Sunday, April 26, 2015

Creating a Community Farmers Market: A step-by-step guide

When I moved to my little town over 11 years ago, there was hardly a farmers market to speak of. The market that did exist took place in a dusty, sun-baked parking lot at the edge of town. Market hours were from 9 AM–1 PM on a Tuesday; hardly the prime shopping hours for most 9–5 working types. Needless to say, consumer participation was low.

Vendors at the market were in short supply. There were 5 tables; 3 vegetable growers and 2 crafters. The growers and crafters that participated were not local (other than 1) and the produce that they furnished was likely (based off of its appearance)something that didn't sell at the nearby Saturday market, was trucked back to the farm, reconstituted in water and held until the following Tuesday in marginal refrigeration. Not exactly the awe-inspiring display one wants to see when taking the time to shop local.

In those days, the market that existed was an off-shoot of a larger organization located nearly 25 miles to the East of us. There was an absentee market manager, no advertising, awful signage and the impression that our town’s produce needs really weren't all that important to anyone in charge. It was dismal.
Back then, my husband and I were newbie farmers…well, more like over-producing backyard growers who were tight on cash. On a whim, we contacted the market board to see if it was worth our time to participate in our ‘local’ market. The short answer,after reading through the fine print and seeing the vendor fees, was a resounding ‘no’. There was no incentive for local small producers to participate in the market process. Discouraged, we searched for a better outlet for our abundance.

Fast forward one year in time….Our small backyard enterprise had since grown into a 1.5 acre mini farming operation and we were desperate to establish some steady markets for our crops. I attended a Farm-To-Table event in a near-by town and was introduced to several other young growers plus a slew of agency staff. As we were departing the venue, one of my new acquaintances hints at the idea of creating a new farmers market and is actively recruiting participants. This is how, nearly 8 years ago, I was pulled into the market creation process.
Here are a few of the things that I have learned:
  1. Farmers Markets can be contentious; prepare for a fight (even if you aren't looking for one). This was a huge eye opener to me. Who wouldn't want a successful market in their town? Apparently (and obviously) anyone involved with the ‘other’ market that already existed. To be fair, in our effort to keep from reinventing the wheel, we approached the board of the original market and asked if they would allow us to become our own, self governing entity. They very vocally, and rudely declined. As part of our community outreach, we held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of creating an additional market in town; allowing the original market to continue to exist but adding a second market on a different day that would be run by our new entity. During and leading up to the public meeting, members of the original market board were openly slanderous and vocal about their dissent and went to lengths to discredit our planning efforts (including setting up several secret meetings with City officials, placing anti-market ads in the local papers and even placing anti-market radio spots). Fortunately for us, the positive support we received from the remainder of the community was enough to convince the City to issue a second permit; allowing us to create a farmers market independent of the first market without forcing the shut down of the original market in the process. From our perspective, this was the closest thing to a win; let the customers decide where their allegiance would lie.
  2. Be prepared for internal growing pains and choose a strong group leader. As with any new entity, there were massive differences in opinion about the best way to organize ourselves. The most well-intentioned neighbors and volunteers were, at times, reduced to yelling matches over our boardroom table. Items as simple as choosing a name or the day of the week and timing for the market became heated debates. In those early stages, we lost many participants because of the strain of these decisions. It was only with the designation of a strong group leader that we were able to make it through these formative decisions into the real meat of setting up a market; bi-laws, market rules and a budget.
  3. Research other markets for guidance on rule making and budgeting. All markets are not created equally. When starting a new market from the ground up, you will be faced with decisions that set the tone for your market’s ‘feel’, which will ultimately be its identity. Will you allow re-sale? What will your crafter to vendor ratio be? How much will you charge for stall fees? What will the ratio be of vegetables to fruits? Will you allow GMO crops? How will you handle Non-Profit booths? Will you host live music? We were fortunate to have a strong and engaged group of rule-makers who were willing to do the research and legwork the first time around which led to the construction of a strong framework of bi-laws, market rules and operating budget. Over the years, there have been some adjustments to our original bi-laws (For example, our inaugural board was limited to 7 members but has since been increased to 11.). But for the most part, the original framework remains unchanged. The strength of this ground floor rule-making has allowed for the smooth transition between the original board members and all new board participants. Our documentation has always been strong and transparent, making it easy for a new member to come up to speed on the reasoning behind each of the rules or regulations.
  4. Foster a good relationship with city officials and community members. Our little town has many regulations regarding signage and setbacks that added some complication to our application process. Fortunately, our board members have always been on good terms with city officials and an open channel of dialog has kept us relatively free from controversy. This isn't exactly an easy task. Shop owners in town have felt threatened by the market from the very beginning and constantly nag the city to limit the reach of the market. This includes limiting prepared food, wine sampling, crafting etc…anything that may be viewed as ‘competition’ to the other downtown businesses. Because of our strong relationship with the city and our ability to concede on much smaller issues (such as signage regulation) we have been able to continue the growth of the market with little regulatory impediment. Our strong commitment to our community and their strong commitment to us has allowed us leverage when negotiating larger political potholes such as lobbying for free parking on market nights. In a town where revenue is intimately tied to parking fees, this concession by the city would not have been possible without our strong community base of supporters.
  5. Hire a good Market Manager. The Market Manager is the mouth piece of the market board. They are the face of the market that the community and your vendors are most intimately involved with. It is therefor important to hire the right person for the job. The manager should be personable, responsible, strict (yes, strict) and tireless. Fortunately for us, we found the right candidate our very first season. Our manager arrives early and leaves late. He is the voice of our radio spots, organizes the pre-season vendor meeting, sets up signage and amplification, marks out booth locations, keeps our vendor ratios favorable, manages disputes and directs traffic during vendor un-loading and loading. Essentially, he rallies the troops and keeps us in line without alienating a soul. To show our appreciation as a board, we have built into our budget an annual salary review and bonus process. This has kept the working relationship between the board and the manager strong.
  6. Hire a book keeper. Originally, book keeping duties were the job of our board Treasurer. What became apparently obvious as members of the board reached the end of their term was that the hardest transition to keep seamless were the finances. This was due, in part to the heavy workload involved with both maintaining the books and then explaining the system to a newcomer. We made the unanimous decision to work into our budget a little extra money allocated for external book keeping services. This has taken pressure off of our volunteer board and keeps our book keeping from becoming ‘sloppy’.
We are now entering our 9th market season. Much has changed over the years and I feel fortunate to be involved in a market that does not seem to be going away any time soon (That original Tuesday market didn't last more than another season after the formation of our new Thursday evening market). In fact, participation continues to grow, with a wait list of potential vendors and ever-increasing consumer participation. The strength of our market regularly attracts customers from as much as 100 miles away and our vendors receive frequent praise about the quality of the market experience. Most certainly, there will be future challenges that are yet to be anticipated. But for the most part, the decisions we made early on in our formation have proven to be sound ones. I can only hope that some of you who will be undergoing a similar process can find guidance from the words that have been written here today.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On Bees and The Fragility Of Our Food System; An essay on the eye-witness account of a honeybee massacre

