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Visions of Vegetables

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Mary Gutierrez

Spring came in like a lion at my Seattle garden, but on my kitchen windowsill the mood was more like a gentle lamb. For a few years I’ve grown some offbeat early-spring bulbs, and for several weeks in March I enjoyed a progression of colorful bloom. 

As I write, the fragrance of an evening-scented species gladiolus perfumes the kitchen. If you have the opportunity to get Gladiolus tristis, do. I place my treasured plant in a cold greenhouse through the winter. When it begins to form buds in March, I bring it in and put it on the windowsill so I can enjoy its pale greenish-white flowers and lovely aroma that are fullest at sunrise and sunset. Many evening-scented flowers are pollinated by moths, leaving the brightly colored flowers of daytime for the bees and butterflies to look after. I imagine a benevolent moth visiting the flowers in dim light, drawn by the heavy fragrance and its promise of nectar. 

My imagination often leads me to such frivolous thoughts. Fortunately, I find choosing a potato variety for my spring garden just as entertaining as sniffing gladioli. And, like most gardeners, at this time of year my mind is most often occupied with thoughts of my vegetable garden.

I’ve grown vegetables for a little over a decade. Some years, I go all out and have corn, beans, and squash; other years I stick to salad greens, tomatoes, onions and peppers. It usually depends on how busy I am. It’s been quite a while since I’ve grown brassicas—all those veggies in the cabbage family. Part of the reason I don’t grow these cool-season favorites every year is that I’m really busy in February with garden shows and in March I launch the spring publishing season. These months are important for starting brassicas, to give them time to develop before spring slips away. In this issue, Steve Solomon talks about the unique growing needs of the cole crops.

I’d also like to direct your attention to Steve’s recipe for complete organic fertilizer on page 12. This is not just a nice suggestion for an organic fertilizer—it’s a must-have recipe to grow vegetables well in our region. In addition to providing the N-P-K in a healthy organic form, Steve’s recipe includes supplemental minerals that our gardens are deficient in. Since our soils are drenched by rain for a few months every year, essential elements—particularly calcium, magnesium and phosphorus—are leached out of the soil. Our soils are acidic and deficient in many elements necessary for plant health except for potassium. Steve’s recipe addresses soil pH and adds much-needed calcium and magnesium along with nitrogen and phosphorus for robust plant growth. Add little compost to your vegetable beds every year along with Steve’s fertilizer and rest assured that your soil is enriched and balanced.

I recommend Steve’s book, Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades (published by Sasquatch Books in Seattle) to every vegetable grower. He was one of the first to recognize that most vegetable gardening books are written for the Midwest gardener. Our geography and climate call for very different practices; you will benefit from his years of study and experience.

Until next month, happy gardening! — Mary G.

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