Want to join your local P-Patch? Here are 5 tips to get started

Always wanted to start a garden, but don’t have the yard space at home to give it a try? The city’s P-Patch community gardening program is here to help.

What’s a P-Patch you ask? The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods manages 89 community gardens across the city, where neighbors come together to grow flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The program got started in 1973 when the city purchased a piece of farmland from the Picardo family (hence, the “p” in P-Patch).

P-Patch gardening is very popular in Seattle, so snagging a plot requires some serious patience. I waited at least three years for a plot at the Unpaving Paradise garden in Capitol Hill, but spots may be easier to come by in more sparsely populated neighborhoods. Here’s how to sign up for the wait list.

After you get a spot, the fun part starts. Here are five tips based on what I learned during my first couple gardening seasons:

1. Set aside time to prepare your plot.

In my mind, I envisioned a pristine, weed-free patch of fresh soil waiting for us at our local P-Patch. In reality, the previous gardener had left behind several plants that needed to be removed. Before you’re ready to plant, be sure to factor in at least a couple of hours to weed, turn the soil, and add organic matter.

2. Take advantage of others’ expertise.

The Internet has limitless information on vegetable gardening, but online research can be overwhelming if you’re just looking for simple tips on how to get started.

Talk to your neighbors. The collective expertise is one of the things that makes community gardening more rewarding than going it alone. The resident experts will be able to tip you off to everything from local pests to the specific sun patterns created by the buildings around your patch.

3. Start small.

Amid the excitement of getting started with your plot, it’s easy to grab more plant starts than you need or to overindulge in the variety of crops you plan to grow. Starting with four or five easy-to-grow crops will keep your workload manageable and help avoid overcrowding in your plot.

4. Timing is everything.

Before you start planting, you’ll want to think carefully about what type of weather will be most conducive to which crops, and how long you’ll need for each one to mature. For example, if your kale is going to be over and done by mid-June, you might want to think about another quick-yielding crop to take its place.

There was plenty of trial-and-error my first season herb starts that were put in the ground too early, and carrot seeds that I planted too late. So long as you have a few reliable crops, you can learn from your mistakes while still enjoying your successes.

5. Don’t give up too easily.

A round of intense spring heat fried my arugula starts at the start of my first season. After removing the dead leaves, I wrote them off as a lost cause and started thinking about something else to plant in their place. But several weeks later, when I went to weed out that portion of the plot for re-planting, I noticed a “weed” that I pulled up was smelling peppery the arugula had sprouted again!

Lesson learned: Plants are resilient. Give them ample time to recover from disease, weather or pests. And if you’re ready to move on, be sure to pull up all the roots before planting something else.

Bonus tip: The P-Patch Community Gardening Program offers several introduction to gardening classes each spring through Seattle Tilth. The classes are open to the public and free for P-Patch gardeners.

By Caitlin Moran
Caitlin writes newsletters and stories for The Evergrey. She's worked as a journalist in and around Seattle since 2010 and is a proud resident of Capitol Hill's Summit Slope neighborhood.