Growing Food – FAQ
|Can you plant home grown garlic for the following year using cloves that you harvested from the previous year?||Home grown garlic cloves can be saved and planted the following year. Plant the garlic cloves same as you would garlic purchased from a commercial source. Separate the cloves and plant them 4-6" apart. Rows should be about one foot apart. The cloves should be planted with the pointed end up and the blunt end down. Plant each clove 1-2" into the ground. For more information, check out the WSU Fact Sheet Growing Garlic in Home Gardens.||Specific Vegetables|
|What kind of worms are used for composting?||Red wigglers, Eisenia fetida, are the best worms for composting in a worm bin. They are the same worms commonly sold for fishing, but they are not the same as an earthworm. You may find indigenous red wigglers in a compost pile. They can be purchased specialty garden stores or mail ordered. However, the best way to get them is to ask a friend with worms for dinner, and when they ask what they can bring….. More on worm composting here in OSU Garden Techniques Composting with Worms||Techniques|
|What kind of fertilizer should I use for my pumpkins and winter squash?||A fertilizer with less nitrogen (such as a 5-10-10) will stimulate blossoms and fruit development. Check out WSU’s Bulletin Soils and Fertilizer and OSU’s Fertilizer Guide.||Soils and Fertilizer|
|My basil plants are turning lighter green and looking droopy. What can I do?||Basil plants love heat (soil and air), but too much direct sun will sunburn the tender leaves. If it is early spring and they are in pots, you may want to bring them back inside until it gets warmer. The light green color may also indicate a lack of nitrogen. Adding fertilizer to the water once a week should perk them up. If they are planted in the ground, they could benefit from a row cover on cool nights and when the long sunny days of summer arrive.||Specific Vegetables|
|I have a half acre lot. I have some rocky areas, some deep soil, and some woods. I have created a number of raised beds. I am not sure how a soil test would help me.||Considering your soil variation, multiple soil tests may not be practical due to cost. In your case, it might be best to follow basic fertilizing practices for the plants that you are growing. See our Growing Food Library for more information on soils and fertilizer. If you are consistently having problems in one area of the yard, then you might want to do a soil test in that area.|
In Washington, there are two firms that provide soil testing for a reasonable price. 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.
|Soils and Fertilizer|
|Too much success! My carrots and beets came up very thickly. Do I need to thin them?||Thinning carrots is a two-step process. When the carrots are 2 inches tall (have the first two pairs of true leaves), use small scissors to cut off the tops of extra plants or be sure the soil is moist to minimize disturbing the roots of the carrots if you are saving the culls. Thin them again when the carrots are 4 inches tall (roots about ½ inch in diameter) to get the final spacing of 1-2 inches between plants in rows. Check out the WSU Fact Sheet Growing Carrots in Home Gardens for more information. |
For beets, begin thinning when seedlings are 4 to 5 inches tall. Like carrot thinning, cut rather than pull the beets out of soil to prevent disturbing neighboring plants. The trimmings can be eaten. They are delicious! Final spacing for beets should be 3-4 inches within rows.
|Is it possible to eat from the garden year-round?||Yes, there are a number of crops that winter over and can be harvested through to spring. Check out our Growing Food Library. You can find a copy of the “Ask a Master Gardener” article that ran in the Skagit Herald that addresses Winter Gardening. There is also a Pacific Northwest publication on Fall and Winter Gardening. The Library contains information on starting seeds indoors and when to harvest. The WSU Bulletin, Home Vegetable Gardening contains a great chart on when to plant seeds indoors and direct seed outdoors.||Techniques|
|How can one minimize plant transplant shock and what factors contribute to it?||Plants have small openings called stomata under their leaves and on the stems. They are open during the day so the plant can transpire (lose water) and closed at night so the plant can metabolize nutrients. When the plant is transplanted, it goes into shock and closes its stomata to avoid water loss. Prior to transplanting outdoors, make sure that you 'harden' off the transplants by gradually leaving them outside more hours each day. |
When you transplant, make sure the hole is at least as wide and deep as the seedling’s roots. Be careful to hold the seedling by its leaves (you don’t want to damage the stem) and gently center it into the hole. Tamp the soil around the transplanted seedling. After transplanting, water the plant in well but do not get water on the leaves because that forces the stomata to open again. Also, transplant in the afternoon or evening. A cloudy and windless day helps. If possible, provide shade for a few days to minimize transpiration and water loss.
