Living in the Pacific Northwest where people can be comedically particular about where their food is sourced, and almost everyone seems to have a green-thumb, you may be struck with an urge to get down in the dirt and start cultivating away.

Unfortunately, that initial surge of motivation isn’t all you need to get your own lush, healthy plot of vegetables growing in your back yard. The first step is research.

It’s doubtful that I’m the only one who has searched for gardening tips or a comprehensive beginners guide online only to come up with the most intimidating, scientifically profound pieces of literature on gardening basics. I became overwhelmed with concepts including temperature, soil, tools to use, how the placement of certain plants is dependent on how much sun and water they need.

So in an attempt to help others, who, like myself, want to try their hand at growing delicious veggies in the backyard for the first time, I consulted an expert for advice. I sat down with Adria Sparhawk, the owner of Thicket on NE 23rd, to get answers to some basic gardening questions and hopefully gain a little bit of motivation. Sitting in her charming garden tucked away off of Alberta St, her easy going attitude and encouragement to just experiment was exactly the right place to begin. This is what I came away with.

The Basics

N&C: Let’s say you want to start a garden from scratch. What are some good first steps, supplies needed, and helpful resources?

Adria: So much of it depends on how big you want to go. If you want to build some raised beds the rebuilding center is a great place to go to buy some dimensional lumber or somethings to build some boxes out. There are some great places for bulk soil. Mt. Scott Fuel is a great one. Also, second hand stores are a good place to buy used pots if you want to do some container gardening.

What are some necessary tools you’ll want to start out with?

A shovel is pretty essential, especially if you’re moving a lot of dirt. There’s a tool called a hori-hori knife which is my favorite tool, and it’s an ancient Japanese design. It’s like a little sharp trowel, and I do 90% of my garden work with that tool. It’s got a jagged sawing blade on one side but you can move a lot of dirt with it. You can weed with it. It’s great for planting and then that edge is great for doing quick little cuts on thing. It’s a multi purpose tool. The other one that I really like is the Korean weeder, and it’s a design that’s been around for thousands of years and it’s a great little hoe for weeding out areas really fast and it’s ergonomic too. So I would say those three are my top 3.

Would you recommend that beginner-gardeners start veggies from seed or by transplanting starts from the local garden store?

Yeah, you know starting seeds can be a little tricky. Seedlings are delicate and they have specific needs. There are some that are way easier than others though. There are some things like peas and beans and radishes and lettuces that are just really, really easy. So those guys I would say just go in the ground. But things like tomatoes, squash, peppers – they’re just so much easier to buy a start. And you usually don’t need 30 of the same one. You only want maybe one kind of tomato.

As far as varietals go, what veggies would you recommend planting this week (mid-May)?

This week, right now, tomatoes. It’s go-time for tomatoes. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil. Those four. If you’re going to put something in put those in, right now.

What about next month (mid-June)?

Actually, even in June you can still do all of those things and there’s still time for all of those things to get ripe. Through the end of June. And into July and August. Then you can start planting things that you can plan to harvest in the fall.

What are some of the most reliable plants that people could start with?

The joke here, in the gardening world, is you don’t leave your windows open in the summer time or the room will fill with zucchini. They are the easiest thing in the world to grow. They are super prolific here and one plant will usually give you way more zucchini then you can eat all summer long.

What are some tips for positioning plants in the garden?

Again, you could kind of geek out with some companion planting. We could go into some basics about that. But I think the main consideration would be the height of plants and how much sun they’re going to get. So, figuring out the path of the sun across your garden. So put shorter things in the front and taller things in the back. As far as positioning goes, sunlight is an important element. The other thing though is water. Some plants are a little thirstier than others so it’s always nice if you group those things together so the watering requirements will be the same.

What are some tips for keeping healthy soil?

It is a really good idea to add some organic matter every spring or every fall. Either some manure or some compost. Ideally some compost from your own bin.

Do you have any gardening tips specifically for beginners?

I would say come into a gardening center and ask questions. People who work at garden centers love to chat about plants. So just ask questions. Chances are that you’ll get someone that would love to just walk you through it. And then I would just say experiment and have fun. It’s all a grand experiment. Some things thrive, some things don’t. Some things are in your control, some things are not. But just get in there. Get your hands in the dirt and you will learn.