Getting Started

Who

Anyone with a sunny piece of yard, deck or balcony, or even a window box!  If you can grow a lawn, you can grow food.

What

There are plenty of easy-to-grow vegetables.  See some recommendations from Master Gardeners below.  Plant only what you like to eat.  Be realistic.  A 4'X4' garden bed could keep you in salad greens or squash all summer, but it is not enough room to grow corn or pumpkins.

Skagit County has a short growing season.  Make sure to consider days to harvest (noted on the seed packet) when selecting what to plant.  Also note the spacing recommended on the seed packet.  If plants are too close together, they have to steal nutrients from each other.

Where

Do you have a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day?  Do you really need all that lawn?  Consider converting part of your yard into a garden.  Gardens and lawns require similar care.  They both need good soil, sun and water.  Vegetables just require a little more attention.  Containers can make gardening very flexible.  Read more on Container Gardens.  Also, plant some veggies in with your flowers.

When

In the Skagit Valley, May is magic.  Depending on where you live, March gives us our last hard freeze and some vegetables can be planted/transplanted in March and April.  However, frosts are typical in the area through early May.  Most vegetables are sensitive to frost, so May is when you will really start gardening.  Check out the Planting Calendar extracted from the WSU Extension Bulletin on Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington, which is a great all-around veggie gardening guide.

Frost Dates  (Data source WSU AgWeatherNet)

Station Avg Last Frost Date (Temp) Avg First Frost Date (Temp)
Mount Vernon March 24 (31°F) October 30 (30°F)
Fir Island March 8 (30°F) October 29 (31°F)

Consider winter gardening too.  There are a number of vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, broccoli and kale that are planted in mid-summer and can be harvested throughout the winter.  Read more on planting a Fall and Winter Garden.

Why

Supply your family with fresh, healthy vegetables throughout the season.

How

Start with a plan for your garden!  Decide how much and what kind of space you will have.  Do you want to plant directly into the ground, raised beds, or containers?  Do you just want salad veggies in between flowers?

If you can, have your soil tested.  There are a number of firms that provide soil testing for a reasonable price. There are two locations in Washington.  Simply Soil Testing in Burlington and SoilTest Farm Consultants in Moses Lake.  You’ll receive a printout of the results, which will make recommendations on basic soil nutrients, pH, etc., which will guide you in amending your soil.

Keep your garden manageable.  Raised beds can extend the season and protect from rabbits, snails, slugs.  Use a cold frame, floating row covers, or tunnels to extend your growing season and protect from insects such as cabbage moths. The options are endless.  If your space is small, consider vertical gardening for vining vegetables like cucumbers, pole beans, and some squashes.

In order to have salad greens all summer long, plant a few seeds every 2-3 weeks for an ongoing harvest.  This is called succession planting.

Skagit, we've had a problem!

If NASA can grow vegetables in space then how hard can it be?

Read more about NASA's space garden.  Even the astronauts use the "Cut and come again" technique for harvesting the outer leaves salad greens while the plants keep growing.

Growing Food Can Be More Than Vegetables

Herbs

Herbs are easy to grow and attractive in beds or as potted plants.  With our mild winters, many herbs are perennials (live more than one year).  Even the ones that are not cold hardy will usually produce late into the fall.  Rosemary and thyme, particularly, are typically available year-round.  Basil (which is a warm weather herb), parsley, cilantro, tarragon and dill are easy to grow, as well. Consider planting a kitchen garden close to your kitchen—making it easy to harvest the herbs, salad greens that you need for a meal.

Small Fruits and Vines

If you have the room, there are plenty of berries, small fruits, and fruit trees that do well in the PNW.  Check out the WSU Extension Bulletin on Growing Small Fruits in the Home Garden.

If you don't have a lot of space, try columnar apples or grow a grape vine on your pergola.

Remember to plant flowers among your veggies to help attract pollinators for a better harvest.

WSU Skagit County Extension Plant Clinics

Let the Skagit County Master Gardeners provide science based recommendations to solve your gardening problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

"Ask a Master Gardener"
Beginning a Vegetable Garden

 

Part I - Planning and Prepping

Part II - Correct Planting

“Ask the Master Gardener” columns are featured in the Skagit Valley Herald two to three Fridays per month in the Home & Garden section of the newspaper.  Click here to view the archive.

