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Q: What advice can you give for starting a vegetable garden? Is it too late in the season?

A: Having a successful vegetable garden in our fickle Northwest climate can definitely be a challenge. But the good news is that there are ways to help make your vegetable garden a nutritious and satisfying success. Even better news? It’s not too late in the year to start a vegetable garden.

The first step for any vegetable garden is to create the right soil. Most soils are a combination of sand, silt, clay and organic matter, which is known as loamy soil. Because of Seattle’s past glacial cover, most of our yards have both sand and clay. Sandy soil drains well and is easy to till, but it doesn’t retain water well. Clay soil, on the other hand, drains poorly. Seeds struggle to emerge from clay soil and it’s harder for plants to grow successfully.

To get your vegetable garden off to the right start, you’ll want to find out just what kind of soil you are dealing with. Once the soil has started to dry out from the winter rains, usually in April, you can test your soil. Take a handful of moist but not overly wet soil from the area where you plan to put your vegetable garden. Give the soil a firm squeeze. If the soil falls apart, you have sandy soil. If it holds its shape even when poked, you have clay soil. If the soil holds its shape but falls apart when you poke it, you have won the vegetable-garden lottery because you have loamy soil — perfect for gardens.

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If you have sandy soil, till 2 inches of organic compost into the top few inches of your garden. If you have loamy soil, you need only to till it while wet and add about a quarter of an inch of organic compost into the top six inches of soil.

Unlike sandy soil, clay soil will not embrace added compost. Instead, place 6 to 8 inches of good-quality vegetable-garden soil on top of the existing soil. Then it’s a matter of preparing your enriched soil for planting and giving it adequate fertilizer.

Once your garden bed is ready, you can begin planting. Early summer is an ideal time to sow Brussels sprouts and cabbage. If direct-sown (planted outside rather than started inside first), they will germinate and grow very quickly. You can also plant late-season corn, fall broccoli and cauliflower. Summer squash can be direct-sown.

July is the perfect time to start a winter garden. Veggies like winter beets, parsnips, salad kales and scallions can be planted in July, as well. Walla Walla onions can be started as late as September, and garlic can be planted any time the ground isn’t hard.

You can find much more information about vegetable-garden timelines at your favorite local nursery.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to

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