Minding our peas

Peas are a standard garden crop in temperate growing areas. They prefer cooler growing conditions, and can often be planted as soon as the soil is able to be worked. Peas also hold up well canned or frozen. Pea flowerSo why aren’t they more prominent in our garden?

One reason is the whole “plant as soon as soil can be worked” thing. In our microclimate, garden-friendly temperatures come and go without much reliability. Cool & dry, cold & wet, warm & humid, Warm & wet, windy & cold…can all occur in any combination, any time during the growing season. Planting peas when conditions are perfect doesn’t help if the vulnerable little sprouts are wiped out by triple-digit temps or a random windstorm.

Another reason is the dreaded pea weevil. There are two main species of this legume-feeding pest – one that chews decorative little notches in leaf margins, and our nemesis, one that lays eggs in blossoms that hatch into larvae which take up residence in the developing pea pods and munch their way to adulthood, undetected until we humans shell the mature peas. Pea weevilWe’ve managed to work around the fluctuating weather by growing soup peas. These can be planted later, then pretty much ignored until they are dried and ready to shell for storage. They aren’t so good for satisfying the jones for pea-bacon salad, but if hearty winter soups are your thing, they are perfect. Shelling peasBut increasingly we’ve discovered pea weevil damage in the dried pods, necessitating extra vigilance when shelling to make sure no damaged peas or dead bugs make it into the pantry.

This year we trialled a new-to-us variety of green pea, the Green Arrow, having had a few years to ‘forget’ just how fussy germinating peas can be. After weathering the weather and surviving repeated replantings after ring-neck dove raids, the plants took off and produced an abundance of pods. And the persistent pea weevils were right there the whole time.

We harvested 6lbs of pods, pulled up a standard pea-bacon salad recipe, and started shelling. It isn’t hard to spot the weevils inside, but having to work around them really slows things down. My first thought was to wonder how many weevils make it into commercial products, given the pace mechanized harvest methods. Then I recalled that monocropping agribusinesses skip that concern by flooding pea plants with insecticides just as the plants start to bloom. Pea-bacon saladThere are pea weevil poisons rated for home garden use, but they kill every bug, beneficial and pestiferous. No thanks! Next year we will try the only non-toxic tactic likely to dodge the threat – planting an earlier maturing variety of green pea. The idea is that it flowers and sets pods before the weevil beetles lay their eggs.

We’ve been able to avoid carrot worm damage by changing our planting times, so there is hope for any pea plants hardy and adaptable enough to get growing early in our changeable spring weather. August sunset

A Story of Doug Fir or… Sky Islands – Ancient memory lines in Phylogeography, Holarctic evolutionary pathways and creative divergences of Douglas Fir within Cascadia and connected Bioregions

Seven Trees:

This is an amazing portrait of Cascadia’s beloved conifer – the Douglas Fir. Forget tl;dr, just read it.

Originally posted on Tree Oathe - Fresh Ancients of Cascadia & Beyond....:

cacadian flag

Cascadia –  the Bioregion whose watersheds pass through maritime rainforests unique to the Pacific Northwest region of Turtle Island on their way to the Pacific ocean. She ranges from SE Alaska to Northern California to the Rocky Mts centering around the Cascade Mts.  She is also an imagination of a new sovereignty, which respects the rights of nature, has aligned itself with indigenous values and a commitment to emergent sustainable culture. Douglas Fir is a tree which connects much of the region and has become a symbol for the ecological experience that unifies the humanity within it’s bounds. Who is the tree? What is it’s ancient history? How is it connected to surrounding bioregions? What kind of stresses and migrations will it experience with accelerating climate change? These are some of the questions explored in this piece.

Bald Eagle singing with Doug Fir on Haro Strait is the Salish Sea

Bald Eagle singing with Doug Fir on Haro Strait in the Salish Sea


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Hedge Fund

For nearly a decade now, the humans of Seven Trees Farm have been buying plants at the county conservation district sale. Most of their offerings are natives, chosen for their hardy restoration capabilities, and sold very cheaply in multiples. We wanted to add some buffer zones along the perimeter fences, plus maintain habitat for beneficial wild critters.

South hedgerow last year.

South hedgerow last year.

