This month’s weekends were filled with the creation of a rain garden to stem the overflow of water that creeps steadily towards our garage bays and front door.
Our existing french drain was regularly being overwhelmed after the neighbors above us removed some vegetation that evidently had been soaking up quite a bit of rainfall.
After a free consult from our county’s Master Gardeners, we created two 40′ x 8′ swales to slow down the water entering our property. Next we added a soil/sand mix since the percolation tests in one areas performed so poorly. (Perc tests are easy to do, just a dig a hole to 24″, fill with water, and watch how slowly the water drains.)
Finally, we added a variety of plants from the lengthy recommendation list for our bioregion, selecting mostly plants that are deer-resistant and attractive for pollinators.
We also transitioned our T5 grow lights from a closet in the garage to the greenhouse, and added a more powerful set of metal halide grow lights to the mix. In the grow light photo you’ll notice a new outdoor cat house my son and I built; we’ll get a pair of barn cats after the holidays to help control the mice/rats that love to nest in our firewood shelters.
The rapidly shortening days here in the Pacific Northwest, combined with being buried at work, leave me gardening in the dark (literally) while humming REM’s Gardening at Night. On the weekends, we made a radical addition to our day-ranging chicken setup with a permanent coop. The birds still have day access to the pasture through a chicken tunnel (newly named as The Chunnel), but the permanent coop solves for two issues:
- I was losing all their valuable manure out on the pasture, where I won’t be able to take advantage of it for years until we expand the garden beds that direction.
- I was tired of hauling their feed such long distances, and hauling water at all when you live in the rainy Northwest just seems silly.
As I’m lousy with carpentry, the talented fellow behind Saltbox Designs took my crazy sketches, ideas, and ramblings to construct a structure that won’t fall down and looks great. When Berg was finished, I added a deep litter system on top of an earthen floor, automatic feeders (gravity) and water (harvesting rainwater), while maintaing full-time access to pasture through a Pullet Shut door and the aforementioned and soon to be infamous among our neighbors Chunnel. I’m pleased.
Another full weekend was spent hauling and spreading 51 yards of wood chip compost. Thank goodness for generous neighbors with tractors.
This month’s highlights, capturing the benefits of bounty:
- Oh my goodness, the tomatoes and tomatillos just kept coming, and coming, and…good thing the kids and I like sun-dried tomatoes. The sun-dried tomatillo is amazing as well. We’ve had the food dehydrator going 24/7 for weeks now.
- And the chili peppers. I believe pure happiness is a little red fruit.
- A seasonal flush of the water cisterns and they are already full again.
- Both our wood burning stoves are the cleanest they will be all year. Ready to burn!
- New-to-us used bicycles for everyone. Just in time for the rains (oops!).
The fast growth of spring and early summer is behind us and we’re now enjoying a brief pause as the crops finish their march towards ripeness. My daily tasks have moved from massive weeding to select harvesting, which is an enjoyable change.
Well, actually, I simply gave up on weeding and starting spraying our Morning Glory weed (er, beautiful plant that is growing in the wrong spot) with a combination of white vinegar, salt, and soap. After researching the futility of pulling MG’s roots (they just send out more runners), I’ve decided to follow the wisdom of attacking the plant through its prolific leaves.
The #1 highlight of this month came as a gift when I heard my son exclaim, “I’m going outside to get a snack!” and then heard the back door slam closed. The kids just wander through the gardens, eating and exploring, while their parents look on with smiles and joy.
The #2 highlight of the month came during one of my frequent evening sessions with my daughter, slicing and drying our tomatoes and tomatillos. As we worked to transform them into delicious sun-dried versions of themselves, crunchy with eye-popping flavor, the six year old commented “I want to grow food with you when I grow up, Daddy. Can that be my job?”.
Loving our (mostly) warm weather here in the Northwest, especially when most of our friends are suffering under too-hot conditions elsewhere in the US and Canada. This month’s highlights:
- Our annual garlic harvest. Something about the curing process where a year’s worth of garlic is hanging in the breezy shade for several weeks makes me smile every time I walk past it.
- Our chili peppers are transplanted well from the greenhouse to the food forest once consistently warm temperatures arrived. They seem happy and are now loaded with peppers.
My little girl’s sunflowers that she started herself are now 10′ tall. Love the look of amazement on her face when she thinks about that growing process.
- We’ve officially become a family of scythers, with new scythes arriving for my wife and son from a Canadian woodworker.
- The anticipation of our first honey harvest of the year. Good thing, since we ate the last of last year’s harvest two months ago (I mistakenly sold off “extra” jars of honey this winter to a friend…oops!).
- Learning more lessons about the balance of sharing our berries (honey, blue, tay, rasp, goose, and black/red/white currants) with birds and wanting to actually eat some ourselves.
