The Community Orchard

I’ve shown photos of the Community Garden here, but it’s actually a Community Garden and Orchard.

Above the garden area, separated by a small forest of trees and a creek, there is a very large slope which is mostly grass, but around which we’ve scattered fruit trees and other edibles. Let me give you a photographic tour:

From the path up from the garden, the first part of the orchard you come to is the fig orchard (this is on the right side of the panoramic photo above). This space has been demarcated with a wattle fence, which weeds have completely overgrown. There are maybe 20 (ish?) fig trees planted in here – several different varieties. Some years we’ve planted other annual crops around the base of the fig trees (I remember one year we tried growing melons with not much success). That’s obviously not going to happen this year. Too many weeds.

Looking back at the fig orchard toward the path to the garden

Across the lawn, up the slope is what we call “the edible hedge.” This next photo is a view from the fig orchard looking up at the edible hedge (the cluster of trees and bushes in the mid/right side of the photo).

The edible hedge was established several years before the community garden was created. It separates the lawn from the street, and all of the plants in it are, in fact, edible (surprise surprise). My favorite is the quince tree, but there are also aronia berries, goji berries, an apricot tree, plum trees, seabuckthorn berry, a mulberry tree and many others whose names I don’t know.

The edible hedge from the street/sidwalk side
The edible hedge from the lawn

Going back down across the lawn there are some crabapple, apple, and plum trees planted along a trail into the woods that leads back down the tennis courts next to the Community Garden.

Continuing along the lawn away from the fig orchard, and you’ll come to more plum trees, and at least one chestnut tree. (This area corresponds to the left-hand side of the panorama photo.) We also tried growing paw paw trees, but I don’t see them anymore, so they must not have survived.

This concludes our tour of the orchard. I don’t spend a lot of time working up in the orchard, so I tend to forget about it until its time to harvest plums or quince or chestnuts. The quince are my absolute favorite, and I will miss them when I move.

Evidence for the No Dig Method

This spring we cleaned out the zinnia hedge pretty thoroughly. You might remember that I posted this photo of the zinnias being planted.

This strip of dirt used to have irises in addition to annual zinnias, but the weeds had gotten out of control, and the iris bulbs and rhizomes made it difficult to weed, so we ripped everything out to start fresh. The irises never looked that great, so it wasn’t such a loss. (I don’t have a photo of it before. Below is a photo from google maps street view taken in June 2019. I think we must have weeded shortly before this photo was taken, because it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was.)

In the process of weeding everything, the soil was turned over multiple times.

Shortly after planting the zinnias, the zinnia bed looked like this:

You can hardly recognize the zinnias anymore. That carpet of green is all fresh weeds.

If you’re familiar with the No Dig gardening method, this probably seems like a no-brainer to you. As I understand it, the No Dig method tells us that as we dug up the bed to refresh it, weed seeds were brought to the surface of the soil, allowing them to germinate. It would have been smarter of us to smother the bed with cardboard and mulch or a plastic sheet to kill everything before planting the zinnias, but alas.

The No Dig method, promoted by Charles Dowding, is really interesting to me. I had always thought that you need to till and loosen the soil before planting anything, especially root crops. But according to Mr. Dowding, tilling the soil actually breaks up beneficial fungi, worms, and insect homes disturbing the soil natural biome. In addition – as evinced by our zinnia hedge – turning the soil reveals weed seeds. So not only are you destroying a lot of the health of the soil, you’re making more work for yourself – both the tilling and the weeding. He advocates simply mulching with compost on top of soil to improve it, rather than digging compost into the soil. It’s less work, plus, he still grows fantastic crops.

Now that we’ve dug the soil and have weeds growing amongst our zinnias, what would Dowding tell us to do? Could we lay mulch (or cardboard) over the weeds at this point, or is it too late?

We did the traditional thing and weeded the bed. This task was painstakingly slow and took several people several hours each to complete. Then we added more mulch to the bed with a layer of bark chips along the blueberry cage where we don’t have any zinnias planting. Looks pretty good…for now anyway.

The Community Garden At the End of May

As I was pulling horsetail out of the blueberry patches this weekend (again), I noticed that the blueberry bushes had formed recognizable (not yet ripe) blueberries. So soon?! It’s only spring!

