Despite the fact that when I walk the dog in the morning it is so cold my eyes water, the calendar says that Spring is just a few weeks away. This means that in a couple of weeks some of the early crops of vegetables can be placed in the garden. In the Pacific Northwest, we can start many of the 'cool season' crops in early to mid March. Vegetables like carrots, spinach, kale, peas, potatoes, onions and others will be placed in the soil by area gardeners. After weeks of there not being much to do in the garden, this is an exciting time of year. This week I took some time to walk through our backyard and notice how many of our fruiting trees and shrubs were beginning to bud out. I was happy to see that our plants agree with the calendar...Spring is just around the corner!
As a Master Gardener here in our county, I have been trained to help resource and educate the public with accurate and researched gardening information. One of my roles that I truly enjoy as a Master Gardener is helping different groups get their vegetable gardens up and going. Last spring I was asked to help with the county's Juvenile Justice Center's new vegetable garden. I helped them design a plan for planting and went in to teach gardening lessons to the teens who were currently staying there. They have asked for my assistance again this year, and I am looking forward to another growing season with them.
We sat down a couple weeks ago and talked about what worked last year and what did not. Which vegetables the kids loved and which they did not. From this input, we generated a new plan for their garden. It includes less leafy greens and more peas and carrots. Less varieties of squash and more peppers and cilantro for salsa making. The staff and teens want an entire bed dedicated to growing potatoes, because they all thought they were fun to grow last year. We will also be adding blueberry bushes to their garden plan, and I know the teens and staff will love those for years to come.
Early spring is a great time for all of us to sit down and think over the last growing year, what did we enjoy growing...what could we do without. At the Juvenile Justice Center and my own backyard, our gardens are contained in raised beds. A lot of food can be grown in raised beds, but it's also wise to focus on growing what we actually enjoy to eat. For example, last year our family grew some eggplants. They grew beautifully, but we also discovered that we didn't love eating them enough to give up garden space to grow them. We will use that garden space for a different crop this year.
In our garden, we have an entire bed devoted to growing strawberries. We chose to grow strawberries, because they are a high price item at the grocery store. If space is limited in your own garden, think about which crops are expensive to buy at the grocery store or farmers market and choose to grow more of those. Crops like berries, tomatoes, and specialty fruits can be quite pricey at the store. So opting to grow those over the less expensive crops, like leafy greens, makes good use of your space.
The benefit to growing crops like the blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb pictured above is that they are all perennials. They will come back year after year to fill your kitchen with tasty food for your meals. It also saves you time, in that you will not need to plan or plant these areas of your garden each year. They simply need to be maintained to produce well for you. Another perennial option for your garden is asparagus. Most of these plants (strawberries excluded) will produce for decades. It's exciting to think that planting something one time will give our family many years of harvest.
It's also fun to try something new in your garden. Last year added two Honey Berry bushes to our back garden. We had redesigned an area of our yard and found that we had space to include a couple more plants. We wanted something that would look good as a landscape plant and produce food for us to eat. We chose Honey Berries because they are said to be similar to blueberries in taste. They also can be picked and eaten fresh, preserved, or frozen all without a lot of prep work. This will be their second season in our garden, so we may have a few to pick and try. The adventure of trying a new plant in your garden is that you do not always know if you will like it or not. I can't imagine something that is supposed to taste like a blueberry tasting bad...but we'll see in upcoming months! We currently have a Goji berry plant sitting in a pot in our side yard. This came from a friend who was trying a new plant in her garden and decided she didn't like the taste of Goji berries. So, now our family will be giving them a try. Who knows? If we don't like them, our chickens might!
Have you been able to venture out into your garden yet to see the signs of Spring? Are you making any changes to what you grew last year or adding something new to your garden? It's an exciting time of year for new beginnings in the garden. I hope you enjoy every minute of it!