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Inside the ‘secret jewel of Admiral’s Cove’ Page 2

PUBLISHED AS A SUPPLEMENT TO THE WHIDBEY NEWS-TIMES, SOUTH WHIDBEY RECORD & WHIDBEY EXAMINER


Page 2

MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

COZY CUSTOM COTTAGE

Couple takes chance on ‘enchanting’ home, finds hand-crafted dream in Admiral’s Cove

rnewberry@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Photos by Ron Newberry

The morning sun illuminates the side of the rustic, cedar-shingled guest room that rests atop a large garage and shop that is partially hidden by trees and shrubs. Above that is a ‘lookout’ that offers a peek of the Puget Sound.

ever setting foot inside. It wasn’t a call from the wild in the wee hours of the night that persuaded the couple to make the bold move. Rather, it was a call from their daughter, Annie Wilson, at midnight.

then couldn’t wait to tell her parents about what she saw. Suzy Palmer, then living in During many visits to Whidbey Barrington Hills, Ill., got the call at Island, Nate and Suzy Palmer midnight Central time. always found something enchant“She called us that night and ing about the secluded house said, ‘It’s your house. It talks about across the street. who you are,’” Palmer They would come to said. the island to vacation with Five years later, family and they would Suzy and Nate Palmer all stay at a spacious remain tickled with Admiral’s Cove vacation their decision. home owned by their The whole intent daughter’s best friend. was for the retired The house overlooked couple to move closer a partially hidden, cottageto their daughter style home across the and son-in-law Dan street that blended in with Wilson, the former its natural surroundings. Seattle Mariners The home held special catcher, and their four charm to the Palmers’ children. grandchildren because it Little did the was inviting to bunnies Palmers know that Nate and Suzy Palmer find all of the spaces and ‘nooks and that would hop along its lawn in the mornings, and crannies’ of their home to be delightful. Their grandkids agree. what they couldn’t see from across the street to the owls that would all those years was hoot from its trees at night. Wilson, who lives in Seattle, had even more entrancing once they Five years ago, Nate and Suzy learned that the alluring home on got a better look on the inside and Palmer took a leap of faith and Perry Drive had come on the marbought the Coupeville home before ket. She scheduled a tour inside, SEE DREAM, PAGE 3 By RON NEWBERRY

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DREAM CONTINUED FROM 2 out back. Once they opened the gate to the garden court and walked in, they entered a unique place that felt like they were in another world. Coupeville’s Wayne Ove custom-built the home in 1991, following a creative, cottage-style home and landscape plan that he and his wife Deborah dreamed up after buying property near the Crockett Lake Preserve. The property consists of the main house and two detached garages, all rustically covered with solid cedar shingles. Aside from a hidden courtyard near the entrance that Suzy Palmer likes to call her “secret garden,” there also is a terraced backyard entertaining area that features a stone, wood-fired pizza oven, a mini-fridge and fire pit. It all looks over a small pond

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SPRING HOME & GARDEN

spanned by a wooden bridge that is part of a sprawling protected wetland and field of cattails that stretch nearly a mile to the Puget Sound. “This is just a different kind of place,” Suzy Palmer said. “You don’t know that there’s a neighborhood behind us here and that was part of the draw. We really wanted a neighborhood because we’re getting older.” The attention to detail and craftsmanship inside the home is what floored Nate Palmer. With the home came custom wood cabinetry, built-in bookcases and heavier timber used for a wide staircase. “The wood that is used in this house is just insane,” Nate Palmer said. “You just don’t see that.” What also is rare is the house’s layout. Aside from three distinct bedrooms, which includes a mainfloor master bedroom in the main house and a guest room above the garage, there are other lofts and spaces that aren’t so easily defined. One is a tiny third-story “look-out” above the garage that offers a sitting area and window to peer out

Home & Garden Staff EXECUTIVE EDITOR and PUBLISHER | Keven R. Graves ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER | Kimberlly Winjum EDITOR | Megan Hansen ADMINISTRATIVE MGR. | Heather Schmidt COPY & PHOTOS | Justin Burnett, Ron Newberry, Ben Watanabe, Evan Thompson, Dan Richman, Jim Waller, Kate Daniel and Debra Vaughn

The Palmers’ place was custom-built and designed by Coupeville’s Wayne and Deborah Ove, featuring a garden courtyard, above, fine craftsmanship and unique features such as a small “look-out” room accessed by a ladder.

