HOW TO :: Grow Your Own Fig Tree | Propagating Figs

This is a great fall project as we move into winter. Be sure to position the cutting in a sunny spot so it can put on growth before winter really sets in. It will go dormant over winter (keep the soil moisture consistently JUST damp) and pick up growth as we turn into the new year.figs_food52 copy I think you'll be surprised at how simple this is, but for anyone interested, here are the instructions if you want to DIY it:

  1. Find a fig tree! Maybe your neighbor has one or maybe you're in a local park.
  2. Using pruning shears, cut a 4- to 10-inch long piece of soft wood new growth, just above a plant node.
  3. Fill a large pot with potting soil (a simple plastic pot that shrubs come in is perfect) and stick the fig cutting in, cut side down. Don't worry about stripping the bark, spacing or anything. You just need to place the cutting in a well-drained medium with space to grow.
  4. Water, water, water! Moisture is key. Eventually, your cutting will grow smaller little leaves and develop a root system. You know it is ready for replanting or repotting when you give the plant a slight tug and it resists.

Five Container Plants For Fall

It's hard to believe, but fall is on its way. Here, a quick guide on what to plant now for the perfect patio harvest come cold weather. plantingIt doesn’t necessarily feel like it, but sadly summer is waning. Our days are shorter and while temperatures may remain hot (you lucky ducks!), shorter days means less light for growing plants. In many states across the country this means it’s time to get the winter garden going, if you haven’t already. Late summer begs for cool loving crops that are quick to grow. For anyone starting now, smaller leafy greens are your friend.

By nature, leafy greens require less direct sunlight, prefer it when it’s a bit cooler, and can be grown in both a proper garden bed and a smaller container. Most greens germinate quickly and many can be found as starts. Following is a list of five plants to grow right now – some can be harvested before winter sets in, and others can be left to overwinter in regions with mild temperatures. Be sure to get planting straight away though. Mother Nature is moving fast and I can tell you from experience...she usually wins the race.

Getting Started You’ll need a pot filled to the brim with potting soil. Feel free to use an old pot; just refresh the soil and make sure you remove all old root hairs. If you’re using seed, you can direct sow, which is a method in which you sow a seed directly into the soil.

You can also broadcast sow seeds for loose leaves: you do this by taking a handful of seeds and scattering them evenly over a designated area, sort of like salting meat. These seeds fall on the soil haphazardly and lack any spacing. (I'm showing the technique in a garden bed here, but it also works for containers!)

Of course, you can also use a start when planting this fall. Plant starts are a bit easier as they give you a jump on the season and don’t require you to nurture seeds through germination. When transplanting a plant start into a pot, you need only provide enough space for the plant to grow. Loosen up the transplants root system and be sure to separate out individual plants so you allow them room to come to full maturity.

raddichio copy

1. Lettuce Many lettuces will grow and mature in less than two months. These are wonderful immediate gratification kind of plants, as they germinate and grow quickly and are easily harvested. Lettuces come in assorted sizes and colors, allowing for a nice salad bowl mix, but be sure to choose varieties that will do well late in the season – I really love Green Deer Tongue lettuce for winter and have heard great things about Arctic King, a butterhead for anyone wanting a traditional green lettuce leaf.

Where and When to Plant • Sow lettuce seed or plant starts through the month of September.

Pot Size • Sow seeds in a long, shallow, pale-colored plastic container -- lettuces are shallow-rooted, and plastic containers hold water a bit longer than clay ones. • If using seeds, be sure to keep the seedbed moist until seeds germinate, which typically happens in five to seven days.

How to Harvest • To harvest lettuce, try to remove the larger outer leaves first. Using a small pair of scissors, cut the individual leaf stems as close to the base of the main stem as possible, leaving some interior leaves behind.

planting2. Chervil Chervil has tender fernlike leaves, it is extremely dainty and delicate. The flavor is not unlike dill, but it is sharper and more crisp. It doesn’t linger on your palate as dill can, and it won’t overpower a dish. Chervil is a great match for eggs, light broths, and with white fish of any kind. (Editor's Note: The chervil hasn't popped up in Amy's garden yet, so you get a photo of sowing in action! Chervil looks like this.)

Where and When to Plant • Sow in late summer.

Pot Size • Chervil can be grown in a medium-depth pot, about eight to twelve inches deep. The wider the pot, the more thickly the plant will fill in, so keep that in mind when choosing.

How to Harvest • Cut the entire stem of chervil and use both leaves and stem. • The plant will quickly fill back in, so harvest often!

greenonion copy3. Green Onions Scallions, chives, green onions – they are all in the same family of allium and are quick producing. You can grow for greens or the whole plant.

Where and When to Plant • Green onions can be sown in late summer for a fall harvest.

Pot Size • A shallow container works well. Try these in a gutter garden!

How to Harvest • Pull the entire scallion from the soil, if you’d like to use the white. • For greens only, trim the stems leaving a few inches of the green onion behind so it can re-grow.

arugula_sprouts copy4. Arugula Arugula is a leafy green that produces long flat leaves with a distinct peppery flavor. Each seed produces one thin stem, which leaves grow out from. You can further your harvest by cutting them back often.

Where and When to Plant • Sow arugula seeds in the top layer of potting soil from late August through October.

Pot Size • If given the room, arugula plants may grow to well over two feet! In a small to medium container, however, leaves grow the perfect size for salad.

How to Harvest • Cut arugula at the base of each leaf off the main stem. • You can decide for yourself when the leaf is big enough, but larger leaves are much more peppery.

escaroleinbed copy5. Chicories Chicories are essentially bitter salad greens that can be eaten raw or take well to grilling. Chicories such as escaroles and endives are good choices for fall.

Where and When to Plant • Sow seed or plant starts now through the first week of September.

Pot Size • Sow seeds in a long, shallow, pale-colored plastic container, as chicories are also shallow rooted plants.

How to Harvest • To harvest, remove the larger outer leaves first. Like for lettuce, using a small pair of scissors, cut the individual leaf stems as close to the base of the main stem as possible, leaving some interior leaves behind.

