Earthkeeping – Orchard Gardens

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

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Spring Planting

A few years ago, we had a visit from gardener and author Willi Galloway (Grow Cook Eat).  She shared with us that in the unpredictable spring weather of the Pacific Northwest, the best way to approach spring planting is through noticing soil temperature.  While daytime temps vary a lot this type of year, the soil temperature is much more consistent.  If you look at the back of your seed envelope, it may tell you the soil germination temperature.

In my experience, the soil temperature here is the average of the nighttime and daytime temperatures.  If the weather warms or cools a great deal, it will take several days for the soil temperature to catch up.  Today for example, the high temp is expected to be 57 degrees, and tomorrow cool to 47.  So take the average of several days.  So our average soil temperature for the next week is somewhere in the range of 45 degrees to 50 degrees.

If you plant seeds before the soil has warmed to their germination temp, they simply won’t germinate, and may just rot.  To combat this, many gardeners start seeds indoors.  Your seed packet will advise if you can start the variety in pots or not.  I have started my tomatoes indoors for quite a few years now.  I use a heat mat (made for germinating seeds) to bring the temperature up to the 70-80 range that tomatoes need, and I start them in the house rather than the garage (and then move them out to the garage under a grow light).  In the house, I don’t have a fancy setup, I just use a desk lamp over the seeds.     One of our gardeners, Jan, wrote this article about growing tomatoes a few years ago:

Right now, gardeners are itching to get out and plant, with the warming weather and less rain we are having.  There are a few techniques you can use.

  1.  Warm the soil by placing black plastic over a patch for a few weeks.  While we all want to cut down on plastic use, you may have a few black garbage bags at home that you can reuse after they are done with warming duties.
  2. Use row cover.  This is widely available at garden stores and online.  It will warm your plants and soil just a few degrees, and also keep out slugs and pests.
  3. Use starts, but don’t plant too early.

Here is what you can plant from seed now or soon:

Broccoli Rabe (45 degrees)
Swiss Chard
Brussel Sprouts
Leeks (grow from seedlings)
Radish (45 degrees)
Turnip (45 degrees)

Onions and garlic from sets


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Summer Campfire Series – In the Orchard

Thanks to Pastors Sara and Drew Yoos, we will be having a fun series of “campfire” events in the orchard.  Sara and Drew have created “Create Bellevue” and have lots of fun things going on.  Here’s an excerpt from their website:

Create Bellevue is proud to present the Summer Campfire Series. Come, gather around the fire and hear some stories. Events happening on the second Saturdays of the month at 7pm in The Orchard at 4315 129th Place SE, Bellevue, WA 98006. (Parking is available at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.)

Free Admission. You bring the blankets and chairs, and we’ll provide the s’mores.
  • June 10 – Storytelling and Songs
  • July 8 – Moana Movie Night
  • August 12 – Open Mic Night (comedy, games, and crafts)

Sara and Drew are also hosting a summer camp July 17-21.  You can find out all the details at  The campfire series is free, the camps are very low cost.  Fun stuff!  Our Seattle summers are so short, we need to seize every opportunity to celebrate our out of doors life.

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“Orchard Gardens Cooks” – cookbook by our gardeners

CookbookOrchard Gardens has published a cookbook!  Thanks to Sharon and Nicole, dedicated gardeners, we have assembled a complete set of recipes from our garden clan.  We have tried to incorporate recipes which include vegetables from the garden.  Kale, beets, squash, and even quince have found a place in our cookbook.  I can’t wait to try the “Basil and Onion Mashed Potato” recipe by Jan.

The books are $10 and 100% of the proceeds go to the Backpack Meals for Kids program here in Bellevue.  Backpack Meals provides a bag of food to kids who would otherwise go hungry on the weekends.  You can look at their website, Backpack Meals for Kids, to get more information.  Backpack Meals was started by one of our gardeners who wanted take action to help kids in Bellevue.  The $10 from the sale of one book will fill a backpack for one student! A student who will surely appreciate it.

You can purchase the book online at Create Space.