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over the wetlands and Puget Sound. It’s been one of the favorite features for the Palmers’ eight grandchildren. Suzy Palmer said it was “all the nooks and crannies” in the home that convinced her and her husband that the house was not only special and unique, but big enough to accommodate guests. “It’s like the secret jewel of Admirals Cove,” said Heather Tenore, a neighborhood friend. Deborah Ove, who lived in the

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home for 20 years, said the house was inspired by three styles. “We loved the Northwest style,” she said. “We also loved the comfort of the classic farmhouse and also the Japanese aesthetic. It was kind of a marrying of different elements to this style, creating just a classic Northwest cabin-cottageshingle style home.” Nate Palmer said the house holds up well to the noise created by Navy jets that soar overhead during flight operations to the nearby Outlying Field. “You really can’t hear them,” he said. “It’s amazing.” “Nate and I are actually excited when they come,” Suzy said. In the sun room at the rear of the house rests a wooden sign inscribed in German that belonged to Suzy’s grandfather and is a reflection of her German heritage. To her, the message seems fitting for their home. “With a happy heart that wells up in you,” Suzy said, translating, “will happen to everyone that comes in this house.” It certainly happened to them.

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Page 4

MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

LIFE IN SPADES Longtime gardener shares 91 years of planting By BEN WATANABE

bwatanabe@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Ben Watanabe photos

Midge Billig is a 91-year-old Clinton resident and lifelong gardener who dedicated some 35 years of her life as a professional floriculturist.

If there’s only one piece of wisdom Midge Billig can impart to people, it’s that the earth your plants grow in is called soil, not dirt. The 91-year-old Clinton resident is a lifelong gardener who dedicated some 35 years of her life as a professional floriculturist. Those days were already behind her when she and her husband retired to Whidbey Island, finding a “perfect” climate and escape from the icecovered winters of Michigan where they ran a nursery and floral shop for decades. “This is the best climate in the world, or at least the country,” Billig said during a recent visit with a couple of her friends from the South Whidbey Garden Club. “We aren’t buried in snow half the year or flooded.” Billig is a bit famous on Whidbey Island. Since moving here in the late 1980s, she has become an integral part of several agencies: the garden club, Whidbey hospital guild, Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO), and St. Hubert Catholic Church. She’s known for a quick laugh, regu-

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larly wearing her denim “Whidbey Island, Washington” hat (necessary, she says, to keep the sun out of her eyes when she drives), and her trusty camera. “You never see her without her camera,” said Christine Johnson, publicity chairwoman for the South Whidbey Garden Club. Indeed, Billig had her tiny Sony digital camera with her and ready to snap a few pictures of Johnson’s plants and yard. During a visit at her home, she happily pulls out the camera from her back pocket then shows off some of the shots she captured of the landscapes that buffet Whidbey: the Cascades, the Olympics, and Vancouver Island. For several of the groups, she is the official historian. In her home are the annals of what she and others did for the garden club, the church, hospital and PEO. There are also lots of books, and as one might imagine, many of them are dedicated to plants. There’s the “Dictionary of Horticulture” that someone donated to the garden club which she references to make sure people are talking about the same plant but

Top 5 tips from a lifelong gardener 1. Don’t plant larch, a type of needle tree, or bamboo downwind from your front door. You’ll track needles and leaves inside your home. 2. Beware pretty seedlings that come up because of the birds, because they may be noxious weeds. 3. Keep clippings, prune trimmings and other vegetation from your yard and do your own compost for healthy soil. 4. Label new seeds and plantings with the Latin or scientific name to avoid confusion stemming from common names. 5. Build a rain garden to reduce pollutants. “On the island, that should be the number one. You can always live with the leaves and whatnot, but the Sound won’t live with the pollutants.”