Why Tomatoes Crack & Split

split tomatoesIn late summer, I'm bound to receive texts from my friends and clients showcasing cracked and split tomatoes asking me what went wrong. In short, you can blame it on the rain. When tomatoes (and all ripening fruits) have a sudden fluctuation in their water levels, they are bound to react. After a somewhat dry summer (and with a consistent watering schedule), a sudden downpour allows plants to drink up way more water than usual. As they take up water, the fruits expand, causing the skins of tomatoes to crack and split. This is particularly offensive in the case of almost-ripe tomatoes; They are already super moist and so have a greater tendency to split right before harvest - a total bummer.

The good news is, if you get out in the garden and harvest almost-ripe tomatoes BEFORE forecasted rain, you can save them. Just keep them on a windowsill or countertop to continue ripening. (Any time you can ripen fruit in the sun, hence a windowsill, it will produce better-tasting fruit.) If you miss the window and rain comes, harvest cracked and split tomatoes asap and ripen them in the same fashion. While ugly, the cracks don't do a lot to alter the flavor, and for any purist, you can cut around the tough skin and compost that portion.

 

Best Trellis Ideas

pea trellisIf you haven't planted your Sugar Snap, English or Snow peas by now, it's time to get them in the garden! These springtime plants grow quickly and can be used in a vertical garden, thereby freeing up precious space on the ground. I use all sorts of different trellises in the garden and no one exhibits these better than Lily over at Rake & Make. This is her favorite pea trellis, and I'd have to agree. We use string in all of our gardens, but a staple gun and netting is a fine idea - you can roll it up when the season ends. I also love her version of a cucumber trellis - it's a great way to get those heavy fruits up and off the ground and makes them easy to harvest.

Incidentally, both peas and cucumbers can be grown in pots, making them a great choice for anyone with limited space or a small balcony. These tall pea vines would provide temporary (and delicious) privacy between neighbors.

Lily and I met in 2007 when we both attended an intensive organic gardening series. She had just bought a home and I was researching an article for Edible Seattle. Since then, she has become and urban farming master and a wonderful homemaker as well. She made her own wedding dress, knits her own sweaters and grows her own food. Marry ME, Lily! Her blog is an amazing resource full of great information.

Check out her site for more awesome vertical garden tips and best trellis ideas, along with crafty DIY projects. I highly recommend!

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HOW TO :: IDENTIFY, HARVEST & COOK SQUASH BLOSSOMS

Squash Vine & BlossomsOne of the most frequently asked questions I get every summer is when and how to harvest squash blossoms. These brilliant tangerine-colored flowers can be cooked in broths, sautéed, or more commonly stuffed and dipped in light batters and fried. Every- one loves fried squash blossoms! Summer squash plants (all members of the Cucurbitaceae family, for that matter— cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, gourds, and so on) send out both male and female blossoms. Through pollination, male blossoms lend their pollen to the female blos- soms, and those female blossoms turn into the fruit of the plant. A plant will create more male blossoms than are necessary for pollination, and some of these may be harvested and eaten. (But if you eat all of the male blossoms, you will not have any fruit to harvest!)

Identifying male versus female blossoms is a reasonably simple task. Male flowers have stamens—a long, slender “stalk” that runs up the center of the bloom, tipped with a thick carpet of pollen. Male blossoms grow on long, thin stems from the base of the squash plant—typically about six or seven inches in length. By contrast, female blos- soms sit low to the plant and do not have a stamen. To harvest, cut the male blossoms at the base of their stems, as close to the plant as possible. You can use the stem in your cooking or trim it down to a few inches. (You may also harvest female blossoms, if you are trying to reduce the fruit of the plant or it’s early in the season and you wish for the plant to fully establish itself before fruiting.)

Use harvested squash blossoms right away, as they wilt quickly. If you need to store them for a short time, line a storage container with a linen cloth or paper towel and mist it until just damp. Lay out the flowers in single layers, leaving space between the blossoms, and stack them between layers of moistened towel. Store in the fridge for up to two days.

To prepare squash blossoms for cooking, I like to remove the stamen, particularly if the anther is thick, as it can taste quite bitter. (The anther is the tip of the stamen and contains the pollen.) To do this, use a small paring knife and delicately open the blossom to remove the stamen at its base or as close to the base as possible. Cook squash blossoms by dipping them into a light egg batter and frying, briefly, in a shallow pool of oil. Make sure the heat is high, as they cook quickly and you need only let the batter brown slightly before serving. For more crunch, roll them in bread crumbs (after dipping them into the batter) before frying.

You can also chop squash blossoms and add them to soups, such as Ricotta– Squash Dumpling Soup or Carrot Peel Soup. I have also had squash blossoms in a simple, light quesadilla. Heat a tortilla in a dry pan; when both sides are golden, add cheese and several squash blossoms to one side and fold in half, pressing the sides together. The cheese will melt and the blossoms will steam. Delicious!

[This article has been excerpted from FRESH PANTRY, so if you're looking for more tips & tricks for eating, growing and living seasonally, please check out my book!]

 

HOW TO :: Tomato DIY - Pruning & Trellises

Pruned tomato vineCome summertime, when the air is hot and the sun is high, everyone comes down with a little case of tomato fever. I’m not sure how this plant grew to such epochal proportions as to measure the success of a home gardener, but it has. Today we present tomato tips and tricks, from pruning for maximum yield to easy DIY trellises.

Pruning Those Suckers Tomato suckers are the small sets of leaves that grow between the main stem and a leafy branch of a tomato plant. These suckers, if left to grow, become additional flowering and fruiting stems for the plant. That's good, right? Not quite. If allowed to bloom and fruit, these additional tomatoes will ultimately compete for nutrients from the plant. Over time, this lessens the overall chances of all the fruit coming to delicious maturity. Cooler and shorter seasons (like in the Northwest), cannot support such prolific tomato production -- but regardless of your temperature, all tomatoes do well with a little pruning.

Pruning, in this case, refers to snapping off those little suckers. When the stems are new and short (say, 3 to 4 inches) you can snap them off with your fingers by bending them back quickly. If you let them get much larger, it’s best to use a set of shears so you don’t tear the main plant stem in the process. Starting in early August (after the plants have some good strong growth and the weather is consistently warm) I snap off suckers -- no hesitation, no regrets -- from the top half of the plant. (If you planted a smaller tomato variety or cherry tomato plant, leave more suckers on the plant. Because cherry tomatoes are smaller, they ripen faster and the plant can support more production.)

