The Handy Dande

May 19, 2021

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – origin from Greek words meaning ‘disorder remedy’ – Asteraceae family.

How did we ever come to hate dandelions? Well, who knows. In any case, Europeans thought them valuable enough to tote them to the New World in the 1600’s. In ancient times, the plant was valued as a diuretic and liver tonic.

When the soil temperature hits 50 F (that was April 15 at the orchard) the dandelion is triggered to make flower heads … and then away they go! The orchard becomes a sea of dandes, busy doing their fine work – prying open the heavy soil with their deep root.

Thermal compost class
Sat May 22, 10-12
hands-on! RSVP
Please email us if you want to volunteer at FECOfreewayestatescommunityorchard@gmail

Some weeders can’t resist pulling dandelion plants. That’s fine, as long as the plant gets recycled: either tossed back on top of the soil, or pitched on the compost drying rack. We think of them as Class A compost plants – plants that we would compost in any manner – directly on the soil, in a static compost or in a thermal compost. Class B compost plants are those that we would only put through a thermal compost, so the high heat can kill unwanted seeds. Class C weeds belong in the yard waste – bindweed, Himalayan blackberry, etc. They would also be devastated by the thermal process but why take a chance when we have so many other wonderful plants to compost.

This week at the orchard, we are scooping up the dandelion leaves, along with two great mulch plants: early-flowering borage (Trachystemon orientalis) and common comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Plants that produce a large volume of material above ground are good mulch plants.

This fresh ‘green manure’ will have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 20 and will help produce heat in the upcoming compost pile.

Feverishly pulling the dandelion plants for a thermal compost isn’t the best use for our dandes. There are other uses with more substantial benefits: medicine, wine, tea, salads, antioxidants, seeds for birds, mosquito repellent, and nectar for bees. At FECO, they are a preferred food of the menacing Eastern Cottontail rabbit. All parts of the plant are edible and the USDA ranks them higher than spinach or broccoli in nutrition!

Well, are you starting to like these sensational plants better?



More about the dandelion:

Nutrition of dandelion:

Nutrient content spreadsheet:

The dandelion society:

Dr Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

Soil temperature by county:

You Need This Kind of Friend

April 25, 2021

An old pal and I were talking about different kinds of friends. We have friends who challenge us, helping us to be the best we can be. Hopefully, we also have a friend who thinks we are wonderful and that everything we do is amazing.

Joan Davis. Everyone needs a friend like Joan Davis. I have never met anyone so cheerful and warm in all my life. Her smile is permanent and actually does go from ear to ear. I believe she has posted some positive comment for every FECO blog written.

Joan is moving to the Hearthstone in a couple of weeks. At this point in time, the Hearthstone has restrictions on visiting but residents can come and go as they please.

Thermal Compost Class
Sat May 15, 10-12
for reps from giving gardens
Please email us if you want to volunteer at FECO freewayestatescommunityorchard@gmail

When Joan told me about the move I asked her to meet me at the orchard. I predicted that she might be a bit sad about this big transition coming her way. I even brought a clean hankie, in case she broke down.

Nope. Here is what she said, “It’s great! I won’t ever have to go up those stairs again!” Then she gave me a can of sardines. (It’s a old joke.)

Joan has been a friend of the orchard since the beginning. We really had struggles at the start of FECO. There were many days that I didn’t think I could keep it up. As I write this, I am realizing that her support really helped push me along.

There was a time, early in 2011, when no one from the core group was interested in working on a grant for the orchard. Then Joan raised her hand.

During the grant periods, keeping track of volunteer hours became important. Joan took on that task. She tracked hours for four years, including the busiest part of orchard development, the 2014 and 2015 infrastructure matching grant.

But the job that we could always count on her for was – event greeter. If there was a job made for Joan, it was greeter. She greeted hundreds of people, during nearly every FECO event.

Joan has endured some pretty tough obstacles in her life but she didn’t sour. She sees the glass full to the brim.

I love you Joan.


Pruners Without Borders

March 15, 2021

FECO volunteers, Reid and Jacob, both well over six feet tall, used their height last summer to glean a few figs from a tree in Green Lake Park. They agreed that the tree needed care.

This spring, Reid asked me if I might be interested in helping them prune the tree. I was game. “Sure! Ask Colleen Hackett, at Park N Rec, what she thinks. She knows us and she knows we prune fruit trees.”

Kevin, senior gardener for Green Lake Park, appreciated Reid’s ask for permission. Kevin expressed real delight in having volunteers eager to care for this tree. He explained that it had been planted in 2005 by a Parks Department employee but they could never afford the staff time to prune and care for it.

FECO Plant Sale! Sat Mar 20, 10-1
masks and distancing
everything from Starts to Finishes
Fig pruning class
Sat Mar 27, 10-11:30
donations welcome

We were delighted and a little surprised at the prompt and positive response. I met Jacob and Reid at the tree site. I have never seen a fig tree so dense and tangled. The fig looked as though it had never been pruned. It suffered from abuse – people pulling branches down or climbing the tree to get at the figs. This tree offered an opportunity to sharpen our rehabilitation skills, and do to so in a public space where we can’t control what others might do.

The important part of any pruning effort is to understand the goals of pruning for a particular plant. Kevin stated his goal, “If you can remove the very low branches and the huge forest of suckers around the base of the tree, my mowers will be able to get closer to the trunk.”

For our part, we decided that our long-term goal is a healthy tree that bears and ripens a good crop of figs year after year. We know it will take a few years of pruning to remove damaged and excess wood, and create good structure for fruit bearing.

Time to get to work. Reid, Jacob, and I brought out our loppers and pruning saws on a chilly, windy March morning. With a focus on reducing the tree mass, we made only thinning cuts. The heading cuts, that stimulate growth for next years fruit production, will need to wait until we have created good structure.

I’m grateful to Reid and Jacob for hatching the idea of taking this tree into our care. If you see a plant or area that seems neglected, ask the caretaker about it. You just might find yourself with a good opportunity to improve a public space, and learn a few things along the way.