Hands in the Dirt: MLT Gardening Tips for May 2021


We’re in for a rollercoaster of May weather this week, with rain, heat and maybe even lightning! I plan to nip outside between storms to tend my young plants.

Mother’s Day is the “all clear” to plant most things in our area. The 50°F low mark is the signal to transplant tomatoes and direct sow warm-season crops like beans, squash (including pumpkin and zucchini), cucumbers and corn. 2020 was generally a bad year for cucumbers, so I’m a bit leery of planting them so soon. Squash and cucumbers typically don’t like to have their roots disturbed but I am determined to have a bumper crop of cucumbers in 2021. I’m going to break all the rules and start a few cucumber seeds inside, with the remains of the seed packet on reserve to replant as necessary through June. Overkill? Maybe – but my refrigerator pickle dreams will come true in August.

If you are more into started plants than seeds, they’re starting to pop up for sale everywhere! In addition to the usual places like nurseries and hardware stores, grocery stores often have herb and vegetable starts sitting out front with the flowers, and farm stands like Country Farms Market and the Yakima Fruit Market have excellent selections. Ambitious young gardeners are even setting up roadside plant stands instead of the traditional lemonade stands!

One tip for buying started plants – they are often sown thicker than should be transplanted. You have two options. Number 1 is not for the faint hearted – get out the scissors and SNIP! Off with their heads. Number 2 requires a bit of a gentle touch, but many seedlings can be pulled apart and transplanted separately. Free plants! Some folks swear by this method and even search out the pots at the store with multiple seedlings.

It may not seem like it this week, but it might be time to start watering later this month. Seeds need to be consistently moist in order to germinate, and transplanted starts can show signs of water stress if we get a week without rain.

The MLT BOG Free Seed Library is still bursting at the seams with seeds to provide to local gardeners. If you are interested in free seeds, or know someone who may be, please get in contact with us about picking some up.

For the first time since 2019, we are hosting a work party! We will be gathering our donated started plants and having a planting party in mid-May. Watch our Facebook page for more details and the date and time.

About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden (BOG) is a volunteer-led effort to develop a community garden at Ballinger Park. The BOG, in partnership with MLT Recreation & Parks and the MLT Senior Center and funded by a grant from the MLT Community Foundation, is currently in “Phase 0” while larger construction activities (creek restoration and trail installation) are completed.  Phase 0 includes maintenance of the existing raised beds and a garden plot on the south side of the MLT Senior Center in Ballinger Park. Phase 1 will involve installation of a larger garden with plots available for community members to maintain.  Want to volunteer, or have an idea of what you want to see in the future garden? Please let us know.

To stay up to date on what is happening at the BOG, including what’s growing, work parties, and events, follow us on Facebook  or Instagram.

— By Robyn Rice

Robyn Rice grew up in Eastern Washington, pulling weeds and picking up rotten fruit as dreaded chores assigned by her Master Gardener father. Today, Robyn is a fisheries biologist for an environmental consulting firm, and has been gardening in the Seattle area since 2010. Her science background leads to endless research about the “correct” way to do things, but her enthusiasm and sense of adventure leads her to garden fearlessly because hey, what’s the worst that could happen?




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