Category Archives: Plants

Harvest Highlights – Part II – Fruit

December 07, 2016

Now for the fruits of our labor. 2016 was our fifth season and we finally picked a substantial amount sm-east-pear-orcas-wp_20160803_002of apples, enough to test and to share. For the first time kiwi berries developed and both chestnuts produced fully pollinated nuts.

We still need to inspire one or two fruit lovers to take on more care of the fruit trees but, in the meantime, we are forwarding a written orchard management plan to CityFruit in hopes of enticing one of their orchard stewards to help with management next year.

To expand my own education, I continue with classes and workshops and I follow-up with summary articles for publication in the WCFS BeeLine.

Berries began in May with the Honeyberry and ended in November with Albion strawberries and a few everbearing Heritage raspberries. (There are ripe black nightshade berries but we didn’t allow enough to survive to make jam this year.)

The apple and pear varieties had a good fruit set except for the William’s Pride, recovering from its huge outburst in 2015, and the Northern Spy, which is still hiding behind the apron. We grow just a few European pears but we landed enough of the sweet Harrow Delight and the meaty Orcas to begin the complicated tasks of testing for ripeness and determining storage times.

bitter-pit-wp_20160821_002We thinned over 100 apples from the Honeycrisp and we still ended up with a mountain of them. There was some evidence of bitter pit (chemical imbalance involving calcium) but almost all of the apples were edible.

We applied nylon footies and netting to a sm-fuji-w-apples-wp_20160911_001percentage of the apples in order to determine whether these barriers would help prevent insect damage from either or both apple maggot or codling moth. The good news is that the only insect damage was from earwigs munching the tops of a few apples. As such, we can’t yet report as to whether the footies or netting are effective pest barriers.

The four-way pear is now a three-way pear. Pseudomonas (widespread bacterial group) set in sm-pear-pseudomonas-wp_20151018_003during the summer of 2105. Some, fearing spread of disease, urged us to take out the tree. Instead, we pruned out the black branches, including one entire grafted variety, in hopes that the tree would heal. The tree bounced back this season and bore fruit.

I stacked the deck by hand pollinating the chestnut trees and we got nuts from both trees. We are experimenting with the easiest way to remove that softer, bitter inner layer of skin from these protein packed gems.

The hardy kiwi plants are my spiritual practice. They don’t like our wet soil but I refuse to give up. We finally got one of the females to the fruiting stage this year and then she just up and died. No note or anything. We replaced her and hope for better luck. There is another female, still alive, who witnessed the whole thing. We hope she learned something from the fate of her sister.

Remember, you do us a favor just by walking through the orchard. You are all welcome to the regular third Sunday, 2-4 work parties, and you don’t have to stay for the whole time.


Harvest Highlights – Part I – Vegetables

November 30, 2016

The bounty from our seven vegetable gardens was spectacular and, beginning mid-May and 161121-sm-sues-lettuce-wp_20161121_16_18_27_proending mid-November, we donated over 300 pounds of produce to the University District Food Bank. Thanks so much to experienced gardeners Sue Hartman and Nancy Helm, sluggers in the batting lineup with Team Mother Nature.

Nancy filled our spare garden bed with organic seed potato. With surplus compost, she periodically hilled up the potato rows. What a strategy! The potato harvest was huge and easy to dig up. Nancy was in awe of Sue’s beautiful greens: “Now I know that floating row cover is worth the effort, continuous harvest and cleanup helps prevent disease, and crowding plants is bad.”

tomato-wilt-wp_20160721_001Indeed, Sue’s chard, kale, collards, lemon cukes, zucchini and tomatoes belonged in an art gallery. However, there was a bit of ugly. We came face to face with Spotted Wilt Virus this summer. (photo) Sue thought it would be easier to deal with determinant* tomatoes in cages (versus trellis). Indeterminate tomatoes do not appear to be susceptible to this disease and are less prone to splitting, so next year she will grow a row of indeterminate tomatoes instead. She also grew powdery mildew resistant summer squash but it did not sufficiently resist. We will try a milk spray early next year to keep the mildew at bay.

161121-sm-celeriac-harvest-wp_20161121_16_24_34_proWe spoke to the produce manager at the University food bank to find out what their clients snatch up fast. In response, we have made more room for collards. We now drop off produce later in the week; early in the week, the food bank garners unsold produce from the weekend farmer’s market events.

I learned that tomatillo plants could sprout new plants from a branch lying on the ground. (This is ‘layering’. Blackberry plants are quite skilled at this type of propagation.) And, when homegrown radishes are too hot to eat fresh, they are mild and delectable when roasted. Early on, I was disgusted with the low germination rate of the French marigolds but I had to eat my words because it only took two plants to fill up a big space full of bee-friendly small flowers. (photo)!

