Anyone who has lived on Whidbey Island for more than a year will tell you that this summer is exceptionally hot and dry! We’ve had very little rain since the spring, and the sun is strong and bright almost every day.


By noon, lettuce leaves flatten and kale stalks droop as plants try to conserve precious water. Newly seeded beds have to be watched over with the gaze of a worried mother to make sure they don’t dry out before germination takes place. Admittedly, we gardeners wither a bit in the heat, too.

We’re making good use of all of that good solar energy, though, and it’s paying off in the form of beautiful summer veggies. Once mid-June rolled around, we switched into high-gear, planting out most of our late summer crops like beans and squash. Our harvests have gotten heavy, with our last haul reaching nearly 80 pounds!


The heat has had other benefits; we’ve noticed that our dreaded garlic mold has been kept at bay, and we’re expecting a great season for traditionally hot-weather crops like tomatoes and basil.


The grass on the island may be turning brown, and the cool breezes few and far between, but our crops are surely grateful for all of this sunshine.

We’re happy to announce that our weekly Thursday work parties now include the afternoon! Volunteers are welcome to come by the garden any time between 9 am and 4 pm for a variety of gardening tasks for all abilities. As always, we’ll provide a light lunch from noon to 1 pm. We look forward to seeing you there!



We have four lovely chickens that find home in the Westgarden. Margaret Hatcher, Yoko Ono, Boc Choi and Eggy Sue spend their days roaming the perimeter of the garden eating bugs and taking dust baths. We provide them with a safe place to live and nutritious food to eat and they in turn give us delicious eggs that we share with work party volunteers and manure we add to our compost pile.

Up until a few weeks ago they lived in a coop built by Alexa Macauly, the Westgarden’s 2013 garden apprentice and roamed the ‘chicken run’ which is a small pathway that encompasses three quarters of the perimeter of the garden and is enclosed by chicken wire. We began to notice how quickly they ate up all the weeds and bugs in the run and found it ironic that they were surrounded by lush green pasture full of bugs and fresh greens but had no access to it. Excited to liberate them from the confines of the usual home and give them access to fresh food, we decided to build them a chicken tractor that could weave through the abundant pastures of Chinook.

   chicken tractorA chicken tractor is a mobile hen house that enables hens to move through a pasture. We drew up a blue print of their new home and with the help of Beno Kennedy, our resident ‘Fix It Guy’, we built the tractor from scratch with mostly recycled wood. Once we moved the ladies into their new home, they seemed excited to scratch and peck at the new grass and enjoy turning up sod to find a whole host of new critters to munch on. They resumed normal laying habits and seemed to get used to their home being picked up and dragged across the lawn every morning as well.

chickenA few unexpected troubles did occur, however. The primary one being that chickens need to take ‘dust baths’ to help them cleanse themselves of mites and bugs. If they can’t do this they become itchy and irritated. Even though the ladies turned up the sod to bathe in the moist top soil of the lawn, it didn’t quite seem to satiate that need and they seemed more uncomfortable. This act also turned our pristine lawn into a brown, pot hole infested surface which posed a problem for the aesthics of Chinook. We tried putting in a small container full of sand for them to bathe in but they didn’t quite take to that. We are still trouble shooting this challenge and finding ways for the chicken tractor to fit into our system at the Whidbey Institute. We’re going to try a few things and perhaps end up bringing them over for a small vacation on the lawn, as opposed to their permanent residence. This way they would periodically get fresh food and our lawn would get some extra fertilizer as well!


Many many thanks to Beno Kennedy for his help on this project!


We’re so pleased to welcome Margaret Pickoff as our 2015 Community Gardening Leadership Training apprentice in the Westgarden!

“My introduction to community gardening was as an agroecology research assistant in New York City, where I spent a few summer months in the community gardens of Brooklyn, counting beneficial insects on the leaves of tomato and kale plants. At the end of the day, I’d take the ferry past the Statue of Liberty over to Staten Island, where a friend and I were at work helping a community to establish a garden on an abandoned street corner lot. In New York, I became enthralled by the beauty of these small green spaces hidden among otherwise unbroken stretches of tall buildings. Beyond the food that grew there, I started to understand that the gardens were also places of pride, inspiration, connection, and calm.

As a college student in Maine, I befriended young farmers at markets and contradances, and was encouraged to get involved in the local agriculture scene. After a few seasons of farming in Maine and my native New Jersey, I stumbled upon the opportunity to apprentice on Whidbey Island, and was thrilled! I’m hoping to use this time to learn everything I can about small-scale food production and thoughtful garden management. I feel lucky to be here!”

DSCN0241We are lucky to have many volunteers in the garden and each have their unique skills and interests to share.

Some bring years of garden wisdom, others bring stories and delicious pot luck dishes, but the third graders from the Whidbey Island Waldorf School that join us every Monday definitely bring the most energy!

This enthusiastic group of young gardeners help us cultivate and plant the garden and are the fastest bunch of weeders you’ll ever see!

DSCN0242Our latest garden project was making nettles tea that we will spray on the garden as a nutritious plant tonic. The students had a blast roaming through the forest harvesting nettles and stirring them into our giant pot of tea.

After about a two week period of letting the nettle tea steep and ferment we filtered out the plant material and watered the mixture down to a ratio of 1:10, tea to water. We loaded the mixture into our backpack sprayer and went around feeding the garden. The mixture can be replenished throughout the season by just adding new plant material and allowing the fermentation process to recycle.


Nettle tea is a great fertilizer for the garden for a few reasons. The first being that it contains many essential macronutrients that plants need to grow including iron, nitrogen and potassium. Heavy feeders that draw a lot from the soil and leafy plants especially thrive from this mixture. It’s stinky but it works!

The second benefit of this fertilizer is that its free and found in your backyard! It’s amazing to learn that many of the things we need to have a successful garden can be found all around us!


Many thanks to the forests of Chinook for the abundant nettles and to all the third graders who helped make this revitalizing tea for the garden!

Happy Spring everyone!


Now that the trees are budding and the Equinox has passed its time to begin the work party season! Spinach and Kale are in the ground, the greenhouse is full and we need help waking the garden up and prepping for the season.

Come on down this Thursday, March 26th from 9am to noon to help us weed, fix the terraces, and tackle some wild corners of the garden! Come for as long as you like and join us for a simple lunch at noon.

For any questions please feel free to e-mail Abigail Lazarowski, the Garden Steward at abigail@whidbeyinstitute.org.

Hope to see some of you this Thursday!

It’s been a joyous and productive season in the Westgarden so far. Although little light has found its way into the garden amidst the tall confers, things are beginning to take shape.

DSCN0191We had an incredibly productive first work party of the season back in January where more than a dozen volunteers came out to lend a hand! We successfully flipped all the cover crop in the garden, prepared the beds for planting in March and shared a delicious and cozy meal together in the greenhouse.


Many many thanks for everyone who showed up in the chilly weather to give their time and energy. Hope to see you all in the garden later this season!




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