|Since temperatures vary depending upon where you live, how do you determine the average last frost date in the spring and the earliest average frost date in the fall for your area?||For Washington state, check out the Skagit Gardening Weather page for Mount Vernon information, or go to the WSU Ag Weather Frost Data site and use the pull down menu to select a station or click on “Use map to select.” If you are from another state, contact your local county extension office.|
NOAA also has a US map of last freeze dates. There are also numerous sites on the web that allow you to type in your zip code and find out data for your area. One such example is Dave’s Garden where you can find average frost and freeze dates.
|Can you avoid tilling to maintain soil structure and still benefit from a cover crop?||Cover crops are generally planted in areas where an annual crop is eventually to be planted and harvested. Cover crops are not generally used where one is doing more permanent landscaping where you do not want to disturb the soil. |
Cover crops can be mowed or “rolled” rather than tilled. There’s great information on individual cover crops from Rodale Institute.
|Soils and Fertilizer|
|Will iceberg lettuce grow in our area?||Iceberg lettuce should grow fine in the Pacific Northwest. However, it is more challenging to grow than loose-leaf varieties. Head lettuce requires more room, and it is also sensitive to warm weather which can potentially cause misshapen heads. You may also want to consider that iceberg lettuce takes twice as long as loose-leaf varieties to grow.||Specific Vegetables|
|Does the home gardener need to worry about cross pollination of squash plants when planting several varieties?||Squash does readily cross pollinate. It won’t affect the squash that you are harvesting for the current year. Summer squash, pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash are all varieties of the same plant species. If you save seed to plant next year, the seeds would likely be a cross of different varieties from your and your neighbor’s gardens and would produce unexpected results. Read more about growing squash in the WSU Bulletin Growing Squash in Home Gardens.||Specific Vegetables|
|Do I need to continue fertilizing my tomato plants after they’re out of the pots and in the ground?||We have a whole webpage dedicated to growing tomatoes. Your plant’s fertilizer needs will vary depending on your soil and pH. You can find more information on soils and fertilizers in our Growing Food Library. If you have a large garden, you might want to invest in a soil test. Generally, tomatoes will need fertilizer throughout the growing season. The WSU Fact Sheet FS145E “Growing Tomatoes in Home Gardens” found under the Tomato Info page goes into detail on soil modification for tomatoes. One good practice is to resist providing too much nitrogen. Excess nitrogen stimulates leaf growth, decreasing fruit production. Use a slow-release fertilizer in arid regions, where frequent watering is necessary.||Specific Vegetables|
|How do I get rid of slugs and snails?||This is a topic that PNW gardeners can spend days discussing, and there are books written about these gastropods. Slugs are chewers, using their mouths, which in some species are equipped with up to 27,000 backward-pointing, replaceable teeth—a pretty scary vision. They can be up to 10 inches long. They are hermaphroditic having both male and female reproductive parts. They lay eggs in clutches of 3-50, and can lay as many as 500 eggs annually. They move on a ventral organ called a foot which secretes the slime which helps them move and protect them from sharp surfaces such as gravel.|
The most effective way to reduce your slug/snail problem is to reduce the population. The first thing to consider is whether you are inviting slugs to your garden. Are you offering them a nice home? Slugs like to hide during the day. Check under any boards, tarps, anything that is easy to lift up. Snails often hide on the inside walls of raised beds, shaded fences, etc. During the growing season, prevent leaves from touching the ground, and clean up the garden in the fall. Additionally, because slugs and snails feed mostly at night, you can go out in the late evening or early morning and pick them off your beds and plants. Wear gloves as slugs have been known to carry salmonella. It is unrealistic that you can keep up with the population of slugs by just patrolling your garden. You could go out almost every day of the year and hand pick diligently for several years and not make a dent in the population.
To significantly reduce populations, you will probably want to rely on several approaches to control slugs and snails:
Biological - Encourage predators such as birds, garter snakes, frogs, ducks, and predacious ground beetles. Avoid use of broad-spectrum insecticides which kill beneficial insects.
Cultural – Keep things dry. Water in the mornings. Don't plant what they love to eat (like hosta and iris). Clean up weeds and debris which may provide shelter. Cut tall weeds and grasses around the garden and clean up rocks, boards, and other shelters.
