28 May 2006

Visitors all the way from Hood River!

Over Memorial Day Weekend, our friends Mark, Amy and Andrew (and their newborn Claire) came all the way from Hood River for a visit! For some reason Andrew thinks we live "way out there". We were happy he was able to make the long journey.

Andrew was very excited about all of our equipment, particularly the tractors and fancy lawn mower. He was so excited, in fact, that he wants to come out to mow our lawn sometime. We'll have to take him up on that offer!

"Hey look, there goes Ridley down the river." Ridley, Andrew & Amy's golden retriever almost needed to be retrieved from the rapids.

What a cute family! Amy and Andrew, doting on their newborn, Claire.

- Mike (& Corinne)

21 May 2006

The Garden Experiment Begins

Both of us have always been interested in gardening. Perhaps it is the fantasy of fresh, chemical free, and "free" vegetables straight from your own yard; perhaps we like the idea of "living off of the land"; or maybe it's all of those fond memories of our childhood gardens. More than likely all of the above. Anyway, now we finally have enough room for a real garden!

In April and May we took a series of organic gardening classes from a local AmeriCorp member, Kji McIntyre. Topics in the class included: Propagation, seed selection and season extension; Garden design; and Bed preparation, cover crops and compost. The classes were very interesting and included hands-on so that we could (attempt to) replicate at home what we learned in the class. So now it was our turn...

In late April, we ordered some seeds from Seeds of Change, thanks to a gift certificate from Drew & Michelle. Shortly after they arrived, I planted some of the seeds in seed trays inside; believe it or not, the danger of frost in Trout Lake typically doesn't subside until mid- to late-May! This makes it difficult to grow certain crops without starting them inside, then moving them into a cold frame. (Thankfully, our property has a cold frame already built and installed!)

Now that at least some of the seeds are ready to be transplanted into the ground, and the last frost had likely already occurred, it was time to prepare the ground. We have a rather large section available for gardening, but we only plan to utilize a small portion this year, for several reasons:

  1. We don't really know what we're doing
  2. The countryside is full of wildlife, and wildlife is hungry
We see the evidence of both deer and gophers on a daily basis; for the gophers, it's mounds of dirt all across the yard; for the deer, it's droppings or the animals themselves. (The deer have already trampled one of the peonies we planted a few weeks ago...) It's a two-pronged assault: the deer eat from the top, and the gophers eat from the bottom. So rather than spend a lot of time, money and effort to feed the animals organic vegetables, we thought we'd use this year as an experiment.

Thank goodness for modern machinery! Here I am tilling the section that we don't plant to harvest from this year, preparing to grow our summer cover crop: buckwheat. A good cover crop will prevent weeds from growing, make nutrients more available in the soil, and provide more organic material to the soil when they are incorporated (aka tilled in to the soil) at the end of the season.

One (mostly) finished bed! Unlike the cover crop section, this bed was tilled by hand using the "double dig" method. 4' x 14', this bed contains sunflowers, marigolds on both ends (supposedly deer don't like them), and a mesculin salad mix.

Next weekend: prepare the remaining beds, plant more seeds and seedlings, and irrigate!

- Mike (& Corinne)

18 May 2006

Magically Multiplying Maytag

When we bought the house, we also bought the washer/dryer that came with it - 1st generation Maytag front-loaders. Hurray, front-loaders! We noticed pretty quickly that clothes came cleaner in these machines than in any washer we'd previously owned.

We also noticed pretty quickly that the washer made a strange squeaking noise. "We should have somebody look at that," we said. Several weeks went by and the noise changed - from a periodic squeek to an irregular knocking sound. "That can't be good." So we decided to stop using it until we could figure out where the sound was coming from.

After tearing the washer apart, we had not identified the source, but we had determined that the noise was coming from somewhere inside the tub. It was time to call in a professional. So we loaded the washer up into our 1986 Dodge Pickup and drove it down to the "local" (25 miles away) appliance repair shop. After a week, they called us back with the bad news - it would be $500 in repairs, and that was just for the parts themselves. We called them back to tell them to just put it back together, and we would pick it up. The only reason we had stopped using the washer in the first place was that we thought if we fixed a simple problem we could prevent a catastrophic failure. Since we now knew that it was not a simple problem, bring on the catastrophic failure!

While in the shop picking up the washer, we turned to our right and saw: our washer. Only not our washer. Here was the exact same model and series washer, for sale used at the appliance shop for $250. So now we have two: one in the house washing clothes, and a backup in the machine shop. As Leif said, "You're collecting washers? You are now officially country folks."

- Mike (& Corinne)

16 May 2006

The Deer Thank Us

If you recall, in the aftermath of the bird rescue we removed the deer netting which caused the problem in the first place. Well, somehow the deer knew this.

Apparently this is what happens when you remove the deer netting...

