Arts and Entertainment

Grow your own

A rutabaga ripens in Jim Moravec’s backyard. - Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo
A rutabaga ripens in Jim Moravec’s backyard.
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/Staff Photo

This time of year, all eyes typically turn to the garden.

What one may not see, however, when looking at a plot of re-surging perennials and empty weathered soil — or perhaps a garden-less patch waiting to be realized — in their own backyard, is the potential a Western Washington garden holds not only as a hobby, but also as a food source.

Bremerton Urban Garden Society member Jim Moravec and partner Carol Lee have harnessed that potential of their backyard in Manette and said they haven’t been to the grocery store for produce in years.

Similar stories persist throughout Kitsap.

With that thought in mind, BUGS is hosting a four-session Grow Your Own Food lecture series at the Sylvan Way Kitsap Regional Library this spring. Laura Pittman-Hewitt, proprietor of South Kitsap’s Ambergardens, and Kitsap County Dahlia Society member Kim Schleis got things started as Pittman-Hewitt discussed garden planning and soil preparation Feb. 12, and Schleis presented a program on seed starting March 3.

Next up, certified landscaping technician, rabid fruit grower and horticulture educator Joe Machcinski will give the ins and outs of growing fruit in your backyard April 7 while newspaper gardening columnist Chris Smith talks nutritious and productive vegetables of the Puget Sound region May 5.

Each presentation will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Sylvan Way Library, 1301 Sylvan Way in Bremerton.

The series is free to the public, while lessons learned could be invaluable.

THE CLIMATE OF ALL CLIMATES

Western Washington’s cool and wet temperate climate is great for growing just about anything. Herbs to berries, lettuce to apples, cucumber to tomatoes, not to mention an entire host of exotic and indigenous decorative flowers and other ornamental plants.

Renowned Seattle-based horticulturist and TV and radio personality Ciscoe Morris noted Western Washington as “the best climate for growing things out of almost anywhere in the world.”

It’s a place where you can put any type of seed in the garden and nine out of 10 times it’ll grow. With a little planning and a variety of planting, that growth can mean fresh produce for your family.

It all starts at the ground level.

“Take care of the soil first, before the plants,” Moravec said, showing me through his sprawling garden in urban Manette. “There’s really thousands of degrees of soil ... and there’s certain qualities of each that you have to be familiar with.”

As always with gardening, there’s a certain element of experimentation involved in finding out what grows best in which type of soil. Clay soils are rich in nutrients but harder to drain, sandy soils drain better with less nutrients, while top soils bought from local providers can offer a nice garden-ready hybrid. But no matter what type of dirt, there are a few basic soil-care and planning techniques that will help keep beds rich.

First off, compost.

It’s a nasty proposition when it comes down to it, but a healthy batch of compost is key to enriching soil with nutrients in an environmentally friendly way.

Secondly, cover crop.

There’s an array of various types of annual, bi-annual and perennial cover crops which help manage the nutrients in soil as they are grown and tilled into unused portions of the garden bed before reaching full maturity. Best practice is to plant the cover crops in the fall, then till in spring before planting whatever fruits and vegetables you prefer.

Each year, you’ll want to rotate which portion of the garden is used for cover crop.

Which leads to the third basic technique of soil care — crop rotation. Rotating crops will help keep disease and pests drawn to a specific plant confused, Moravec noted.

THE FRUITS OF LABOR

Once soil beds are in place and prepared, the lion’s share of the work is complete.

Next comes planting, which entails mapping with bit of foresight in regard to what the end result of the garden will be.

For example, raspberries, which grow in wild-stretching stalks, will need some sort of bracing system in place to keep them under control. Whereas lettuce heads and root vegetables grow fairly close to the ground, requiring few to no constraints.

Fruit trees are one of the bigger garden entities to plan for. But not as big as one may think, according to Machcinski, who will be leading the next presentation of the BUGS Grow Your Own series April 7.

“People get intimidated by apple trees because they think they need this big property,” Machcinski said. “But you can actually do just about anything just with proper pruning techniques.”

His backyard garden in Port Orchard, sitting on less than an acre, is home to about a dozen apple trees, five plum trees, pears, grapes and more, providing a solid crop of fresh homegrown fruit each fall.

Though different people have different reasons for getting out into the dirt, from global consciousness to tradition and hobby, the allure of hand-picking and enjoying one’s own apple or peach or collecting greens for a fresh-from-the-garden salad is what makes it all worthwhile for Machcinski and Moravec.

Whether it’s more cost-effective to grow their own or purchase from the grocery store, that’s not really a thought in their mind.

GROW YOUR OWN FOOD with the Bremerton Urban Garden Society — featuring certified landscape technician and horticulture educator Joe Machcinski discussing growing fruit in your own backyard at 6:30 p.m. April 7 at the Sylvan Way branch of the Kitsap Regional Library, 1301 Sylvan Way in Bremerton. At the same time May 5, gardener/newspaper columnist Chris Smith will discuss nutritious and productive vegetables of the Puget Sound region.

For more info on the series: Call Jim at (360) 405-6423 or e-mail jim@bugskitsap.org.

For more info on BUGS: Visit www.bugskitsap.org.

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