Earthkeeping – Orchard Gardens

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

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A Ton of Food!

A  Ton of Food…After months of planning, removing sod, plowing and planting in the spring of 2010, Orchard Gardens community garden in South Bellevue was born.  Every year since that first season, we have produced well over 1,000 pounds of fresh organic produce for Bellevue’s Hopelink food bank, in addition to plenty of produce for the 15 or so gardener’s own tables.  We have dreamed of giving one TON.  2015 was the year we did.  During this growing season, we brought 2,310 pounds of fruit and produce to Hopelink where it has been received with “Ooh’s” and “Ahh’s” and ‘Thank You’s.”

Many workers and partners helped make this happen.  Holy Cross Lutheran Church donates part of its land for planting.  A few staunch gardeners and people with passion for growing things work together to move this project forward.  But without our community gardeners, we could not produce all the food.  The fresh produce was donated by gardeners who planted an ‘extra row’ and shared a few extra pounds each week, the produce was packed in the trunk of a Honda sedan every Tuesday morning and delivered to Hopelink for the afternoon shoppers.

Many wonderful people make this happen.   One amazing “Garden Godfather” is committed to growing for the purpose of sharing with local hungry families and he also shares his expertise with fellow gardeners.   A  Master Gardener oversees our composting as well as plants his own garden.  We have gardeners who, together with family members, built a structure for climbing plants.   A local Windermere office staff helped create a rose arbor.  A volunteer group from Stanford wheelbarrowed compost around each of two dozen fruit trees and built a brick edge for the community herb garden. One gardener single handedly took on the project of creating a beautiful clean edge for the garden and was assisted on several Saturdays by local volunteer groups including one sponsored by the City of Bellevue.

We partnered with Lettuce Link of Solid Ground who gave us plant starts and seeds for Giving Gardens.  Cedar Grove contributed 30 yards of compost for free and we have purchased many other yards of great Cedar Grove compost over the years to create healthy and productive soil.  Local landscapers give us chips to make walking paths.  We have a local “Bee Whisperer” who takes care of our Mason bees that pollinate the blossoms on the more than 25 heirloom apple, pear, plum and quince trees.  One gardener cares for worms that create nutritious compost. Another experiments with new ideas such as hugelkultur planting.   The Church of Steadfast Love from the Compass Center in Seattle helps us keep the fruit trees pruned and harvested.  The Pomegranate Center of Issaquah partnered with us to build a shelter from the sun and rain for the gardeners.  The list goes on and on.  Thank you Orchard Gardens Community.

Each year new gardeners become part of this community and invest a nominal amount to rent a plot and support the work of this community garden. If you have an interest in joining a thriving community garden, contact Jan Starr, Orchard Gardens P-Patch Coordinator at 425-221-8544 or



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Aphid Control

By Robin Bentley

November 4, 2015

In a garden where the focus is on production I sometimes see the plant’s natural “end stage” as unnecessary.  When the parsley, carrots, mint and cilantro, for example, start flowering and setting seed I yank them up to make way for something else.  And yet those flowers are important, even in a highly productive p-patch like ours.  First of all, there are the bees.  Anything we can do to encourage them and reverse colony collapse is crucial.  Flowers are also important to a host of other beneficial insects.  We hear that term a lot, but what does it mean?  Who are they?  These “insects with benefits”?

Ladybugs, for one.  But you’ve known that since you were three years old.  What you may not know is that the predatory larvae of hover flies and parasitic wasps (I know, yuk!) prey on—you guessed it—aphids.  So do the aptly-named bright orange aphid midges.  With flowers come pollen and nectar—which entices the flying adults of these beneficial insects to stop and raise a family, producing the hungry hordes of predatory larvae which feast on juicy aphids.  Yum!

Last summer a lot of our patches were stressed from drought—weakening our veggies and making them that much more susceptible to infestation.  Some are tempted in an acute attack such as ours to apply insecticidal soap or neem oil.  Proceed with caution, though, as many of the beneficial insects are hidden under the aphids, and they succomb to the soaps and oils as well.   My old trick of blasting the aphids with a strong stream from the hose will make the beneficials disappear as well.  Even pinching the suckers between your fingers risks killing the good larvae.

So feel good instead about letting some of your plants go to seed—plant a row of alyssum, some clumps of calendula among your veggies, or a border of verbena around the edges…in the case of calendula and many other flowers the petals are edible for humans as well.  You can be secure in the knowledge that they’re your best allies in the aphid battle.

As well as eating some of these flowers, the seeds that follow are available for planting next year.  So it’s a win-win-win.

In her book, Backyard Bounty Linda Gilkeson lists the following beneficial herbs, flowers and vegetables useful for planting to keep aphids away.  She also reminds us to have something in bloom from early spring to late summer by growing a variety of plants.  Here are some herbs you probably already have growing somewhere in your patch:






Summer Savory


Try letting some of these go to seed, too:

Happy Planting!!




Perennials Vegetable Flowers
Calendula Alyssum Chinese Greens and Mustards
Coreopsis Basket of Gold (Aurinia) Kale
Cosmos Coneflower Radishes
Feverfew Daisies Leeks and Onions
Heliotrope Golden marguerite (Anthemis)
Lobelia Goldenrod
Mignonette Rudbeckia
Schizanthus Verbena
Sweet Alyssum Yarrow


From Gilkeson, Backyard Bounty



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Backyard composting

What can we do in the winter garden?  Why, think about spring, of course.  And, work on our composting.  I wanted to increase the amount of compost I had available and wanted to find a way to compost food scraps.  It had to be easy, and it had to be rat-proof.  This round unit is ideal for that.  The round shape means rats cannot get their teeth into the plastic to chew.  The ball is on rollers so the compost can be turned and this speeds up the compost process.  The second photo shows a 3 bin unit which is covered with wire.  The front boards are removable to allow access to your compost, and the top lifts up to add items.  Rat-proof?  Maybe.  The 3rd photo is a round plastic unit with a lid.  It definitely is not rodent proof, and the chew marks at the top prove.

If you are just composting garden waste like leaves, plants, and grass, there is not so much need to worry about rodents.  Anytime you add any food matter, the chances increase that you’ll have visitors.    A friend woke up one day to find that raccoons had dug up her carefully buried food scraps.  (several months old).

The main thing with composting, whether you add food scraps or not, is to layer your browns and greens.  Browns can include lots of things, not just brown leaves.  You can use shredded newspaper, old pizza boxes, torn up paper towel tubes, etc.  The browns add pockets of air, which are critical to making the process work.  When starting a compost pile, you can also put in a couple of layers of old compost or garden soil to add in the beneficial microbes.  Turning the pile will speed up the rate at which your material turns into compost.  However, you don’t ever NEED to turn it.  You can just fill up the bin and leave it.  Look in there a few months later, it’ll be half full, as the material becomes compost.  It may take a year or so to create compost in a pile that is not turned.

When using food scraps in the pile, layer food scraps with layers of browns and other green material.  Use only vegetarian food scraps (no meat or cheese).  If you find your pile with food scraps is smelly, add a layer of garden soil to the top.  It’ll stop the smell.

With a 3 bin system, like the middle picture, you can have 3 stages of compost, one you are adding to, one that is “cooking” and one that is finishing.  Cooking refers to the fact that a properly put together compost pile will heat up as the microbes do their thing.


Round compost unit

Round compost unit


3 bin composting unit



Round barrel type composting unit


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Apple Picking Success!

We had a wonderful apple picking and cider making event on Sept 27th.  At 10:30 a.m. approximately 50 Girl Scouts along with leaders and parents gathered for a special Girl Scout event.  The girls enjoyed learning about the orchard, picking apples and seeing how cider was made.  For one troop, this was their first outing together as Girl Scouts.  For other girls, it was the first time they had climbed a ladder or picked an apple.

Our event opened to the public at noon, as many members of the public joined us for some old fashioned fun.  The weather cooperated, and it was a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the orchard.  We sold herbs and vegetables from the p-patch, pickles, and Jamie sold her yummy pastries.  Much of the money collected went to the hungry.

Some interesting statistics:

$350 collected from sale of garden and pastry goodies for backpack meals
6 boxes of food collected for backpack meals
100 lbs collected for hopelink
150- 200 people attended including nearly 50 Girl Scouts


Apple picking - fun for the whole family

Apple picking – fun for the whole family

Wonderful pastries for sale

Wonderful pastries for sale

The apple press which turned out gallons of great ciderThe apple press which turned out gallons of great cider


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April 19th – Healthy Soil Class

Where: Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Orchard Garden P-Patch

When: April 19, 2014 10:00 a.m.

Instructor: Gary Scheider, Your p-Patch neighbor and King County Master Gardener

Subject: “Building healthy soil in our Garden”

Cost: Free!

Join Gary and learn about the characteristics of healthy soil, how to enhance your soil, and how to maintain it. Gary will tell us all about soil amendments and compost as well. Our gardens are only as good as the soil they are grown in. Our Northwest soil is not so great all by itself (glacial till, basically) so find out how to make yours better. Good soil uses less water and requires less fertilizer to grow great vegetables.

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Pickle Making Workshop – August 6th 2013

Learn to make Bread and Butter pickles – no experience necessary!

Have you always wanted to learn how to can your own pickles just like grandma used to make? You are invited to a “hands-on” Bread and Butter pickle canning workshop. Just $10 (mail payment to HCLC) covers the cost of all supplies and you get to leave with a jar of Bread and Butters. Space is limited to 10 canners so call to save your space today.

Please contact Sharon Stockton at (425) 458-8757.

The workshop runs from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. on August 6th.

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Orchard Gardens Update

Current soil temp 52 – 55 degrees! The soil has warmed in the last few weeks. Unseasonably cold weather in the first two weeks of April held down the temperature a bit.

I have been growing vegetables indoors for a few weeks now and have tomatoes, broccoli, flowers, thyme and other plants growing. The tomatoes have been moved out to my greenhouse. They started life in a growing tray with a heat mat with a special starter soil. This greatly increased how fast they germinated and grew in the first few weeks. They were moved to bigger pots and spent a week in the garage before going out to the mini greenhouse. I waited to move them outdoors until the temperatures were in the mid 40’s at night. The mini greenhouse really warms up any time there is a bit of sun.

Here is a picture of my laundry room with my full spectrum grow light. The temperatures in this room are coolish, maybe lower 60’s.

The mini greehouse was obtained at a very low price at a local drug store. I keep it in the warmest spot in the yard, in our south facing driveway in front of the garage door.

Now that the soil temps are in the mid 50’s, here is what is safe to plant:

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

Covering your seeds with a loose row cover fabric will help keep the slugs and rabbits out and warm them slightly. As they grow they will push the fabric up as needed. Weight down the row cover with rocks but leave plenty of loose fabric. You can also use hoops, but this not necessary for many plants.

Many gardeners have been tending their gardens in recent weeks. Here is a picture of an artichoke growing in one of our beds.