Thursday, October 8, 2015

Organic orchard report

No, we don't have frogs on our apples but thought you'd enjoy this photo!
Earlier this season, I wrote how my husband Bill and I have been growing our tree fruits organically for several years. And how each year, it's been a learning process.

While plums are quite trouble-free, apples, pears and cherries are a whole different matter! Apples and pears -- which belong to the same family -- are susceptible to both insect damage and many diseases. Cherries primarily have one problem that requires action: those pesky little worms that burrow through the fruits. Yuck!

Let's look at cherries first. Cherry fruit flies are the parents of those horrid white worms. Bill hangs cherry fruit fly traps in the trees once the cherries start turning light green. The traps are used as an indicator of when the cherry fruit flies are active in the area.

Bill sprays an organic product called Spinosad every 10 days. It kills the fruit flies before they can lay eggs. This worked really well for us and we had a wonderful, worm-free harvest.

Now let's look at apples. Note that our pear trees are quite young so we haven't had to go through the full routine that I'm about to detail for apples, but the method for both types of trees will be identical starting next year.

When it comes to growing apples, our main nemesis is the apple codling moth. The adults lay eggs on the surface of the young fruits; the resulting larvae burrow into the apples to feed. They later drop from the apples to the ground to pupate, then later emerge as adults to begin the cycle all over again. Most adults overwinter in the bark of the trees.

Nylon footies
Each year, we  thin the fruits so the trees won't have too much to support and mature throughout the season. And each spring, we dutifully cover the young apples with little nylon "footies" to confuse the adults so they will hopefully not lay their eggs on them. Yes, it's tedious work but it has been worth the effort. However, there's more that has to be done to thwart the moths.

At regular intervals, Bill sprays our trees with a solution of kaolin clay (a natural substance) and water, which puts a powdery coating on the leaves and fruit. This also seems to confuse the moths into thinking they haven't landed on an actual leaf or apple.

With the combination of the nylon footies and kaolin clay mixture, we usually have about an 80% success rate (no worms).

Last season, in addition to the nylon footies and kaolin clay, Bill was occasionally using Bt. He found that it worked really well.

So this season, he decided to conduct an experiment by just using the Bt and kaolin clay, and not using the footies. For a while, it was looking really promising and we were excited to think that we wouldn't need to go to the time and expense of using footies.

It turns out we were wrong! But not only was that in regards to the codling moths, we also encountered two unforeseen problems.

We had more worms in our apples than we usually get so it appears the footies were really helping more than we thought. Apparently they really do confuse those moths.

The first unforeseen problem: if you live in the Inland Northwest, you know we are in the middle of a drought and also had extended periods of high temperatures this summer. We broke all sorts of weather records.

This is what stink bugs look like.
Because of things being so hot and dry -- and unbeknownst to us, I might add -- birds were flying into our little orchard and pecking the apples. Sometimes it was just a small hole but often there were quite large holes pecked into the fruit. When I picked our Jonagold apples last week, I was dismayed to get a much smaller harvest due to this problem.

The second unforeseen problem: Bill discovered stink bugs were piercing the skins of our McIntosh apples and sucking some of the juices out of them. These apples have thin skins so it was easy for the bugs to do that. This caused a lot of problems for us.

The bottom line: If we had used the footies, we believe they would have thwarted the codling moths, kept the birds from pecking the apples, and made it much more difficult for stink bugs to do their thing.

I wish I could've told you our experiment was a resounding success because that would mean much less work for all of us who are trying to grow our tree fruits organically! Unfortunately, that's not the case. Our plan is to go back to using the footies next spring, as well as to continue with the kaolin spray and occasional use of Bt.

Like I said earlier, it's always a learning process!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Oct. 4 column

2015 was a great year for growing peppers!
Well, I hope this won't make you sad, but my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review is my last one for the 2015 garden season. But not to worry! I'll be blogging away and posting to my Facebook page all fall and winter long! And you'll start seeing my columns again in about the third week of February.

But before I get too distracted, here's a link to today's column: Hot summer skewed garden results. This one is a season wrap-up which includes a bit of a "report card" on how some of the newer vegetable varieties I grew this year did.

I'm always hearing from readers that they love seeing the list of what I plan to grow in my first column each February. But what I think is also important is letting you know how they performed in my garden.

As I mention in my column, it might be a bit unfair of me to judge their performance solely on what turned out to be a very challenging growing season. For those of you who don't live in the Spokane or Inland Northwest, we had an exceedingly hot, dry summer. Some plants thrived in the heat and others struggled. And so did this gardener, for that matter!

I hope you'll enjoy today's column. Remember you can always email me ( with a question or a suggestion of what you'd like to see on either this blog or on my Facebook page. I'm always happy to oblige!

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fall Banquet certain to please!

If you've been following my blog and Facebook page, you already know about an exciting event coming up.

It's the "Fall Banquet: An Evening with Jack Nisbet" and will be hosted by the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County. It will take place on Thurs., Oct. 8 and is open to the public.

Jack Nisbet is an engaging writer and speaker. Author of several books, the title of his talk is "Some Exceedingly Interesting Things: The Many Gardens of David Douglas." Jack will also be signing his books at 4 p.m.

