The Community Orchard

I’ve shown photos of the Community Garden here, but it’s actually a Community Garden and Orchard.

Above the garden area, separated by a small forest of trees and a creek, there is a very large slope which is mostly grass, but around which we’ve scattered fruit trees and other edibles. Let me give you a photographic tour:

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The Community Garden At the End of May

As I was pulling horsetail out of the blueberry patches this weekend (again), I noticed that the blueberry bushes had formed recognizable (not yet ripe) blueberries. So soon?! It’s only spring!

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More Raspberries!

While the community garden raspberry patch is looking swell, Nate is looking forward to harvesting raspberries right on his very own balcony!

The other week, while on an evening walk, Nate and I came across two potted raspberry plants sitting by the road with a FREE sign stuck to them. We couldn’t say no to raspberries, so we took one home with us. Thank you neighbor!

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Harvesting Asparagus and Making Asparagus Pie

Every spring in the community garden, we look forward to the asparagus. Asparagus is one of the first crops out of the garden. At the community garden, we have an asparagus harvesting schedule: in April and May we sign up in groups of 2-3 for a week of asparagus harvesting. Last week was my week.

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Making a Trellis for Raspberries

Over a week ago, I shared some photos of the raspberry patches at my dad’s house. The raspberries have been allowed to spread all over the lawn in disorganized clumps and patches, growing into walkways, etc, and I was ready to exert some organization into the situation.

The plan was to devote two long rows of a sloped terraced garden area to the raspberries. This was more or less where the raspberries were when my dad bought the house, so it kind of makes sense to corral them back in that location.

There are four terraces in this area. I wanted to have two rows of raspberries, one on the second terrace and one on the third terrace. The first and fourth terraces framing the raspberries have kiwis and grapes. The two rows of raspberries would be back-to-back, divided by the stone terrace wall, and there would be paths on the outsides of the raspberries – between the raspberries and kiwis above and between the raspberries and grapes below. Like this:

The trellises would be posts at ends of the beds with guide wires at two or three different heights to support the canes.

Like this, except much longer, spanning the entire row

We used materials that we already had around the house. For the upper row, we had 8-foot 2″x2″ or 2″x1″ pieces of wood that we secured in the ground by burying them at least a foot in packed down gravel, and supported by concrete cylindrical blocks.

Two poles on the upper terrace in.
The view from the other side

For the lower level, we used 8-foot-long, 1″ or 1.5″-wide PVC pipe stuck in the ground over two-foot pieces of rebar (the rebar was stuck most of the way in the ground, and the PVC pipe slid over the rebar and into the ground part way, if that makes sense).

The first post on the lower terrace in

We drilled holes in the posts at the appropriate heights for the wire. The wire we used was actually cable wires (as in wires for cable TV) that we’d removed from outside of the house. (Who watches cable TV anymore? Do kids these days even know what that is?). We tightened the wires as best we could and anchored them to concrete blocks on either end of the rows.

Repurposed cable wire. We thought this was clever.

Here’s the final result!

Looking North at the upper raspberry terrace and walkway
Looking North
The view South
One more looking south at the lower terrace and walkway.
You can see the grape vines down below (right side of photo).

It doesn’t look like much in these photos, and there is obviously, still some work to. The path on the lower level needs to be more defined – the raspberries in that row need to be moved out of the path. We should also transplant raspberries from other parts of the yard to fill in the ends of the rows, but all that will wait until after raspberry season – no sense in ruining this year’s crop. For now, I’m pretty pleased with how it looks, especially since we used only things we found around the house.

Bald Eagles: Your Friendly Neighborhood Apex Predators

When I first came to Seattle from the East Coast in September of 2017, I didn’t pay much attention to birds. I was impressed by the plant life right away — abundant moss, sword ferns, Douglas firs, big leaf maples, and red cedars everywhere. (I also particularly enjoyed seeing monkey puzzle trees, but they’re non-native and Marie thinks they’re ugly). I called home one day in the fall of 2017 and told my parents about how different the trees are in Seattle compared to Maryland or Philadelphia. My parents asked me if I noticed any different animals, and I believe I said something like, “It’s basically nothing but crows and gulls here.”

