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Give extra veggies to food banks

When you start planting your vegetable garden this year, don’t just plant what you think your family might use. Plant some extra for people who don’t have access to fresh produce and donate your excess to the Plant a Row for the Hungry project.

Second Harvest sponsors the local Plant a Row project. In 2011 our region grew more than 280,000 pounds of produce for food banks across Eastern Washington. That earned us the honor of growing the most for the international Plant a Row for the year.

Don’t want to wait until Memorial Day to start planting? Cool-season vegetables good for donating include peas, carrots, cabbage, spinach, chard, broccoli, onions, beets and radishes. These can handle frosts down to the high 20s without any problems. All these vegetables prefer cooler temperatures for good early growth.

Spinach and radishes are sensitive to increasing day length, and once we reach summer solstice they tend to bolt or grow a flower to produce seed. Peas will produce until it gets hot and the vines wither. Beets will be ready to harvest by mid-July when they are 2 to 3 inches across. If left to get bigger they are often woody. Carrots, cabbage, broccoli and onions aren’t bothered much by the heat.

Think about grouping these cool-season crops in one area of the garden as some of them, such as spinach, radishes, peas and chard, will be finished by the time the hot weather sets in. These beds can then be cleaned out and replanted with crops such as basil and fall harvested crops of lettuce, carrots, chard and beets that will be ready in late September.

Warm season crops like beans, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, summer squash and melons need warm, frost-free weather to get started. Select short season varieties of these crops as our growing season isn’t long enough to ripen plants that take more than 75 days to mature. Beans and corn can be easily started from seed right in the garden. Cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash and melons can be started in the garden but if we get a cool June it might take forever for them to come up. In this case, it might be better to buy starts. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants must be planted as transplants. The number of days that is on the labels is the average date of harvest from transplant into the garden and again, anything more than 75 days may not have enough time to get ripe.

To donate your produce, take it to the nearest food bank. It is helpful to have your produce washed and bagged in quantities for two to three people. Any amount is welcome – even a single pound because each pound is the equivalent of four servings of vegetables full of nutrients and flavor.

Master Gardener Pat Muntscan be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening. com.

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