Believe it or not it’s almost June. Here’s a taste (visually) of how the garden is doing:

Snow peas and Sugar snap peas are thick and *nearly* ready to harvest
Butter lettuce – we’ve been harvesting it this week
Romaine lettuce – we’ll be harvesting this next week
Tomatoes have been planted
There are other tomato plants scattered throughout the garden, wherever we could fit them (see the romaine lettuce bed above)
Potato Progress
This bed of potatoes is lagging behind
They’re a different variety, however, so maybe that’s to be expected
Raspberries!
Strawberries!

Not pictured: asparagus and rhubarb are still going strong; the garlic is tall and looking good; chard, collards, and kale are producing nicely; and the onions are still growing slowly but surely .

We have plans to plant cucumbers and squash within the next week or so. We also have sweet potatoes slips that we’re attempting to plant for the first time. We’re supposed to wait for the soil temp to reach 60 degrees before planting them – not sure we’ll ever reach that.

Chive Bouquets

One thing I’ve been enjoying this spring is making little mini bouquets of chive flowers.

We grow tons of chives at the community garden. The ones in the photo above are in our herb spiral with thyme and rosemary.

I love the purple flowers. Every time I’m in the garden, I pick a few to take home and put in a small vase. I think they are just so cute! They’re nice to have on a bedside table or by the soap dispenser at the kitchen sink, and they last for two-to-three weeks.

It’s the little things….

More Raspberries!

While the community garden raspberry patch is looking swell, Nate is looking forward to harvesting raspberries right on his very own balcony!

The other week, while on an evening walk, Nate and I came across two potted raspberry plants sitting by the road with a FREE sign stuck to them. We couldn’t say no to raspberries, so we took one home with us. Thank you neighbor!

The raspberries are Willamette raspberries according to the nursery pot they came in. This raspberry variety originated in Oregon (hence the name. BTW: Willamette rhymes with Dammit!). It’s a summer-bearing variety (as opposed an everbearing variety) and it supposedly has extremely large berries.

Since I’m moving at the end of June, it made sense for Nate to take the raspberry plant and pot it on up on his balcony. A brief internet search revealed no reason why the raspberries wouldn’t be able to grow just fine in a pot. There doesn’t seem to be anything special we need to do to grow raspberries in a pot either. All the usual rules apply: a good amount of sunlight, and moist, but well-draining soil.

Without further ado:

Pot
Plant

Et voila!

I doubt they’ll fruit this year since its already May and we don’t see any buds or flowers, but if all goes well, Nate will have a small raspberry harvest next spring.

The Avocado is Branching Out

Remember when I wrote about chopping the top of my avocado off? (No? You didn’t read that post, you say? Well, here’s the link in case you need a reminder.)

Here’s what the avocado looked like after its haircut:

And here’s how it looks today!

(Ignore the sunburnt citrus trees behind it.)

It’s branching out! How exciting! I really wasn’t sure this would work, given my last experience with cutting the top off of an avocado. I think the important difference between last time and this time, is that last time, I followed instructions that said you should prune it back by half when it gets 12-inches tall. This meant cutting off all the leaves which seemed odd, but…. I did as I was told. And it definitely didn’t work. The tree survived, but it didn’t branch, it just created a new single leader.

This time, I waited until there were over 10 leaves on the avocado, and it was about 2 feet tall, and then I cut off just the top along with the top four leaves.

Success! Now that I have three stems or branches instead of one stem, next year, I can prune the tips off of these three stems/branches and create three more branches off of those branches. That will give me nine branches, which, the following year, I can prune the tips off of and get 27 branches (!)…that’s how it works right? This will be fun experiment.

Harvesting Asparagus

Every spring in the community garden, we look forward to the asparagus. Asparagus is one of the first crops out of the garden. At the community garden, we have an asparagus harvesting schedule: in April and May we sign up in groups of 2-3 for a week of asparagus harvesting. Last week was my week.

When harvesting asparagus, some people break or cut the asparagus at or just above the soil line, leaving a short stump, as you see in the photo above. Some members of the garden group, however, feel very strongly that asparagus should be cut at a diagonal just below the soil line. I did as I was told, but I never really understood why.

Here are some opinions from the interwebs on the matter:

  • GrowJoy says “It is our belief that use [sic] an asparagus knife to cut below the soil allows the plant and crown to be protected by that layer of soil, from both the hotter summer temperatures and marauding pests.”
  • Bonnie Plants says, “Many seasoned gardeners use a knife to cut below the soil line, but it is important to avoid cutting into emerging spears nearby.”
  • According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “To harvest asparagus, simply cut the spears with a sharp knife or scissors at ground level.
  • Gardener’s Supply says, “To harvest spears, cut or snap them off just above the soil level. Leaving a stub causes no harm to the plant.”
  • And finally: GrowingProduce.com says, “There is always a debate on how to harvest asparagus: snap vs. cut. It’s important to note there are no benefits or advantages of cutting asparagus below the soil with a knife. On the contrary, this may pose risk of injury to buds on the crown that will send up new spears. Snapping a 7 to 9 inch spear slightly above the ground level is the ideal harvesting procedure. The small stub of asparagus that is left in the soil after snapping eventually dries up and disintegrates.”

