- Michael Polllan
Eat what you sow
We assert that in the Pacific Northwest there’s almost nothing you can’t grow in the way of vegetables and fruits. Of course, the cool maritime climate of our Puget Sound area does limit your chance of success with certain finicky produce like stone fruits and basil. But success mostly depends on timing, care, your choice of varietal, and a little dumb luck. Even the heat-loving tomato can thrive in your western Washington garden.
While we can’t help you with the luck part, Watson’s expertise can steer you toward a harvest bounty. Here are some vegetable (and fruit) gardening basics to get you started.
Decide what to grow
- Watson’s wisdom: grow what you like to eat, and don’t grow what you don’t like.
- Select varietals that do well in a Pacific Maritime climate, and in your specific microclimate (see our Garden Guide for tips on microclimates). Choose for flavor and yield if your options allow for it.
- Start small: don’t plant a whole raised bed of tomatoes (or zucchini, for heaven’s sake) if you don’t have a lot of experience.
Choose a location
- Choose a sunny spot near the house, and south-facing if possible: most fruits and vegetables like to get 12-16 hours of sun per day.
- If you are planning to plant your garden in traditional rows they should run in a north to south direction for best sun exposure, air circulation, and pollination.
- If you are planting in blocks, containers, or raised beds, leave paths at least two feet wide between them: this will give you room to kneel or crouch.
Prepare your soil
- Remove sod, weeds, and rocks.
- Loosen soil to a depth of at least 10 to 12 inches (but defer to care instructions for individual plants).
- Add lime to your soil for vegetables—but not for potatoes or berries—to increase alkalinity for optimal growth and sweetness.
- Add at least three inches of compost to soil to improve capacity for moisture and nutrients.
- Add chicken manure for crops that are heavy feeders, such as tomatoes.
- Use organic soil, compost, and fertilizer for anything you will eat!
Be weed wise
Starting from seed
- You have three options to grow directly from seed: soilless mix or peat pellets that are laid or scattered, lidded trays with soil pods into which you drop seeds, or seeds themselves, which you plant directly into your container or bed.
- Grow lights and heating pads aren’t necessary, but make sure you’re able to provide ample light and consistent warm temperatures.
- Seedlings need to be hardened off gradually to prepare them for the harsher environment and fluctuating temperatures outdoors: move them to a sheltered spot outside for part of the day, bringing them indoors at night. Leave them out a little longer each day, for about a week, before attempting to plant.
Kid-friendly project idea
- Scoop (or squish) them right from the fruit into a jar, keeping varietals separate.
- The jelly-like seed coating needs to be removed methodically: add a little bit of water and let them ferment for a few days (preferably somewhere you don’t mind a little funky smell).
- Check the jar and oh-so-gently swirl it each day. The pulp will separate and rise, possibly along with some mold, and the good seeds will settle.
- Strain off mold and liquid and dump seeds (with any remaining liquid) onto some paper towel. Gently scrape the seeds onto a plate and place them somewhere to dry, out of direct sunlight, for a couple weeks or so.
- Label one paper envelope for every varietal, and gently scrape the dried seeds into it for storage in a cool, dry place. You can even use one of those silica gel packets that sometimes come with certain clothing or food items to keep it dry.
- Properly dried and stored seeds can be stored for up to five years!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if there’s something you like that’s not included here, don’t fret—it’s still growable! For each of the following, be sure to ask a Watson’s expert for advice on choosing the best cultivars for your needs, and note their specific care instructions.
- Summer squash, including zucchini