In addition to trimming suckers, now is a great time to prune about 30% of the green leaf stems from the tomato vine. This sends the plant's energy into fruit production, rather than upward growth. This also allows for air to pass through and for sun to shine on the fruit, which helps develop sweetness. More practically, pruning also allows a gardener to clearly see when tomatoes are ripe.

pruned tomatoesBe aggressive and fear not -- pruning will seldom cause damage to the plant or overall tomato production. Our "job" as home cooks and gardeners is to produce the most luscious tomato for our table. Keep that in mind, and you won’t have a problem getting rid of suckers and excess leaves. One last note: some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin, especially on prolonged contact. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves and long sleeves when dealing with tomato plants.

DIY Trellises A structured tomato trellis offers support to climbing or tall plants and is perfect for maximizing and managing your space -- they keep tomato stems from breaking and allow for pruning. I know everyone loves tomatoes, so now is the time to get in the garden and focus on building tomato supports, if you haven’t already!

DIY Fence TrellisPerhaps you’re one of the many who purchase tomato "cages," but find that the plants are growing well over the confines of the cage and dragging it down. I’ll be honest and admit I am not a fan of tomato cages. Instead, I build a support system of bamboo in all of my tomato beds. DIY trellising is uber-efficient and less expensive. It also allows for easy pruning, good air circulation, and good fruit maturity, as it allows sun to sit on individual tomato fruits, ripening and sweetening them up. There are lots of other options for trellising, as well – re-using a fence, for instance. If you have supportive items like this around, use them. If not, build your own.

Tomato trellis

To Build: You need 5 lengths of 6-foot bamboo. Crossing two pieces of bamboo, tie string about 5-inches down, creating a small “X” at one end. Once tied, splay the bamboo apart, making a large “X” – these will act as the foundation for the trellis. Do this twice and position the the bamboo legs about 5 feet apart in the bed. Position the remaining piece of 6-foot bamboo across the frame and voila! A super durable, strong trellis in which to trail over vining plants.

To Support Tomatoes: Use garden twine and loosely make a knot around the main stem of the tomato, winding the string up to the top of the bamboo and tying off. Do this in one or two places along the main stem, gently twisting the tomato plant around the string for extra support and VOILA. Tomato support!

Watering Tomatoes For heat-loving tomato plants, it’s smart to water in the morning before you leave for work. Watering in the morning leaves time for plants to soak it up before the heat of day and evaporation take over. Watering in the evening results in a drop in soil temperature which these heat-lovers do not appreciate. You wouldn’t like to go to sit outside in wet socks at night time, would you? Same, same.

Keep me posted on all of your tomato successes and failures. Have a great tip? Be sure to post it in the comments.

[One last note -some people (like me) find the leaves of tomato plants highly irritable to their skin. For this reason, I always, always wear gloves when dealing with tomato plants.]

How To :: Propagate Herbs

Last summer I met up with my friend Sarah, a farmer. Sarah has been farming for years and she's an absolute pro, so I asked her to meet me out at a new space to help me devise the perfect garden plan. (She's a genius that way – indispensible knowledge.) We met up and walked to the garden. On the way, she spotted a old, prolific fig tree and stopped in her tracks. "Oh – I need that," she exclaimed, and simultaneously reached into her back pocket as she crossed the street. With at quick snip, she cut a couple inches length from the fig plant, looked at me, and whispered, "You want one?"

Splitting thyme rootsThe practice of growing a plant from a small clipping is called propagation, but I had no idea you could grow a fig tree from a mere four inches of branch. Propagating a plant from a cutting or root division is one of the coolest parts of gardening. Propagating plants, quite simply, extends a plant's reproduction beyond the usual blooming and seeding. There are two methods we'll cover today: splitting the roots of a parent plant, called root division, and taking a cutting. (Grafting is also considered a form of propagation, but requires a bit more work.)

Root Division: Split One Plant Into Two
Many herbs and plants can be divided by simply splitting up their roots: Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Chives, Tarragon, Lovage, and Marjoram are all perfect candidates. It's easy:

transplanting thyme

1. Dig up the plant and its entire root system as best you can in early spring or fall. Growth is slow during these seasons, which makes this treatment easier on the plant.

Root Division, thyme

2. Work apart the roots and slice through them with a clean knife or your hands. (You can also trim the root balls with scissors.) Be sure that each division has both healthy roots and at least one small green shoot!

Root division, repotting thyme

3. Repot into a large enough pot and water well. Be sure to keep it watered well until the plant catches on and begins to put out new growth. You don't want to add any additional stress to the plant from lack of water!

A note for apartment gardeners: if you already have perennial herb pots going, it may be time for you to split them and separate the division into two pots. Every three years or so, perennial herbs do well with some dividing. Add some compost to the new potting mix and repot in a same-size or larger container. If you don't need more of the same herb, divide them anyway and repot as gifts for friends or neighbors.

Taking a Cutting: Cloning Your Plants
Some plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs -- like the one my friend Sarah clipped -- Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways -- use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer -- cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

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1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant's branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

propagating scented geranium

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)

propagating geraniums

3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant's hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

Propagating geraniumYou will know it's ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! And if you're interested in learning more about herbs, check out this upcoming class on Growing Herbs in Containers from Swanson's Nursery in Ballard, Seattle.

Photos by Della Chen

 

 

 

How To :: Building Potato Cages

Potatoes, diggin upPotatoes are one of the most often requested vegetables when I first meet with clients, and they're a great crop to grow if you have limited space. Potatoes are a 'tuber', an underground, fleshy stem bearing buds that eventually turn into the potato. (Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes are tubers, too.) Dahlias are also tubers, but those roots are simply food-storing roots for the plant. Once the potato seed is planted (check out this detailed post with pics for details), the seed (which is a small cut piece of a potato with a sprouted 'eye') will put on top growth - a leafy part of the plant that develops in about 4 weeks after planting. This leafy bit produces leaves and flowers. As the plant stem grows, they produce too much energy for the plant and this energy is then stored in the 'tubers', which we call potatoes. Get it? Good.

The trick with growing potatoes then, is to cultivate a healthy environment so that each stem produces as many tubers as possible. To do this, after some stem and leaves develop, we slowly mulch the beds with hay which helps to hold in moisture and also creates a growing medium for the tubers. When mulching, aim to leave about 3 to 4 inches of stem exposed and add hay as needed.

