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Master Gardeners’ Hints for Growing Vegetables

By Master Gardeners: Jessica Klein DiStefano & Linda Jean Shepherd

Nature has its own timing: Gardening puts us in touch with the seasons. To succeed, we must plant and harvest each vegetable in its own timing. Planting has a calendar. Tomatoes can’t be planted in April (even if the nurseries sell them) and, maybe even not May, depending on weather and elevation. Peas seeds are best planted before May, or transplants after mid-May—they don’t germinate or grow well when temperatures get above 75°. There are many planting calendars available. Washington State University Extension Master Gardener Fact sheet #8 Starting Crops Indoors-Outdoors and  Seattle Tilth’s Maritime NW Garden Guide are great resources.

WSU Fact Sheets referenced in this handout are at  or

Getting Started:

Locating your garden: 6 hours of sun and access to water.

Fact Sheet #1 Choosing a Garden Site and Deciding When to Start

FS115E Growing Food on Parking Strips and in Front Yard Gardens

FS075E Raised Beds, Deciding If They Benefit Your Vegetable Garden

Fact Sheet #6 Soil Testing and Soil Improvement

FS123E Organic Soil Amendments in Yards & Gardens: How Much is Enough?

Fact Sheet #39 Container Vegetable Gardens

Take notes & planning: allow proper space for maturing and late season crops, reference for variety selection.

Fact Sheet #20 Vegetable Garden Evaluation and Planning Ahead

Crop rotation: Unique to veggie gardening. Veggies are incredibly heavy feeders and different families remove different nutrients. Rotation replenishes soil and helps prevent pest infestations. A simple 4-year crop rotation schedule is “leaf, fruit, roots, and legumes.”

Basic Definitions:

  1. Heirloom: Seeds are open-pollinated, meaning they rely on natural pollination from insects or the wind. Generally,heirloom plants are grown on a small scale using traditional techniques, and are raised from seed lines that are at least 50 years old.

  2. Open-Pollinated: Plants are stable and reliably reproduce (from seed) similar plants the following year providing that cross-pollination with a different variety does not occur.

  3. F-1 Hybrids: Created by careful cross-pollination of two different varieties, each possessing desirable characteristics. (NOT GENETICALLY MODIFIED).

  4. Organic: Organic food (seeds and vegetables) is produced in a way that complies with  standards set by national governments and international organizations.

  5. GMO (Genetically Modified Organism): Genetically engineered foods are created by adding foreign genetic material (DNA) to a plant or animal in combinations that cannot occur in nature. These plants or animals sometimes are called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Virtually all genetically engineered seeds and crops are designed to tolerate — or produce — pesticides. There are no genetically engineered foods on the market providing improved flavor or nutrition. Essentially all genetically engineered seeds on the market today contain foreign viral or antibiotic DNA, and often both.

Variety Selection: Select varieties with a shorter “date to maturity.” Anything over 70 days may not produce mature plants with ripe fruit.

  1. Large variety tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra and corn do not grow well in our climate! We do not have long enough, hot enough summers!

  2. Melons never grow to maturity here! They take up a TON of space and give nothing. SAVE yourself the heartache, and plant something else!

Fact Sheet #17 Saving Seeds from Heirloom and Other Vegetables

EM057E Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington

Fact Sheet #2 Deciding What to Plant in Your Garden

Fact Sheet #32 Vegetable Cultivars for Western WA

Seeds vs Starts: There are benefits and drawbacks to both seeds and plant starts.

  1. Seeds: (pros) more options & variety, less expensive. You can witness the magic of growing. (cons) Pests and vulnerability to disease and water damage are higher.  Need to be watered every day. Require thinning (CRITICAL). When seeds are started inside, hardening off is a timely process.

  2. Starts:  (pros) easier for beginning gardeners, no thinning, easier to space, avoid most sensitive time in new plant lifecycle, will give a jump starts on the season (especially tomatoes). (cons) less variety selection (sometimes unknown), more expensive

  3. MUST USE SEEDS: radishes, carrots, parsnips

  4. EASY SEEDS: peas, beans, squash

Fact Sheet #8 Starting Crops Outdoors-Indoors

Fact Sheet #9 Seed Starting and Spacing

Cool season, spring, summer & fall planting:

Cool (Feb-April): peas, radish, spinach, onions & lettuce


  2. Spring (April-May 15): lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, mustard, cabbage, potatoes


  4. Summer (late May-June): tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, cucumber, beans, corn and basil

Fact Sheet #16 Summer-Planted Crops

Fall/Winter (Sept-Oct): garlic, kale, lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts

Fact Sheet #18 Over-Wintered Crops

FS162 Growing Garlic in Home Gardens

Fact Sheet #41 Fall & Winter Vegetable Gardening

Problem Solving: What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? (See Useful Resources, last page)

Watering Your Garden:

  1. Seeds need consistent soil moisture: Drip irrigation is not sufficient for seeds.

  2. Irrigation options (in order of preference):

  3. Drip irrigation or Soaker Hose: PLANT CLOSE TO IRRIGATION STRIP, not midway between two strips. Both can be used with a timer.

  4. Hand watering: Water low. DO NOT GET LEAVES WET, promotes mildew.

  5. Sprinklers: Not recommended for uneven watering and getting leaves wet.

  6. Measuring your water: A vegetable garden needs between 1-2 inches of deep watering a week (NOT 20 seconds every day!). Place a tuna can under a hose emitter or in an exposed area next to a plant to gauge weekly water quantity.