There will be a catered dinner, silent auction and door prizes. The no-host bar and silent auction begin at 4 p.m., followed by the dinner at 6 p.m. The event will be held at Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Lincoln St., Spokane.

Tickets for the event cost $35. Note that the deadline for purchasing them is this Fri., Oct. 2! For more information and to purchase, go to the Master Gardener of Spokane County website.

You won't want to miss this opportunity for a lovely evening, hearing Jack Nisbet speak and enjoying a delicious dinner. I've already been assured one of the dessert choices will contain chocolate, by the way!

This event is one of three main fundraisers for the Spokane County Master Gardener program.

Hope to see you there. It'll be a great evening and an opportunity you won't want to miss!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sept. 27 column

Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: For homegrown greens in winter, think micro. I've been very excited to share this with you because it's all about growing microgreens.

What, you've never heard of them before? Well, neither had I until last summer while interviewing Peaceful Valley gardener Greg King about a different topic. I felt this was worth writing about after hearing how nutritious they are, as well as how easy they are to grow.

In today's column, I mentioned there would be additional information right here so please read on:

Due to space limitations in the newspaper, I didn't have room to share Greg's detailed, finely-tuned technique for growing microgreens. He is very successful at this so it's worth reading. Here's what he does:

1. Once he has filled a seedling flat that has drainage holes with his mix of compost and coconut coir, he places the flat into another flat (without drainage holes) that has been filled with a gallon of water. This waters the soil-filled flat from the bottom. He places a sheet of black plastic onto the soil surface to help warm it up and sets it aside for 24 hours.

2. Greg then sprinkles the seeds thickly onto the compost surface and presses them into the soil to make good contact. He again covers the flat with black plastic and places a water-filled flat on top of it to help moderate the temperatures and further press the seeds down into the soil.

3. He puts this "stack of flats" under his grow light and told me that in 2 to 3 days, the seedlings will actually lift up the tray on top! At that point, he removes the top tray and sheet of plastic. Greg told me the seedlings will green up in about a day.

Additional information:

  • Greg uses light fixtures with T5 fluorescent tubes. He says they are very bright and that they don't waste as much heat as regular fluorescent tubes do.
  • He told me that when he harvests his 8 trays of microgreens, he ends up with (10) 10-oz. bags of them. Wow!
  • The containers you start your microgreens in should be a minimum of 2" deep.
  • Plants need a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight, although Greg says he leaves his lights on all day long.
Here are links to microgreen seed suppliers. Note: Greg recommends Sprout People because they have high-quality seed at a good price, and they ship orders quickly. Here's the list:
OK, you now know the basics for starting and growing your very own microgreens! If you are going to try this, or if you already grow microgreens, I'd love to hear from you. Just drop me a note at or leave a comment on this post. Thank you.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sept. 20 column

Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Film puts power of soil on display. This one is about an amazing film called "Symphony of the Soil."

It is about the "skin of the Earth" (our soil), how it evolves, the different types, and the problems that are occurring from gardening and farming practices of tilling, using pesticides and not doing what we can to encourage a diverse population of microorganisms in our soils. The film is beautifully done and is well worth seeing. 

Here's the best part of all: you can see it for FREE! That's because the Master Gardener Foundation of Spokane County and several co-sponsors have covered the cost of the license for showing it to the public.

Refer to my blog calendar for the dates and times it will be shown this week. Don't miss this opportunity!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sept. 13 column

The summer hoop house
 Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Hoop house gets year-round use.

You'll recall that my husband, Bill, and I built a small hoop house in our garden last fall for the purpose of growing some salad greens through the fall and winter months.

Well, I decided that it should be dual-purpose by using it to grow some heat-loving crops (tomatoes, cucumbers and melons) during the summer months.

This is where we moved the hoop house early this spring.
In my column, I report how that went and also talk about the cold-tolerant crops I'll be growing in the hoop house later this year.

I hope you're not getting tired of this subject! I'm just so excited with the idea of growing salad greens to enjoy over the next several months.

If you are doing this as well, I would love to hear from you. Please drop me a note at

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sept. 6 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Saving seeds an easy way to save money. This one is about a topic I'm very excited about: saving seeds. It's a valuable skills all gardeners should have although I'm embarrassed to say it's not something I've had much experience in.

Fortunately, I've gone to a class on seed-saving plus have done some research so I'm ready to dive in! So far, I've saved seeds from an heirloom tomato variety I've grown this summer, 'Amish Paste - Kapuler'.

The important thing to remember is that you need to save seeds from open-pollinated plants. If you save seeds from hybrids, you won't know what you're going to get because the plants won't reflect the parents you saved the seeds from. I explain this in my column, so be sure to read it.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about saving seeds, I'm happy to report there are be two free classes coming up at the Otis Orchards Library. What a great opportunity! Here are the details:

Steven Nokes will give two presentations on saving seeds: 6:30 p.m. Wed. Sept. 9, and 10:30 a.m. Sat. Sept. 12. Both programs will be at the Otis Orchards library, 22324 E. Wellesley Ave. Free. More info: (509) 893-8390.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Aug. 30 column

Helenium (a.k.a. Sneezeweed)
Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Low-water wonders. The topic is drought-tolerant plants, which I felt would be of interest to anyone who has been dealing with the heat and drought of this summer.

