From hedging our bets to betting our hedges

Low-input, low-maintenance, low-cost solutions to managing Seven Trees Farm are always under development, and security is on the list. While we’ve ticked off the more obvious measures, such as cameras, fences and lighting, it never hurts to have extra layers of protection when times get tough.

The hedgerows we started back in 2006 are maturing nicely, providing shade for pets and livestock, food for wildlife, and summer privacy for people. Now we’re extending the project to include deterring 2 and 4 legged varmints from the house yard, while adding bee/hummingbird food, medicinal plants and lovely, fragrant flowers.

Our robust rugosa rose inspired the first pick for the new hedge – Marie Bugnet. High Country Roses describes it as “A lovely rose with elegant pointed buds that open to fragrant, snow-white double blooms. One of the earliest to bloom in spring, repeating well into fall. The shrub is compact, reaching 3 feet tall and wide. Canes are a rich red in winter.”

Marie Bugnet:
From High Country Roses

Rugosa roses are generally hardier and require less fussing than ‘fancy’ roses, and the smaller size hopefully means less pruning too. We like this variety for a variety of reasons – fragrance, manageable size, long bloom time, and wicked thorns.

From Wikimedia Commons

There are some good lists and articles on defensive plantings, like this one, but each home and microclimate are unique, so not all plants listed work for everyone. We’ll add some evergreen shrubs for winter privacy (this hedgerow will screen the house from road view) and encourage previously planted herbs, like lemon balm, field mint, and catnip, to fill in the gaps. One top contender for evergreen addition is California lilac (genus Ceanothus) as it draws pollinators like bees to honey 🙂 It may not be hardy in our Fraser-outflow impacted microclimate, but it’s too pretty not to try.

Image result for california lilac
From Wikimedia Commons

 

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Celebrating winter

It’s that time of year again! So much to do and celebrate, challenging weather, and long dark nights….

Seven Trees Farm

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

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Preps for emergencies and daily use

We take comfort in the fact that our house has managed 96 years in this spot we’ve chosen to plant ourselves at. Especially when outside, the wind coils up like a turbo-charged hammer and we hear it roaring first through the trees to the east and south of us before it strikes our little piece of earth. The Douglas Fir trees surrounding us bow furiously away from the wind as needles and branches spin down, littering both yard and drive. Pine cones hit the mark from time to time, and we all – cats, dogs, humans and parrot – jump at their report.

We had a wicked storm in 2006, the Hanukkah Eve storm, which was our first year here and initiation to the ferocious weather that can spin out of typhoon remnants in the Pacific ocean. Power was out for nearly a week, but thanks to a kind neighbor and a generator on loan, we made it through in relative comfort.

The second week of this October 2016 had another storm bearing down from the remnants of Typhoon Songda and even though the weekend was supposed to be the worst, Friday the 14th is when it hit us hardest. The power went out sometime after noon that day and we expected it to stay down good a while, especially with another round of wind to follow Saturday.

bc-storm-satellite-october-15-2016
Image: NOAA/NASA

Needless to say over the years we’ve found a few inexpensive hacks that add some comfort during these tempests. Even if your preps budget is slim, there are some very simple items can be practical and lift spirits when it’s dark, dreary and your power is out for who knows how long.

One of our favorite finds was  the Eneloops rechargeable battery kit from Costco.  We just make sure we have ample pre-charged batteries from it when we hear the storm is on the way. These are useful for flashlights, radios, or whatever devices you may have in your home.

The Eneloops work great for one of my favorite inexpensive light sources, which is battery LED light strings with timers. You can get them a number of places, but we found a good selection at our local Michaels store. Also if your a procrastinator, a craft store isn’t generally being overrun by last minute panic buyers for prep items. I decided to grab a couple more strings on storm eve this last event, and found it was cricket noises at Michaels, while other stores with more typical prep items were packed with shoppers.

