Saturday, May 30, 2015

Getting Serious on the Farm

I really do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Right now I'm sitting on a Washington State Ferry boat, looking out the windows at the water, countless rocky forested islands, blue skies and other ferries in the distance.  It sure beats sitting in traffic on the freeway when you have places to go, that's for damn sure.  As the good weather returns, life gets more and more busy.  Work has picked up, there is a lot to do in the garden and on my cabin, and with friends and family coming up to visit regularly now it means the quiet months of winter are a distant memory.  I sure don't have any complaints though, other than not having enough time, so that's good.  This post covers about a months time, early March to early April, and with it done, for the first time in far too long, I can consider myself finally caught up on the blogging!  It's going to be an amazing and wonderful spring and summer, and I can hardly wait to experience it myself and to share my journey with others.

With a decent sized flock of chickens on the property, a chicken tractor (a movable chicken coop open to the ground) was an obvious addition to our bag of tricks.  Built using a kids swing set that was left behind when they bought the place, the enclosure was finally ready to bring down to the garden and test out.

Back in the garden there was a lot of prep work to do in order to start making the planting beds and get the veggies in the ground.  One of those tasks was to weed-whack the winter cover crop, which was a bit of a messy job!  (and shows why you should always wear eye protection)

Most of the area you see in this photo is new planting space, meaning not long ago it was just a grassy meadow.  Lacking a tractor mounted rototiller at the moment, you can see Nick using the tractor with the backhoe attachment to dig and break up the sod, then we would break up the big clods with shovels, and after that were able to use the walk behind rototiller to really get the soil where we needed for planting.  Breaking new ground is a lot of work for sure, but it's a satisfying transformation and everything will get easier as it is worked in the future.

After a day in the garden we all did dinner together and Ellen asked me to grab a “bouquet of kale” from the garden.  It's still last years kale, but it looked and tasted great.  Also, I think a 'bouquet' should become a standard unit of measurement, it's a pretty good one!

A bit later I got a call from a fellow islander saying their cat was stuck in a tree and asked me for advice.  A number of my old tree climber co-workers have done a lot of cat rescues and told me about it, but I'd never done one until now.  After the cats second night in the tree without coming down I was asked to get it myself as rain was coming.  Luckily it was in an easy cedar to climb and although it fought me as I tried to get it in the bag, it was a pretty easy and successful rescue.

Back on the farm Nicks parents were up and we were tilling beds and planting potatoes.

Sara, Sazzy and a few other friends came up for a visit on this particular weekend and as always Sazzy cooked an amazing meal of Indian food for everyone.  Seriously, it was one of the most delicious meals I'd eaten in months.

Although we are usually working outside (and putting our friends to work with us), on this particular day we were not feeling especially busy and combined with the rain meant that we decided to spend a rare day playing games and watching TV inside.

It turned out to be a lot of rain which made rather large puddles in our potato beds as well as others, necessitating a few improvised drainage ditches through the garden.

Back inside my place, I was adding a layer of plywood to the loft floor to sturdy it up.

And as always, you can find me up in the trees.

During a job removing some storm damage from a massive madrone tree a few pieces of branch wood caught my eye and I asked if I could keep them instead of them being turned into firewood.  To be honest I'm not totally sure where I'm going to use them, but my idea is to build them into my kitchen counter.  Let me tell you, in my world, it's easy to find cool pieces of wood and take them home for.... something.

The outdoor shower is still very much a work in progress at this point (it works perfect, it just doesn't have the cedar siding up), but I did get a chance to install the battery powered LED lighting I bought online, which looks amazing and creates an amazing effect when showering at night!

Ellen goofing around while planting asparagus.

A little pet-session with Plumpers, the semi-wild cat that lives on the farm with us.  He is very skittish and for the most part you have to be sitting down and let him approach you in order to touch him, but he does enjoy the attention when he can handle it and it is always fun to give him a little love.

Nick, Ellen and Brendan thinning peas.  At this point there are a few things in the ground, but nothing has really come up yet beyond some inch tall pea sprouts.

It wasn't an especially wet spring, but the garden was much, much wetter than we wanted it to be.  In order to remedy this, our only solution was more ditches.  And honestly, people always complain about this kind of work, and maybe I'm strange, but I really enjoy ditch digging!

A big moment, the final cleaning of the pond!  Restoring this pond on the property has been an on again-off again project for about 18 months at this point, and although the work was almost done, it was on this day, using a chainsaw from a row-boat to cut a two floating logs, that we could officially declare the pond free and clear.  We celebrated with a quick paddle around it and a cold beer.

Mid march and it was time to get the onions in the ground, all 2,000 of them, one at a time.  Naturally this was very time consuming (and lead to some sore backs) but luckily for us, Boomer the cat was there to help.

Onion starts in the evening sun indicate a job well done.

Around this time we noticed one of the hens was getting broody, meaning she had fertilized eggs and baby chicks on the way!  To make sure everything went well, she was separated from the other hens so she could sit on the eggs in peace as we all waited.

