Twenty years ago, my kitchen garden was a hayfield, part of the ten acres we bought in the middle of Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. Today it is a collection of vegetable, berry and fruit tree beds divided into sections by wide swaths of grass and narrower gravel paths. A Leyland cypress hedge encloses the 120 by 110 foot garden on the south and west sides. More hedge, a greenhouse and a garden shed continue the enclosure on the north side, and on the east side, rows of fruit trees separate the garden from the lawn and house.
Over the years, as the garden has become established, it’s done what I hoped it would: provided food in every season, grown more beautiful each year and become a place to welcome friends and family but also to cherish the solitary pleasures of gardening. The play of light and breezes in all seasons and weather, the texture and fragrance of healthy soil and plants, the year-round planting and nurturing of vegetables and fruit are all gifts of gardening in this temperate marine climate.
Garden in Spring
Lopez Island is designated USDA Hardiness zone 7B. Frosts end around mid-April and resume around mid-October though each year is a little different. We’ve had some winters with no snow and temperatures that barely dip below freezing while in other winters we’ve had brief stretches of as much as two feet of snow and temperatures in the low teens. In summers, the one thing we can count on is very little rain. We are in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountain range and yearly rainfall is twenty-six inches, most of it falling between November and May. In summers we can also hope for days when temperatures go above 70 degrees, but we don’t often get our wish.
What these moisture and temperature ranges mean for kitchen gardeners on Lopez Island is that we need to irrigate in the summer but also have cloches or greenhouses for heat-loving crops, and in winter we need be prepared with extra mulch and protective tarps for occasional freezes streaming down from Canada. The community of kitchen gardeners here is generous in sharing growing tips for our climate, recommending seed varieties, and, of course, exchanging recipes.
Lopez Island is also home to farmers who raise sheep, pigs, beef, goats, poultry and shellfish. We have the first-in-the-country mobile slaughter unit operated by the Islands Grown Farmers Cooperative (http://www.igfcmeats.com/1.html) making it possible for farmers to sell USDA inspected meat by the piece. There are several specialty and market gardens, CSAs, apple and berry farms, even a winery and, on neighboring San Juan Island, a cidery and a goat cheese dairy. To read more about all of these resources that complement the bounty of our kitchen gardens go to my Green Living columns.
Over the five years that I wrote the Islands’ Weekly Green Living column about Lopez Island farms and farmers, I occasionally used my kitchen garden as a topic. The pleasure of writing these personal columns has finally tempted me away from the monthly column and to this blog where I can write regularly about kitchen gardens, my own and the many others on Lopez Island. Join me as I explore blogging and the opportunities it offers for sharing ideas about kitchen gardens. And enjoy my husband Scott’s photographs of what we grow and eat.
P.S. 7/31/13 Read my post reflecting on two years of writing this blog.