Marianne Binetti: Find the farmer within you

ON GARDENINGApril 9, 2014 

Spring Fever can strike at any stage in life, but when it comes to learning to grow your own food, the earlier you catch this fever the better you’ll feel.

First-time farmers can enjoy planting the first seeds of success by avoiding the seeds altogether. Skip ahead and go directly to a potted plant, or plant an already-producing blueberry shrub, a pot of strawberries or add some spice by having your pizza delivered from a box — of fresh tomatoes and herbs.

More tricks for novices:

Plantable pots

You no longer need flexible fingertips to manipulate tiny seeds or a strong back to hoe your soil and get your garden started.

Plantable peat pots are a new green technology that produces locally grown seedlings from a company called Bonnie Plants.

You can find these plantable pots filled with a wide variety of herbs and vegetables in racks at local retail outlets.

Just plant the pot and all and you have an almost instant garden.

First-time farmers even can plant the pots into larger containers or window boxes and grow vegetables and herbs on a patio or deck — a version of micro farming that makes everything from harvesting to watering easy to do.

The advantage of planting the pot is that there is shock to the root system and no plastic pot to fill up the landfill.

The types of vegetables and herbs you’ll find in these plantable pots are the varieties that do best in our climate. For more information on where to find these plantable pots at local retailer go to bonnieplants.com.

Start with berries

Don’t like beans, spinach or even tomatoes? Many kids and some adults prefer berries over Brussels sprouts, and the first rule of home farming is to grow what you love to eat‚ then harvesting will always be a joy.

Luckily strawberries, blueberries and raspberries grow better here in Western Washington than almost any place else in the world. If you have the room (and the energy) to plant an entire row of raspberries or bed of strawberries into the ground then go for it. Otherwise, virgin gardeners might want to start small and invest in a pot of already planted strawberries.

Certain varieties, such as the compact Tristan strawberries, are happy to grow all summer in pots. Everbearing strawberries make attractive patio plants without the need for meticulous hand weeding or back-bending harvests.

You can find potted strawberry plants at local nurseries, some in space-saving hanging baskets.

Plant blueberries

Not only do blueberries deliver one of nature’s healthiest morsels, loved by kids and adult alike, but you only need to plant a blueberry shrub once. A blueberry plant can produce fruit for more than 50 years of sweet success and healthy harvests.

Consider the beautiful but more compact blueberry shrub called “Bountiful Blue.” This new variety does well in a patio pot or as a landscaping shrub. Blueberries love our naturally acid soil and will bear fruit even in partial shade.

Herbal renewal

Beginning gardeners tend to make the same mistakes — planting in poor soil, not remembering to water and trying to grow edibles in the shade or partial shade.

The easy answer is to grow herbs. Mints will spread (often too enthusiastically) even in dry shade. To really add a sweet touch to baked goods, grow “Chocolate Mint” and you’ll have a gourmet garnish for years to come.

Rosemary, oregano and thyme will produce for years in a sunny rockery, and many of the Mediterranean herbs such as basil, fennel and thymes adapt and thrive in poor soils. This makes herbs among the most forgiving of plants for first time gardeners — especially gardeners who love to cook — and eat. A simple way to get started with herbs is to grow a pizza garden — plant tomatoes and your favorite fresh herbs you use on a pizza. A sunny spot and well-drained soil is all you really need to begin harvesting basil, oregano and parsley.

In a small space you can group your tomatoes and Mediterranean herbs into one large container or wooden box. Just don’t set these heat-loving plants into the garden too soon. Wait until the nights are warm in late Mayor even June. This summer you can enjoy a delicious meal all from one pot — just add a pizza crust and a healthy, home grown dinner is served.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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