What I’m Growing on Vashon

What I’m Growing on Vashon.

Unexpected Growing Season

I didn’t think I’d have time for a garden this summer. I was supposed to leave for Nepal in April to film a documentary about Sherpa life. June would find me in Alaska, and in July we’d head to Maine. All that traveling leaves little time for a healthy garden.

Obviously, none of that is happening. (Thanks, Coronavirus.)

It goes without saying that I was crushed when I couldn’t go to Nepal. But as the shock wore off, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. So, I figured I’d fill those hands with dirt and start a garden.

Having not planned a thing, I’ve just been winging it, aka walking through the hardware store picking random seed packets that sounded delicious. Broccoli? That sounds fun. Fennel? Sure, why not? I’ve never grown either, so what could go wrong?

With seeds in hand, I quickly realized I didn’t have anywhere near the space I would need. I had two wine barrel planters that once housed lettuce, kale, carrots and radishes. And I now had approximately 15 different seed packets. The numbers just didn’t add up. So, I decided to make my own raised bed planters with old pallets from a neighborhood friend. I’ll write a post about the planning behind the planters soon.

But for now, here’s what I’m planting :

Greens Galore : Broccoli, Cucumbers, Fennel & More

So, I’m growing more than these three salad staples, but they’re probably the greens I’m most excited about. I found a love for fennel a few years ago; I love to eat it the bulb as a refreshing snack. But at our local island grocer, it’s pretty expensive. So, I’m looking forward to growing my own.

At the risk of sounding like a total moron, it wasn’t until I planted the fennel that I realized fennel seeds (used for seasoning) is the same seed that grows the veggie. I know – DUH. I’d just never put two-and-two together. The more you know! (Or in this case, the more you grow!) I poured the seeds into my hand and said, “Oh! It’s fennel!” [Insert embarrassed hand over forehead emoji here.]

I planted the broccoli and fennel straight into the raised beds, along with lettuce and chives. In the house I planted jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, basil and dill. The first go-around was unsuccessful. While our little house has a lot of beautiful natural light, it’s all a bit diffused. My starts were in a window, but the light was insufficient. The seedlings grew spindly and weak. The leaves were big, but the stems, searching for light, grew too rapidly, resulting in thin, dying plants.

So, I called the best gardener I know – my dad.

Now, what I’m about to say may be controversial. Dad told me to plant my starts directly outside. And then he told me leave them out there All. Day. Long. I know. Crazy! Everything I’d read said to plant them inside and eventually harden them off. Advice ranged from using artificial light and setting them on heating pads, to using a fan to simulate wind. So, the more I thought about it, the more planting outside made perfect sense. For years, plants survived just fine on their own without human interference, so, let’s try getting back to basics, eh?

Lucky for me, we haven’t had a freeze in a while. Farmer’s Almanac be damned, we haven’t had one in a few months. And thanks to my green thumb of a dad, planting outside worked! My cucumbers are growing thick and strong, and the onions have rebounded and are green and bright. I think they’ll go into the raised beds this week.

Strawberries : Round 2

This is my second time trying to grow strawberries. Last summer, I bought four small plants from a historic Vashon farm. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize they were June-bearing. So, we had a few small berries for one month, and then that was it.

Over the winter we got lots of rain, and my bucket o’ strawberries were drowned in water. I let them go, and looked for berries that would produce from the spring into the fall. I found Mignonette Strawberries.

According to the internet, they are more of a bushy plant, with the berries hanging from above.

Since replanting them, I’ve noticed some of the leaves turning red. Google told me this could mean a variety of things : fungal issues, dying plants, lack of proper nutrients, etc. I’ve also read that it could mean the leaf is simply dying, so you should clip it off. I looked the plant over, and realized that the new leaves are coming up green. So, I’m going with the lesser of the evils and cutting off the dying leaves.

When looking through the plants today, I saw my first strawberry flower peeking through. I’m thinking everything is just fine, and I can’t wait until that flower becomes a berry. Crossing my fingers this year is successful!

A strawberry flower blooms on a mignonette strawberry plant.

Herb Garden

I’ll get into the specifics of my “hanging garden” in a future post, but basically I had an extra pallet and really wanted to do something creative. So, I thought, “Why not grow an herb garden?” And I’m so happy to say that it’s thriving.

From what I’ve read about herbs, if given enough room, they will take over the world. So, I wanted to give them the appropriate growing space within this planter. From what my dad tells me, they don’t need a lot of attention. In fact, you can easily kill them with too much love.

With that in mind, I’ve left them to their own devices. So far, so good. We’re successfully growing cilantro, two kinds of rosemary, two varieties of thyme, sage and apple mint. I planted some dill seeds directly into the planter as an experiment, and there’s now a tiny little sprout coming up. Success!

Winging it

If it hasn’t been clear up to this point, I am a novice gardener. In the past, I’ve successfully grown radishes, beets, lettuces and chard, but that’s not saying much. I’m pretty sure anyone can grow lettuce.

But these days we have enough to stress over, so I’m content with giving these plants the basics and letting nature handle the rest.

I’m excited to see where we are in a few weeks and hopeful that my starts fill my raised beds with beautiful green goodness. Stay tuned!

What gardening tips do you have? Do you plant your seedlings directly outside? Does the thought just make you want to cry? What’s in your garden that you’re excited about? Send all your tips my way!

Happy gardening, folks!

Herbs grow through the gaps of a hanging herb pallet planter.

Author: Elise Giordano

Elise is a photographer living on Vashon Island in the beautiful Evergreen State. When Seattle became too much, she set her sights on island life and never looked back. Today, she is trying to find ways to slow down through cooking, gardening and exploring.

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