Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The End of Starbird Farm (as I know it)

We're finished at Starbird Farm. There are a couple of lengths of pea fence left out there that I will retrieve when I recover from the cold I've had for the past few days, but that is all. We were discouraged by the high winter water table and all the canary grass. Winter gardening is impossible there and last year's cool June enabled the weeds to take control. Our production was less than half the previous year. As far as I can see, we were the last gardener standing at Starbird Farm.

We're moving to a new place which we purchased last July. It is in Smokey Point, north of Ebey Island along I-5. The soil is very well drained. There is no standing water, even in winter. And, there are dozens of acres of land available for rent in the area. See my new blog at Simplicity Rose Farm.

I see that the curator of Starbird Farm was trying to sell these 1/4 acre plots for $22K last summer. I don't think he sold any at that price.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We Bought the Farm

I know that phrase has a double meaning but I use it in the best sense.

We bought 1 1/2 acres with a house, shop, 'manger,' and 5-car carport in Arlington, WA. That's the address, actually, if you google 'Smokey Point, wa' the pin will come down exactly in the middle of the property, although it is in a neighborhood I would call Lakewood because of the post office location there.

The house is about 90 years old and was one of the original houses in the area. It is in pretty good shape and will be available to rent as soon as the seller moves out. He is a retiring Boeing Engineer who has lived in the house for 27 years. We would like to rent the house to someone who could also make use of about 1/2 acre on land -- for a horse or other animal(s) or a large garden. I expect the house will be available around the first of 2011.

We plan to utilize the shop (for storage and as a workshop), the manger or barn for tool storage. The large carport can be used for vegetable drying, vehicle storage (anyone wanna park an antique car?) and we may enclose part of it.

Our primary interest is what has been a 1-acre pasture for 20 some years. The previous owner kept a couple of beef cows and produced calves. The pasture is currently in tall grass (about 3 feet tall). I plan to first mow the whole pasture and then decide which parts of it we will till first. Probably, we will make one application of Roundup on about 1/4 acre or slightly less to kill the grass and then till it so as to be able to make a fall planting of garlic, shallots any some other over-wintering crops in October.

We will fence half the pasture (after mowing) in preparation for a tenant with animal(s). I already mowed a small portion of that pasture that had a healthy stand of thistles which had not gone to seed yet.

We also plan to purchase an RV and park it on the property to give ourselves a little weekend-vacation spot not too far from home. We'll start by bringing the travel van in which Jennie has half interest down from Anacortes. That will give us somewhere to potty and get a drink and even sleep if we want. Eventually, we plan to sell our large boat (37 ft trawler) and use the proceeds of that sale to buy a larger RV which we can use on the farm and for travel.

So the first order is mowing. I have ordered a new blade assembly for my Troy Bilt sickle bar mower. The old blade is quite worn and dull. The mower gets bogged down easily. It would take me weeks to mow the heavy grass in the pasture with that old blade. The new blade should get it all mowed in a day.

I will start a new blog for the new farm as soon as we think of a good name for it. Any ideas?

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Farm

Today I canceled our offer on a small farm near Snohomish. We had made the offer in February and it is now June and we still don't have a closing date from the foreclosing bank. Short Sale. They keep loosing the paperwork. it has just taken too long. Saturday we saw the place pictured. it is 15 miles north of our house and easily accessible via the freeway or back roads. It is 1.5 acres with a nice 3-bd rm house, 5-car carport, shop and barn. Most of the land has been in pasture with 3 ft high grass now. The soil is sandy loam and appears to be well drained. The property has a 180 degree view of the Cascade range -- from Mount Rainier to mount Baker. It has its own well and septic system. We'll keep the shop and barn for our use and try to rent half the pasture with the house to someone who wants animal(s). That'll require a new shed. But all-in-all this place will need much less development than the other place we had the offer on. Hopefully, we can close by Labor Day and get the land under cultivation by fall.

The best thing: NO CANARY GRASS!!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Could Snohomish County Feed Itself in Fruit and Vegetables?

How many people live in Snohomish County? 683,655 - Jul 2008

How many acres of farmland are in Snohomish County?

Between 2002 and 2007, the period profiled in the latest national agriculture census, nearly 100 new farms were added to the more than 1,500 already operating in Snohomish County. An additional 8,200 new acres of land was placed in production, bringing the total in 2007 to almost 77,000 acres.
The average size of farms also increased 6 percent from 44 to 46 acres per farm....NR_AgCensus 2.23.09

By the food pyramid, how much vegetables and fruit does a person need in a day?

How many square feet of land does it take to produce 100% of the vegetables one person eats in a year?

My guess: 1000 sq ft -- .022 acre if it is gardened intensively.

