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Updated: Dec 28, 2022

It's late winter in the PNW and time to get some garden seeds and get ready to sow some spring things! Sowing seeds directly into the garden into prepared soil is called direct seeding. Some crops do best when seeded directly into the garden, versus getting transplanted, including all root crops.

Prepare your garden beds:

  • Get a soil test! (check with your local conservation district - see resources below)

Why test your soil? If you are unsure what nutrients your soil needs - prior to adding nutrients that could run off and contaminate ground water and local streams

  • Cut cover crops at soil surface and chop into soil using a shovel. This may take repeating as roots may continue to grow.

  • Add 1/2" to 1" of fresh compost to surface

  • Let soil rest for a couple of weeks before seeding/transplanting in - time for the cover crop to decompose (aka green manure)

Chamomile - use fresh or dried as an herbal tea!

What to sow in early to mid March:
  • Peas - snap & snow varieties

  • Lettuces & salad greens (arugula)

  • Spinach

  • Bok choi

  • Onions (choose intermediate or long day varieties)

What to sow beginning mid March:
  • Potatoes* - get your seed potatoes and plan to plant around St Patrick's Day!

  • Kale

  • Herbs: Chamomile, Feverfew

What to sow early to mid April:
  • Carrots* (germination is best when soil temps are over 50 degrees)

  • Parsnip* (germination temps same as carrots)

  • Beets*

  • Radish*

  • Turnip*

*Direct seed only – typical of root crops that don’t like their roots disturbed.

Succession Planting: Staggering the timing of seeding a crop by at least a couple of weeks will allow for prolonged harvests of your favorite crops!

Crops that work well for succession plantings:

  • Lettuce (choose different varieties and colors)

  • Spinach

  • Bok choi

  • Radish

  • Cilantro (bolts quickly)

  • Carrots (at least two successions) - they hold in the soil during the colder months so not as important for over wintered crops

Transplanting out beginning in April (depending on average last frost date)

Check your average last frost date! These crops can soon be planted from hardened off starts:

  • Lettuces, greens (however it's best to direct seed these)

  • Cabbage family: kale, cabbage, broccoli

  • Swiss chard

  • Onions (starts or sets)

Season Extension: Use row cover fabric (link in resources below) to cover early season plantings and protect from light frosts, pests and critters.
Helpful Resources


Buy organic seed from local growers to ensure the plant varieties grow well here. Some of my favorites are: Territorial Seed Co, Adaptive Seeds, Uprising Seeds, and Strictly Medicinal.

Soil Testing:

Snohomish Conservation District: soil testing info and resources, for more urban gardening resources see Lawns to Lettuce

King Conservation District


Cedar Grove Organics (also available as bagged and bulk at Sky Nursery, Shoreline)

Row Cover Fabric:

Local nursery or online - can be loosely placed directly over plants and soil, hold down with rocks or soil at edges

Plant Enough to Share

Remember to always plant enough to share. Plan for some losses (twenty-five percent or so) due to pests, plant health, etc. and also plan to plant some to share with your neighbors or local food bank.

Please contact Marni with any questions or for more information about garden consulting or coaching.

Happy spring gardening!

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Updated: Aug 1

Soil testing will help you determine what nutrients your soil has so that you will know if you need to amend the soil (add fertilizer or nutrients).

When I first started gardening I had no idea what I was doing and could not make sense of all the information coming at me about fertilizing. I purchased some garden soil, added some fertilizer, and planted some things. The next year, things didn't grow so good. It wasn't until I got a soil test that I learned I had been adding unnecessary nutrients (ones that accumulate in soil) that could harm my plants and contribute to environmental pollution.

Soil testing is the only way to be sure you are only adding nutrients that your soil and plants need and will use. I suggest soil testing for new gardeners as a way to educate yourself about your soil and what it needs to grow the type of plants you want to grow.

Tip #1 - Contact your local conservation district

Many conservation districts offer FREE soil testing to residents. Most at least have soil testing resources and referrals to soil testing labs.

In King County: King Conservation District

In Snohomish County: Snohomish Conservation District

Tip #2 - Send in your soil samples

The soil lab will give you recommendations on your soil but you will have to do some research to see what applies to you. Most soil sample testing labs have detailed and complete instructions on how to take soil samples and send them in. They will then email you a copy of your soil analysis. Here are a couple that I have used and like.

In Puget Sound: Simply Soil Testing USA

University of Massachusetts Amherst

"A soil test is important for several reasons: to optimize crop production, to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers, to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems, to improve the nutritional balance of the growing media and to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed. " – UMASS Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.

Tip #3 - How to read a soil test report

So, now you've received your soil test report back and you're not sure what it all means? Here's a great handbook from Snohomish Conservation District that will take you through interpreting your results and figuring out what nutrients and how much to add, if needed.

I mainly look at the N-P-K and the pH. Nitrogen is generally the nutrient that will show as lacking. That is because nitrogen is highly water soluble, meaning it leaches out of your soil easily. We got a bit of rain here in the PNW so generally we need to supplement with nitrogen sources each spring.

Tip #4 - Feed the soil

Compost is a nutrient source (average N-P-K of compost is 2-2-1) and it's importance is not to be underestimated. However, it requires active soil organisms to break it down into the nutrients your plants need. Soil organisms are less active in cold soil and become active again as soil warms in the spring. Get your garden beds top dressed (1/2" or so) with compost in the late winter to get those soil buddies working on it and ready for spring planting!

