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It’s hard to believe that it was just a matter of months ago (five, in fact) that I was so excited to start my first vegetable garden! Despite the recent lamentation over the end of summer, I’ll admit that the transition to fall has been more than welcome these last few days as the air chills and I begin to wear my slippers nearly every evening. This year I am not only eager to welcome fall because it is my favorite season (what other time can you wear scarfs and sunglasses at the same time out of necessity?!) but I am excited to seek redemption in starting a fall container garden. That’s right, despite the summer’s less-than-stellar performance (check out harvesting articles here and here), I’ve set my face towards trying to growing things in even “rougher” conditions.

Admittedly, my fall garden has been going for approximately two and a half weeks now as I started to clean out and sow new experiments plants over Labor Day weekend. Before any planting started, however, I was completely blessed by my work supervisor and given permission to take a longer-than-usual lunch hour to attend Seattle Tilth‘s Fall Container Veggie & Herb Gardening class on a sunny Wednesday. Her only requests upon granting me permission to go? That I make a copy of my notes for her and that I make up the time later… done and done!

The Class: Fall Container Veggie & Herb Gardening

There were more than a couple of reasons why I felt especially compelled to interrupt my typically blissful workweek to take the container class offered by Seattle Tilth:

  1. As you know, I garden in containers. As such, I’m always down for any class which addresses this method specifically.
  2. The class was free because it was underwritten by Seattle Parks and Recreation.
  3. Classes give me confidence which is always a plus!
  4. Based on my prior experience, I know that Seattle Tilth classes are really good.

My friend, Carrie, also gardens in containers (check out her garden below!) and works downtown. As such, it wasn’t hard to convince her to join me on her lunch hour. I’m so glad she came too since her savvy, downtown, Seattle navigating skills led us not only to parking but also to the class on time!

Carrie's container garden - Amazing, right?

The class was held at Jim Ellis Freeway Park which, as the name indicates, was really close to I-5!

Upon arriving at the park, Carrie and I followed the signs until we found ourselves at our one-of-a-kind classroom and settled ourselves among the other people dressed in their business clothes. From there, our instructor took us through a helpful handout which covered the basics of fall container gardening. Below, I’ve included a brief outline of the things that we learned and pictures of me putting them into action as I prepared my little (as in teensy-weensy) farm for a fall harvest!

The outdoor classroom in the sunny park was such a great way to learn something new and provide variety to the regular rhythm of life!

Of course, Carrie and I sat front and center.

Basics: Sun, Containers and Soil

In addition to introductions and a little pep talk regarding the benefits of gardening in the fall, our one hour class started with the basics:

  1. Sun – how to maximize it’s warm, um, sunniness during a season where it starts to fade away.
  2. Containers – a discussion regarding the appropriate size and materials.
  3. Soil – organic is best!

Since I’ve had a hand at gardening, I’ll admit that I spent a lot of time thinking of what I needed to do to my basics in order to transition my summer garden into an autumn variety! As such, my responses to the discussion of the basics were something like this:

  1. Sun! We’re running out of it! I should have started yesterday! Thankfully, the class took place during the last week of August, and, if you recall, the Pacific Northwest had a blissful first week of September. See?

    Sun!

    As such, I knew that doing some garden prep during Labor Day weekend was a sure-fire way to maximize my success!

  2. Containers! I’m so arrogant… I still have a major crush on the planter boxesthat my papa and I built!

    These still make me happy!

  3.  Soil! When I originally put my summer garden together, I had purchased Cedar Grove potting soilbecause it comes highly recommended. After such a “robust” growing season, however, I wondered if I could go ahead and use it again. This wonder led to a “good question” per our instructor. The answer? Yes, but I would probably need to add some more organic matter. Specifically, she recommended adding one part organic matter to three parts soil. This led me to chicken manure…

    When it comes to manure, a shovel, and, in my case, gloves were necessary equipment.

