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…

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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.

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

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.

In like a lion

Fire1The vernal equinox is this coming weekend, but we started celebrating a bit early with a bonfire, beer, and a few rounds of darts. DartsInterruptedThe dogs and cats figured out they would get some attention if they got between the throwing line and the board, so it took a while to play a few rounds. Luckily that day was one of our magical previews of summer, with temps near 70 and nature busting out all over. Merlin2Some Wild Kingdom kind of nature was going on right next to us as we walked around, chatting about summer projects. A closer look revealed a female Merlin, hopping around the ever-renewed burn pile next to the fire pit. The brush pile serves as cover for the assorted native birds that frequent the seed feeder above, and apparently as a hunting ground for ravenous raptors. MerlinShe kept jumping down into the branches, then popped up to look from different angles. She may have stashed a previous kill in the pile and was trying to get it, or had a live bird at bay, but we couldn’t see anything in the brush.

The weather turned challenging today though. Wet, windy and wild, like video from the bridge of a Bering Sea fishing boat. Our two resident Anna’s hummingbirds, one male and one female, have been taking full advantage of the feeders we now keep filled year round, but with today’s storm were even more in evidence. HBird1We decided to swap out the heated feeder for the jumbo cafeteria model, and not long after a soaked, tired & hungry newcomer showed up for a meal. HBird2We have another feeder under a south-facing garage eave, and the male Anna’s guards this like Smaug guards treasure. But for the bolder females, coming in under the back porch roof means being able to eat snug & dry, and not be chased off by the male. A few shrubs are starting to flower, red-flowering currant, quince, and oso, but having a back-up source of food is critical to these tiny critters.

Speaking of tiny critters, it’s finally time to dust off the incubator and get the next generation of laying hens cooking. Things have been a bit hectic, so we’re getting off to a later start than usual. So far we’re planning 3 hatches this year, with the first one being from Blaine, our golden cuckoo Marans roo, and 8 carefully chosen hens. We’re going for larger hens with good egg-laying conformation and good quality eggs. Since Blaine’s Marans genes should help add dark brown “paint” to the eggs, crossing him with hens that already lay dark eggs should mean daughters that lay even darker eggs. Some of the hens in that breeding pen lay olive eggs, ranging from deep bronze with brown speckles to glossy buttery avocado. The Marans dark brown gene should make for hens that lay bronze or deep olive, but only time will tell. OverEasyWe finally got around to trap-nesting some of our main flock, and documenting the results. All of our chickens have legs bands in combinations that reflect parentage and hatch date. We use different colors of zip ties on both legs, plus a master spreadsheet, to keep track. The notes in the picture above tell me that the egg on the left was laid by a hen with a brown zip tie on her left leg, and a blue one on her right. BCM x ehb means her parents were a blue/black copper Marans roo crossed with a hen called eagle-head black (a cross of an oliver roo and Welsummer hen with a white head like an eagle’s). The bottom line refers to her color, black copper, like a Marans. This information helps decide if we should use this hen to help build our future flock, and also helps ensure we don’t cross her with too close a relative.

Minestrone!

The long and warm summer has left us piled with produce. Our favorite way to enjoy that bounty throughout the rainy season is to transform the harvest into heat & eat homemade meals. Here is a wonderful recipe for minestrone, not only tasty and restorative, but a good way to make use of late summer crops like cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions.

This is the original family recipe from D’s mom. We tripled it for a canner-sized batch, bumped up the cabbage to a full head, added 1/2 a zuke that was hiding in the fridge, plus a couple pounds of fresh-picked green beans and a little leftover corn. It cans up like a dream, and we highly recommend the All-American pressure canner.

1# lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled & cubed
2 carrots, pared & sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup shredded cabbage or kale
1 can (28 oz.) tomatoes

1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp pepper

Brown ground beef and add all ingredients to soup kettle, stir thoroughly.
Add water and/or beef broth to cover. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and
cook for 2-3 hours on simmer. Stir occasionally. Serve sprinkled with
grated parmesan cheese. Makes about 3-4 quarts. Freezes well.

