November On The Farm

I have found this year, since we moved onto the land, that I haven’t quit learning. It is different here, even though we are in the same grow zone as our old place. Last year, I knew about when it would freeze, and the plants would go to sleep. It’s been a lot longer here on the island. November was to me a month of learning and waiting.

On November first we had 9 hours and 55 minutes daylight. That would change soon enough. This alone taught me something – the farther North you move, the less day you have. So in the core hours of 10 am to 2 pm, work must be done!

Even at the end of the month, the Lavender is still gorgeous – and on warmer days, when it gets into the 50’s, the native bees still show up, moving rather slow, but still stopping.

Helichrysm.

For the past couple years I had a Chilean Guava Berry plant stuck in a 5 gallon bucket. I found a home for it, after reading up and finding out deer don’t like it. Had I realized that, I’d have replanted it in the spring!

One project in early November was redoing the two beds on the hillside, below the house. In October I took out the blueberry plants and put them in the orchard. I moved in all the red raspberry starts I had grown through summer, and raised up the level of the bed.

Fall has brought a varied display of fungi, all through the now opened woods.

Marigolds still in bloom in mid-month.

The first bed down in the lower fields. We put in the garlic and got it ready for winter. Slow growing kale and spinach are on the other side.

Garlic bed.

I had to leave our Bay tree behind at the old place, so I have been babying a start since spring. It was moved down to the lower field, behind the deer fencing.

Early to mid month we had a lot of sunny days. When California had the huge forest fires, the sunsets were amazing that week over the Olympic Mountains.

Another project was the lower bed by the house. It had held golden raspberries from starts I grew.

I added in more soil, more wood chips and a frame inside.

The red raspberries were edible till about the 3rd week of the month, when there just wasn’t enough daylight for them.

So, with everything else winding down, we started to focus on the upper woods. While we cut a perimeter trail/path this summer along the west/east line of our property. to remove dead trees, the back of the land has just sat there, an utter mess.

If one removes the blackberry canes, the salal and lower branches, cutting a path isn’t too terrible to do. It takes time and brute force.

Fungi, everywhere.

These are my favorites. They push up through the forest floor debris, some are dinner plate size.

More small ones.

The boys setting up a fire in the fire pit, before it gets dark.

Every tree stump from our opening is covered in some form of fungi, helping the break down.

While I do know many of the mushrooms and fungi, I don’t touch any of them. Leave that to the animals.

November 27th and I was harvesting alpine strawberries still.

The white and yellow varieties were still going as well.

But…..at the end of November we were down to 8 hours and 45 minutes of light and freezing at night has started. December is the month for cooking, baking, working inside and dreaming of next year’s planting – and doing a lot of holiday markets!

~Sarah

Creating The Blueberry Orchard

I have always wanted an “orchard” of blueberry bushes, all in nice and tidy rows. Before, at our last house we had 45 or so plants, but they were all over, tucked into corners. While it was a way to have them, it wasn’t efficient for growing. I dug up a dozen plants in preparation for our move last winter, and they came with us. This year the plants sat planted in an area not great, but they at least lurked along. However, as fall came into play, I noticed where the blueberry bushes were sitting, they were getting about 1 hour sunlight, so I knew we needed to put in the work, and get the orchard done – and put the blueberry bushes to bed.

I chose the lower right hand field. It is in an area where I didn’t want to till deeply and it needed to be fitted in between the road, the well line and the field. It sits at the base of the sloping hill, with the massive maple tree above it (however, the maple tree doesn’t project shade on the lower field).

Roughly marked out with stakes.

Kirk broke the land open with our BCS Tractor, with the rotary plow attached. There was a lot of chipped wood on this field, as it originally held the first brush/tree piles we shredded. This was both good and bad. Good in that once decomposed, it will better the soil, bad in that it was a pain to chew up dry wood into the ground.

View after Kirk got done with that. We have shredded/chipped so many piles, that we have brought out from the woods. To say the woods were not healthy is an understatement. The forest is so much healthier now, 7 months into it. We finally started small burns once the rains returned, to get rid of the brittle wood we can’t shred: Madrona limbs, root balls, rotten wood, and the horrible invasive holly trees. Two pictures up that is a pile of Holly waiting to be burnt. Holly is hard to chip – the leaves shoot right through. They are jagged and rip at you – and yes, they will slash your hands and legs open! That crap is only good for burning. We have taken out over 40 of the trees so far, some were 40 feet tall. (The worst is each “tree” often has 10 to 20 stems so you can’t just take it down like a normal tree)

So while I tended the fire, Kirk did the plowing.

Early the next morning, in the coastal fog. Kirk ran the tiller attachment after the plow, to smooth it out.

I put down garden tarps/fabric and then Kirk brought in piles of wood chips to lay down over it. Using the Kubota tractor really sped that up. Kirk could only access 2 sides of the new bed due to the hill, but at least most of our hard labor was done easily.