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Page 5

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

SPADES

WHIDBEY GARDEN CLUBS

CONTINUED FROM 4 using different names. Such confusion is frequent, she said, as many the same plant can have regional common names. “When you’re starting seeds, be sure and label them with the Latin name,” she said. “You just don’t know what you’ve got unless you’ve got the Latin name.” At her home in the Sandy Point area of Clinton, she guessed there were more than 200 different plants. Pine trees and holly plants grow together, as do different varieties of heather and hellebore. She has apple and pear trees, leeks and elephant garlic, bamboo and sedge. When she first moved to Whidbey back in the ’80s, the yard was pretty barren except for the pine tree that still stands. Just about everything in there now was planted or grown by Billig. Some of them, such as the holly and the less welcome Bishop’s wort, a type of noxious weed, sprAng up from bird droppings most likely. “I like holly, but who would’ve guessed it would grow this tall?” she laughed, pointing to the two holly bushes that have grown nearly twice her height. One was well shaped like a Christmas tree, the other a sprawling bush that served almost like a hedge barrier. Gardening is a full-time hobby and occupation. Even at 91, she tends to many of the plants herself. Though she happily admits she isn’t dropping to her knees any more, and instead developed a onearm lean on one knee that lets her bend over a bit to prune and weed.

Billig’s five favorite types of plants are Delphiniums, Hostas, Perennial grasses, Fuschias and Hellebores. “There’s no end to it,” she said. There’s not much lawn in her yards. Actually, there isn’t any common grass in her front yard, a departure from the neighboring homes in Clinton and across the United States, where grass is considered the most commonly grown plant. What common yard grass exists in her lawn is mostly for walkway to and from and between her raised beds and garden islands. “There’s no point in wasting money on lawns,” she said. “We grow it for the kids and I don’t have any kids around for a thousand miles.” Plants can carry with them stories in addition to fruits and vegetables and

required labor. Billig points out an apple tree that she and her husband planted when the first moved to Whidbey. He died not long after, but the tree keeps producing large apples, some up to 20 ounces — large enough to make an entire apple pie out of, she says, and are good for applesauce. As she so often remarks, Whidbey’s temperature is well suited for a wide variety of plants, if someone is willing to take the time and put in the work. “We’ve got the best climate in the country,” she said. “You can grow anything here, as long as you pay attention to the zones… A gardener’s paradise.”

GREENBANK GARDEN CLUB Meets: 10 a.m. to noon, first Thursday, Sept. to June Location: Greenbank Progressive Clubhouse Contact : Reece Rose, 360-579-5880 Plant Sale Info: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 16 at Greenbank Farm SOUTH WHIDBEY GARDEN CLUB  Meets: 9-11:30 a.m., third Friday, Sept. to June Location: St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Clinton Contact: Christine Johnson, 360-221-2203 www.southwhidbeygardenclub.com Plant Sale Info: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., April 30 on SR 525 next to Sebos OAK HARBOR GARDEN CLUB  Meets: 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., second Tuesday, Sept. to June Location: Oak Harbor First United Methodist Church Contact: Gloria Morse, 360-675-8330 www.oakharborgardenclub.org Fundraiser Info: Garden Tour and Tea, June 25 COUPEVILLE GARDEN CLUB Meets: 9:30-11:30 a.m., first Thursday, Sept. to May Location: Coupeville Recreation Center Contact: Peggy Hennessey, 360-678-2138 www.coupevillegardenclub.org Plant Sale Info: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 30 at Coupeville Rec Hall

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MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

Tips to growing tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest By DEBRA VAUGHN

dvaughn@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Nothing compares to the succulent flavor and texture of a homegrown tomato. Purple, yellow, pink, striped, pear-shaped, gigantic, tiny, tangy, tart or sweet -- many varieties in a parade of colors, shapes and flavors are available. And, yes, many of those varieties will grow here in the Northwest. It’s not hard to grow tomatoes at home. With such a short growing season, the easiest route for home gardeners is buying a plant, rather than starting from seeds. Plants can be ordered from catalogs or online from places such as Territorial Seed Co. in Oregon, which will mail the plants at the start of the growing season. Order early to get the most choices. Many local businesses also sell tomato plants in the spring. Island County Master Gardener Anza Muenchow suggested looking at local farmers markets. The Island County Master Gardeners also plan to hold a plant sale May 14 at Greenbank Farm.

