Monday, March 16, 2009

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Having just read Strata's post about garden planning, I was inspired to write a post of my own since I've been trying to do the same thing.

This year will be my first serious attempt at growing fruits and veggies in this climate. My previous gardening experience only included Hawaii and Tucson, about as opposite as you can find from the cold wet of the Issaquah Alps.

In Hawaii, everything grows as fast as possible, all the time; the main challenge is stopping anything from growing. Once I was growing tomatoes and made stakes from a local weed tree (there's a concept that doesn't even exist on the mainland - weed trees). I cut off 1" thick pieces a few feet long and hammered them into the ground upside down. They sprouted and continued for some time, until presumably the whole backward cambium thing got to them.

In Tucson, the main challenge was just keeping things moist enough (and discovering that the soil really needed iron). In summer I'd water things pretty much every day. I even grew mint - odd, since it's really a swamp-loving plant. It did all right, but only flourished during the monsoons. The huge temperature swings might have been an issue if I'd tried growing anything other than hardy herbs, but as it was, the only thing that suffered from it was one carnivorous plant I forgot to bring in one night when it dropped to 19F (down from probably 60F during the day - desert's like that).

Here, all I've really had is indoor plants, and they've done all right; I've even had a few orchids re-bloom. Last year John and I planted fruit trees and blueberries, which produced the small amounts expected for the young plants we got; a long-term process, but coming along fine. I'd tried starting a few seeds indoors, but hadn't understood the need for large amounts of direct, close artificial light to start seeds in the Great Gray North. Besides which, the soil here is heavy clay, meaning it'd turn into bricks if it had the chance - and there I was, expecting innocent vegetables to grow in it.

This year, I've decided to humble myself and learn the basics all over, since clearly they're different here, and there's more to know to succeed. And so far, it's been enlightening. In Hawaii, you can mostly ignore differences in when things are supposed to be planted and what kind of soil they grow in; here, 4 weeks before last frost is vastly different from 10 weeks before last frost - never mind the tricky issue of figuring out when the mythical Last Frost Date is. One thing I've heard recurrently is that there is a narrow window for growing things here, particularly warm-season crops like tomatoes and zucchini. (Warm season? Cold season? Ooooh, they like different conditions! They do badly in the wrong season!)

I'm trying to make the most of spring, despite the large (for here) amounts of snow we've gotten lately. I've got about 40 strawberry plants growing in home-made tubes (looked so much better than the duckwalk-tending, berries-rotting-on-the-ground method), a couple of flats of seedlings just coming up (directly) under grow lights in the living room, a spreadsheet and notebook full of plans for outdoor boxes, and a pile of books to read and consult (particularly Growing Vegetables West Of The Cascades and All New Square Foot Gardening).

So, with 1.2 acres of big old trees on a rocky slope on a north hill face, and not an inch that'll get more than 8 hours of sun even with those dazzling summer 10:00pm sunsets, I'm still going to try to grow vegetables. Maybe they won't get that big or that sweet, but they'll be mine - as local as it gets, grown with only stuff I put on them, and whatever weird varieties I can find seeds and starts for.

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Blogger Nikki said...

Ra ra ra! Go Amy's garden!

I'm so envious -- we have a huge balcony that you could almost play baseball on, *plus* it's south-facing, so it's just begging for some pots to grow, as you say, "innocent vegetables". :) But right now we're still wrestling with the issues of window-coverings (I'm sure the neighbors have names for us by now) and wall-hangings. We're so lazy and broke. ;) Yet it's spring... the gorgeous morning sun is streaming over said balcony and into the glass doors of my office. It's probably time to get planting!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Keep us updated on your efforts... gardening is so suspenseful and fascinating.

Love you! Miss you!

3/18/2009 11:49 PM  
Blogger Connie said...

I am expecting a post about the chickees soon!

3/30/2009 12:03 PM  
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