At this point I had put in 4 T posts for the fencing as well. In the background, across the driveway, you can see one of the piles of wood waiting to be shredded. It never quits growing….

T posts in, sun setting, and the mulch spread.

The next morning, my oldest son and I dug up the 12 blueberry bushes and brought them down to the bed. Fabric cut, holes dug, planted and mulched.

I did this bed with a light fencing – I wanted to see if it would work. Jury is still out on it, but it went up well. No sagging at all. I found the Deer-X netting at Tractor Supply, where it is a bit more affordable. In the past we used the heavier netting material, which runs $70 to 100 a roll (100 feet). That will wrap a bed that is 35 feet long by 15 feet wide. One thing about the lighter weight is I could use less poles and the netting was very taught once up. We used zip ties as usual for tying it on to the poles. With the smaller beds I am comfortable doing this method. I wouldn’t be so much if it was an entire field I had to fence. The deer on the island are smaller in stature than deer on the mainland, so jumping is a bit harder. However, they will go for jumping into larger areas. I am sure at some point I will have an idiot deer test my theory. Since the netting is nearly invisible to the eye, I had Ford lay down cut logs all around the bed (like the other bed we did, at the other end of the field). It holds down the extra netting, but also gives visibility. I am going to tie on rainbow tape for eye visibility as well this week. If the deer test this one, I will pick up a roll of red twine (used in hay baling) and wrap the fence with it at the top. Deer seem to understand that and won’t jump it.

But for now, 12 blueberry plants are in the ground, in their (hopefully) forever home. They are tucked in for the winter. There is room for 2 more, plus an optional 3rd row, that can hold another 5 max. I have a half-finished gate, which I will finish as I have time, however the netting is zip tied shut till then. I don’t have any reason to need to get in for a few months!

~Sarah

Felled Tree Raised Beds

Raised beds are great to have in a garden, but can be expensive to build. I am always looking for ways to cut cost on our farm and use what we have on hand.

With the clearing of the forested sections on our land, I have ample amounts of Hemlock to deal with. One can only buck and split enough firewood before their eyes glaze over. Using it to make low slung raised beds has been a good use for it, if it is in an area where the tractor can get to. Kirk chainsaws them into size needed, then drops them off for me using the tractor’s grapple. By then I can usually move the logs with my oldest son’s help.

The first step being to figure the location. This spot was an odd shelf of land, above the septic field, hedged in by a retaining wall, near our house. It’s not a great piece of land, and it isn’t big either. It has a trail off the side on the top, that goes up to the back of the house, which I needed to leave access to (it’s slightly overgrown right now with Salal, and the water tanks are hanging out there till we have time to put them in place).

After getting the area prepped a bit, we placed the logs. They are heavy enough I didn’t connect them at all. They are not going anywhere.

Then we added a thick layer of cardboard to smother the ground.

Once it was all ready, Kirk drove up 3 tractor buckets worth of a blend of 3 way soil and mushroom compost, that we packed in, and smoothed out.

The bed is housing 12 more of our heritage alpine strawberry plants, including a few of a new one I am growing, Tresca. I added in a bird bath, as there  wasn’t any water sources for birds or pollinators close by. All were items I reused, so no extra cost. I am trying to be more conscious of water sources here, as we live in the Olympic Rainshadow and it is dry into October. Yet, I don’t want a pond because the deer are already a heavy presence here – and I don’t want raccoons. So locked up, and small water sources works well!

Add in wood chips, and fencing…and it’s done. I don’t dwell on making the beds “pretty” anymore. I just need them to work and life is good. And upcycling is about the easiest thing we can do here – and save a lot of cash!

~Sarah

September Garden Tasks for Zones 7-8 (In The PNW)

September is a pivotal month in the gardens for me. In zones 7 and 8 in the Pacific Northwest, the heat starts to settle down by the end of August. We still get warm days, but the heat dissipates as the sun sets, leading to cooler nights. The soil is still warm though, which helps the crops finish up.

The milder days are some of my favorite ones, to be in the garden working, cleaning up for the year, but also putting in next years ideas. This is the perfect month for garden tasks, where you can get a lot of work done, and sweat less. And it isn’t dark at 5 pm!

Garden Tasks:

