There’s still hope to plant for 2011 harvest

August 9, 2011

By Jane Garrison

Sure, the bees weren’t around to pollinate anything this spring. And to be sure, it rained steadily day after day, producing record cool temperatures. And yes, on top of that, we have very little to harvest this year from vegetable gardens and fruit trees in our region. Still, there is hope.

You can still plant in Western Washington for harvest this fall and winter. Unfortunately, nurseries don’t carry rooted starts at this time of year, so you have to plant seeds. You can plant broccoli, some types of cabbage, cornsalad (lamb’s lettuce), leaf lettuce, mustard greens, spinach and turnips now; and garlic, shallots and chives in late October. You need to be careful about varieties and choose the most winter hardy. If you had started your seeds in July you would have many more choices.

Here’s the best part: row covers. In days gone by, gardeners used glass cloches, bell jars and any cover they could think of to extend the growing season. My dad used old, glass windows. With the development of new technology and materials we have something better. We have row covers, a white man-made fabric for both supported tunnels and floating applications. The material comes in long rolls in varied widths and is readily available at garden centers.

Most types do not insulate very much. The air temperature under cover is about the same as the temperature outside of the cover. That means other conditions inside are improved enough to develop stronger plant growth and a better chance for survival through the extended season.

The most exciting part is that our test gardens in Mount Vernon are reporting successful harvests of eggplant, bittermelons and peppers. May I remind you that Mount Vernon is in cool, wet Western Washington? That means the less demanding tomatoes, beans and squash could be a sure deal for most gardeners around here. That’s so thrilling that I’m about ready to try to grow something edible in my shady, sodden yard again.

The downside that I see is that weeds like it under those covers, too, so you need to mulch with black plastic. Raised beds with mulched paths between would certainly simplify this problem. In addition, you need to remove the row covers for pollination to occur.

Read up on it. It’s a very exciting concept. Visit our website at www.kingcountymg.org and pick up all sorts of ideas. Look at our Fact Sheet No. 41, “Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening,” and Fact Sheet No. 19, “Row Covers for Vegetable Gardens.”

If you are stressed out by little produce from all your hard work, know that there are things you can do. You could be harvesting throughout the entire year in our climate. Now that would be really huge.

Jane Garrison is a local landscape architect and master gardener who gardens in glacial till on the plateau.

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