every year. Tomatoes (and just about any garden plant) can be grown in a good-sized pot with drainage. If grown in a garden bed, loosen the soil and add compost. Determinate tomatoes grow more like a bush. Indeterminate tomatoes grow tall and need good staking. FEED & WATER: Don’t add extra fertilizer with nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth and not fruit. Water only at the root zone. Watering on the leaves can promote a fungus called blight, the black splotches that form on the leaves and stems in wet, warm weather that kill the plant. In August, trim some of the lower leaves to improve circulation. Make sure to NOT compost the plants, which can harbor blight. We asked Territorial Seed Co., based in Oregon, to provide some tomato types that will grow well on Whidbey Island. Here are a few picks:

NOT TOO EARLY: Sometimes stores put out plant starts too early for planting. Fruit won’t set unless night-time temps are 52 degrees or higher. Some of the early type tomatoes such as Stupice can set fruit earlier “but I really don’t like the taste of these early ones,” Muenchow said. LOCATION: Choose the warmest, sunniest spot in the garden. This crop needs to be planted in a different spot

55 days. This very early tomato produces attractive, orangeyred, 2 inch tomatoes. Surprisingly sweet for an ultra-early type. Expect a determinate habit plant that is about 2-1/2 feet tall, 3-1/2 feet across, and quite open.

Glacier

Early slicer varieties

Muenchow offered a few additional tips: PICK A PLANT: Getting the right variety is crucial in the Northwest climate. Muenchow recommended not buying any tomato that takes more than 85 days to reach maturity. She uses clear plastic cloches and hoop houses to extend the season.

GLACIER

KATANA

STUPICE

65 days. Uniform, high-shouldered, beefy red slicers set early and continuously. Rich and full-flavored, 3-1/2 inch wide, 2-2-3/4 inch deep fruit. Healthy, robust, semideterminate plants have excellent disease resistance.

60-65 days. This cold-tolerant tomato ripens sweet, red, slightly oval, 2 inch fruit for first-of-thesummer salads, lunches, and juicing. Pumps out tasty fruit over the entire season. Indeterminate potato leaf variety.

Stupice

Katana

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Compost it. Recycle it. Chip it.

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For cleaner, healthier alternatives to burning, call the Northwest Clean Air Agency at 360-428-1617, visit nwcleanair.org or call your local solid waste department.


MARCH 2016

Page 7

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

CHERRY BUZZ GOLD NUGGET

MANITOBA

66 days. Developed to ripen during the short summers of the Manitoba prairie. Determinate, bearing heavy yields of 3-4 inch crimson red fruit with refreshing, tangy tomato taste. A productive, early heirloom.

60 days. Always among the first to ripen, with an unusually rich, sweet flavor when ripe. Vigorous and determinate, plants are loaded with 3/4 inch, round golden fruit from early in the season ‘til frost.

Manitoba

Gold Nugget

Cherry Tomato varieties

NOVA

65 days. One of the earliest romas to ripen in our trials. Meaty, lipstick red, elongated 1-1/2 inch by 2 inch fruit with a pointed end. Start your processing early with this tasty tomato. Compact, determinate plants.

55 days. Super compact, potato-leaf, determinate plants top out at only 8-12 inches tall, and are at home in even the tightest containers. Red Robin produces juicy, tasty, 1-1-1/2 inch round, red fruit are set in clusters by the fistful.

61 days. Early maturity and huge production on a determinate plant. The 1 inch bright red fruit are borne on beautiful trellises of 6-8 fruit that all ripen at the same time. Great flavor and yields.

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Red Robbin

60-65 days. Our hands-down choice for a Roma-style tomato that’s comfortable growing in a container. The bright crimson, oval tomatoes are meaty and dense with a rich, tangy flavor. Determinate.

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Varieties for sauce RED ROBBIN

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Page 8

BUSY BEES

MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

Masons keep pollinating in shadow of their well-known honey-making cousins By DAN RICHMAN

drichman@whidbeynewsgroup.com

They don’t look like bees or sting like bees, but they pollinate just as well as bumblebees or honeybees, if not better. They’re Mason bees — in Latin, Osima lignaria, also known as blue orchard bees — and they are increasingly popular on Whidbey Island. “I have 24 sets of bees on order now, and 22 are already accounted for,” said Bob Olson, owner of Whidbey Wild Bird in Oak Harbor. “This year I’ll sell twice as many as I did last year

and the year before combined.” Sales are up among home gardeners, in part because word has spread about the plight of the honeybee, in danger from Colony Collapse Disorder and several new pathogens and parasites, Olson said. “People know we need the pollination in order to eat,” he said. Mason bees are also easy to keep, he added. The little guys are blue-black and closely resemble houseflies, but with longer antennae. They are nonaggressive and generally safe to

Photos provided

A Mason bee pollinates a flower. Mason bees become active in April and May, when fruit trees are in bloom. They do best with a variety of pollinating plants growing within a 300-foot diameter of their home. have around children and pets, in part because they have no queen to protect, advocates say. They do sting, but usually only if stepped on, pinched or caught in clothing, and their sting carries no venom. On the down side, they don’t make beeswax or honey. Mason bees become active in April and May, when fruit trees are in bloom. They do best with a

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variety of pollinating plants growing within a 300-foot diameter of their home. They are most often used to supplement, not replace, honeybees, though some gardeners say they are superior to honeybees at pollinating blueberries, cranberries, pumpkins and tomatoes. They are frequently used to pollinate fruit trees. Since mason bees are native North American insects,

unlike the honeybee, they excel at pollinating native species. They are so good at pollinating because they carry pollen dry on the undersides of their hairy abdomens, allowing it to fall off freely. In contrast, honeybees carry pollen wet, on their legs. Only the female mason bees pollinate; the males simply mate and then die. SEE BEES, PAGE 9

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SPRING HOME & GARDEN

5 mistakes that bring bugs home

Photos provided

A colony of Mason bees makes its home in a predrilled wooden structure.

Spring is house-hunting season and with warmer temperatures and increased rain, it is also the season when pesky creatures can invade homes. Even minor flaws in a new home should not be ignored as they can potentially lead to pest damage. Avoid making these five mistakes:

Overlooking cracks

BEES CONTINUED FROM 8 Mason bees nest not in hives but in tubes of a very particular diameter. In the wild, they don’t excavate homes but rather find such cavities in nature, for example in hollowed-out trees. Mason bees are available to rent. A 50-yearold Bothell company simply called Rent Mason Bees (www.rentmasonbees.com) offers kits with 50 bee cocoons for $25, 100 cocoons for $50 or 200 cocoons for $75. Kits can be picked up at the end of March -- right on Whidbey, if enough people sign up here, said owner Jim Watts. They are not mailed. The company advises that the nesting box should be placed in the sunniest, driest place possible, though not in a tree, that is within 300 feet of a food source. After six to eight weeks of pollinating, the bees will have completed their work and their lives. Renters then return the nesting box, now filled with the next generation of bees in the form of eggs. One enthusiastic renter on the company’s

Facebook page praised the bees as having increased her blueberry yield to 44 quarts from six plants. Rent Mason Bees is expanding to meet increased demand, Watts said. “For the first time, we are active in Portland and several other cities in Oregon where we weren’t last year,” he said. “People are much more aware of mason bees, and we take care of the maintenance, so it’s easy.” Mason bees can be bought, rather than rented, from Crown Bees (crownbees.com) in Woodinville. Kits range from $55 to $180. They can also be bought from Knox Cellars (not a winery, despite the name) in Oak Harbor, which for several years published a detailed, informative newsletter available on its site (www.knoxcellars.com). Whidbey Wild Bird sells three tubes of live larvae, yielding roughly 22 bees, for $28. Nesting cans or houses to shelter the tubes run $32-$40. Olson said he gets his bees from Knox Cellars. Those handy with a drill can easily make their own nests, he said. “They are fascinating animals, and they do a lot of good,” he said.

