Many of us enjoy growing our own vegetables, Fruits, flowers, and herbs. By using the right gardening techniques, we can produce plants we can be proud of while preserving the soil and its fertility, enhancing the absorption of rainfall, and protecting local streams from sediments and chemicals.

To get the most out of your garden, it is important to pick the right spot for planting. Choose a sunny location with good natural drainage. Plant your garden on a fairly level site. Whenever possible, avoid sloping areas and drainage channels which let topsoil wash away during heavy rains.

If your garden is on a slope, use the same techniques that farmers use on hilly fields. Terrace the site or plant across the slope, not up and down the hill. Each terrace or row helps keep soil and plants from washing down hill. On long slopes, it’s a good idea to leave strips of groundcover or grass that also run perpendicular to the slope. The groundcover or grass slows the flow of runoff, allowing it to soak into the soil. Make your strips wide enough to allow easy access to your plants and vegetables.

Very steep slopes require special considerations. On such sites, it is important to maintain a permanent vegetative cover to minimize soil erosion. On longer slopes, the hillsides can be terraced by building retaining walls which can provide garden strips on the level areas. For more information, contact your county WSU Cooperative Extension agent.

Mulch is a protective covering of compost, straw, grass clippings, or leaves placed around plants. Mulching can add nutrients, make the soil more workable, aid rainwater penetration, help control weeds, and improve the moisture retaining capacity of the soil near roots.

Mulch also minimizes bare, unexposed soil in your garden. Unprotected ground loses nutrients and needed topsoil much more quickly than mulched or planted soil. Bare soil places added stress on nearby plants by expanding temperature extremes and reducing available soil moisture. You can also help minimize the loss of bare soil to erosion by closer plantings of different but compatible, plant species to make the most out of your working garden area.

Winter cover crops are highly recommended for vegetable plots. A cover crop holds the soil during the winter and adds organic matter to the soil when it is turned under the following spring. Rye, barley, and wheat are suitable for fall planting at the rate of two to three pounds per 1,000 square feet of ground.

Compost is a dark, crumbly and earthy-smelling form of decomposing organic matter. Perfect for mulch, compost enriches soil and improves plant growth. Composting is a practical way to transform yard wastes into a resource.

Leaves, cuttings and other yard wastes contribute some 20-25% of throw-aways. Throwing yard wastes over the bank into streams and lakes, piling them on the beach below the high tide line for removal by tidal action, or burning are not acceptable solutions for disposal. The process of breaking down plant materials competes with marine animals for the limited oxygen dissolved in our waters. Some plant materials contain chemical components that can alter balance in the marine environment. These unsightly wastes can create obstructions and dangers to boats, divers, and swimmers, and most often end up on your neighbor’s beach. Finally, it is illegal! Regulations forbid dumping anything into the Sound or any other body of water.

With many landfills reaching capacity, composting lawn and garden wastes makes even more sense. Composting is also the answer for the 5 – 9% of your garbage represented by foodwastes other than meat, bones, and fatty foods.

A compost pile is really a teeming microbial farm breaking down anything left over from your gardening activities. Great joy can be had from a properly working compost pile which produces wonderful soil conditioner from garden waste. In Seattle, call 684-7666 for information and to receive a no-cost compost bin for your household. The King County Solid Waste Division can provide plans for all descriptions of composting bins by calling 296-6542. Local representatives of Master Gardeners, the Department of Ecology at
1-800- 822-9933, and the Washington Energy Extension Service at
1-800-962-9731 can also provide composting information.

Add yard wastes to bin as they are generated. With no effort besides occasional watering, compost will be ready in 6 months to 2 years. Covering with heavy fabric to keep the heat and moisture in and occasional turning decreases the time considerably.

Pest Management