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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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.


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Orchard Gardens Update – What to Plant Now

This just in! Evidence of spring is in the air. Today was a beautiful later winter day with sun and temperatures in the 50’s. The grass is starting to grow and cherries trees are just starting to bloom. It’s still cold and night and many gardeners wonder – what to plant now?

The soil temperature today was 45 degrees. Soil temperature is a good indicator of when it is safe to plant. Soil temperatures are much more stable than air temperatures and the weather in the Pacific Northwest can be gloomy and cold into June. Many plants have a preferred soil temperature.

At 45 degrees it is safe to plant:
Broccoli Rabe
Fava Beans

At 50 degrees there will be many more that we can plant, so stay tuned!

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Starting Tomatoes from Seed

By Jan S.

I love to start my garden from seeds. For over 30 years I have harvested a large crop of tomatoes grown from two small packets of tomato seeds ordered each winter from Territorial Seed Company in Oregon.

These seeds are open pollinated, determinate types which ripen their first fruit quickly and grow compact bushes that tend to bear heavily for a month or so and then taper off, great for our short ripening season. They hold their fruit off the ground and do not require a lot of staking.

Inderterminate types are said to yield the highest quality tomatoes but are a little later to mature with expanding vines which require heavy staking. I plant determinate varieties, either Oregon Spring or the Siletz for slicing tomatoes, and Heinz organic, a nice 3-4 inch tomato with a meaty texture and almost no seeds for saucing.

This year I am experimenting with an heirloom variety from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah Iowa. These seeds are an open pollinated variety, which the seed saved from the parent plant will grow offspring with the same characteristics. Hybrid, on the other hand, is produced by crossing two different parent varieties of the same species. Hybrids do not remain true in generations and cannot be saved from generation to generation unchanged. But that is the topic for another day.

I always plant the seeds in a special seedling mix which I purchase from the Garden Supply catalog. You could make your own or purchase another variety, but I have success with this– why change something that is working. I plant them in a flat with 24-2inch divisions, cover them and place them in my warm downstairs bathroom until they poke their heads through the soil. Then it is into the garage under the florescent tubes. I have a timer on the light so that the plants get about 6 hours in the dark each day. Even tomatoes need to sleep sometime.

As soon as the first true leaves appear, I transplant them into a 4 inch pot. They go back under the light until they are strong enough to be outdoors in the cold frame and there is enough light. The garage is cool enough that they do not grow leggy. Depending on the weather, the tomatoes stay in the cold frame until it is warm enough to plant them in my garden, usually in May.

I am not a master gardener and I have never taken a class on gardening. But I have devoured Steve Solomon’s book:

    Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades

. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I grew up on a farm in Iowa where every summer I helped my mother plant and care for a garden that was about 3500 square feet(incidently the size of our p-patch). We grew all our vegetables for the year. My mother canned all summer in the heat and humidity. No freezer because we had no electricity.

I know. It is only the first week in April. But we can dream can’t we? Happy Gardening.