Learning and Sharing

August 15, 2016

This morning, FECO volunteer Sue Hartman hauled over 10 pounds of produce to the food bank 160328 food bank bed plan HartmanColor0001 croppedfor the 13th time. Her walk is shorter now that the University Food Bank re-located to Roosevelt Ave N, just north of NE 50th St.

Thus far, FECO has contributed the following foods to the food bank: kale, chard, collards, lettuce, radish, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, onion, blueberries, and potatoes. Still to come: tomatillos and, hopefully, apples.

Sue knows her stuff. She works the Seattle Tilth Garden Hotline, coordinates the Tilth garden and teaches in the education program. Her own yard could easily be mistaken for a nursery!

Sue and food bank bed WP_20160509_001From design to harvest Sue manages the FECO food bank bed. As she toils away, she tells you the difference between a leaf roller and a leaf minor, whips up a climbing cage for the cukes that will shade the tender lettuce, and reminds you which fall crops should not be seeded until September. We are thankful for her level of experience and her willingness to share all that she knows.

Sat, Aug 20, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong
Sun, Aug 21, 10-12, Work Party
Sat, Aug 27, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong
Sat, Sep 3, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong

The grand opening celebration of the new University Food Bank (http://www.udistrictfoodbank.org/) is this Wednesday, August 17, from 6-8pm. The food bank and cafe are on the ground floor, there is low-income housing on the next several floors and roof top small WP_20160809_024there is a rooftop garden with 2,000 milk crates full of vegetables. Don’t miss this opportunity for a tour!

Hannah Duffany, Grocery Rescue/Farm Manager, says they especially appreciate donations of fruit and shelf stable vegetables like winter squash, garlic and onions.

Happy harvesting!

Good Bugs Bad Bugs

July 29, 2016

Last month, I attended a class on Beneficial Insects taught by instructors from Xerces Metcalf southern-sawg-farming-for-beneficial-insects-pollinators-predators-and-parasitoids-17-and-18-january-2014-14-638(http://www.xerces.org/) and hosted by King Conservation District .

Conservation biocontrol is the new catch phrase and the focus is on increasing the numbers and diversity of naturally occurring beneficial insects. The idea is that nature does a good job of keeping pest insects in control. Our part is to create habitat for the good bugs.

Beneficial insects need a place to eat, overwinter and reproduce. Keys to beneficial insect habitat include providing plant diversity and undisturbed areas.

milkweed small FECO 2 WP_20160520_016Plant diversity drives insect diversity. Ideally, your plants flower at different times of the year. Native plants support many more native insects than do non-native plants. Like pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, many insect predators and parasitoids feed on flower nectar or pollen during one of more of their life stages. (link for wildflowers of the native northwest – http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MaritimeNorthwestPlantList_web.pdf)

Undisturbed areas make the best homes for many insects. Desirable sites include grassless patches of earth or mulch, dead plants with hollow stems, rock and debris piles, and bunch grasses in elevated areas.

Uh oh! Not all flowering plants are favorable, depending on your crop. Sweet Alyssum (not native to the northwest) attracts pests such as flea beetles, Harlequin bug, and Bagrada bug. You might not want Alyssum if you are planting a Brassica such as arugula or mustard greens.

Even some native flowering plants are hosts for crop pests:

Hawthorn (Craetagus spp.) and Wild Plum (Prunus spp.) host the maggot fly
Wild Rose (Rosa spp.) hosts leafroller caterpillars
Willow (Salix spp.) and Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) host leafhoppers/sharpshooters
Wild Plum, Elderberry and Wild Raspberry (Rubus spp.) host the Spotted-Wing Drosophila (SWD)

Tue, Aug 2, 6-8:30, Night Out
Sat, Aug 20, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong
Sun, Aug 21, 10-12, Work Party
Sat, Aug 28, 10-11, Intro Qi Gong

Reducing pesticide use is another important step to support beneficial insects. We know not to 24 syrphid fly southern-sawg-farming-for-beneficial-insects-pollinators-predators-and-parasitoids-17-and-18-january-2014-24-638spray horticultural oils when the bees are active during the day. However, these instructors asked us to think beyond bees. Many insects are nocturnal, like our friendly slug eating beetles, so evaluate your pest control practices in consideration of all critters. Even organic-approved pesticides can harm beneficial insects; Pyrethrin and spinosad are broad-spectrum insect killers.

