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Friday, April 4, 2014

A Pacific Northwest spring garden

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have the luxury of being able to grow and harvest vegetables nine months of the year, with a little planning and some gardening aids. In early spring, I'm able to pick the over-wintered and perennial vegetables. By starting seeds indoors under lights, and by using row covers in the garden, I will have the winter-sown veggies to harvest later in April and into May.

The over-wintered plantings

In late summer to early fall, I can plant several vegetables which, most years, will survive through winter, and give us an early spring harvest.

Although we had some severe cold spells this winter for our region, the kale survived quite well. I've been picking this over-wintered kale for meals on a daily basis.

In the same bed as the kale, the shallots and garlic are all looking good. Both were planted in October. The greens can be cut and used to add flavor to soups and salads.

Some of the Swiss chard also over-wintered. The plants are still small, but will be harvest-size in about 2-3 weeks.

Only 2 parsley plants made it through the winter. But this should be enough for spring cutting. Parsley is biennial. It will grow for a couple more months, then go to seed.

The perennial plantings

Nothing could be easier than perennials in the garden. Plant them once and they return reliably with no effort on my part.

The chives are growing vigorously. I added a handful to some homemade tomato soup (from canned tomato paste) that went with last night's dinner.

The sorrel looks good. Young sorrel is mild and tender. I make cream of sorrel soup a few times each spring.

Technically these are not perennials, but they self-seed every year. So still effortless for me. It's hard to tell, but all these little sprouts are watercress, which sows freely in parts of my garden each year. I'll thin the plants as the season progresses, and have watercress leaves to add to sandwiches and salads in about 2-3 weeks.

Spring-planted veggies

Daytime highs are around 53-54 F and overnight lows hovering right around the 40 degree F mark in my garden. These temps are just barely warm enough for seeds and plants to grow, here.

I've got my transplanted lettuce seedlings under a row cover for protection from the cold. I'll begin harvesting for salads in about 4 weeks. I started these plants under lights indoors, in February.

The peas are up. Pea tendrils can be added to stir-fries and salads in the early season. Then in summer, we'll have snow and snap peas to enjoy.

Beneath the soil surface, I seeded a bed full of spinach, a patch of beets and a patch of mustard greens. The spinach and mustard greens will be done in time for later spring plantings of warm weather veggies.

Strawberries and rhubarb

We added another strawberry bed two weeks ago. My son built the bed, and he and my husband positioned it. Later that day, my husband and daughters filled it with soil and transplanted wayward strawberry plants into the bed. At this point, we have 5 strawberry beds. We plan to add 1 more bed next spring.

The rhubarb is looking good. I should be able to cut rhubarb near the end of April.

By combining over-wintering, perennials and early spring sown plants, our garden can provide us with fresh vegetables as early as March each year. Such as blessing to have garden-fresh veggies after a winter of frozen, canned and long-storage ones.

Larger gardens, and those which receive more sunlight than ours, can support even more over-wintered vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts (my neighbor down the street has a patch of Brussels sprouts that are still harvestable). There's even a variety of carrots than can over-winter and provide spring harvests.

Although it's still quite rainy and cool, spring is my favorite time of year for gardening. Everything just coming up, new sprouts to be discovered -- it all feels like something of a treasure hunt when I venture into the spring garden.


  1. Lili, I am SOOOOOO envious of everything that is already growing in your garden. How lucky you and your family are that your industrious efforts are resulting in good variety of fresh produce being available for meals so early in the year.

    1. Hi Jayne,
      It is wonderful to be able to pick fresh veggies in spring! Some folks have hotter growing seasons and can grow items that don't do too well here. But we make up for it by being able to grow for a longer time span.

  2. Your garden looks great! Tomato soup with tomato paste soups ingenious, would you mind sharing your formula?

    1. Hi Christa,
      So, I don't have a formal recipe. I always make it by taste. But I can make a stab at it. I like tomato foods to have some lemon in it. I always add lemon juice to ketchup and this soup.

      In a saucepan cook about 3 tablespoons minced onions in a couple of teaspoons butter/oil mix, until translucent but not brown.
      Add about 8 oz of canned tomato paste and 24-28 oz of water, blending well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of bottled lemon juice, a pinch of sugar (about 1/4 teaspoon), and salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon is about what I use, I think). Stir and taste, adjust lemon juice, sugar and salt, to your preference.

      In a small bowl, mix 1/2 tablespoon butter with 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour (a beurre manie). Whisk this paste into the hot soup, stir and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes. The beurre manie is a nice way to thicken a soup -- no lumps.
      Just before serving, add minced fresh herbs -- chives, basil, oregano and/or rosemary. That's it!

      If I need the soup to be more substantial/have some protein, then I top each bowl with grated cheese or some plain yogurt or sour cream.
      I sure hope this is close enough. The next time that I make this, I'll pay closer attention to amounts.

    2. Thanks for the recipe! I wouldn't have thought to add lemon but that sounds tasty! I'll try it out soon!

    3. You're welcome, Christa!

  3. I saw the tiniest nubbin of a rhubarb this past week. May is the earliest I expect we will get any rhubarb or asparagus. Sometimes our Swiss chard over-winters as well. It's good to vicariously enjoy your garden!

    1. Hi Kris,
      I'm envious that you can grow asparagus in your garden. I've tried several locations in our garden and it just doesn't grow well. I think our soil stays too cold and wet in spring, here.
      Hoping for a great spring in your area!

  4. Loved looking at your garden. I know you problems with squirrels, do you have other animal problems in your garden?

    1. Hi live and learn,
      squirrels are our biggest pests. They get to the cherries, strawberries, plums, apples and pears. Blackbirds also pick off quite a few cherries. And the robins get to the blueberries. We've had raccoons, too. They climb trees and will pick off fruit. I can't grow corn because the raccoons eat the whole stalks. No deer in our area, and we only once had 1 rabbit. He was so cute. All he wanted to eat were cherry tree leaves which had fallen beneath the tree.
      This year, I plan on getting the bird netting over the blueberry bushes earlier. And I've asked my husband to come up with some sort of fencing to go around the strawberry beds.

      I think that's it on the pest front here. I'm torn with many of the animals, as some of them are just plain fun to watch. I have little sympathy for the squirrels, however. When I'm working in the yard and they're chirping/clucking at me from a tree overhead, I remind them that squirrel stew would be might tasty. I hope my neighbors aren't listening!

    2. My sister puts bird netting over her blueberry bushes and has found you have to be careful for the birds. They get caught in it easily, so the netting needs to be checked frequently to get them untangled.

    3. Thanks for the warning about the birds, live and learn. I'll watch out for ones tangled in the netting.

  5. I found your basic tomato soup recipe, thanks


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