Garden On, Vashon
Gardening, cooking, building, designing, dreaming…
I ran into Ron Irvine of Vashon Winery the other day and asked whether he was still pressing apples this season for their hard cider. “Yes—tomorrow morning!” he said and welcomed me to join him, Verne Johnson, and Tim Kehl at the winery.
Next morning, I drove up to the red barn with the “VW” letter above the door and found Ron lugging crates of apples from the back orchard. His “Golden Russet,” “King of Tompkin’s County,” “Transparent,” and “Greening” apples joined another pallet-full, 400 lbs in all, from Carolina Nurik’s orchard. From her Ron had bought some classic cider apples: red-n-green “Dabinett”, the freckled red “Yarlington Mill” and red-on-cream “Porter’s Perfection”, as well as the table apples “Liberty” and “Keepsake.”
“I used to get most of my apples from the WSU Extension research station in Mt. Vernon,” he told me. “But not this year: for the first time, we can make our cider using only Island-grown apples.”
As I mentioned in the last blog, Vashon and Washington state has more apples than anyone knows what to do with: it’s the second largest apple harvest on record for the state, only surpassed by last year’s crop. Big users like Vashon Winery and Dragon’s Head Cider have been able to buy enough of the cider apples they require from the local orchardists who’ve long nurtured rare & unusual apples—Nurik, Pacific Crest Farm (once Pete Svinth’s farm), and Doug Tuma, whose home orchard of 450 apple trees is close by.
A market for cider apples is good news for Puget Sound orchardists, for in our fungal, scab-prone climate, it’s hard to produce a crop of pretty apples. But classic cider apples such as Kingston Black or Stokes Red can look weird and taste worse: small and often oddly shaped, their high degree of acid and tannin can make your mouth pucker. But that’s just what hard cider needs to give a full-bodied, snappy quaff—in fact, a hard cider made with table apples might end up tasting insipid. Here, Ron’s apples were about equally divided between cider apples and table apples.
Tim Kehl, the winery’s marketing guy, arrived with four buckets of “Stayman Winesaps.” He dumped his apples into the kiddie bathtub filled with rinse-water, stirred them around while Ron dumped in more, then slipped the switch of the electric grinder and started lopping fruit into its entrance hopper. Red-n-yellow grindings—the apple “pomace”—starting falling into a red bucket below.
Verne, who grew in up Selah, Washington (“the apple juice capitol of the world”) and worked at Tree Top and Hi-Country as a lad, was in charge of the pressing. Theirs was no quaint wooden basket press, oh no—this 6′, red-metal painted hydraulic-powered contraption looked a lot, to me, like an over-sized flower press. On its platen Verne placed a 18″-square metal frame, draped a brown cheesecloth over it, then grabbed a bucket of pomace and upended it onto the cloth.
He folded each side over the center to make a neat envelope, lifted the metal frame up and away, topped the envelope with a second white panel and started the process all over.
Repeat repeat repeat until the press was loaded up with a dozen “cheeses” of pomace, the plates’ corrugations already pouring out juice. The run-out tube turned amber as juice started pouring from the press into the big collection barrel.
Given that every islander with an apple tree is probably asking “What AM I going to do with all these apples?” I asked Ron what’s the minimum juice one needs for cider. “About 5 gallons of juice, and you need eleven pounds of apples to press out one gallon of juice. Here, out of all this, I’ll be happy to get one barrel’s worth.” He did warn not to use windfalls: varmints can spread e-coli on browsed fruit, or the vinegar bacteria, acetobactor, can gain its first foothold on over-ripe fruit and turn your cider into vinegar.
Hard cider makes up only a “tiny percentage” of Vashon Winery’s output, but it’s dear to Ron’s heart: in the book “Tales of the Tilth,” he talks about a post-college trip to London and his first, life-changing, taste of a good English hard cider. “It became my ‘Holy Grail,’ he claimed, part of a lifelong quest to replicate that flavor in his “Centennial Cider” and his single-variety “Cox’s Orange Pippin” and “Kingston Black” bottlings.
Those single-varieties are no more: nowadays he blends juices into his “Vintage Blend” that he sells at Vashon Thriftway, Metropolitan Market, and some wineshops in Seattle.
Verne took a personal 5-gallon share of the pressing. Later, he sent me this photo of his juice fermenting away in a glass carboy. He’d introduced a commercial yeast to it, as Ron and most other cider-makers do: the wild yeasts on the apple skins are too unpredictable.
Cider fermentation can be quite violent: the CO2 literally farted out by the sugar-digesting yeasts must be released, as in this simple water-seal where the CO2 is released into a bucket of clean water. After there are fewer than 1 bubble per minute through this airlock, the primary fermentation is done, the sugars in the juice have all been converted to alcohol, and the stuff can either be drunk (whew, that’s dry!) or allowed to settle and mellow, and then bottled. Many cider-makers re-introduce a tiny amount of sugar or honey at this point to create a secondary fermentation and carbonation (or inject a squirt of CO2 to introduce a little fizz) then cap the bottle and keep them under refrigeration, or pasteurize to kill the yeasts and thus any danger of more fermentation (and exploding bottles).