Huh. Interesting. In my future garden, I think I’ll be in the snap or cut just above the soil camp. I learn something new every week writing these posts…

Fortunately, asparagus tastes the same whether you cut it below the soil or snap it off above. I turned my asparagus harvest into a delicious asparagus pie (The recipe is from Veganomicon. No, I’m not vegan, but this pie is!)

What’s so great about rhubarb?

Last week, I harvested the first few stems of rhubarb of the season from the garden.

I turned them into a rhubarb compote to have with my oatmeal the next morning. Cutting the rhubarb released the most delicious fresh rhubarby scent! I look forward to this moment alllll year.

The funny thing about rhubarb, is that if I had access to fresh rhubarb all year round, I probably wouldn’t eat it that often, if at all. Rhubarb tastes pretty bad when eaten raw, needs to be cooked with hardy amount of sugar, and can leave a dry taste in your mouth if not cooked properly. And yet….

….the first taste of rhubarb in the spring makes me so happy. It’s tart and sweet when you need it most. It’s the first fresh fruit-like thing to come from the garden. It’s a sign of what’s to come.

The seasons necessitate a several month hiatus from certain wonderful experiences, such as seeing beautiful flowers or eating delicious food. Gardening makes me more appreciative of these small pleasures. I notice the flowers as they bloom more now that I have a name for them, and know to look for them, and I always look forward to rhubarb in springtime.

Making a Trellis for Raspberries

Over a week ago, I shared some photos of the raspberry patches at my dad’s house. The raspberries have been allowed to spread all over the lawn in disorganized clumps and patches, growing into walkways, etc, and I was ready to exert some organization into the situation.

The plan was to devote two long rows of a sloped terraced garden area to the raspberries. This was more or less where the raspberries were when my dad bought the house, so it kind of makes sense to corral them back in that location.

There are four terraces in this area. I wanted to have two rows of raspberries, one on the second terrace and one on the third terrace. The first and fourth terraces framing the raspberries have kiwis and grapes. The two rows of raspberries would be back-to-back, divided by the stone terrace wall, and there would be paths on the outsides of the raspberries – between the raspberries and kiwis above and between the raspberries and grapes below. Like this:

The trellises would be posts at ends of the beds with guide wires at two or three different heights to support the canes.

Like this, except much longer, spanning the entire row

We used materials that we already had around the house. For the upper row, we had 8-foot 2″x2″ or 2″x1″ pieces of wood that we secured in the ground by burying them at least a foot in packed down gravel, and supported by concrete cylindrical blocks.

Two poles on the upper terrace in.
The view from the other side

For the lower level, we used 8-foot-long, 1″ or 1.5″-wide PVC pipe stuck in the ground over two-foot pieces of rebar (the rebar was stuck most of the way in the ground, and the PVC pipe slid over the rebar and into the ground part way, if that makes sense).

The first post on the lower terrace in

We drilled holes in the posts at the appropriate heights for the wire. The wire we used was actually cable wires (as in wires for cable TV) that we’d removed from outside of the house. (Who watches cable TV anymore? Do kids these days even know what that is?). We tightened the wires as best we could and anchored them to concrete blocks on either end of the rows.

Repurposed cable wire. We thought this was clever.

Here’s the final result!

Looking North at the upper raspberry terrace and walkway
Looking North
The view South
One more looking south at the lower terrace and walkway.
You can see the grape vines down below (right side of photo).

It doesn’t look like much in these photos, and there is obviously, still some work to. The path on the lower level needs to be more defined – the raspberries in that row need to be moved out of the path. We should also transplant raspberries from other parts of the yard to fill in the ends of the rows, but all that will wait until after raspberry season – no sense in ruining this year’s crop. For now, I’m pretty pleased with how it looks, especially since we used only things we found around the house.

