Spring is coming and the Clallam County Master Gardener “Get It Growing” column emerges for another growing season. This year, the column will focus on growing food crops (e.g., vegetables, tree fruits and berries).
There are many reasons to grow your own produce. Here are just a few:
• You can pick homegrown fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness and flavor, something that cannot be done commercially as fully ripe produce is often too fragile to transport and has a short shelf-life.
• You have control over the chemicals used in your own garden. Even if you do not go organic, you can follow good integrated pest management (IPM) practices, minimizing the use of chemicals and taking advantage of cultural, physical and biological methods to control diseases and pests.
• You can provide your family with a bounty of heart healthy fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins A and C, antioxidants and fiber, and low in cholesterol and fat. Research suggests that people who grow their own food eat more fruits and vegetables and make more nutritious food choices in general.
• Last but not least, you will save money on your grocery bill. The National Gardening Association estimates that an average-sized garden plot can produce an estimated $600 worth of fresh produce in a season. Depending on what you grow, you could save more.
Growing fruits and vegetables doesn’t require acreage. Even a little space with good soil, access to water and adequate sun will work.
A variety of approaches can be used including traditional in-ground planting, raised beds and container planting. You can even interplant fruits and vegetables within your landscape plantings.
To help you grow your own fruits and vegetables, we will provide a Gardening Calendar at the beginning of each month with ideas about what to plant when and the necessary care.
Here are some ideas for March:
Pull annual weeds that got a good start over the winter or cut off their flowers to prevent reseeding. Do not dig in the garden until the soil is dry enough to be worked. To evaluate soil moisture, squeeze a trowel full of soil in your hand. Soil that crumbles is ready to work; soil that forms a muddy ball needs more time to dry.
Mow or chop cover crops before they set seed. Allow leaves and stems to dry (about 1 week) and dig them in, if soil is dry enough to be worked. When turning under cereal grains, grasses or Brassica family members (radish or mustards), wait two to three weeks before subsequent planting.
Sow cool season vegetables including Asian greens, beets, chard, lettuce, mesclun mixes, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes and spinach directly into the garden when the average soil temperature is 40-45 degrees (or as directed on the back of the seed packet).
Do not apply mulches until the soil warms because applying them too early will keep the soil cool.
Start cabbage family, leek, and parsley seeds indoors under lights. Time indoor planting so that starts are ready to be transplanted into the garden when temperatures are likely to be warm enough. Expose starts to outdoor conditions gradually over seven to 10 days before transplanting.
Be prepared to cover tender young plants, if temperatures are likely to dip below freezing.
Plant fruit trees in early spring or in the fall. Determine if the tree needs a cross-pollinator (another variety planted nearby that blooms at the same time) for fruit production. Space trees based on their size at maturity.
If aphids and other pests have been a past problem in your orchard, spray trees with dormant oils before bloom. If scab has been a problem, apply fungicides to apple and pear trees when leaves are separating, just exposing bud clusters.
Reapply at 7 to 10 day intervals until the weather dries. Do not spray during bloom; wait until three quarters of the flower petals have fallen before applying again.
Plant blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries as soon as the soil can be worked. Although most berries will produce without a cross-pollinating variety, blueberries produce bigger fruit when pollinated by a different variety.
When planting, remember, blueberries require a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.5. If the pH is too high, work elemental sulfur into soil and delay planting until fall.
Remove mulch from strawberries at the first signs of growth; protect them with row cover, if frost is likely when plants are in bloom. If mummy berry has been a past problem, rake soil under blueberries and mulch. Remove dead canes from raspberries and blackberries (caneberries) and trellis, if not already done.
Fertilize day-neutral and everbearing (but not June-bearing) strawberries in late March and caneberries as new (first-year) canes start to grow. Use a 5-10-10 or a balanced fertilizer.
Early spring is a busy time in the garden. This calendar is for guidance only. Growing conditions can vary from garden to garden and from spot to spot in the same garden. Please adjust your vegetable gardening activities to fit with local conditions.
Jeanette Stehr-Green is a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener.