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.

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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.

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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.

File May 10, 8 10 04 AM

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.

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

Changing seasons, changing gears

We haven’t had time to post much lately, as we’ve gone from running around trying to keep crops viable in the record heatwave to running around trying to keep crops viable in the record August wind/rain storm.

In the aftermath of the stormy weather it looks like fall has fallen. Usually that means chilly nights and comfortably sunny days, interspersed with rain showers. But thanks to the dying offshore Blob and the incoming Godzilla El Nino, who knows what’s in store.

We can only hope we don’t get a repeat of fall/winter 2006, with its floods, hurricane-force winds, and blizzard conditions, nearly continuously from the beginning of November to mid-December. Here are a few highlights from that mad-weatherish year. Check out more here – November 2006 at STFBlizzard06

Looking east on the Pole Rd. toward Sumas Mountain, and yes, that’s the corner of a car sticking out of the ditch. Windstorm06

Our lovely fir trees, having a dance in the 60mph winds. One of them to the left of the house will be taken out later this month, as it is leaning perilously close to the house now.

Flood06

And the raging Nooksack, at the Nugent’s Corner bridge. Seven Trees Farm is only a few hundred yards from the river as the crow flies, but the topography is such that flooding is a fairly remote risk, at least so far. But this bridge is just a couple of miles upstream and usually has maybe 50 feet between it and the river channel. There was about 6 feet of space when we took this photo.

Luckily we are much more prepared for all kinds of weather now, but still….fingers crossed for pleasant and mild, with a wee bit of snow for fun. Mount Baker and friends just got their first dusting of white, which should have the local skiers and boarders raring to go. BakerSnow15

Junuary fail

HOTThe propensity of Cascadians to complain about the weather is the stuff of legends. We generally stay right smack in the middle of the weather spectrum compared to the rest of the country, but when conditions get too far out of bounds, you’re gonna hear about it. Cliff Mass shared this 1855 ‘weather report’ from Honest John Tompkins of Steilacoom:

“Well, March went out, April came in, and with it, cold, wet, disagreeable weather, and a universal spirit of discontent, and a disposition to “growl””

“Throughout the entire month, and even up to this, the last day of May, it has been precisely the same, and some amongst us profess to be so thoroughly disgusted with the weather …. that they threaten to leave the Territory altogether.”

For most of my nearly 5 decades in the Pacific Northwest Junuary has been a part of the natural weather cycle. January often brings abnormally warm temperatures, including records highs in 2015. Bonus! you might think, but a run of 60 degree weather in late winter can really mess up farm and garden plants that are just starting to get ready for the growing season. They can leaf out or blossom too soon, and be damaged by dropping temps. Early bloom also throws off the pollination calendar, which is catastrophic for food production. Not only do trees and berries fail to set fruit, the birds, bees and other pollinators lose out on critical nectar supplies.

The flip side of the Junuary coin comes in June, when we typically have a long dank stretch of chilly, rainy, grey weather. Really annoying when tomato and other warm weather veggie starts are ready to be planted out, or when you’ve had to put off tilling in the first place due to wet soil. Salad greens do well in this weather, but so do slugs. Still, we’ve come to accept it, and even count on it for garden planning.

But this year Junuary failed to follow through on the June part of the deal. Not only have we had record maximum average temperatures for the May 1 to June 30 period, we’ve only gotten .81″ of rain in that time. This is the driest since record-keeping started at Sea-Tac in 1945, the previous being 1.26″ in 1992. The local weather office says:

To put this record warm June in perspective…the current average
maximum temperature of 78.6 degrees would be the 12th warmest July on
record and the 9th warmest August on record.

Which means Seven Trees Farm is experiencing a ‘water emergency’. All the research we’ve done over the years on sustainable water use is coming in handy now that the rains have failed, but it’s a non-stop scramble to keep up with crops that were planted with rainy summers in mind. Bucket-Kits

We’ll post more as we get up to speed with our raised rows and bucket/barrel drip watering systems. Hopefully once we aren’t performing emergency hydration to 4000 square feet of growing areas, we’ll have more time to share what is working and what isn’t. This will be our 10th year (11th summer) at STF, and all the trial and error should finally start to pay off. Though I could easily use another 10 years to continue experimenting, it looks like Mother Nature is stepping up her game.

You can check out our sustainability brainstorming pinboard here – https://www.pinterest.com/hallberaox/seven-trees-sustainability/ and our gloom & doom fire/weather/news twitter feed aggregator here – http://stormcrow.seventreesfarm.com