Every spring the Joneses of West Seattle put on a planting party.
Like all successful food gardeners, Sylvia and John Jones of West Seattle recognize the importance of timing. They know exactly when to start seeds and transplant them; when to fertilize, cultivate, and water; and when to harvest crops at peak quality. Their routine involves a 12-month plan that they draw up in January.
One highlight of their gardening year is a planting party every April, when willing relatives and neighbors come over to help with tilling, planting, and a farm-style lunch. "Their incentive is the reward at harvest time,' Mrs. Jones says, "When the garden yields enough crunchy lettuce, succulent corn, ruby red tomatoes, blackberries for jam, and other crops we can share with them.' (The garden yields some 75 percent of the Joneses' food intake, with plenty to spare; much of the harvest is frozen, dried, preserved, or stored in bins in the garage.)
The Joneses' plot plan makes coordinating the party simple. If you plan your vegetable plot now, you can duplicate their planting party next month. In the Northwest, you can plant seedings of cool-season crops out then, but wait until May to plant out summer vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. Gardeners in warmer climates can plant out seeds of summer vegetables.
Before the party
On a diagram of the 26- by 50-foot garden, Mr. Jones decides which vegetables (and which varieties) will go where. In a logbook, he plans the year's gardening chores, month by month, including when to plant particular vegetables and herbs, when to spray, when to harvest.
The Joneses usually grow about 10 kinds of corn, 18 or so varieties of tomatoes, 6 to 8 kinds of onions, plus other favorite vegetables. Each year, they evaluate what they have grown for flavor, yield, vigor, and ability to grow in their climate. They eliminate varieties that don't measure up and try new varieties ordered from seed catalogs.
Seeds of cool-season crops are started in the greenhouse in February, timed to be ready for planting out in mid-April. A month before the party, Mr. Jones spreads 2 cubic yards of well-aged chicken manure over the plot.
Garden party day
"This day has become as much a tradition at our house as Thanksgiving and Christmas,' Sylvia Jones says. A dozen or so relatives and neighbors join in to help till the soil, stake out rows, and plant out seedlings. Plan and logbook in hand, John Jones oversees the chores; each worker has an assigned job.
Each 8-inch-deep furrow is sprinkled with 5-10-10 fertilizer. Mr. Jones and helpers cover the fertilizer with a generous layer of soil before planting to keep it away from tender seedling roots.
Once the ground is prepared and rows are marked off, seedlings of these crops are planted: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, garlic sets, lettuce, onions, and potatoes. These seeds are also planted: beets, carrots, dill, parsnips, and spinach. Space is reserved for warm-season crops that will go into the ground later.
Plants are tagged with labels that indicate varieties and days until harvest; most durable are the ones cut from white plastic bottles.
Work well underway, the Joneses and helpers pause to enjoy lunch in the garden; a table near the vegetable plot is set up buffet-style.
Photo: Master plan in hand, John Jones checks locations for this year's crop on garden party day while neighbor completes rotary-tilling
Photo: Seedings started in pressed peat pots are ready to plant. Among cool-season crops in garden cart are lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
Photo: Vegetable plot takes shape with help of willing workers. Here they're digging 8-inch-deep furrows for plants, marking out rows with string and stakes
Photo: Fertilizer gets scattered in furrows before planting
Photo: Tarpaper, cut into 6-inch squares with center holes, fits around stems of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower to help reduce infestation by cabbage root maggot. Plastic labels note variety and days to harvest
Photo: Buffet lunch is served near the garden. Blooming tree behind is a grafted cherry that produces "Bing', "Royal Ann', and black "Republican' cherries in late June