The picture above shows one planted area along our south fenceline. It’s grown exponentially in the year since this was taken, with understory plants really filling in the low gaps. The paddock to the left was planted more recently, and there is another paddock to the left of that one, out of picture, that we just planted up this spring. We also added more plants, mainly elderberry, serviceberry, crabapple, hawthorn and rose along the east perimeter. The north east corner of our lot was heavily planted our second year here with shore pines, cascara, red osier dogwood, birches and rugosa roses. The idea was to grow a windbreak to divert the blizzard nor’easters we get most winters. Our neighbor has a woodlot adjoining this corner, which also lends habitat and protection.

This summer we realized that corner was a bit overplanted, and so thinned out quite a bit. It’s still a nice shady nook, enjoyed by critters domestic and wild, but also easier for us to navigate around to reach our feral blackberry patch.

Rugosa rose, black hawthorn & Pacific crabapple fruits.

Nootka rose, black hawthorn & Pacific crabapple fruits.

When deciding which species to plant, food production was a top criteria. Judging by the size of the ‘apples‘ to the right in the picture above, it’s evident that the food being produced is more for critters than people. It must have taken uncounted generations to breed domestic crabapples from wild trees, and even longer to develop supermarket staples like Fuji and Delicious apples. The fruit in the center is from a black hawthorn tree. This species is reputed to have medicinal value, but we like it for it’s protective thorns. As the trees mature, the branches intertwine and help keep ‘bad guys’ out. All kinds of wildlife take advantage of the copious fruit, and the tree itself thrives in all kinds of weather and soil conditions. Hips are just starting to form on the scrappy Nootka rose, another fruity-thorny hedge stalwart.

Cascara berries.

Cascara berries.

Our two cascara trees (one inherited when we bought STF and one was a free Arbor Day promo) are very prolific flower and fruit producers. All kinds of bees love pollen-harvesting in late spring, especially native bumblebees. The entire tree canopy is literally abuzz at certain times of the year. The dark purple fruits are mainly eaten by birds as summer starts turning to fall. Back in the day, bark from cascara trees was collected by country-dwellers and sold to make a laxative. Local tribes also used cascara for this purpose, with the added lore that peeling the bark up to harvest made a vomit-inducing purge, and peeling the bark down created a purge at the ‘other end’. Botanical literature claims no information on the effects of cascara on wildlife, but anecdotal evidence hints that eating animals that have eaten cascara berries can also be purgative.

Rugosa rose hip.

Rugosa rose hip.

The rugosa roses planted just outside our northeast fenceline have grown into a mighty hedge. Just as mighty are the persimmon-like hips they produce. The flowers themselves don’t have a fragrance, unlike the more domestic rugosa variety we have planted closer to the house. Rose hips are a power-packed vitamin source, enjoyed by wildlife and people alike. (We even get human foragers ‘poaching’ hips as they walk past the house.) The hips can be dried and used for tea, or made into cordials and syrups for a taste of summer any time of the year.

These are just a few of the plants we have in our ‘hedge fund’ that add so many benefits to our habitat, with little maintenance required. The Washington Native Plant Society has some helpful resources for identifying useful native plants. We try to choose our new additions by reading about how local tribes used them, in addition to wildlife needs and our microclimate. Although we’d rather not have to resort to cascara purges, it is comforting to know that Seven Trees Farm is hedged in by food, protection and medicine.

Growing season

Mid-July is generally when the weather sticks on the medium-hot setting, we get a few weeks without rain, and plants & animals start to take off. Watering plants and keeping animals supplied with fresh drinking water takes up a lot of our time, no matter how much we try to streamline things.

Hildegard is getting bigger, and learning how to be a good farm dog. She starts puppy class next week, and will be adding some social skills to her repertoire . All the dogs love splashing in their pool with assorted toys. Can’t wait to see how Hilde takes to swimming in the Nooksack, Birch Bay or Lake Padden, our favorite canine watering holes.

Since PNW summers usually involve more rain than sun, we no longer set up to water our potato patch. This year was hot and dry, so the Carola vines are already dying down, with the Desiree and Maris soon to follow. If the blight spares us, we’ll let all the vines die naturally, and the spuds cure underground for a couple of weeks. But if we get a blight-inducing summer rain, we’ll cut & burn the vines, which will stop the spuds from growing larger but allow them to cure without getting infected.

This is our fifth year of growing out our own seed garlic, Chesnok Red and Kettle River. Even though softneck varieties like Kettle River are touted as being better for storage, we’ve found the Chesnok, a hardneck, lasts until the new harvest is in. The Kettle River also seems to have problems coping with too much rain in spring, and we lost a lot to assorted ‘rot’. This fall we’ll plant more Chesnok, and look for a new long-storing hardneck to trial.