I recently returned from a mini road trip to Seattle where I doused myself in culture, the arts and some amazing Puerto Rican cuisine. It was a long time in coming and I really relish the chance to don my city shoes, tapered jeans, chic skirt or something other than a pair of grubby work clothes and strictly utilitarian footwear. Visiting the Westside (wet-side) of the Cascades reminds me how very close we are to the Pacific Ocean. It is easy to forget the smell of damp, salty air on our Ponderosa Pine  and sun-drenched Eastern Slopes. I love to wake up on a sunny Ballard morning, walk out the door and greet the neighborhood. There is truly a part of me that loves city life....
But after 24 hours of  indulging in the privileges that only sidewalks offer, I begin to feel out of sorts and mildly uncomfortable; like wearing a coat that is one size too small. There is a very real and Vulcan-like instinct to assess my surroundings for what they really are...namely an ecologically unsustainable bubble of hipster culture. Sure, there are curbside gardens, but realistically these little 4 ft-by-4ft plots are not capable of feeding a household. At most, you may get a good salad or two once a month and maybe some garnish for your afternoon mojito.  At this point, Urban Claustrophobia begins to settle in and I am thankful that I get to jump back into my Subaru and high tail it out of town and back over the mountains to my country roads......almost....
Usually there is some anthropogenically generated roadblock that keeps me from escaping the urban interface unscathed. This trip was no different.
Except, that it was.

This time, the roadblock was a 3 mile back up at the intersection of I-5 and I-405 just North of town. That morning while eating breakfast, my friend told me he had heard there was some type of accident involving a truckload of bees. As I drove North out of Seattle and gradually lumbered to a rolling stop with all of the other late morning commuters, it occurred to me that I may have found myself taking part as an eye-witness to this bee massacre. Slowly, each lane crept forward in the timeless 'stop-and-go' dance that is now an unavoidable part of suburban life. I kept to the outside lane hoping to catch a glimpse of the over-turned truck.

The first signal of the approaching accident site was the honeybee that careened into my windshield about 300 yards South of the crash site. As we crept closer, small clouds of disoriented bees zigged and zagged between the traffic until the over-turned truck was in sight. It was a beautiful, warm day and the windows of my car were wide open. Approximately 200 feet from the crash I was hit with the overwhelming smell of honeycomb and wax; the scent any bee-keeper knows only too well.
The sight that lay before me was devastating. My heart ached in a way that I have never before experienced as I lay eyes on the mountain of broken bee boxes,supers, frames and comb; all having been pushed into a massive pile on the side of the road by WashDOT in an attempt to re-open one of the 3 lanes of Northbound Interstate. The carnage stood over 15 feet high. A fire truck stood nearby supplying a high powered stream of water to the first responders who were vigorously soaping and scrubbing the freeway free of honey.  Alongside the guardrail, in full bee suits were the 3 Latino farm workers who were invariably in charge of the large load. (* I will continue to document the ethnicity of the farm workers I observe until there is no longer a disparity between us out in the fields*). Meanwhile, lost bees continued to fly in search of their missing queen, their brood, their homes.

