Excalibur stays sharp

Not the sword Excalibur, but the spiffy 9-tray dehydrator we bought almost 10 years ago. excalibur

Our storage onions lasted from September through April, but May flowers means the onions are trying to flower along with everything else. After sorting through the 100 or so pounds stacked in harvest trays in the garage, we ended up with about half in good enough shape for processing.

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They are peeled and chopped, not so small that they fall through the dehydrator racks as they shrink, and spread out to dry. File May 10, 8 10 23 AM

After a brief cool-down, the wheelbarrow-load is reduced enough to fit into a gallon jar, and provides a ready supply of flavor boost to soups and casseroles when fresh onions aren’t available. File May 10, 7 03 28 AM

The jar on the right is a previous year’s batch, still tasty, if a little depleted. We also use the Excalibur to dry garlic and soup celery, plus a variety of herbs. If you like to grow and preserve your own garden goodies, this is the tool for you. Newer models have a lot more bells & whistles than our classic, but definitely worth the investment.

This spring has been one of the busiest ever at Seven Trees Farm. Job changes, new flooring, new windows, pond building and so on, pretty much non-stop from last fall. Sometimes nature intervenes with a rainy day recess (though a bit of hail crept into this shower)…

Lucky is adapting to being an only bird again, after losing Percy to age-related complications. He enjoys weather watching with a snack of sweet potato fries.File May 10, 8 12 14 AM

As our little trough pond gets established, more critters are finding their way to us. A huge, brightly-colored garter snake was sunning itself near the driveway, and took off nearly faster than I could snap pictures. While our native snakes take a toll on the frog population, they also eat plenty of bugs and small varmints, and it’s nice to know they feel welcome here. File May 10, 7 06 21 AM

We added a spigot to the trough pond so we can water plants without disturbing the goldfish, and also to run a trickle of water to the ground level bog that we’ll add soon. File May 06, 10 54 40 AM

See if you can spot the Pacific tree frog nestled in the watercress. File May 10, 8 14 00 AM

There are still plenty of modifications in the works for the pond, like raising the bog tub a bit more for better waterfall action and adding a better sun screen, but it’s already a peaceful oasis in the middle of our busy planting zones.

Getting our feet wet and hands muddy

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Starting out with a level base is critical, since the weight of the water, gravel & plants will make the dirt underneath settle.

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The trough only holds 159 gallons, so choosing plants & critters that can be kept in healthy balance is a fun challenge.

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There is just enough slope to allow water to overflow beneath the filter pan and down to the ground below. We’ll be sinking a 40 gallon tub in the ground to make a boggy area for taller plants later this season.

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The pump outflow hose attaches to a manifold made from PVC pieces with lots of cuts for water to push up through the pea gravel that goes on top.

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Filling the filter and the main trough to check water flow and make sure the gravel isn’t too heavy for the supporting blocks.

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A few strategic cuts in the edge of the filter pan helps direct the spillway. We also drilled some holes under the edge to fine tune the water level. The plant is from our original tub pond and will give the fish some temporary food and cover.

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Some cute miniature cattails and grocery-store watercress should help get the filter working. We’ll add more pea gravel and a newer watercress plant soon.

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While we watch for leaks, levels and back-ups, Stewart is all about the tennis ball.

 

Read more about bog filters here – Build a Gravel Bog Filter

A series of excellent videos by The Pond Digger – Patio Pond with Bog Filter

A massive compendium of ‘tub pond’ information here – Robyn’s Pond Page

We moved the fish to their new home last night and they were still alive this morning! Not bad for pet store feeder fish. As we add appropriate water plants and the bog filter plants start working, the pond should provide a nice home for the fish, fertilizer (pond water)for the garden, refreshment for hummingbirds and other critters, and a pleasant spot in our hard-working garden for us.

Eventually there will be a sunken tub for plants like like their feet wet, and critters (like our tree frogs and Western toads) that prefer calmer water with no hungry goldfish. The over flow for that bog will create a third habitat for plants that prefer intermittent soaking. Once we get the water plants situated we’ll start hardscaping around the trough, making cool nooks in stacked mossy stones for resident amphibians to enjoy, plus adding some taller plants to help shade the water surface during summer.

Now we need to figure out how to get our new baby toad to make the move:)

P.s. Here is the high-tech artist’s rendition of the concept-pond. pond

Local warming is not a hoax

bleedingheartWinter is slowly being flushed out of Cascadia by our customary barrage of spring storms. Even though the days are longer, it’s hard to spend much time on outside chores in the mud and wind. Naturally the assorted plant life, wanted and unwanted, are taking advantage of the situation.

trillium

Local lore has always placed the bloom time of trilliums closer to Mother’s Day (with morel season coming after the first warm rain following Mother’s Day and the trilliums’ flowering). The past few years have not followed that pattern though, and we are always observing and adjusting our growing style to keep up.