Mechanical - Beer traps can drown partying slugs. Barriers, such as copper tape or mesh placed around raised beds can deter slugs and snails for several weeks but are not always practical. Hand-pick and kill slugs when noticed.
Chemical - Iron phosphate products are the most common bait. Use according to label directions. Use chemical baits with caution, as pets can be poisoned. Iron phosphate-based baits are safer for pets!
Read more in an article written by a Master Gardener, Our Favorite Garden Pests
|Is it better to plant bush beans or pole beans?||Bush beans usually have a heavier yield over a shorter time period, which can be an advantage if you plan to can or otherwise preserve your beans. Once pole beans start producing, they will continue to produce into the fall. True to their name, pole beans do vertical support such as poles, stakes, or netting. Another consideration is there are many more varieties of bush beans compared to pole beans. Check out |
WSU Bulletin Growing Green Beans in Home Gardens and WSU Bulletin Growing Dry Beans in Home Gardens.
|How deep should the soil be in my raised bed?||If the raised bed is built upon hard pan soil, a depth of 15-18 inches is best. That depth allows the roots of plants to be totally growing in the raised bed soil. If the native soil is not hard pan, and the raised bed soil is mixed into the native soil, a lesser depth is satisfactory, but it should be at least 8 inches. Plants that have deeper root masses, such as tomatoes, grow better with at least 18 inches of workable soil for the root growth. Check out the Garden Construction section of the Growing Food Library for more details.||Garden Construction|
|What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?||Determinate varieties of tomatoes produce many short branches with flowers and fruit on the ends. They are usually early varieties and the fruit generally ripens at the same time. These smaller plants are ideal for patio pots and small greenhouses. Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce flowers and fruit all season. The vines can grow over 25 feet in optimal conditions and will need support from stakes or cages. In the PNW climate, indeterminate varieties need pruning to encourage the fruit to ripen. Otherwise you will be left with vines full of green tomatoes at the first frost. Semi-determinate plants are more compact than indeterminate, but keep producing until frost. Read more about growing tomatoes on our Tomato Info page.||Specific Vegetables|
|Which veggies should I plant as seeds versus starts?||It depends on your growing conditions, including temperature, sunlight, and weather. Most veggies can be started early in a greenhouse or a sheltered place and then planted as starts in the ground after your last freeze or frost. Make sure to account for the size of the seedlings and growth rate when starting them indoors. Squash and beans have large stout seedlings and will quickly outgrow a small container. |
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil are good examples of tender plants that grow well indoors and allow you to get ahead of our short growing season. Other good vegetables for starts include lettuce, beans, peas, and crucifers (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, arugula, Brussels sprouts, and collards). Of course, these veggies can all be started later by direct seeding as well. If you don't want to grow your own starts indoors, you can purchase starts. Just look for healthy green plants that aren't leggy. Make sure to select varieties that are suited for a short cooler growing season for the PNW. Some seeds are impractical to start in containers such as carrots. Other vegetables such as onions, garlic, and potatoes aren’t usually planted from seed at all but can still be started indoors.
When you start seeds, make sure to read the instructions in your seed catalog and on your seed packets for information specific to the variety. For more reading, start with our Grow Your Own Food page for the basics. Check out the WSU Extension Bulletin Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington which is a great all-around veggie gardening guide and includes the Planting Calendar. Propagating Plants from Seed is another good reference.
|I live in Washington state. How can I find out how to contact my county’s Master Gardeners?||Go to this WSU Master Gardener page and click on your county. It will provide information on your local Master Gardeners.||General|
|Why isn’t my zucchini producing fruits?||This may be caused by improper watering, poor soil, or invading insects like squash bugs. However, if your plant looks healthy, the issue may be lack of pollination. |
The cucurbit family, which includes squash, cantaloupe, watermelon and cucumbers, produces both male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers (which have longer straight stems) tend to open before the female flowers (which have a tiny fruit at their base). This can delay or deter pollination. You can pollinate the female flowers yourself, or just wait till there are both male and female flowers on the plant—as long as there are insects around to do their pollinating job.
|How do I become a WSU Skagit County Master Gardener?||Please go to the WSU Skagit County Extension website and learn more.||General|