Earthkeeping – Orchard Gardens

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

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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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Straw Bale Garden

Our straw bale garden is doing really well. After a month of “conditioning”, I dug some holes in the top and added potting soil. I then planted some petunias and nasturtiums. The result is fantastic! We placed the straw bale along a building, under the eves, where nothing much would grow. I water it a couple of times a week and occasionally add a high nitrogen fertilizer. Beautiful!


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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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A new adventure – making a Hugelkultur raised bed

Hugelkultur is a German word which means roughly “mound culture”. It’s an innovative new way of making a raised bed. The bed utilizes old wood, twigs, organic matter and soil. The combination of the wood and organic matter makes it very fertile and the biological process of breaking down the wood and organic matter generates heat (just like in a compost pile). This heat and organic matter makes it a fertile place to grow. I have read about hugelkultur beds and the fact that they need much less water and no fertilizer to grow really nice crops. So I’ve decided to make my own, right in my p-patch bed.

At our p-patch we have lots of old apple wood from apple trees that have lost a limb, so we started with that. Rick cut it up into firewood sized pieces.

Cutting up the apple wood

Cutting up the apple wood

Then, I dug the top six inches of soil out of my bed in a 6 foot by 3 foot area. I wanted to preserve the top soil for the last step of the process. This also made a convenient space to contain the wood. I then brought in the pieces of wood and distributed them through out the area. I added twigs on top of that. (the twigs had a lot of leaves attached, I think that will help).

Piling on twigs after wood

Piling on twigs after wood

Then I covered it with a layer of leaves and organic matter from the garden (rhubarb leaves, squash leaves, etc.). Then I piled on the top soil that I had saved. The whole pile is at most 3 feet tall.

Finished Hugelkultur Bed

Finished Hugelkultur Bed

Lastly, I put straw on top to act as a mulch and keep it all nice until spring when I plant my vegetables in it. I can’t wait until spring and summer to see what my results are and if I really do have to water less. (that would be a nice bonus).

If you are interested in hugelkultur, you can do a search and find lots of detailed descriptions of how to do your own project. I will update this blog with my results (good or bad).

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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.