Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners: Planning Your Summer Vegetable Garden

This popular guest column is back for the 2013 local gardening season.  Look for monthly gardening advice here, specifically tailored to the Snoqualmie Valley micro climate.  This article is by Bev Morrow, Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners Intern.

~ “If I had my life to live over, I would start (gardening) barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.” ~ Nadine Stair

zucchini flowerHere in the Snoqualmie Valley the latitude is 47˚54′ N, which means we have few daylight hours during the winter months until we reach the spring (vernal) equinox on March 20 when day and night are equal.

Along with the geology of the area, latitude also accounts for the varied micro-climates we experience throughout the Snoqualmie Valley during the year.  Generally speaking, we get more rain, colder spring and summer night temperatures, and less heat to fully ripen vegetables like corn and tomatoes.

It’s at this time of year that we all look forward to spring’s arrival with longer daylight hours, warmer weather and increased soil temperatures.

But, does this slightly warmer spring weather indicate that it is time to rush right out and start planting our vegetable gardens?  Well, not really. Unfortunately, our area’s spring climate is unpredictable. In the Valley we can experience a frosty night right up to mid-April or later.  For most seeds to germinate, the soil temperature has to be at 40 – 70˚ – colder for greens, warmer for squash. See the vegetable temperature growing guide—Table 1, from Cliff Mass Weather Blog, May 6, 2012. Investing in a soil thermometer will take the guesswork out – they aren’t expensive.

veg temp chart
Don’t despair though, now is the perfect time to start PLANNING your summer vegetable garden.  My four P’s of spring gardening are: Planning, Propagating, Preparing and finally Planting.  Whether you have gardened forever, or this is the first season the idea sounded good, use these four P’s as a road map for planning your summer vegetable garden.  An excellent reference for Pacific Northwest vegetable gardeners is: Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon, founder of Territorial Seed Company.

How do I start the planning process?

Some gardeners are already daydreaming about popping ripe cherry tomatoes into their mouths and nibbling on early peas and lettuce that are so easy to grow around here.  Along with their daydreams, they are already looking through their cherished seed catalogs to get their creative gardening juices flowing, ordering seeds and starting their plans for propagating seeds indoors. Not only can you order seeds (and plants) from seed catalogs but you can also acquire lots of information about vegetable varieties and vegetable gardening in general. In addition, they offer valuable links to websites where you can acquire knowledge about anything from indoor seed propagation to organic pest controls.  Some of my favorite seed catalogs are:

•    Territorial Seed Company
•    The Thyme Garden
•    Heirloom Seeds
•    Burpee Seeds
•    Ed Hume Seeds

If you’re new to seed catalog shopping, check these out and see which ones interest you and best match your gardening style. Whether you order seeds, or buy seeds at your local garden store, be sure that the seeds you’re getting are labeled specifically for the 2013 growing season. Last year’s seeds may germinate just fine, but they may not, so for a successful experience, go with the current season’s seeds.

Propagating

For our area, vegetables that have a short growing season and thrive in cool weather are the easiest to grow. Some vegetables recommended by the Snoqualmie Valley Master Gardeners (who successfully grow vegetables in North Bend and Snoqualmie) include: Fortex Green Bean, Redbor Kale, Sungold Tomato, Sweet Million tomato, Merlin beet, Detroit dark red beet, and Flashy Trout’s Back lettuce.  You should also have no trouble growing green onions, spinach, all types of lettuce, carrots, chard, potatoes, kale, peas, beans, and herbs like cilantro and sage. Bean, beet, kale, lettuce and radish seeds can be sown directly into prepared soil when the soil temperature warms up.

However, some vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, and squash, should be propagated earlier since they require a longer growing season. These vegetables should be started indoors (or greenhouse) 4-6 weeks before they are set outdoors. Be sure to harden off those tender plants grown indoors by placing them outside in a sheltered area a few hours a day for about a week before planting them into the soil.

Daydreaming through seed catalogs, ordering your favorites, and getting some vegetables started indoors (Planning and Propagating) will get you through the next month or so. In the coming months, we’ll cover the remaining P’s, Preparing and Planting, as well as what to do about all those ground-cover weeds we now see in our gardens.

In the meantime, plan to attend our next monthly In The Garden presentation March 9, 11am at the North Bend Library. A panel of Valley master gardener vegetable gardeners will discuss vegetable soil composition, which vegetable varieties they have the most success with, and the positive effects of compost and watering. Additional information can be found at www.svmastergardeners.com

 

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[The author is an intern in the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program. Extension programs and employment are available to all without discrimination. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Extension office.]

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