Following the classroom session, we toured a local organic farm to grade their site for beneficial insect friendliness. (Beneficial Insect Habitat assessment form and guide link – http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/HAG_BeneficialInsects_June2015_web.pdf) There were attendees who could identify the plants in a hedgerow a hundred yards away! This habitat assessment included a good lesson in seeing how physically close the flowering plants should be to the crops, based on how far different insects travel in a day.

We left the class with the book, Farming with Native Beneficial Insects, (Xerces Society), which has excellent information including a chapter on how to transition areas full of invasive plants.

Links for good slideshows of these topics:



USDA supported on-demand webinars – http://www.conservationwebinars.net/
Look under Organic Agriculture for titles such as:
Evaluating, Establishing & Maintaining Habitat for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects
Farming for Beneficial Insects: Pollinators, Predators and Parasitoids
Mitigating Soil Disturbance in Organic Systems
Orchard Floor Management in Organic Systems


Enjoy National Pollinators Week!

June 20, 2016

The morning was hot and getting hotter, so at a recent pollinator workshop (June 4 at 21 Acres) we nan bumble crop WP_20160619_13_59_16_Protook an early field tour, observing various bees, nest holes for ants (flat) v. bees (ringed by excavation “dust”), and some of the experimental plantings underway. We spent the rest of the day viewing slides and learning about bee identification, ecology and conservation methods.

Much of the information from the Xerces Society and King Conservation District (workshop sponsors) can be scaled to yards and small holdings like Freeway Estates.

Conserving the Bumblebees says, “Bumblebees need three types of habitat . . . plants on which to forage for pollen and nectar, nesting sites, and places to overwinter.” (It doesn’t mention the presence of water, which surprised me. I later learned that only honeybees need additional water; natives get the moisture they need from foraging.)

Here are some of the other things I learned:

For bees in general, the best environment is a mosaic of “structurally different vegetation”;
mowing patterns need to be varied with some unmowed patches remaining. In preparation for adding native pollinator plants, some folks clear weed seeds by burning. These areas should never comprise more than a third of the native-species area, and they need to be adjacent to refuge patches.

Ground-nesting bees need swatches of bare or scarcely vegetated ground.

151004 Klock leafcutter bee IMG_4215Commercial flower breeding has increased petal complexity and decreased pollen content. Simple, single-flowered and flat-faced forbs feed various bees, which have different lengths of tongue. Heirloom varieties are sturdiest and take the least care. Lots of common, popular garden flowers and trees, however, also offer good nectar sources throughout the seasons.

It was especially rewarding to meet fellow participants and discuss their personal and institutional projects.

Sun, Jul 17, 10-12, Work Party
Tues, Aug 2, 6-8:30, Seattle Night Out Potluck – all welcome
Sat, Aug 20, 10-11, QiGong
Sun, Aug 21, 10-12, Work Party

To find seasonal charts, bee identification and commentary, try:

  • Conserving Bumble Bees: Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators, The Xerces Society. This thin 8½” x 11” booklet has excellent analyses, charts, photos and instructions. (It’s national in scope, but you can skinny it up by saving just the general pages and those applicable to the Pacific NW.)
  • Establishing Pollinator Meadows from Seed, the Xerces Society, an 8½”x11”, 11-page pamphlet.
  • Tunnel Nests for Native Bees: Nest Construction and Management, an 8½” x 11”, 4-page invertebrate conservation fact sheet, the Xerces Society.
  • pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/PacificLowlandrx9FINAL.pdf. This downloadable, 24-page pdf loads quickly and is worth keeping.
  • Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants. This 9-page pamphlet, hand-illustrated in double-page-spread format, is from Lolo National Forest (in Montana), U.S. Forest Service. Its scope is national. Download it from www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/attractingpollinatorsV5.pdf.

The Xerces website is comprehensive. Their western regional address is 628 NE Broadway, Ste. 200, Portland OR 97232; phone 855-232-6639; www.xerces.org. The King Conservation District is at 1107 SW Grady Way, Ste. 130, Renton WA 98057; phone 425-282-1900; www.kingcd.org.