Gearing Up to Grow Starts

To really make use of our short growing season using starts is a great way to go.  It’s easy to grow your own from seed.  This weekend I am going to get out my supplies and plant some Dino kale and collards to put under cloches mid-March.  Once those go in I will start squash and tomato seeds.  (I always want to start tomatoes earlier but unless you have a lot of room, good grow lights and patience to repot, these plants can get really leggy.)

I use two mini greenhouses that I fill with newspaper pots planted with seeds. While you can use dirt from the garden I usually use sterile potting soil to cut down on mold and other organisms that can kill off young seedlings. Once everything is planted I water it, put the plastic cover on top and mist as needed until the seeds begin to sprout. Once this happens I take off the cover and put them in a west facing window.

Here’s how to set up a Grow Light system as the light from the window is not really strong enough for good healthy plants. First I’ll need the following supplies:

– A T8 Florescent light fixture from the hardware store. T8’s are a good and less expensive option than T5’s. This fixture comes with a chain and power cord and costs about 18 dollars per fixture.

– One 6500 k, T8 bulb and one 4000‑5000 k, T8 bulb

– Power strip

– Light timer – find one that takes 15 watts and can be set to the time of day. The power strip plugs directly into the timer. The cost for the timer is about 15 dollars.

Once I get these supplies I will hang them from the top of the window on adjustable chains so I can keep the light about an inch above the level of the growing plants.

For more information on growing your own starts with a Grow Light system, click here.

Branch Borders

I just trimmed my redwood dogwoods to get basket making supplies and decided to use the larger branches to make a border for a flower and herb bed.

Bed without border.

Bed without border.


Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.

Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.


Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over.  Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don't pop out.

Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over. Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don’t pop out.


I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.

I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.




Time to Plant Onions!

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

Why grow onions when they are pretty cheap at the store?  Because they taste better!

There are many different shapes, sizes and even colors of onions and most can be pulled young as green onions.

I like to plant my onions when the crocuses are blooming; they are a cool season crop and do best when planted early.  You can grow onions from transplants, sets, or seeds. Transplants are seedlings started in the current growing season and sold in bunches,   sets are immature bulbs grown the previous year and are the easiest to plant, the earliest to harvest, and the least susceptible to diseases. Growing onions from seed offers a wide choice in cultivars but it’s hard to start seeds here as we have such a short growing season.  You will need to start your onion seedlings indoors.


Plant with the pointy side up.

If you are using sets then plant them two inches apart, 2-3 inches deep with the pointy side up.  I like to lay them out on the bed before planting as I lose track what I’ve planted where.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

There are short and long day onions.  Short day onions form bulbs when the days reach 10 to 12 hours long and are better for southern latitudes.  Long day cultivars need 13 to 16 hours and are the ones best suited for our area.

Once I have planted onions I cover them with Reemay less to provide heat than to protect them from the ravenous crows who view my yard as their private pantry.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

With well prepared soil no fertilizing should be needed.  If onions are in soil that has a lot of nitrogen then you will get great tops but small bulbs.  Onion do like to be watered regularly but are a good crop if you are going to be on short vacations this summer as they will tolerate some gaps in watering.

Harvest onions when the tops turn yellow.  Pull and hang in a dry place until thoroughly dry.  If you harvest them too early or don’t let them dry enough they will rot.  If well dried they will last 6 months to a year.  If you don’t eat them all before then!

Onions are in, peas are next!

Onions are in, peas are next!

Building a Raised Bed

I dashed out in between rainy days to prep the raised beds and found one in serious need of replacing. Happily building beds is pretty quick and easy.

The first step is a trip to the lumber store to get three 8 foot long by one foot high boards. I usually ask the staff to cut one of the boards in two; the first cut is free at most places.

You can use scrap wood but be sure it’s not painted or treated in any way. Scrap wood can save you money in the short term but it doesn’t last very long. To make this bed with new wood, hardware, screws and four bags of compost cost me about 70 dollars.

