Category Archives: Plants

A Nod For Natives

October 16, 2017

These days I hang out with volunteers of the Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS). I don’t tend to say much. I know my place (right field).

These are pleasant knowledgeable folks and I am learning a lot. One member coaxed me to sign sm-greenhouse-wp_20171014_012up for a native plant propagation class at Oxbox Farm last Saturday. It was fantastic. Bridget McNassar is a trained teacher and has been working in their nursery for five years. The nursery is pristine. I asked if I needed to take my shoes off. Check out those hanging hoses.

She covered seed collecting, cleaning and sm-oregon-sunshine-seeds-wp_20171014_005storage and showed us when a seed head is ready for collection. In the photo she collects seeds from the flowering Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).

We reviewed germination, including the issue of dormancy, and Bridget graciously provided us with Swordfern spores to take home. In the photo, she is patching out. She takes a fern that has emerged and sm-patching-wp_20171014_008plucks it out and pushes it into a bare area of the same medium (bark and compost).

Sun, Nov 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Dec 17, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Jan 21, 2-4, Work Party

She offered several types of seeds for us to take and gave us the link to the website Native Plant Propagation Protocol Database so we could look up how many days we had to keep some of our seeds in the refrigerator (cold stratification) before we tried to sow them. Salal needs 42-100 cold days so I will put the seeds in the refrigerator in mid-winter for spring planting.

The class size was small so questions were answered, either by Bridget or by a high school boy scout quite familiar with the Latin names of plants!

Tips from Bridget:

A seed is not mature if you can dent it with your fingernail
Consider a food processor with a plastic dull “blade” to separate pulp from seed for fleshy fruit
A good way to scarify seeds is to rub them between two sanding blocks
Simple cotton bags work well to dry seeds
Make sure seeds are dry and cold for storage
The 6 mil plastic zip lock bags don’t let gases through in the refrigerator
Be patient! Trillium can take three years

There are still two sessions left of this class – Saturday October 21 and October 28

You can use your phone to start your native wildflower education. Those hard-working people at the Burke Museum have a smartphone app at

Help is with our own native plant area at the south end of the orchard at the next work party. We just acquired a Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana), the most drought tolerant of the natives.


New Watering System Is On Tap

October 1, 2017

It’s fascinating how one mulberry or one thornless blackberry can sustain me while I work in the sm-persimmon-wp_20171001_002orchard. Just that brief sweet juicy explosion can satisfy, nourish and make me smile. These two fruits are new to the orchard and they have proved their worth.

It will be several weeks before we know whether the new persimmons will mature or not but otherwise, we are nearly finished with the harvest.

We have donated an estimated 244 pounds to the food bank. Now, however, the sun weakens and plant production is slowing.

sm-reseeded-lettuce-wp_20170928_001The transition to fall plants such as radish, lettuce, cilantro, mustards, arugula and various cover crops has begun. Check out that germination rate of lettuce that Sue let go to seed! It looks like carpet. Thinning could be a challenge.

We ended up with tasty samples of all apple and pear varieties, even though the winter moth larvae took out many of the blossoms last spring. The good ole Liberty was the best performer and we have enough Liberty to reward the Cider Fest volunteers this coming Saturday.

The dry summer taxed every plant. Our aim is to water just enough to keep the fruit and nut trees in good health. I believe that they got enough water but next year’s crop will tell the tale. We do think the berries and grapes were under watered.

Sat, Oct 7, 2-5, Cider Fest!
Apple contributions are welcome! We have science exhibits for the kids. Cider and pie slices.
Sun, Oct 15, 2-4, Work Party

Sun, Nov 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sun, Dec 17, 2-4, Work Party

In the interest of saving water, saving time watering, and allowing watering to be physically easy, we have applied for another Seattle Dept of Neighborhood matching grant. It’s a small grant, about $10,000, but should be enough to buy a manual pump, ollas, some vertical perforated pipe and low-pressure, gravity fed drip irrigation materials. We also are beneficiaries of a used 1,000-gallon cistern, which could be enough assistance to free us from using city water.