When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you get used to thinking of “summer” based on the calendar alone, as you certainly can’t count on the weather to inform you. But despite overcast skies, colder temperatures, and drizzle, we have some spectacular days/weeks that give you a glimpse of what’s to come each July-August.
These glimpses also offer occasions where I reflect on true happiness, and it reminds me that each day I can choose happiness whether it’s dreary outside or not.
Taking a break from our normal highlights/lowlights update, many of you know that recently I’ve been reflecting on happiness instead.
- A sharp scythe
- Colorful foxglove rising among blueberries
- Healthy bees
- A bicycle ride through blossoming cherry trees with your daughter in tow (and not needing rain protection gear!)
- Early morning sessions at dawn of moving meditation in the pasture, clearing paths
- Wildflowers spreading along pathways in a food forest
- Watching your son take 45 minutes to simply collect eggs as he’s carrying on extended conversations with the chickens…in their language
- A greenhouse full of chili pepper plants
- Calendula flower petals finding their way into your salad…medicine that tastes good!
- Finding carefully piled collections of natural materials curated by a six year old, ready to make another fairy house
- Hugelkultur beds actively producing crops with minimal watering
- The blessing of viewing Mount Rainier from above the clouds
- Finding semi-wild elderberry trees with bright red berries…medicine growing on trees!
My wife and I got to escape the relentless rain and take a special trip to Hawaii this past month, where we met some super high quality folks. We were gone for 10 days, but given the amount of Morning Glory that invaded our garden beds while we were gone, you’d have though it was three months.
Highlights from this past month:
- We enjoyed several deep conversations in Hawaii, including new learnings from the eco-resort’s horticulture team about permaculture and much more. We returned to the overcast Pacific Northwest feeling relaxed, inspired for our future, and full of sunshine!
- We recovered more space from the useless lawn to create our second small hugelkultur bed (read: core of decomposing wood) in a keyhole design.
- I’ve been experimenting with aerated compost tea using $10 worth of aquarium parts, finished compost from our worm bins, and these simple instructions. Will report back at the end of the growing season how the beds treated with this tea faired against the control group. There is something about making compost tea that makes me feel like a mad scientist and fascinates my children.
- I found a sane voice of reason in one of the crowds I interact with…survivalists. I’ve had numerous conversations with these interesting folks over the past 5+ years as I dove deeper into the sustainability movement and then began connecting it to the survivalist movement via the topic of resilience. I recently used permaculturalists + preppers as one of the themes to my Prepared Neighborhoods book (currently undergoing punishment by my editor this summer). This post by Kirsten at Milkwood struck a chord with me as I’ve found my own responses the past year or two reflecting her grounded and positive sentiments:
So now, when occasionally someone comes up at a course and wants to talk survivalism, I almost want to get specific: “so, like, are we talking about just social upheaval, or economic collapse, or armageddon, or the full thing where people start to eat each other? Because you’ll need a different approach depending on what you’re thinking to protect yourself from…”
In reality, I don’t go there. If I and my family are going to manifest a thriving future for ourselves and our community, I need to compost those kinds of thoughts and regenerate them into something useful. I focus on what I can do. And make sure I keep up with my planting plan.
I think for a moment about how, compared to so many millions of people on this planet, we live in paradise. Maybe I should stick to being thankful for that. And building a kick-ass permaculture farm that can feed useful knowledge and nourishing food back into my community, no matter what the future holds.
Lowlights (that we’re transforming into highlights):
- A neighbor’s tree split in half, destroying the deer fence along that section of our land. And giving me another chance to use one of my favorite tools (outside of my hori hori and scythe), my Wilk Putsch one-person crosscut saw. Oh my goodness, I love this saw. It is less expensive, safer, and more enjoyable than my chainsaw. Faster, too, when you account for the time spent donning safety gear and maintaining the chainsaw itself (going to store for gas, oil, parts). And the sound it makes is beautiful.
- That tree is now cut into slices ready for transforming our classic raised beds into proper hugelkultuer beds late this summer, as we transition between growing cycles.
- For five nights in a row we had new deer damage, some significant like destroying years of growth on grapes and fruit trees. While I (hope) I finally found their access point, it forced me to complete several other projects related to deer protection.
- While we’re still spending a fair amount of time weeding, we finally wised up to using our chickens to help us by enclosing them in certain sections of the food forest. Next experiment will be using Ruth Stout levels of straw (read: lots) layered down in thick sections to smother weeds and build soil fertility.
- We’ve had plenty of dreary weather days in the rainy Pacific Northwest that I’ve spent inside with the kids, sketching our first-ever permanent chicken coop and a gravity-powered run I saw other permaculturalists trying. It takes inputs of straw, feed, and water at the top of our steeply sloped backyard and create outputs of daily eggs in the middle of the slope and piles of compost to remove weekly/monthly at the bottom of the slope, right next to our future vegetable patch area.