It was seeing the farm workers with their grim expressions, that really brought home the devastation of this event. The likelihood of them being gainfully employed was quickly slipping away with each broom-stroke. The farmer who had been expecting this shipment of bees to pollinate their crop would be getting the call that, indeed, no bees would be coming, as the window for pollination steadily drew to a close. The owner of the hives would also be receiving a call informing them that they were no longer the owner of some 100 or more bee colonies; a season of contracts negated prematurely with countless other farms left short on pollinators for the upcoming season. And most tragically, the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of bees whose houses had been lost that day were nearly and almost undoubtedly destined to die as well. With no queen, no brood and nowhere to go, they continued to fly aimlessly, encountering one windshield after the next.
Who writes the insurance policy for a flatbed of bees?

And this is the system we have built for ourselves. In our ever increasing enthusiasm for playing God to the Natural World, we have placed ourselves precariously in exactly this position. We are continuously increasing the level of responsibility that We Humans have over the well-being of the World's many Creatures. Our folly is the undoing of the lives of our subjugates. In mythology, the persecuted cursed the gods for their callous disregard. Have we not become our own protagonists?

 I will remain obstinate to a paradigm that carelessly tampers with the natural order of our intricate living systems until we have proved ourselves worthy of such a position. From my perspective, we have a long way to go.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Landscaping for Fire 2015

Fire in North Central Washington can be a powerful and dynamic force.  It alters landscapes as well as livelihoods in a matter of minutes, days, or even weeks.  Each year, more people migrate to the greater Leavenworth area from different parts of the world so that they can experience life nestled within the beauty of this wild and scenic environment.  There is a gravity to these vistas that is hard to escape. Many newcomers have not grown up with fire and often, it does not play into their decision on where to settle down and spread their roots. Yet, every rose bush has its thorns and the Wenatchee Watershed is no different.  The snowy winter, glorious spring, blue-skied summer and prolonged fall come at a price; mainly a shortage of precipitation during the hottest and driest portions of the year. This type of climate can be described as monsoonal and it lends itself exceptionally well to wildfires. Historically, fire has been a common part of our landscape and many of the native plants that live here have evolved to co-exist with regular intervals of low intensity burning.  Some even require fire for reproduction. However, forest practices (including extensive logging and fire suppression) over the last century have led to an overabundance of fuels in our forests and now, catastrophic fire events are a symptom of this illness. 
So how does one prepare for living with fire? As landowners, we have the good fortune of being able to take control over our personal landholdings even if the larger tracts surrounding us are out of our realm of influence. As stewards, we have the ability to make decisions about the interaction between our homesteads and our neighboring forests.  Wise landscaping choices are a key piece in preparing ourselves for an eventual encounter with fire.
So maybe you do not personally see yourself as an individual with an aptitude for gardening. Or, maybe the thought of taking on an extensive landscaping overhaul is not how you would choose to spend your free time.  The good news is that there are some very simple steps any homeowner can take that can help to protect your home in the event of a forest fire.
One of the easiest jobs is to create a boundary of tended yard around your home.  Firewise Communities offers excellent information on the way to create Zones of defensible space around the home; .The first and most important space should extend at least 30 feet around the footprint of your house. Keep in mind that decks should be considered as an exterior extension of your home so your measurements should take this into consideration as well. Within this boundary, yards or landscaping plants should be regularly irrigated, trimmed and thinned to remove excess flammable material.  In the spring, this area should be raked free of debris and fallen sticks. Larger trees should be high-limbed to 14 feet above ground level and should be kept away from the main structure of the house whenever possible. It is within this zone that many homeowners focus the bulk of their irrigating or install in-ground watering systems.  Keep in mind that in the event of a real fire emergency, power to your home may be lost, limiting the amount of irrigating that is possible during a fire event. Irrigating should be a regular part of your landscaping routine, not the fall back plan. If irrigating is not an option for your situation, aim to keep dormant grasses mowed short, especially around the foundation of the house or install xeriscape flower beds. More information on xeriscaping can be found at Many xeriscape native plants for our region are also fire-wise plants.
When installing landscaping, choose the correct materials for mulching or beautifying around your home. Beauty bark can become a fire hazard. During a large fire event, hot fire brands can travel over a mile from the point of ignition. Non-irrigated bark mulch can offer brands a place to smolder and ignite. When looking at options for top-dressing around your home, consider small or medium sized stone to create a tidy appearance.
The next step on the path to a fire-wise home is to choose the correct plants for inclusion in your overall landscape plan.  Not all plants are created equal and some plants are more fire resistant than others. Many agencies have put together lists of plants that are well suited for fire-prone regions. One resource for fire-wise landscaping in Eastern Washington comes from Kitittas County;  Another comes from Oregon State University and can be found at: . Included in these documents are a number of recommended plants for landscaping around your home.   It is important to know that fire-adapted plants are not immune to fire (they may still blacken and die under such extreme conditions) but have been chosen because they are less likely to ignite and increase the fire hazard around the home since they contain fewer volatile oils or resins.  
Below are some of my personal favorite fire-wise plants that do very well around our region:
Ground Covers: Rock Cress, Epimedium, Creeping Phlox, Hens and Chicks and Kinnikinnick
Perennials: Autumn Joy Sedum, Sea Thrift, Columbine, Coreopsis, Fireweed, Coralbells, Irises, Lavender, Lupine, Penstemon and Echinacea.
Beauty abounds! Fire-wise does not have to equate to sacrifice when it comes to the attractiveness of your landscape. And as always, Happy Gardening!

