Bucket brigade!

The ongoing drought in Cascadia has been punishing. We are so used to the rainy season lasting into June, that most of us have learned to compensate by planting warm season crops later in the year, and cool season crops nearly year round. 

Wildfires in BC wreak havoc on air quality.

Wildfires in BC wreak havoc on air quality.


Too much smoke in the air makes for spectacular summer sunsets.

But not anymore. For much of the Pacific Northwest 2015 has been the warmest and driest on record, so instead of bemoaning the slug attacks, we’re dealing with severe water restrictions. Our water comes from a community water system – a few large wells supplying a small geographic area with limited connections permitted. These small systems take the place of individual wells, allowing greater population density (relatively speaking) and puts the burden of maintaining adequate quality levels onto the governing body of the system. The down side is that homeowners had to “abandon” their residential wells as part of the transition. Commercial farms and people with larger acreage are able to keep their wells as use water as they see fit.

But the rest of us are on notice to restrict all watering, including food-producing gardens, to the hours of 9pm to 6am, and only using hand-held devices or soaker hoses. No sprinklers! Not only is this almost impossible for people working full time, it also lumps ornamental landscaping in with food plants. Adding another layer of pain to the mix are the surrounding berry farms, pumping thousands of gallons of water into the air to keep the raspberries coming.

But as everyone’s mom always says – life isn’t fair.

Hildegard supervises the initial test run.

Hildegard supervises the initial test run.

So we have rummaged the internet for fast, easy & cheap ideas to get our garden through this summer and came up with the bucket brigade. Cheap, easy, portable, modular, reusable…and best of all, the plants love it!


Finding the right parts and making them fit together can be tricky, depending on how well-stocked your local hardware store is. We found the manifold on clearance at one store, along with a few packets of drippers and stakes. The 1/2″ male adapter was harder to locate, but a few minutes of staring at the wall of drip irrigation parts yielded a few options. The key is that it has to poke through the bucket just enough to allow the manifold to screw down completely. Test the fittings at the store if possible. BucketTest

  1. Drill a hole near the bottom of the bucket. We used a 1/2″ paddle bit and had to rough the hole a bit wider to fit the adapter through. A 5/8″ bit would probably work better, but ours was hiding that day.
  2. Wrap the 1/2″ side of the adapter with plumber’s tape, roll on a rubber washer, and fit it through the hole, with the larger side inside the bucket and smaller side poking through.
  3. Screw the sprinkler manifold onto the adapter, making sure the washer inside is compressed enough to form a tight seal without cracking the plastic.
  4. Cut lengths of 1/4″ tubing to reach from the bucket to the plant/s you want to water and attach a dripper to one end.
  5. Attach the other end of the tube to the manifold, shoving it all the way on the barbed end if you think you won’t be removing it anytime soon. Otherwise put it on just to the barb, but be sure to check for leaks later, and the tubes are easier to take off if you want to change the watering layout.
  6. Tote the whole thing out to the garden (or cut and attach tubing ‘in the field’) and place the bucket on some kind of riser. We use concrete blocks because we have a lot on hand.
  7. Put a tubing stake on near the dripper and stick in the ground near the plant base.
  8. Fill the bucket, check for leaks, and check that water is actually flowing from the dripper. Put the lid on to keep out cooties and such.

Some notes:

We found two kinds of manifolds, one with little screw caps to close unused ports, and one without. We made plugs for the one without from a scrap of tubing and ‘goof plugs’. The little screw caps are stored in a ziploc with all the drip parts, but I assume they will be lost someday. ManifoldOur next little project is to build a permanent raised bed from locally-milled rough cedar, complete with set of layering pieces (metal mini-hoops to hold shade cloth/bird mesh/visqueen as needed). We’ll use this for our overwintering greens, and instead of one drip line per plant, we’ll use in-line drippers in two rows of tubing per bed, spaced about 12″ apart. Dripper


We have three drip buckets going now, one each on the squash, green beans, and watermelons. The water flows fairly slowly, giving the plants time to soak up every last drop. Another option we’re pondering is adapting our 55 gallon rain barrels to drip-irrigate larger areas. Check out some of our inspiration and ideas on our sustainability pinboard.

