As the local, seasonal and organic food movement continues to grow in the Bay Area and worldwide, the Filoli historic estate in Woodside is digging into the site's history and horticulture to share a long-time love for vegetable growing. Since Filoli became a public garden in 1975, the historic Vegetable Garden has remained a hidden sliver of the garden. Concealed by a large hedge on the east side of the rose garden, the space had been quietly cared for by staff as a cooperative vegetable garden. Following a significant renovation funded by private donations and funding from C. Preston Butcher in honor of Carolyn Fulgham Butcher, Filoli's Vegetable Garden reopened in summer 2022 and is now a year-round celebration of abundance for all to enjoy. This column is intended to help garden enthusiasts plant and grow vegetables in their own backyards that are as bountiful as those at Filoli.
While eating your own home-grown vegetables can be the ultimate luxury, you don't need an estate or a fortune to produce them in your yard.
Behold the power of the seed! Sowing seeds directly into the soil can be a low-cost and effective way to grow abundant flowers and veggies in your garden.
Some crops even prefer to be started from seed in the ground and do not do well when transplanted from pots. Here are some direct sowing tips from Filoli's horticulturists for best results:
Choose your seed
Many crops can be grown directly from seed in the garden, but some are better suited than others.
There are many crops that can be sown in early spring and summer. Root crops such as carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips and radishes are best grown by direct sowing. Peas, beans, corn and winter squash also are good candidates for direct sowing with large easy-to-handle seeds.
Some of the best greens for the direct sow method are arugula, mustard greens, bok choy and broccoli raab. Bachelor's buttons and Love-in-a-mist are easy to sow flowers to brighten your patch and charm you in arrangements.
Prepare the soil for seeding
Delicate spouting seeds will struggle to compete if aggressive weeds are present. Weed your sunny planting area thoroughly, and try to remove weed roots.
Then amend the soil by spreading a few inches of compost over the planting area and mixing it into the soil.
As you loosen the soil, how deep you need to go will depend on how hard the soil is and what crop you are planting.
If your soil is very compacted or you are planting a root vegetable like carrots or turnips, fork the soil to at least 12 inches. This is also a good time to add an organic, slow-release fertilizer, following the rate indicated on the label.
Plant your seeds
Create a very shallow furrow to mark where you will sow your seeds. Before you sow the seeds, moisten the soil in the furrow. If you have a drip irrigation system set up, pin the irrigation tubing into place along the furrow and run the system for a few minutes — then use the wetted spots as markers for where to sow the seed. Read the information on your seed packet closely to learn how deep to plant your seeds and how widely to space them. A general rule is to sow the seed at a depth approximately 2-3 times its width. Sprinkle or drop the seed into the furrow, cover to proper depth and tamp lightly with your palm so they are snugly in place.
Water your seeds
After planting, thoroughly saturate the soil, watering lightly to avoid washing away your seeds. Until the seeds germinate, water regularly — when sowing in summer, it is especially important to keep the soil from drying out.
Thin and defend your seedlings
Once your seeds sprout, you'll likely find you have more tiny vegetable plants than space in your row. You can use scissors to carefully thin your seedlings without disturbing the roots of their neighbors.
Pull weeds as needed to give your seedlings a leg up. Look for signs of slugs, snails and birds, and defend your seedlings from harm!
Filoli's visitors are invited to step inside the Vegetable Garden's edible landscape as the plantings continue to grow and flourish in 2023. The season's harvest will be used in products for Filoli's Clock Tower Shop, shared in public programs and donated to local food banks.