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…


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


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.

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.

The old tree house makes a tricky obstruction.


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

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!




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


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.

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.

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

Yggdrasil and the Well of Urd

Fall happens

Wow! Here it is nearly a month since our last post, but we haven’t stood still for a minute of it. Neither has the weather, and even though we were in the mid 80’s last week, the rains have finally settled in for the long haul. fall2014

Stewart is recovering from his eye surgery; Hildegard graduated from puppy kindergarten (Thinking Dog w/Laura Berger); Fergus is still short and cranky. Puppy Class

Class wasn’t all work though. Part of being a civilized canine is learning how to safely interact with other dogs, so each class started out with a serious puppy pack rampage. puppyclass1We brought in our second crop of carrots. Even though things got too hectic to weed as often as we like, Scarlet Nantes outperformed the hybrid Nelson carrot we planted as a first crop. NantesFancyThis year we decided to treat ourselves to some Luscious sweet corn instead of the usual feed/meal/flour corn. Once we figured out that the ring-necked doves were pulling the sprouts out, and replanted, this corn did rather well in our former-rainforest-berryfarm-pasture soil. But the thing about sweet corn is that it starts to decline as soon as it’s picked. And the thing about corn in general is that you have to plant a certain amount to get good pollination. Which adds up to surplus!

So even though we like to maintain a gadget-neutral footprint, it was time for a FoodSaver… seal-a-mealOh wait! Not that kind… After poring over reviews, asking friends & family, and just plain impulse-shopping at Costco, we put this shiny thing on the counter. FoodSaverCertain food just doesn’t can well, corn being a prime example. It’s edible, but 55 minutes per pint in the pressure canner takes away from the fresh-picked, summer vibe. So far it is a solid addition to our appliance line-up. The bags are a recurring expense, but with some thrifty planning and bulk buying, they will pay for themselves in food storage quality. We also used it to freeze the sour cabbage we made (more on that later) for cabbage rolls. SourCabbageLast winter we realized we didn’t have time to press all the cider apples from our trees, so into the freezer they went. Naturally it wasn’t until both freezers were jam packed and we needed more space for the current year’s bounty that we got around to trying out our antique fruit/lard/sausage press. It’s not as efficient as our neighbor’s full-sized set up, but we got about 3 gallons of juice (which is now fermenting in a carboy). PressingMattersThe new dog palace is finally under construction. First step was building a raised deck that will soon have a roof for all-weather lounging. The dog house itself will be in one bay of the hay mow, insulated, with heat and light. The door will be just right of center in the wall, and the 12 x 12 kennel will be sited against the north facing wall. This will give the dog pack full view of the house, hen yard, and most access points. Not that they spend much time out in the weather…so spoiled! DougDogWe also made time for a recreational jaunt, our last one in Big Blue (our 2007 Dodge Ram truck), and Stewart’s first outing since his eye surgery. After pulling up the Google Earth view on the ipad, and some tricky route finding, we drove nearly to the top of 3200 ft. Sumas Mountain, the bit of North Cascades foothills right across the Nooksack river from us. Sumas2It was a bit hazy from all the recent forest fires, but still amazing to see our little piece of the PNW in panoramic view. Seven Trees Farm is nestled behind a treed area to the far left of this picture. SumasMtnPanoAnd speaking of forest fires, the constant blanket of smoke has meant some amazing sunsets this summer. Now that the rainy season has started, we probably won’t see many like this for a long time. Sunset

Winter mode

While weather in the Pacific Northwest has been nowhere near as dramatic as other parts of the world, it has still been a lot colder and drier than we are used to. And that the flora and fauna are used to. Winter, up until recently, has been fairly mild and boring. No major storms – wind, rain or snow – just dank, chilly and grey. We had a few visits from overwintering hummingbirds, a first for us at Seven Trees Farm. The garlic and daffodils started peeking up, and the elderberries and red flowering currants looked ready to leaf out.

Then the Fraser outflow started.

This image from the blog Reading the Washington Landscape pretty well sums up how the topography of the Fraser River valley affects us. We’re located at the red dot under the blue arrow. FraserOuflowSo now we have steady, howling, frigid, desiccating winds, with daytime temps below freezing, and overnight temps in the low teens. Hopefully this won’t kill off all the plants that were just getting ready for spring, but our biggest concern has been for our chickens. The older birds are more acclimated to harsh weather, and spend a lot of time basking under the heat lamp in their perch/nestbox area. A tank heater keeps the water in the horse trough outside thawed, and their inside waterer is wrapped in heat cable and insulation and sits on a seedling heating mat.

The 25 month-old chicks have been a bit more worry though. The brooder coop they stared out in is fully insulated, with outlets for heat and light. But it’s only 3×5 feet. Normally when chicks are fully-feathered, we start getting them used to the big outdoors by opening the hatch to the covered, screened area underneath. Once they know how to come and go without help (sunset chicken chasing), we move their food and water outside, freeing up lots of floor space. But this time the weather interfered the usual progression and we were forced to keep them inside longer. Needless to say, 25 chicks poop a lot, and when they start practicing jumping and flying, they poop in their food and water. Winter-PeepsSo we took a big chance and moved them out to the main hen house, in a pen about 4×8 feet, in the middle of the 16×16 foot structure. We moved them at bedtime, and they were extremely freaked out. And once they settled down and could feel the temperature change, we started making adjustments. One heat lamp quickly became two; 175 watt bulbs were changed to 250 watt. We made part of the space a dropped ceiling covered in reflective mylar bubble insulation, to trap more heat; moved a draft baffle (2x4ft piece of board) from the outside front of their pen to the middle, near the heat lamps; added a 40 watt clip on lamp over their food and heated waterer so they could see them better. Winter-Hen-HouseIn the photo above, big chickens are to the right, chickie pen is front & center. Out of the picture to the left is another pen that opens to an enclosed run. Right now it’s not being used, but it adds some air space between the colder north side and the babies. Bottom center of the picture you can see the heated waterers. Upper right corner there is just a hint of the LED rope light that serves as a night light. The circuit powering all this is plenty big for the load, but there is definitely room for improvement in the electrical layout. We added an outlet strip, with 6 outlets evenly spaced along a 42″ metal bar. This really helps us deploy lamps and heaters better.

