Mind your P’s

P for preparedness, that is.

We’ve been closely following the news and social media feeds on the many many wildfires in Washington State. Some are making the headlines, and some are buried in various agency pages and updates. Chelan Complex, Wolverine, Oka Twisp, Goodell Creek, Marble Valley, Kettle Complex…the list goes on. CascadiaFires2015

The people of Seven Trees Farm have deep connections with these places. Former homes and property, favorite recreation spots, childhood outdoor adventures, and even more distressing – family and friends in the path of danger and destruction.

Photo by John Foster-Fanning taken August 14th on the Stickpin Fire.

Photo by John Foster-Fanning taken August 14th on the Stickpin Fire.

We have experienced first hand how fast these wildfires spring up and spread out. I have personally witnessed lightning striking a nearby hillside, sparking an immediate inferno. Just like that. When dry trees & brush, lightning (or idiot campfires and tossed cigarette butts) and hot winds get together, wildfires rage out of control in a heartbeat.

One of the reasons we left that area was the constant danger of being cut off from home, not knowing if our critters and buildings were in the path of the fires, but having to work in town anyway. Memories of the last summer we spent in Colville are literally shrouded in smoke. The whole valley was filled with ash and haze and people asking each other “where’s the fire? where’s the fire?”.

What if this was your only way to & from home?

What if this was your only way to & from home?

That’s when we started taking preparedness seriously. You’d think growing up in the shadow of volcanoes perched on the Cascadia subduction zone would have been impetus enough, but it wasn’t until a wildfire peeked up over the summit of the nearest hill that we got our first bug out bag (BOB) together.

Ps

“P’s of Preparedness” what to take: papers, prescriptions, pets, pictures, phone #s, pc, plastic atm card

Washtington State DNR tweeted a very helpful graphic for sorting out the first elements of emergency evacuation preparedness. Take a look at what emergencies you might have to deal with and start getting your household ready. Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods…the list of potential disasters is large, but your household can start small in preparing for them. There are lots of online resources full of ideas for making bug out bags (including planning for livestock and pet evacuations), local agencies with CPR and CERT classes, shelter locations, and regionally-specific information.

Seven Trees Farm also maintains a collection of Cascadia-oriented twitter feeds with live police, fire, breaking news, etc that you can check out when the headlines get close to home. You can also subscribe to these twitter lists directly, or create your own. There are also some links to area agencies like the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, and InciWeb, which aggregates wildfire information from many areas. It’s a good idea to get familiar with emergency news feeds for your own area, since they may be the most accurate and immediate source of information when it counts.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Center for Disease Control have some great basic preparedness planning resources too.

Change in the weather

I don’t know if John Fogerty had climate change in mind when he released this song in 1986, but the ‘weather’ is certainly a hot topic nearly 30 years later.

The weather changes have affected many aspects of life on Seven Trees Farm, most noticeably, plants and animals. In 2012 there were so many Pacific tree frogs that chores like mowing, weeding and stacking firewood were complicated by these little peepers popping up everywhere.

But this year, once the rains dried up, we’ve seen less than a handful of frogs. Even the fruit fly plagued berry patches aren’t enough to lure them out of whatever damp refuges they have retreated to. Hopefully they will return once fall falls, assuming the rain returns as well, and assuming they don’t fall victim to the newly-discovered tadpole plague. In the meantime, we haven’t been without native pest control, much to our delight and surprise. Swallow2

Even though our ‘barn’ is a 16 x 16 foot stable-turned-dog house-and-chicken run, a pair of swallows took up residence and raised four babies that recently fledged.Swallow1 They weren’t too pleased with humans coming & going, but we’re hoping they will forgive us our trespasses and raise more babies next year. Swallow3

Barn swallows are a lot like daytime bats. Flying insects are a major part of their diet, and when we decided to let our little pasture go to seed and rejuvenate this season, dinner was served. Swallow4

Another weather-related surprise was the increase in garter snake sightings. They are common in our part of Cascadia, but we usually don’t see much of them. The spate of over-80F temperatures mean the snakes can be more active in more places, which requires more food. This Red-spotted garter snake took advantage of the cover provided by the raised deck in the dog’s kennel to nab a tree frog drawn to the shaded water bucket. Snake

Picking spring nettles is one of our seasonal rituals. Nettles are one of the most nutrient-dense plants around, and usually grow like the weeds they are. We eat them steamed at the start of the harvest, to get the most of their tasty goodness, then pick more to dry for tea and soup additives. They also go into winter chicken mash. But this year they made a poor showing, so we picked enough to try making nettle ‘cordial‘ and left the rest to go to seed.