Brave Mike faces the 4 deer alone and unarmed!

We don't think the netting was working anyway. (Or at least that's what we'd like to think.) We'll have to see what happens when we have a luscious garden with no fence.

- Mike (& Corinne)

15 May 2006

Spring Clausens Visit

Going from renters to 60-acre property owners is quite a change! Thankfully, the Clausens, the former owners and original creators of "River Ford Farm", have been extremely helpful and willing to pass on their vast knowledge to us! They recently made a day trip to visit their old homestead and help us prepare for the new season.

Irrigation System

Learning the irrigation pump. The irrigation system is fairly extensive, and includes: a pump to extract water from the irrigation ditch and pressurize the system; underground PVC lines that run the complete length of the property; above-ground risers with connections for hand-lines; several sets of hand lines and wheel lines; and pop-up sprinklers on the lawn surrounding the house.

Trapping Gophers

Setting a gopher trap. Our property is covered in dirt piles made by the pocket gophers. We're definitely learning from the masters here - one year they caught 100 gophers! We didn't catch any with our first two traps, but we're only just beginning.

Mending Fences

Yes, we're actually fixing a fence. Shortly before we moved in, an elk apparently misjudged the height of our rail fence and instead went straight through it. So one of the posts was broken at the base and needed to be replaced. So we had to first remove the stump of the existing post, which extended two feet below the ground and was secured at two levels by concrete. (This fence wasn't going anywhere!) So Vic helped us use the pneumatics on the small tractor to pull out the stump. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a suitable replacement post.

Walking the old Homestead

Of course, after all that work we had to make sure they got their fill of the old scenery.

Thanks, Vic and Phyllis! We look forward to your next visit!

- Mike (& Corinne)

08 May 2006

We Saved a Bird!

I was watering flowers last night when a robin chirped loudly and made me jump. When I looked up he was sitting in the bush right next to me. I looked closer and saw that he was tangled up in the netting that the previous owners had put on the bush to keep the deer from eating it. :(

I grabbed Mike. We proceeded to have a 10 minute "discussion" about the proper approach before settling on a plan of Mike holding the bird while I did the surgery. Mike held the bird while it was still attached to the bush. Then I cut a big circle of netting out so that we could move the bird out of the bush. Since we were losing the light, we took him to the front porch where there was better light. We spent another 30 minutes carefully cutting away the netting. His feet and wings were tangled, and his head was through two sections of net. Mike had to loosen his grip in a small area just enough that I could work on each little section for a while.

The robin alternated between periods of freaking out and trying to bite us and resting calmly while we worked. The robin nipped me once and so I promptly withdrew my hand and smacked poor Mike in the face.

Anyway, we think we got ALL of the netting off the bird. When we let him go, he took off right out of Mike's hands and flew away. So I think he escaped unharmed.

Mike holding the bird. You can see the netting.

I removed the netting from the bush this morning!

It certainly made for an interesting evening! We felt like heroes. :)

- Corinne (& Mike)

01 May 2006

The B&B & the County Hearing

About 2 weeks ago, we received a notice from the county that one of our neighbors had submitted a proposal to open a Bed & Breakfast, including "educational activities." According to county regulations, we were required to be notified since our property is within 300 ft of the property in question. The public hearing was scheduled for May 1st.

We like B&Bs, and will usually stay in a B&B when on vacation rather than even the fanciest of hotels. But what do we think about a B&B right across the street? And what about the "educational activities"?

The particular neighbor in question we had not yet met, so this notice came as a bit of a surprise (strike 1). The B&B would be located on our road, which is a dead-end road with a limited number of residents - and therefore limited auto traffic (strike 2). Furthermore, our property is directly between the B&B and the White Salmon River , increasing the likelihood of interlopers (strike 3?). After talking to a few neighbors whom we had met, we wrote a letter with a list of our specific concerns a decided to go to the hearing to present it in person.

The hearing was an interesting event, and we turned out to be the ONLY people to appear at the hearing other than the person who submitted the proposal. (There were two other letters sent to the planning committee on this issue.) I must admit it was a little awkward to meet the neighbor in question while at a meeting opposing her plans, but in the end everything worked out fine for all. Her proposal was approved, but with enough conditions to address all of our concerns. The most significant condition added was that the "conditional use permit" for her B&B is valid only for her; when the property is sold, the CUP expires. Since we are concerned about the commercialization of farmlands, this was a big issue for us. Once a B&B is established there, it is easier to expand and enlarge it in the future to the point where large-scale weddings and other social functions could end up across the street from us. That's not why we moved to the country! Now that the CUP does not go with the property if/when it is sold, the danger of that happening is greatly diminished.

Her goals for the B&B were to provide a small-scale educational and experiential atmosphere to teach farming and ranching. We wish her the best of luck with her plans!

- Mike (& Corinne)