Updated: Jan 26
It's time to recap the year again with some major highlights. We can't believe it's already been four years; time flies when you're busy!
Dry farming in intense heat and drought? Yes!
This year will be forever remembered because of the record-breaking, insane "heat dome" here in the PNW, where temperatures (in June!) hit 113F. Two more heat waves followed where weekly temperatures were nearly 105°F. Boy was I surprised when I went out (late at night) to check on the dry plot and found green living plants, and not burnt up twigs. Not only that but they continued to set fruit and produce until October. We grew tomatoes, winter squash, zucchini, lemon cucumbers, garlic, and MELONS! What incredible testimony to the power of dry farming, even under these brutal conditions. I urge everyone to try it themselves!
These photos were taken at the end of July. Plants were never irrigated after transplanting.
Catching water from the sky!
We were super lucky this year and received a grant from the National Young Farmer's Coalition to construct and implement a rainwater catchment system.
The idea behind it is simple; collect rainwater from the greenhouse roof and pump it into tanks at the highest level of our property. Then, gravity can be used for irrigation, fire suppression, or whatever else. With the grant, we were able to purchase two (2) three-thousand-gallon tanks, with room to expand in the future.
After Thorin did all of the excavation work including digging lots of ditches and leveling the platform, a local company called Grady Barrels installed the tanks, pump, and pipes. The tanks filled up super fast in an early June rainstorm and we were able to use the water immediately! It was very gratifying to feel much more water security with this great sustainable system.
This project was necessary to keep our newly planted trees alive this summer, without hand watering all of the them (see below)!
Planting and irrigating the swales
Last year, our friend Ken used his skid steer to dig five swales into the hillside. In the spring I planted five of the six swales with perennials and fruit trees, including kiwi berries, table grapes, figs, mulberries, and persimmons. Eventually, the vision is to add flowers on each swale so that they appear as a rainbow down below!
I put in some drip irrigation, using the water from our new tanks, and it worked great. Sadly, many of the mulberries and persimmons did not leaf out, though they will be replaced this year. I'll also plant apples or pears on the last swale.
New shady hangout: under the big plum tree!
One of the oldest trees on the property grows near the north end of the farm store. It's a type of plum that produces sweet small fruit with tart red skin. Because it hasn't been pruned in decades, the branches are very dense and it bears small yields for its size. Early this year, our friend Mahogany helped us prune it for the first time, using his chainsaw. Though lots of material was taken off, there is a lot more to do!
But this was only the first step in clearing this area to make it a more friendly space. Next, Thorin brought in some railroad ties and we used extra fill dirt, branches, and mulch to level the area. Now, we use this cool shady space for music jams, vendor demonstrations, and just plain hanging out. The best part is that you can see it all through the huge farm store window!
Zero-turn lawn mower and flatbed trailer
It took me a while to realize that mowing was such a serious time sink in this climate. The first two years I had to hire someone to mow with a tractor. Then I bought a craftsman riding lawnmower at a garage sale, and though it was fun to drive, it often got stuck in small ditches and high grass. Its premature death was just an opportunity to get something much more capable! With the help of my dad (he gets the honor of driving it whenever he comes to visit), we purchased a new zero-turn Kubota mower that has a much larger cutting radius, lower center of gravity (making cutting on the hill easier and safer) and is built like a tank. It feels like you're driving a spaceship because you use your arms for both steering and acceleration; but you can go really fast and turn on a dime! For these reasons it is very fun to drive, though one must be very careful — we've had many "mowing accidents" where plants were needlessly murdered.
We also purchased a small trailer to haul stuff in, after we switched the pickup out for an old Ford Explorer. Thorin built some trailer walls and we got to work hauling horse manure, wood chips, and leaves. Fun times!
Farm store facelift
One of the biggest and most exciting projects this year was again working on the farm store. Though we had successfully opened for business last year, the actual building still needed a lot of work. So, this year we built the interior walls (using all reclaimed materials), added insulation, and painted the outside. Thanks to all of the friends who helped us!
Not only did we transform the appearance of the farm store, but we also expanded our hours, partnered with over 35 local vendors, hosted live music, had vendor demos, and offered two new holiday shopping events! Our oldest vendor was 82 and our youngest was 9. It was such a pleasure to meet and work with so many talented people and see the money get returned back into the community!
This success was not without challenges. Covid continued to hit many small businesses hard. We had to navigate the changing CDC guidelines to try to remain open while keeping everyone safe. We also had to devote so much more time and energy towards the store this year, while still maintaining the farming part. I am still learning many new aspects of business, and how to achieve the right balance. Luckily, we know some really great people.
We could never have done it without the help of the two lovely humans Solé and Sarah, who devoted much of their free time and energy to the store; thank you!
Superadobe: Natural building with earthbags
Thorin could not bear to end the year without starting another natural building project. The goal was to build a retaining wall along the parking lot/field perimeter that would reduce the erosion from the grade change and bury the water lines to the rainwater tanks. Though humble in first appearance, this was a massive undertaking. Many friends and volunteers helped contribute to this project, and we are very thankful!
Superadobe is a form of earthbag building pioneered by a group called CalEarth that uses continuous bags/tubes that are filled in place and layered upwards. Filled with a mixture of sand and clay, these structures are super strong and have several important features:
Resistant to fire
Impervious to insects
Incredibly stable in earthquakes
They easily form curved structures, so a typical design features many arches and domes. The bags are made of plastic (think feed bags) and come in huge rolls of about 500 yards. Though I hate the idea of more plastic, there were no other alternatives (burlap might be available in some places, which would be a much nicer ecofriendly material). Each layer is then "velcroed" together with barbed wire tamped in between to super hardness.
The one major challenge left is deciding how to protect the bags from Oregon weather. Normally (in drier climates where this method was developed), the bags are plastered with lime or stucco, finished with elastomeric paint and in some cases protected with some sort of roof. We aren't going to build a roof for the wall (which ended up being around 150 linear feet) nor will the lime plaster alone be sufficient to protect it from the winter rains. We are still working on this issue. The solution might be to use cement stucco, or perhaps lime plaster with a flagstone top. Want to learn more about natural building and do some plastering next year? Let me know!
Here are some other minor happenings:
We gardened at our neighbor Stan's, which allowed us to grow some awesome onions, radishes, and peppers using his irrigated raised beds. Thanks Stan!
We got our first harvest of peaches! They were tiny but soo delicious!
Put coddling moth bands on apple trees, which did not work and attracted more pests :(
Goji berry patch was neglected and abandoned :(
Remodeled our bathroom.
Lime plastered the cob pizza oven. It now looks a lot more like a mushroom!
Hosted 6 woofers, the most in one year.
Hosted the Mason Bee Buddies training, for the new Monroe chapter.
Stuccoed the greenhouse stem wall.
Remember, small things matter!