New Year's Garden Resolutions 2014/15

The New Year is always a time for reflection and reinvigoration. Looking back over the past year, there were a number of changes that I had intended on making for myself in the garden. Some items always fall through the cracks leaving room for improvement during the following year.  That is the beauty of gardening, there is always a new season to try again.
This past year, I had hoped to begin doing some variety trialing of spinach and broccoli at the farm in a concerted sort of way. Unfortunately, I made my decision to do this just as the season was getting busy and it ended up getting shelved in favor of maintaining the status quo. Each time I walked past the rows of broccoli or spinach I was reminded about how improper planning was setting my project back another year. So this season, I am resolving to go into the spring with a plan for my trials before the seeds are already in the ground.  I am resolving to be prepared.
Another resolution I had intended on making last year was to learn more about cultivating various types of grain crops including northern dry-land rice. I had purchased a book about growing grains last summer on a whim and it never got read and still lays unopened on my coffee table. I am resolving to at least read this book so that next year, I can resolve to start planting a few test plots.
I have the open-ended resolution to stay in tune with our changing climate and to learn to interpret what it will mean to our gardening season.  This year brought a number of bird species to the farm that have never been present before. The same was true for my parents in Northern Wisconsin and for friends living elsewhere around the country. This migration of species is the fore-runner to subtle shifts in climate and food availability. It is worth paying attention to the patterns of wildlife so that we ourselves are not caught unaware.  I resolve to remain observant.
I am resolving to stop lifting so many heavy objects. Seriously, my back is killing me. I have older friends who spent their younger lives refusing to pace themselves while gardening and now suffer from chronic injuries that nearly prevent them from gardening altogether. I am resolving to be smarter than I am stubborn so that I can continue to do this activity that I love for many years to come.
And I am resolving to continue to be open to teaching others. I often feel like a novice who has nothing of value to pass along in the way of gardening knowledge. What I conveniently forget are the years I have spent making mistakes and learning from them. If nothing else, I can teach others how to avoid the same mistakes. We all have some kernel of knowledge worth sharing...don’t be afraid to pass it along. Resolve to be a teacher.
May the New Year bring you closer to the fulfillment of your own gardening resolutions and as always, Happy Gardening.

