I have this friend, Kathleen, who always shows us up in early Spring with the most amazing beds filled with lettuce and other greens, long before others in our gardening group have much of anything to show.

To try to emulate her success I've changed some of my gardening techniques and I'm "going to school" on the information she's sharing about how she pulls this off year after year.

I'm now on year three of "no-till gardening," meaning that I am using cover crops and other techniques to keep my garden soil healthy and my beds weed-free.

This time around, I planted oats as a cover crop. The oats were planted at the end of last season's harvest and had time to grow about a foot high before the winter cold set in. When I purchased the oat seed, the catalog said they would winter kill, but I had no idea they would die out so thoroughly! All my previous cover crops survived the winter - some better than others - but as you can see in the photo, the oats did not.

Thought I would pick a bucket of tomatoes to can, and ended up picking three buckets! These will be canned to use as salsa or sauce over winter ... the pink tomatoes are "Mortgage Lifter" tomatoes. I'm not sure I will be planting those again - most likely not. The red tomatoes are "Legend" tomatoes, from Territorial Seed. There also are a few "Better Boy" tomatoes in there. I am happy with the Legend tomatoes but they do need more support than I provided this year. Cheap home-improvement box store wire tomato cages (the three-legged variety) won't adequately support them.

This is my latest project ... like I don't have enough of them all going along at the same time ... this will be a 12x16-foot garden shed - plenty big enough to hold all my gardening tools, greenhouse shelves, tillers, mowers, etc. This is the third building I've built on this property ... running out of space!

For the life of me, I can't imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else other than the beautiful Pacific Northwest ... (but I'm glad they do!). This is just one tiny area and you can see a beautiful hydrangea, a potted rhubarb, tomatoes, Burning Bush plants, a lilac and honeysuckle bushes.  And if I were to pan the camera to the left a bit, the pool. Life is good in paradise. :)

Yes, a stretch, I know ... but just a quickie shot of the corn rows and peppers in the crop circle garden ... and yes, the corn WILL be knee-high by July 4. That means so many wonderful things. You gardeners know what I mean. Oh yes, you do.

In the Pacific Northwest, the test for a good corn crop is generally "knee-high by the Fourth of July." If you can get that, you are likely to have a good harvest. I have seen this played out year after year to where it really is true - but the challenge always is getting your corn to knee-high by the Fourth. This year, due to the incredibly warm spring and summer, my corn is nearly thigh-high - topping three feet tall and growing visibly each day.

Each year, the town of Pateros, Washington, has a community yard sale, where most of the town participates. My wife and I drive out there from the Seattle area each year (appx. 500 miles, round trip) just to walk the streets and visit the sales and talk to the locals. We rarely buy much - it's more a social outing. This year, a gentleman was giving away these free 15-gallon water barrels. I snatched them up in an instant, knowing right away what I would do with them. Here, you see them on their sides, atop old hose carts I no longer use.

This has always been a favorite of mine. It's so easy to can. The only change I made is I substituted a bit of the green chili (I used fresh Anaheim) with chopped jalapeno: 5 1/2 cups of chopped tomatillos (25-30) 1 cup chopped green chili 1 cup chopped sweet onion 4 minced garlic cloves 2 tbs chopped cilantro 2 tbs cumin 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 cup white vinegar 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes 1 tbs lime juice Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat to a boil. Hot pack into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims, remove excess air. Process 15 minutes.

A close friend recently texted me: Jim, how can you tell when tomatillos are ripe? Well, there is really no right or wrong answer to that - it's a highly personal thing. That would be asking a group of people, How do you take your tea? You would likely get a lot of different answers. The tomatillos I see at the store (Albertsons) are so far gone that half of them are usually soft, squishy and moldy. But then again, Albertsons is not widely known to have the best produce - at least in my circle of friends.

Easy Social