Seattle Yard Gardening

by Lisa Buck

As the cost of food rises, along with it’s transportation, we find ways to cut our bills and become a little greener. The movement to go green and buy locally is catching on more and more. For my family, we have always gardened and grew our own. It was not only economical but just plain tasted better. I hear people say that they would love to try but just don’t have the space. I believe that with a little creativity and ingenuity anybody can be a Seattle Yard Gardener.

Think of all the money you spend on tomatoes and zucchini and especially fresh herbs. These are things that grow really well around here. You don’t need big fancy equipment or expensive tools, many items can be found at garage sales with a little hunting. Most of what we are going to grow in this area can be started from seed or inexpensive starter plants.

First you will need to take inventory of your yard. Take a look around, the best spaces for growing are primarily those on the East side of the house and secondarily on the South and North if there isn’t too much shade. You will need to look at where the big trees or other houses are that cast shadows across the yard and where there is a nice area where the sun hits for several hour a day.

Next you will need to look at available areas that you can convert into garden space or areas that can be dug up easily. For example; on the East side of our house is a flower-bed that sticks out from the house about two feet and runs the length of it - about twenty feet or so. As this area gets sun all day long that side of the house is particularly warm. Just because the bed seems small...creatively there is plenty of space if you think vertically.

*If you are digging a new bed you will want to check your soil quality - basically the darker the better. If your soil appears sort of orange there is too much iron and sandy hard material in the soil and you will need to import some garden dirt into the area - this can be found at your local hardware/gardening area. If you bring in a sample of your soil they can help you determine exactly what you need if you are unsure.

Using dowels or other tall wooden stakes plant deeply about every three feet or so apart and then string with heavy twine or jute. This means you will run the string between the stakes horizontally to give our plants something to grow up on. We planted (from seed - about $2.00 for both) green pole beans and peas. Just follow the directions on the package, watering when the soil feels dry about an inch underneath. This will depend entirely on how many days of sun we get in a row. We pick the peas a little early - before they have developed the actual pea inside and are still kinda flat, think stir-fry Chinese pea pods. They can be picked later of course and made traditionally or just dipped in dressing and eaten whole. Green beans grow quite well, we usually freeze what we cannot eat. *Green beans if not stored properly can give you botulism - even experienced canner stay away from canning these. Just put them in a freezer bag, label, and throw them in the freezer. I cut them into 2-inch pieces, freeze, and then dump them in soup during the winter months. (Minestrone)

In larger areas that get more sun tomatoes do quite well- you can sneak your vegetable plants in among the existing flower beds too - they don’t mind mingling with each other. Tomato plants can be bought during the springtime. Anything you plant will be done in spring when you are sure there will be no chance of frost. You will know this by the appearance of tomato plants at the gardening center. We buy three different kinds of tomato for variety - cherry tomatoes, plum or Roma tomatoes, and the basic globe tomato.
One item I do suggest that you invest in - and it can be used repeatedly year after year - are tomato cages. Plant your tomatoes about a foot and a half apart from each other and then place the cage around it pushing into the ground to anchor it. This is done because as the tomato plant grows and produces fruit it becomes quite heavy and has the tendency to tip over - this leaves your tomatoes on the ground and they will rot. As the plant grows if it is very leafy you may want to just snip some of those extra leaves off - this will allow for a better tasting tomato and a higher yield.

If your basic globe tomato plant does very well and appears almost overloaded with green tomatoes -they will look crowded - you can pick the bigger of the green ones and make fried green tomatoes, the recipe can be found online. Extra plum and globe tomatoes can be frozen whole and taken out later for soups, stews and sauces. I like to throw them in a blender (whole) with a bit of celery, onion, and fresh garlic, after it is well blended just pour it into freezer bags. Pull them out later when you need tomato sauce - you may want to add a little tomato paste just to thicken it up a little bit. I use the sauce for making soup and Spanish Rice.

The cherry tomatoes are also very versatile in their uses from just basic veggie dipping, to sauteeing with meats or salads, their cousin the Pear tomato grows well too.
Zucchini, another well growing plant for this area is also easy to take care of and has a million uses from stir-fry, stuffing, grilling. Even the greatest gardeners will miss a camouflaged zucchini and find some overgrown monster in their garden. These are a little tough to eat however, if you peel and core out the seeds and shred them you can make and zucchini bread or my favorite chocolate zucchini cake. I let some overgrow on purpose and save the shredded vegetable in 2 cup portions in the freezer for making breads, cakes, and muffins during the wintertime. Add raisin or white chocolate drizzle for a wonderful treat. Zucchini and the yellow bottle neck squash can be purchased at the same time as the tomatoes -save the seeds and you can start your own next year.

These were some of the easier plants to get you started on your gardening adventure. Many herbs can be grown too - basil, mint, cilantro, chives...and even spinach. Cut off what you need as it grows and anything left over at the end of the season can be places on a cookie sheet and dried. Put them in a clean glass jar and seal tightly - don’t forget to label what is in them.

These are just some of the easier plants to get you started on your gardening adventure. Neighbors are also a great source of gardening information and are usually always willing to help with ideas as far as what you can plant where and when. We trade a lot of vegetables with our neighbors. Happy Yard Gardening!

www.joyful-tomato.com for hints about growing tomatoes
www.foodnetwork.com for great recipes for your vegetables
www.lowes.com and www.homedepot.com for gardening help, nearest locations...
www.helpfulgardener.com and www.weekendgardener.com for more ideas and helpful hints



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