Season Extension 2014

First frost is upon us. To most gardeners this signals the end of the traditional gardening season. From last frost to first frost (basically Summer), most home gardeners focus their efforts on turning the soil and sowing their seed without giving much thought to the remaining months  that lie on either side of these distinct weather events. However, there are those of us so inclined to eating fresh produce that we see the other 7 or 8 months of the year as a gardening challenge rather than a respite. This is how I came to be a full convert to the methods of season extension in the vegetable garden.
Growing up in Northern Wisconsin, my first introduction to season extension was the common bed sheet. As September crept in, my parents would watch the evening weather in anticipation of the forecast for over-night lows. Anything close to 32 degrees meant that we would be pulling the extra blankets and sheets from the closet and would spend our time after dinner covering as much of the garden as possible to protect our still ripening tomatoes and winter squash from settling frost. If the forecast looked especially dire, we would pull whole tomato plants and hang them in our basement near the woodstove to try and salvage the blushing fruit.
Season extension can be as simple as a small attempt to protect crops from first frost, or it can be as elaborate as building structures to offer growing spaces that are available for planting and harvest even in the dead of winter.
Here are a few of the techniques that we have used over the last decade to glean the most possible produce out of our seasonal gardens.  Maybe you will find one of these ideas to be helpful to you.
Succession Planting- In its simplest terms, succession planting is the technique of sowing weather appropriate crops at the correct time of the year. When people visit our booth at farmers market in August and ask for spinach, I know that they do not understand the seasonality of their produce. Crops are used like a toolkit....some tools you only use once or twice a year (snap peas), other tools you may use all season long (beets). Knowing how your tools work is the fundamental basis for understanding succession planting. For example, some crops prefer to be planted only in spring and fall for optimal production (spinach or cilantro) and other crops are best planted after solstice to avoid bolting (daikon radish). As you come to know the growing habits of your favorite varieties, you can begin to take advantage of these characteristics to increase the over-all productivity of your garden.  Whenever we have an empty space left by a preceding crop, we think about what the weather is like, how the light is changing and which ‘tool’ in our seed box would be the best match for the upcoming months. Utilizing this type of thinking has allowed us to harvest at the farm up to 11 months out of the year (even through several feet of snow if need be).
Structural Protection-Any type of structure that protects crops from excessive rain, wind or changes in temperature is nearly essential to true season extension.  We are fortunate to have two large ‘high tunnels’ (metal framing with 6 mil clear plastic walls) to use at our farm for this job. In fact, growing eggplant and tomatoes in our side canyon would be nearly impossible without them.  These structures allow us to begin sowing seed as soon as the ground is thawed in the spring and to continue to harvest even when the ground outside the structures is already frozen in the fall. In a home garden, this can be created using PVC piping bent into hoops with contractor’s plastic stretched over the top. Or even better would be bent electrical conduit (much more durable than PVC) for the hoops. There is no shortage of plans available on the internet for these tunnels and the amount of work required for setting them up or tearing them down is minimal versus their benefits. Hoop benders are available for purchase at a reasonable price through a number of reputable seed catalogs and can be shared with your friends or neighbors. In the Wenatchee region, one of the greatest advantages to this type of structure is the protection from spring winds. Newly set out seedlings can be stunted or broken by being wind-whipped when they are still young. With a little added protection, you can start your spring season earlier with a greater chance of success.
For further information on both succession planting and structural protection, I recommend reading The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.  Both are quality reads. Happy Gardening!

Eron Drew

WSU Chelan County Master Gardener and Co-Owner of Tierra Garden Organics in Leavenworth,Wa.

Seed Definitions 2014

As I sit here writing this, I am looking at no less than seven different seed catalogs that have come in the mail during the month of December. For me, January is seed purchasing time. Sometimes the terminology that describes seed can be confusing to a new gardener, especially one lacking a Bachelor of Science degree. Here are some simple definitions for common terms used in most catalogs to describe the breeding of the seed or its heritage. This can be of importance when choosing seed best suited to your needs.
Heirloom Seed- This refers to an old or traditional variety that is still grown in gardens today. Oftentimes it is a variety not suited for large scale commercial production and is seed that is kept from year to year and passed on from person to person. Heirloom seeds are open pollinated; see next definition!
Open Pollinated- These are seeds that are pollinated (fertilized) via wind, birds, insects or other natural means. It is an uncontrolled form of breeding that often gives rise to genetic variation seen in the offspring. For example, perhaps 99% of the offspring of an open pollinated broccoli variety will have green leaves similar to their parents, but 1% will show a purple color tint not seen in the parent generation. Open pollination tends to increase biodiversity and is a great way to watch plants adapt to their environment, especially if you start to save seed from year to year. However, a gardener should not expect all plants of an open pollinated variety to look exactly alike (or even taste alike!).
F1 Hybrid- This seed is relatively consistent and true to form with little variation between individuals. F1 Hybrids are created using traditional, controlled breeding techniques where parents with known, desired traits are carefully crossed with each other, often via hand-pollination by humans, to create offspring (seed) that show the same traits as the parents. F1 Hybrids, unless otherwise labeled, are not Genetically Modified Crops.
Certified Organic-This is seed that has been raised under conditions consistent with organic practices and is grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. Certified Organic seed can be Heirlooms, Open Pollinated or F1 Hybrids and cannot contain genetically modified material to receive certification. Certified Organic has a distinct legal meaning and can only be used for seed growers who are in compliance with the rules set aside by the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Happy Seed Shopping!

