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

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 😀 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.

 

Timberrr!!!

All of the older trees at Seven Trees were sheared off about the same height,  most likely during the Columbus Day Storm of 1962. Everything above a certain height is secondary growth, which is never as strong as the undamaged tree. Also, at some point a tree house had been built between two Douglas Firs in the backyard. Long enough ago to have been built entirely out of rough cut lumber, probably milled right here on our place. At this point though, the wood is badly decayed, and the tree house could easily become a hazard in any future wind storms.

The tree house was attached by nails and whoever built it had also seen fit to steel cable around both the trees it spanned to further secure it. The tree closest to the back of the house was badly choked by the cable, and over the years it had begun to lean towards the house as it grew. We had a few tree companies out to look over the situation and unfortunately it was determined the damaged tree would have to come down, along with the rotting, derelict tree fort. Acme Tree Works had been recommended to us by a friend, and we liked the owner Dan’s removal plan best.

The crew showed up on a bright October morning with everything they needed, including an industrial chipper.

Tree1
No accomplices were placed in this wood chipper.

 

In no time at all they were aloft in climbing harness, chainsaws purring and dangling close at hand.

Tree2
The old tree house makes a tricky obstruction.

 

Soon the rickety platform was dismembered and on the ground in manageable chunks.

Tree3
The crew carries rounds out of the way and branches to the chipper.

Watch how the tree was limbed down to final fell stage. These guys made it look easy!

 

 

Tree4

After the tree was downed, the Acme tree team sawed everything into 16″ rounds, clearing away sawdust and debris as they worked.

Tree5

The remaining tree needed to have the steel cable girdling it cut and pried away. We also had the old ladder taken off. Since the remaining tree wasn’t as damaged as the one felled, we’re hoping it will fully recover.

BeforeAfter
Before and after.

There’s plenty of rounds to split up for more firewood and a nice pile of chips for the yard and garden.

Just like magic, this little tree had sprouted up under one of our gutter downspouts over the summer, so we potted it up to plant in honor of our fallen tree.

nextgen
The next generation…

“Ask veit ek standa,
heitir Yggdrasils,
hár baðmr, ausinn
hvíta auri;
þaðan koma döggvar,
þærs í dala falla,
stendr æ yfir grænn
Urðarbrunni.”

Yggdrasil and the Well of Urd

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.

Leaders grasp nettles

“Leaders grasp nettles” ~ David Ogilvy, (Scottish born British military intelligence officer and later top advertising executive, 1911-1999)

While leaders sometimes must metaphorically grasp nettles, the humans of Seven Trees Farm look forward to a brief frenzy of literal nettle-grasping this time of year. We’ve written a lot about the medicinal, culinary, recreational and agricultural uses for nettles, but not so much about the magickal and metaphorical meanings our ancestors attributed to this prickly plant.Urtica dioicaIn 1838, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story about a girl who saved her brothers from their fate of being turned into swans by weaving them shirts made from nettles. She had to gather the nettles with her bare hands, process the fibers with her bare feet, weave the fabric and sew the shirts without speaking.

Unspoken nettles’ seem to be a standard requirement in getting the most efficacy from the plant, whether for magic or medicine. The Folklore Journal of January 1884 recounts this tale: UnspokenNettles also figure in many proverbs:  “If they would drink nettles in March and eat mugwort in May, so many fine maidens wouldn’t go to the clay.”

“Tender-handed, grasp the nettle, and it stings you for your pains. Grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains.”

Old Norse/Germanic belief was that nettles were important to Thor/Thunor, and throwing nettles on the fire during a thunderstorm would protect you from his lightning bolts.

Nettles gathered before sunrise will drive evil spirits away from cattle, according to German folklore, ans a pot of nettle under a sick person’s bed indicated recovery if they stayed green, but death if they wilted.

This old Scottish rhyme needs a little translating, but advises harvesting nettles early in the day, cutting them low to the ground, in shady places, and substituting them for ‘kail’ or greens:

“Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle, stoo the nettle

Gin ye be for lang kail coo the nettle early

Coo it laich, coo it sune, coo it in the month o’ June

Stoo it ere it’s in the bloom, coo the nettle early

Coo it by the auld wa’s, coo it where the sun ne’er fa’s

Stoo it when the day daws, coo the nettle early.”

(Old Wives Lore for Gardeners, M & B Boland)

Wikipedia says: Coo, cow, and stoo are all Scottish for cut back or crop (although, curiously, another meaning of “stoo” is to throb or ache), while “laich” means short or low to the ground. Given the repetition of “early,” presumably this is advice to harvest nettles first thing in the morning and to cut them back hard [which seems to contradict the advice of the Royal Horticultural Society].

Nicholas Culpepper, in his classic work Complete Herbal and English Physician says that Mars governs nettles. ” You know Mars is hot and dry, and you know as well that winter is cold and moist; then you may know as well the reason nettle-tops, eaten in the spring, consumeth the phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness that winter hath left behind.”

Danes believed nettle patches marked the graves of elves, and Scottish Highlanders thought they marked human graves. Archaeologists know that nettles can mean ground that was disturbed by settlements, and where to start digging.

Gravestones among nettles

One last quote to keep in mind when you’re out harvesting your own nettles: “He who is afraid of every nettle should not piss in the grass” ~Thomas Fuller (British Clergyman and Writer, one of the most prolific authors of the 17th century. 1608-1661)

For more herbal folklore, check out these sites:

The Herb Society – Nettles

Nettles – Weeds or Wonders

The Practical Herbalist