Besides compost applications, I also use a balanced (low N-P-K, like 4-4-4), organic fertilizer when planting things like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and all brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower...). Putting a granular fertilizer in the planting hole or row gives the plants access to some fertilizer during the first month of growth. I supplement that with a liquid fish fertilizer (Alaska Fish Fertilizer or other that is mostly nitrogen, 5-1-1) that I dilute and use to water-in transplants and then apply weekly until the plants are established. Once established and growing I side dress the individual plants with more of the granular fertilizer (sprinkle fertilizer around the base of the plant and mix into the soil surface with your fingers).

Tip #5 - When to test for soil contaminates

If you are planting vegetable crops in soil that you are not sure the history of, or anytime you plan to grow an edible garden near an older home (think lead paint), it is important to test the soil for contaminates. Some contaminates can make their way into leafy vegetables and could cause issues if the contamination levels are high or for individuals who might be more susceptible.

This is another reason to contact your local agriculture extension or conservation district to find out if there are any known soil contaminate issues in your area. Some areas with a history of agriculture or industrial use have known issues with certain "persistent" chemicals. These chemicals are inorganic compounds that remain in the soil indefinitely. Arsenic is one issue in the Tacoma area due to a copper smelter. Read more.

It's ok to make mistakes!

Don't be too hard on yourself and try not to get overwhelmed with the details! Start small and simple and learn as you go. And then test your soil again.... And don't forget to have fun!

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Updated: Jan 17

"Lawns are the largest irrigated “crops” in the US – using over 70 billion gallons a day" - NY Times

Why grow grass when you can grow flavorful and front-yard-fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers... and your own culinary herbs and herbal medicine to feed and nourish your family? You will also be creating a healthy ecosystem for soil organisms, insects, birds and all sorts of critters to flourish and continue to balance the ecosystem as the years progress.

In this post you will learn how to quickly and easily turn your lawn into a productive edible garden or food forest in three easy steps!

1) Cover with cardboard

Cover lawn or weedy dirt patch with thick layer of overlapping cardboard (remove tape, no

wax boxes)

2) Add arborist chips

Cover cardboard with a generous (at least 12 inch) layer of arborist chips aka wood chips. It will be bouncy and seem like too much at first. As everything starts to decompose it will settle.

Arborist chip resources:

  • Contact your local arborists! In Lynnwood: NW Arbor Care, EcoTree NW

  • offers free or low cost chip delivery through various arborists.

3) Add compost

Push back the wood chips where you want your garden beds to go and mound compost (24 inches or more as it will settle and you want to give room for your veggie plants to grow roots) directly on top of cardboard.

Of course, you could always add raised beds at this point as well. If so, there is no need to move the wood chips aside, just put your raised beds directly on top of the chips and fill with soil. As you grow in the soil the woodchips below will be breaking down and helping to create a healthy native soil below the raised bed that will eventually accept and welcome deeper rooted things, like tomatoes.

Soil resources:

  • Here in Snohomish County we are lucky to have Cedar Grove composting our household organics. Go in with a neighbor to share a bulk quantity so you can reduce the cost of delivery. Or, rent or borrow a truck to pick up a yard.

  • Check out your local nursery or garden center. Sky Nursery in Shoreline bulk soils that can pick up ½ yard at a time (I find this useful when top dressing my beds each year).

  • Dirt Exchange has a nice vegetable garden mix that includes the infamous Oly Mountain Fish Compost.

You’re ready to grow your garden!

If you're new to gardening, start with easy crops like lettuces, spinach, and herbs. Many herbs are perennial and come back year after year, or keep their leaves and foliage all year long to create interest and year-round herbs. My favorite perennial herbs to grow in garden beds, or at the edges of the garden beds, are rosemary, thyme, sage, agastache, lovage, and fennel. These are edible, medicinal, and provide food for beneficial insects and birds.

Sheet mulched front yard turned productive garden and food forest. Espalier fruit trees on arbor create an edible fence.

When to sheet mulch

Now is always the best time to begin! However, I've found that fall is the absolute best time. Avoid the hottest part of summer as the cardboard will not break down as efficiently and will just smother the soil. Fall sheet mulching allows the rain to thoroughly soak the cardboard and gives the soil organisms a jump start on breaking it down and so they get to working on breaking down the wood chips.

You may be able to start planting bigger things (like fruit trees and shrubs) into the wood chipped areas as soon as spring, but it totally depends on your native or base soil. You can test it by pulling back the chips and digging a hole. Is the sod broken down completely? Does the soil look dark and crumbly and is it easy to dig? You can begin planting your annual veggies in the compost areas, or raised beds, immediately though!

If sheet mulching is done in late winter or early spring, by fall you should be ready to plant into the sheet mulched soil: fruiting shrubs and dwarf trees, or columnar apple trees for tight spaces. Planting in the fall when rains start again ensure the plants get time and plenty of water to develop sturdy root systems before the following summer drought - and plants are cheaper then too!

Important planting tips and reminders

  1. Keep the wood chips on top of the soil! Always move the woodchips back when digging a hole. You do not want the woodchips to get mixed into the planting hole as it can cause competition for soil nutrients.

  2. Never amend the soil in the planting hole. You want the new plant roots to spread out looking for nutrients and resources, if you put them in the hole the plant will not be encouraged to do that. You can top dress with compost (place on top of the native soil) around the base of the new plant and then cover that with chips to hold in moisture. Be careful to not crowd the stem or trunk of the plant with the compost or woodchips.

Questions? Need help getting started?

Email Marni with any questions or to get more information about a garden consultation to help you get started creating your garden or food forest!

Take a class with Marni and be sure to sign up for emails to be notified about upcoming urban farming classes.

I look forward to hearing how your sheet mulching and garden project is going and would love to see photos of your lawn to garden conversion to share with others and inspire more people to grow food instead of grass.

Together we grow!


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