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If you plan to pressure can this recipe, try a batch cooked the regular way first, to sort out what seasonings/ingredients you like best. Pressure canning does a lot more cooking, so you don’t need to simmer a batch first. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but once you decide the best assortment of ingredients, just bring it up to temp enough to can, and let the canning process finish the cooking. If you simmer it for hours first you’ll end up with a mushier version of this recipe and lose some of the nutrients in the vegetables.

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Hildegard is growing fast and learning how to be a vital member of the STF team. She especially likes to help Fergus with the recycling.

The weather is just starting to turn cooler, with increasing rain showers in the forecast, and our resident porch frog is getting ready. It lives under a crate we keep on the porch for recycling, and commutes to a flat of fall veggie starts we have on top of the woodbox. The damp soil draws fruit flies, and Porch Frog hangs out in the plants, hunting for winter hibernation supplies.Porch Frog Wikipedia says Pacific tree frogs can change color seasonally, but we’ve noticed them swapping outfits in just a few hours. Knowing the plant flat is going to be moved to the garden soon, we bought a bushy coleus to repot and leave on the porch until it gets too cold for it. The frog didn’t take long to check out its new real estate, and even managed a quick color change to go with the decor. Coleus Frog

When doves cry

When Prince wrote his chart-topping song, When Doves Cry, he had relationship woes in mind, not agricultural drama. The doves (and pigeons) here at Seven Trees Farm cry incessantly, but it must be out of joy in the bounty they find to pillage. Given the constant “boo-hoo boo-hoo” heard from various vantage points on our place, we assumed our visitors were native mourning doves. After noticing two different types of doves cleaning up spilled sunflower seeds under the wild bird feeder, we did a bit more research. It turns out that we do indeed have a resident mourning dove (we usually just see one), and also a pair of Eurasian collared doves, very recent invaders from South Asia via the Middle East and most recently, the Bahamas.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.
A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

This year we decided to plant sweet corn and green peas, and we’ve had a tough time keeping the flying rats at bay. Not only do they dig out newly planted seeds, they also yank seedling plants out by the roots, necessitating a few rounds of replanting that will lead to scattered harvest times for the crops. We tend to only plant enough seed to grow, assuming each seed performs as expected. Our English ancestors, who lived for centuries along side dove and pigeon pests, played it safe. An old rhyme sums up their seed-sowing tactic: One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot, one to grow.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.
Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

The earliest known examples of dove-keeping in England occur in Norman castles of the 12th century. During the medieval period large dovecotes were built on manors, at castles and monasteries. The right to build a dovecote was traditionally reserved to the lord of the manor, and was presumably much resented by tenant farmers as the lord’s doves could eat their weight in corn every day. The law did permit farmers to frighten birds away from the freshly-planted fields, and young children were commonly employed as ‘bird-scarers’.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.
A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

Eventually the laws relaxed and dovecotes became more common. Many inns had a small tower-shaped dovecote in their yards to provide guests with a ready supply of tasty young pigeons known as squab.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest's dinner.
Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest’s dinner.

We’ve joked about getting a pellet gun or wrist rocket so we can try squab for ourselves, but haven’t yet. There are plenty of recipes, both historic and modern. Mrs. Beeton, of Victorian-era household management fame, not only shares a variety of cooking methods, but also advice and information about various pigeon & dove breeds and how to raise them. The Squab Producers of California website has a more trendy take on these little birds.

Bird-scaring has also undergone modernization in recent times.

A Suffolk helicopter pilot has come up with a high-tech solution in the battle to protect oil seed rape from birds.

The crop is a favourite with pigeons so Richard Maddever, 27, has being trying out flying a drone to keep the flocks at bay on the family farm near Sudbury. pigeon drone

He says he thinks it is going to catch on.