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All That Cardboard

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Merry Christmas from Holy Cross Orchard Gardens.  We hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Now, on to another topic relevant to the season.  What to do with the myriad of shipping boxes that have crossed your doorstep?  This year, I had surgery during prime shopping season and had to be off my feet so I did a lot of online orders.  I have a pile of boxes outside near my recycling bins.  But I have plans for them.  At Orchard Gardens, we have found that cardboard makes the most excellent weed block.  There is really no downside.  It’s biodegradable and pretty much free.  (I’d say completely free, but I had to buy something to get the box).  Flatten the box, remove any shipping tape or plastic shipping envelope.  Then place in the areas where you want to suppress weeds and place wood chips, bark or compost over it.  Generally, only use compost in the areas where you will be growing something.  If you are suppressing weeds, a thick layer of wood chips works the best.  You can buy chips in bags, or if there is a tree service truck in your neighborhood, you can ask them to dump the pile of chips in your driveway (they chip everything they put in the truck).    In this photo, I placed cardboard all around my compost bins and placed wood chips on top.  I also raked up cedar needles that my cedar tree sheds and put them on top.  Any grass or weeds that do try to grow are easy to pluck out.  Now probably in a year or two I’ll need to add more chips, but it’s pretty low maintenance.bins

In our orchard, we are in the process of putting cardboard and chips around the base of all the apples trees.  The tree will not have to compete with grass or weeds when growing and the chips will help keep the moisture in.

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Join the fun


Apple picking – fun for the whole family

Join the fun in the orchard at Orchard Gardens at Holy Cross Lutheran on Sept. 24 picking apples and making cider! Enjoy the beautiful heirloom orchard and the opportunity to taste fresh cider! Orchard Gardens grows and donates more than one ton of organic produce to HopeLink to benefit local hungry families. Please note: * The quilting group at Holy Cross will have some quilts you can try your hand at tying. * The community gardeners will have fresh herbs and veggies for sale. * Other goodies will be for sale as well. * Please bring a clean pint-sized jar for your fresh apple cider. * Please bring a non-perishable food item for the food bank. Be a part of a learning growing community in South Bellevue that celebrates the autumn in the orchard with the entire community! Children of all ages are welcome with parental oversight. Location: in the orchard at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 4315 129th Pl. SE, Bellevue, WA 98006 Questions: 425-746-4848 To volunteer: – high school students may earn community service hours Parking: Holy Cross parking lot or, if that is full, park cross the street at St. Margaret’s Episcopal

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Orchard Looking for Orchard Stewards


We are partnering with City Fruit ( to bring some substantive training to a select group of people who would like to deepen their knowledge of fruit tree care and become orchard stewards for this heirloom orchard.

We are looking for a dozen people who would coordinate the monthly care of the trees with neighborhood volunteers.  Can you spend 4-8 hours per month, helping to care for this lovely heirloom orchard?

Here is an overview of what the trees generally need over the year:

January – winter pruning
February – winter pruning
March – winter pruning, begin to watch for blossoms, pollinators, insects
April – continue to monitor conditions
May – pest prevention
June – monitor whether trees need water thru the summer, insect prevention, some fruit thinning
July – apple and plum picking, orchard hygiene
August – fruit picking, orchard hygiene, summer pruning
September – cider event, fruit picking, orchard hygiene
October – fruit picking, orchard hygiene
November – final orchard hygiene prior to dormant period
December – rest

To apply, send an email to                                                                         


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Our ancient orchard (50 – 75 years old) holds a number of quince trees.  Before I was associated with this orchard, I had barely even heard of quince.  I’ve come to know that while they are a different type of fruit, they are quite tasty.  In fact, we have been selling the quince to a number of gourmet restaurants in the Puget Sound area.  My research indicates that quince were well known with the ancient Greeks, in fact Paris awarded Aphrodite with quince in an ancient Greek myth. Quince are grown widely in Europe and were grown in the 18th Century American Colonies.  One quince tree was always in the lower corner of the vegetable garden.  In fact Thomas Jefferson had a quince tree in his orchard at Monticello.

This was the first year I made quince jam and was pleased to discover it’s wonderful difference.  The recipe below is a jam made without pectin, so it’s more like an applesauce consistency.  It’s wonderful on toast or crackers and freezes well.  This recipe comes our way via Cyd, a local gardener.

4 cups chopped cored peeled quince (about 1.5 pounds)

1/2 lemon, seeded and coarsely chopped (including peel).

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Place quince and lemon in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped.  Place quince misture, sugar, water and vanilla in a large, heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 55 minutes or until reduced to 3.5 cups.  Cool pour into airtight containers.  Refrigerate for two months or freeze in small containers.