Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Fence Art November 2, 2009

Filed under: edibles,flora,garden art — greenwalks @ 2:45 pm
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Want to dress up your fence or gate? Just hang a glass jar or tin can as an impromptu flower vase, as this Seattle gardener did, fill it with flowers and greens, and give the passers-by a lift:

Gate vase (olive jar)

Bonus points for a carefully balanced pile of perfectly lusciously rounded apples (maybe they became “art” due to those telltale critter holes).

Fencepost apple pile


My Nemesis November 8, 2008

My daughter, who has been home sick from school the past two days, was sitting with me on the couch late this afternoon when she pointed up into our cedar tree and said, “Mommy, what’s that up there?” I didn’t see where she was pointing at first. Then I saw him, Public Enemy #1 in my garden.

A squirrel eating an apple?

I said to my daughter, “Good eye, sweetie. Do you see what he’s eating?” And she said, “An apple from the neighbor’s house?” Bingo! I guess he read my previous post about how much it annoys me that he’s messing with all my seedlings and bulbs when there are unused apples just two doors down. It was getting pretty dark so the shots are a little fuzzy, but you can see in this next one that he’s looking right at us with his beady little eyes, bold as brass. No fear. The perfect supervillain!

Yep, yummy

Oh, and every supervillain needs a name, right? I’m leaning towards Dr. Destructo but will be happy to accept alternate suggestions.


Nice Fall Pairing October 12, 2008

Some folks in my neighborhood have a wonderful garden which spills out onto the street and into their parking strip. All summer, I kept walking by it sans camera and had vowed to return and capture it in its full glory. Of course, the one time I remembered, the sunflowers had been downed by a recent windstorm and most of the blooming stuff had started winding down for the winter. Still, they had a really impressive bed full of purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and a heavily-bearing apple tree, the fruit of which actually looked quite healthy.

Coneflowers and apples in fall

The purple coneflower’s genus “echino” is from the Greek word for hedgehog, apparently referring to the spiny/bumpy surface at the flower’s center. This US native’s flowers are often used in teas and herbal supplements and are thought by some to boost the immune system. I haven’t had the greatest success in growing them, although they are supposed to be easy. I tried a white variety once but probably had it in a bad spot, as it struggled.

I get such a kick out of these sidewalk gardens, they provide so much enjoyment for anyone who bothers to notice as they pass by. I’m hoping that more and more folks decide to rip out their grass and try their hands at gardening at this very visible intersection of public and private space.


Cider Pressing October 3, 2008

Filed under: edibles,trees — greenwalks @ 8:13 am
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Fall in Seattle usually brings a last spate of gorgeous, sunny weather before the rains set in for good. This past weekend, we enjoyed a couple of the sunniest, most crystalline days in recent memory, the kind that you wish you could bottle up and pour out later, in the depths of darkest winter. Our relatives visiting from California joked that they had brought the sun with them, but it didn’t depart when they flew out on Monday, and we got another day or so of loveliness to enjoy.

We took advantage of the beautiful day on Sunday to enact a family tradition, the annual cider pressing. My parents have 68 mostly dwarf apple trees on 1 1/2 acres in the Seattle suburbs, and they work practically year-round to keep the trees healthy and pest-free. At least two times a year, there is much pruning to be done, as well as fertilizing, watering, fruit-thinning and anti-pest footie-applying (this year, they used over 6,000 footies!?!), not to mention the harvest at the end of all of that. Needless to say, it’s a labor of love.

To prepare the apples for pressing, my folks spend hours picking, sorting, and cleaning fruit; washing the press, buckets and bottles; setting up tables, getting out knives and cutting boards; and so on. When the guests arrive, we all pitch in with the fun part of the process.

The press has been in the family for at least three generations, not counting mine (so adding mine and my daughter’s, it’s been used by at least five). It’s a Hocking Valley Junior press, which may have come from the Midwest at some point (Hocking Valley is in Ohio). We don’t have a lot of antiques in our family, but this one’s a keeper. My grandfather, who never met anything he couldn’t fix, added the scorching-orange wheels (spares from a rototiller??) in the 70s, to make it easier to move around. Not historically accurate but improves functionality!

Family cider press

Here are its removable parts, waiting to be put together before the first use of the year.

Cider press parts

The process, once the apples are washed and dried and binned (thanks, mom and dad!) goes like this. First, we go around and put a few of each type in a tub (pre-selected for a good mix of sweet and tart, ripe and not so ripe – the list of varieties was long, but included Akane, Gravenstein, Adams Pearmain, King, Liberty, and Alkemene.) Here are the Akane and Liberty bins, almost empty:

Tubs of cider apples

Tubs of apples, all varieties nicely mixed together:

Pre-cider apples

Then, once that’s done, everyone gets to chop. Halves are fine for small apples, the others get quartered. Small brown spots and watercore are acceptable, but apple maggot damage is not, nor is coddling moth fuzz. There were very few toss-outs, since my mom was very meticulous about putting only “firsts” out for the initial (guests present) pressing. Here are the only bad ones I found in a half hour or so of chopping:

Pest-damaged apples

(The top two show how the apple maggot larva randomly roams around, munching happily, and ruins the entire piece of fruit; the bottom left is coddling moth damage to a core, the rest was usable; and the bottom right shows watercore along the left side near the skin.)