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Even tiny cracks and crevices in the foundation, doorways and walls where pipes enter the home could be inviting ants, roaches, spiders, rodents and other pests inside. A rat can squeeze through an opening as small as a quarter and a mouse can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Cockroaches, ants and spiders can enter through tiny crevices, too. Pests are attracted to shelter, food and water. Homeowners should promptly clean up all water and food spills, seal any cracks and crevices around doors, windows and pipes and install weather stripping around and under all doors, including garage doors.

Obtaining secondhand furniture

Buying a home is an expensive investment and

it may be tempting to save money with furniture from a thrift shop or garage sale, but bed bugs, spiders and even scorpions have been known to dwell in secondhand upholstered furniture. Once inside, they can spread from room to room. That’s why it’s important to inspect and quarantine - for several months if possible - all second-hand furniture before bringing it inside your home.

Ignoring insulation

A home’s attic can be a gateway inside for many pests, such as rodents and cockroaches, that nest in insulation. It’s important to inspect insulation for pest activity and damage: insulation that is wet, matted down, chewed or covered with droppings. New insulation technology incorporates materials specifically designed to help deter household pests.

Ignoring flooring and siding damage

Termites are called “silent destroyers” because they may be secretly hiding and thriving in a home or yard without immediate signs of damage. They cause more than $5 billion in damage every year in the United

States, according to the National Pest Management Association. House foundations, wood framing, furniture and shelves are all possible feeding sites for termites. In spring, termites can be seen swarming around windows or doors. Other signs of termite activity include buckling wood, swollen floors and ceilings and areas that appear to be suffering from slight water damage. Brick and mortar homes are not termite-proof as they have wooden components, such as framing and flooring, that can host termite infestations. It’s important to work with a licensed professional to provide regular inspections.

Not repairing leaks

Minor leaks may seem to be just that - minor - but leaks or condensation, combined with increasing temperatures in the spring, can create ideal conditions for cockroaches and other pests. Small steps make a big difference. Fix leaking faucets, water pipes and A/C units and eliminate standing water on the roof or in gutters to help prevent an infestation. (Family Features)

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Page 10

MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

The Big ACRE serves those in need, far and wide By EVAN THOMPSON

ethompson@whidbeynewsgroup.com

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What was once a small garden behind the former Bayview School is now a full-fledged farm operated by the Good Cheer Food Bank. As part of a collaboration between Good Cheer, South Whidbey School District and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, a one-acre farm was created behind the old school building. Produce developed by the farm will be served in school cafeterias across the district. The new farm, dubbed “The Big ACRE,” will provide a boost in the amount of food that can be grown and harvested, Good Cheer Food Bank Garden Manager Camille Green said. “ACRE” stands for Abundant Community Resources for Everyone, which exemplifies Good Cheer’s mission to create a hunger-free community. “We want our community to be a community of abundance rather than one of scarcity and that’s kind of one of the things we’re working on here,” Green said. The farm will also be heavily relied upon during the busiest seasons of the year, when produce donations tend to drop off and harvests in the fall, winter and spring align with the school year. Green said the first plant will come at the end of March or April. The next activities for her and her staff are to lay compost down on the farm and build a fence to protect it from the area’s wildlife. Grants from the Archdiocese of Seattle and Goosefoot, an economic development organization whose mission is to enhance local commerce and help create a sustainable future for South

