Garden Flyer

Our garden is in a very public space and lots of people walk by daily. Whenever I am working in the garden I get curious looks and sometimes questions about what we’re doing. A permaculture orchard does not conform to the common ideas of what a park or community garden looks like – so people have a hard time understanding the concepts and goals of the project. Many are hesitant to venture inside and look around.

Now City Fruit has helped me create a flyer that describes the ideas and goals of the garden in a very accessible and engaging way. What’s more, they are providing a leaflet holder that we can put up near the sidewalk. It’ll be interesting to see whether that changes the perception of the garden; and possibly draws in some more participants.

Here’s the draft version of the flyer – what do you think?

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Variations on Hugel

Hugelkultur is a variation on a theme that has been around for a very long time. The traditional Huegelbeet or Hochbeet aims at improving the soil and microclimate, incorporating not just woody material but also plenty of leaf mold and compost. Hugelkultur, popularized by permaculturists in the US, relies primarily on large diameter wood to act as a sponge for water and a substrate for beneficial soil fungi and microbes.

In Seattle – contrary to popular belief – we are challenged by an extremely dry summer period July through September. Combine this with the extravagant prices of city water and you are highly incentivized to adopt gardening techniques that reduce the need for irrigation. I am using a modified version of Hugelkultur in an attempt to create more drought-tolerant garden beds. The main features are:

  • a shallow pit to capture spring rains
  • large diameter pieces of wood to absorb and slowly release the water

Additional benefits, beyond reducing the need for irrigation, are

  • long term increase of soil organic matter
  • increased soil depth and improved drainage – very beneficial when you are dealing with 6” of top soil over solid clay
  • good use of “waste” wood
  • drys and warms up more quickly in spring

Here’s a photo-sequence of the bed we built this weekend to plant popcorn.

 

Pit and raw materials

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All of the wood is arranged in the bottom of the pit

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Cover with the topsoil previously excavated

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Adding some compost

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Finished Hugelkultur with Dakota Black popcorn plants

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Tough Lessons

Growing fruits and vegetables is a challenging business – not only when pushing the boundaries of your climate zone, but even when growing the most mundane of crops. This year, the weather has been quite favorable, but I learnt more about insect, fungal, and bacterial diseases than I would have liked.

It’s always frustrating to see a plant struggle or die, that you have been lovingly tending for weeks and months. But, difficult as it may be, you simply have to chalk it up as a learning experience and move on. I’ll admit that I am still struggling to develop the proper gardening equanimity. Here are some of the things I learnt this spring.

 

Peach Leaf Curl


Peach Leaf Curl is a fungal disease. Spores infect the buds of new growth – by the time you see the typical red patches and deformed leaves it’s already too late. Infection and growth of the fungus is promoted by cool moist weather – almost all peach trees in the PNW suffer from this disease.

On the bright side, while it weakens the tree it will not kill it. Remove all infected material as soon as possible to prevent spore formation and re-infection; keep the tree well watered and fertilized to help it recover; prune to allow more light and air penetration.

 

Plum Leaf Curl


Despite the similar names, this is very different from Peach Leaf Curl. Plum Leaf Curl is caused by aphids. They attack the new growth causing it to curl and shrivel.

Unlike fungal diseases, aphids can be combated by encouraging their natural predators, e.g. Ladybugs. Of course, that means allowing the pest population to grow until the predator population ramps up to match it.

Physical measures such as soap spray or removing affected leaves will slow the aphids down, but aren’t sufficient to eliminate them.

 

Black Spot


Pear trees – and apples to a lesser extent – are afflicted by fungal black spot disease. Left unchecked, it can defoliate the tree. The best way of dealing with this is removing affected leaves as early as possible to limit the spread.

 

Cedar Rust


Cedar rust is another fungal disease common in the PNW. Its host plants are cedar and juniper. Since these are ubiquitous, you have to accept that susceptible varieties of apple and pear will be affected every year. Manual removal of affected material is again your best bet for limiting the spread of the disease.

 

Flea Beetles


Flea beetles were unusually bad this year, particularly on our potatoes. Generally we’ll just see a few holes in the leaves which don’t impact the plants significantly. This year, plants are seriously weakened and stunted.

Natural predators like the Soldier Beetle are your ally. Additionally, you can disrupt the soil-dwelling larval stage by cultivating around the affected or susceptible plants. Floating row cover can also prevent or limit Flea Beetle damage.

 

Cane Borers

Cane borers drill holes in the branches of fruiting currants to deposit their eggs. The hatching larvae eat the soft tissue inside the cane, causing it to break.

Look for small holes ringed by debris. Remove those canes to prevent spreading. Floating row cover can prevent the adult cane borer fly from laying its eggs.

 

Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD)

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SWD, a type of fruit fly, only recently arrived on the scene. It was first detected in Washington around 2010. There has been little time to study its behavior and life cycle, and to identify effective management strategies. Unfortunately, it looks like it is here to stay and will pose a major headache:

  • Wild blackberries provide unlimited habitat to SWD
  • SWD infests many kinds of soft-skinned fruit and berries. This includes: cherries, pie cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, mulberries, peaches, figs, grapes, kiwi, plums
  • Unlike other types of fruit flies which only lay their eggs in damaged or overripe fruit, SWD infests unripe fruit.
  • SWD is prolific: each female can lay several hundred eggs; and there are multiple generations in a single growing season

What can you do? At this time, physical control is the best option. Completely enclose the fruit or plant in fine mesh, e.g. pantyhose, paint strainer, or organza fabric. The tricky part is to wait until after pollination, but before SWD is active – that is a short window of time.

