first year veggie garden in seattle - things to think about before breaking ground

Success in the Garden

Grow veggies that you are excited to eat.
Grow varieties that do well in our area and your conditions.
Stay within your limits; you don't have to grow all your food.
Keep things simple, but don't be afraid to experiment.
Grow diversity over quantity.

Where to Garden?

Where is my best light? Veggies need to go where you have the most light. A south or west exposure is usually best. But, an unobstructed northern patch can be just as good during the summer months.

Where is my water? Whether you have a faucet or rain barrel, you will need to think about how you are going to deliver that water to your plants. Hand watering is cheap, but requires a lot of time and can be more difficult to maintain even watering. Soaker hoses and watering systems, especially on a timer, deliver the most effective and efficient watering, soaker hoses being the cheapest.

What space do I have? Your garden can go wherever you have the space, given they still have access to both good light and water. Spaces to remember are: places for raised beds, containers, lawn space that you can convert, or space between ornamental plantings. Don't forget to use your vertical space; many plants can be trellised up.

What Will You Need?

What soils will I need? Existing beds typically need an inch to two inches of compost dug into the top 6 inches or so in the spring. New beds will need a bit more, especially if soil is very poor; sandy or clay, dusty or compact. New raised beds need a soil mix, 25% compost and 75% top or potting soil. A little extra compost is great for top dressing throughout the season too.

What fertilizer will I need? The amount depends on the size of your garden, but a basic organic veggie fertilizer is enough for most crops.

What tools will I need? Keep the tools simple, you don't need special stuff to get started. A good starter list would be: gloves, a bucket or two, a trowel, scissors or pruners for heavier or woody elements, and a shovel. The most helpful of extras would be a pronged fork and a hoe.

What to Grow?

Make a Wishlist: Create a list of "everything" you desire to eat from your garden. Look through cookbooks, seed catalogs, farmer's markets, garden books, and ask your friends. Also, think of things to eat while you are in the garden too. Not everything has to go back in the house with you.

Research: What on your list will and will not work.

Things to keep in mind:

A. Which varieties will do well in our maritime climate? Some varieties may be really fun to grow, but probably won't do well in our cool, wet climate, while others do really well. Some need a bit of pampering, but are definitely worth the effort. Still, don't be afraid to be adventurous.
B. Plant successive crops. Some crops prefer cooler weather while others need the heat of summer to have a chance. Plant these crops back to back as the seasons change. For example follow your peas in spring with beans in summer and some carrots in the fall.
C. Choose varieties that have a lot of "bang-for-the-buck." Pick varieties that have lots of flavor, produce multiple crops, are too expensive, or you just can't buy them in stores.
D. Grow varieties that will fit in your space. Plants produce much better when they are given the space they need. That said; there are sometimes compact and dwarfing varieties that may allow you to grow crops that you would not otherwise be able to in their standard form. Many fruit trees are a good example of this. However, many dwarfing varieties do require some special care.

Designing Your Garden

Draw everything out.
1. Make it clear. Use a big piece of paper and lots of color.
2. Draw close to scale. This way you better understand what all can fit.
3. Paths and steps should be fun and helpful not a pain to get to and from.
4. What goes where? Keep in mind water and light requirements and take care of big things and needy plants first. Then fill in with smaller plants. But remember to make your plan interesting. Not everything has to be in rows. Take advantage of interplanting. For instance, spinach fills in around other larger plants nicely.
5. Finally, draw in irrigation. Making sure it will effectively water each plant.