February 1, 2014 in Washington Voices

Gardening: Finding the best site for vegetable garden an important first step

Pat Munts
 

It will be a few more weeks before we can get out in the garden to dig, but it’s never too early to plan what you need to do and take advantage of workshops. It’s cheap therapy for most gardeners this time of year.

Phyllis Stephens will be teaching a series of beginning gardening classes at Northwest Seed and Pet, 7302 N. Division St., on Saturday afternoons through February and March. Feb. 1 and 8, she will discuss improving soil, selecting and planting plants, tools and pruning. On Feb. 15 and 22, she will discuss vegetable gardening including soil development, raised beds and selecting and starting seeds. In March, she will be doing a series of classes on pesticides, fertilizers, lawn care, roses, fruits and berries. The classes run Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and are free. Call Northwest Seed and Pet at (509) 484-7387 for more information.

Stephens is covering a lot of good topics on how to plan, plant and manage vegetable and ornamental gardens, and she should know, she’s been helping local gardeners for more than 25 years. However before you can manage a vegetable garden, you have to find the best site for it.

Most vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight to grow a good crop, so pick the sunniest spot you have. Morning and early afternoon sunlight is best. In our hot summer climate, a little shade in the late afternoon is helpful because it takes some of the heat stress off plants. If trees are an issue in your backyard, consider building raised beds in the front yard and create an edible landscape.

If you don’t have any sun, check out getting a bed at a local community garden. That said, greens such as spinach, lettuce and Asian greens will do well in four to six hours of sunlight.

Garden sites should be as level as possible so that water distribution is even and the beds aren’t awkward to work in. If you have a gently sloping site, you can terrace planting mounds or raised beds across the slope to level the planting surface. Keep the beds less than 4 feet in width so it is easy to reach across them.

Lastly, the best soil for a vegetable garden is a sandy loam. However, your chances of having perfect soil are probably pretty low. The soils in the Spokane area are quite variable; sandy in north Spokane, gravelly in the Spokane Valley and clayey in parts of the South Hill. Therefore, you will likely have to create your own soil by amending what you inherited with quantities of compost or well-aged manure.

Get a soil test to determine what your existing nutrient and pH levels are and the percent organic matter before adding your amendments. Locally, after the ground thaws out, the Spokane Conservation District can perform this test for $30. Check their website for details, www.sccd.org.

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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