This story has 9 updates
SEATTLE — Finding things for the kids to do during summer vacation is a challenge for every parent, But a Seattle nonprofit is keeping kids busy by hitting the garden.
“I like pulling out the fresh vegetables,” Diego, 6, said.
He’s one of many kids at the South Shore school garden in Seattle that will be getting their hands — and knees — dirty this summer in one of Seattle Tilth’s many summer youth programs.
His dad, Sheldon, said there are plenty of good lessons to be had among the crops, pests and weeds.
“I think that’s a good thing. I highly recommend it if there’s a gardening program, it really gives something that translates from school to your home.”
“The organic garden is a learning laboratory,” Katie Pencke said, one of Tilth’s program managers. “It’s a great way to practice arts, reading, science, math — all those academic concepts. It’s a great outdoor classroom.”
Pencke said there’s still room in many of their farm tours, day-long classes and week-long camps. Some classes cost as little as $25 and as a non-profit, they are able to offer scholarships, since subsidies they receive from grants they can also offer sliding scales to help everyone who wants to take part.
“It is a great time to keep kids engaged in experiential science-based learning, but especially for them to be doing that outdoors.”
But be warned that after spending some time with the Tilth folks, many campers return home with lots of questions about healthy eating — every day and every meal.
“One thing I have noticed,” Sheldon said of his son, “he asks us ‘Is what we’re eating healthy?’ or ‘Are we eating Cheetos or kale chips?’ — that sort of thing.”
The location in southeast Seattle is one of five across King County that offers all-day and all-week summer camps for kids. For more information, visit their website.
SEATTLE — A beautiful yard and garden is not only great to look at– it can also be tasty.
Accent plants can also be delicious– and that’s the premise of a great how-to-guide by Rosalind Creasy. “Edible Gardening” has been updated several times since it was first published 30 years ago, but it is still a great and inspirational resource.
For instance, she suggests adding a grape arbor that can provide shade, beauty and tasty snacks. Though watch out for the seeded grape varieties.
“Some of the herbs, obviously are very green,” says Lee Howard who manages the Garden Center at the Ballard Fred Meyer in Seattle.
Adding edibles to your yard is pretty easy and pretty, too.
“There are some colors too, so that’s pretty cool.”
Some of his first gardening successes in the yard with edibles were with sun-loving, drought-tolerant herbs.
Rosemary is a great example– it’s easy to add to any landscape and happy to grow in the Pacific Northwest.
From the color pops on the edges of the leaves of lemon thyme to the red hues of some basil varieties it’s proof there is color to be had from edible plants. Lots of texture too– from the spiky leaves of the artichoke to the fragile fern-like fennel. And mixing in edibles into the yard and garden remains a growing trend here in the Northwest.
“People are obviously more aware of where our food comes from,” says Howard.
Crops like chard and kale work well in our cool wet springs and falls. If you have the right spot– fruit trees can provide shade and dessert. Blueberries are a nice, self pollinating bushes that sprout pretty flowers in the spring and early summer.They are also pretty low maintenance, but the drawback is that the birds love them too. So, you’ll likely have to cover them with fine netting or be prepared to share some of your harvest with them.
Even something we revile like the common dandelion is something that actually has edible leaves if you get them when they’re young and from a pet-free area of your yard. The leaves do get more bitter as they age as a plant.
The basic purpose of a garden is to enrich your personal environment, and hopefully enrich our overall environment at the same time. Gardening can take place nearly anywhere with the basic ingredients, whether you have a tiny patio, small or large backyard, a single window sill or acres of property.
Now, how you define a garden might be the best place to begin for beginners. Whatever you’re looking for, from tasty flavors and healthy veggies to tons of sweet smelling blossoms or even protection from elements like wind, sun and rain, make sure to determine what you want the end result to be.
“Just take a deep breath,” Allen Larsen said.
Larsen runs the Fred Meyer in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The avid gardener said they field lots of questions from gardeners just digging into the hobby. He encourages beginners to not be afraid to ask questions.
“Come out here and figure out what captures your attention and captures your imagination,” he said. “Is it going to be a flower garden or a veggie garden? Or is it going to be a hybrid garden?”
Larsen and I agree that starting small is your best bet for the truly novice gardener. In my experience, overwhelming yourself with too many plants or too big a space can lead to frustration. Small successes generate confidence to tackle bigger and more ambitious projects down the road. And when it comes to tools, you don’t need to spend a ton of money either.
“You don’t need a whole shed full of tools,” Larsen said. “There’s so many simple tools that can be multipurpose. [The basics are a] hand spade and a hand rake. You can do that with a pretty limited budget.”
Plants do have basic needs that you need to remember to pay attention to, such as water, sunlight and good soil. Reading labels on plants will tell you how much of each a particular plant needs. Make sure you read labels on fertilizers and pesticides carefully — and use both sparingly. You can hurt your plants and the environment with too much of either.
Surrounding plants once they’re in the ground with mulch — or in some cases wood chips — has several benefits. They hold in soil moisture which saves you on water and inhibit weeds from popping up which saves you frustration and time yanking out unwanted invaders. And decomposing compost and/or wood chips provides soil nutrients as the season progresses, so in the long run you might not have to worry about fertilizers if your soil is enhanced naturally. Ultimately, it’s a nice shortcut to a cleaner end result and look.
It was the names of plants that always made me the most nervous and frustrated. I really loved one of the tips that I got from one of my Master Gardener instructors. She said that if you make up nicknames for the plants in your yard — you’ll remember them. Down the road the more you garden, when you eventually need to look something up on a particular plant you’ll find out what they’re really called and then the actual name will stick in your head.
