Do your homework now; Plan for your spring garden!

Designing & Maintaining Your Edible Landscape NaturallyAre you planning to put in an orchard next spring, or re-design your landscape with more edible plants? Robert Kouriks’ “Your Edible Landscape Naturally” will guide you through each step of the design process.

A good starting point in landscape design is to make a drawing of your landscape, including the hard-scape (buildings, paths, other structures, or the drain field) and existing plants; to scale would be the best. From this drawing you can figure out where your possible growing spaces are and how big they are. Also note where North and South are, areas shaded by structures or other plants and how long those areas receive direct sun (especially from July to September). It is also valuable to note any microclimate locations or other exceptions to what you generally find in your landscape. For example: spots that stay wet into or through the summer, or dry into or through the winter, or vice versa; spots that tend to be particularly hot in the summer or cold and windy in the winter, or vice versa; spots that are in shade year round or are always in full sun; or spots in which the soil is different from the rest of your land.

Do a pH and nutrient (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) test in various possible planting locations so you know what you are starting with. Remember to use distilled water for the test, tap or well water may affect the results. Determine if you have sand, silt, or clay soil, and what kind of drainage you have. Moisten some soil and rub it between your fingers. If it feels very smooth and sticky, there is a lot of clay in your soil, if it feels gritty there is a lot of sand, in between would indicate a more silty soil. Dig a hole and fill it with water. If the water drains out right away you have fast drainage, if it takes more than a couple of hours your drainage is very slow. Keep in mind that the slope of the land does not affect drainage within the soil profile, only how well water drains off the surface. The goal is to have a good understanding of what you have.

Make a wish list of what you want to grow. Maybe you know of a specific named fruit variety, or perhaps you have a good idea of the type of fruit, harvest time, plant size, or foliage color you are interested in.

Once you have an idea of where you want them, you can prepare the ground for spring planting of fruit and berry plants now. Remove weeds, loosen soil, and mulch the surface with leaves or straw.


It’s Cider Making Time!

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...
Apples are an all-American success story-each of us eats more than 19 pounds of them annually. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here at Raintree Nursery we enjoy making apple cider each October. We use a Cider Press to extract the juice from the apples, ours is made by Correll. They are hand made and do have a waiting list. Often you can find a community cider pressing event in your area. At Raintree we are making cider this year on October 25. This year fruit set was better than last year in our orchard, but some varieties did not set well. In addition, fruit have been ripening 2-3 weeks later than usual, and we are not sure whether the latest apples will ripen in time for our cider making day. We will provide as much variety as we can for the cider pressing, but will not have all of our usual favorites. Please do not bring any apples to Raintree because of the possibility of spreading apple maggot and coddling moth.

We start harvesting ripe apples several weeks before we’re ready to make the cider, different varieties ripen at different times. The apples are stored in a cooler at about 40° F, or they could be stored in any cool dry place protected from rodents. We label each box of apples.

The apples are washed with a fruit and vegetable wash product available at the grocery store. Apples that are heavily infested with apple maggots or scab are discarded.

We find the best cider is made by mixing sweet and tart varieties. This makes a delicious full bodied cider. If you note which combination of varieties you use to make each batch of cider, you can develop your own favorite house blend. On average ten pounds of fruit makes one gallon of cider.

We toss the apples into the grinder on the press. The ground apples fall into a tub. When the tub is full the pomace (ground fruit) is pressed, thereby releasing the juice. The juice pours into a mesh covered container that removes any remaining solids. It’s then ready to drink or preserve. Unfortunately sweet cider (non-fermented) doesn’t keep for long, even in the refrigerator. It can be canned in a water bath to be preserved or it can be frozen. If you ferment it without adding yeast it will often turn into vinegar.

To make hard cider (alcoholic), pour the squeezed juice into a large glass (carboy) container with a narrow neck. We add champagne yeast and then put a cork airlock in the top of the carboy. For more details please consult the cider making book below.

What is the difference between juice and cider? Juice is extracted from the fruit with heat and cider is extracted with pressure.

If you’re really serious about making apple cider we recommend you read ‘Cider Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider’ #S340, ‘The New Cider Makers Handbook’ #S342, or ‘Hard Cider in the Pacific Northwest’ #S343
Wine grapes should be ripening now also, we recommend you read the following books:
‘The Organic Backyard Vineyard’ #S183, and ‘Natural Winemaking at Home’ #S149.


Irrigation in the fall: Not too little, not too much

English: Drip irrigation uses a series of pipe...
English: Drip irrigation uses a series of pipes and tubes to deliver water to the base of each plant. Because little water is lost to evaporation and runoff, this method uses less water than sprinklers and trenches. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In most locations fall rains should have begun and plants would then no longer need regular irrigation. If that is the case where you are, drain irrigation lines and winterize.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have received unusually high amounts of rain in the last few weeks, preceded by unusual heat and drought. And fall frosts are just around the corner. While withholding or reducing water is a good technique for hardening plants and preparing them for frosty nights, too little water will result in stress on plants that could increase potential damage from frosts and impact fall ripening fruits. If you have been watering regularly and fall rains have not yet started continue to do so, but reduce the amount of water you provide somewhat, without causing wilt in your plants.

