In Praise of the Power of Pollinators

August 5, 2018

Gardening is hard work. It is rewarding, but the task is never over. That’s why we should always remember to give thanks to all the help we get at the orchard. Our wonderful volunteers help keep us going. But our hardest workers are some of our smallest. Without our pollinators, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the bounty from our gardens. We rely on plants to power us, and our plants rely on them. They help keep our flowers, fruits, and vegetables strong.

Christine Ranegger came out to the orchard on July 21st to teach us about our six-legged volunteers. Christine is a neighborhood captain with the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, and her expertise and passion for the bees is clear. I and the other lucky attendees learned a lot.

Sun, Aug 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Sep 1, 10-noon, Work Party
Sun Sep 9, 10-11, Intro to Qi Gong
Sun, Sep 16, 2-4, Work Party

We learned about three different types of bees from our capable instructor. One of the most surprising facts I took away was that bumblebees and honey bees were two entirely different species! The honey bee is the bee most of us think of. Large nests, bee dances, and a painful stinger left in your skin are all hallmarks of the honey bee. Honey bees also have a further range than bumblebees, sometimes traveling two miles away from the hive in search of nectar. While bumblebees create nests and create complex social structures, they don’t have some of the same interesting behaviors and dynamics as honey bees. When a new honey bee queen is born, the old queen peacefully leaves the hive with a set of worker bees. If you ever see a swarm of bees, don’t hesitate to contact your local bee-keeping association or fire department! The bees might find a home with a local beekeeper, instead of in the siding of a home.

We also learned about mason bees. These bees prefer solitude, and typically range only a couple of hundred feet from their home base. They like to nest in blocks with tubular holes in them. The females are usually placed near the back of the hole, while the male cocoons are placed near the front. This strategy allows the males to hatch first and protects the valuable, pollinating female cocoons from hungry woodpeckers!

The weather was perfect, and I left inspired to seek out my apian friends the next time I walked past a lavender bush. It didn’t hurt that I was able to walk away with a jar of Christine’s delicious honey!

Max

Water Conservation in 2018 – Is It Working?

August 2, 2018

Please visit us this Saturday, 10-noon, for a tour of our new watering system. We will have signage throughout the orchard and we will be anxious to get your ideas about how we can manage water even more efficiently.

Our system begins with our three cisterns, which catch 4,000 gallons during winter rains. Our human-powered treadle pump pushes water into barrels that are five feet above the garden beds. We have three different gravity-fed drip irrigation systems that do the work of spreading the water from the elevated barrels to the plants.

We are also using 1/4″ poly line siphoned from 5-gallon buckets for trees, clay ollas matched with perennial and annual vegetables, perforated pipe (bamboo) for our vertical garden and for edible shrubs.

Sat, Aug 4, 10-12, Open House/ Work Party
Sun, Aug 19, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Sep 1, 10-noon, Work Party
Sun Sep 9, 10-11, Intro to Qi Gong
Sun, Sep 16, 2-4, Work Party

Come, review our watering log, our water measuring tools, and find out about mistakes we made, needed improvements, and how we managed to keep clam during the two weeks with temperatures near 90 degrees.

Questions we are expecting on Saturday:

● Is rainwater running off the polycarbonate roof better or worse than tap water?
● Would you stand under the water barrels that weigh 400 pounds?
● Which drip irrigation system can best usher water to specific plants?
● Do the drip systems allow for cleaning and storage in winter?
● How does the rate of water discharge through a drip system affect the percolation depth?
● Can perforated pipes be installed subsequent to planting?
● What are the factors that influence how quickly water will seep from the olla?
● Does cistern water contain bacteria and algae and, if so, will it adversely affect plants?
● What’s the difference between soil moisture based irrigation and crop demand irrigation (evapotranspiration)?
● Are some crops better at using water than others?

More questions? We will soon have a page on our website dedicated to the details of this project. In the meantime, enjoy the marvelous brochure produced by Dylan and Luke (Spellebee Space) on our Library page – Documents of Interest (under photos).

Stay tuned for a celebration if we make it through the summer without turning on City water. Perhaps a water balloon fight!

Ruth

Water Conservation – Ideas are still percolating in …

June 21, 2018

Yesterday I set out to water the fruit and nut trees for the first time this year. I thought it would be a lot of work because 1) it has been hot and, 2) because May precipitation was a record low .3 inches and June is just average at 1.29 inches so far.

Well, I was wrong. Thanks to a couple of handy tools we were able to purchase (thanks to a City of Seattle grant for our Water Conservation Project) I ended up watering just three of our 13 trees.

Our tubular soil sampler (0.5″ diameter x 7″ length) and soil moisture meter (9″ probe) literally go hand in hand. After calibrating our moisture meter, we drove it into the ground and noted the reading for the percent of water in the soil. Then we inserted the soil sampler, gave it a twist, pulled it up, and inspected the soil plug to see if it confirmed the meter reading. With the use of these tools, we will become more and more confident that we are watering effectively.

Sat, Jul 7, 10-12, Work Party
Sun, Jul 15, 2-4, Work Party
Sat, Jul 21, 10am, Bee & Pollination lecture
Sat, Aug 4, 10-12, Water Conservation Open House

When it’s hot and it’s not raining, our impulse is to water. However, water is precious. I prefer to try to minimize the time it takes to water. Over watering also causes nutrients to leach out of the root zone of the plant. (Stunted slow growth with yellowing leaves is a sign of over watering.)

We now chart the readings we take, the amount of water we apply and then will follow-up to see if the amount of water we applied was sufficient. We have so much fine-tuning to do but it’s exciting to experiment and learn.

Meanwhile, Sue just finished installation of a third method of gravity fed irrigation in the tomato bed. With this method, she can efficiently target certain plants for more or less water. In addition, more of her time is free to care for plants like this purple flowered native Morning Glory – Ipomea purpurea (not to be confused with bindweed) in the vertical bed.

Ruth