On the bright side, SWD infested fruit is not toxic. If infestation is not too severe, you may still want to use the fruit for juice, jam, etc.

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In Defense of Dandelions

beeGardeners everywhere are waging war on the insidious dandelion. Its deep tap root resists pulling and it will regrow if even a small bit of root remains in the ground. Mow it and its new leaves hug the ground, evading further mowing attempts. Its seeds are ubiquitous, spreading far and wide if even one plant is allowed to go to seed. Small wonder that dandelions are the bane of many gardeners’ existence.

But there is another way. Instead of fighting a losing battle, embrace the dandelion for its many virtues, which are vastly underappreciated:

  • Aerates and adds organic matter to compacted or clay soil
  • Mines minerals from deeper soil layers
  • Tender leaves make tasty and extremely healthy greens – both raw and cooked
  • Buds and flowers are edible too
  • Dandelion wine
  • Dried leaves and roots make a healthy herbal tea
  • Roasted dried root is used as coffee substitute
  • Large leaves keep the soil cool and moist, acting as a living mulch
  • Flowers are an important food source for bees and bumblebees
  • Keith Richards’ daughter is called Dandelion

Last, but not least, rediscover the joy of blowing on the fluffy seed head and watching the little parachute-seeds float away on the wind.

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Apples–a Living History

Apple seeds do not grow true – they are always the result of a genetic shuffle that occurs during pollination. This applies to self-fertile trees as well as those requiring cross-pollination. Plant a seed from the Honeycrisp you just ate and the apples from the resulting tree will bear little to no resemblance to their parent.

The variability of apple seed is amazing, which is why there are thousands of different types of apples differing in shape, color, texture, taste, storing qualities, disease resistance and many other characteristics. Here is an excellent explanation of this trait – also known as extreme heterozygosity.

As a result, orchardists have perfected grafting techniques to clone a specific variety of apple. Without the help of humans, for example, the Roxbury Russet apple would not have survived since early colonial times. It’s pretty remarkable to realize that an apple you can buy at the farmers market today is directly linked to the very first Roxbury Russet seedling discovered near Boston in the 17th century.

The variability of apples has allowed them to thrive across many geographies and climate zones. Over time, growers have identified those varieties that perform best in their location. The results are difficult to predict and much trial and error is required; particularly since there is little information about many of the less common varieties.

This is where the backyard grower can make an important contribution. It only takes a few trees, a little dexterity with a grafting knife, and patience to produce and evaluate dozens of different apple varieties. Enthusiasts have been known to graft more than 100 different cultivars onto a single tree.

City Fruit orchard stewards at Amy Yee Park have embarked on an effort to grow and evaluate a number of old and new varieties. Wandering through the park, you may spot tags for any of these:

There is so much to discover – it’s a shame to restrict yourself to just the half dozen varieties typically on sale. Seek out and experience all that an apple can be. And if you have a little garden space, consider growing some heirloom varieties yourself.

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Peaches in Seattle?

I love peaches, and so do most people I know. So a peach tree was high on my list of fruit tree selections. But how many peach trees do you see around Seattle? Not many, and for good reasons. So is the idea of Seattle-grown peaches sheer folly?

Let’s consider all the reasons not to try this:

Short-lived

Peach trees have a productive life of only about 20 years. Not much, compared to the over 100 years you can get from an apple tree. On the plus side, they grow fast and are precocious, bearing fruit earlier than many other fruit trees.

Chilling requirements

Seattle doesn’t get very cold, but since “chill hours” only require temperatures under 45F, we actually get a surprisingly high average of 3000 chill hours. That’s more than enough for peaches.

Pollination

This is a serious issue. Peach trees flower early, when the weather is often too cold and wet to allow for successful insect-pollination. Fortunately, since peach trees usually require heavy thinning of fruit set, a sub-par fruit set may not actually be such a bad thing.

Disease

Peach trees are disease-prone. In particular, they are susceptible to peach leaf curl, a fungal disease promoted by cool wet winter weather, i.e. Seattle conditions. Assuming you don’t want to spray chemicals, you do still have a few options:

  • Plant a leaf curl resistant variety, such as Oregon Curl Free, Avalon Pride, or Indian Free Peach
  • Protect your tree from winter rains by planting it against a house wall, under the roof overhang
  • Spray natural anti-fungals in early Spring, such as Trichoderma mix or Effective Microbes
  • Is it worth it?

    That’s really up to you. I definitely think so. You won’t have a great harvest – or any – every year. But when the right conditions come together and you pick that perfectly tree-ripened fruit off your own peach tree, I think you will agree with me.

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Our New Orchard Web Page

We’ve been partnering with City Fruit for a number of years now. City Fruit funded the purchase of various trees and shrubs in the orchard; they helped in negotiations with SDOT, Department of Neighborhoods, and Seattle Parks Department; they provided free training for orchard stewards; and now they’ve put a really nice profile of the orchard up on their own web site.
Check it out at http://cityfruit.org/programs/orchard-stewards/brandon-triangle-orchard/

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