My favorite find this last visit was a tiny wire string of little stars that we placed around the bathroom mirror, and set to come on via timer in the afternoon. After the designated time they shut off, but while on, provide cheery illumination with minimal power use. We also have a brighter string for use in our chicken coop that lights up as it gets dark. Not only does it guide the chickens to their roost, it’s very handy for us two legs as well should we need to pop in the coop on these short winter days or when the power is out and we need some back up lighting.

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Another good thing to keep on hand is a set of small hand held radios for communication, especially should the storm be severe enough to take out cell service. We purchased some very basic Uniden radios for home use some years ago that still work fine today. The only thing we’ve done is replace the rechargeable battery pack. Newer models have greater range, NOAA weather alerts or other features, and prices are fairly reasonable. It’s nice to be able to quickly communicate even if just around the farmstead day to day and may be invaluable in an emergency.

Another handy Costco product was an 1100 lumen CAT brand rechargeable work light we came upon. This unit lasts up to 6 hours and can also charge peripheral devices via an outbound USB port. I’ve actually used it as an incredible handheld spotlight when checking on livestock or fence after dark. It’s a daily driver and another must have in emergencies.

We love our old fashion Dietz hurricane lanterns, but sometimes the odor, CO and fire danger make the modern rechargeable lights the better option. And when trying to act quickly in a crisis, having the quick to hand modern variety, without fumbling with matches or lighters can’t be overstated; whether it’s dealing with a Pacific hurricane or because the fence blew down and the cows are out.

Ready, even portable heat is also really awesome to have if needed. The portable Buddy heater we bought years ago has been useful in power outages as well as for heat when working in the shop. It’s even come in handy at a party when our bonfire was rained out, and we all huddled around it in the pole barn in our lawn chairs. The show must go on and it’s awesome to be able to ensure we can function no matter what comes our way.

No matter where you live, farm or apartment, on the coast or the high country, these days having things on hand for emergencies is essential, but don’t forget some things to add comfort as well.

The electric root cellar

We’ve been honing our chops at Seven Trees Farm since June 2005, and love researching all aspects of diversified subsistence farming before jumping into new challenges. It’s still mad harvest time here, with onions, apples and potatoes looking for their winter homes. Most urban/tiny/newb farmstead publications extol the virtues (and necessity) of a root cellar for long term produce storage, and back in the day, we dutifully bought the books and bookmarked the many informational websites.

Welp, like many other ‘perfect homestead’ ideas/tools/livestock breeds, root cellars are not universally applicable. In Cascadia we are lucky to have a lovely climate for food growing, even with gloomy spring rains and ferocious summer droughts. But one thing the climate lacks is consistency. Root cellars generally depend on steady cold outside temperatures to maintain the steady cool in-ground temperatures best suited for keeping produce in good shape for the duration.

But here winter weather runs the gamut from sub-zero blizzard conditions to apocalyptic wind and rain to balmy brilliant 60F sun – sometimes all in the same few weeks. Not exactly the best for tucking crates of garden bounty away for safe-keeping.

So what to do? Much of our research and goals lean in the low-input direction, i.e. off-grid. But chances are pretty good that electricity access is going to be much more stable than access to decent root-cellaring temperatures. So we bought an electric root cellar.

Not just any old shop fridge, but one made especially for the range of temperatures our shop experiences throughout the year. A critical aspect of fridge/freezer combos is that when it is below freezing the compressor usually won’t trigger, meaning frozen food melts, and refrigerated food freezes (This website explains some of the magic involved.)

fridge
Shiny happy new fridge from the Sears website.

But a freezerless fridge doesn’t have that problem since there is only one temperature zone to maintain. (With 2 chest freezers in the shop there’s no need for more freezer space.) Ours has seen some hard service over the years, and keeps on chilling. Right now it’s full of eggs, veggies, garden seeds, greens, rendered lard, and many jars of pickled goodness.

shop-fridge
The electric root cellar always has room for more.

 

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.

File Jul 26, 11 44 05 AM

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…