  • Clean your beds of dead or dying back plants.
  • As bean and pea plants die back, cut the plants to the ground, leave the roots in, to help with nitrogen. You can blend this in in spring.
  • At the start of the month, trim tomato plants back of any blooms, so that the energy goes to the tomatoes to finish ripening.
  • Place a clean board or brick under pumpkins, to keep them off the soil, as they finish ripening.
  • Cut back leaves over pumpkins and winter squash, to let in light.
  • Plant cold friendly annuals for a pop of color in fall. Nurseries will have plenty right now, and they often bloom into November and December. They will often come back in Spring, unless we have a very harsh winter.
  • Start prepping your garlic and fall onion beds. Amend the soil as desired and mark the spots. Don’t plant though till the end of the month at the earliest (October is even fine for planting), however it is easiest to move the soil in September as it is still warm.
  • Buy garlic and onion to plant, if needed.
  • Trim back herbs, and save to dry. Do this in the early morning and stash in new brown paper bags to dry. Mark each bag with what is inside. Once dry, store in mason jars out of direct sunlight.
  • Do a fall fertilizing of blueberry bushes and trees, water well after.
  • If building new beds for next year (the cooler weather makes it a nice time!) lay down a lot of cardboard to help smother weeds.
  • Clean out your garden shed (If you have one).
  • Sharpen tools and clean them for winter storage.
  • Clean your greenhouse (if you have one), removing dead plants and giving it a good sweeping out.
  • Wash and dry empty pots, stack for fall storage, out-of-the-way, so fall storms don’t blow them away.
  • Water and turn your compost piles/bins.
  • Should you find any deals on berry or fruit trees, get them in the ground this month.
  • Avoid ANY desire to prune trees. Wait till it is winter! Trees and bushes are starting to go into being dormant, and need their rest.

~ Sarah

Growing Alpine Strawberry Plants From Seed

Finding a hobby you love is a cool thing. Especially one you had no idea you would love. I’ve always loved growing strawberry plants, for as long as I can remember, but I had never tried growing from seed. Most growers of strawberries don’t grow their own plants, it’s considerably easier to buy bare-root plants in late winter/early spring. Growing strawberries from seed is hard work, and it is slow. Add in that many strawberry varieties for commercial growing are not seeded, but starts are grown by clippings.

If you want huge, commercial size strawberries, buy starts, and as you get runners, clip those and pot to grow more plants. You will need to replace your original plants about every 3 years for best growth. But if instead you want to grow true heritage strawberries, the tiny alpine types, where flavor trumps size, you will need to grow from seed (unless you know someone locally who grows and sells!) Most alpine berries are ever bearing, meaning they produce berries throughout the growing season. Depending on your growing zone/hours of daylight, you will get a crop in late spring/early summer and then the plant goes dormant till late summer. It then produces a crop till first frost. Some years I have pushed plants under grow lights to put on berries through the winter, into February.

Where to find seeds? Baker Creek Seeds is one of our favorite sources.

I start my seeds yearly in mid winter, usually at the end of January. You will need a greenhouse, or a protected area to start seeds (such as a sunny south-facing area in your house.

But don’t go into strawberry growing expecting the seeds to behave like other seeds. They are slow to germinate, and fickle on a good day.

Prepare your pots. I prefer round 4″ pots. Use new ones, or well washed and sanitized ones. I don’t buy special potting soil, I use the same organic soil I used for everything (G&B Oraganics), and placed in trays. As we grow a lot of varieties every year, I do one tray per type (or in some years 2 trays!). Be sure to label each tray well. I pack in the soil, tapping each pot. Soak the soil with water. I use a kids watering can for this, and do the watering 2-3 times, ensuring the soil is saturated. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Put at least 6 seeds per pot.

DO NOT TOP WITH SOIL. Yes. Just walk away.

Keep the soil moist, checking every few days, especially if your greenhouse or home is hot. As we don’t heat our greenhouse above 45°, unless we have a sunny streak of weather in winter, I check every 3 to 4 days. Water only as much as needed.

There are two methods one can do for the germination process. One is faster, but it comes down to you, your budget, space and equipment. Either use supplemental lighting or don’t.

Natural light:

Will take the longest. Chances for a lower germination rate.

Grow lights:

Seeds germinate faster. Plants get a head start.

To boost it faster, use a seed germination heating mat. While I have one, I don’t use it. My method takes longer to grow the plants, but I have found my plants are very hardy.

Now walk away. Just walk away. Nothing is going to happen. For a very long time. Don’t give up. Even if 4 to 6 weeks has passed. Right when you think NOTHING is going to happen you will see a tiny speck of green.

And then you relax. They are growing!

These were seeded on January 31st. This is them in late April. While the plants did receive grow lights in February, they didn’t after that.

Due to our move, a farmer friend of mine fostered my babies this year (her pay being she got to keep a bunch). She brought them to me in late April. Her greenhouse isn’t heated. So while still small, I potted them up into 1 gallon pots, which will keep the plants happy for a long time.

Within a week or two the plants jumped in size.

Once the longer days kick in, strawberry plants know to grow, and do so quickly. (As you can see, the deer do like the plants, so while they grow outside, I keep them protected from chomping.

First year alpine strawberry plants won’t put on berries until the end of summer, but will then produce a crop till the first freeze. The next spring you will get a batch in spring/early summer as well!

As for the plants you grow, they should be lightly fertilized with an organic pellet type every month or so. Just sprinkle on some, then water.

In spring, once the plants come back for the year, you can break apart the root balls carefully and separate to make more plants, as desired, and repot into new pots.

To protect in fall and winter, cover and surround the plants (especially if in pots, rather than in ground) with hay. They can be fully covered. They will go to sleep for the winter. Uncover once deep freezes have passed.

But most of all? Enjoy the fruit of your labor: