Frieda Takamura in her garden. Photo credit: Yayoi Lena Winfrey.

Drop by the Takamura’s South Hill Renton home for dinner, and you’ll enjoy an epicurean feast of homegrown organic vegetables. For over 30 years, Frieda Takamura has been gardening the green way. Currently, her front yard is the site of a 16 by 16 foot plot.

“We put the garden in the front yard,” she explains, “because that’s where the maximum sun exposure is.”

Each year, Takamura along with husband Matt watches the weather closely to assess the coming planting season. Although they usually start in March, this year’s chilly wet spring delayed them until April — wreaking havoc on their tomatoes.

“It’s been a miserably cold summer,” says Takamura.

Every spring, she begins a new garden concentrating on vegetables although she also grows flowers. The process starts with digging up dirt, turning it over, then adding new compost to replenish nutrients in the soil. The raised bed method also conserves heat and moisture.

“The front yard looks like huge grave mounds,” Takamura said.

Since fertilizers must be organic, husband Matt makes compost from their mule’s manure.

“He lets it perk for years,” laughs Takamura. “We have manure over 10 years-old.”

They also raise chickens whose nitrogen-filled manure is mixed with the mule’s in order to create the required ph for the soil. During fall, leaves are added to the ongoing year-round compost pile.

Once the soil is prepared, Takamura plants mostly seeds except for tomatoes that require starters because of the Northwest’s short growing season. Then, it’s weeding and watering. Takamura admits she spends a lot of time picking weeds, but her biggest challenge is pest control.

“There’s nothing more devastating than seeing your broccoli eaten by all the worms,” she complains.

Avoiding chemical-laden pesticides, Takamura creates natural deterrents by planting pungent spices or white petunias between crops. Herbs ward off bugs so she grows oregano between rows of corn.

She also rotates crops annually; substituting a root crop like potatoes for a surface crop like broccoli.

“Whatever insect feeds on potatoes, they will not have anything to eat the following year,” she clarifies.

The Northwest is home to slimy slugs that feed on leafy greens so Takamura has mollusk-eating ducks roaming the yard. She also suggests putting out bowls of beer that attract slugs, which drown in them. Another bait is half of a grapefruit rind. While feeding on it, slugs are trapped inside and the rind can be then be tossed into the garbage.

Aphids are particularly damaging so Takamura releases ladybugs to combat them. She also recommends using an effective technique involving cannibalism.

“You get an old blender, put some aphids and water in it, and then spray it on the plants,” she advises.

Although Takamura tried blending slugs once, she found it “too creepy” and opts for the hungry ducks instead.

Among her current crops are beans like edamame, green pole and snap peas.

“Eggplants this year – forget it,” says Takamura, although she acknowledges, “the kabocha is looking good.”

With plentiful produce, the Takamura’s enjoy giving to friends and freezing the surplus except for lettuce, which can’t be preserved.

“The wonderful thing about gardening is reaping its benefits all year long,” says Takamura, adding that the potatoes growing now will be served next Thanksgiving.

Saving money is assured because during summer months, she buys virtually no produce.

“And we’re eating healthy, too,” she says.

The retired educator who stays involved with API community activities confesses, “Whatever meeting I go to, I take a bag of vegetables. It’s good to share the bounty.”

Takamura learned gardening from her mother who grew only Japanese vegetables and fruit like ume (plum).

“It’s always been a part of my family’s living,” she recalls. “My brothers do it. I do it. It’s been passed on.”

Calling daily gardening “cathartic”, Takmura says, “It’s a stress reliever and a peaceful activity. And, the food tastes good!”

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