Evan Thompson photo

Good Cheer Food Bank Garden Manager Camille Green carries rocks out of The Big ACRE. Green and her staff are currently in the process of readying the field for a spring harvest. Whidbey will help fund those endeavors. The idea, Green says, is to cultivate the production so half the food goes to the school cafeterias while the other half goes to the food bank. “In general, the growing space is greatly increased,” Green said. In addition to a small garden on its property off Bayview Road, the food bank will be able to expand its variety of crops to foods that require more long-term cultivation such as cabbage and potatoes. It will also provide

more space at the Good Cheer Garden for growing herbs, greens, seed stock and flowers. “I’m excited for it to be a growing space that is more focused on production,” said Anh Bui, marketing and communications manager. “We’ll have both the gardens and The Big ACRE so we can still remain a fixture in the community for social events and volunteering.” “It’s really focused on production, so that we’re able to provide more to the school district and the food bank. We think it’s a nice balance and will serve to attract different folks,” she added. While the Good Cheer Garden and South Whidbey School Farm and Garden serve as educational platforms and examples of how to utilize a small garden, The Big ACRE will bear a heavier load. It will utilize farm-management techniques to focus production on hardy greens and root and storage crops. The produce grown and circulated amongst schools will be appreciated by the school district, School Board Director Shawn Nowlin said. “The more food we produce, the less we have to buy,” Nowlin said in an interview in January. Though The Big ACRE is focused on production, it is not limited to it. The space will be utilized by the Community Gardening Leadership Training apprenticeship program as well as the Washington State University Extension Master Gardeners. The farm will also be destinations for field trips for South Whidbey students, service-learning groups interested in agricultural production and nonprofits, and the broader island community, according to its website.

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MARCH 2016

Page 11

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

Native plants ideal for low-maintenance gardening

By KATE DANIEL

kdaniel@whidbeynewsgroup.com

When Ann and Max Meerkerk founded Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in the early 1960s, their vision was to cultivate a peaceful woodland garden in sync with the natural enchantment of the island. Upon entering the grounds today, visitors are treated to a visual cornucopia in the form of hundreds of plants of various colors, textures and species. Though the primary emphasis of the garden is upon rhododendrons — including the pink-blossomed Rhododendron macrophyllum, a Northwest native — companion plants, many of which are also natives, make up a large portion of the garden scenery. Master Gardener Don Lee, who has volunteered at Meerkerk for over 26 years and is current board president, takes great pride in the native plants interspersed throughout the grounds. The grounds are composed of 10 acres of “somewhat formal” gardens in addition to 43 acres of forest and trails. Lee’s interest in native

plants was piqued at about the same time he began volunteering at Meerkerk, just after he and his wife moved to the island from California. Lee recalled that, like many island transplants, he initially believed he would have to clear out the “junk” plants from his property in order to replace them with “nice” domestic ones. After researching and learning more about environmental factors like water supply, Lee’s perspective changed, and he gained a strong appreciation for the island’s native species. “There are literally hundreds of different species of native plants (on the island),” he said. Just a few of these include the red flowering current, Indian plum, sword fern, small-flowered alum root, kinnikinnick, Evergreen huckleberry and the rare Ozette Coralroots orchid. In recent years, Lee noted that there has been increased public interest in native plants as individuals become increasingly concerned about water supply and general ecological preservation. In both areas, native plants are highly beneficial, Lee said.

On the island, about 70 percent of the rainfall comes in the winter, while about 30 percent comes in the summer, Lee said. It’s something the native plants have become accustomed to, while many domestics struggle to withstand the variation. Likewise, natives are not as susceptible to disease or fungus. Lee said that, once established, native plants require less human assistance, including watering. Native plants with strong root structures are essential to holding bluffs in place, he added. Natives are also an integral part of the overall ecology of the area, and vital to maintaining the food web through which all living beings are nourished. The food web and its relation to the native plant population is something Oak Harbor Garden Club Horticulturalist Carol Goldberg is particularly passionate about. Native insects and animal species, some of which are unique to the Northwest, are reliant upon native plant populations, she said. Goldberg explained that plants develop toxins as a means of protecting themselves from being eaten.