Next figure out where you want to put the bed.

flowers etc-31

Lay the boards out first.

Next get out your power screw driver and charge it up. This is one job that I can’t imagine doing without a power tool.


flowers etc-32

Decide how you’re going to join the boards together.

I have tried screwing one board into another and they come apart pretty quickly. Using this kind of fastener works well.

flowers etc-33

Line your boards up and screw them together. Having a friend help at this point makes it easier.

flowers etc-34

Finished bed all ready to fill and plant!

Once the bed is done wiggle it around to the place you want it to be then fill and plant. With help it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to put a bed together.


For seeds to grow there needs to be the right combination of light, soil temperature, nutrients and moisture.  Here in our cool Northwest climate one of the main things is waiting until the soil is really warm enough for germination to occur. Spring crops need soil temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s while summer crops need temperatures in the high 60’s.  You can raise the soil temperature some by using cloches or other methods to trap heat and warm the soil.

Seasons can vary year to year but a rough guide to use is planting by the holidays:

  • Peas by President’s Day
  • Potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, (this one is easy to remember)
  • Corn and beans by Mother’s Day
  • Tomatoes, squash and cucumbers by Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday.  (Ok, this one is a bit esoteric – it’s June 8th.)

To get more detailed planting information a great resource is Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide.

Tray Basket

Tray baskets are easy to make and useful for many things! Judy from Fishsticks basketery taught a great class at the 2018 Cattleman Expo.

Stripped willow

Green willow

Pre-bending the willow helps prevent cracking before making the base circle

Judy makes lovely baskets and is a great teacher

Judy making the initial hoop for the tray

Weave the cross pieces from the inside out

Finishing off the handle

Willow tray

More Baskets!

Here’s how to make another type of basket!



  • First cut slits in four of the spokes in the center of the spoke.
  • Next make a slant cut on the ends of the non-slitted spokes so it is sharp and pointed.
  • Slide the cut end spokes through the slits in the other spokes.

This basket has dogwood for spokes and reeds for weaving.


Next steps

  • Take a long reed, double it in half and loop it around four of the spokes.
  • Line the two ends of the reed up and put the reed on the left over the reed on the right and behind the four spokes.
  • Go around once then divide the spokes into sets of two and go around in a circle always putting the reed on the left over the right reed and behind the next set of two spokes.
  • Do this 3 or 4 times.
  • Next pull the spokes so they are one apart
  • Continue going around in the same fashion.
  • When you run out of reed you can either weave in an over under pattern with one length or double it and continue twisting as you did in the beginning.
Doing the sides.

Doing the sides.

  • When it’s time to bend the spokes use pliers and crimp the spoke lightly as each spot you want it to bend.
  • For the top loop each spoke behind the next one then trim the excess.
This basket has willow, dogwood and reeds.

This basket has weeping willow, dogwood and reeds.

I used some palm and seagrass for variety and texture.

I used some palm and seagrass for variety and texture.

Sides can be straight or flare out.

Sides can be straight or flare out.








Dogwood and Willow Baskets

It’s warming up, the weather is clearing and the basket making fever is coming!  Making baskets is pretty straight forward but you do need some patience and a more materials than you would expect.

To make a basket first make a good strong wreath out of the dogwood.  I often fasten one part with wire so the sticks will stay in place.  Once the basket gets going you can remove this wire.

This will form the top part of your basket.

This will form the top part of your basket.

Next cut three sticks of the same size and wire or tie them in place on one side of the wreath.  Carefully push these sticks down to form the downward shape of the basket and attach them to the other side as well.  This is the first part of your basket structure so bend and move them into the shape you want.  If you want to make a basket with a handle leave them long on the ends so they can be woven together.

Willow branches, clippers and wreath base.

Supllies include willow branches, clippers and wreath base.


Three central sticks attached to wreath with twine. The twine is removed once the basket is done.

