Drying herbs is fun, resourceful, and straightforward. I plan to grow more fresh herbs with the intention of drying them for storing and gifting next winter.

Add a little zest to the holidays! Cheers!

 

How to air dry herbs part 1

I still have fresh herbs in my yard and I don’t want them to go to waste. I have decided to dry them so I can use them all winter long. With the holidays right around the corner, I’m also hoping to gift a few jars!

This post part 1 is about preparing the herbs to be dried. I am currently waiting for the herbs to dry. As soon as the herbs have been dried, stay tuned for post part 2 to find out how they turned out and how to store the herbs.dsc_0105

The easiest method for drying herbs is to air dry. This is most effective for herbs that don’t have a lot of moisture, like oregano, thyme, and rosemary. I do have extra sage, however it has higher moisture content. I am still going to try to air dry the sage and will let you know how it turns out in post part 2.

Steps to air dry herbs

  1. Harvest the herbs before they flower. I have to admit, a few have started to flower, but I am still going to use them. This means they are not at their peak flavor, but still do the job. Only use healthy branches.dsc_0099
  2. Dry and clean the herb branches. Shake off the insects and pat dry with paper towel. I laid the herbs out on brown paper bags to dry overnight.
  3. Bundle and tie a few stems together. Make sure there is enough space for some air circulation. dsc_0096
  4. Punch holes in paper bags so that air can circulate through the bags.
  5. Put the herb bundles in the paper bags. Place a bundle or two upside down in each bag. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle(s) and tie it closed, I used a rubber band. dsc_0097
  6. Keep the bags in a warm, airy room. I am keeping the bags in the basement, which is dry and about 60 Degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Check on the herbs in two weeks. Keep in the bags until the herbs are dried.

Go cut those herbs before the winter hits hard. Stay tuned in early December for how to store the herbs and prepare them for gifting.