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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: The weather outside may be frightful, but spring will come. Eventually.

The first day of spring is just 24 days away. Gardeners across the Inland Northwest are busily organizing their seeds, drawing up plans and dreaming of that first ripe tomato.

Every year, I keep careful notes of how my vegetable garden performed and what I intend to do differently. The beauty of having a garden journal is it helps me remember details that would otherwise be forgotten. I also enjoy learning new things from other gardeners.

A perfect example of this is the annual January gathering of my gardening friends for what we jokingly refer to as the “Seed Summit.” We bring our collections of seed catalogs, talk about new products, and highlight the vegetables that were the heroes of the previous year’s garden. I always leave the summit brimming with ideas.

This year, a friend touted Gilbertie paste tomatoes. I’d never heard of them – after all, think of how many tomato cultivars are out there – but after hearing about their large fruits and minimal problems with blossom-end rot (a physiological problem seen during particularly hot summers), I decided to try them out.

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Another friend recommended Melrose sweet peppers. After seeing photos of it growing prolifically in her garden, my pepper-loving husband, Bill, quickly added it to his list. Last year, this same friend raved about Early Dividend broccoli. I rarely grow broccoli because I’ve found the harvest doesn’t always justify the space they require. Wanting to keep an open mind, I grew some last year and was astounded by their huge heads and delicious flavor. You can bet Early Dividend is back in the plans for 2019.

These examples illustrate why our seed summits are so beneficial. Why not get together with your gardening friends as well? It’s not too late to share the name of the best tomato variety you’ve ever grown or new techniques you’ve tried. We all learn more from this type of exchange with folks who garden in the same climate.

By now, you’ve probably noticed the rather lengthy list of what I plan to grow this year. It’s a nice mix of tried-and-true favorites and fun new cultivars I couldn’t resist.

Some of last year’s new varieties that got rave reviews included Ha Ogen honeydew melons, Lunchbox cucumbers, Sweetness Bicolor corn, and cucamelons. Also known as Mexican sour gherkins or mouse melons, cucamelons are a relative of the cucumber, look like miniature watermelons, and feature a citrusy crunch that’s hard to resist.

Cushaw winter squash was another newcomer after a friend from the South recommended them. They have a striped, gourd-like appearance and I was curious to see if they would grow well in our Inland Northwest climate. It turns out they do and they make delicious pies.

Two completely new crops this year will be yardlong beans and rutabagas. Yes, I admit it: I’ve never grown either and it’s high time I changed that. You’ll notice there are six hot and sweet pepper cultivars on the list, all carefully selected by Bill. Since we’ll also be growing tomatillos again, we’re anticipating plenty of salsa-making projects in late summer.

Just like you, I’m excited at the prospect of a new growing season and writing about it. In addition to chronicling this year’s vegetable garden, I’ll share news about the creation of our new pollinator garden, my vertical gardening plans for growing vining flowers and veggies, discuss the benefits of houseplants and keep you informed of upcoming garden events. You’ll also meet several local gardeners who have created interesting and productive gardens.

This year marks the third year I’ll be producing a weekly “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video to demonstrate gardening tips and techniques in my own garden. Look for today’s episode at

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at