- from Darien

As it has been for all of us, 2020 has been challenging for the volunteers of the Fall City Learning Garden.

Last year we had to move, as the house next door to the Masonic Hall was sold. We spent much of the summer & fall of 2019 moving soil and our bed edging closer to the Hall, where the Masonic Lodge invited us to continue gardening. A year ago we had only two 50 sq foot beds ready to plant, and one of them we filled with garlic! We also applied at that time for a King County Local Service Area community grant, to help us purchase new bed building supplies, soil, and tools.

This year, in February and early March, we started off hopeful that we would receive a grant award, and with new & long time volunteers that helped us set up a new composting area and start early seeds. We had plans for big public workshops to help us build our raised beds in a bed-building blitz!

Well, you know what happened in March. We had to cancel a workshop, and change plans. We were fortunate to receive a grant from King County, but for various reasons the funds were not released to us until October. Our wonderful steady volunteer team shifted gears, and we kept on, little by little. As agriculture is an essential business, even on a small scale, we were able to keep gardening. We adapted to mask wearing and social distancing, making sure we had clean gloves and tools for harvesting. Beds were built, one at a time, rainwater barrels and a new water system installed (thank you to the Fall City Masonic Lodge!), and seeds & transplants planted. As we had no planting space for the earliest peas and lettuce, a call went out for donations of large planters, and our community answered! Well, we ARE a “Learning” garden, as well as a “giving” garden. Here are a few of the lessons we learned this year:

◊ The first lesson learned was how much can be grown in the small space of a 12” container. Pole peas and early lettuce, multiple harvests! Another is how much can be grown in small growing beds. Most of our over 300 pounds of harvested produce, all donated, was grown on a little more than 200 square feet.

Some of the other lessons learned by our garden volunteers:

◊ The importance of mulch—it keeps soil moisture in, feeds the soil as it decays, and slows weed growth

◊ The benefits of cover crops, which contribute to soil health and fertility, and cycle soil nutrients

◊ Not everything that's not a vegetable is a weed, and even that some "weeds" can be beneficial flowers attracting beneficial insects, or contribute to soil health.

◊ How to start from seeds, how to transplant starts, and when to plant

◊ How much to water, and when to harvest

◊ Different ways to harvest lettuce for a prolonged harvest

◊ Which varieties worked better for our garden and methods. We tried many lettuce varieties, as well as tomato and cucumber varieties. (My favorite lettuce varieties this year: Kweik, Merlox Red Oak, Bronze Arrowhead, and Canasta. Cucumbers: Suyo long, and Northern Pickling.

◊ One of our volunteers says: “I'm always amazed at how much food can be grown, and donated to the local food banks, in what doesn't seem like a ton of space.” She has taken lessons learned here into her home garden!

Of course there are also the more painful lessons too:

◊ Late summer rains brought tomato late blight. We were fortunate to have some to harvest before it killed the plants.

◊ Another lesson that goes along with abundant harvest in a small space, is that some plants can get shaded out if planted too close to more vigorous growing larger plants. We lost our fall broccoli starts, and some of the later planted lettuce to vigorous cucumber and tomato plants.

◊ Lettuce, cilantro, and radishes should be planted weekly or nearly to have a continued supply. We didn't manage this! But one thing about a garden is that there is always next year to improve!

My most favorite lesson learned in the garden this year, is that gardening together with the other friendly volunteers, contributing in a very small way to a need in our community, is an absolute joy.

I invite any of you who would like to learn and help, come join us next season! Look for us on the calendar page of the "Fall City Neighbors."

To continue following the Learning Garden on social media, join our page on MeWe.com or sign in to you accont there. We will no longer post to the page on Facebook.