Looking for references, visit our Growing Food Library

Includes links and resources in Spanish

 

Biblioteca incluye documentos en español

Anacortes Food Growing Success Story

Housemates Hope New Garden Inspires

Types of Gardens

There are many types of gardens.  For limited space, you might want to try a container, raised bed, or vertical garden.

 

 

 

 

 

You might want to plant an organic garden, in which you use no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.

You can extend the growing season by using a greenhouse, hoop houses, cold frames, and tunnels.  Check out the Garden Construction section of the Growing Food Library for more ideas.

Seed and Plant Selection

Before choosing vegetables for your garden, you want to make sure that your plant is appropriate for the Pacific Northwest. Our short summers make certain crops unrealistic for most gardeners. It is essential for the crop that you plant to have an opportunity to mature before the cool nights of fall arrive. Most seed packets provide a lot of important information. Some seed catalogues, such as Territorial and West Coast Seeds, include gardening guides.

Days to Harvest
Days to harvest is roughly how long after planting before you can expect ripe fruit. This can be a guide to distinguish varieties as early (65 days or less), mid-season (65 to 80 days) and late-season (80 days or more). For the Pacific Northwest, gardeners should mostly look at early varieties unless they have a greenhouse.

Planting
Carefully read the back of your seed packet for planting information (how deep to plant seeds, how far apart, when they can be planted, fertilization needs, water needs, etc.). Some vegetables (such as lettuce, carrots, radishes, kale) can/should be planted directly into the soil, but others (like tomatoes, peppers, and squash) need to be started indoors, or bought as seedlings.

Like Getting Your Hands Dirty?

Don't let us have all the fun.  Become a WSU Skagit County Master Gardener.

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Master Gardeners recommend the following plants for first time vegetable gardeners:

Easy-to-Grow
  • Leaf lettuce, spinach, micro-greens, kale....too many varieties to count.  These veggies enjoy a very short time from sowing to harvest and can tolerate some shade. Select mature leaves for harvest and let the plant keep producing.
  • Peas (shelling, snap and snow), and bush beans can take up a lot of room.  However, the climbing varieties of peas, and pole beans, take far less space and are easy to grow if you have a fence or trellis that they can climb on.
  • Onions, garlic, radishes are usually disease-free and pest resistant.  Radishes can be scattered among other plants.  Ideally garlic should be planted in October for harvest in July.
  • Rhubarb and artichoke are perennials that are easy to grow.
  • Cucumbers are available in vines or bunching varieties. They are generally pest resistant and one or two plants can produce cucumbers for months.
  • Summer squash, such as zucchini, yellow crookneck and patty pan produce well and should be picked as soon as they are large enough to eat for an ongoing harvest.  Space saving bush varieties are available.
  • Corn, pumpkins, winter squash, and potatoes all grow well in the PNW but need a lot of space.
  • Beets, turnips, and kohlrabi are susceptible to some pests and diseases but are generally easy to grow.
  • Tomatillos are easier to grow than tomatoes; one plant will produce an abundance of fruits.
More Challenging
  • Carrots and parsnips are difficult to germinate, require thinning, and take a long time to grow, but they are far sweeter than those bought in the grocery store.
  • Tomatoes are sought after by most gardeners, but even the determinate bush varieties need a lot of space.  The challenge with tomatoes is that they need lots of sun and heat for the fruit to mature and sweeten to that wonderful taste that we all crave—but this challenge can be overcome!  Tomatoes are so popular that we have an entire webpage dedicated to Growing Tomatoes.  Master Gardeners have made an art of it, and you can too!  Judy Callahan, a long time Skagit County Master Gardener, says the first rule of growing tomatoes in the PNW is "not to grow tomatoes!"  However, Judy, like so many other gardeners, overcomes the challenges to successfully grow tomatoes every year.
  • Peppers, like tomatoes, need full sun and heat.  Hot peppers mature faster and do better in the PNW than the sweeter varieties.
  • Eggplant is a relative of tomatoes and peppers and requires summer heat; however, they don't take up a lot of space.
  • Broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts grow well here but the leaves are prone to pest problems.  Broccoli and cabbage also need a lot of space.
  • Fennel can be difficult to get started, but grows easily once the shoots emerge—and it’s delicious!