Ah, the wonderful change of seasons in the Pacific Northwest.
One benefit of the increased rain flow is the quick refill of our water cisterns after flushing them a few times for cleaning. 5000 gallons refills in just a week or two. Man, that’s a lot of rain.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of our permaculture food forest. Many, many lessons learned (and some – like how to grow corn – still elude me). The current food forest has 15 fruit trees (eight varieties) – each with it’s own guild of flowers, herbs, and comfrey for chop/drop fertilizing – 13 berry bushes (six varieties), and an increasingly shrinking amount of space for ground crops like garlic, potatoes, and hot peppers. In the coming years, we’ll need to move down the hill for additional growing space, but the new hugel bed has an amazing amount of growing space.
You can see the before and after images here (notice the five year improvement in iPhone cameras as well). Click the panoramic image to view full screen. The posts on the far left are one year old grapes to take advantage of the heat that big black rock wall puts off.
Big moves and changes this month:
- While this blog is primarily for friends and family that always ask about our projects, other random folks have found this blog based on my obsessions with electric bicycles, long tail bicycles, permaculture, and more. For those of you reading this anywhere in the US other than the Pacific Northwest, you should probably go ahead and start the process of moving out here now.
If the “before and after” images here denoting problem areas due to climate change don’t convince you, go read the full article for the details. Not for the faint of heart…but a big move may be in store for you whether you want it or not.
- We did our annual field cut with our neighbors so I had the joy of several early meditations sessions watching coyotes and raptors hunt for mice/voles/etc now that their normal hiding places of a 7′ pasture are gone. Owls, ospreys, eagles, ravens, and various hawks. Wow!
- We swapped out our used Prius for a used Chevy Volt. Between the Volt, the Leaf, and my electric bicycle, we’re now 99%+ doing transportation on electricity. Which means we’re now saving for solar panels and trying not to get fat.If you are still on the fence about the benefits of an electric car (particularly if you are a two-car family) check out the math from the always-funnny and usually-right Mr. Money Mustache.The primary behavior change I’ve noticed is a smile every time I accelerate the Volt. The Prius felt like driving a cardboard box in comparison. The fact that I was still burning gas while driving a cardboard box made me dislike the whole experience even more.
- The garden suffered from a lack of attention as both my wife and I decided to take on intensive work projects at the same exact time. What I learned was some crops can’t handle it (I’m looking at you, corn) while others seem to do just fine being ignored. Case in point is the tomatoes. In previous years I’ve been careful with spacing, leafs off the ground, proper pruning for air flow, etc.
This year (as witnessed by the below photo), I just transplanted them from the greenhouse and promptly ignored them…and we still have an abundance of healthy tomatoes. There is a lesson here that Ruth Stout has tried to teach me through her books, I’m sure.
- We finished our treehouse. What was a 2-3 weekend project turned into a summer-long project since both kids were running the screwdrivers. But we just created lifelong memories, too.
- We fired back up the greenhouse for winter salads and jumpstarting cool weather crops like broccoli, kale, and chard.
- Evenings are currently spent processing the abundance of food. Dehydrators are our best friends.
Everything is loaded this month. Garden is loaded with bounty. Work is loaded with excitement. Family schedule is loaded with activities.
Years ago we used to send out a Christmas in July newsletter as a lark since no one would expect an annual family newsletter in that month. Given our continued cold temperatures, it feels like I should bring that back. I actually came downstairs from my home office one day to find my family had a fire going in the fireplace with them all sitting around under blankets. Seriously. It was the middle of July!
This month’s highlights:
- June’s cold weather finally broke towards the end of the month, giving much-needed heat to the corn, tomatoes, and peppers.
- We threw our first annual Summer Solstice party BYOLS (bring your own local stuff) with everyone wearing all-white. Much fun, great relationships (true wealth), and a celebration of everything hyper-local…from kombucha to kale.
- Camping with kids = no sleep for anyone but good lifelong memories.
- Hand-watering got to the point where we reestablished the fully automated irrigation in all it’s geekiness glory. A few years ago we repurposed the fancy lawn irrigation controller to control water dosages to all our veggie beds and food forest with an A/B switch to move from our neighborhood water (shared well system) to our cisterns holding harvested rainwater. Now with a few hours of patching work the full system is up and running again.
- Newly refilled sheds for of green firewood (not to burn this winter, but the following) give me a good feeling of preparedness for ourselves and our neighbors.
- Serious growth on the fruit trees should mean our first significant harvest this fall. Hooray!
My now almost-empty greenhouse has been smelling like a pizza for weeks as the tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and basil took off in their growth. Makes me hungry every time I go in there. The sun has warmed the soil enough that we got to transplant most items this past week.
Our significant bindweed problem – what drove me to disassemble our raised beds and start over with a giant hugel bed – has returned. Damn, this weed drives me nuts. But our latest connection of white vinegar + salt + dishwashing soap applied through a large sprayer is keeping it at bay. Sort of. Speaking of the hugel bed…
Year One learnings from new hugel bed:
- It is actually too warm for cool weather crops like spinach, which immediately bolted when I transplanted them last month. Stick your fingers several inches down into the bed and you can feel the warmth being generated by the woody core decomposing.
- The grape cuttings I used as part of the debris core are actually sprouting despite being buried under 1′ of straw, compost, and soil.
- Next time I should use something more decorative as a winter cover crop than rye grass; it looks too similar to our lawn grass and pasture grass, making the bed itself look untidy (from a certain perspective). :)
A nice rebound from a record-breaking wet March, the sun has finally returned to the Pacific Northwest – at least on some glorious days. With the longer days I’m back to late evening sessions of scything paths through our fields, putzing about my greenhouse, and enjoying the return of bees to our land.
The small town we live in has approximately 50 beekeepers who brought in 2MM new bees this past month (most folks lost most of their bees over the winter). With all the trauma and drama of working out how we have a symbiotic relationship with these crucial creatures, I’ve decided that to be a beekeeper is to be an eternal optimist.
My favorite moment from this past month was standing under one of our blooming Japanese maples with thousands of bees overhead. The tree itself seemed to be buzzing with excitement, welcoming these visitors.