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Let's Get Growing!

We gardeners can never wait to get out in our yards each spring.  If you haven’t been itching to start planting already (I started in January…) the beautiful weather this weekend will no doubt have you wanting to buy up all those beautiful veggie starts at your local garden center and to plop them out in your yard!

But hold on!

Gardeners, like farmers, need to do some planning before parting with their cash to have the most successful crops.

Here are some things you’ll want to consider before buying those seedlings or seed packets for your garden, and a look at how a farmer has to make similar decisions when planning their fields each spring.

Gardener

Farmer

Only grow what you know your family will eat.  While it can be tempting to grow crazy varieties you have never heard of or big beautiful tomato plants, don’t bother if no one in your family likes that strange unknown or won’t eat tomatoes! 

 

 

 

Market. Farmers have to consider the market - what is the demand for the crop they are considering raising? Will they be able to sell the crop for a high enough price so as to at least not lose money, and hopefully have a profit?  If there is a market, the farmer must also consider whether he or she can get the crop to that market.  Will there be shipping available?  If selling their crops internationally, will the ports be operating?

Consider your site.  Do you have a location with at least several hours of sun each day? Most vegetables require a bare minimum of 6 hours of sunlight each day.  Is the site subject to harsh winds? Are you able to get water to the garden?  Do you have enough space for what you would like to grow?  What are your soil and weather conditions like?  What about deer and other wild animals?  These considerations will determine what types of plants you can successfully grow in your garden.

 

Land. Farmers must know their land and what types of crops will grow well on it.  They must also monitor it from year to year to know whether they need to amend their soils and in what ways they need to do so.  They know that lettuce is not going to grow well in the hot, Eastern Washington sun in August, and that Olympia may not be the best place to grow a large scale tomato farm. The know what types of pests - large and small - that are likely to be present on their land and have an integrated pest management plan.

 

Consider how much time you have. The larger the garden, the more time you will need to weed, feed, water, and harvest it.  Speaking of harvest, what are you going to do with gallons of strawberries or bundles of kale?  Preserving your food (or figuring in time to take it to the neighbors or food bank) needs to be considered when thinking about how much time you have to garden. 

 

Capacity. Time and capacity can greatly influence what a farmer can choose to raise.  If the farmer doesn’t have additional help, high labor crops may not be ideal or even possible for him to raise.  Seasonal labor has become increasingly difficult to find and cannot always be guaranteed.  There are still many crops in Washington that cannot be harvest by machine, but must be harvested, and often grown and maintained, by hand.

Consider what grows well in your microclimate.  Hot and sunny central Washington can grow just about anything, but must wait until winter freezing passes.  More mild Western Washington gardeners should choose varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables that have a shorter growing season but can grow many “cool” crops well for much of the year.  When choosing a variety, look for how many days to maturity.  A tomato variety that requires 60 – 80 days to maturity will likely do much better than one that requires 105 days in Western WA.

Climate.  In order to be successful, farmers must definitely select varieties that grow well in their climate.  Eastern Washington farmers can grow many crops that require lots of heat units.  Western Washington farmers may also be able to grow some of those same crops, but may use hoop houses or green houses to be more successful. Certain crops, like potatoes, grow well on both sides of the state!

 

 

Consider your summer plans.  Are you taking that once-in-a-lifetime 3 week road trip across the country with the kids this summer?  Who is going to care for and harvest your garden while you are away?

Vacation?  In the summer?  Hahahahaha.

 

 

 

While at this point in the year it is way too late for a farmer to be making these decisions, there is still time for those of us planting our own gardens!  So take a few minutes to think through what will work best for your gardening space and your family so that you can spend your hard-earned dollars wisely and have your most successful garden ever!