Ron’s Vashon-exclusive “Vintage Blend” hard cider will be ready by Spring 2013.
Next blog: the Fruit Club’s Annual Fruit Show, with more than 100 island-grown varieties sampled!
The state’s having the second-largest harvest of apples in its history, and it certainly feels like Vashon’s having a bumper crop.
My favorite trees have been groaning with fruit, and the ground has been carpeted with their windfalls for weeks.
Folks have been calling the Food Bank, looking for pickers, receivers, eaters, anyone to PLEASE come and take their apples! Apples are everywhere—in the frig, floor, and on the shelves, coming off the truck from Northwest Harvest, left out in the donation shed because (though officially they’ll never say No to food donations) the Food Bank now has WAY more apples than the clientele will take.
Don’t take any more apples to the Food Bank, folks. Let’s look at what YOU can do with all this Apple Abundancy.
ID Your Mystery Apples at the Annual Fruit Show
First, if you’re curious to find out what variety of apples your long-anonymous tree has been producing, you can bring a few samples to the Fruit Club’s “Annual Fruit Show” this Saturday, November 10, from 10-3. Expert apple growers will be at the Senior Center on Bank Road to help identify your mystery apples (side-by-side with displays of Island-grown fruit), while a series of lectures on fruit-growing will be held next door at the Land Trust building—10:00 Growing Plums and Nectarines on Vashon — Jerry Gehrke 11:00 Update on the Cherry’s Cider Orchard — Wes & Laura Cherry of Dragon’s Head Cider 1:00 Fruit Varieties – Old & New – Suitable for Growing on Vashon — Bob Norton 2:00 Growing Fruits & Nuts in the Landscape Utilizing Permaculture Principles —Ingela Wanerstrand
Make Applesauce (and pie filling)
Homemade applesauce is so easy and so much better than store-bought. Here’s what I do. First I fill up a grocery sack of apples (windfalls are fine). Then at home when I have about 90 spare minutes, I fill my largest stewpot with an inch of water and a big splash of lemon juice. Then I start peeling, coring, removing the wormholes and bruises, and slicing the apple flesh into the pot WITHOUT turning on the heat, stirring often to allow the lemon juice to keep the flesh from browning much.
When the spot is about 2/3rds full of apple chunks-n-slices, I turn the heat on to high, add about half-cup of sugar, and keep adding and stirring apple slices while the water heats up and starts cooking the apples. (At the point when some of the apples have become sauce and are coating the remaining apple slices, I might decide to turn this batch into pie filling. A quart ziploc or seal-a-meal bag holds 4-5 cups of filling for one 9″ pie, defrostable in a day and with the usual sugar/cinnamon/thickener added before baking.)
If what I want is applesauce, at this point I’ll turn the heat down to medium-low and let the mass of apple cook down. It doesn’t take long: 20-30 minutes. If you hear the mass go plop, turn the heat down lower: you want little hissing geysers, not big plops. When your apple slices have largely melted together, taste for sweetness and add more sugar/splenda … add a sprinkling of cinnamon if you like … and if the taste is a little bland, add more lemon juice, a little splash at a time, until the flavor perks up. When it’s wonderful, remove from heat, cool a little, then spoon into plastic pints, old butter tubs, or seal-a-meal bags for freezing. If you prefer pantry storage, spoon into glass mason jars and hot-process in boiling water for 15 minutes.
Or make Cider—
That’s coming up with my coverage of the apple pressing at Vashon Winery and (hopefully soon) at Dragon’s Head Cider. Ron Irvine tells me you need as little as five gallons of juice to make cider. One pointer right up front: make cider, an entirely cold process, from tree-picked fruit, NOT from windfalls. Fruit on the ground can harbor e-coli from browsing animals, have spores of a toxin called patulin, and may have picked up the bacteria acetobactor that turns cider into vinegar. So take your windfalls and COOK them.
Greendale Farm is bursting with greens right now: three 15′ rows in three different kales, two in chards, and similar rows in parsley, basil, turnip greens and spinach. I need recipes that use a LOT of greens withOUT loading up with cream or eggs that clog my arteries. Here’s two recipes I’ve made this week, one for mass quantities of parsley, another for mass quantities of kale.
Red Cossack Parsley Sauce for Boiled Potatoes
This comes courtesy of Kaleenka, a Russian restaurant on First near Virginia that sells this savory potato dish from its truck at FolkLife. These quantities are for 1-2 people, but if you need to feed more folks, google the recipe as it seems to consistant across the websites I viewed.
I’ve always thought autumn would be a great time for another Island tour, and now one’s here—the “INGENUITY TOUR” on Saturday, September 22 from 10am – 3pm.
Think of it as your chance to drive around and see some of those Clever Ideas you once read about in the Whole Earth Catalog.
Organizer Susie Kalhorn describes it thus: “The concept of the tour is share creative ideas to simplify our lives, save money, and conserve resources. The ideas fall into three general categories: food security, energy conservation, and water conservation. Unlike the garden tour, not all of the sites are “pretty” in the traditional sense, but they do offer a lot of Island Funktionality!”