NOW - how to actually GROW potatoes? There are several techniques, and I've tried them all over the years. The most common is called "hilling" - dig a 6-8" trench, drop in cut & sprouted potato seeds and fill the trench halfway with soil. As the plant grows its vine, you continue covering the trench, leaving about 8" of covered seed - all the more volume to grow in. This is the old school farm-y way, but can be difficult for urban farmers with limited space.

http://www.nwedible.com/2013/04/how-to-make-a-heavy-duty-potato-cage.htmlI've successfully grown potatoes in a soil bag on my apartment garden deck, in burlap bags at Volunteer Park Cafe and in trenches when I have the space. This year, I came across a post by Erica over at Northwest Edible Life, wherein she built potato 'cages' - tall planters made from cementing mesh and landscape fabric. You essentially make circular beds with the fencing and line them with landscape fabric to hold in the soil. Building tomato cages is cheap and easy to do, so I added some to Volunteer Park Cafe this year. One roll of 5 foot tall, 100' long concrete mesh cost me $35 at Stoneway Hardware. I had saved up some cool looking vintage feed bags a few years ago, and lined the beds with this instead, but landscaping fabric also works well and looks decent. Erica has a long, detailed How To post that I highly recommend you read. And she posted her results after trying this new potato-making project, which are also great food for thought.

To check out side by side growth, I encourage all of you to head up to Volunteer Park Cafe one afternoon soon (Agnes, my gardner cohort is there on Wednesday afternoons and I'm there one day a week, too - say hi!) and check out both the NW Edible-style planters aka potato cages and our burlap bag planters. Two different techniques side by side makes for a nice afternoon conversation! And don't forget to grab a pastry - that obviously makes the visit sweeter.

Potato Cages

ps - You can plant potatoes (in the Pac NW) from TODAY through mid-June, so get crackin' and feel free to email me your project pics so I can share!! amy AT amy DASH pennington DOT com.

pps - I'll write a follow up post on How & When To Harvest potatoes, what to plant next in the cages and some other techniques for potato-growing 2015. Stay tuned!

Small Plants for Small Pots

Small pots, illustrationYou might think choosing pots would be the easiest part of container gardening, but interestingly, it is not. Containers and pots come in many sizes and seemingly just as many materials. You can look at your planting vessel in one of two ways—you can choose the pot first and then pick the best-suited plant, or buy the plant and then choose the best-suited pot. Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity. The end goal is for the plant to produce as much as possible.

That said, I find myself consistently drawn to the cutest little pots with the brightest colors, but they end up being fairly useless. There are lots of adorable small ceramic vessels and even compressed bamboo pots in bright and festive colors. (A nice counterpart to all that green, I say!)

In my own garden, the smallest pot I have used is about four inches deep and about that wide—I treat it as an experiment. Nothing really grows well in such a small space, and the plants are typically root-bound. Even lettuces, which are pretty tolerant, suffer in such tight confines. Their leaves never get bigger than baby lettuce size. The smallest pot I recommend is about six inches deep and about the same width.

There are a few plants that work reasonably well in small pots. Shallow-rooted plants work best, as do plants that you will not harvest from often. Lemon balm, for instance, is quite hardy and will survive the tight conditions, though its leaves will be much smaller than those of a plant given room to reach its full potential. This doesn’t matter so much for lemon balm, as it is a strong herb that you will likely use only occasionally.

Keep in mind, also, that small pots need lots of watering on hot days— likely at least twice a day.

Following is a list of some good plant options for smaller pots—as either they are shallow-rooted, or a kind of plant you will not use in large quantities and can harvest in smaller batches.

.Lemon Balm .Microgreens: arugula, radish
 or amaranth grow quickly .Mint & Scented Mints - chocolate, pineapple or apple .Strawberries - one plant per pot!

Materials for Vegetable Beds - Is Treated Wood a No-No????

Spring has sprung and it seems like everyone is ready to hit the dirt, literally. This is the time of year when my garden business, GoGo Green Garden, really heats up (despite morning frosts) and everyone wants a garden RIGHT. NOW. DIY Timber Raised Beds

Today, I consulted with a new client who has bed materials ready to go, but isn't sure about their safety. She has a gorgeous stack of thick, old fir beams that were treated way back when when arsenic and other chemicals were freely used. In 2003, the EPA banned the sale of treated lumber, which contained CCA  (chromated copper arsenate), but today that aged wood is often found at construction sites and can be somewhat easily salvaged.

The question then becomes, is it better NOT to use the gorgeous (free?) wood? Or is it ok to use when building vegetable beds? I found a great article in Fine Gardening, though you can read the meat of it here……….

"Sally Brown, a research assistant professor of soils at the University of Washington, knows her way around both food and metals. Starting out as a chef and then a food broker between farmers and restaurants, she became fascinated with soils and went on to earn a PhD in agronomy. Brown’s current research includes identifying the mechanisms by which organic residuals reduce the availability of soil metals to plants. She has some hard-earned opinions.

Brown says that if you already have the older, arsenic-treated wood in your garden, don’t panic. Plants will not take up arsenic unless the soils are deficient in phosphorus. That is not a problem for gardeners who use compost generously. As for the new copper-based wood treatments, Brown believes the actual risk is minimal. First of all, if plants take up too much copper, they will die before a gardener can eat them. In addition, if homegrown vegetables make up a small percentage of the diet, exposure to any metal taken up is insignificant. Do not use copper near ponds and streams because it is toxic to aquatic life."

Of course, you can always look at other materials like this lovely garden, pictured, which I built that last year for a client on Mercer Island. We re-used leftover pavers (from their new house construction) and built simple timber beds using untreated lumber. I know the masses frown on timber framed beds as inferior, but in my urban farming experience, they've held up beautifully. For a fraction of the price of cedar, timber beds maintain their structure for at least 6 years and even then, only demand the addition of re-bar supports  to extend their life.

Was this article helpful?!?!? Please let me know in the comments and I'll continue adding veg bed material options, of which I have many! 