If you have not been irrigating take a good look at your fruit trees and shrubs, you may need to provide at least one good soaking to plants that are showing stress from lack of water, particularly those you planted this year.


Mason Bee Care in the Fall

Homes of mason bees
Homes of mason bees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By October, mason bees have finished pupating inside their cocoons and are mature, waiting for springs’ signal to emerge. Between now and early December you can handle the bees inside their cocoons without damaging them, or waking them up accidentally, making this the ideal time to clean your mason bees and blocks, and prepare them for winter. It is important to keep naturally occurring mites and parasitic wasps to a minimum to maintain the health of your bee population.
Gently remove cocoons from the stacking trays. Trays should be cleaned with a mild (5%) bleach solution. Cocoons can also be carefully washed in a mild bleach solution to remove mites and maintain a healthy population. For complete instructions refer to ‘Pollination with Mason Bees’ (#S426).

If you are using the block and straw system, carefully remove the bee filled straws from the block. New clean straws can then be inserted in the block. The book ‘Pollination with Mason Bees’ has instructions on removing the cocoons from the straws if your bees are infested with mites and need to be cleaned.
If you are using home-drilled blocks without straws it is best to make new blocks each year and not re-use older ones. It will not be possible to remove the cocoons without damaging them, or remove mites and other debris. Place your new block where the filled one was and store the filled block outside or in a refrigerator as described below. Late January, or when your fruit tree flowers appear ready, position the filled block a few feet lower and below the new block. When your bees emerge in the spring they will use the new block.

Storing your bees outdoors

Mason bees over winter outdoors and survive temporary periods of below freezing weather in the Pacific Northwest. Store the bees (loose cocoons or straws) in a mouse proof container with small breathing holes until late January. Loose cocoons or straws should be cushioned on several layers of soft paper inside a cardboard box inside the mouse proof container. Keep the container in a dry location. Bee filled wood blocks will benefit from being stored in a mouse proof container also. Then in late January you can put the blocks out, or the cocoons out in the release box, and they will become active as outdoor temperatures warm. You can also manage when the bees emerge by storing them in the refigerator, see instructions below.
If your environment is more extreme, the bees may not survive the winter outdoors. You will need to store them in the refrigerator, as described below, for best results.

Storing your bees in a refrigerator

If you need to protect your mason bees from severe winter weather, or you want to manage when your bees emerge in the spring, to coincide with blooms in your orchard, you need to keep them in the refrigerator at 36-39° F. Put the bees in the refrigerator late September or early October, or just after cleaning and drying the cocoons, for the most reliable results. It is important to maintain proper humidity for the bees if you store them in a frost free refrigerator. Put the cardboard box of cocoons or filled wood block inside a plastic bag that you put several small holes in, along with a barely moist paper towel. Close the bag, and put it in the refrigerator. Mason bees will be eager to emerge from their cocoons by mid-February, earlier if you waited to put them in the refrigerator until January. Look for hints regarding releasing your bees in the February Growing Tips, or the book ‘Pollination with Mason Bees’ (#S426).

View our Bees and Bee Supplies page to order bees, nest blocks, or books.


Fall pest maintenance: Destroy infested fruits

Spray copper on apples and pears affected by anthracnose or European (Nectria) cankers at 50% leaf-fall. Apply spray for bacterial canker to stone fruits. Control pear leaf blister mites with an oil spray combined with lime sulfur following fruit harvest. Reduce brown rot inoculum next spring by picking up and destroying all mummified or infected fruit this fall, along with infected twigs and branches. Apply a copper spray at 50% leaf fall on peaches and other fruits (except apricot) showing shothole (Corynium blight) disease symptoms. Apply sprays for botrytis on grapes. ‘Growing Wine Grapes in Western Washington’, #S182, covers both spray and cultural methods of control.

Refer to the Raintree Plant Owners Manual, pg 12-16, which you will find on our website under Growing Info, for a general insect and disease identification and control methods chart. For more information on specific timing and spray products for insect and disease control in your area, contact your local co-operative extension service, which you can find on our Useful Links page under Growing Info.

Keep fallen fruits cleaned up. In apple maggot and codling moth infested areas collect and destroy any unused fallen apples, Asian pear, and sometimes European pear fruits. Other potential hosts for these insects include hawthorn and flowering crab apple.

Destroy the infested fruit by cooking; or seal the fruit in plastic bags and put in the garbage to prevent maggots from getting into the ground and over-wintering after they emerge from the fruit. Do not put fruit in the compost pile, apple maggot larvae will happily over-winter in such a comfortable environment.