We are in need of a mechanical or civil engineer to help us with choice of pump to carry water from shows-hose-in-and-hose-out-treadle-pump-1the cisterns out to the beds. Choosing the right pump will be critical to the efficacy of the whole irrigation system to the food bank beds. Contact us if that engineer is you or your friend!

Please join us for our annual celebration next Saturday between 2-5pm, rain or shine.


Working With Weather When Watering

August 28, 2017

It’s dry this summer. It seems like we are either watering, or obsessing about whether we are drip-system-mulberry-sm-wp_20170828_001watering too much or too little.

Nobody wants to over water fruit trees. Why waste water. Excess water creates more tree growth, not more fruit, and results in nutrient leaching.

Ideally, we are watering just the right amount to maintain a healthy disease resistant tree but also good fruit production.

Cliff Mass’s August 24 blog says July and August 2017 combined will be the driest in 100 years. That sounds dramatic. However, data for 2017, in relation to 2016, shows only slightly higher temperatures and only 1.12 less rain over the period June, July and August. Why is 1.12 less rain making such a big difference?

Let’s say you were comfortable with your 2016 watering, meaning the trees are healthy and the fruit set was reasonable this year. You are watering about the same this year but now you want to make up for the fact that we have had less rain in 2017.

Obviously, 1.12 inches of rain is more beneficial than just adding 1.12 inches of water to a tree guild but we will add an additional 1.12 inches just to the root zone of an apple tree. The tree’s root zone is where most of the water absorbing roots are located. This root zone is not located close to the trunk of an established tree; it is at the tree’s “drip line” and beyond. WSU’s Dr. Troy Peters points out that this active root zone is usually two to three times the diameter of the tree’s crown or “umbrella.”

If we estimate the active root zone of our tree to be 100 square feet and we want to add that extra inch of water, then we need 8.33 cubic feet of water or 62 extra gallons!

If we apply the deficit irrigation concept, we might add less and, if we used something other than drip irrigation, which is 90-95% efficient, we would add more. (Sprinkler systems are only 80% efficient and furrow systems only 70% efficient.)

How do the Pros Efficiently Use Water?

To improve water efficiency, you have to know how much water you use and we do because we water with 5-gallon buckets.

Pros take into account the amount of water lost from the trees pulling up water through their roots and pushing it out the stomata of their leaves (transpiration) and also how much water evaporates from the soil into the air (evaporation). The combined effect is evapotranspiration (ET).

ET models are largely based on temperature and are based on water use of alfalfa (Eta) or on grass (ETo). Each crop uses a certain percentage of the water that alfalfa uses and that is the crop coefficient (Kc). An apple orchard with active ground cover has a .8 Kc at initial stage of fruit development, then 1.2 mid season and .85 at end of season, prior to leaf drop.

There are many variables to consider other than temperature and crop coefficient, like wind, leaf growth, humidity, day length, soil type, and intervals between watering. However, for ease, if we think of the apple crop coefficient at 1.0, then we can use ET as a guideline for irrigation.

If you log into WSU Weather AG and click on Irrigation, Irrigation Scheduler, you can enter your location, a crop and your soil type and it will tell you how much water the apples are using (ET), how much precipitation we have had and, most importantly, it will show you the water deficit, including the cumulative deficit. The cumulative deficit as of August 27, beginning from May 21, is 5.3 inches. That number will be in red. You don’t have to add 5.3 inches unless you have not watered at all this summer!

Dr Peters writes that orchardists tend to over water in the spring and fall and underwater in July. He also summarized the signs of under watering during the hotter part of the summer:

1) smaller than average fruit size
2) poor fruit shape
3) bitter pit in apple, or increased cork spot and “hard-end” in pears.
4) stored fruit loses pressure more rapidly

Stay tuned as we consider writing for a grant to apply more water conservation strategies at the orchard.