You can meet some rather cool folks, too, such as craft brewer Cliff Goodman, Tag Gornall who helped Vashon Theatre get its new digital projection system, Michael Laurie who is an expert on water systems of all kinds and co-wrote (with Susie Kalhorn) those Pesticide Hang-tags seen in True Value a few winter’s back, and Roger Sherman, grandson of the first white settlers on Vashon who still lives on the family homestead. And if you’ve been impressed by the BURN Design Lab’s efforts to save the world with a smaller, cheaper, carbon-efficient cookstove, here’s your chance to see their work first hand.
Maps and descriptions of the tour will be available at the Ingenuity Tour’s table at the Saturday Market, so that’s a good starting point. And one of the sponsors, Island GreenTech, already has the map loaded: download it by clicking here: Island GreenTech.
And since you’re more likely to be teased by details than by my generalized description, here’s EXACTLY what you’ll see at each site (thanks to Susie Kalhorn and all the site hosts for the write-ups.)
1. Michael Laurie Home and Garden: 13470 108th SW. In my garden you can see: four different drip irrigation systems, two of which utilize rainwater; rain gardens; native plant restoration; medicinal plants; and a Pesticide Free Zone Garden. You can also see: a green roof; indoor/outdoor water-saving equipment; a composting toilet; a ductless mini-split heat pump and other energy-saving equipment. Michael Laurie
*3. Vashon Community Care Gardens: 15333 Vashon Highway SW. Visit the raised bed garden by entering the facility on the main highway side and continuing straight into the dining hall. The garden is visible through the glass doors adjoining the dining hall. The raised beds were designed for residents in walkers and wheelchairs and the plantings reflect their favorite edibles. Find the large vegetable garden north of the building and east of the retention pond. The goal is to grow food for the residents once procedures and standards are in place. Currently the food is grown for the hard-working staff. Community volunteers are eagerly welcomed to work and enjoy the harvest of this garden. Julia Lakey
4. Tag Gornall Home: 8720 SW Dilworth Road. I have an energy efficient geothermal heating system, on-demand propane water heater, and three holding ponds for rain water and surface water catchment which attract a lot of wildlife. Savings in electric bills pay for the geothermal system in eight years. An electric car may be on scene, too.Tag Gornall
5. Alex and Irene Tokar Home: 11509 Cove Road. Our older home was cold and drafty. Kris Pedrin installed a new ground source heat pump which also heats our water. Greg Kruse weatherized the house installing insulation in a knee-wall, under the floors in the crawl space, and in the attic. The cost of heating the house has decreased 60% to 70% and it’s a comfy 67 degrees all winter! Alex and Irene Tokar
6. Lotus and Barb Smith Home and Garden: 17310 97th Place SW. In the 1970s I dreamed of participating in a totally self-sufficient rural community. Now I find myself with a level, sunny ¼ acre! Bliss. Instead of total self-sufficiency, I am working toward food independence, cheaply. I am learning and inventing as I go, which has lead to some very humorous and functional creations. You’ll see my solar food dryer, infiltration trenches that help retain water for the dry months, various ways of capturing rainwater, a flow-through composting unit, fruit and vegetables, chickens, and more. Please come visit. I’d love to talk to others. Lotus
7. VASHON FARMERS MARKET ISLAND INGENUITY BOOTH: 17505 Vashon Highway SW. Pick Up Tour Information Here. The Island Ingenuity and Food Security booth(s) will feature designs within the ability of the average builder/tinkerer which can be constructed from readily available materials. You’ll see designs and/or exhibits of items I or other Islanders have built such as: a home-made solar water heating system; a solar oven; low-tech clothes washing; a produce storage bin that even keeps leafy greens fresh; easy storage of root vegetables; information about building a DIY Russian stove and a gravity feed water supply; and home grown emergency packets. Terry Sullivan
8. Roger Sherman Home: 17423 100th Avenue SW. I am raising chickens and rabbits for meat and make an aerobic compost tea to help boost garden productivity. I sell chicks which pays for the chicken and rabbit food and rarely buy meat at the store. Roger Sherman
9. Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union: 9922 SW Bank Road. You can see what our newly installed energy efficient ductless heat pump looks like. It helps warm our offices in the winter and keeps them cool during the summer. We offer low interest loans for energy efficient projects. Come early because we close at 2PM on Saturdays.Patte Wagner
*10. Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust Building Solar Array: 10014 SW Bank Road. The solar array atop our building was installed in 2009 as a Solar Initiative pilot project donated by Sustainable Vashon and made possible through a grant from Puget Sound Energy. Read about it on an interpretive sign and check out the meter showing the cumulative wattage produced by the array over its life thus far. During summer months the energy generated, which exceeds our usage, is contributed back into PSE’s power grid. Beth Bordner
11. Vashon Forest Stewards Mill: SW 188th and 103rd Ave SW. Visitors to the Forest Stewards mill yard will see piles of logs that come from ecological thinnings of island forests and from hazard tree removal. These logs are milled into rough sawn green lumber, then kiln dried into stable boards and finally processed through a molder/shaper into finished lumber. You will see stacks of lumber at various stages of this processing cycle. Our finished lumber is stored in a warehouse down the road. David Warren
