Ready to grow food this year? HPAC’s rooting for you

(WSB photo: Crows watching over a newly mulched raised bed)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Two weeks until spring. Daffodils are blooming. Tulips are on the way. Thinking about gardening this year? The most-recent meeting of HPAC – community council for Highland Park, Riverview, and South Delridge – was for you. Here’s what happened:

GARDENING: The spotlight presentation was all about growing food. Chris Hoffer, community-education manager from Tilth Alliance, was the featured speaker, with lots of ideas and inspiration.

Wondering where to grow food? Pick a place that has access to sun – south-facing, preferably. Pay attention to where the sun hits, at what time of year – maybe it’s only sunny in spring/summer, and that’s fine. Even if a spot gets just four to six hours of sun, you can still grow something, maybe lettuce.

(Photos from Chris Hoffer’s presentation)

Raised beds are popular – you can get kits if you don’t want to build them yourself, and you can buy soil to fill up the framed space. Chris built his with 2×6’s, two layers; he said a foot high is plenty. HPAC co-chair Craig Rankin built his out of Douglas fir boards, about $100 in materials. Cedar and juniper are also good woods for raised beds, Chris said, though there are other non-wood options – he also mentioned Trex and metal, and showed neighborhood photos that included cinder-block construction. Pressure-treated wood is OK to use – especially if it’s “more recent” – but do your own research before deciding if you feel comfortable with that.

Drainage is important.

You can convert some lawn area to garden beds by smothering the grass in cardboard or newspaper, topped with mulch; ideally start that in fall and it’ll be ready by spring. When you incorporate the compost into your garden beds, you can use a “digging fork,” he advised.

Space-challenged? Containers – including wooden barrels and metal tanks – are good mini-gardens, too, but the bigger the container, the happier your plants will be. And – again – be sure there’s drainage!

Use potting soil, not regular garden dirt, in containers.

Growing fruit can be cheaper and easier than vegetables, he noted – blueberries and strawberries, for example. Grapes too, though you need a trellis or fence. You can buy bare-root fruit plants this time of year, he said – plant quickly after you buy them.

Here’s what’s easy and not so easy to grow around here:

Here are the seasonal toplines:

Another tip – if you’re growing from seeds, choose companies that are based in this region:

Chris recommends buying organic seeds.

More advice: Be sure to add organic fertilizer back to the soil, to give back what you’ve taken out – compost is great. You might have to add fertilizers for nitrogen, potassium, etc. – King Conservation District offers free soil testing that will provide you a report with an analysis. Look for organic fertilizer, which “will last in your soil for many years,” he said.

When you’re deciding what to plant, rotate crops. Planting the same thing in the same spot year after year is an open invitation to pests and other problems. If you have pest problems anyway, you can deter pests with beneficial insects – attract ladybugs to fight aphids, for example. Don’t use pesticides because they’ll kill the good bugs as well as the bad bugs.

After the season – “put your garden to bed.” Leaves, burlap, a cover crop – but don’t let the space just sit as bare soil. But remember that if you plant a cover crop (crimson clover, for example), you’ll need to dig it up and incorporate it into the soil in spring.

Asked about mildew, Chris said that’s mostly a cosmetic problem – but the Garden Hotline can offer advice if you’re really plagued with it.

Chris also recommended his organization’s garden guide.

Q&A – if you’re close to traffic, for example, do you have to worry about soil/air contamination? You can decide what kind of plants you grow based on your concerns, Chris suggested – for example, if you’re worried about what’s in the soil, avoid plants whose edible parts spend more time in it, like potatoes and carrots. … In raised beds, do you line the bottom with anything? Chris used “hardware cloth” to keep out moles. If you use something, don’t block the drainage, he reminded.

The topic was clearly a hit. “We’re not always gonna wanna talk about cars and traffic,” concluded co-chair Kay Kirkpatrick, in saying they’re taking ideas for future meetings.

Earlier in the meeting:

RECYCLING: Waste Management‘s Ronnie Fang led this presentation. She recapped basic rules for all recycling.

That includes what’s compostable – check the city or Cedar Grove website for those ‘compostable” products, she advised. In Q&A, Tetra Pak containers are recyclable – rubber bands are not.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: Co-chair Kay Kirkpatrick recommended</strong> (and WSB) for vaccine information … SDOT will present a special Home Zone meeting at 6 pm March 8th – go here for participation information … There’s still time to comment on the West Marginal Way bicycle-lane (etc.) proposal – westseattlebridge@seattle.govMetro‘s survey about restoring some service later this year closes Monday … DNDA (which absorbed the Nature Consortium) is starting up volunteer forest-restoration events … Food pantry volunteers are needed – sign up here.

HPAC meets fourth Wednesdays most months, 7 pm, online – watch for updates.

3 Replies to "Ready to grow food this year? HPAC's rooting for you"

  • SlimJim March 7, 2021 (9:05 am)

    For local seed companies he missed Ed Hume Seeds. Based in Puyallup and started by local gardening guru (Seattle native) Ed Hume.

  • Lisab March 7, 2021 (10:56 am)

    Thanks for this easy to understand and comprehensive guide.  Love it!

  • gardenofriches March 7, 2021 (11:43 am)

    I grow  baby  bak choi, kai lan, pak choi, napa cabbage and the 12″ long Chinese green beans.Spinach is super easy to grow too and  growing indoors now.Very easy to grow and I gave so many lbs away to my neighbors.

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