Projects, classes can help turn space around your place into edible delights

Staff writerFebruary 5, 2014 

Imagine a city park full of edible berries and mushrooms, or neighborhoods laden with productive fruit trees. Two new projects in Tacoma — the Tacoma Food Forest and the Fruit Tree Steward Program — and an orcharding workshop in Mount Vernon offer chances for people to grow food in the community over the next few months and beyond.

Organized by the Pierce County Gleaning Project, a group that harvests locally grown fruit for distribution, the Fruit Tree Steward Program begins next week and is Tacoma’s first such program. The six-part series of classes runs through June and offers participants instruction in organic fruit tree care via hands-on experience in local orchards and gardens.

With classes on evenings or Sundays, the program covers basic tree biology, pruning, training, pest and disease control, grafting, permaculture, and thinning. After the course all students will give 30 hours of volunteer community service to practice their skills.

The program fee is $75; registration due Feb. 6 at tinyurl.com/fruitstewards. Full and partial scholarships are available. For questions email pcgleaningproject@gmail.com or call 253-306-3457.

Down at Swan Creek Park, local permaculture enthusiasts are planning Tacoma’s first food forest. Inspired by Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest, the acre just south of the park has been allocated by Metro Parks Tacoma to grow a multilayered forest of edible food plants supported and enjoyed by the community. A public planting party happens next weekend

“Metro Parks has been wondering for a while how to use the location to serve the community,” said Kelda Miller, owner of Vibrant Life Permaculture, who is managing the project. At a recent master planning meeting many members of the permaculture community, including some who designed a theoretical food forest at the site as part of a permaculture course a few years ago, suggested the idea.

A permaculture gardening technique that mimics forest ecosystems of canopy, shade, vines and ground covers, food forests make productive use of space, reduce invasive plants, and involve the community in their upkeep and produce. Among the plants planned for the Swan Creek pilot forest are fruit trees, such as Asian pear, goumi, plum and pawpaw; kiwi vines; berries, such as currants, gooseberries, huckleberry and serviceberries; and lots of edible fungi. Other plants, such as Chinese chestnuts, take inspiration from the needs and diversity of the nearby Salishan community. The area is currently being mulched; planting will begin with a public work party Feb. 16.

While the forest is a partnership between Metro Parks, Pierce Conservation District’s Community Garden Program, Green Tacoma Partnership Fund, Divine Earth Gardening Project, Vibrant Life Permaculture, Sustainable Tacoma Pierce and the city of Tacoma, long-term maintenance still is up in the air, Miller said.

“We have to create a culture of people hanging out there and taking care of it,” she said.

The planting work party will be 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 16 at Swan Creek Community Garden, East Roosevelt Avenue, Tacoma. Register at tinyurl.com/knjy7fn.

Finally, for folks wanting to know more about planting and tending their own orchards, the Northwest Agricultural Business Center is offering a winter orcharding workshop Feb. 13 in the Skagit Valley Gardens in Mount Vernon. The one-day workshop led by orchardist Gary Moulton and Tory Schmidt of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission will cover planning, planting, layout, best practices for disease and weed control, chemical thinning, and bioregulators, trellising, and irrigation.

The workshop is the first in a three-part series called “Cider and Perry Orcharding Throughout the Year.” Participants can register for the series or individual classes. There is a $95 fee; register at agbizcenter.org.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

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