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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Currant events

Blackcurrants are only recently regaining popularity in the United States, after being banned from the early 1900’s through the 20th century. Ribes nigrum is native to parts of northern Asia and Europe, and susceptible to a few pests and diseases, most notably white pine blister rust. When blackcurrant plants were imported to the US, the disease spread to domestic white pine forests, which had a negative impact on the logging industry, and led to the ban.

Blackcurrants have long been a favorite in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, due in part to it’s use as an emergency source of vitamin C  during and after WW2. The German U boat blockade prevented food supplies from reaching Britain, so the government encouraged citizens to grow blackcurrants in their home gardens. Most of the crop was made into syrups and cordials, as the fresh, raw fruit has a very strong flavor, then distributed to children across the UK.

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Our blackcurrant jungle, complete with volunteer oregano plant.

With disease resistant varieties now available, and rising interest in the health benefits of dietary polyphenols and other micro-nutrients, blackcurrant cultivation is on the rise in the US. At Seven Trees Farm, we started with a few bushes, then quickly added more once we fell in love with the funky fruity flavor of blackcurrant cordial.

Mature bushes can produce up to 10 pounds of berries, and ours are just getting into their prime. Unfortunately we planted them a bit too close together, and too close to a neighboring evergreen hedge, but they are still managing to put out about 2 pounds of berries each so far. The plan is to try moving them once they go dormant for the season, but they may not take kindly to that due to their size. Luckily Whatcom county is a major berry-growing region and we can buy overstock plants from the larger farms nearby if we need to replace any. (Lesson learned: always give your plants way more room than any growing guide suggests.)

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Picker’s perspective. Harvesting blackcurrants is fiddly work.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

Growing season

Mid-July is generally when the weather sticks on the medium-hot setting, we get a few weeks without rain, and plants & animals start to take off. Watering plants and keeping animals supplied with fresh drinking water takes up a lot of our time, no matter how much we try to streamline things.

Hildegard is getting bigger, and learning how to be a good farm dog. She starts puppy class next week, and will be adding some social skills to her repertoire . All the dogs love splashing in their pool with assorted toys. Can’t wait to see how Hilde takes to swimming in the Nooksack, Birch Bay or Lake Padden, our favorite canine watering holes.

Since PNW summers usually involve more rain than sun, we no longer set up to water our potato patch. This year was hot and dry, so the Carola vines are already dying down, with the Desiree and Maris soon to follow. If the blight spares us, we’ll let all the vines die naturally, and the spuds cure underground for a couple of weeks. But if we get a blight-inducing summer rain, we’ll cut & burn the vines, which will stop the spuds from growing larger but allow them to cure without getting infected.

This is our fifth year of growing out our own seed garlic, Chesnok Red and Kettle River. Even though softneck varieties like Kettle River are touted as being better for storage, we’ve found the Chesnok, a hardneck, lasts until the new harvest is in. The Kettle River also seems to have problems coping with too much rain in spring, and we lost a lot to assorted ‘rot’. This fall we’ll plant more Chesnok, and look for a new long-storing hardneck to trial.

Our pantry & freezers are still overflowing with tomatoes and peppers in various preserved forms, so we just planted enough for fresh eating this year. The mini-hoophouses are holding up well (with plastic cover renewed as needed) and provide extra warmth plus protection from rain which can activate blight spores and splash them onto tomato leaves.

The mini-hoops are very susceptible to the strong winds we get during fall/winter/spring though, so we are hoping to get sturdier cold frames built by fall. The greens we want to grow through winter need to be started now through August, and also need to be protected from hungry birds. Too many times we have set a flat of newly-sprouted plants out for some sun and water, only to find them clipped off by our ‘resident’ doves. A scrap of bird netting seems to ward them off.

The sheep are doing well on our existing grass supply. Now that the rains have stopped, the regrowth is slower and not as lush. We hear a bit of complaining (they also yell for their pelleted sheep treats) but haven’t needed to water the pasture yet. The idea is to see how these three do with low input and minimal labor. If we like the results and the grass holds up, we’ll stock more than three next spring.

The last peeps of the year have hatched. We wanted a few more high quality Ameraucanas to replace our previous Am roo, Schwartz, plus some better conformed hens than our current ones. But the perils of shipping eggs via USPS took their toll, and we ended up with two tiny peepers. Hopefully they are both handsome, personable roosters.

After eight years of keeping a paper farm log, we’ve switched to an ipad journal app called Day One. This lets us add pictures, tags and searchable text for each entry, making it easier to add up any particular crop’s harvest totals. Like strawberries. Our unruly 4 x 25ft patch yielded over 100lbs. of wonderful fruit, and we still might get a small late crop from the everbearing varieties.