Small Space Gardening 2015

Not everyone has the luxury of 50 acres to spread out on when planning their home garden. Urban agriculture is a hot topic these days. It takes on many forms; from roof top gardens to patio planters. One of the largest challenges to gardening in an urban environment is working with less than ideal conditions and limited space. Gardening in tight spaces requires a different mindset and often the goals and milestones are measured on a different scale from their rural counterparts.
Probably the most common constraint is the desire to garden while living in an apartment. A south or west facing balcony is a garden waiting to bloom. Container gardening is the preferred method for this situation. Oftentimes, people do not consider 5 gallon buckets to be suitable containers for gardening but they have a sufficient soil volume for growing tomatoes, cabbage, kale and other veggies that would otherwise not be possible in this environment. They also have the added advantage of mobility. It is possible to move them from one place to another as the sun migrates with the changing season. Your garden has the luxury of always being located in full sun. If you do not have a balcony and are limited to countertop space, consider recycling milk jugs or grocery store salad containers into countertop gardens. Salad mix, micro-greens, pea shoots and watercress are a few of the plants that do well in a countertop garden. Although there is some concern about utilizing plastics for planting containers, #1 and #2 plastics have been studied and found to be the least likely to breakdown over time and leach chemicals during use (other plastics tend to be too soft and can degrade or crumble).
Many city lot owners may only have a 4’x 8’ space to garden in. Curbside gardens can still be successful and are an excellent way to become more involved with your neighborhood. Understanding the physical space needs and rate of maturity of the plants you are working with can help you maximize your yield in a tight location. This technique is known as inter-planting. For example, radishes and carrots can be inter-planted within the same row. The radishes can be used to space out the carrots, helping to limit the amount of thinning necessary as the carrots mature. Typically the radishes will mature within a few weeks and will be harvested, leaving space for the carrots to fill in and finish their development.
Utilizing vertical spaces will also help to increase yield per square foot. Runner beans, peas and cucumbers can all be trellised to grow vertically. These plants should be located at the back of the garden so that they do not shade the shorter veggies. Alternatively, when living in a hot environment such as the Wenatchee Valley, salad mix, spinach and cilantro can be planted in the shade created on the backside of a vertical planting. This shady space will help to prevent bolting and should extend the season for these cold loving crops.
Square Foot gardening is another approach to small spaces. In this method, the garden bed is divided into 12”x12” squares. Each square is planted with a different type of vegetable. Larger plants such as broccoli or tomatoes are allocated to a spacing of one plant per square while spinach or lettuce can be planted much denser. This method of planting is great for new gardeners as it encourages experimentation with a wide variety of different plants in a small area.

Whichever method you choose to use for your small space, Happy Gardening!

Soil Testing 2015

The world has woken up again. Phoebes are building their nests and owl chicks are fledging. The garlic is poking through the mulch and the soil is dry enough to work.  As we begin to make our way back into the garden, it is time to consider the list of spring ‘To Dos’ that we are confronted with. For me, the one that has often slipped through the cracks is attaining a professional soil test. It is pretty easy to roll from one season into the next and assume that the growing conditions should remain the same. The problem is, over time the soil changes, and it is important to collect some baseline data now and again to be sure you are on the right track both with your amendments and also your rotation.
Soil tests offer up some valuable information that often explains patterns you may already be seeing within your garden. Have you ever planted beets in one location and watched them flourish and then planted them in a new location where they languish and refuse to size up? Beets are very sensitive to soil chemistry. Often a small Boron deficiency can be the difference between a successful crop and a near failure. Although through observation, you can pose plausible guesses as to the problem (after reading a myriad of articles on the subject) it is much wiser to throw down a little bit of money and have a professional soil analysis done. This is especially true if you intend to garden in the same place for an extended period of time.
There are several forms of soil test available. Some are more intensive and offer up a broader zone of information on trace mineral content including Boron, Zinc and Arsenic. Some are more specific to the most common deficiencies such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Percentage Organic Matter and Soluble Salt content. The soil test will tell you the amounts (often in parts per million) present in your garden soil. It will also clearly lay out if more of a specific nutrient should be added for optimal plant growth and will give a recommendation on how much remediation is needed to reach optimization. The broader of the tests is more expensive but should be done at least once to understand the basic soil chemistry of your gardening soil.
Contact the WSU Chelan/Douglas Master Gardener Diagnosis Clinic for recommendations on where to have your soil test performed. There are several options.
Happy Spring!

Growing Strawberries 2014

Today my family officially started moving back into our ‘summer home’....better known as The Farm. With the nice weather and the lack of snow, the yearly maintenance work of the garden beds begins.
The task for the week is the remaking of the strawberry beds. Strawberries bear best on 2 year old plants. With yearly division and replanting, your strawberry beds will remain highly productive. This type of planting requires some forethought and planning. Ideally, you have made space for one mature bed of strawberry plants (2 year old bed) and a second bed prepped out for spring transplanting of last year’s runners from the strawberries in your mature bed. The runners from last year can be clipped and separated from their parents and planted into this empty, spring bed.
When creating a new strawberry bed, several factors are necessary for the success of the planting. The most important prep work is the thorough weeding and de-grassing of any new area that is being planted to berries. Strawberries are relatively resilient plants and can handle a minor amount of abuse and neglect but the one thing they cannot tolerate is competition with grass. Please take the time to remove all grass roots before planting your bed, you will be thankful for your attention to detail later on. If you are starting new beds and are removing sections of lawn to do so, the best approach is to dig out the section of lawn for planting a year in advance. The optimal time of year for killing grass is mid-summer. Step one is shutting off any irrigation to the site to be de-grassed. Once the irrigation has been turned off, the grass can be cut into strips and flipped over to bake in the sun using a flat bladed shovel. After several weeks, the grass should be brown and dry and the soil can be shook loose. The grass clods can then be moved to your yard waste bin. Weeding of this new bed should be done again in the spring before planting to remove any grass roots you may have missed the previous summer.

