Lammas/Lughnasadh is here!

Originally posted in 2008, when Junuary was still a force to be reckoned with. 2016 has been one for the record books in terms of heat and drought, and bringing in the harvest is just as satisfying (and challenging).

Seven Trees Farm

Cool spring weather notwithstanding, Seven Trees is starting to enjoy the first fruits of summer. Lettuce, broccoli, beets, kohlrabi, carrots and potatoes. The tradition of celebrating the beginning of harvest-time goes back a long way. Here is a wonderful article from The Weather Doctor about the background of these celebrations: To the agrarian societies of medieval Europe, early August signalled the beginning of the harvest season, the time when the first grains were harvested and many fruits and vegetables ripened, ready for picking. A quarter of the annual solar wheel had now turned since the celebration of Beltane, the time of planting crops and vegetable gardens. Those crops and gardens planted at Beltane, now poured forth their bounty proving early August a reason for celebration.
As the month of August begins, the rising and setting positions of the Sun move noticeably more southward each day. So too, the mid-day peak…

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Bog day afternoon

Our little water feature is taking much longer to finish than planned, but then again, it will always be somewhat of a work in progress. Excavating the bog garden uncovered a water pipe, probably running from the old well to a barn or outbuilding. We left it in place, and lined the pit with black plastic, then poked a few holes in the sides for drainage. The soil stays nice and soggy without being a giant mud wallow.

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It’s hard to slog in the bog when temps hit the 90’s, and the rest of Seven Trees Farm needs extra watering and weeding. Adding a small canopy definitely helps keep the jobsite cooler. The trough pond has a sun bonnet made from bamboo poles and shade cloth. Too much sun can cause algae blooms, and the water plants can’t keep up filtering the fish waste. We plan to rebuild the bonnet with timber-sized bamboo and switch to green shade cloth eventually.File Jul 26, 11 47 02 AM

The random assortment of bog plants we’ve accumulated this season are waaaay overdue to get their roots in the dirt, so in they go, and we’ll finish up the hardscaping shortly.File Jul 26, 11 48 34 AM

So far we have cardinal flowers, crocosima, green goddess calla lily, a button fern, creeping Jenny, yellow eyed grass, dwarf cattails, and some Irish moss and native sedges that we found in the yard. The little tub in the middle will be mostly filled in with dirt and pea gravel and holds more water than the rest, for plants and critters that like their toes wet. File Jul 26, 11 49 25 AMAn old pump spigot for the outflow and a small dripper over a birdbath set in the water keep things circulating. The fish love playing in the bubbles and birds & bees come and go all day, drinking and bathing. Still plenty of room for more plants in the trough🙂

File Jul 26, 11 49 43 AMFile Jul 26, 11 50 17 AM Luckily we had a stash of mossy old concrete chunks to add some elevation to the low end of the bog. Hopefully the spaces between them will provide habitat for toads and frogs. The narrow space between bog and trough will have a little pea gravel path that is sloped to allow overflow from the pond to drain into the bog. Once the rainy season returns, that is.
It’s amazingly refreshing to sip a cold bevvie while watching fish & wildlife, listening to the bubbles & splashing. The sound of the neighbor’s mower isn’t quite drowned out, but with so much nature going on, who cares…

Aud the Deep-Minded

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 betrayed by his people. After this happened Aud, who was at Caithness, learned of her son’s death and built a Knarr, a Viking era ship commonly built for Atlantic voyages.Viking ship

She did this secretly in the forest possibly because women were not allowed to be in possession of these ships, or because she did not want anyone to know that she was building one. After its completion, Aud sailed to the Orkneys. There she married off one of her granddaughters, Groa, the daughter of Thorstein the Red. Aud then set off for Iceland. As a settler in Iceland she continued to exhibit all those traits which were her hallmark-strong will, a determination to control, dignity, and a noble character. In the last days of her life, she established a mighty line choosing one of her grandsons as her heir. She died during his wedding celebration, and received a typical Nordic ship burial, surrounded by her treasure and her reputation for great deeds.

Read more about Unn/Aud here – Aud the Deep-Minded

Read more about Crass and Creative Norse Nicknames

Currant events

Blackcurrants are only recently regaining popularity in the United States, after being banned from the early 1900’s through the 20th century. Ribes nigrum is native to parts of northern Asia and Europe, and susceptible to a few pests and diseases, most notably white pine blister rust. When blackcurrant plants were imported to the US, the disease spread to domestic white pine forests, which had a negative impact on the logging industry, and led to the ban.

Blackcurrants have long been a favorite in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, due in part to it’s use as an emergency source of vitamin C  during and after WW2. The German U boat blockade prevented food supplies from reaching Britain, so the government encouraged citizens to grow blackcurrants in their home gardens. Most of the crop was made into syrups and cordials, as the fresh, raw fruit has a very strong flavor, then distributed to children across the UK.

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Our blackcurrant jungle, complete with volunteer oregano plant.

With disease resistant varieties now available, and rising interest in the health benefits of dietary polyphenols and other micro-nutrients, blackcurrant cultivation is on the rise in the US. At Seven Trees Farm, we started with a few bushes, then quickly added more once we fell in love with the funky fruity flavor of blackcurrant cordial.

Mature bushes can produce up to 10 pounds of berries, and ours are just getting into their prime. Unfortunately we planted them a bit too close together, and too close to a neighboring evergreen hedge, but they are still managing to put out about 2 pounds of berries each so far. The plan is to try moving them once they go dormant for the season, but they may not take kindly to that due to their size. Luckily Whatcom county is a major berry-growing region and we can buy overstock plants from the larger farms nearby if we need to replace any. (Lesson learned: always give your plants way more room than any growing guide suggests.)

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Picker’s perspective. Harvesting blackcurrants is fiddly work.

Summer solstice!

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. (Apologies if the video comes up blacked out. It keeps getting taken down on You Tube, and now only this fuzzy full-length version remains)

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.

The Year Without Summer?

This post was originally written in June 2008, when Cascadia was deep in the throes of our formerly-normal summer kick-off weather pattern known as Junuary. 2016 is about as far as you can go on the other end of the spectrum. We’ve broken uncounted heat records since April, and yesterday was another sweltering extreme. But 200 years ago, much of the planet was dealing with snow and frost the whole summer long.

For a fascinating podcast on the year without a summer, check this out http://www.missedinhistory.com/blog/missed-in-history-the-year-without-a-summer/

Seven Trees Farm

Very very unhappy beans. The few that sprouted are bug-bit and dying. Most of them are still half-sprouted in the ground. We’ll be replanting all our beans this weekend, and crossing fingers for enough sun to get a crop in before frost.
Sad little corn sprouts. They might make it if we get the forecasted sun this weekend. Hopefully the dose of nettle water they got today will give them enough boost to grab the sunlight and go for it.

With the headlines full of bad news about weather-caused crop failures in the midwest, rising food prices, and contaminated tomatoes, having a large productive garden is even more important than ever. But according to the weather wizards at the UW’s Climate Impacts Group, the PNW is in the clutches of a La Nina event. Once this cycle runs its course, we’ll be at the mercy…

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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.