12. Burn Design Lab: 18850 103rd Ave SW, Suite 101. BURN Design Lab is a Vashon-based non-profit organization whose mission is to save lives and forests in the developing world through the design and local production of clean burning cookstoves. BURN designs customized biomass stoves to meet the diverse cooking needs of the developing world. Please visit the lab to learn about our design process and light up a few stoves! Peter Scott
*13. Chautauqua Kids Garden: 9329 SW Cemetery Road (on south side of the school).The Chautauqua Kid’s Garden is hands-on learning at its best. The garden was constructed with the help of many community members and it allows children to give back to their community through hard work and cooperation. Their pumpkin sale is a highlight of the year, as are the discussions around who we will help with the sale proceeds. In the garden you will find: a water catchment system; solar powered irrigation; mason bee hives; a mosaic sundial; shed doors with mosaic panels that depict crop rotation; and an adjoining native plant garden. Come see the garden as through the eyes of a child…….amazing! Gerie Wilson
14. Duane Dietz and Patricia Kane Garden: 8715 SW Cemetery Road. We built the 800 gallon cistern (using a new concrete sewer vault) to capture the roof runoff from our barn in order to minimize the use of District 19 water in the vegetable garden. We have found that the water is warmed during the summer and is more readily taken up by the soil. We use it as a passive gravity-fed system, but we have the capability to use a submersible pump for those times we want to use a sprinkler. Duane Dietz
15. Cliff Goodman Garden and Brewery: 10124 SW Quartermaster Drive. The projects on my site have been created with Permaculture design principles in mind. You’ll see a variety of gardening experiments geared towards building richer soil and retaining winter rains in the soil and in above-ground rainwater storage for use in the summer. Other garden experiments are designed to modify my microclimate for growing a wider variety of crops than I normally could, and growing some year round. I will also show you my efforts to run a small home occupation (commercial brewery) using minimal natural resources, a neighborhood electric vehicle and complete recycling of the production byproducts. Cliff Goodman
16. Don Canfield and Linda Mather Home: 21402 Westside Highway SW. We recently developed a farm plan for our horse property. We want to contain animal waste; minimize impact on ground water, while increasing health of pasture grass; minimize rain run-off, thus maximizing ground water recharge. The technical assistance offered by the King Conservation District (KCD) has been invaluable. Our farm plan helped us obtain cost sharing from King County and the KCD to help pay for such things as cross fencing and manure bins. Some of our property is forested and a forest plan has helped save on property taxes through the Public Benefits Rating System. Don Canfield
*There will be no tour representatives at Vashon Community Care, the Land Trust building, and Chautauqua School; they are self-guided sites.
For the first time ever, Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm is having a pickle party.
I’ve been working on a book chapter about shared gardens, and Mark Musick of Vashon Cohousing said I should check this farm out. Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm lies on open land owned by Vashon Household, just beyond the back fences of the Roseballen Community and Vashon Cohousing.
This collective of eleven+ families has been going strong for 6-7 years. In early winter, members pay in their shares, plan the next year, and agree to work a full four hours a week, plus at a monthly work party.
When I visited last Monday morning during the weekly work hours, I saw many hands digging out the clover around young brassica plants. A woman dressed in black yoga skimpies was plucking coriander seeds off overgrown plants. Another woman was hip-deep in bush beans. Two young men babbled over the zucchini bushes while their hands groped blindly for fat fruit.
This sunny acre is covered in 50-foot raised beds and hoophouses, and produces WAY too much for one single family. But the (mostly) women from eleven families work this acre, and a few more participate as u-pickers and gleaners when the harvest’s just too much. Together they grow leaf crops, cole crops, beans and tomatoes, basil and cilantro, pumpkins and squashes, carrots and onions and beets. Yes, even corn (though that’s always chancey) with new plantings of fall spinach and kale going in that very morning.
But the day’s big event was their workshop in pickling. I was introduced to Hedy Anderson, the yoga girl in blacks and a straw cowboy hat. “We’ve never done this before,” she told me, “but the idea came up and we agreed that part of creating food is prepping food. So we’re going to make two batches of bread-n-butter pickles today, one batch with these coriander seeds and another with dill. Next week we’re going to try dill pickles.”
At the work table under the shade of a big maple, Hedy and first-year member Karen Bower peeled the paper off fat cloves of farm-grown garlic. Next to them was a bag of cukes so long, they’d started to curl back on themselves.
Karen likes to ferment food: she led a kraut party recently, and likes to throw “whatever I feel into the kraut crock. I made a spicy kimchee the other day with Korean red peppers—probably too hot for most.”
Near the door of the greenhouse lay boxes of green beans, broccoli tips, yet more cucumbers. How can a member tell how much she can take home? Hedy explained, “I look over a row (or over a box) and see how much is ripe, then I figure I can take about a tenth of that.”