Setting Up Your Container Garden - Tips for Apartment Dwellers and Small Spaces

Many moons ago, I tried to convince a boyfriend to let me grow food in his yard, tearing out existing landscape. (He declined and now has a vegetable bed in the worst place, which I secretly love.) I have a habit of sizing up random yards searching for the perfect place to grow food because sadly, I don’t have a yard or garden of my own. I’m relegated to planting any food I want in pots. It's honestly not my preference, but still, I like to think that I’ve perfected the art of growing in my microclimate. I know I share circumstances with many of you: without some pots on a patio, balcony, or windowsill, we would be plant-less. No fun. So, here, I am covering container basics for the urbanite looking to supply their kitchen with some garden goodness. Filling pots

You should know from the onset that not all vegetables grow well in containers. By planting in a contained environment, you are inhibiting the plant’s growth to some extent. Think about it — plants can send out roots and root hairs only as far as the walls of the pot allow. Restricted by the pot, not all plants will come to full maturity and produce food. This presents the biggest challenge of growing food in small spaces.

Deciding What to Grow The ultimate goal is for your garden to be productive. I aim for a constant supply of ingredients for the kitchen, so I nurture plants that can be continually harvested. I suggest growing plants that will be used frequently, but in small amounts. This gives plants time to regrow between cuttings — no sense in planting a crop that you’ll wipe out in one go. (I figure it’s better to have something available over a long course of time.)

• I rely heavily on herbs in my garden. Herbs will single-handedly change the flavor of most recipes and are often pricey at the grocery; many are not commercially available.

• Plants that produce abundant quantities of ingredients that I know I’ll use often are also a favorite. Lettuces, for example: these are wonderful to grow at home. They take up little space, produce (and reproduce!) quickly, and offer fresh greens for salads, or for a nice leafy garnish. I use lettuce in large amounts, and their fast growing cycle makes them highly productive, economical, and worthwhile.

• Plan on mixing it up to make sure there is always something new and different to harvest. Choose plants that will run through their life cycle in one season (annuals) as well as plants that continue to come back year after year in the same pot (perennials).

• Make the most of what you grow by considering its uses beyond the kitchen. Lavender makes a subtle herb rub for seared duck breast and can also be used as a herbal stuffing for an eye pillow. Scented geranium leaves can be chopped and used in sweet recipes, infused into water for a facial toner, or steeped to make teas.

• A container garden should ebb and flow, just like a large garden. Some plants are grown for their leaves, some for their seeds, and some for their fruits. I try to round out my garden plan so there is always something ready to harvest. Today, as I write this, I have marjoram, thyme, and scented geraniums that survived the winter. Arugula and mache are just popping up, too, having reseeded themselves from last year (at the end of the season I stopped harvesting their leaves and let them "go to seed" — the matured plant grows seed pods that fall into the soil and regrow). Within three weeks, the lovage should be starting to show (the same plants I’ve had for four years) and I’ll be planting a second crop of arugula.

Soil

Getting Started To start a garden in containers, at a bare minimum you’ll need pots, soil, and a low-level organic fertilizer. A bag of compost is also a great addition. Access to water is an important consideration. In my own garden, I fill eight old water bottles and carry them back and forth from my kitchen sink. Just make sure you have some way to water your plants, as containers require a diligent watering schedule.

Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity.

Planting in Pots

Materials Plastic pots are the least expensive container option, so they’re great for anyone on a budget. It’s true that they are usually the least attractive option, but they hold their moisture longer than clay or ceramic pots and are lighter and easier to move around.

Clay pots are porous, so air moves easily through their walls. This is helpful in that it allows roots to breathe and keeps them out of direct water, but it’s not helpful in that the soil tends to dry out quickly. In hot weather you’ll need to closely monitor the moisture in your clay pots. They are a fairly inexpensive option for the home gardener after plastic, and they come in myriad shapes and sizes. If you choose clay pots, be sure to purchase a saucer or plate to sit under the pot. This works in two ways — to keep moisture off the surface of your deck or patio and to hold in moisture for the plant.

I won't be discussing it here, but making your own pots is super rewarding, too!

Soil You must use potting soil in your containers — soil mixes are formulated to maintain a certain level of lightness so that plants are able to breathe, drain well, and still hold in some moisture. (Air is right up there with sun and water in importance to healthy, thriving plants!) Look for organic potting soil mixes from smaller regional companies rather than the national brands you’ll find in big-box stores. Choose a potting soil that has no added fertilizer or nutrients. It is best to add those on your own as needed for the particular plants you will grow.

Remove all Roots

If you are adding new plants to previously used containers, do not rely on simply digging a small hole in the soil and stuffing in a plant start. Old soils often contain dead roots from previous plants (see above). These roots will impede the new plant’s roots and constrict air as the new plant tries to grow into the same small space. For that reason, just as you would in a garden bed, it’s best to rework your soil before planting. As on the farm, till your soil using a fork or your hands. Loosen it up, remove the root hairs, then gently work in some compost and a spoonful of a low-level organic fertilizer before adding a new plant start.

We will cover more container plant topics like feeding your plant, tending for plants, and more in upcoming articles, but for now these are the basics you need to get growing. As ever, I’m looking forward to all of your questions in the comments!

Up next, seed starting: big things come in tiny packages.

Photos by Della Chen

How to Prep Your Garden Beds

Plotting Your Way to the Garden(all pictures by Della Chen Photography)

With the basic principles covered (water, sun, and spaceseeds) and the impending approach of spring, it is officially time to break ground in the garden. Whether starting from scratch, or adding to an already growing landscape, following these general rules will help guide you through the process. And checking out some online vids for how to prepare your gardens for spring is never a bad idea.

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The next step in the great urban gardening adventure is to actually get to building and shaping your beds. First, though, you have to make sure your ground is ready to plant.

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Prepping your Plot City farmers need to start with a nice clear garden space before building or planting — you may need to kill grass or pull weeds before starting. To clear grass or sod, you can rent a sod cutter (which will include directions), or use good, old-fashioned manual labor to cut away squares of grass with a spade. Turn each dug-up patch of grass upside down — burying the grass, exposing the soil, and allowing the grass to rot over time. Instant homemade compost!

For invasive ground cover — plants that root down deep and grow back even after weeding or mowing — there really is no easy way short of getting in there and mindfully digging it out. Ground cover plants spread quickly, as is their intended habit, and so you must be careful to remove every root system. Use a shovel (I prefer my spade) and dig deep, loosening the soil a bit deeper than the roots have grown. For truly invasive plants, like ivy, you must also take care to remove all leaf matter, as even cuttings can produce new plants. Have more questions about grass removal? Post in the comments and I'll do my best to help!

