The ripe stuff: Northwest gardeners live for summer | Mike Stanley

Summer has arrived! Right on time, the day after July 4. This is what we live for as gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, and especially this year, we have a renewed belief that we will in fact get that ripe tomato, those pablano peppers, and the other summer vegetables that taste so good as they move from the garden to the dinner table.

Although the ripening of most of our summer crops is two to three weeks behind last year, they are beginning to catch up. Last year, I picked the first ripe tomato on July 10. This year it will be closer to Aug. 1.

As our summer gardens are in full swing, it is hard to realize that now is the time to be planting for our fall harvests. Most people believe that come the end of September, the gardening season is over. However, because of our relatively mild fall weather, with a little planning we can still be harvesting at Thanksgiving. The secret is starting the plants early enough so that they put on significant growth before the cold weather sets in.

I will plant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, turnips, peas and parsnips before Aug. 1. And by Aug. 15, I will add radishes and spinach. If you are tight for space in your garden with all the summer crops, start your cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in pots and transplant when some space becomes available. Tuck your carrots and beets in wherever you have an open square foot or two. You can grow 36 carrots in a single square foot!

Last year, I planted lettuce and spinach in the cold frames in September. When we were hit with the below freezing weather in December, I was anxious to see if they would survive. Survive they did, and I harvested greens in January.

Those of you who have been following my articles in this newspaper and have visited the Federal Way Senior Center Community Garden know that I have a passion for helping others be successful with their home gardens. We have many examples of growing techniques on display at the senior center garden. I am there most mornings answering questions as I work in the garden. Next spring, we will be offering gardening classes designed specifically for the home gardener.

If you have extra produce in your garden, please consider donating it to the local food banks. The senior center food pantry (4016 S. 352nd St.) will gladly accept donations. It is helpful if you can deliver to them between 8 and 10 a.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

One last item: The Federal Way Community Gardens Foundation will have a major fundraising event on Thursday, Aug. 26, at the garden. Save the date. It is going to be an evening of fine food, wine and other surprises.

Watch a video featuring the Federal Way Senior Center Community Garden:

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