Some surprising new fruits

fruit-berriesberriesSMIn the mayhem and distraction surrounding the house remodel, we’ve been lax on some of our farming endeavors. Our blueberries and strawberries, for example, have only received the most superficial care- a few weedings and that’s about it. Despite that, they have still yielded some tasty snacks for us, as you can see in this picture. In this case, the timing was perfect: an evening where we were gardening late, forgot to bring food, and were really needing a snack.

The orchard, however, is in a truly sad state. It hasn’t been mowed or tended AT ALL this year, and looks completely derelict. It’s shameful.  Earlier this week, Farmer Ned was over by our fields hauling firewood, and he stopped by to have a chat.

“Got any apples on yer trees?” he asked.

This made me feel quite silly, as I really had no idea. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even checked. To avoid looking like the worst farmer in the world, I said something weasly like “They’re not doing much this year” then started talking about Ryan’s apples up the road, which are doing quite well.

fruit-spitzenbergSMA few days later, though, Emily and I were fiddling with the irrigation system and had a few quiet twilight minutes to enjoy a little break, so we toured the orchard. What a surprise! The Spitzenburg apples were loaded on the tree, and there were some Gravensteins as well. Further investigation found a mountain of crabapples on the Whitney (it did that last year too).

fruit-pearSMBut then Emily cried with glee at seeing a pair of pears! What fun. They look so happy on the tree.  I took one to try, and it was well shy of ripe. I kindof suspected that would happen, but I couldn’t help myself.

fruit-plumSMThe best news of all, though, was on the way out when I noticed there are plums on one of the Green Gage trees. I have only recently learned to appreciate plums, probably because grocery store plums are not too inspiring. A very fresh plum, however, is an incomparable treat. I gently squeezed a few of the plums, and they were pretty hard, but I found one that was soft so I picked it and we tried it. WOW! THAT WAS AMAZING AND I MUST HAVE MORE! We will be planting a few dozen of these trees at Gravel Creek, for sure. In addition to growing well and looking great, these trees make a delicious treat indeed.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Grocery run

suppliesSMThe best part of the farmers’ market (besides seeing our friends) is the last 10 minutes. That’s when the crowds have mostly gone, vendors are chatty, and with only a few minutes left, everyone starts drifting around to their neighbors’ booths with armloads of produce to trade. It’s like a food swapmeet. Here we see last night’s haul of groceries acquired by barter: hard goat cheese, hummus, feta, eggs, blueberries, fresh milk, strawberries, and raspberries.

I might add that the hot food vendors participate, as well. Not shown is the tasty bowl of chili that I ate, and the hot panini that made Emily’s dinner earlier in the evening. Those vendors have shut down their grills by end of market, but dutifully drop by our stand to select some tasty veggies to take home with them. Some nights, we even trade for things like wine.

This all got me thinking… though we clearly don’t (yet) produce all the groceries we eat, how does our annual grocery bill compare with our overall produce sales? A little time with the accounting software came up with the answer: gross farm sales for the last 12 months is about $500 less than our entire grocery expenditure for the same time period. Wow! Who knew? And I expect that our overall revenue this year will increase enough that we will likely produce more than we eat. So, effectively, we can say that our garden feeds us… just that for now, we still have to use some green paper as a trade intermediary.

Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Big broccoli

big_broccoliSMAnd a little update on the farm, while I’m at it. This picture makes me extremely happy, mostly because of how much of a good time my Dad is having in the background (click to enlarge). He and mom helped us harvest for the market twice during this visit, and it was a hoot. Good going taking a 10-day vacation, Mom! Emily is showing off this broccoli becuase it’s the beggest she’s ever grown. That is, until the following week, when she found one almost twice that size. It weighed in at 2.5 pounds, and a very heppy person bought it for $10 at the famers’ market. And, I assume, fed his entire family. If you want to see it, though, you will have to go check out Emily’s facebook page.

20140718_standSMOur farm is doing pretty well, despite the extreme lack of attention we’ve been giving it. So far at each market, we’ve grossed more than all previous seasons. This bodes well for the day when we can actually focus on making the garden great. Here’s a picture of the stand two weeks ago. I didn’t take one this week, as I got there late, but we actually had TWO full tables of produce. Yay!

