24 June 2007

First Garden Growth

The garden beds have been mounded with compost, and parts of the garden have now (finally) been planted. We opted to do only 2 wood frames - for the tomatoes - so the rest of the beds are just mounded soil and compost.

Priority planting was given to the tomatoes, since we bought them as starts and they should go into the ground as quickly as possible. We have a total of about 15 plants in the two beds, and each bed is surrounded by a wire fence to try to keep out the deer. The plants are predominantly cherry and plum sized tomatoes this year, since the larger tomatoes didn't have time to ripen last year.

After the ravaging from wildlife that the garden got last year, we decided to try grow more plants that are theoretically unattractive to deer, gophers and whoever else is around: onions, squash, radishes, herbs, etc. The onions (grown from sets rather than seeds) sprouted quickly, giving us some much needed encouragement that our garden could still be productive despite our late start.

The squashes include a bed each of butternut, zucchini, delicata, acorn, and sugar pumpkin. The zucchini (right) came out of the gate first. Cucumber, lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, and beans round out the plantings so far.

Grow, grow!

- Mike (& Corinne)

23 June 2007

Wetland Restoration

As co-chairs of Insitu's Green Committee, Corinne and I are on the lookout for ways that Insitu can give back to the community in which we live. This weekend the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute organized an event specifically for us.

A wetland in nearby Snowden was in need of some restoration. There's a long story behind this particular property, but the short version is that the previous owner was attempting to dry it out so that he could build on it - violating the Critical Areas Ordinance that is designed to protect areas just like this. A neighbor whose property includes part of this wetland went through hell and back trying to stop him, and eventually was able to buy the property and enlisted CGEI to help repair the damage.

A small group from Insitu (smaller than we would have liked) volunteered part of their Saturday to help plant new trees, fill in the gully that was used to drain the area, and pull thistle (2 pickup trucks full!) to help the wetland recover. We hope to return next year to see how it's doing.

- Mike (& Corinne)

10 June 2007

Farmers in Training

When we bought this place, we also bought all of the farm equipment that the Clausens had accumulated. We figured that if they had a use for it that eventually we would, too. The biggest items are two tractors: a small Mitsubishi tractor (which helped us to repair the fence) and a large Massey Ferguson tractor which didn't start. So last November we sent the tractor in for servicing. Apparently a family (perhaps an extended family) of mice had moved in to the starter in the tractor and just had a big pee party. The repairman said he took pictures of it because he'd never seen anything so bad. And this is a guy who fixes tractors for a living! (I didn't think to ask him for the photos.) Anyway, long story short, we now have a big honkin' farm tractor that works.

Of course, we didn't have the slightest idea how to use it. So that's where Reidar comes in.

Corinne's Dad was a farmer and rancher back in Montana, so he's got oodles of experience with farm equipment. He also runs Superlon, a pipe manufacturing company in Tacoma, so he is around heavy equipment much bigger than our tractor every day! He came down for a weekend visit to give us our first (of many) lessons.

After a quick driving lesson, our first task was to bring in the extra equipment from the "boneyard". While a boneyard is usually a final resting place (aka graveyard), this boneyard was a place that Vic and Phyllis had stored some tractor attachments that they hadn't used in a while and didn't have room for in the shop. We recently cleared out some space in the shop, so we were ready to bring the equipment back under shelter. The items in the boneyard included a blade, a plow, and a snow blower.

We don't have plans for the plow, but other two implements already have tasks. The blade is a generally useful thing that we hope to use to flatten out the irrigation dirt piles. But the biggest potential win is the snow plow. For the last two years we have hired someone to plow our driveway in winter, but now we can (theoretically) do it ourselves. Time will tell how that goes.

One last funny story from this weekend. While I was driving the tractor back and forth between the boneyard and the shop, Corinne and Reidar were riding bikes following me. But on the last return trip to the shop, they didn't arrive back at the shop for a long time. It turns out that on this trip, there was a bit of an "incident". One of Reidar's shoes fell off while he was riding back, and in his attempt to recover, he drove the bike into a tree and tumbled off the bike into its waiting branches! No one was hurt, and the two of them had a good, long laugh. I wish I could have been there!

- Mike (& Corinne)

03 June 2007

Compost. Lots of Compost.

A coworker of ours, Judith, is an avid gardener and has been here much longer than we have, so she has been a great source for local gardening information. She is the person who lead us to Columbia Gorge Organics as a source for compost. They take the leftovers from their local juicing operation (pulp, skins, etc.), combine it with some manure from other local farmers, and produce large rows of compost which they then sell for $80/ton. Yes, that's right: they sell per ton.

It's a haul-yourself operation, so one workday we drove the farm truck to work and I drove over to pick up some compost at lunchtime. They first weigh your vehicle empty, then use a front-loader to load you up and weigh you again. Well, here's the result: 2300lbs of compost at a cost of $80. Our truck turned out to be only a 3/4 ton truck, but thankfully there were no problems.

The majority of this compost will be used in the raised beds in the garden. Looks like we've got quite a bit of shoveling to do...

- Mike (& Corinne)