I just can't help taking pictures of the ferry boats when I'm in trees, it's an obsession I'll admit... This was a massive willow that was a good challenge to climb so the view was an excellent reward.

Getting some insulation done in my cabin.  I love climbing trees and well, just about anything else, but ladders are not much fun...

On this evening, fire drill was to start at the station and time how long it took to get to the school and start spraying water.  I can't recall what the final time was, but everything went smoothly and it's great how our tiny department is improving.

It was time for another visit to Seattle and as always that meant gathering building supplies.  On this evening I was at my great aunts place gathering some boards that had been sitting in her garage for 63 years if I recall correctly.  As it turned out, they were some wonderful, straight grain cedar and pine 1x12”s, and in perfect condition!  Like the madrone branches I wasn't sure where exactly I was going to use them, but they will not be going to waste, that's for sure.  My great aunts is also where I've been storing my VW which you can see in this photo, in need of some major work....

I'm always paying attention to the natural world, and today what caught my attention was this cute little snail traveling across my wood scrap pile.

Another day, another tree.  This one my boss Austen climbed though, a pretty large fir right next to a house in Eastsound.  Because it was over a landscaped yard and near a house, we had to lower every branch out, making it a lot more work than some of the removals we do, but it also made it more challenging and fun as well.

The peas and radishes are coming in!

Over in the garlic patch, things have been going well and along with the garlic, the other thing that has been thriving was this type of fungus.  I don't know the name and doesn't seem to effect anything else, but it sure grows big and looks weird.  Life comes in many forms, they are all fun for me to watch.

Work on my place has continued, and in order to move into it as quickly as possible I partly finished the loft area so I could stay up there while building the rest.  To do this I did all the wiring and insulating, then put up pine 1x12” paneling which was material my dad salvaged and looks great.  Some areas are not done in pine because they will be behind the bed platform, a built in bed table, closet and so on, and overall everything up in the loft looks great and is a taste of what is to come as my cabin gets farther along.

Back in the garden and hanging out harvest guard to dry.

So with the creation of my place, there is another large section of the property being seen and used, by me at least.  With a place like this, what it means is a whole new series of clean-up projects.  Now this is another of those things I enjoy doing, because it's fun to transform a brush covered and unattractive area back into beautiful meadow.  For us what that meant was mostly just picking up downed branches, removing a few small trees and pruning a few others.

As always, good food is important to us and this is actually another wonderful meal cooked up by our friend Sazzy on another visit.

This is the same area from the earlier photo, but after the brush clearing, pruning and mowing had been done for the first time in decades.  The other part of the project is that we are trying to clean up the fence line around the entire meadow, which is a very large area, but manageable when done in sections.  The old fence is mostly trashed and in need of replacement, but to remove and replace it, we first need to be able to access it!

Still a work in progress, but this is the view from inside my shower, complete with beer holder!

Another islander had a water tank that they changed their mind on buying, and in an effort to improve the water situation on the farm (which is good but water needs are growing as more area needs irrigation) it was bought up.  I have to say, they are huge, but surprisingly easy to move when you can just roll them around.  Looked pretty funny driving down the road, but worked perfectly.

This time of year the wildflowers are in full bloom on Yellow Island, a tiny island a short distance from Shaw.  It is owned by the Nature conservancy, has a pretty interesting history of a family living there and protecting it and now only has one small cabin with a caretaker.  Brendan proposed he and I kayak out there to take a look and I excitedly said yes.

A rock covered in seals just before reaching Yellow.

Once on Yellow we met the caretaker who Brendan had a connection with and I was really blown away with the flowers.  There were so many and in so many colors it looked almost unreal.

The island has a small network of paths to walk and given it's size, maybe two hundred feet wide and a few hundred long, it doesn't take long to see the whole thing.  That said, it's worth taking slow and enjoying, because there is a lot of beautiful scenery.

I mean, how perfect is that?

As I was standing by the beach on the east end of the island, a cute little otter swam right towards me, looked around maybe 6 feet from where I was standing, then swam away, climbing through these rocks as it left.  Very cool to see.

After Brendan and I had completed our exploration of the island, we paddled home to Shaw extremely satisfied, and with a new drive to do more kayaking out here.  After all, we live in a world class kayak destination and to be honest I'm not really taking advantage of that.  Well, something to work on I guess.

Back on the farm our friend Jon showed up with this cool old Ford dump truck and a full load of compost for the garden.  Given that we are rapidly expanding the garden and breaking new ground, a big hit of compost is critical for soil building and successful vegetable growing, so along with this, there will be a lot more compost needed in the near future.

That’s the story for now, thanks for checking it out and I hope you are enjoying what we do up here.  It really is a great lifestyle and something fun for me to share.  These days the garden is really starting to come on, it feels like summer is here already and there are a ton of other interesting projects going on, people to get to know and trips to be had.  Until next time!