Our pantry & freezers are still overflowing with tomatoes and peppers in various preserved forms, so we just planted enough for fresh eating this year. The mini-hoophouses are holding up well (with plastic cover renewed as needed) and provide extra warmth plus protection from rain which can activate blight spores and splash them onto tomato leaves.

The mini-hoops are very susceptible to the strong winds we get during fall/winter/spring though, so we are hoping to get sturdier cold frames built by fall. The greens we want to grow through winter need to be started now through August, and also need to be protected from hungry birds. Too many times we have set a flat of newly-sprouted plants out for some sun and water, only to find them clipped off by our ‘resident’ doves. A scrap of bird netting seems to ward them off.

The sheep are doing well on our existing grass supply. Now that the rains have stopped, the regrowth is slower and not as lush. We hear a bit of complaining (they also yell for their pelleted sheep treats) but haven’t needed to water the pasture yet. The idea is to see how these three do with low input and minimal labor. If we like the results and the grass holds up, we’ll stock more than three next spring.

The last peeps of the year have hatched. We wanted a few more high quality Ameraucanas to replace our previous Am roo, Schwartz, plus some better conformed hens than our current ones. But the perils of shipping eggs via USPS took their toll, and we ended up with two tiny peepers. Hopefully they are both handsome, personable roosters.

After eight years of keeping a paper farm log, we’ve switched to an ipad journal app called Day One. This lets us add pictures, tags and searchable text for each entry, making it easier to add up any particular crop’s harvest totals. Like strawberries. Our unruly 4 x 25ft patch yielded over 100lbs. of wonderful fruit, and we still might get a small late crop from the everbearing varieties.

No rest for the weary, as the saying goes, but well worth it :D

When doves cry

When Prince wrote his chart-topping song, When Doves Cry, he had relationship woes in mind, not agricultural drama. The doves (and pigeons) here at Seven Trees Farm cry incessantly, but it must be out of joy in the bounty they find to pillage. Given the constant “boo-hoo boo-hoo” heard from various vantage points on our place, we assumed our visitors were native mourning doves. After noticing two different types of doves cleaning up spilled sunflower seeds under the wild bird feeder, we did a bit more research. It turns out that we do indeed have a resident mourning dove (we usually just see one), and also a pair of Eurasian collared doves, very recent invaders from South Asia via the Middle East and most recently, the Bahamas.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

This year we decided to plant sweet corn and green peas, and we’ve had a tough time keeping the flying rats at bay. Not only do they dig out newly planted seeds, they also yank seedling plants out by the roots, necessitating a few rounds of replanting that will lead to scattered harvest times for the crops. We tend to only plant enough seed to grow, assuming each seed performs as expected. Our English ancestors, who lived for centuries along side dove and pigeon pests, played it safe. An old rhyme sums up their seed-sowing tactic: One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot, one to grow.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

The earliest known examples of dove-keeping in England occur in Norman castles of the 12th century. During the medieval period large dovecotes were built on manors, at castles and monasteries. The right to build a dovecote was traditionally reserved to the lord of the manor, and was presumably much resented by tenant farmers as the lord’s doves could eat their weight in corn every day. The law did permit farmers to frighten birds away from the freshly-planted fields, and young children were commonly employed as ‘bird-scarers’.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

Eventually the laws relaxed and dovecotes became more common. Many inns had a small tower-shaped dovecote in their yards to provide guests with a ready supply of tasty young pigeons known as squab.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest's dinner.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest’s dinner.

We’ve joked about getting a pellet gun or wrist rocket so we can try squab for ourselves, but haven’t yet. There are plenty of recipes, both historic and modern. Mrs. Beeton, of Victorian-era household management fame, not only shares a variety of cooking methods, but also advice and information about various pigeon & dove breeds and how to raise them. The Squab Producers of California website has a more trendy take on these little birds.

Bird-scaring has also undergone modernization in recent times.

A Suffolk helicopter pilot has come up with a high-tech solution in the battle to protect oil seed rape from birds.

The crop is a favourite with pigeons so Richard Maddever, 27, has being trying out flying a drone to keep the flocks at bay on the family farm near Sudbury. pigeon drone

He says he thinks it is going to catch on.

Picking a puppy

We’ve had Hildegard a little over a week now, and it is exhausting! Sleepy
Integrating her with Stewart and Fergus, teaching her to respect the cats, ignore the chickens, potty outside, sleep in a “crate”, and so on. Maybe someday we’ll be able to sleep through the night, and possibly even sleep in, but for now it’s all about Hilde.

Research and advice about canine development, temperament and training has changed in the past decade or so. No more alpha dog hijinks, more focus on positive reinforcement. Picking a puppy with a personality that will most likely develop to fit into our household style gives us a huge headstart on the whole training thing. And there is an assessment method that really works called the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test.

The gist of the test is this:

1. Social Attraction – degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
2. Following – willingness to follow a person.
3. Restraint – degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.
4. Social Dominance – degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
5. Elevation – degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
6. Retrieving – degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
7. Touch Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.
8. Sound Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.
9. Sight Sensitivity – degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.
10. Stability – degree of startle response to a strange object.

Check out their page for more information about the test and some really helpful tips on choosing a puppy. They even have an abbreviated version of the test for adult/shelter/rescue dogs.

Hildegard is a smart little gal, and will need lots of consistency and guidance to grow into her potential. She starts puppy kindergarten soon, and is already getting the hang of meeting new people. It’s a lot of work on the front end, but our reward is a well-adjusted team member, and Hilde’s reward is a full, active, happy life as a good canine citizen. Hildegard

Midsommar kommer – Swedish-style

Busy busy times! Once the weather turns here in the PNW, Seven Trees Farm kicks into high gear – planting, weeding, chicken wrangling, and now we have 8 week old Hildegard keeping us on our toes. We’ll have uber-cute puppy pics and videos to share soon, but in the meantime here’s a timely repeat of Midsommar kommer. The longest day of the year is approaching, and we need every minute of it to keep up…

Midnight sun in Swedish forest

One of the humans of Seven Trees is a quarter Swedish, by way of a grandmother named Hilma Siri Perrson. The other human of Seven Trees has Swedish ancestors a bit further up the family tree. And now that the summer solstice approaches, we’re preparing to celebrate the longest day of the year in grand ancestral fashion.

Many of the northern European agricultural groups don’t have a pause for the mid-point of summer. They tend to acknowledge early spring planting (Beltane) and first fruits of harvest (Lammas), but mid-summer bonfires and celebrations come down to us from a pre-farming way of life, when fertility was more about the rising energy of lengthening days than what seeds were in the ground.

Scandinavian peoples were the last in northern Europe to fall to Christianity, and the midsommar Maypole festival robustly represents the pre-conquest vitality. The Pacific Northwest has similar climate and topography to Scandinavia, and when we are deep in the midst of June Gloom, the similarities are impossible to ignore. This description of mid-summer rings true to any web-footed, moss-backed PNWer -

Summer in Sweden is short. It starts showing its face in May and explodes into life in June. The summer has to hurry to get things done before the nights turn cold in September and everything stops growing. At Midsummer, the Swedish summer is a lush green and bursting with chlorophyll, and the nights are scarcely dark at all. In the north, the sun never sets.

Also near & dear to the people of Seven Trees are locavore-friendly traditions of eating the year’s first potatoes, pickled herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps (homemade vodka) and the first strawberries of the season (we’ve had 2 so far!). Drinking songs are also important at this feast, and many drink heavily. IKEA Germany made a 3 minute commercial celebrating (mocking) the full-on celebration, complete with the traditional dance/song, Sma Grodorna.

The great and powerful Wiki says further:

Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don’t take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a “midsommarstång” (literally midsummer’s pole).

In earlier times, small spires wrapped in greens were erected; this probably predates the maypole tradition, which is believed by many to have come from the continent in the Middle Ages. Others argue that some form of Midsummer pole occurred in Sweden during the pre-Christian times, and was a phallic fertility symbol, meant to impregnate the earth, but as there were no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation of the pole’s form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages. Midsummer was, however, linked to an ancient fertility festival which was adapted into St. John’s Day by the church, even though it retained many pagan traditions, as the Swedes were slow to give up the old heathen customs. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year. Many young people became passionate at Midsummer, and this was accepted, probably because it resulted in more childbirths in March which was a good time for children to be born.

Whichever way your ancestors celebrated this turning point of the year, it’s a good time to stop and mark the longest day, shortest night, and hopefully most fruitful kick-off to summer fertility.