April 2006

As I write this column, we are having a cool spring, so consider warming your garden with the use of cloches. A cloche is a small temporary, removable plastic or glass structure that works like a mini-greenhouse to warm the soil and plants. Consider cloches so you can help establish your favorite crops and promote their early growth. We refer to this as “extending the season” and manipulating our normal cool wet springs so we can grow more warm season plants.

There are lots of styles of makeshift cloches that allow us to get gardens growing earlier. Basically construct a frame with wood or plastic tubing (like the white pvc) over which you can stretch a clear plastic film or attach glass. For ideas, visit one of the large p-patch in our city and see what those gardeners have come up with. One simple design uses a couple of long recycled windows set like a tent over your bed of produce. Attach each window to two long upright stakes. To make the tent, rest the windows lengthwise against each other with the stakes inside and sticking out the top crack of the tent. Tie the stakes together for better stability. Tape or staple a plastic triangle at the ends of the tent if you want the cloche to stay warmer at night. Cloches like this warm the soil for earlier planting and are great for heat loving transplants in April and May.

Using transplants is another way to extend the growing season. Try starting your own tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, corn, etc. indoors in clean trays of sterile seed starting mix. I emphasize the clean and sterile materials because the indoor environment encourages bacteria that harm or kill little seedlings. Find a warm place to get the seeds to sprout and then give them plenty of light. If you don’t have time, materials or space to start your own transplants, there are several great local plant sales that sell the best northwest varieties. In the north end of Seattle, shop at the Tilth Edible Plant Sale on May 6th and 7th at the Good Shepard Center on N. 50th and Meridian Ave North. Also on May 6th and 7th will be the Master Gardener Plant Sale at the University Of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. For those in the south end of Seattle, I recommend the Orca School plant sale on Saturday May 13th at 3528 Ferdinand Ave S. just one block west of Rainier Ave. in the Columbia City neighborhood.

This spring I am especially enjoying a couple perennial vegetables. These grow up year after year in out vegetable garden: rhubarb and asparagus. Consider planting these this year and you’ll be feasting on delicious baked rhubarb crisp and roasted asparagus for many years to come. For roasting asparagus, wash and trim the spears and lay in a shallow baking tray. Drizzle olive oil and a little salt on them and roast in a hot oven 450 degrees for 10 minutes, or to your desired tenderness. Simple and delicious.

Happy eating and happy gardening.

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