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Once the area is clear, it is wise to compost and mulch it. In Erin's garden (above) we had a crew of friends over one winter Saturday morning and worked really hard for six hours to complete the task. Be sure to share your future vegetable harvest with your helpers! Here are the layers you'll need:

• An inch-thick layer of compost will add needed nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

• A layer of mulch will further aid in decay, which is good because it invites good bacteria into your soil in addition to protecting the exposed soil from erosion and compaction from rain.

• A layer of cocoa bean chaff ($10 a bag at Theo Chocolate in Seattle; you can also use wood chip mulch) to eventually break down and decay into compost. (NOTE: Cocoa bean chaff can be life-threatening to dogs, so if you're a pet owner, another form of mulch is highly recommended!)

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• Use burlap coffee bean bags (procured from Stumptown Roasters and available at other Seattle roasting houses) to cover the garden. You can also use coffee grounds and newspaper, or just cardboard — any not-too-thick material that will decompose and add organic matter to the soil is perfect. Covering the compost and soil has many benefits; it will keep sun off any left-behind plants preventing them from growing, warm up the earth, and further help the process of decomposition.

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Materials When you're ready to plant, it's time to build the garden beds themselves. Beds are essentially formed mounds of soil that are raised higher than the surrounding landscape. If you're starting with a blank slate, there are many options for building a bed outside of simply mounding up the soil.

When contemplating any space, the first two items to consider are aesthetics and budget — a happy marriage of both principles should always be your goal. You can use a variety of materials for garden beds, so long as there is support for the bed walls to hold in the containing soil. These super simple designs allow you to avoid construction if you have an aversion to tools or lack any formal toolbox or training:

• Cinderblocks are inexpensive if not free, are often salvageable from existing sites, and require no tools at all outside your physical brawn to stack them.

 Sticks and fallen branches you gather from the ground can be used to erect a bed. Create a retaining fence by pounding rebar or another sturdy stake material about 12" deep and about 1-2 inches apart into the earth in parallel rows. This acts as your frame wherein you can stack sticks horizontally between them creating a wall. You can fill in any gaps with smaller sticks or Spanish moss.

• Wood can be used to easily construct a rectangular bed — look for untreated lumber (cheap and durable) or cedar(more expensive than lumber, but longer-lasting). You can even add a ledge to sit on when you weed your garden beds.

As for the perfect size, remember not to build any bed more than 4 feet wide. Any larger and you won't be able to easily reach in to the center. Also be sure to leave a two-foot minimum of space between each bed to allow for walking between beds.

Soil Now that the garden beds are complete, you'll need to fill them. The easiest way to do this is to have a mix of topsoil and compost delivered — I recommend a 70-30 mix. Often new gardeners will their beds exclusively with compost; while it adds necessary organic matter to your soil, compost also retains water and lacks the mineral structure found in topsoil. Topsoil allows for drainage and is a necessary ingredient in any garden mix. When you fill your beds, be sure to fill them to the very top. You want the soil/compost flush with the lip of the bed, as soil will compact over time. This can create a shade ledge in the bed — not the best for sun-loving seedlings.

If you're starting the year with already-built beds, you'd do well to top them off with a bit of pure compost. I cover the topsoil with about an inch of compost and hoe it in, but any amount is better than none. Compost helps add good bacteria, organic matter, and nutrients like nitrogen to your soil. Always choose organic, and opt for a compost made close to home. Many city municipalities are turning their waste into compost, so call your city offices for details.

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Winter Transition in the Garden - How-To

garlicHere in the Pacific NW we've had the good fortune of a relatively mild autumn, while on the east coast it snowed this week. Regionally, garden news will vary in terms of timing - I still have tomatoes in the ground in gardens here in Seattle, but everyone should (or should have!) work to transition their gardens this week or next. A winter garden transition essentially rids the beds of any lingering summer crops and any plants that will not over winter. In their place, it is best to cover and protect the soil. You can do this by ...mulching - adding a layer of autumnal leaves or a sack burlap directly over your soil. Sowing cover crop will also generate a green mulch, one that you can chop into the soil for green compost next spring. Choose a cover crop mix (often sold in bulk at small nurseries) of cereal (rye, barley), vetch and favas.

Below, I have a few bullet pointed items for winter transition. If you like them well enough, let me know in the comments and I can expand the section to include your landscape plants, trees and shrubs. (Or maybe even your rosemary and sage bushes that are out of control??)

- It's not too late to plant garlic. Plant single cloves about 6 to 8 inches apart, and push them (tips up) about 2 inches below the surface.

- Collect flower head seeds and save the seed if so inclined. Work methodically, as seeds are easily dropped and it is NO fun weeding out 100s of borage plants in February, trust me on this!

- Remove all of your annual plants and compost them.

- Cut back perennial plants like thyme, sage and oregano. As leaves dull and brown, you can trim off their woody stalks at the ground. Take care not to cut off any new shoots - those will put on slow growth through the season.

- Remove all summer crops from the beds - green tomatoes can be harvested and stored in a bucket in the garage, where they will ripen slowly. Check for ripe tomatoes daily, as they will break down and mold/rot easily if not removed.

- Mulch strawberry plants with a covering of dry hay. You can find this at Walt's Organic in Ballard, or try your local hardware store. Sprinkle a layer directly over the strawberries, but no more than a few inches deep, which can smother plants. Plan to mulch as the temperature continues to drop, so put it on your list for late November/early December.

cutting back raspberries- Cut back any dead raspberry canes. Dead canes are those that have fruited and/or have brown, brittle canes. Thin remaining canes (choosing the thickest and strongest) so there is one every 6-inches, leaving them room for them to grow in and receive sun. Lastly, you must tip or trim the canes, using sharp pruners, to about 4 or 5 feet in height.

- Mulch all overwintering vegetable garden beds with dry leaves or hay, being careful to leave a bit of space around the stem of each plant.

 

 

 

Late Summer Tomato Care

Summer is waning, and the days are getting shorter. September marks the time of year where diligent tomato care pays dividends in the shape of glossy, colorful tomato harvest. TomatoesMost importantly, you really need to start pruning the plants, allowing almost-mature fruit to ripen and discarding any very small or grossly immature green fruits. This is especially true on plants that produce larger fruits. There is not enough time in the season/day to mature a big slicing tomato or a medium-sized paste. I know you don't want to, but remove all of those green tomatoes from the plant will allow the almost-mature fruits to ripen successfully. For notes on how to prune, read this post from earlier in the summer.