    Admittedly, I elected to go with chicken manure because it was more friendly to the Dave Ramsey envelope system than other compost.

    To keep this job as tidy as possible, I worked by dividing the box in half and digging a deep hole in the existing potting soil.

    I then poured in one part manure (totally eye-balled it)...

    ... and mixed it in. Done!

Getting the Timing Right

As I mentioned above, I was all about getting the timing right with starting my garden on the right foot (aka exposing it to as much sunshine as possible)! In addition to receiving a specific handout titled ‘Winter Gardening in September’, our instructor also shared a really neat resource: Territorial Seed Company‘s Planting Chart. This was a definitely a place where I felt all of the class’s attendants perked up and stretched to see what should be going into the ground containers sooner rather than later.

A direct link to Territorial Seed Company's Planting Chart is available above!

When it came to my planting, I relied on the class’s handout. So what will I be growing this fall (and also featuring on the Garden Cam)?

Free class? Hooray! Free seeds? I thought I died and went to heaven!

Since the handout not only gave recommendations based on seeds and starts, I decided to take one step further into the world of gardening and actually try some items from (drumroll, please!) SEEDS! This decision may have also been influenced by the fact that there were free seeds too…

The lucky winners? Swiss Chard and Turnips!

Based on my prior Seattle Tilth class, I planted both varieties according to the packet instructions.

Swiss chard seeds...

... are planted in rows, ~4 inches apart, ...

... and 2 inches deep.

Turnip seeds, however, are so tiny …

... that I elected to use the broadcast (or scattered) method.

I pulled out the unpatented "claw"...

... to push them ~1/4 of an inch into the soil.

Due to timing, I needed to hold off on preparing my second planter box for a fall harvest because it was still housing some very happy (and fruit producing ) eggplants and cucumbers. Consequently, I knew that the second box would be reserved for vegetables coming from starts. Hence, a trip to the Harvest Fair was in order, of course!

I went to the Harvest Fair hoping to pick up some fall starts. Before I hit the stalls, I hit the books to brush up on varieties which love Seattle's climate!

The Harvest Fair is a great place to pick up starts, produce, and goods!

After much deliberation, I decided to try out Arugula and Purple Sprouting Broccoli. The arugula should be ready by late fall/early winter whereas the broccoli will overwinter and be edible in the spring!

While I waited for the cucumbers and eggplant to finish up, the starts spent their time in a sunny window.

Finally, the time came to harvest the eggplant and cucumbers! The eggplant had grown an impressive root system.

The cumber? Not so much.

I prepped the second box with more organic matter just like I had done a couple of weeks earlier with box #1. As you can see, the garlic chives were left behind since they should continue growing in the fall.

To plant the starts, I dug a small hole and carefully removed the starts from the containers. Here's the arugula!

The arugula being planted as snug as a bug!

Digging small holes for the broccoli (which were actually very delicate)!

May I introduce you to the fall edition of box #2?

A Little Bit of This and That

Here are some other interesting things I learned at my class:

  • Slugs are the only fall gardening pests!
  • You should try to avoid fertilizing plants in the fall or winter. The idea is to keep overwintering plants small so when they’re hit with the early sunshine of spring, they’ll grow and grow and grow!
  • Some vegetables are actually better after the first frost because the plants produce sugar which acts like antifreeze!
  • You can grow garlic straight from cloves! Now, how cool is that?

Cloves should be planted now for a summer harvest!

With the starts and seeds in their containers, a new game of watching, waiting, and calling the Seattle Tilth Garden Hotline in a panic begins! While I’m excited to have the garden only a few steps away at the new homestead, I know that there is a new set of challenges (I literally ran a squirrel out of box #2 earlier today – I guess my maternal instinct makes me forget my fear of woodland creatures)! Still, I’m excited to see what happens and the prospect of enjoying the bounty of this fall garden over the next few months!

If you’d like to stay synched with the progression of my fall container garden, come back and check out the Fall Garden Cam which will be posted within the next few days!