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Gardening: Tips for beginner gardeners; refresher course for the rest

It’s a new year and a new gardening season. At the suggestion of a reader, I want to do a series of articles through this year for beginning vegetable gardeners. The popularity of growing your own food is still growing as people discover the joy of growing, cooking and eating their own vegetables.

The winter months are a good time for reading, taking classes and planning your garden. Many beginning gardeners have lots of ideas about their new-found project and that unfortunately can get them in trouble right from the start. So my first key to success is to be patient. Write down your ideas but don’t get tied to them right now. Just have fun with your winter research.

There is a lot of information on the Web to sift through, and I do mean sift. Not all websites are accurate or appropriate for Inland Northwest gardening. I always look for websites maintained by universities (.edu) first, especially those of Washington State University, the University of Idaho and Oregon State University. Through their extension services and Master Gardener programs, there is a wealth of online publications available on a wide range of topics. Many of them are available as free downloads and all are based on unbiased research and experience from right here in the Northwest. Outside the Northwest, I often check sites at other universities in the northern U.S. These northern tier universities will often have good information on short-season techniques and plants that will work here.

Beyond the university-based websites, a good gardening website will have in-depth information from a variety of sources and people. There will be advertising but it shouldn’t be overwhelming or promoting just one set of products. Some of the best websites are done by seed companies such Johnny’s Select Seeds, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed (based in Oregon), and Baker Creek Seed. These sites provide a lot of detailed growing information not available in other places along with their seed offerings. Order seed catalogs from ones you like.

This is a good time to pick up a few good vegetable gardening books to have for reference. One of the best for the Inland Northwest is “Gardening in the Inland Northwest” by Tonie Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was WSU Spokane County Extension’s horticulture specialist for 25 years so the book is full of information and her experiences on growing vegetables, berries, grapes and fruit trees here. It is available at several websites and at the WSU Spokane County Extension Office, 222 N. Havana St., in Spokane.

Two of my other favorite references are the “Western Garden Book of Edibles” published by Sunset, and “Edible Landscaping” by Rosalind Creasy. Both books have extensive “how to” sections as well as detailed plant directories. Best of all, both are written by people who live and garden in our region.

Next week; a run-down on gardening classes available in the area.

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