One example was the plant in my side yard at my old house in Portland that I called the “Alien Spaceship Plant” because that’s what it looked like to me. Down the road I found out that it was actually in a family of plants called ”euphorbia,” and the name stuck. (Full disclosure — I had to look up how to spell “euphorbia.”)
And while you might think you’ll make mistakes from time to time, don’t worry — we all do. Seasoned gardeners just call them “learning experiences.” Happy gardening!
SEATTLE — Even though May is well under way, it’s not too late to plant those seeds to start you garden. It can also be a great experience for the kids, as well. You can save pennies on the dollar if you start plants from seeds. However, it will cost you in terms of time and patience.
People have been sowing seeds for almost as long as there has been dirt, it seems. But, with certain modern gadgets like mini ready-to-go greenhouses make it easier than our ancestors had it.
“It’s specially formulated,” says Allen Larsen with Fred Meyer’s garden center about the peat based “pods” that go into the growing cells of the tiny countertop greenhouse with clear plastic lid. You insert seeds into the pods according to the instructions and then water. “Set it into a window. You continue to water and follow the instructions. And that’s where you start to see those seedlings really take off.” He says they’re hard to keep in stock at his Fred Meyer store in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. When the temperature spikes with recent sunny days– he says sales at their garden center are more than some entire stores at the Northwest-based retail chain. He says they continue to sell well during the spring and even early summer.
A google search would show there are supposedly easy “do it yourself” kits for growing nearly any kind of item you want to try to dig into this season. But, you can make a home version of a seed starting kit. Using recycled paper tubes from wrapping paper, toilet paper or paper towels makes it nearly free. Cut the tubes into about two inch sections and you can fold one end to hold the seed starting mix a bit better. Covered or uncovered, the growing “pods” or “cells” as they’re often called end up in the ground and decompose– while the plants take off.
Whatever method you choose to get your seeds started– make sure to label them. No matter how much you think you’ll remember what you planted– the germination process takes awhile. Even then, the seedlings all look alike– no matter what vegetable they one day will become. So, is starting from seeds for you? Depends on your goals, says Larsen. “It’s whether you have that time. Whether you have that patience and warm window to start these seeds germinating, starting their life out.”
One perk of the seed germinating process is that it’s a near sure-fire way to involve the kids– which is why lots of school kids at one time or another plant beans or pumpkin seeds. There are planters like the Tru View Root Farm that shows kids what’s going on above and below the soil and really engage kids about where their food is coming from. The narrow shape, much like an ant farm, allows for an easy fit into most living areas on any window sill.
“There is something to be said, though, for starting from seeds,” says Larsen. He got his kids interested in gardening through having them germinate seeds in the kitchen when they were little. “It’s cool,” he says, “watching those seeds getting going and have life going in your kitchen window.” One of the first difficult things you’ll face is trimming back your successfully sprouted seeds. The goal is pretty much one healthy plant per growing “pod” or “cell”. There is only so much space in the garden. So choosing which one looks the strongest is a game of odds and prediction that you’ll get better with after trial and error. Allen says it’s hard since the seedlings are like “babies”. “When you’ve got all your pods planted [and they're growing] and you realize that you have to thin them by a third. But, that’s what nature intended.”Unfortunately there’s really no good shortcuts when it comes to hardening your seedlings and getting them ready for living outdoors 24 hours a day. So, you want to have patience to do it right. Plus monitoring those weather forecasts—especially those morning lows in the early spring—to make sure your seedings get off to a good start. Frost can easily kill your young and tender plants, so sometimes they have to be protected if they’re going to survive a sudden cold snap. Coverings can include something as simple to an overturned plant pot to more elaborate tarping. Good luck and happy gardening!
When you get spring fever, sometimes immediate gratification is the only thing that will ease the urge to get digging in the garden. That’s one reason why so many count on getting each season’s veggie garden going by starting with “starts”. A start is a plant that’s already when you buy it– and transplant it into a spot in your yard, garden or container.”I think everyone has a green thumb,” says Allen Larsen with Fred Meyer in Ballard. He says he didn’t think he’d make a very good gardener at all. Until he learned a simple, but important, tip.
“I know because I had no skills before I discovered my green thumb, and I know it sounds like an over simplification—but it was simple as looking at the tag or on the back of the package of seeds.”
Buying the plants that have already started growing instead of seeds can save you a lot of headaches.
When handling starts to plant, you’ll want to be gentle and easing them out of their pliable containers that they are in at the store. You’ll want to tease out the roots if it looks like they’ve gotten bunched up in the container. Next, pat around the plant– but don’t press the soil down too hard. Compacting the soil too much can result in water not trickling down to where it needs to go. One of the most important things is to water generously, but slowly. Making sure the water fills the tiny air pockets near the roots so the plant can get at the crucial needed resource.
And you can hedge your bets with plants that transplant really well from store to garden by picking one of these proven easily transplantable veggies: broccoli, eggplant, lettuce, onion, tomato, peppers, leeks and brussel sprouts. The Master Gardener handbook for Oregon-Washington called “Sustainable Gardening” says among the plants that can be transplanted with some extra care or soil enrichment include: beets, carrots, celery, corn, cucumber, melons and squash. They recommend against trying to transplant beans, peas, okra or radishes. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done– but it can be a much bigger challenge. Those four are most often started from seeds in the spot you’d like to grow them.
Starting from seeds is the cheaper route– but it is certainly more difficult and takes more patience. We’ll have tips on starting from seeds next week. Enjoy that Northwest sunshine!
If you have any gardening questions feel free to email here at the station: email@example.com