Once chopping is under way, there seems to be something about the Y chromosome which inclines those who possess it to gravitate towards the press. Very old-school farm chore division, I guess. One person tosses the chopped apples from bucket to press, and another one turns the crank. (And still another can stand around watching and avoiding chopping.) Cranking is a really short burst of super aerobic exercise and the apple tosser has to be careful not to dump too many pieces in at once the gears get jammed. Here’s an action shot, only two out of three males present, strangely, although the other one can be seen in the background.


When the wood-slat cylindrical tub below the crunching gears is full of apple bits, it’s time to slide it down to the other side of the machine and actually press the cider out. This is accomplished by spinning a handle that presses a metal disk down and persuades the apples to give up their juice. Towards the end, it’s too hard to spin the handle without leverage, so there’s a notched wooden stick that helps get every last drop out. My daughter was really into helping with everything she could (she’s still too little to turn the crank, but maybe next year), and was proud to stand on a chair and do this part.

Turning the press

It usually takes a few minutes for the juice to start coming through, but when it does it’s pretty exciting.

Cider flowing

Then the only things left to do are to strain the cider through a sieve and funnel into gallon jugs,

Straining the cider

dump out the dry juice-less apple bits into a wheelbarrow for their eventual trip to the compost pile,

The left-behind bits

and start again with the next round! It took us over two hours, not counting all the prep, to press 5 1/2 gallons of cider. My folks did another round the following day, and they may do it again later in the season, when the apples are riper and more likely to be juicy. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process but a super fun one too, especially for we guests! And my hands were too sticky to use the camera anymore by the time we got around to sampling the juice, but it was the perfect blend, not too sweet, not too sour. All in all, it was a great way to spend an autumn afternoon.

(PS I realize that this was long and off-topic. It’s vaguely related to gardening, but not to parking strips, or at least not mine!)


When Good Trees Go Bad September 15, 2008

This beautiful old apple tree is planted in the parking strip in my neighborhood.

Street apple tree

It’s lovely for most of the year, with its spreading branches, silvery bark and gently fragrant spring blossoms. Unfortunately, it’s grown to tall for its fruit to be picked easily, even with a stepladder, so during the fall, most of it drops to the ground.

Street apples

The owners put up this sign, hoping someone would cart away at least some of the mess, which is no doubt attracting some fun critters (Seattle is a water city, and where there’s water, boy are there a lot of rats!):

Apple tree sign

Um, I don’t know about you, but rotten-apple pie is not exactly tops on my list of favorite baked goods…

Rat food

I think this is a pretty good advertisement for dwarf varieties. (Obviously, I’m not blaming the tree for growing to its proper size! It’s just in the wrong place.) Fruit trees take a lot of work, pruning, thinning and so forth, and once one gets away from you it’s hard to get it back in check. Across our back alley, some folks had a neighborhood heirloom apple tree bequeathed to them years ago as a smallish transplant – now it’s a great, huge mess to deal with but they’d feel horribly guilty if they cut it down.

What about you – is there something in your garden that needs offing but you just can’t bring yourself to do it in?


Apple Tree Anti-Pest Method September 7, 2008

In a previous post, I mentioned the technique of putting “footies” (nylon half-sock hosiery thingies) on apples as they are forming on the trees, to protect them from pests like the apple maggot fly and coddling moths which can ravage the fruit. At the Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair yesterday (big post on that coming soon), I saw that they had used this method in their demonstration garden.

Apples With Footies

It’s pretty labor intensive, but if you only have a few dwarf trees (or a lot of time or many helpful garden elves), it’s doable. You just have to make sure to do it at the right time, before the pests emerge from dormancy in the spring and start doing their evil (but natural) business. Check with your local fruit tree growers’ society for more information, or click here for the Home Orchard Society’s how to’s and purchasing info.


Fall Fruit Trees on the Street August 28, 2008

Urban gardeners who want a sunny spot for fruit trees sometimes opt for the parking strip. Birds usually get to cherries first, plums drop fruit and are super messy, so most people (at least in our part of Seattle) seem to choose either pears or apples.

One neighbor has two pear trees in planter boxes on the street – they seem pretty disease-free and they have a lot of fruit this year:

Parking Strip Pears

Pear Tree in Planter Box

I am guessing that the raccoons, squirrels and (ew) rats get some, but there are enough left over for human consumption as well.

Another neighbor has lovely red apples ripening right now. Not sure of the variety, I know there are red Gravensteins that are getting ripe at the moment but it’s probably not that.

Parking Strip Apples

They seem to have something going on, maybe scab?? Apple maggots are also a real problem in our area. My folks have had success with putting “footies” (those little nylon demi-socks they give women to try on shoes if they have bare feet) on before the flies emerge and begin to lay eggs. It’s labor-intensive but seems to work quite well. For more information on this method, contact the Seattle Tree Fruit Society.

Lots of windfalls on the ground. Makes me sad to see fruit go to waste, but maybe these ones were no good.

Apple Pile in Parking Strip

Many communities have programs where volunteers will come to your house and pick whatever fruit you know you will not use, so it can go to the hungry. In Seattle, visit the Lettuce Link site for more information on their Community Fruit Tree Harvest.