Native insects have adapted to digest the toxins of native plants, and rely on these for food. “We need the insects. They’re the good guys,” she said. “If the native insects disappear, the food web collapses,” Goldberg said, explaining that this means a decrease in other populations, including birds and other animals. For gardeners who find chewed-up leaves to be unappealing, she suggested placing plants that are attractive to butterflies and the like in an area where they will be less visible. Goldberg and Lee each noted that although many native plants are not quite as showy as domestic varieties, they can be equally as attractive. Four of Goldberg’s neighbors have joined her in adding natives to their gardens; the group lightheartedly refers to their collective sanctum for insects and birds as the “Krieg Refuge.” Goldberg recommended that gardeners looking to establish a more eco-friendly landscape should consider reducing the size of their lawn — grass is “basically sterile” and uses many resources —

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Kate Daniel photo

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Page 12

MARCH 2016

SPRING HOME & GARDEN

Chicken tractors are a safe, simple way to raise fowl By JESSIE STENSLAND jessie@whidbeynewsgroup.com

You don’t need a license to drive a chicken tractor. In fact, they’re among the most user-friendly of tractors; they just require a daily push around the lawn, a little water, a handful of feed and maybe some scraps from the kitchen. Fran Einterz and his wife, Joyce Peterson, have two chicken tractors on Central Whidbey’s Jenne Farm and find that they’re an easy way to raise fowl. They’re all the rage with city folk who want backyard chickens — which is being allowed in more and more communities — but Einterz said they’ve worked great on the farm. While it’s not a commercial venture for the couple, they do reap the benefits. “They’re fun to watch,” he said of the chickens. “They make noise and talk to you.” Chicken tractors are essentially small chicken coops on wheels that can be pushed around, regularly giving the chickens new ground to scratch at and poop on. Einterz said he and his wife decided to try out chicken tractors as a way to protect their chickens from bald eagles that nest in their forests on the farm. They have free-range chickens but some have been getting picked off from above.

Photo by Jessie Stensland

Fran Einterz and his wife, Joyce Peterson, have chicken tractors on the Jenne Farm in Coupeville. The mobile coops provide a safe and simply homes for the egg layers. In addition, there’s coyotes and raccoons that wouldn’t mind a chicken dinner. A neighbor built their two chicken tractors from scrap parts, including an old road sign and bicycle wheels. Much of the apparatus is screened-in with chicken wire, plus there’s a nesting area for the hens to cuddle up at night and lay eggs. Einterz said each morning he

moves the chicken tractors to different spots on the lawn, gives the chickens some feed and checks their water. He said the chickens often ignored the food at first because they’re so excited about getting a new piece of grass to explore for tasty bugs and worms. For both rural and urban dwellers, there are plenty of benefits to

backyard chickens in general and chicken tractors in particular. Both Oak Harbor and Coupeville have adopted regulations allowing residents to have backyard chickens, with some restrictions. Obviously, there’s the eggs. Einterz said he keeps three or four hens in each contraption and they each lay about an egg a day, except for the winters when production

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Sat. Aug. 6, 9 -Noon Nordic Hall, Coupeville Sat. Sept. 10, 9 -Noon Nordic Hall, Coupeville Mon. Sept. 19, 5 -8pm Bayview Senior Center Thurs. Sept. 29, 5 -8pm Oak Harbor Library

declines. “Chickens are photosensitive,” he explained, adding that many people with chickens turn on light blubs in coops during the winter to boost production. Einterz said they experimented with solar-powered lights since the chicken tractors aren’t connected to electricity, but it didn’t help with egg production. Still, a couple of chickens probably can provide a family with all the eggs they need year-round. Though Einterz isn’t overly concerned about the shape of the lawn, he said the chicken tractors are great for the turf. The chickens aerate and fertilize the grass while swallowing slugs whole. Each tractor has three or four chickens. Einterz said having them in chicken tractors probably doesn’t lessen the amount of food necessary for the chickens, but the bugs, worms and grass are undoubtedly good for them. He said chickens are also a great way to dispose of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go in the garbage. Chickens will eat egg shells, which are a great source of calcium for them. There are plenty of ideas and plans for chicken tractors of all shapes and sizes on the Internet. Thecitychicken.com, for example, has all kinds of inventive ideas.

Home and Garden - Spring Home and Garden 2016  

i20160415142024258.pdf

Home and Garden - Spring Home and Garden 2016  

i20160415142024258.pdf