Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May The Sun Shine Warm Upon Your Face

This line from the traditional Irish blessing always makes me smile, because there's nothing like the month of May in the Pacific Northwest. Even though we still get plenty of rainy days, they alternate with the warm sunny ones, and the gentler spring wind carries the sweet fragrance of Lilacs, Mock Orange, and other delightful flowers.

May is also when all plants seem to grow right before your eyes, and the look of your whole garden can change drastically from week to week. This may be exciting and/or a bit frightening, depending on how 'caught up' you are on general spring garden tasks. Especially weeding....which I must admit I am not completely up to speed with myself!

If you don't have time to remove weeds by their roots, now is the time to make a habit of just plucking off their flowers when you pass by on your way to/from work, before they go to seed. The old saying, "one year seeds= seven years weeds" is unfortunately true, so I make sure to at least nip a few dandelions in the bud each day in my parking strip, where my worst weed problems are. I will pat myself on the back later for it, when I don't have as many new ones to dig out!

I also have a 150ft of city sidewalk alongside my corner property, which has been falling apart over the past 25 years due to the large amount of underground stormwater runoff on my hill. Its ever-enlarging cracks also sprout lots of weeds courtesy of 2 neighbors who have foot-tall "lawns". To keep those weeds from invading my garden, I have experimented over the years with a lot of different organic control methods: White vinegar (from the grocery store), clove oil 'Burn Out" spray product, boiling water from my teakettle, etc. All had about the same effect: temporary control over well-established weeds, and permanent control over the seedlings. So last year I got one of those flame weeders, and I have to say that it has been the most effective control because: a.) it kills established weeds pretty well, and b.) my husband likes to use it. If you have gravel or brick pathways, or a sidewalk like mine, it might be a good control method for you too. Do not use on wood chip paths.... 'nuff said. The propane tank is the same as for a BBQ, and the flame weeder fittings were less than $50 at Sky Nursery.

May is a great time to plant some summer vegetables, even if the only space you have is in deck containers or garden planters. The soil temperatures are up, and the nights are usually staying around 50 degrees, so it's safe to plant some heat lovers if you've got a spot that receives at least 6-8 hours of sun.
  • Beans and cucumbers (and some squash plants) can be trained onto a small trellis or obelisk
  • Tomatoes have a large root system (for a food crop) and do best in a container that is at least 15 inches in diameter and height.
  • Wait until the end of the month to plant eggplant, peppers, or basil, unless you have a real hot spot, as these 3 really need soil temperatures to be higher.
  • Leafy greens do best in part shade and can also be used as an edible groundcover on the shady side of tall crops, or under ornamental plants that don't mind summer water.
Thanks to my parents, I have been growing food crops since I was a child, and after a brief 'hiatus' in my early 20's I have continued it for most of the last 30 years. (this is not related to today's Mt. St. Helens anniversary though!) After all these years, I still get a thrill from eating my fresh-from-the-garden vegetables and fruits. Lately because of the increase interest in edible landscaping, I have been called upon for more consultations and speaking engagements on this topic than ever. It's been an inspiration for me too, and this spring I have put in a brand new Raspberry/Strawberry patch in the back yard as well as planting more summer food crops in my p-patch and home garden. If food gardening is something you are interested in adding to your landscape, I'd be happy to consult with you on this topic too.

And in case you want to take a break from your own gardening but still have a nature experience, here are a couple of opportunities:
  • Magnuson Wetlands- free Family Wetland Walk on Saturday June 5th from 10:00-11:00am. The walk will start at the wetland entry in the parking lot just off 65th St. There are lots of tadpoles and ducklings in the ponds right now, so it will be an exciting time! For more info on this and other upcoming nature programs (as long as the Mayor doesn't shut down Magnuson Community Center), visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/centers/magnuson/nature.htmLink
  • Green Fest- at the Seattle Convention Center the weekend of June 5th & 6th. I can provide the first 20 responses with a free pass for the day of Sunday June 6th, because I'm speaking about Wildlife-Friendly Gardening that day from 12noon-1:00pm at the Green Pavilion Stage. Email me if you are interested. For more info, visit http://www.greenfestivals.org/seattle/

Last but not least, I know that most of you are gardening without the use of pesticides, and I applaud all of you for whatever efforts you are making towards this. If you'd like to let your neighbors and friends know by posting a free 'Pesticide Free Zone' sign from Washington Toxics Coalition, visit

May the sun shine warm upon your face no matter how you are spending time outdoors!