Bald Eagles: Your Friendly Neighborhood Apex Predators

When I first came to Seattle from the East Coast in September of 2017, I didn’t pay much attention to birds. I was impressed by the plant life right away — abundant moss, sword ferns, Douglas firs, big leaf maples, and red cedars everywhere. (I also particularly enjoyed seeing monkey puzzle trees, but they’re non-native and Marie thinks they’re ugly). I called home one day in the fall of 2017 and told my parents about how different the trees are in Seattle compared to Maryland or Philadelphia. My parents asked me if I noticed any different animals, and I believe I said something like, “It’s basically nothing but crows and gulls here.”

It’s funny to look back at that conversation. I guess if you’re not looking you won’t see much. A few months later, in early 2018, I went for a run and was caught off guard when I saw these magnificent beasts in a cedar tree along the water next to Husky Stadium:

Bald eagles in a cedar tree by Husky Stadium, circa April 2018

I was blown away. I had only seen bald eagles a few times in my life, and here were two in a tree right next to campus! In the middle of Seattle! I saw the eagles again in the same tree on the way back at the end of my run. I took the picture above several days later, and over the ensuing weeks, I returned to the same area frequently, and I sometimes saw as many as four bald eagles there! As I learned more about eagles, I realized that I was seeing the same four bald eagles, and they all live — hunt, nest, raise chicks, and vie for territory — within a mile of that tree. They aren’t exotic visitors that were blown off course; hundreds of bald eagles live in Washington, several of which live with us in Seattle!

In the late 1700s, over 9,000 bald eagle pairs lived in Washington State, but by 1950, bald eagles had been virtually eradicated from the US outside of Florida and Alaska. The reasons for this dramatic near-extinction are complex, and include habitat loss, illegal shooting, and DDT. Bald eagles were subsequently placed on the endangered species list. It has taken a concerted effort and an electorate that is conscientious about local wildlife to bring those numbers up to where they are now: there were about 100 breeding pairs in Washington State in the 1970s and 840 by 2005 (see data here and here). Bald eagles are definitely not unique to Washington State. There are over 1000 pairs in Minnesota and Florida, and Maryland – my home state – has around 300 breeding pairs. My parents recently found a bald eagle nest site on the Potomac River just a few miles from my childhood home, and they later learned that this site has been known to host eagles since the 1980s. But here in Seattle, I can sometimes see soaring eagles from my apartment window.

Of the many breeding pairs that live in Seattle, three pairs of eagles live around Union Bay. Each pair has its own territory. Their nests make a triangle around the bay, with each side of the triangle being about 1 mile long. Larry Hubbell has names for all six of the eagles, and he’s written about Monty and Marsha’s troubles last year when their nest fell down after a branch in their cottonwood tree broke, as well as their success so far this year as they have rebuilt their nest and now have a newly-hatched eaglet. Their nest is about 1000 feet from where I took the photo above.

While Monty, Marsha, Talia, Russ, Eva, and Albert are the resident eagles, every once in a while, I’ll see some roving gangs passing through.

Five young bald eagles pass through resident eagles’ territory in the Washington Park Arboretum on February 1, 2020.

Young eagles have a mixture of white, brownish, and black feathers, and don’t attain their crisp white head feathers with a sharp border at the neck until they are about 5 years old. The mottling changes slowly over time, so the coloration can be used to estimate age. See how bald eagles change color over time at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website.

Normally, when a stranger eagle wanders into a nesting pair’s air space, they are met with hostility. Eagles are territorial, and the reason I kept seeing eagles right next to Husky Stadium is because this is the boundary between Monty and Marsha’s territory to the south and Talia and Russ’ territory to the north. The four eagles frequently perch in trees by the stadium to patrol their borders. When they do so, they often make a lot of noise — eagles have a peculiar, rather unintimidating call, which you can listen to here. I guess the other eagles must think it’s intimidating, though. Eagles tend to be especially aggressive toward out-of-towners, but when adolescent eagles show up in gangs (like the five drifters in the photo above), the residents can’t do much. You kids get off my lawn! Juvenile delinquents!

As I’ve watched these individual birds over time, they seem less like mindless animals that merely follow their instincts, and more like thinking, feeling creatures with goals and plans who can learn from their mistakes and invent strategies to solve their problems. Monty and Marsha, the newest eagle residents of the Union Bay area, have chosen an optimal nest location for hunting, but their proximity to the other eagles presents a challenge which they have met by regularly enforcing their territorial boundary with Talia and Russ. I’ve become interested in watching, learning about, and trying to understand their behaviors. These bald eagles sparked my fascination with the bird world, and I hope to share more about my other bird neighbors in future posts.

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started