Even though we got a few hard freezes this winter, we were finally able to winter over robust rosemary plants. Being against the south-facing wall of the garage, and out of the frigid winter winds from the north, made the difference. rosemary

The cold snaps also didn’t hurt the greens we wintered over. A little Sluggo, some floating row cover during the coldest nights, and we managed a few salads. Now the kale is bolting and the red leaf lettuce has taken on a lovely color. Time to get more starts going, but the garden won’t be dry enough to till for a while yet. Perfect timing for the hen house compost to start settling into the cover crop before being turned under. wintergarden

The bay laurel trees we bought by mail back in 2011 arrived in tiny 4″ pots. Four years later, they are picking up speed and providing us with fresh herbage all year long. They are native to coastal rain forests a bit south of us, but seem to have adapted to our microclimate just fine. baylaurel

Our mad-scientist chicken experiments are starting to pay off. This year we barely had a dip in egg production, and made sure to hatch a LOT of eggs from those hard-working gals to keep winter laying genes in our bloodlines. Spring fever is starting to spread though, and our little Japanese banty, Marble, has gone broody. Teeny tiny dragon lady, sitting on someone else’s eggs :D broodybantyOur ’emergency’ tub pond we made mid-drought last summer ended up housing five pet store feeder fish and a few more plants.NewPond  Amazingly, the fish survived all winter, as did most of the plants (though not the water lily, whose corpse is in the basket beside the pond). In the lower left of the current picture is a thriving grocery-store watercress plant. tubpond The roots are contained in the plastic wrapper it came in, hopefully keeping it alive until we can move everything to the new pond. After much consideration (i.e. pondering pinboards) we abandoned our original concept of a large, naturalistic water feature for a more practical, productive above-ground stock tank pond. We’ll set it near the garden, and add an elevated bog filter, pumping water up through pea gravel planted with pretty plants as well as edible ones. This keeps the water healthy for fish and other critters and we get to use nutrient-rich pond water on the garden. In the meantime, our ‘pond’ is getting some practice holding rainwater. So far, so good!newpond The Pond Digger has an excellent video series on building a patio pond with bog filter. Check it out –  and stay tuned for updates.

 

Frogs & Lager

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to drive Gemini in the St. Patrick’s parade that year, and he died not long before the parade the following year. We still hope to find another pony someday, but in the meantime, here are a couple of options for celebrating heritage drinking holidays, sans leprechauns and green beer.
On a less frivolous note, we are splurging on new flooring for most of the house (not too hard with our tiny hut!) and will soon be moving our five feeder goldfish to a rustic new cattle trough pond😀

Seven Trees Farm

Not long til St. Patrick’s Day, when we hope to represent Seven Trees in the 1st annual parade in Bellingham on the 13th. Gemini will be decked to the nines.

Some other old-school shenanigans in the month of March are Whuppity Scoorie – a custom from Lanark, Scotland observed on March 1st. The William Wallace Heritage Trust describes the festival thus:

The enactment of the tradition was reported in the local press (The Hamilton Advertiser) from around the middle of the 19th century. Indeed, the ceremony was originally reported under the heading “The Wee Bell Ceremony”! According to these reports the ‘weapon of choice’ of the children in those days (boys only) was to roll their caps up and tie them with string. When the bell first rang they would then march cheering to New Lanark and fight with the boys from that village who would be marching in the…

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Mid-winter doldrums

January at Seven Trees Farm isn’t terribly exciting, which is a good thing. We’re just barely done with fall harvest processing (luckily onions and garlic are forgiving) and trying to decide what to plant now. daffodils

The random weather is making it tough to call, since most domesticated garden veggies were developed for specific growing conditions. Tonight is a perfect example. It’s late-January, 8pm, and 60 degrees. If this were normal we could count on fresh greens all winter, but just a couple of weeks ago it was in the teens and the ground was hard frozen.2016hatch

Any plants newly-started don’t have a clue what to do, and often give up and die, or just hunker down and wait for true spring like so many other living things.2016boxopeeps

The first hatch of the season was very exciting, with 63 peepers in the baby coop this week. We’ll have a full grow-out pen and some extra chickies for sale soon. Our new roo, Kendall, a hefty, handsome French black copper Marans has earned himself another season as main guy, given his laid-back disposition and awesome fertility rate.peepdrink

We are taking advantage of the relative calm to get some bids on much-needed upgrades like new windows and possible flooring. We looked at options for a new heating system (our ‘official’ heat source is electric baseboards but we never use them), but our tiny old farmhouse is so well-insulated that wood heat remains our best bet. Now to get some bids for prettying-up the old brick chimney stub that was left behind when previous owners got rid of the original wood cookstove.hotplatepeeps

February is almost here though, and that means Imbolc. Time to celebrate winter’s waning and the approach of spring😀partypeeps

Here are a few posts we’ve written on ancestral observations of this tumultuous transitional time:

St. Distaff’s day means work and play

We’ve been blogging Seven Trees Farm for 10 years now! As we celebrate the arrival of 2016 with coffee and tiramisu for breakfast, let’s read about the return to work our female ancestors anticipated at the end of the holidays.

Seven Trees Farm

Distaff Day is January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany. It is also known as Saint Distaff’s Day, since it was not really a holiday at all. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas. (Men didn’t return to work until Plough Monday – go figure!)
The distaff, used in spinning, was the medieval symbol of women’s work. Often the men and women would play pranks on each other during this day, as was written by Robert Herrick in his poem “Saint Distaffs day, or the Morrow After Twelfth Day”:
Partly work and partly play
You must on St Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fodder them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give…

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Celebrating winter

This time of year the Seven Trees Farm blog gets a lot of hits from people searching for information about the Krampus, the Wild Hunt, apple tree wassailing, and the Tomte. So to save a little effort, and also to better share our favorite winter solstice traditions, here they are in one list:

We hope you find some fun new ideas amongst all the history for celebrating the return of the sun to share with your loved ones.

Yule