It’s funny to look back at that conversation. I guess if you’re not looking you won’t see much. A few months later, in early 2018, I went for a run and was caught off guard when I saw these magnificent beasts in a cedar tree along the water next to Husky Stadium:

Bald eagles in a cedar tree by Husky Stadium, circa April 2018

I was blown away. I had only seen bald eagles a few times in my life, and here were two in a tree right next to campus! In the middle of Seattle! I saw the eagles again in the same tree on the way back at the end of my run. I took the picture above several days later, and over the ensuing weeks, I returned to the same area frequently, and I sometimes saw as many as four bald eagles there! As I learned more about eagles, I realized that I was seeing the same four bald eagles, and they all live — hunt, nest, raise chicks, and vie for territory — within a mile of that tree. They aren’t exotic visitors that were blown off course; hundreds of bald eagles live in Washington, several of which live with us in Seattle!

In the late 1700s, over 9,000 bald eagle pairs lived in Washington State, but by 1950, bald eagles had been virtually eradicated from the US outside of Florida and Alaska. The reasons for this dramatic near-extinction are complex, and include habitat loss, illegal shooting, and DDT. Bald eagles were subsequently placed on the endangered species list. It has taken a concerted effort and an electorate that is conscientious about local wildlife to bring those numbers up to where they are now: there were about 100 breeding pairs in Washington State in the 1970s and 840 by 2005 (see data here and here). Bald eagles are definitely not unique to Washington State. There are over 1000 pairs in Minnesota and Florida, and Maryland – my home state – has around 300 breeding pairs. My parents recently found a bald eagle nest site on the Potomac River just a few miles from my childhood home, and they later learned that this site has been known to host eagles since the 1980s. But here in Seattle, I can sometimes see soaring eagles from my apartment window.

Of the many breeding pairs that live in Seattle, three pairs of eagles live around Union Bay. Each pair has its own territory. Their nests make a triangle around the bay, with each side of the triangle being about 1 mile long. Larry Hubbell has names for all six of the eagles, and he’s written about Monty and Marsha’s troubles last year when their nest fell down after a branch in their cottonwood tree broke, as well as their success so far this year as they have rebuilt their nest and now have a newly-hatched eaglet. Their nest is about 1000 feet from where I took the photo above.

While Monty, Marsha, Talia, Russ, Eva, and Albert are the resident eagles, every once in a while, I’ll see some roving gangs passing through.

Five young bald eagles pass through resident eagles’ territory in the Washington Park Arboretum on February 1, 2020.

Young eagles have a mixture of white, brownish, and black feathers, and don’t attain their crisp white head feathers with a sharp border at the neck until they are about 5 years old. The mottling changes slowly over time, so the coloration can be used to estimate age. See how bald eagles change color over time at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website.

Normally, when a stranger eagle wanders into a nesting pair’s air space, they are met with hostility. Eagles are territorial, and the reason I kept seeing eagles right next to Husky Stadium is because this is the boundary between Monty and Marsha’s territory to the south and Talia and Russ’ territory to the north. The four eagles frequently perch in trees by the stadium to patrol their borders. When they do so, they often make a lot of noise — eagles have a peculiar, rather unintimidating call, which you can listen to here. I guess the other eagles must think it’s intimidating, though. Eagles tend to be especially aggressive toward out-of-towners, but when adolescent eagles show up in gangs (like the five drifters in the photo above), the residents can’t do much. You kids get off my lawn! Juvenile delinquents!

As I’ve watched these individual birds over time, they seem less like mindless animals that merely follow their instincts, and more like thinking, feeling creatures with goals and plans who can learn from their mistakes and invent strategies to solve their problems. Monty and Marsha, the newest eagle residents of the Union Bay area, have chosen an optimal nest location for hunting, but their proximity to the other eagles presents a challenge which they have met by regularly enforcing their territorial boundary with Talia and Russ. I’ve become interested in watching, learning about, and trying to understand their behaviors. These bald eagles sparked my fascination with the bird world, and I hope to share more about my other bird neighbors in future posts.