I ask Karen why she comes all this way to garden. She said, “I love working out there with everyone. My place doesn’t really have a good spot for a vegetable garden: it’s in the shade, deer are all over the place, and it’s just me, so creating a space would be a lot of work. Then I happened upon this…”
She indicated, with a toss of a shoulder, the many raised beds, the growhouses, the border of beneficial flowers, even a Maypole. I put the same questions to member Tracy Barrett. “I like to learn, and I can’t plant everything at my place—don’t have enough room for all the kale I want. And farming with friends is so much better.”
In Cohousing’s common house, I found bowls full of cucumber slices on ice, the recipe for bread-n-butter chips lying open next to them. I couldn’t stay for the pickle party, but left confident this many hands would turn a pickle into short work and Big Fun.
Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm members: Margaret Hoeffel, Hedy Anderson, Amy Wolfe, Elizabeth Randall, Lynann Politte, Renee Marceau, Risa Stahl, Mike Yates, Tracy Barrett, Lauryth Johns, Karen Bowers, and Annika Fae. The “Farm” sign is by Marcia Carroll.
Tonight the Vashon Audubon Society will bloom in ALPINE WILDFLOWERS, a preview of flowers you might get to see on a hike this Sunday. At tonight’s slide presentation, “Wild about Wildflowers,” you’ll see some gorgeous flower photographs, mainly from the Cascades and Olympics, but ranging as far as Yosemite and the Rockies. At the Land Trust building off the main intersection of town, 7pm.
I’m guessing these are Randy Smith photos, as their website says, “Over the past twenty years he has evolved from casual observer to amateur botanist, while also having hiked hundreds of happy miles and taking thousands of photographs.” Click on the link here: http://www.vashonaudubon.org/calendar.html
QUILTS QUILTS AND UFO QUILTS! This Saturday, August 18, Grannie’s Attic will host its annual outdoor Quilt Sale. Says Granny Textile Curator Vicki Clabaugh, “We will have vintage and contemporary bed quilts, children’s quilts, and wall hangings, plus a variety of UFOs (unfinished objects) such as sets of blocks and quilts-in-progress. The sale will be from 10 am until 1 pm; come early for the best selection!”
WILDFLOWER HIKE: In connection with Thursday’s Audubon slideshow Randy and his wife Sharon Metcalf will lead a wildflower hike in the Cascades, probably near Mount Rainier, on Sunday, August 19th. The hike is limited to 10 people. Sign up by emailing Randy at email@example.com.
At the highway’s bend just before the Cedarhurst turnoffs, there’s a rail fence with the sign “Odd Jobs Unlimited.” There’s always been interesting plants at this place, including an Empress Tree, but in the last couple years a vegie patch, a homemade greenhouse, and a porch dangling with flower pots have made this garden more whimsical than before. Garden club members got a peek Tuesday during a Garden Open Day.
Turns out, handyman Jim Webster and his wife Kathy have been renting these last three years, investing all this energy with no long-term guarantee. “We invest the time because we like to have things nice where we live, and this seemed like an awesome place to have a garden,” said Kathy.
JR said to me, “You haven’t seen the begonias yet,” then giggled behind me when I gasped at Jim’s display. His begonias and petunias line the back porch, cover the rails, dangle from the porch rafters.
Didn’t know begonia blossoms got this big.
Petunia baskets and dahlias join the begonia bonanza around the back deck, though a few dahlias are planted at the foot of the front porch. Lilies with shasta daisies make a splash out by the highway.
Driving by on the highway, you get a quick glimpse of the greenhouse they built out of recycled stuff: it holds pots of bell and hot peppers. Kathy painted the flowers all over the front door, and kept going onto the yellow folding chair and the push mower—now named “Rosie” in honor of its new color.
She named a couple of her squashes, too, in honor of her two granddaughters.
Kathy planted the vegetable & flower garden, though Jim contributed many of the small bed-frames and trellises.
Carnations are Kathy’s “favorite flower ever” and these she started from seed last year.
The paths in the vegie patch are covered with cedar shavings from LS Cedar: $120.00 a truckload, “and we used two trucks’ worth,” she told me.
I chatted Kathy up while she was baking bread and keeping company with her mother-in-law Betty, who was working a puzzle in the living room. If next spring you are looking for renters who garden, who are handy, and keep their stuff tidy, you might want to talk to the Websters; their lease is up next May. Check out Jim’s phone numbers on the sign up north on the highway. Just hope your rental’s deck is big enough for all his begonias.
Garden Club members are getting access to some members’ gardens this month, and one of the first was a seaside garden between Manzanita and Rosehilla on the south end of Maury Island, owned by Patty Custer.
I used to live in a small town on the Oregon Coast, and I can tell you that Patty’s is everything you sigh for in a Funky Beach Cottage. Tight-tucked between the neighbors, the cabin is white clapboard trimmed in periwinkle blue, decked out with found fripperies, flowers dripping over the bulkhead, a dinghy hauled out on a boat ramp somewhat crusty with barnacles. Trés cute.