Secondly, I recommend getting aggressive about harvesting tomatoes. When fruit is nearly mature, it often times cracks. Cracked tomatoes are a product of fluctuating water levels for the plant. If the plant takes in too much water, it swells the fruits which may not have enough elasticity in their skin to stretch, so the fruits crack. To minimize this, harvest mature tomatoes immediately as they are ready. Letting them sit on the vine risks a late summer rain and leads to mushy fruits. Always try and harvest fruits after a few days of dry weather - they are the sweetest then, and won't be overly saturated with moisture.

Questions?

Also, if you haven't already, please check out my new TOMATO eBook. It's $2.99 for 16 awesome tomato recipes, including a handful of preservation recipes. (It's the time to save some for winter!)

Flowers are Pest Control - Nature's Aphid Repellent

I found the following information to be incredibly useful, and have since used this tactic in my gardens. They talk more about orchard management, but it works for any garden plant prone to aphids - this year I've had trouble with hops and brassica already. Bugger! The article, “Flowers Promote Aphid Suppression in Apple Orchards,” was published in the July 2013 issue of Biological Control, and is available online at http://bit.ly/165spKS. WSU entomologist William Snyder was also a co-author.

Washington State University researchers have found they can control one of fruit growers’ more severe pests -- aphids -- with a remarkably benign tool: flowers.

The researchers recently published their study in the journal Biological Control. They found that plantings of sweet alyssum, a popular annual with small, white, sweet-smelling flowers, attracted a host of spiders and predator bugs that, in turn, preyed on woolly apple aphids, a pest that growers often control with chemical sprays.

“The results were striking,” said lead researcher Lessando Gontijo, a doctoral student in the WSU Department of Entomology. “After one week aphid densities were significantly lower on trees adjacent to flowers than on control plots, and these differences were maintained for several weeks.”

To select an appropriate flower for the study, the researchers screened six candidates, including marigolds and zinnias. They chose sweet alyssum because it attracted the greatest number of hoverflies, or syrphids, which have larvae that often feed on aphids. Hoverflies and other insects are attracted to flowers because they can find food in the form of both pollen and nectar.

Alyssum attracts beneficial insects that eat and help control wooly aphids.

Researchers compared plots of apple trees with interplantings of sweet alyssum to tree plots without flowers. While the sweet alyssum attracted hoverflies as desired, Gontijo and colleagues found few hoverfly larvae, indicating that the hoverflies were not the primary biological agent of control for aphids in the test orchard.

The mystery of the disappearing aphids seemed solved when the researchers found a diverse community of spiders and predatory bugs in the plots with sweet alyssum. But was it really the flowers that attracted these aphid predators? The scientists sprayed protein markers on the sweet alyssum and later captured bugs at a distance from the flower plots. Many of the creepy-crawlies tested positive for the proteins, proving that they had visited the flowers.

Betsy Beers, WSU Research/Extension Entomologist, mentor of Gontijo and co-author on the paper, notes that “the woolly apple aphid is surprisingly damaging for an aphid, attacking tree shoots and roots. The aphids also secrete a sticky liquid called honeydew, which can coat the apples, causing much annoyance during harvest.”

The aphids were previously kept at bay when orchardists sprayed pesticides to control codling moths. Since the phase-out of organophosphate insecticides used for codling moth, the woolly apple aphid has been making a comeback in central Washington and elsewhere.

The researchers say that the use of sweet alyssum for biological control can be easily integrated with standard orchard-management practices, but should be even more appealing to organic growers who have fewer insecticide options.

 

What to do in the Garden Now - April

Spring has truly sprung in the Pacific NW and after several weeks of travel it is clear that spring is springing all over the northern hemisphere. Gardens in New Orleans have 1/2 grown artichokes, while those in Seattle are just under a foot tall. In the UK brassicas are beginning to flower, whereas in NY they are really starting to put on growth after a frosty over-winter. It is time to get some garden work done if you haven't started already. Some things to do right now: 1. WEED - weed, weed, weed. Prolific chickweed is cropping up all over Seattle and it's flowering. Soon, it will go to seed and if you do NOT want that to happen. When chickweed seed is mature, one brief brush of the plant will send the seeds flying and you'll easily find 10 times the amount of weeds later in summer. Instead, weed them now and save yourself hours of labor in the coming weeks.

2. SOW - This from by hero, Steve Solomon - "By early April the sun has become forceful. Species that store sugar can now grow, so I sow beets, onions, and carrots. Even though these can often germinate under plastic five or six weeks sooner, they’ll barely grow before April because there’s not enough solar energy." So, yes! Sow your beets, carrots & onion sets.

3. SHARE - Divide your rhubarb OR get your friends to share a piece of theirs...stat, before it gets too too warm. This is a now or not-till-late-fall thing. Dig up the entire plant. Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhizoneroot systems are large and deep, so it’s inevitable that you’ll break through a lot of the root structure. Don’t worry--focus on getting the crown out in one piece, along with a good portion of the rhizome - the big fat roots. These are necessary for the success of any future growth. When the crown and rhizome are dug up, cut between the buds so that each new planting has a bud or two, in addition to a piece of rhizome. Once you have the divisions separated, plant the rhubarb in well-composted soil. (This is the short version of directions. For awesomely detailed & foolproof directions, be sure to check out April's eBook, Fresh Pantry: Rhubarb)

4. PLANT - Sow your Peas. Peas & Scarlet Runner Beans can be sown in the first or second week of March, but there is still loads of time. Make a note to get started a bit earlier next year, and sow some now for a late-May/early-June harvest. Peas can also be sown in pots if you're relying on a container garden for food this year. Most legumes have root systems that spread laterally but don’t grow down too deep and are therefore great for containers. They also put up pretty sweet pea flowers (that then turn into peas) and grow tall, adding some height to the garden. In addition to pea pods, you can also harvest pea vines from the plant without hurting production too much. Clip new vine growth and use in sautés or soups.

 

 

HOW TO :: Grow Potatoes in a Bag

cutting seeds Growing potatoes is a pretty mysterious undertaking. All of the harvestable bits of the plant grow underground, making it hard to keep track of progress. Even though I've grown potatoes in the past, I'm consistently amazed when baby potatoes appear in the soil at harvest time.