Since strawberries are heavy feeders, your bed should be properly fertilized before planting. In addition, fruit set cannot occur without regular and consistent irrigation.  Simple irrigation can be created using ½” or ¾” poly tubing with a dripper placed at each strawberry crown.  Make it easy on yourself and hook the irrigation system up to a timer so that watering is predictable and regular. Happy Gardening!

Weeding 2014

As the soil begins to warm up, it wakes up both the seeds in the garden that are sown  intentionally and also the ones sown for you by nature. Controlling weeds can be a big job for any gardener. Here are some ideas and tools that can make weeding a more pleasurable and rewarding experience.
1.       Learn to identify the weeds around your garden and learn about their reproductive or propagation strategies. Some weeds need the entire root system to be removed (such as grass or morning glory) to be controlled effectively. Others can be controlled with regular cultivation and simple hand tools.
2.       Keep the weeds surrounding your garden from going to flower or seed. This is the first line of defense in protecting your garden from the ‘green carpet of death’ every spring.  Even if you do not have time to remove all of the weeds from the edges of your garden by hand, make time to remove the flowers and seed heads. This can be done by keeping the area around the garden mowed or weed whipped regularly. If the weeds around the garden have already put on seed heads, rake up and remove the debris after mowing or whipping and add them to your garbage can or yard waste can. Do not compost weeds in your household compost. Most people do not keep their compost piles hot enough to kill seed heads or grass rhizomes.
3.       Find hand tools that you enjoy using and hand weed or cultivate your garden beds regularly. A favorite tool for working around sensitive plants is a light weight cultivating knife or hoop hoe. The knife slips under the surface of the soil and kills weeds at the roots. Hoop hoes (or hula hoes) are a tool that can be used while standing and are another way to kill weeds at the roots, below the soil surface. These tools are most effective for weeds under 3 inches in height. Keep your hand tools sharp by filling the edges regularly and avoiding rust build up.
4.       If possible, cultivate in the morning and do not water the area that has been cultivated for at least 24 hrs.  If you water the area that has just been cultivated, those weeds that are lying on the soil surface have a chance to re-grow. Allow the weeds to wilt and dry out in the sun for the day or rake up the cultivated weeds and remove them from the garden entirely.
5.       If mulching, use weed-free straw rather than hay. Hay is full of seeds that will happily make themselves at home in your garden.

Happy Weeding!

Holiday Plant Care 2013

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes the beauty of both boughs and bouquets. We may be given the gift of a beautiful centerpiece, gorgeous poinsettia or amaryllis bulb. Our porches, doors and mantelpieces may be graced with evergreen wreaths and garlands.  All of these require a different method of care to keep them fresh and festive and oftentimes homeowners struggle with falling needles, wilting leaves and a general lack of ‘shelf life’ for these living holiday decorations.
When caring for evergreens that are indoors, the following tips will improve their overall longevity.
·         Mist wreaths and garlands with water on a daily basis, wetting both the stems as well as the needles. Use a general household spray bottle for this task and be sure that you are misting the wreath or garland in a location where the water will not cause any damage to walls or furniture.  Do not mist when the greenery is exposed to direct sunlight, whenever possible.  Another option is to apply an antitranspirant once a week. This is a clear, odorless liquid that dries to a film and slows the loss of water from the needles. Antitranspirants are available through floral supply outlets.
·         Keep greens away from direct heat sources such as furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters and very sunny windows. Exposure to additional heat and drafts will speed the drying process and decrease the life of your greenery. If you start to see areas of your wreath or garland that are becoming dry or brittle, consider removing these pieces from the arrangement to keep a fresh appearance.
For Poinsettias:
·         Check soil moisture daily. If the soil feels dry to the touch just under the soil surface or the container feels ‘light’ when lifted, add water until some liquid runs out the bottom drainage hole of the pot. If using a saucer to collect excess water, drain the excess so that the poinsettia pot is not kept in standing water. Standing water will cause root injury and stress to the plant.
·         Poinsettias prefer to be kept at 65-70 degrees F and like to be put in a sunny location (such as a South, East or West facing window) free from drafts. Do not let the foliage touch the cold glass of the windowpane as damage can occur to the leaves.
·         Although poinsettias can be kept and forced to re-bloom, it is a complicated process and may be beyond the scope of most home gardeners.

Happy Holidays from Chelan County Master Gardeners!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dirtbags; a guide

*An edited version of this essay will be appearing in The Good Life Magazine in May of 2015

Becoming a well-seasoned dirtbag is a skill acquired over years of intentional fun-seeking away from the boundaries of the urban corridor. Although it is best to start at a young age so that the intricacies of living on the road become second nature, anyone has the potential of aspiring to future dirtbag status (just look at Fred Becky).