Not all was lost though, in terms of magical plant nutrition. We were surprised yet again when hot weather and ‘hot’ hen house mulch manifested a strange-looking succulent called purslane, which is chock full of omega 3’s, vitamins A, B, C and E, plus antioxidants, iron, protein and other nutrients. It’s running rampant in the new herb bed aisles, but will soon be harvested, chopped and frozen, perfect for bumping up our morning smoothies and winter soups. Eaten raw, it tastes a bit spinachy, a bit herby, but not bad in a salad. One plant was moved into the actual herb bed and has since gone to seed, hopefully providing us with future foraged feral food. Purslane

But wait, there’s more!

WesternToad1 Just the other day we were gifted with yet another surprise summer appearance – a large plump healthy female Western toad.WesternToad2 She had been spooked out of her cabbage patch retreat after the soaker hoses were rearranged, and decided to settle down in the berry patch to munch on some of the many bees and fruit flies that forage there all day. WesternToad

Sprocket was gone by morning, but we had done some fast googling and made a toad house (complete with soaking pool) from a clay pot we had hanging around.ToadHouse She may not move into the new house, but her offspring might, especially since her visit also prompted us to add a little trough pond near the garden. NewPond

Luckily we still had a functioning fountain pump from a small planter water garden we made a decade ago (sometimes it pays to packrat), a 50 gallon trough no longer needed by large livestock, some pretty landscape rock salvaged from a friend’s yard, and a ceramic pot for the bog plant we picked up for $3. Our little pond will need some spiffing up, and we’re excited to check out a pond/koi/water garden shop in town this weekend. Since 50 gallons isn’t big enough to house fish sustainably, we’re going to set things up to attract frogs and toads. More plants, both in and out of the water, and possibly changing from a fountain bubbler to a wee waterfall. We’ll pretty-up the edging, leaving lots of nooks & crannies for amphibians to hide in, and when winter arrives (if it does) we will put a trough heater in to keep it warm enough for them to survive.

Cool season gardening in Cascadia

Fingers crossed that we actually get a cool season, with our usual fall and winter rains!

If you are in the Pacific Northwest, this is the perfect time to get your garden planted with one last round of crops. Summer has been brutal, so we’ve kept the main garden down to the bare essentials, plus warm weather veggies – assorted lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, cukes, zukes, corn, squash, watermelon, onions, garlic & peppers. Most are on drip or soaker hoses, keeping the need for aerial watering (i.e. sprinklers) to a minimum, but the heat still causes issues with some crops. wintergarden

One thing we’ve learned over the years is that it just isn’t possible, or even desirable, to preserve every crop in the traditional canning/freezing/drying methods. Another thing we’ve learned is that the produce we miss most during the rainy season is leafy greens. So narrowing our focus to these crops, planted in one or two beds, makes sense.

Taking the long-range climate forecast to heart, we’re pinning our hopes on a warmer, though possibly not wetter, fall/winter, and have starts almost ready to plant out in our soon-to-be-built cedar raised beds and bucket/barrel drip watering system. Last year we finally managed to overwinter some long-suffering and hardy chard, mostly by accident, since the wind did a number on our visqueen hoop cover.

This season we plan to unleash a new and improved arsenal of “season extenders” in the form of modular layers for our standard 4 x 8 raised beds – woven poly hoop covers and polycarbonate hotbed/coldframe ‘lids’ that can let light in while holding some heat. The lower profile lids should also allow us to add supplemental heat if need be, in the form of heated seed mats or an incandescent light bulb.

Here are some good resources for getting your own fall planting underway:

Ed Hume’s Fall and Winter Vegetable Planting Guide – Some good basic information from a well-known PNW expert.

Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest – A concise 8-page pdf with a planting calendar and veggie variety recommendations, published jointly by the Oregon, Idaho & Washington state extension offices.

Winter Vegetable Gardening – More great information by The Westside Gardener, with lots of other pages and links to explore.

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.

SunsetJuly17

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!

Ingredients:

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

BucketSquash

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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