Mom Ethel and Aunt Anita bought the 1904 beach cabin in the 1950s and used to row over here from around the Tacoma Yacht Club, the organization instrumental in developing Manzanita. The cabin didn’t have running water or electricity until Patty bought it from the family many years later, and her neighbor, who still rows over from Tacoma, never did bring the conveniences of modern life to his cottage. (She occasionally offers his guests a shower.)
Half an hour’s driving and a steep walk gets you down to the house. Behind the house, the slope’s almost too steep to garden (and before she had overhanging maples cut down, probably too shady and root-riddled). But she’s tucked in a garden anyway on the boardwalk around her house, stuffing plants into pots, an old cookstove, and a vintage school water-fountain. Whatever she finds interesting ends up adorning the place, including a gate she made of driftwood.
The clay soil is so compacted, she’s bought new topsoil and lugged it down here, one bag at a time. The garden’s by no means big, but she’s found plants that work: lavatera, daisies, nasturiums. Raspberries, hardy fuchsias, hostas, euphorbias.
Like us, roses like the salt-sea air
Right on the bulkhead is a big clump of a pink Rosa Rugosa. From my years on the Oregon Coast, I know that these rugged species roses happily grow in sand and salt winds, so they were popular there.
On the opposite corner of Vashon, on the wind-swept shoreline of Pt. Vashon, I recall during the 2006 VAA Garden tour seeing a hedge of rugosa roses just above the sandy beach. That garden, said owner Sallie Ann Williams, is on sandy fill. Yet here at Patty’s place is a rugosa with roots sunk in stiff CLAY. Both owners said their rugosas are the only plants they’ve found that will take the occasional wave in the face.
Rosa rugosas are tough beauties. From spring buds the leaves unpleat, their rough surfaces defying black spot, mildew, or damage from wind or saltwater. They are among the earliest roses to bloom and often repeat through the summer. In fall, the blooms develop red hips while the foliage turns to gold before falling to the ground. They’re beautiful in all but winter, when the bristling stems can be pruned back if wanting a more compact shape. They do seem to grow shorter given wind exposure and lots of sun; they grow taller in half-shade.
Neither owner knew exactly what rugosas they had, so with the help of my rose books, I’m going to guess. Patty’s rugosas look like ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’, a rugosa recommended by “Great Plant Picks” as hardy, good bank stabilizer and barrier, with the usual beautiful flowers, fall color and red hips. Sallie Ann’s rose may be one of the ‘Pavement’ series of roses (larger than usual flowers, typically 3′ x 3′), or ‘Jens Munk.’
Both gardens have other roses that are thriving despite the salt spray. Sallie Ann grows “Stairway to Heaven,” a climber with red double blossoms that reaches 10-12′. In a style I find completely French, Patty Custer has a rose dressing up a house corner—it’s possibly ‘Bonica.’ And facing the ocean is a multi-color rose with very local roots: ‘Ruth Alexander,’ a rose named after a Tacoma Garden Club member who was one of the original owners of the estate that became Lakewold.” Makes you wonder whether this plant wasn’t rowed here right after some Tacoma garden club sale, decades ago.
Patty Custer works magic with whatever comes to hand. She even makes good use of the weeds. Pointing to a bindweed, she said, “It looks great and wants to go up, so I just trained this up this driftwood.”
When you’re at the end of the road and the bottom of a hill with the ocean lapping at your feet, guess you learn to work with whatever comes your way. And if sometimes it’s the ocean that comes your way and right into the basement, be glad you planted roses that can TAKE IT.
- Paul Schuster cuts an excess limb from an old apple tree.
On July 14, about 25 people converged on the Burton peninsula home of Kelli and Todd Brooke for the Fruit Club’s workshop on summer fruit tree pruning. Arching over their back lawn were four trees at least 25′ high and 50 years old: Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, Baldwin, and a tree they hadn’t identified, most with plenty of green apples.
Dr. Bob Norton, cofounder of the club and retired research scientist from the WSU Extension Research Station in Mt. Vernon, passed out his handout while he made remarks. “The point of summer pruning is to shape the tree when it has spent its season’s vigor and is not so likely to respond to pruning by producing water sprouts,” he said. “With summer pruning, we reduce height, open up the tree to better sun exposure, help coloring of the fruit, and reduce the need for future dormant pruning.”
With summer pruning, you can evaluate everything about the tree: which branches are productive, which are overshaded, sickly, or out of place. By summer, the tree has used most of its energy making leaves and fruit, so you can cut up to 50% (though 30% is better) without initiating too much new growth. And more light will give the fruit better odds of ripening.
In late winter, a tree’s vigor has been pent up for months: it’s ready to burst. When one hard-prunes at that time, the tree has more reserve than its smaller shape can contain; that vigor fills out all the available growth points, then loads on with vertical water-sprouts shooting straight for the sky. They look terrible, like Grandpa’s stand-up eyebrow hair, shooting up from winter’s cuts and the middle of major limbs. They also waste the tree’s energy and potential, as vertical limbs aren’t stimulated by their leaning to break out in fruiting spurs.