**A Quick Word of Advice: Avoid calling yourself a dirtbag  in public until you are at least 17 years of age. Avoid calling your parents dirtbags too....especially  in front of figures of your teachers....even if they are. This is a term of endearment that some people don't understand.**

The following is an easy step-by-step guide to the conversion of a sane, high IQ individual on a promising career path into a low-wage earning, high velocity, free spirited, dirtbag. Results will vary among individuals.

Step 1-Develop a love for a sport or activity where destination travel is a key component. The love of travel is not a prerequisite but it does aid the transition process from responsible student/adult into carefree adventure seeker. Suggested activities and/or careers that will gain you dirtbag experience points include snowboarding/back country skier, climber/mountain guide, mountain/dirt/adventure biker, surfer, kayaker/rafter, long distance hiker/runner, fisherman, anything involving a sail, park service employee,outdoor ed. major, nature photographer/writer, geologist, biologist, and journeyman anything.

Step 2- Be (and remain) idealistic.Idealism makes up for the lack of working capital (i.e. cash) that upholds the self esteem of the responsible folks. When cash fails, ideals blossom. Have ideals about politics, religion, the environment, society. Have ideals about love and family, war and peace, and good literature.

Step 3-Be comfortable around dirt. This means, be comfortable around your dirt, other peoples dirt, being dirty and plain old dirt. Be able to lie in the dirt, without a blanket. Be able to brush the dirt off of an item and think of this as 'cleaning'.

Step 4-Cook out of a can or be able to craft gourmet meals using free and/or scavenged ingredients. This may mean opening a can and eating the contents with your fingers or a modified utensil (crackers) with or without heating up the contents of the can before consumption. Some items to consider ingesting include tuna fish, ramen noodles, ketchup soup, dried fruit, blocks of cheese,chocolate chip cookies, coffee with cocoa packets and salami sticks. When in doubt, be able to identify the local bakery or  brewery to fill in where your personal talents fall short. Add +5 to your experience points when your Jet Boil meal incorporates vegetables and possibly, chopping.

Step 5- Be able to Tetris your under-sized, under powered Toyota Camry with all equipment necessary for a multi-week excursion with or without pets/co-pilot. This usually requires the purchase of multiple Rubbermaid roughneck totes that have been black sharpied with Duct Tape labels such as: Clothes, Camping, Food, Cooking, Gear and Emergency. Or skip the bins and the Tetris and aim for the 'scatter and dig' approach, maximizing the entire storage capacity of your trunk but requiring excess parking lot space for actually finding that last red cam. Add to your life's goals: purchase all-wheel drive Subaru (or possibly Toyota Tacoma with modified bed turned sleeping compartment/gear storage). If dirtbag is only a persona you don on weekends due to job constraints where personal appearance and mode of transportation invite judgement from co-workers and neighbors,  consider the Honda Element as a more suitable urban substitute.

Step 6-Practice improvisation and creativity. As a dirtbag you will be called upon to improvise such necessary items as tent poles, shelters, splints or slings, can openers, and any number of items that may be missing, broken, lost or forgotten. It is your ability to think creatively that will keep you cozy, dry and safe in nearly any conditions presented.

Step 7- Don't forget some reads, a journal and a good camera. Travel with a compendium of obscure publications and dog-eared maps. Old guidebooks, copies of the Alpinist, Frequency or Taproot are always welcome companions when wifi service becomes non-existent. Develop an eye for natural beauty or that perfect descent and capture it on film. Draw, paint and create on your rest days. Art always scores chicks.

Step 8-Love yourself. You became a dirtbag because of your passion for the interesting and beautiful places in this world. Be comfortable being you, even when those around you are not comfortable with you being you. Learn to convey your passion to others through words, photos and essays. You may be surprised how many other people secretly long to be dirtbags too.

Step 9-Raise future dirtbags. Fill your kids' heads with propaganda like 'Camping is Fun!' or 'Jump around and you'll warm up.' Make rhetorical statements like 'Well, we could go out to eat but wouldn't you rather stay here and have a fire?' Bribe them with marshmallows and their very own headlamps. Let them choose the hike out of the book. Stack the family tree; introduce your dirtbag friends to your kids as 'aunt' and 'uncle'. Be prepared for these future dirtbags to grow up to become tax attorneys, investment bankers or fashion editors instead.

And, if dirtbagging it just isn't for you anymore, there are alternatives.There's always the home in the sprawl, the lawn to mow, 15 lbs of potato chips and beer hoping to join your midsection and a full  televised sports schedule waiting to engulf you. If you have found yourself inadvertently stalled out on this side-adventure, remember that it is never too late to get back out there. The dirtbag life is always calling and the rest of us will still be here, waiting for you.