Posted in News | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A lot of changes

A lot of things have been going on in the last few weeks; so many that I not only haven’t been posting, but I haven’t even known what day of the week it was. Most of these happening have been regarding the house.

dad_paintingSMFirst off, we finally hired a contractor to do a part of the work. Not a BIG part, mind you, but as Emily pointed out, at this point it makes sense to hire some folks where we can, to speed up the schedule. In this case, we’re talking about drywall. I can do drywall, but the reality of it is that a pro can make it look twice as good and do it in a fifth the time. A local drywaller came particularly well recommended, and he’s done  a fabulous job for a very reasonable price. Suddenly, we have drywall! The person you see in the picture, however, is not the drywaller. It’s my dad! My parents came for their annual pilgrimage, spreading cheer and good times. Dad spent some time with me at the house; it’s always fun to work and chat with Dad.

ceilingworkDad and mom weren’t the only visitors this month. My dear friend Brian came the very next week, after dropping his family off at summer camp. Here we see Brian and Ryan helping me install the knotty pine ceiling. I must say, it looks GREAT! I’m so pleased. The three of us working at the same time made the job go really quickly, and it was fun, too. Working on projects with my friends is one of my all-time favorite things to do in life. Let the good times roll.

trenchSMA few days after Brian left, Emily and I popped up to the house to check out the new ceiling. We were in “nice” clothes, and not planning on working (or even getting dirty) so imagine my surprise when I saw that our friend Dick was on site, digging the utility trench I asked him to dig a few months ago. Wow, is our yard a mess! Even more than normal, I mean. But now that the trench is in, I spent half the day filling it with the various things that span the 500 feet between the well and the house. In this case, that’s a 1-1/2″ HDPE water pipe, a #8 UF copper conductor (240 volts, for the pump electricity), a #6 UF copper conductor (120 volts, for the shop circuit), and a CAT6 direct-burial, full copper ethernet cable. Heh.  One annoying thing I did learn is that a 500′ spool of pipe and a 500′ spool of wire are NOT the same length. I don’t know how that could be, but I came up about 20 feet short on the wire, which is annoying as now I have to do a special waterproof splice to add more on. And what am I going to do with 40′ extra of HDPE pipe?

internet dishSMWe’re also working on our internet solution. The cable company wanted $4000 to bring internet to the house. After a “yikes” moment, I calmed down and set up a meeting with their project coordinator. As I guessed, they thought I wanted them to bring it all the way to the house, about 1000 feet from the road. When they found out all I wanted was a connection right at the pole, the said they could install it for free. This is the part where Michael, one of my most tech-savvy friends, comes in. Besides working deep within the tech.geek.kindom of F5 in Seattle, he also has a passion for wireless remote telecommunications. Interesting hobby, to be sure, but REALLY HANDY if you have a thousand-foot driveway and need to get internet. Here we see Michael testing signal strength on a directional gigahertz-band internet antenna set up temporarily in our house (it will be outdoors in the final install).  It beams data back and forth from a sector antenna set up at a remote station down by the road. Pretty sweet, and a lot less than $4000. He’s coming back in late September to work on it some more.

There is a lot of other happenings on the house as well, too much to tell. But we’re working hard to get moved in before October, so please be patient if you don’t see a lot of posts in the next few weeks.

Posted in Construction, News | 3 Comments


When all the flowers are a-bloom, and the bees are up to strength and are working their hardest, that’s the time of the year beekeepers refer to as “honeyflow”.  Right now, we’re well into it. Today I visited my new hive at Gravel Creek, to see how the colonies are coming along. My hopes for them are modest, since they are just starting this year: get a lot of comb built, store enough honey to last through the winter, build up enough bees to thrive and survive.  I don’t really expect much if any honey from the newbies.

superupSMSometimes, though, my expectations are exceeded. The second hive I opened today was literally exploding with bees, and packed to the gills with honey. Wow! So fast! I put a super (honey box) on top, so they can keep up the good work. I went into all 11 of the new hives, and was pleased to discover that 7 of them were in this state. Amazing.

I did notice something odd, though. Look closely at the picture. The hives that are taller are the ones that were doing so well that I had to add extra boxes. They are also, with the exception of one, the hives with north-facing entrances. I don’t know what to make of this. Does a south facing entrance hamper the bees somewhat? I will have to pay attention further. A further point of interest is that in the old apiary, all of the hives have the entrances oriented north.  Maybe I will turn the south facing hives around.

Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

A gift most people don’t want

I got a call last week, one that happens to beekeepers from time to time: an offer of thousands of stinging insects. “I caught a swarm yesterday,” Jeff said, “But I don’t have a place to keep it, and I don’t want to add more colonies to my apiary.”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll gladly take your bees off your hand. ”  From an economic standpoint, getting a swarm is like someone handing you a $100 bill. But it’s also nice because I am down a hive after a queen loss last month, and this would put me back at full strength.

The next day, Jeff drove over to my place with a makeshift beehive in the back of his truck. It was a wooden box with pieces of wood duct taped to it, and some string holding it together. I could hear the bees tapping away, trying to get out. “It was all I had lying around,” Jeff shrugged.

Jeff_swarmSM“That’s OK,”  I said. “Let’s stop by Lance’s barn on the way to the farm. I have some extra hive parts in there. ” When we arrived, we hopped out of the truck and I opened the barn. Besides my mountain of my have parts, honey supers, queen excluders, syrup feeders, and other oddball beekeeper gear, I also saw a shiny new hive sitting on the other side of the barn. Oh yeah! I forgot! Emily V., a new beekeeper and a student of mine, was keeping her first pair of colonies on the same property. And, sadly, one of hers lost its queen a few weeks back and had to be combined with the other one.

This got me thinking. “You know, Jeff, how about we just give this swarm to Emily?” We both chuckled; beehives get stolen from time to time, but it’s pretty uncommon that someone sneaks into your yard and adds some bees to your collection. We set up her empty hive next to the full one, donned our bee suits, opened the temporary hive, and poured the swarm into its new home. Within minutes, they were settled in and began inspecting their surroundings. That’s Jeff after the install, and one of Lance’s cows looking on.

20140627_standSMIn other news, last friday was the second market of the season. Emily is “officially” running the stand this year, I’m focusing on the house stuff. But I still hang out and help her. I like seeing all the people and chatting with them. We are a little behind this year, with all the craziness of the house remodel, so we don’t have as full a veggie table as we’d like. But we’ve grossed more in sales each week so far than on the same week in other years, so I guess we’re doing better than it feels like.

Posted in News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Designer insulation?

IMG_3791SMWe’re starting to feel like we may actually get moved in before the fall after all!  This week, our friends Adam and Christina came out and helped us finish installing the insulation on the cottage. We’re trying yet another weird product, this time Ultra Touch recycled cotton insulation. It’s been in the green building news for years, but I’ve only had one client ever actually shell out the extra dough to get it. That was, ironically, Adam and Christina when they remodeled their basement into a recording studio. We were interested in it because it’s environmentally responsible (recycled material), inert (no fiberglass to damage lungs), and highly effective (same R value, and even better acoustical performance than traditional pink stuff). The big reason, though, comes back to health- both when we install it, and when we have to one day work on the building again. That fiberglass stuff is TERRIBLE for you, and I’m convinced that it will bee seen 20 years from now the same way we see asbestos today.

insul labelSMSo, into the house it goes. Once installed, we could immediately feel a difference in how comfortable the house is. Emily noticed something funny as we were standing around admiring it: a Ralph Lauren tag sticking out of one of the batts. I guess even the fanciest blue jeans can make good building materials once shredded!

The next step is the drywall. After much considerations, we’ve decided to hire a professional drywaller, the second contractor of the project. I can do drywall, but I’m not great at it. With Dan doing the work, we’ll get much better quality, but also (and more importantly at this stage) we’ll get it done weeks sooner.

NEWWOODSMTo get ready for his arrival, I’ve been cleaning up the last of the framing details, things like adding corner blocking and the curves at the tops of the doors. We’ve still got some wood left that was taken out during demolition, so I’ve been using that where I can to save on buying new stuff.  Here we see two identical cutouts I made in the door fame, from two different pieces of wood. The one on the left is old wood, from when the place was built in the 80s. The one on the right is from today. Look at the grain difference… there are nearly twice as many rings per inch in the old wood. That’s because managed lumber trees are bred to be fast growing; you get a harvest twice as fast as a “wild” forest. However, the older stuff is much stronger! It’s also a little harder to work; it took twice as long to saw, and it really hard to get a nail into without bending it.

The building inspector is coming tomorrow to do a final check before we cover everything with drywall. Wish me luck!