To grow a potato, you basically cut a small piece off of a seed potato (a potato specifically designated as seed for planting, versus a potato you buy in the store) and bury it under a few inches of soil. The plant will eventually send up a stem and leaves, and as the plant grows we cover them (always leaving a little bit of leaf showing) in order for the plant to produce more potatoes. Pretty simple. This process, when done in a field, is called "hilling up" potatoes, as farmers will form hills of soil around the potato stem to maximize production.

In small urban gardens, this task becomes difficult as we often don't have much space to begin with. Or maybe, like me, you only have a small balcony. Fortunately for all of us, potatoes can be grown in bags — or boxes or garbage cans for that matter. Essentially, any container in which potatoes can grow vertically while we cover their stems and roots will work.

Before we get started, a few quick notes about potatoes:

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• Potatoes do not like super hot weather -- for Northern gardeners, now is a great time to get started. For Southern gardeners, you'll have to wait until the heat of summer begins to wane, or try putting your potato bags in a cool, shaded spot that only gets morning sun, such as the north side of a garage or a north-facing balcony.

• Sweet potatoes and potatoes are different plants, but can be grown in the same manner. (Remember that they take longer, about 3 months.)

• Choose a quick-growing potato variety for your bag. Here are some great seed resources: Fedco Seed & Irish Eyes.

• Finally, for this plant-in-a-bag project I prefer a better-looking bag. Burlap sacks and plastic woven feed bags are a bit more shabby-chic than the bag your soil is sold in. Try your local coffee roaster or country feed store; these often have the added benefit of vintage-looking logos — a great way to add character to your urban garden.

For more potato info and how they're grown, check out this post.

Garden Planning 101 - Get Started Growing Your Own Food

Gardening and growing food are two of the most intuitive things I have ever done. This is not to say that I've always had a green thumb. In fact, I've killed every houseplant I've ever owned (including a cactus) and have officially given up on keeping them. All of this is to say that anyone can garden. The only skill you need is the ability to observe. You have this, I promise. IMG_4611Here is my disclaimer - it is helpful to recognize that information often varies from source to source. It is also worth noting that gardening "experts" often use a combination of education and experience to offer advice and instruction on how to grow a bountiful garden. That doesn't necessary mean it will always work for you. I have opinions about what works and what doesn't, but there are many options for home gardeners. I also garden organically, 100%. This means no chemicals for killing slugs, adhering to a strict crop rotation schedule, and in general making decisions based on what is best for the soil, not what is best for me personally.

Additionally, gardening requires one to work with nature, and this is not an exact science. There are many variables in gardening — sun exposure, latitude, time of year, watering schedule, and more will affect the success of any planting you do. So although certain factual information having to do with nutrient requirements and plant science will not change among the information you read, strategies will. It's up to you to decide what works best for you and your garden. With City Dirt, I aim to give you enough information and tools to make informed choices. Happily, there is often more than one answer.

Garden Musts 
When starting a garden at home there are three things to consider that will immediately contribute to your success.

1. You must have sun! At least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day for leafy greens and 10 to 12 for fruiting plants (hello tomatoes, cukes, and beans). I know you hear stories about how arugula is a weed and can grow in any condition, or perhaps about a tomato that doesn't need full sun, but trust me on these numbers. In order to have a successful (i.e. fully mature) plant, you need sun. Track your sun pattern starting NOW. At what point does it hit your property? At what time? Keep a sun log that tracks the sun across your yard at various times throughout the day, so you can watch how the sun changes with each season. Remember, it is winter, so in northern states the sun is sitting low on the horizon. If it tracks across the backyard now, it may arch over the house come summer.

2. Access to water is also a must. If you have to lug gallon jugs up some stairs and across your property, the odds of you watering often are slim. Make sure you have a hose and spigot handy. Anyone installing over 60 square feet of beds may also want to consider an automated watering system (drip irrigation, soaker hose or sprinkler system) so a nearby spigot will make your life way easier.

3. And finally, your soil should be considered. Many soils can be remediated or conditioned, but if your house sits on a cement block, is deeply water logged, or is built on sand, you may need to consider container planting as your only option.

With these three key components in mind, you must choose a space for your garden. Choose the space that best encompasses all three considerations and know that this may not be where you want to put your garden. Far too often, I see clients forcing gardens to work in their linear and square back yards. Let go of landscaping "rules" and put the garden in a spot where you can expect it to be successful. If you're not starting out with your best foot forward, you're inviting frustration and problem solving into your future.

As for how much space to allow, assuming you have the option, consider both your time commitment and your eating habits. There have been a handful of surveys and studies done to estimate yield per square foot in a garden, but these are widely disparate and I find them to be only remotely useful. Instead of trying to figure out how much space you'll need, determine how often you eat at home and just what food your family consumes. Every garden I grow in has waste each season, though that is never the goal. Do yourself a favor and be honest. Are you a stay-at-home parent or green-dedicated cook who makes three meals a day with vegetables as a major component? Then you'll need a big ol' garden. If you're hoping only to start small, if you're one person, or if you have an active lifestyle that keeps you out some nights, a smaller garden will suffice. 

I suggest starting with no more than 100 square feet your first year. Beds should be no more than 4 ½ feet wide, so you can reach in to the center with ease. I like a bed length to be 6 feet long, as well. (I explain why here.)

Sketch out the space to approximate scale and leave some surrounding space for future beds and/or a bed dedicated to perennials like sage, mint, or artichokes. Hang the sketch, think about it, and contemplate the space for a few weeks. This gives you an opportunity to change things around as you watch your sun pattern.

6753665955_2b60b15c4fGarden Wish List 
To help determine the amount of space you will need, I encourage gardeners to sketch out a garden "wish list" of vegetables they'd like to grow. This should be your big garden brainstorm of the year. Get creative! Be bold! Think about vegetables, herbs or fruits that are not widely available — think like a cook. Basil can be found in grocery stores all year long, so why dedicate precious space to grow basil? Try something new like cinnamon basil for summer teas or salads, or lime basil for Asian-inspired dishes. Instead of the perfect red tomato, which a farmer will likely grow faster than you, why not try some odd shaped little tomatoes? I love White Currant tomatoes for their clear skin, pale yellow hue, and sweet acidic taste. Using this list, you will map out each of your garden beds over the course of the year, making certain to maximize your space by timing out the plantings appropriately.