  7. THE FINGER TEST: If the soil looks dry, stick your finger in the soil. Once you remove your finger from the soil look for moisture. If you finger is wet at the fingertip, the roots have sufficient water. If your fingertip is dry, water your garden.

EB1090 Watering Home Gardens and Landscape Plants

FS030E Drip Irrigation for the Yard & Garden

Light, Heat & Soil:

  1. 6 hrs of light

  2. Adequate heat for plant type (refer to seed pack, reference book, or internet)

  3. Soil composition and depth: Veggies, especially root crops, need loose soil, NOT glacial till or compacted clay. A six-inch carrot will not grow in soil that is two inches deep. Veggie garden soil mix and compost are very easily purchased in garden centers all over the state.

Organic Pest Control:

  1. Slugs: Hand picking offending slug, iron phosphate (such as Sluggo, Escar-Go! and Worry Free), copper strips on raised beds, container gardening (gets plants off ground).

  2. Aphids: Hand pick & squish, blast with a hard stream of water, for extra heavy infestations REMOVE PLANT, bag and throw in the trash.

  3. Flea Beetles: Tiny, jumpy, black, shiny pests that affect tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and beans in the spring. They make pin head sized holes all over the leaves of affected plants. Solutions include row covers, hand picking, insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil. A note about flea beetles: they do not affect the fruit, just the appearance of the leaves.

  4. Moles & Voles: ¼-inch hardware cloth under raised beds

** Row covers can help deter many pests including: aphids, white flies, cabbage worms, cutworms, flea beetles and slugs

EM009E Pest Control in Home Vegetable Gardens

Fact Sheet #13 Organic Pest Control in the Vegetable Garden

Fact Sheet #19 Row Covers for Vegetable Gardens

FS089E How to Install a Floating Row Cover

FS094E Vole Management in Home Backyards & Gardens


  1. Powdery Mildew: WATER ROOTS NOT LEAVES. Give plants adequate spacing. Remove heavily mildewed portions of plants (leaves). Most often affects plants include squash family, peas and kale.

  2. Blight: A fungus that turns plants black and slimy usually near the end of the growing season. First signs are brown splotches on stems and leaves. Blight affects only tomatoes and potatoes (the cause of the Irish Potato Famine). There is no solution, bag and put plant(s) in the garbage.


  1. Variety selection: NO BEEFSTEAKS! Our summers are just not long enough or hot enough. I know, they are sold in the garden centers and nurseries, but they are interested in selling plants, NOT you harvesting tomatoes. SELECT SMALL ULTRA EARLY VARIETIES (like Stupice or cherry types) and/or varieties with short days to maturity (70 days or less).

  2. When to plant: Do not put tomatoes outside before May 15th.  Soil temperature needs to be 50 degrees or above; do not grow below 50°. For higher elevations, wait until June 1st.

  3. Getting your fruit to ripen: Blossoms will not have sufficient time to set fruit after mid-August. At this point aggressively cut blossoms and small fruit from plants to encourage fruit that has already set to ripen. Remove 2/3 of foliage (especially leaves blocking air or light to fruit) to encourage ripening and discourage “green” plant growth and Blight.

  4. Avoid Blight: Water only at base, stake the plant off the ground, keep the plant dry. Plants can be grown under clear plastic shelters (open sides or ventilation required).

  5. Tip: For much healthier and vigorous plants, plant in an extra deep hole or trench (up to 6” deep), leaving 2”-3” of stem below the top leaves. Tomatoes grow roots from their stems.

FS145E Growing Tomatoes in Home Gardens

Harvesting & Enjoying the Rewards:  ** REMEMBER TO HARVEST

Maximizing harvest:

  1. Keep beans, peas and summer squash (zucchini) well harvested (picked) to encourage plants to make more fruit.

  2. Once you have removed the main head of broccoli, the remaining plant will sprout side heads that are smaller in size but equally delicious to the larger head. Side shoots can be harvested through the fall and sometimes into spring.

  3. Do not cut an entire head of lettuce. Remove the larger outer leaves of lettuce from several plants leaving behind center leaves to continue growing.

When to harvest/ All veggies expire:

  1. Root crops like beets, radishes and turnips need to be harvested on or around their date of maturity (see packaging) or they get “woody.”

  2. Peas and beans should be harvested often. The more you harvest, the more the plant will produce.

  3. Broccoli and cauliflower should be harvested when the tiny flowers are pin to match-head sized. If you do not pick on time, the flowers begin to separate and turn to yellow blossoms. HOME GROWN BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER HEADS ARE USUALLY SMALLER THEN GROCERY STORE SIZE. Leaves, stems & flowers are edible.

  4. Summer squash is best when small. Edible when huge, but tends to be more pithy and seedy.

  5. Lettuce, spinach, mustard, cilantro, and some oriental greens will rapidly grow tall and produce a flower head at the top at the end of their growth cycle. At this point, leaves often become bitter and less palatable. Plants should be removed and composted at this point.

  6. Kale, Swiss chard, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are biennial crops. In many cases they will over-winter and give a nice spring harvest before “bolting” and expiring.

Fact Sheet #26 Harvesting Fruits and Vegetables

Useful Resources:

Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington—online WSU Extension publication that can be downloaded:

WSU Master Gardener Fact Sheets can be downloaded at

Home Gardener’s Guide to Soils and Fertilizers, go to and search for EM063E.

Territorial Seed Company catalog:

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon

What’s Wrong with my Vegetable Garden by David Deardorff & Kathryn Wadsworth

Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Crops at Home by Colin McCrate & Brad Halm

For More Information Come to Master Gardener Clinics on Saturdays during growing season at Issaquah Farmers’ Market and Squak Mountain Nursery.


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