Aud the Deep-minded

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

July 9th is a holiday in the Asatru calendar, also known as Haymoon 9; the day of remembrance for Unn (or Aud) the Deep-Minded. Unn was a powerful figure from the Laxdaela Saga who emigrated to Scotland to avoid the hostility of King Harald Finehair. She was the second daughter of Ketil Flatnose, a Norwegian hersir, and Yngvid Ketilsdóttir, daughter of Ketill Wether, a hersir from Ringarike. Aud married Olaf the White (Oleif), son of King Ingjald, who had named himself King of Dublin after going on voyages to Britain and then conquering the shire of Dublin. They had a son named Thorstein the Red. After Oleif was killed in battle in Ireland, Aud and Thorstein journeyed to the Hebrides. Thorstein married there and had many children; he also became a great warrior king, conquering over half of Scotland; however, he was killed in battle after being…

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Junuary fail

HOTThe propensity of Cascadians to complain about the weather is the stuff of legends. We generally stay right smack in the middle of the weather spectrum compared to the rest of the country, but when conditions get too far out of bounds, you’re gonna hear about it. Cliff Mass shared this 1855 ‘weather report’ from Honest John Tompkins of Steilacoom:

“Well, March went out, April came in, and with it, cold, wet, disagreeable weather, and a universal spirit of discontent, and a disposition to “growl””

“Throughout the entire month, and even up to this, the last day of May, it has been precisely the same, and some amongst us profess to be so thoroughly disgusted with the weather …. that they threaten to leave the Territory altogether.”

For most of my nearly 5 decades in the Pacific Northwest Junuary has been a part of the natural weather cycle. January often brings abnormally warm temperatures, including records highs in 2015. Bonus! you might think, but a run of 60 degree weather in late winter can really mess up farm and garden plants that are just starting to get ready for the growing season. They can leaf out or blossom too soon, and be damaged by dropping temps. Early bloom also throws off the pollination calendar, which is catastrophic for food production. Not only do trees and berries fail to set fruit, the birds, bees and other pollinators lose out on critical nectar supplies.

The flip side of the Junuary coin comes in June, when we typically have a long dank stretch of chilly, rainy, grey weather. Really annoying when tomato and other warm weather veggie starts are ready to be planted out, or when you’ve had to put off tilling in the first place due to wet soil. Salad greens do well in this weather, but so do slugs. Still, we’ve come to accept it, and even count on it for garden planning.

But this year Junuary failed to follow through on the June part of the deal. Not only have we had record maximum average temperatures for the May 1 to June 30 period, we’ve only gotten .81″ of rain in that time. This is the driest since record-keeping started at Sea-Tac in 1945, the previous being 1.26″ in 1992. The local weather office says:

To put this record warm June in perspective…the current average
maximum temperature of 78.6 degrees would be the 12th warmest July on
record and the 9th warmest August on record.

Which means Seven Trees Farm is experiencing a ‘water emergency’. All the research we’ve done over the years on sustainable water use is coming in handy now that the rains have failed, but it’s a non-stop scramble to keep up with crops that were planted with rainy summers in mind. Bucket-Kits

We’ll post more as we get up to speed with our raised rows and bucket/barrel drip watering systems. Hopefully once we aren’t performing emergency hydration to 4000 square feet of growing areas, we’ll have more time to share what is working and what isn’t. This will be our 10th year (11th summer) at STF, and all the trial and error should finally start to pay off. Though I could easily use another 10 years to continue experimenting, it looks like Mother Nature is stepping up her game.

You can check out our sustainability brainstorming pinboard here – https://www.pinterest.com/hallberaox/seven-trees-sustainability/ and our gloom & doom fire/weather/news twitter feed aggregator here – http://stormcrow.seventreesfarm.com

Midsommar kommer – Swedish-style

Seven Trees:

Summers are changing in the PNW…longer and hotter, and much busier, but we still make time to celebrate the longest day/shortest night of the year, though not as exuberantly as they do in Sweden :D

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

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…

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Respect your elders

Elderberries that is…

It’s been a few years since we started planting edible hedgerows and thickets here & there on the property, and now many of those itty bitty “twigs” are productive trees and shrubs. One thriving plant is a domestic elderberry (the tag has long since been lost, so no idea which particular variety it is) that goes as far as setting fruit, but never seems to finish the job. Elder_flowersSo instead of fighting nature, this season we’re planning to work together, cordially. All those fluffy, creamy, aromatic flower umbrels are going to be picked and bathed in a vat (well, quart jar anyway) of Costco vodka and a little sugar. In a couple of weeks we’ll have elderflower liqueur to augment our arsenal of herbal, fruity goodness, and remind us of summer’s bounty all through the dark & dank rainy season ahead.