Being stuck indoors has led to a lot of research on constructive changes. Age and injuries are factors we have to consider as well. The BriteTap waterer looks like a solution to those concerns. BriteTapIt can be used with a variety of reservoirs, but was designed for 5 gallon insulated beverage coolers, and we’ll source ours locally rather than buy the combo kit. This will keep water cleaner, cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and the large fill opening will be much easier to deal with than our current waterers. Those involve gravity/vacuum feed for water flow, and the lids can be tough to open. A heated waterer we have has to be filled from the bottom via a small opening, then flipped over quickly and carefully so as not to spill water or pop the top off. Not fun ever, and especially in sub-freezing temperatures, after a long day at work.

To keep the water flowing in really cold weather, we’ll add a submersible bucket de-icer. We have trough heaters, but they pull 1000 watts when they cycle on, and that’s just too much for our long term power bills. A small, thermostatically-controlled 250 watt heater will be just right dropped into each water container. Since it sits at the bottom, it should keep the BriteTap unit thawed as well. We’ll find out… DT250IAlso up on the planning list is a spiffy new dog house/run with heat, lights, and covered porch. We’re considering adding a Boxer puppy as Stewart’s understudy, and they are not a cold weather breed, so a comfortable outdoor space is crucial.

In the meantime….split kindling, fill woodbox, repeat. Winter Gear

New incubator, more trial, more error, more fun!

This weekend we got the craigslist wine cooler into shape as a cabinet incubator.

The starting point for this experiment.

The starting point for this experiment.

After reading as much as possible, and studying other home-built versions, we decided to try mounting the heat/fan unit near the bottom. The interior of the cooler has a bump-out down low that houses the compressor, making it too narrow inside for a full shelf. 5batorKeeping in mind that heat rises, we also installed a speed-controllable computer fan near the top, hoping to maintain a steady flow of warm air.

Back side, showing cute little fan.
Back side, showing cute little fan.

What we didn’t realize is that the Incukit is really geared toward top-mounting, with the integral fan blowing back into the heating elements, pushing air outward. If it is mounted on the ceiling, this means air is not blowing directly downward onto the eggs. Warm air is pushed out at the sides of the unit, flowing downward, then presumably rising gently up, as warm air does.

A peek under the top at the IncuKit wiring.
A peek under the top at the IncuKit wiring.

With the current installation, air flow quickly became an issue. The side of the heater pointing up pushes too much warm air directly under the egg turner. This didn’t become evident until we loaded the turner, causing a ‘traffic jam’ of hot air and making the temperature go sky high. We quickly adjusted the Incukit settings, and eventually used a flexible poly cutting board as a baffle tucked at the back of the lower shelf to direct the rising air to the sides of the incubator. It’s not perfect, since as the turner moves back & forth, air currents change enough to bring the temperature up slightly until it moves again. It hasn’t gotten critically hot, and seems to hold for the most part right between 99.5-100F depending on the sensor. Which is another monitoring problem. The Incukit has an advanced thermometer regulating the thermostat, but we always keep back up sensors in the incubator to check for hot/cold spots or in case of malfunctions. Each of the 7 thermometers we’ve tried reads slightly (or more than slightly) different, even placed in nearly the same spot.

Getting loaded :)
Getting loaded 🙂

So while things have settled into a good temperature range, all that will change when it’s time to replace the egg turner with hatching baskets. Air will be flowing quite differently, and we’ll have to act fast to get settings and modifications figured out for lockdown. 1batorOnce this test batch is done (or undone as we’ll find out at first candling this weekend), it seems the better course to move the heater to where it is designed to work best. I really like having the existing overhead light hardwired, and may replace it with an LED light I can mount near the top.

It took some careful selection to pick the best eggs for this experiment. Fingers crossed for a 100% hatch. eggsStay tuned for thrilling updates !

Up in smoke

A reader emailed us to share pictures of a smoker he built with his father-in-law, based on plans we shared in a previous blog post – Smokin!

We still haven’t made time to build our own version, but Wayne’s smoker is just the inspiration we need.

He says:

The father in-law and I built the smoker (out-house style) that you had posted and have been using it for the past couple weeks with excellent results! We added a couple of our own touches and have been smoking moose and venison (jerky), as well as fish that included; cod (was amazing), brookies and rainbow trout.

We built the insert rack holder to be removable and hold the Bradley smoker racks. We put 4 top vents in, two in each side and an inlet vent on the bottom of each side. The roof we built is like one of the sides and put tin on the top as the where the smoker stays is on a recreation property and is subject to heavy snow fall. We found the smoker easy to maintain heat and smoke and has produced excellent results.