How many squart feet of and does it take to produce the fruit that a person eats in a year? Apples,
Pears, Apricots, Blueberries, Raspberries, strawberries?

my guess; 1000 s ft -- .022 acre

Can we do it?

683655*.044=30,080 acres. So the answer is yes. that would leave 40,000 acres for meat, energy and export production.


How much land can a gardener garden without the use of mechanized assistance?

My guess: 3 acre working 20-30 hours/week for 8 months of the year.

So then how many farmers does it take?

So it would take roughly 10,100 farmers each farming 3 acres.

(This agrees closely with an earlier estimate I had made regarding just the city of Everett.

How self-sufficient do we want to be? I suggest that we should aim to produce all our vegetables, most
of our fruit and none of our grain in Snohomish County. We can import grain from Eastern Washington. There
are varieties of hard wheat that can grow here, but i would be reluctant to depend on that when there is
a great supply of grain fairly close 9within the state).

What is our time line? by 2020? (30%) by 2050 (80%).

Start making plans to do it.

Rain, Rain, Rain

It seems like we've had rain every day for the past two weeks. We haven't had 2-3 days in a row to really dry things out. The water table at Starbird Farm is at least 6 inches above where it was last year at this time -- which puts it just about at ground level. The lane into the gardens is still under 2-4 inches of water. Weeds are taking over everywhere. I haven't been able to do any good with a hoe and of course I can't get anywhere near the garden with a rototiller.

Now I am going out f town for a week and now the sun will probably come out and the weeds will really grow. It's not looking like a good gardening year.

Unfortunately, this will be our last year at Starbird Farm. Chris, the fellow who leased us this 1/4 acre plot now wants to SELL the plots for $24,000 each. That seems a bit expensive for a piece of land you can only get to 5 or fewer months of the year, is under water much of the time and is full of canary grass. Half that amount would still seem steep.

The upland acre we are tying to buy still hasn't settled. It is a short sale and our purchase has been "kicked out" of the system twice now, for no apparent reason -- this after it has been accepted by the seller and their bank. It's definitely too late to get a garden in this year there and I am fast loosing patience with the whole process.

I haven't talked about this here, but I am also looking at the possibility of some large scale community gardening/teaching/foodbank farming on a 400 acre piece of ag land that is owned by the City of Everett. The area is known as the Marshland Subarea and is immediately south of Lowell River Road east of Everett. Part of this land has been brought within the city limits, although no houses can be built there because it is in the 100-year flood plain. There is a history to why this land is now part of Everett which I won't go into here, but this is land that is currently being leased to two local farmers for $0/year and which I believe could much better serve the people of Everett by being used for food raising.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gardening for self-reliance

Most people who garden get just a taste of sustainabilty

I find it interesting to observe people's gardening activities. I see a many gardeners planting a small patch (10 feet x 10 ft) in the back yard or maybe planting a few containers. In most cases, 20 to 50 percent of what they plant is flowers. Now, I enjoy looking at a flower and marveling at its intricacy and symmetry as much as the next person, but you can't eat most flowers.

A few tomato and lettuce plants will not feed a family through out the year. No, feeding oneself from a garden requires a lot more land and a lot more planning and effort.

A good method is to determine how many meals of each vegetable and fruit you will need per week and how many weeks each year you will need those foods and work backwards to how much to plant. Then plant at least 50 to 100 percent more than you think you will need. (Seeds sometimes fail to germinate, the weather may not favor what you have planted, pests can take part of your harvest.) You can always compost any excess you produce.

Now, we need to prioritize.

Start by determining what your staple foods are. For me vegetables include greens such as lettuce or kale, tomatoes, beans, corn, wheat, potatoes, squash or pumpkins, onions. Fruits I like are strawberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, cherries and pears. The order is not important here. You might also peek at a food pyramid to see if you've got our basics covered.

Next, ask yourself what you can buy at a good price locally. In my case, that would be potatoes and wheat. There are large potato farms within 100 miles in the Skagit Valley. Washington state is a major producer of grain (mostly wheat) and there are several good grain farmers in Eastern Washington who market directly to the consumer. I feel I can trust their products to be healthy.

Second, ask which vegetables and fruits that you could grow really offer a major taste or nutritious advantage over store-bought food, even if it is local and organic. For me, that would include tomatoes, corn and strawberries. That consideration really raises the emphasis on producing these yourself.

Also, ask which foods are really easy to grow and which require more experience or specialized growing conditions. This might shift your priorities. For example, many fruits require several years of care before they prduce. It would nt be wise to plant a dozen apple trees and expect to get your apple needs met in the first 2-3 years. But this should not rule them out in your longer term planning.

Now my list of vegetables I will grow for myself for the next year is narrowed to greens, tomatoes, green beans, corn, squash or pumpkins. The fruits are strawberries. Everything else I will either plan for the future years or purchase locally.