Bob turned the talk over to his trainee Paul Schuster, a 40-something red-head already gunning the motor of his chain-saw-on-a-pole. Paul said, “Before I start pruning, I ask ‘What is this tree being used for? Is it shade? Fruit? Esthetics?’ Now this tree (he patted the old Gravenstein) is mostly a shade tree, so we want to keep the high arching shape by removing lower limbs. If we were trying to make it better for harvest, we’d remove the higher limbs, work on lowering the canopy to a more convenient height for picking. I also look for crossed or overshaded branches, and whether a branch can hold a full load of fruit.”
Halfway up the 12-foot orchard ladder, he set his Echo’s chain against an interior limb. With first an undercut, then a top cut, he released the branch and all its weight. Then he cut the stub down to the branch collar, that swelling where the branch first originated from the trunk. Dr. Bob pointed, “Look how he’s leaving the collar: that will heal over quickly. You never want to cut flush with the trunk, as that can open the tree to diseases and rot.”
As Paul continued to cut, Bob talked about how shaded branches could turn unhealthy and unproductive. “If a leaf is covered by another, it loses up to 80% of its ability to photosynthesize. With a lot of shaded leaves, a limb can’t produce any energy reserves, so it can sicken and die.” He confirmed that the goal was to get rid of overshadowed limbs (photo left) and leave a dome of sunlight-filled leaves (photo right).
Bob walked to an Italian plum whose branches were drooping with heavy growth and fruit. He grabbed a spray of twigs at branch’s end and said “What I’m about to do is really winter-pruning: I’m going to thin out much of this excess that’s competing for the tree’s energy.” With his hand felcos, he snip-snip-snipped until the spray was reduced by 70%, with only 3-4 branchlets still dangling their baby plums. “Now there’s a better chance of these fruit ripening.”
One tree had both water sprouts and branches that were too high to harvest easily. So Bob suggested a select few of those water sprouts be saved, and he cajoled Kathy Ostrom to clasp the “savers” while the members ripped off by hand the condemned sprouts. “If you can head these water-sprouts back a little, or weight them so they are angled closer to 45°, then in future years this water sprout can be turned into a productive branch. The closer a branch is to horizontal, the more likely it will fruit.”
A Second Look at Cohousing’s Fruit Trees
After an hour, the group moved to Vashon Cohousing, where the club and host Rick Edwards had winter-pruned their mixed orchard of apples, pears, cherries, and asian pears. With less time, Dr. Norton simply critiqued each tree, pointing out where pruning cuts should be made.
One espaliered pear was so overgrown, it looked like the lopsided head of a rake, with two old water-sprouts rising from one major limb and five from the sunnier side. Carolina Nurik, another fruit club founder, spoke up, “This tree needs better weight balance: if if there’s a heavy fruit load or winter snow, this right side could crack.” Bob suggesting supporting this heavy side with a ground brace, and waiting to prune until the fruit’s weight dragged branches earthward, when you’d head the branch up to the fruit. If they wanted to return the tree to espalier form, after harvest they could prune the excess verticals to the third node, in hopes new wood would grow (or could be trained) at more productive 45° or 90° angles.
A drip-hose had helped a ‘Liberty’ apple tree grow a very heavy load of fruit—a dozen apples for every foot of limb. Bob said, “This tree needs its fruit thinned NOW. Yes, it’s hard, but that makes that branch VERY heavy. What’s left will have a better chance of ripening. Also, these long branches you can head back to where they are putting out laterals, which will fruit next year, but the branch won’t be over-extended.
A youngish cherry tree had a good crop that was mostly out of reach. Carolina Nurik talked about heading it way back and weighing the branch to make it droop, so the tree would become even more fruitful and easier to harvest. I recalled seeing this very style of pruning at the Reimnitz’s little orchard on Kingsbury Lane, where Hartmut had pruned to fruit club recommendations. His cherry trees were about 9’ tall and pruned into the skeleton frame of a half-opened umbrella. They were right ugly, but cherries covered every branch from stem to stern and all of it was within easy reach.
Burning Anthracnose Disease with a propane torch
Our last stop was some seedling trees planted two years before, from Cloud Mt. Nursery. Bob had been alerted to suspicions of anthracnose disease, a fungal spore that splashes up from soil during rainy periods. The fungus gets under bark and peels it back, revealing fibers that looked like “banjo strings” and a purplish hue to the surrounding tissue. To kill the spores, Bob used a propane torch to burn the diseased and surrounded bark until it smoked. One member said a nursery had sent him sapling trees with anthracnose already evident: he’d sent them back and asked for a replacement.
One’s healthy, one’s not: considering when to prune
Later on at his own orchard, Dr. Norton showed me two cherry trees. One of them he would prune that day; the other he’d leave until winter. The vigorous one had lots of slim green new shoots and such a thick canopy of leaves, you could barely see the sky through it. “This tree, I’ll remove about half the upper branches past these upper branch crotches to let light in. It’s grown so vigorously, it already has—and will continue to make—plenty of sugars to create its energy reserve for next year.