We used less than one CCF (748 gallons) of City water this year. The rest of our water needs, bombus-small-on-marigold-wp_20161028_001about 2,500 gallons, came from rain stored in the cisterns. We added only organic approved inputs including cardboard, donated compost and wood chips, burlap bags, agricultural lime, some blood meal, and fish fertilizer.

Gardeners note! Sue donated well-labeled seeds and they are in the shed for your use!

We welcome Mitch as our new gardener and we warmly bid farewell to Ryan who is moving out of Washington.


* Determinant – plant stops growing when fruit sets on the top bud. Indeterminate – plant will grow and produce until it gets cold

The Apple Sleuth

September 6, 2016

Lori Brakken, apple ID expert and landscape architect, volunteers tirelessly in her efforts to further frame before plants DSCN0748people’s enjoyment of fruit.┬áLast weekend, she graciously invited me to observe an apple ID session. Thinking that identifying apples would be an outdoor job, I donned my hat and sunglasses and paid her a visit.

her espalier Brian W pics (6)We did start the day in her small side yard where over 160 apple varieties are in espalier (see before and after photos), but only because it’s the gateway to her indoor study.

Inside, she grinned and set out a chair for me right next to her computer and three well-worn reference books (listed below). She picked up a cross section of a piece of apple, looked at me, and made a proposition – “Red Astrachan”.

I was not sure the name was the apple variety or the customer who brought the apple for her to ID. I nodded my head and listened until enough clues came my way to be able to conclude that, in fact, this Russian apple variety should be known by any appleholic. Still, how she leaped from just smelling and then looking at an orangish red apple to naming it a Red Astrachan I will never know but, that’s why Lori is in high demand. We didn’t even wade through the unique detailed online apple ID software program she developed; we just read in detail all of the descriptors (see quiz) from her old reference books in order to confirm the ID!

This past summer the National Park Service recruited Lori to visit an historic heritage orchard in cropped a Lori Brakken1Whiskeytown, California (photo) where she took pictures of varieties from trees planted in the mid 1800s. Again, most of the work was done after she arrived home, looking through the books and matching the characteristics against her photos of the tops, bottoms, cross sections and longitudinal sections of the various apples.

Lori brighter WP_20141025_016If you want Lori to ID your apple, you too can get in line at one of the fall fruit shows listed below. I am warning you though; don’t be that person who stands in line polishing your apple with your T-shirt. She will cringe. PLEASE don’t handle the apple any more than you need to.

Also, here is your second warning. When you finally face Lori and wait patiently for her to slice and dice, smell, taste and measure and ponder … she may look up at you, and, when you lean in to hear the answer, it might be, “Can you bring some samples back next year so I can be sure?”

Take the quiz! Match the word to the definition

Name Definition
1 sessile __ depression at the blossom end
2 scarf __ depression of the stem end of apple
3 russet __ outer protective layer in the bottom of the blossom end
4 ribbed __ tough inside wall of carp
5 obtuse __ seed cavities (usually five)
6 oblate __ shaped more like a tomato
7 hulls __ having rather blunt ends, or rounded off rather abruptly; not sharp
8 crown __ a delicate powdery coat on the surface of fruit that can be rubbed off
9 cavity __ roughened outer skin that can not be rubbed off
10 carpels __ the position of the core being closer to the stem
11 calyx __ longitudinal ridges (versus smooth)
12 bloom __ dull brown rough finish on the apple
13 basin __ the apex of an apple, on the blossom end

How to get your apple identified:

Bring 4-6 apples from the tree with the stems intact. Try not to handle too much and don’t wash them. Tell her all you can about the apples: When do they ripen? How long do they keep? If you can have an idea how old the tree is, that helps. How tall is the tree? When does it flower? All these clues will help figure out what variety of apple you have.

Bring your apple to one of these events:

Piper’s Orchard Festival of Fruit, Saturday, Sept. 24, 10-2, Carkeek Park, Seattle, WASeattle Tree Fruit Society monthly meeting, Saturday, Oct. 8, 10-12, The Brig at Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA
Finnriver Farm and Cidery, Sunday, Oct. 9, 10-6, Chimacum, WA
Vashon Island Fruit Club monthly meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 6-8pm, Vashon Island, WA
Oregon Home Orchard Society All About Fruit Show, Sat (apple ID) and Sun Oct. 15 & 16th, 10-4, Canby, OR
Peninsula Fruit Club Fall Fruit Show, Saturday, Oct. 22, 10-4, Bremerton, WA

Favorite Reference Books of Lori Brakken:

‘The Apples of New York’ by Spencer Ambrose Beach
‘Apples’ by John Bultitude
‘The Book of Apples’ by Joan & Alison Richards Morgan

Ruth Callard