Elderflowers also have a long history of use in traditional medicine, as summarized in this article. Can’t hurt to try :)

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook has a great post/recipe here that we plan to use.

Instant flock for sale!

We had a surprise peep show yesterday, when a hen came out of the tall pasture grass, trailing 10 little chicks. Luckily they were all rounded up safely and are tucked into Fergus’ old dog house in a pen. Unfortunately, the hen isn’t one we had intended for our breeding program. Peeps1 Peeps2

So, if anyone would like mom (an olive-egger) and her 10 peeps (1/2 oliver 1/2 Ameraucana) let us know. We also have another olive-egger hen for sale, so 2 hens and 10 chicks total for $40, or just mom & peeps for $30.

Hen2 Hen1

Hot & cold chicks

After a few tries at hatching chicks year round, we learned that it’s just too much of a pain in the budget to make it worthwhile. The electricity bill gets up there with all the heat lamps running, and we have to keep them on much longer than usual if it’s too cold for youngsters in the grow-out pens.

So this year we started our first round of chicks in April, timed to catch the warming temperatures of spring. They went into the brooder coop, with its single heat lamp, and at one month old, into the first grow-out pen to make room for hatch #2. That’s when our plans went off the rails. We got an uncharacteristically hot spell, and the week-old peepers struggled with overheating. The heat lamp was raised, ventilation hatch opened, and we even dropped the bulb wattage from 250 to 175 to 75 watts. Luckily someone was home most of the time to monitor and adjust.

The month-old chicks loved the warm sunny weather, and were just getting the hang of spending time outside when temperatures reversed course yet again. Chilly, dank rain returned and now the big chicks were chilled and we had to trot out extra heat lamps to help them cope. The tiny peepers got their big heater back, and now we had to monitor them for signs of chilling.

Naturally we turned to the internet for ideas. How to make sure chicks at all stages of growth have enough heat to stay healthy and not so much to cause them distress, no matter what the weather is outside their insulated brooder coop. After first considering a thermostatic control for our existing heat lamps, we recalled an interesting invention touted by experienced flocksters – heat panels.

These devices sit on adjustable legs, a few inches over the brooder floor. The surface gets warm and chicks follow their instincts to get underneath, much like they do with a mother hen. When they are in contact with the panel, they can soak up safe heat, but the air in the rest of the brooder stays cooler. This should help our chickies stay just right, even when temps fluctuate throughout the day. Once they are rested and warm, they will venture out for snacks and exercise, just like hen-raised chicks.

Here are some pictures of how it works, taken from a very informative 68-page thread about the pros & cons of Brinsea’s EcoGlow panel heater vs. Premier1’s version.  premier1  We ordered the dome covers, because there is already enough poop going on elsewhere. Some folks use saran wrap instead of a cover, replacing it periodically when it get too funky. premier2Peepers getting warm. This is in an inside brooder made from a wire dog crate, with towels on the floor. premier3This brooder uses pine shavings, like we do at STF. Chickies are comfortably piled under the heater. premier4When they are warm & cozy, laying down for a nap takes them out of contact with the panel, and they can regulate their comfort level.

Premier sells a large heater that measures 16″ x 24″ and should be suitable for up to 50 peepers. Our brooder coop is fairly small though, so we bought two of the 12″ x 12″ heaters instead. This way as the chicks outgrow the need for constant heat, we can raise the panels, eventually removing one and finally the other. We’ll be sure to share photos and our review once they arrive. Our current chicks should still be small enough to make good use of them, and we are also interested in seeing how they do on a natural day/night light cycle. Even though the red heat lamps are supposed to minimize disturbances, they are still bright enough that chicks are up all night, eating, peeping, and pooping.

Here is the Premier1 heating panel in action, from their website. premier

And here is the Brinsea EcoGlow 20, from their website. brinseaFingers crossed for happier healthier chicks, and less-stressed humans, with the help of some modern technology.