It's always a good idea to use drought-tolerant plants in our landscapes in order to conserve water. Oftentimes, when gardeners hear the words "drought-tolerant," they think that limits their options or that the plants won't be very attractive. Fortunately, that's not the case at all!

I've included photos of the various plants I mentioned in my article below. The photo above is of another plant I didn't have room for. Helenium, more commonly known as Sneezeweed (not the greatest name, I'll admit!) blooms like crazy and really can take the heat.

I hope you will find this column interesting and useful as you choose plants for your garden.

Rudbeckia hirta Gloriosa Daisy

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Flowering Sempervivum (Hens 'n Chicks)

Calendula (Pot Marigold)

Persian Carpet Zinnia

Achillea (Yarrow) 

Agastache (Hummingbird Mint, Hyssop)

Calamagrostis acutiflora (Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 23 column

'Enchanted Eve' Coreopsis (Tickseed)
Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Perennial supporters. If you're an avid, local gardener, this is probably one you've been waiting for!

It's about next Saturday's fall plant sale, which is put on by the Friends of Manito. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., just east of Manito Park's Gaiser Conservatory, 4 W. 21st Ave., Spokane.

This year, there are two big changes: all customers get in at 8 a.m. but TFM members now get a 10 percent discount on their plant purchases. How cool is that? If you're not a member, not to worry: you can join up to, and including, plant sale day and still get your discount.

For me, being a TFM member is a no-brainer. That's because the proceeds raised from sales like these go right back into Manito Park. This is a great way to support your community because Manito is everyone's park... it's not just for those who live on the south side of town!

There will be almost 20,000 plants available at the sale. Wow. In addition, the 2016 Manito Park calendar will be for sale as well as cards with scenes from this beautiful park. As usual, Plant Sale Manager, Janis Saiki, has taken the photographs and they're just lovely!

The Friends of Manito are also celebrating their 25th anniversary. Those who come to the plant sale will get complementary "anniversary cookies" and water. In Sept., there will be a dedication once the new rose garden gazebo has been completed; this $60,000 project was funded solely by TFM as a gift to the park.

The final event is scheduled for Oct. 17, beginning with the 10 a.m. General Membership Meeting, which will be held in the Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) auditorium. First Vice President and Charter Member, Steven Nokes, will give a presentation. Afterwards, there will be a free, catered lunch. However, seating is limited to 50 people, so if you are interested in attending, you must RSVP by Sept. 30; to do this, either email or call (509) 456-8038.

Here are some photos I took of plants that will be available at the fall plant sale. Please note that for some of them, there aren't large quantities available, so be sure to get there early for the best selection!

One of the many beautiful daylilies.

Dedicated TFM volunteers work with the plant sale plants.

Gorgeous Buddleia (butterfly bush)!

Zauschneria (California Fuchsia Orange Carpet)

Hibiscus syricus (Rose of Sharon) 'Azurri Blue Satin'

Echinacea (coneflower)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Garden Travels: Schonbrunn Palace

The Palmhouse at Schonbrunn Palace
 I've been meaning to tell you about my visit to Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace gardens, which my husband and I wandered through in June. What an amazing place!
This gives you a feel for the scale of the gardens!

Looking toward the back side of the Palace.

Front of Schonbrunn Palace.
Schonbrunn Palace was the summer home of the Habsburgs, who ruled Austria for several centuries. We did take a tour of some of the opulently-decorated rooms in the palace, but as a garden aficionado, I particularly enjoyed strolling through the immense gardens there.

As you can see by some of these photos, they are spread out and are definitely on a more grand scale than the gardens you and I are tending!

While standing on the steps behind the palace, I could take in views of the allees of clipped hedges, fountains, formal gardens and so on.

It was interesting to discover that, because most of the grounds are open to the public, local residents took their exercise there. We continually saw folks jogging or doing Nordic-walking (with trekking poles). Wouldn't it be amazing to do your exercises in a place like that?!

My favorite area of the gardens at Schonbrunn was the Palmhouse. Talk about a gorgeous structure! There are three main areas inside that housed plants from the Mediterranean, the tropics and colder regions. I tried to last as long as I could while in the "warm room" but the heat and humidity shortened my stay.

Here's another photo from the Palmhouse. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to view a larger image.

Palmhouse interior.

As we strolled through the many allees, we discovered how the staff was keeping the huge hedges clipped so neatly (see photo to right). Here's the equipment they use so they can reach all levels of the hedges. Shouldn't every gardener have something like this for their pruning chores?

While admission to most of the grounds is free, they do charge a fee to enter the Palmhouse, Orangerie and Desert House. When you first arrive at Schonbrunn, be sure to study the various ticketing options as there are package deals; it all depends on how many things you want to see while you're there.

What a delightful visit we had. If you're ever in Vienna, the gardens at Schonbrunn are definitely worth exploring.