Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Learning from a Northwest Garden Guru

Good day!

So now that it feels a little more like spring out there, I have been delving into my gardening books. I'm learning so much! Sounds silly to say so, but I think that sometimes you aren't ready to absorb a particular book. Then you come back to it, and you're thinking "wow!" all the way through.

Of late, my "wow" feeling has been focused on Steve Solomon's classic book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. I have known about this book for years, thanks to my mom who is an avid gardener. It was usually laying somewhere around our living room, peppered with sticky note markers. I recently bought my own copy, and have been reading it religiously with my morning coffee. There's so much to learn! I have read other gardening books, equally inspiring, but Solomon points out that most gardening books are written based on gardening practices that work back east or in the mid-west, or in California. It makes a lot of sense: those regions have long histories of vegetable cultivation on all kinds of scale. As useful as these texts are (you can't say that Eliot Coleman's genius isn't inspiring), they don't address the unique challenges faced by gardeners who live in the Pacific Northwest and particularly west of the Cascades.

Here, vegetable growers face a myriad of problems: heavy clay soils, generally poor soil quality (low in trace minerals and overly high in potassium), winters-long leaching of nutrients thanks to the never-ending rains, a lack of widely-available high quality compost, difficulty in making good, nutrient dense compost at home. The list goes on and on. Solomon addresses all of these issues in turn, drawing on decades of experience growing vegetables in this unique region. He explains why mainstream gardening techniques fail here, and provides the reader with working alternatives.

Solomon also writes with a healthy dose of humor and honesty--joking about his failures, making fun of the reader while acknowledging the difficulties we face, and being totally honest about the back-breaking nature of some of the extra work we "west-of-the-cascaders" have ahead of us. He also unapologetically changes his mind: the book, now in its 6th edition, is a constant work in progress. It contains years and years of gardening wisdom. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Another great gardening resource that I lean on heavily is The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, published by Seattle Tilth. This is a great little magazine-size guide to planting schedules, trouble-shooting, and more. It is also specific to our rainy, cold soil situation. Check it out!

Both of these resources are available from your local bookstore, Third Street Books. Walk downtown, save the drive, and support a local business! Happy reading!

Enjoy your week.


Anonymous said...

There are two soils in Yamhill County....wonderful silt valley bottom and sticky clay hill soil. For those of us in the hills, the secret I have found is rock dust from local quarries. It is fractured dust from rock, so breaks up the spherical properties of clay that keep the water for the chemistry of the clay, not the plants we want to grow in it. Rock dust is cheap, if you can get it. I buy it by the 11 yard load, but then I'm farming a couple hundred acres. I use it in raised beds and as a pasture top dressing, passing it through 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch hardware cloth sifters placed over my Gator dump bed. (A smaller sifter over a wheel barrow is wonderful for the backyarder. The sifted larger gravel is handy for paths, potholes and just general uses of rock in the landscape.)

Local rock dust is a good supply of calcium, so tomatoes and potatoes love it. And now my raised beds actually are "fluffy" over rock hard mounds after a season of rain and my broad fork doesn't bend when I work the beds.


Anonymous said...

Growing Vegetables- West of the Cascades, authored by Steve Solomon who started Territorial Seed Company, is THE BEST gardening book for our area. If I could have only one gardening book (like that is going to happen!) it would be this one. It is a great guide for the beginner thru advanced gardener. My own copy is dog-earred, soil smudged, highlighted, filled with post its and penciled in notes.
Enjoy the season-