No rest for the weary, as the saying goes, but well worth it 😀

Baa, ram, new!

Well spring grass has come on like gangbusters here and it seems such a shame to just chop down beautiful green pasture now that we are horse-free, letting it all go to waste! But what to do, what to do?

Since one of us is still coming back from a shoulder injury and surgery, any grass-devouring animal addition couldn’t be too large. We aren’t quite ready for pigs again, and figured out previously that goats were not our favorite milk or meat.

At some point we recollected a further away neighbor who had talked to us about her family raising Katahdin sheep. She shared some lamb chops with us after butchering time, and they were the absolute best we’d ever eaten. Melt in your mouth tender, flavorful, yet mild and not at all gamey. What if we could find some of those lambs close by to eat grass down and raise for fall butcher?

Before we completely committed to anything, we did a little research on sheep and the breed. One of the first pluses we discovered were that Katahdins are a hair sheep that require no shearing or tail docking. They were developed to be hardy in a grass-based forage situation with good across-the-spectrum weather tolerance. Many places called them the best “all-around” hair sheep available in the United States where they’d been developed in Maine, by Michael Piel beginning in the late 1950’s.

While sheep are unique and can have their own particular issues, they definitely seemed like something that should work very well with our existing structures and fencing. All we had to do was find some Katahdin sheep! Luck would have it that there was a breeder quite close, raising Katahdins, who had several ewes for sale with one to two lambs at their side.

The breeder was a definite help as we set about this endeavor, showing us his own set up and letting us admire his flock in a lovely, drool-worthy, state of the art barn he’d built. After lengthy discussion as we looked over the stock he was selling, we finally settled on an ewe with 2 lambs – a ewe lamb and castrated ram lamb or wether.

The best way we felt to get them home safely was in a large dog kennel that neatly fit in the back of J’s Subaru. This vehicle has now hauled pretty much every known farm animal or feed.

Subaru farm jitney.
Subaru farm jitney.

 

We discovered that the ewe who was called Nell, was a supreme master in passive resistance. After we’d carried each of her babies into their new digs, we jury-ed up one of our old calf halters to fit her. She allowed us to lead her perhaps half way to the destination, when she pretty much collapsed first to her front knees, quickly followed by a full rear leg failure. Nell decided she was not moving further despite her babies calling and being within sight. As stated earlier, with one of us still a tad out of commission, we were forced to lay her on her side so we could as gently as possible, push, pull and drag her the rest of the way. When we finally got close enough to the babies, Nell’s legs thankfully reactivated and she proceeded into the barn under her own power.

Fortunately, having the small, dry horse corral attached was perfect, because we were able to restrict them to that the first day or so as they got acclimatized. We used this time to reconfigure some of our fencing, so we could keep them away from some sensitive plantings and to create two separate grazing zones that we can swap them between each week.

 

Wether lamb, mom and ewe lamb.
Wether lamb, mom and ewe lamb.

 

Next we slowly introduced them to grass since they’d been strictly on hay at their old home over the winter. Even sheep can eat too much and bloat, like a horse first turned out on pasture can founder. Eventually though they were out doing the job we’d hoped they would as edible lawn mowers.

Grass at last
Ewe lamb, mama Nell and a suspicious wee wether.

 

They still get a little fresh hay daily, have a sheep mineral block available and receive about two cups of sheep ration split between two pans. The lambs usually eat at one and mama Nell at the other. And of course they have access to plenty of fresh clean water.

There’s something satisfying in having the sheep — the peaceful grazing and the relaxing, chewing cud.

Relaxing with a cud.
Relaxing with a cud.

They aren’t all over you like a goat would be, but still they look to us for care, and give a happy baaaaa, when we come by to care for them. Maybe it’s not so surprising there’s an affinity as sheep kind of run in the family. In Montana we had an uncle who had a herd of sheep at his place and kept a herding dog up until he passed away. Plus some of my father’s first employment was as a sheep ranch hand when he was a young man. Although he is long since buried, I was lucky to be given the sheep shears he used to use so long ago.

 

Shears and bolo
Dad’s sheep shears and 1964 Montana Centennial bolo tie.

These shears are retired, but it’s not like we’d need them anyway with the Katahdin breed. It’s still nice to know as we dabble in this endeavor that we follow in the foot steps of our close relatives as well as those of our more distant ancestors.

Stay tuned for further “hairy” tales about our sheep adventures!