Three central sticks attached to wreath with twine. The twine is removed once the basket is done.

Weave the willow sticks over and under the three main dogwood sticks and wrap them around the wreath to weave in again.  When you need to add in a new piece do it in the middle and not on the end.

farms and gardens 103

The leaves add color for a while but will dry and fall off eventually.

Alternate from side to side.

Alternate from side to side.

As you near the end you may need to just fill in the middle.  Once the basket is done adjust it while the sticks are flexible.

Ready to fill with eggs!

Ready to fill with eggs!

A weeping willow tree with perfect branches for baskets.

A weeping willow tree with perfect branches for baskets.

More on making baskets can be found in this earlier post.

Making Potato Baskets

Here’s another type of basket to make.

Below on the left are some willow branches I gathered.  You can also use red dogwood, birch or any other type of flexible twigs.  Using seagrass rope, grasses and other materials provides nice contrast.

Once you have gathered your materials the first step is twisting a wreath.  This particular one is made out of red and yellow dogwood.

Once you have made your wreath base you will lay three central sticks on the wreath and tie them on with crosses.  Next you begin weaving until the basket is the size you want.  A trick to prevent the materials from breaking or cracking is to keep them wet.  The joke about underwater basket weaving is not that far off from the perfect conditions.

Here are a couple examples made with various mixed materials.    For more detailed instructions please go here and good luck!

This basket is made with red dogwood, willow, reed and moss.

This one is seagrass, grapevine, birch, sweetgrass and reed.

Plum Crazy

So many plums!

So many plums!

With all the heat this summer the plums are ripening sooner than usual.  Yippee!

I never really understood the term “plum crazy” until this year’s banner harvest; I can’t stop picking when there is ripe, juicy fruit to be had and every possible space is covered with some plum related project.

“Are you nearly done?” asked my daughter somewhat plaintively through a fruit fly induced haze.  “Uh getting closer” I said as I stirred up a new batch of plum wine.  “So what are these projects?” you ask with trepidation.

Have you ever seen the part in Forest Gump where Bubba talks about everything you can do with shrimp?  Here’s the plum version:  “You can make plum torte, plum jam, plum sauce, frozen plums, dried plums, pickled plums, plums in brandy, plum sauce and this is only the beginning!”

Here is a lovely plum sauce made by putting plums face down on a cookie sheet covered with melted butter and a bit of sugar in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  When the skins easily come off it’s ready to go.

Caramelized plum sauce

To dry plums you can either quarter them or pit them, push them out flat and put them skin side down on a dehydrator tray.  It takes about 24 hours for them to try to the point they won’t mold.

Dried plums

Each year I make plum tortes with a recipe from the New York Times.  These tortes are super easy to make and freeze beautifully.

Easy and delicious

Easy and delicious

Here is the recipe for an absolutely wonderful blue plum conserve from my Mother’s 1946 version of the Joy of Cooking.  I use the Italian prune plums but Damson plums work equally well.  This recipe does have walnut meats and be aware that there is some concern about canning preserves made with nuts.  I have never had a problem but do want to let you know about this.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Here is the mixture before cooking.

Blue Plum Conserve


  • 2 oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 and a 1/4 pounds of raisins
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 5 pounds blue plums
  • 1/2 pound broken walnut meats


Peel and chop the thin rind from the oranges and lemon and put it in a large bowl.  Chop up the pulp from the citrus fruits and add this and any juice to the bowl.  Next add in the raisins and the sugar.  Pit, slice and add in the plums.  Mix well then place in a large pot and cook until thick.  Be careful to stir continuously or your mixture will burn.  Add in the walnut meats.  Cook ten more minutes then put into sterile jars.  You can then water bath can your preserve if you so desire.

Here’s the finished product.

Year before last when we had an insane amount of fruit I did a plum wine.  It actually turned out to be more of a brandy and while quite strong, we liked it.