Lettuce matures in about a month in the summer and can also be grown year round in a small greenhouse and certainly in a protected cold frame for 9 months of the year. Since it matures fairly radidly, I will make several small successive plantings. The Grow Box is the ideal environment for lettuce production. I will make a new planting each month and discard a box of lettuce when it has passed its prime.

Kale is very easy to grow and can survive outdoors in our climate year round. In the winter months, production is slowed so if you want kale in the winter, give it some protection. I will make several successive plantings of kale -- spring, summer and fall.


What could taste better than a vine ripened, juicy tomato. In the summer they are so delightful. I have also learned to can tomato products (juice, paste, and whole or quartered tomatoes). Since tomato is high in acid, it cans easily and safely. Each year I like to have plenty of fresh tomatoes to eat from late July through September and enough to can two dozen quarts of tomato jiuce and at least another 24 quarts of sauce or whole tomatoes. You may also wish to dry tomatoes. This means that I will need at least 50 tomato plants. For juice I prefer the heavy-bearing "cherry" tomatoes. For caning whole tomatoes, i prefer a medium-size red tomato such as Early Girl or similar. Eating fresh can be anything. I also like to plant a few yellow tomatoes each year. They are lower in acid and great tasting, expecially the little "pear" yellow tomatoes.

Green Beans

I love green beans. They used to call me "Green Bean Dean." I can grow beans that are much more tender and tastier than any bean you can buy. My beans are only shipped from the garden to the kitchen and they don't have to be tough enough to withstand 1-2 weeks of storage and shipment before they reach the customer. I like to have at least three meals of green beans each week for 9 months of the year. At 1/4 lb/meal/person, that figures out to 76 pounds needed for freezing and we'll eat or give away another 24 pounds when they are fresh. So figure on needing 100 lbs of green beans. I figure I'll plant 3 100 foot rows of bush style green beans, 20 ft of yellow beans for pickling and 2-3 'teepees' of pole beans that will ripen after the bush beans have passed their peak.


Another of my favorite winter-time foods is corn that was frozen fresh from the garden last summer. I'll need about the same amount as the beans -- 100 lbs. To ensure that I get enough and have some to share, I'll plant 6 100 ft rows of corn.

Squash and Pumpkins

Last year we harvested 30 very large pumpkins. We froze 1 1/2 of those pumpkins for pies, custards and cobblers. They were all gone by January. This year, I'd like to freeze the equivalent of 3 of those pumpkins. We'll plant 9 hills of pumpkins covering an area that is about 20x30 ft. That'll give plenty to preserve and give away.


Last year we froze 30 pints of strawberries and we expect to run about a month before berries are ripe this summer. Perfect! We discovered that we really like frozen strawberries, so this year I'd like to freeze 50 pints. That'll require a patch at least 5 ft x 30 ft. I prefer a summer-bearing plant instead of the ever-bearing kind. I feel I get a larger yield and the work is all done at once instead of being extended over the whole summer. Strawberries bear well for three years and you should not get any production the year they are planted. (Pick off any blooms the first year to force the plants to build strong root systems the first year.) Strawberries should be planted in succession plantings each year and the two-year-old beds should be retired each year. This will require an area of 15 x 30 ft at least. I'd double that if you want to have some to share and prepare for unfit weather.

Apples, Blueberries, Cherries, Pears and Peaches

Washington claims to be the apple producing capital of the world. Great! We will buy apples locally. (However, we have also planted a few specialty apples for our eating enjoyment in future years.) There are numerous local Blueberry farms where we can U-pick at a reasonable cost. Same for raspberries which my wife enjoys. None-the-less, we have planted some bushes and canes of each for our fresh eating enjoyment. Cherries can also be bought cheaply from Eastern Washington, but we have planted 2 cherry trees for future eating. Peaches don't do well west of the Cascades but they do very well east of the Cascades, so we'll buy peaches. We'll plan a trip to Eastern Washington during peach season and bring home some to freeze.

To support all of this food storage we depend on several modern conveniences: a 20-cu-ft freezer, a 7-quart pressure caner, a food dryer, a squeezo food strainer and about 4 dozen glass canning jars. I'll discuss those in another post.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

'Tween Mother's Day and Father's Day

That's the time to plant anything. The danger of frost is past now and the soil is warming nicely. On Ebey Island, the water table has dropped a good six inches in the last week. This week I'll plant green beans and corn. The squash, pumpkins and cucumbers can go in also. This evening I walked about and saw that most of the potatoes are peeking above the soil.

There was a Killdeer made a nest back by my peas. She'd laid four speckled eggs in a little depression in the dirt where she'd placed some dry grass. Yesterday she chased me away from her nest. This evening I saw that both she and the eggs were gone. Some wild critter, no doubt.