The first year at Lilliputopia
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
Since purchasing this property in the fall of 2017, we have been incredibly busy. Our goal was to create a small and diverse #farm here in Monroe, OR that could supply our #local #community with #organic fruit, nuts, #veggies, #mushrooms, eggs, and even artwork. Although this goal will take many many more years to fully achieve, we have worked exceedingly hard and have accomplished so much in one year. With the help of so many great friends and family and despite several challenges, this year has been a huge success! For one, we harvested over 600 pounds of produce! Here are some more highlights of our first 'test season' .
The art studio
My good friend Katie and I spent many hours finishing the space above the shop and the corresponding bathroom. We (but mostly she) built walls, added insulation, installed drywall, plumbing, windows, new light fixtures, and paint.
This is a nice bright room that is approximately 600 sq. ft. I was lucky to know Rod, a local artist, who needed a workshop space. He began renting the space in May and now you can see his fantastic artwork right here in Lilliputopia. Rod is a sculptor, painter, and fine jewelry maker. His artwork will be featured and available to purchase at the farm store.
Plant a tree, watch it grow
Trees and perennials are the foundation for many ecosystems. Because they take time to mature, I had to get to work on this quickly. I planted over 50 fruit trees, 30 nut trees, and 30 nitrogen fixing trees during the first winter. These included apples, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, Asian pears, and hazelnuts. The nitrogen fixing shrubs, including autumn olive and Siberian pea shrub, were interplanted with the fruit trees and a hedge of sea buckthorn was planted on the north border. I also planted figs, a persimmon, and walnuts. Despite rampant herbivore damage and lack of water (there is no field irrigation), the vast majority of the trees survived (after many valiant bucket brigade efforts). The few trees that perished were mostly our fault; a couple were casualties of scything or mowing accidents. One tree died by getting trampled by a rogue cow that wandered into the field, and another was planted into a wet spot. We really look forward to sharing the abundance of fruit!
Enemies in our midst
I was warned that the deer would stop at nothing to get into the field. In fact, my neighbor told me he was going to laugh while the deer ate all my new trees. These pests indiscriminately destroy plants (except for alliums) and especially seem to relish stripping the tenderest of young shoots. I naively thought that the 5 ft perimeter fence would stop them. When that failed, we raised the height to 8 ft with wire and bailing twine. When that failed, we built huge "invisible fences" out of fishing line that were purported to scare them. Although that worked great for 2 weeks, it eventually failed when they figured out how to get around it (we think the bright moon gave it away). We eventually had to cage every single tree with a ring of field fencing or chicken wire. In addition, we put up 7 ft. tall "deer netting" around the vegetables, which worked until the end of the season, when it literally fell apart. After spending several thousand dollars and countless hours on these futile attempts to repel the deer, I've been thinking of new ways of persuasion, among which repossession in the form of venison is sounding better and better.
Chickens on the run
#Chickens (especially laying hens) are a superb asset to any homestead. Eggs are a great source of protein and are really just a bonus with these hilarious mother cluckers. The first step in chicken ownership is a coop, because chickens need predator-free shelter, a space to roost at night, and nesting boxes to lay their eggs. I also wanted the coop to have a mesh floor (poop falls through) and the ability to easily move it around (i.e., chicken tractor). Moving it is key, because chickens, or any animals who are kept in a confined space, will foul up the spot in a jiffy. Before long, there is a prominent lack of vegetation, accompanied with bad odors. These signs indicate that the animals are no longer providing benefit to the space, but are actively destroying it, creating conditions that are unhealthy to both you and your birds. The healthiest and most natural way to raise chickens (in my opinion), is thus to be able to move their coop around so they can explore new work sites every couple of weeks. Then they get access to fresh bugs and vegetation, and instead of decimating the area they improve and fertilize it. Anyways, Thorin took up the ambitious task of building this coop according to my strict specifications, and it's been a huge hit! Plus, he used >95% local recycled materials, including an old feeding trough, old barn roofing, and a trashed bicycle. A couple of things I've noticed (which will be addressed in the next prototype): the plywood got wet and delaminated, the half inch hardware cloth floor was too small to let the poop out, and strong axles are necessary so that the chickens can safely drive their tractor anywhere!
Growing veggies without water
After researching what it would take to get irrigation to my field, I decided against it. Instead, I joined the OSU Dry Farming Collaborative and learned how to farm the old fashioned way, without the luxury of water. Not only is it possible to harvest crops without any additional irrigation, the vegetables are more flavorful and nutritious. Although the crops are smaller and fruits less abundant, the aforementioned benefits in addition to the significant decrease in resource costs and labor (minimal weeding!) easily make up for it. They key to dry farming is spacing and timing; spacing, because plants need adequate root space to spread, and timing, because you must plant before it stops raining but after the soil dries enough to plant (usually in May). This year in our 5,000 sq. ft. plot we grew dry watermelons, pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, beans, and corn, although the latter two did not do as well as I'd hoped. In addition to testing specific varieties bred to be drought resistant, we are collaborating with OSU to measure the water capacity (moisture) of the soil over time and are testing the effect of endophytic fungal inoculation in tomatoes. I'm already looking forward to our next season.
Pizza from the earth
#Cob is an ancient #naturalbuilding technique that utilizes clay, sand, and straw. Both Thorin and Katie are experienced natural builders, and we all love #pizza, so it was easy to determine what to build next. However, designing it turned out to be somewhat of a challenge, since I demanded that it be shaped like a giant mushroom. Who doesn't think that several tons of earth encasing a blazing hot furnace all balanced on a thin pedestal is a great idea?
Well, our basic structure was successfully built, along with a clever roof that lets out the smoke without a chimney, all through great team effort. Our secret was a large wooden spool we obtained from the cable company, which lends incredible strength to support the oven on top. I also dug a simple French drain along the west side to prevent water from dissolving the foundation. We have enjoyed many great pizza parties since, but have yet to finish the final plaster layers, which will lend the proper pigment (Amanita muscaria) and a waterproof plaster to the base.
Resurrecting Frankenstein (the old barn)
Our last project of the year was to restore an old original #barn (how old, we don't know, but at least 50). Honestly, I had given up on it even being a useful structure; there were gaping holes in the roof and floor, pieces of missing siding, and one corner had collapsed into the dirt. There was no foundation; it was held up by half buried pier blocks on one side and cinder blocks/rotten wood on the other. You had to sign a waiver if you wanted to go inside. Just kidding, but it wasn't exactly safe. Thorin, being the most ambitious man I know, told me "it's a unique fixer upper" and claimed he could "shore it up" so that we could at least store our lumber in it through the winter, without the fear of breaking a leg or contracting tetanus. Rod was also a big help on this project, and all together, we made a lot of progress. First, with the help of three jacks, they put some solid beams (6x8'') down under each wall. These beams were salvaged from the other old barns down the road, and were essential to hold up the entire structure. Next, we put new pier blocks every five feet, replaced the holes in the siding and floor, and then climbed onto the top to attempt to patch the rusty swiss cheese roof. We stuck a huge 7x7' window into the south side and Rod fashioned together a neat Dutch door for the entrance. We decided to call our decorating/restoration theme "farmhouse chic," though not to be confused with "farmhouse sh*t." Albeit unfinished, the barn has come a long way and will hopefully be ready to act as our #farmstand for next season and beyond!
We did so many things that I couldn't write about all of them; so here's a short list, just for fun!
-Replaced window and siding on the dormer (loft)
-Created an indoor worm bin out of a 1940s airplane parts box
-Replaced leaky pond with hugel kultur plant bed
-Took ~500 lb of garbage to the dump and >2000 lb of rusty metal (including a 1930s car frame) to the metal recycler
-New roof, paint, and insulation in pump house
-Installed cork floors in the loft and removed attic stairs
-New bathroom sink, counter, and faucet
-Organized the tool shed
- Built a cool wood fence in the back of the shop