But this tree—” he patted a small tree with such sparse foliage, you could see far more sky than leaves when you looked through its canopy. “This tree shows little vigor—look, there aren’t many new green shoots—so I’m going to leave it alone. It needs all of its leaves to make whatever energy reserve it can before winter. Then, in the new year I’ll prune it to make it smaller and fit the small amount of energy it has.”
As my car crawled toward Vashon’s main intersection, I caught a glimpse of something colorful outside of Blooms & Things. The sign said ”Island Bouquets, $5 each”— 6″ nosegays of fragrant sweet peas, tretelleia, mints, herbs, and daisies.
Inside the shop, owner Carol Ahlfors and her assistant Nikki Warner were hand-tying more of these simple bouquets. “Yes, the Island Bouquets feature only flowers from my cutting garden—there’s such abundance, I want to share it with Islanders,” Carol said, holding up a sunny bouquet of lilies, coreopsis, and alstromeria. ”Everyone wants flowers and scent in their lives. I have regulars like elderly on fixed income, folks out of work, families, children/teens on limited incomes….all ask for them and are quite disappointed when they sell out.”
Last Friday morning, early, while mists were still rising off the grass, I got a quick pre-work tour of Carol’s cutting garden in the Lande’s Corner neighborhood. It’s about 30 feet square and boxed in with deer-fencing—and good thing, too. A two-point buck was poking around the large lawn that holds the cutting garden and the lavender circle, looking (in vain) for a snack amidst the deer-resistant plants round the perimeter rail-fence.
Carol harvests here nearly every day, so while the garden is weed-free (thanks to husband Chuck’s diligence) and totally organic, it’s also rather free of full bloom. But then, the point of a cutting garden is NOT to let it get all English Blowsy, wide-open blooms dripping petals onto your pathways. No, the point is to CUT those blooms just as they start to open and get them into a vase, pronto. Still, even after harvesting last night, she could still find an armful of blue tretelleia—also sold as Brodiaea laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’—a corm that could really do well for folks on till or clay as it likes heavy soil, winter moisture and summer drought.
“I try to grow a lot in a small space,” she said, pointing out that under these tretelleia were 200 French tulip bulbs, while under the deer-proof perennial border outside the garden were 200 hyacinths and 600 daffodils, their fragrant blooms cut this spring. Behind the triteleia were pink and lavender scabiosa that she grows not for the flowers, but for the dried pods that come later. A bed of Asiatic and Oriental lilies was coming on, and the first water-lily dahlia was opening on one of her 40 plants that she’s kept going for eleven years (she pulls them every fall, because the glacial till lying 3 feet below makes the soil super-saturated during the winter). Also included in the garden are 20 rose bushes, all on original root stock—varieties from the fragrant David Austin roses to old-fashioned hybrid teas such as her favorite, Mr. Lincoln.
At the moment, the garden is strong in yellows, reds, and purples: European yarrow and three kinds of coreopsis, penstemon and sweet williams, catmint and 30′ of the mixed red/purple/pinks of sweet peas. Lavender from her 100 ‘Provence’ and ‘Hidcote Giant’ are coming on fast, and the vivid violet spikes of liatris will soon put exclamation points in her bouquets.
Carol is an extremely well-trained florist, with degrees in microbiology and in ornamental horticulture from Cal-Poly, a certificate in Ikebana (Sogetsu school), and a certificate in European design from Holland. In 1986 she was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers, has been published in trade magazines, and used to do the Pasadena Rose Parade for years. She started supplying the Wallflower building’s florist shop with flowers, wholesale, before buying the shop in 2010.
While her own flowers keep the cost of her “Island Bouquets” down, she also buys wholesale from several Island growers. Mary Ann Roberts supplies alstromerias, phlox, campanulas, gladiolas, and lilies. Carolina Nurik, Dan Carlson of Kareli Sunflowers, and Hope Bloesch also supply flowers. “A customer wanting a large arrangement can ask me to throw in some Island-grown flowers—that can shave a few dollars off the price.” Her regular arrangements average around $50-60/vase, and she offers a larger Island bouquet for around $25.00.
“Part of what you get with a professional florist is money spent on flower food, hydrating treatments, artful use of color and style and of course, great design! Unlike bucket shops, we do more than ‘chop and drop.’ All my arrangements come with a care tag, and I get complements all the time that my bouquets LAST. Music to my ears.”
And well they should, because they’re island grown and fresh cut this morning. So join the 50-mile bouquet movement with an Island Bouquet.
Carol’s Tips for a Long-lasting Bouquet
* • Feed the stems with conditioned water. The home recipe for flower food is…1 qt. warm water with 1 T sugar dissolved and a tiny drop of chlorine. (The notion of putting aspirin or a penny in the water is a myth.)
• Change the water every 3-4 days
• Recut the stems at a diagonal before dropping back into the vase. This opens up more surface area for the stems to draw water.
• Cut off all the leaves that will be in the vase water. The leaves provide a surface area for bacteria that then contaminate the water and reduce flower life.