Category Archives: Plants

Get To The Root Of The Matter

February 4, 2019

Last week Sue helped us plan the vegetables for the year. We were thinking of what to plant near the far north olla and we got out our photos of plant root lengths from the summer.

The olla best serves a plant with a deeper root system. (See Water Conservation page on Ollas.) We decided peas would be a good choice.

The plants can teach us so much. We dig up some of the roots to assess for health and to measure length.

Sat, Feb 16, 1-3, Pruning Class
Sun Feb 17, 2-4, Work Party
Sun Mar 17, 2-4, Work Party
Fri Apr 12, 10-12, Fig Pruning

We got a surprise in October when we pulled out the cucumbers and peppers that were planted near an olla. Carefully, we used the hori hori and excavated around the base of the olla to see which plants took advantage of the water. A small fig tree, planted about 10 feet from the olla, had wrapped its roots tightly around the brown water vessel. And Nancy wondered why her little fig didn’t need any water during the dry months!

Now we know that root pruning is another task for the winter to-do list. Check your own garden bed sites to see if any plants may be robbing water from your edibles.

Here is a good chart on root depth per plant (page 1). Following that is an interesting chart on the water needed to provide certain nutrition parameters by crop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, three of us heard our State Climatologist Nick Bond speak. Nick is still delivering the same message; in general, western Washington is in for dryer summers and wetter winters. In addition to being water efficient, the more water we can collect during the winter the more we will have in the summer.

We are lucky to have our cisterns and, if we had one more, we could make it through the summer. Last year we used our 4,000 gallons from our cisterns plus 1,300 from the City water supply.

We will continue to explore ways to increase water efficiency. Check out the recent addition to the Perforated Pipe Page.

Ruth

What’s in the Air is Fair

January 12, 2019

Is it risky to eat food grown next to the Freeway? Orchard visitors sometimes ask this question. It is an especially interesting question to me, an Environmental Protection Agency retiree and air quality specialist.

The two principle ways food can become contaminated from environmental pollutants are through soil and air. In urban areas, lead is the soil pollutant of greatest concern. In 2010, before we started growing food at Freeway Estates, we tested the soil and found low lead levels (13 ppm).

How bad is our air? Even though levels of fine particulate pollution have risen in recent summers because of wild fire smoke, Seattle’s air quality is better than most major cities in the United States. Still, I questioned whether air quality at the orchard, with its proximity to I-5, is worse than other places in Seattle. A recent University of Washington study on neighborhood-scale air quality offered a partial answer. When Justin sent us an email about this study, I quickly volunteered my yard, located one block from the orchard. Technicians from UW placed an air quality monitor in our yard in the summer of 2017 and spring of 2018. The 2017 monitoring included a period of high wild fire smoke. The machine measured particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide. Levels found in our yard were not high compared to levels found elsewhere in Seattle.

Sun Jan 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat Feb 16, 1-3, Tree Pruning Class
Sun Feb 17, 2-4, Work Party
Sun Mar 17, 2-4, Work Party

But, can fruits and vegetables absorb air contaminants? I have found little research on this question. A 2017 study in Sao Paulo Brazil looked at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a ubiquitous air pollutant from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass. The study found no significant PAH concentrations in spinach and collard greens grown in the presence of high levels of PAH. It seems possible, however, that air contaminants can settle on the surface of garden produce and become available to us if we eat them without washing. So, it’s a good idea to wash even organically grown fruits and vegetables.

While I did not find evidence that we consume air pollutants when we eat food grown in urban gardens, there is plenty of evidence that consuming fruits and vegetables is good for our health. In fact, the antioxidants and other phytochemicals in fresh produce may help protect us from the harmful effects of air pollution. So, I’ll continue to enjoy the super-fresh produce from our FECO garden plot, appreciating the healthful properties and great taste – after I wash them.

Nancy

Fall Fruit Tree Follow-up

November 30, 2018

Fall is a fine time to do investigative work in the orchard and plan for winter or spring pest management.

Confirming that our Harrow Delight pear problem was Pear Trellis Rust (Gymnosporangium sabinae) was an excellent warm-up exercise, since the blemishes on the leaves are so clearly identifiable. I made a leaf infusion and put a drop under the microscope. There wasn’t much else to see but for the spores of this particular fungal problem. Confirmed.

Another set of eyes is so valuable when reviewing the status of the plants. We warmly welcome Allison, a new volunteer, who joined Sue and I last week as we continued our review of the fruit trees and other fruit-bearing perennials.

The three of us started with the Izu Persimmon and worked through the checklist:

  • Add Tanglefoot to trunk to dissuade the winter moth from laying eggs
  • Clear debris from around the root crown
  • Make sure staking materials and any plant ID tags are not choking a branch or harboring pests
  • Look for eggs on all surfaces
  • Review the new flowering buds for health
  • Prepare a leaf infusion if a fungal disease is suspected
  • Cut a twig and drop the end in water to check for ooze if a bacterial problem is suspected
  • Identify bamboo watering holes with survey tape to minimize tripping hazards
  • Add compost and mowed leaves, and consider the timing for full sheet mulching
  • Look for anything unusual.
Sun. Dec 16, 2-4, Work Party
Sun. Jan 20, 2-4, Work Party
Sat. Feb 16, 1-3, Tree Pruning Class
Sun. Feb 17, 2-4, Work Party

There was little to study on the Izu; the only problem it had was too many fruit. Of the 24 fruit it presented to us, we only allowed 7 to remain on the tree. It will need time to build a stronger scaffold to support more fruit.

We moved on to the Early Fuji for review. The new buds looked cheerful but the Fuji suffered from scab this year. After bloom, we had netted it with bee netting in order to keep the coddling moth at bay. We might have replaced coddling moth damage with scab damage! The apples were still edible and many were pristine enough for the food bank. But, we won’t net next year, in order to assess whether the tree will be healthier with improved air circulation.

The scab (Venturia inaequalis)  (photo) was also a pretty easy diagnosis but it can be confused with sawfly damage. Again, a leaf infusion confirmed the presence of many of the shoe-shaped spores associated with apple scab.

We noticed two male and one female winter moth caught in the Tanglefoot band around the lower part of the tree trunk. Since the moth activity is just past it’s peak, we set about looking for eggs and anything else that might pose a risk to our tree.

We didn’t find eggs but Sue was standing at exactly the correct spot to be staring right at the tiny protective covering of a scale insect. Good eye Sue! We were not sure of the scale type so we looked up its characteristics to confirm. I also pulled one apart and set it under the microscope to look at the multitude of white eggs. (A compound microscope can be crudely fashioned into a dissecting one with an extra light source.) We agreed it was Lecanium Scale (Parthenolecanium corni) and we will pinch those little bumps off the trees as we see them.

Please visit our new Water Conservation Page

Next week we review the Mirabelle Plum and its multiple problems, makes notes, develop our plans for that tree in the coming year and, hopefully, find something else interesting to put under the magnifying glass.

Ruth