Posted in Construction | Tagged | 3 Comments

Funny looking dog

I was at Gravel Creek the other day checking my bees, and heard this weird snorting/ wheezing sound coming from the woods in the direction of the river. It was barely audible, but after a minute or two, my curiosity got the best of me and I put down the smoker. Throwing back my veil, and walked over to the creek to see what on earth it was.

fawnSMAs I neared the bridge, I saw a deer step out of the woods, and make a loud huffing noise. Weird! Then, a little fawn stepped out next to her. In a flash, the fawn saw me… and started running right at me! I was kindof dumbfounded, staring at the fawn as it trotted down the driveway like a dog, stopping right at my feet. “Hi there, little fella!” I said, holding out my hand as it circled me. I caught this picture as she nudged my hand with her nose.

I think the doe was making all the huffing noises as a sort of “stay away from those, they’re really dangerous” warning. But, like kids do, the fawn was ignoring her. It was awfully cute to see her dancing around like a pet, but I hope she gets it figured out before deer season. My last encounter with a deer running toward me didn’t end so well for the deer.

Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

We have water

odd_weatherFinally, after months of diddling around, we have a well. Yay! We’ve been waiting for months for the weather to turn favorable (look ma! no rain!), but in actuality it took drama and intrigue to actually brought this to completion. It started when I called up the State Watermaster last week to discuss a technical question on how to construct the well, and he mentioned that he would be retiring on June 2.

RED ALERT!!!! This is a big problem!!! You see, I’ve been working with this fellow for a few years now, trying to sort out what I’m allowed to do to navigate the various issues regarding water usage legalities, local geology and hydrology, and well types and construction methodology. He’s been very useful, friendly, and above all… he knows our case history pretty well by now. Add to this that what we’re doing (a landowner – dug well) is somewhat discouraged by the State, and the idea of having to start over with a new Watermaster is extremely daunting. So, I called up my excavator buddy.

well_digginSM“Dick! Emergency! I need you and your track hoe here RIGHT AWAY! The Watermaster is about to retire!” Well, Dick rose to the occasion, and showed up two days later with his full ruckus in tow… a giant CAT excavator, a dump truck, the works. He started slinging dirt around, and in no time we had a cavernous hole 10 feet deep and twice that across.

Once the hole was there, we popped the well casing in place, leveled it, and filled the pit halfway with coarse gravel. Then, down with a water barrier layer, followed by a lot of backfill. Tadaah, a well!

well_insideSMNow, most of you are probably scratching your head at this point, as this looks nothing like the 100+ foot deep drilled and cased wells you see everywhere else. But the local hydrology of our specific region really favors this odd type of well, and often make drilled wells poor producers in terms of volume and water quality. Our well is 10 feet deep (3 feet to the top of the water) and at 36″ across, holds about 400 gallons of water. Emptying it with a dewatering pump and letting it refill resulted in a 15 gallon-per-minute recharge rate, which is quite good. We still don’t know if the water is tasty, as it’s not yet settled out, but I have high hopes based on results my neighbors have had with similar wells.

The day after we were done, the Watermaster came out to inspect the well and help me fill out the well report. It’s funny; the form is normally filled out by a trained well driller. Instead, since I was the contractor, the Watermaster watched over my shoulder as I did it, telling me what to write in which blank. But he never touched the pen himself; that’s the nature of these sorts of things, and I’m sure he’s prohibited by the rules and liability folks from doing so.

I am still amused/ amazed that exceptions in the law continue to exist that protect the Frontier American attitude. If you are a landowner and have the resourcefulness, perseverance, and creativity (as well as audacity?) to do it yourself, you are still allowed to dig wells, run electrical, install plumbing, even build your own dwelling. All by yourself, completely legally. I love that there is still that much personal sovereignty left in this country.

Posted in Construction, News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Pushin’ up daisies


I went out to help Emily weed and plant beans the other day, and was struck by how scenic the orchard looks right now. It’s not supposed to look like this, mind you. It’s supposed to be well kept, weeded, and mowed. And look at those beehives, almost so buried in the lush green growth that the bees can’t get to the entrance. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but the DO say you are supposed to keep the weeds away from the front of your hives, to promote easier access for the bees.

But this all serves to remind me that I need to stop and take a breath every now and then, and appreciate the world when it greets me with beauty.

Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment