Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The last fresh vegetables

I'm sorry to say that we are the last of our fresh vegetables from the garden this week -- brussel sprouts. I tried to fix some more tonight but they were just too damaged by the recent freeze to be edible. There are still plants in the garden. Perhaps they will revive when it gets a little warmer. Our goal is to have something fresh to eat year round. Fortunately, we still have lots in the freezer, and lots of canned tomato juice, pickled cucumbers and beans and lots of canned apple sauce. The apples we bought in October are just about gone and the asian pears are going fast. I eagerly anticipate spring. Got our first seed catalog this week.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Solar Roof

We've had our solar panels in full operation for about 6 weeks now and I am very pleased with their performance. Our best day was in November when we captured 22 Kilowatt-hours that day. On our worst days when it rained hard al day we still captured nearly 2 Kilowatt-hours. Each of our 24 panels has its own inverter and the inverters all report their performance every 5 minutes to a monitor inside the house. That monitor is connected to the manufacturer's web site which presents us with a minute-by-minute performance analysis of the system. We get a lot of detail from this report. You can also see most of this detail by clicking here. You can also see the performance of similar systems all over North America by clicking here.

The bottom line on our experience with PV solar in Everett, Washington is tat IT WORKS. We are producing about 60 percent of the power that we are using -- somedays a lot more, somedays less. I expect that the initial investment will be recouped in about 10 years at present energy prices.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apple Sauce

I generally prefer to freeze vegetables and can fruit. (Tomato juice is a fruit). Yesterday and today I canned the last (I hope) of the apple sauce for this year. This brings me up to 26 quarts of apple sauce. Yesterday I did some Ida Red apples we bought over north of Spokane and today I did some Granny Smiths that Jennie bought for cheap at the fruit stand. The later are from New Zealand and were starting to go bad -- probably last spring's harvest. I use a Squeezo food strainer for making apple sauce. I did 9 quarts today in about 2 hours. I bought my squeezo about 35 years ago and it has never failed me. I still have all the original parts. I could use a new o-ring but the old one probably has a few good years left. I use Bell jars and lids and process the jars at 10 pounds pressure for 10 minutes in a Presto canner that I have also had for 35 years. As you might guess, this is a very satisfying activity for me. I hope -- but don't really expect -- that everyone will rave about the apple sauce at our Thanksgiving meal. This year I am expanding my repertoire and also making two pumpkin pies and an Asian pear pie.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Next year's garden

We signed up for another year at Starbird Farm. I got most of the garden tilled before the rains started in ernest. That got most of the canary grass under some kind of control. I plan to put down black plastic, cardboard or old carpet on the worst of it to make life easier next season. We will also reverse the planting next year to we don't concentrate pests. I will spread lime again this year since I don't think we got a very uniform spread last spring.

I'm concerned longer term about the availability of Starbird Farm to community gardening as well as the whole global warming thing. A rise in sea level of only one meter would just about wipe out Ebey Island as a farming community. I need to seek higher ground, so to speak.

The trouble with large scale gardening/small scale farming is that most land around here is priced for development. That price is way too high if all we want to do is garden. If the price is lower, then there must be something wrong with the land. Either it's in the flood plain, or it won't perk which means it is probably also not good for gardening. I keep looking. I'd rather rent than buy, but I'd also be willing to buy a quarter acre. I'd want tolerably good soil, good drainage, access by small truck year round, the possibility to build s shed or small barn, water (could be a driven well), good sunlight and not more than 15 miles from where I live -- Everett.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Solar Roof

Yesterday Dave from Puget Sound Solar cam back and replaced a faulty switch way up on the top of the roof (why put a switch there?). Anyway, that fed AC power to the East side of our solar array so now we are 'cookin' with all 24 panels. Today we made 16 Kwh of power. On an average day our house uses 10 Kwh. That means that for quite a while today our electric meter actually ran backwards and we credited our account. In addition, the State of Washington pays us 15¢ per Kwh for everything we produce.

You can view the performance of our system here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Winter... here in the Northwest. Rain, cold. I probably won't be able to drive in to my garden until June. I went there yesterday and rototilled for about 1 1/2 hours. I had bought a used Troybilt Horse tiller and wanted to try it. It was able to till the corn rows, with frequent stops to clear the tines. The 8 Hp engine is very stong and does not die on uneven ground or tough going. I'm very happy with it. I got all but one corn row tilled under.

The soil is getting very wet though and this was the last of the tilling for this year. I'll clean up the tiller, change oil and store it away. I'll remove the starting battery and keep it in my closet until spring.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Green Thing To Do

Last month we installed 24 solar photo-voltaic panels on the roof of our house. Each panel is rated at 210 watts, so we should be able to produce 5 kilowatts of power. Integrated over a typical sunny day, that would be about 6-7 kilowatt-hours of energy/day. Our house uses an average of 10 kilowatt-hours/day. It will be interesting to see how this actually works out. In fact, since it was connected to the grid and everything started working 2 days ago, we have been generating about 2.5 kilowatt-hours/day. These have been very cloudy days.

I am anxiously awaiting a nice sunny day to see how well the system will do but the forecast doesn't look good. We seem to definitely be into a winter weather pattern in the Maritime Northwest. But every month we do get a few cold bright days. On those days the system should, well, shine.

I figure that with all the incentives for installing solar power, the payback will be about 10 years -- at today's power rates.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Winter Rains Started

It's October. The rains have started. I had intended to get all of the garden tilled before the rains started. I only got about 2/3 tilled. The %$#@* tiller I bought cheap last summer stops running about every 5 minutes. It wears me out just pulling the starter rope. Next year, I want a better tiller.

Yesterday, Greg's dad came and picked the rest of the corn. he got a wheelbarrow load -- I'd estimate 150 ears. The corn stalks are going down fast with the rain and wind. But he stuck with it and got a good load for Greg and Sara. They bought our old freezer and will fill about 1/4 of it with corn. Happy to help them.

We've only had about an inch of rain this month and I noticed as I was trying to till yesterday that the soil is still fairly dry down 2 inches. The rains haven't really raised the water table yet. Today promises harder rain and that may make it difficult to till or even drive in to the garden next week.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Raised Bed Report

This year about half our vegetable plantings were made on raised beds. In April and May we thought that was necessary to get the root zone above the water table. Upon reflection, I thing we were mostly wrong in that belief. The soil was very 'cloddy' and full of grass roots. It did not work down well on those raised beds. The seeds did not get good contact with the soil and germination was low.

By July, the water table had dropped a couple of feet and the plants on the raised beds could not reach the water. the grass also grew prolifically on the slopes of the raised beds and had to be dealt with by hand because the rototiller wouldn't run at that angle.

In retrospect, I believe that when dealing with a quarter-acre of garden, it is better to plant most crops in rows on grade. If one must wait until June for the soil to be dry enough to do that, then wait. This flies in the face of the conventional beliefs that raised beds are better. But I put more credibility on experience than belief.

The crops that we did plant at grade level did very well. Black plastic work well to control weeds (and grass) for the pumpkins (as well as raise the soil temperature.) Crops like corn and beans could be cultivated much more easily with the rototiller than by hand.

Next year: fewer raised beds.


We've gotten several dozen cucumbers from the four vines that survived to maturity. The seed did not germinate well and the plants seemed to take forever to start growing. When they did grow they produced a bumper crop. Next summer we will concentrate on better soil preparation and fertilizing for cucumbers. I was able to can 4 quarts of dill spears and 4 pints of dill slices.

Lots of Corn

The corn is ready. I picked 50 ears Saturday for a five-course, local organic dinner we put on for about 30 friends. I'd estimate there are another 100 ears ready to pick. That should be enough for the two of for the winter, although it is a bit less than I was hoping to get. We'll definitely grow corn next year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Well I have harvested about 3 Noir des Carmes melons. They are absolutely wonderful. There was one rotten melon and I don't know where it came from but I will save the seeds from it. My fingerling pototoes had wireworms, so we will have to take care of those guys. All and all the plot did pretty good. Getting cucumbers and my tomatoes are starting to get ripe. I have a new puppy, his name is Steele you may see him around the farm with me.


My wife planted a few hills of pumpkins in June. They seemed to be doing very poorly and we thought they weren't going to make it. But look! There are two dozen or more huge pumpkins growing. This one is already more than a foot in diameter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two books and a video

Lately I have been reading two books about food and gardening. The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan describes Industrial Agriculture and several alternatives thereto. Good reading. Growing Vegetables west of the Cascades by Steve Solomon is the best book I've ever read on our particular growing conditions. Neither of these books is new, but they are essential reading if you're interested in food.

Fresh is a new video based somewhat on The Omnivores Dilemma. However, it does add other material from such efforts as Growing Power. The Transition Everett group will be showing this video this fall. I will announce times here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corn and Beans

The corn is starting to tassel out. My corn is quite mixed this year -- some areas doing well, others stunted. I figure that is because of differences in pH of soil. The pH before we started was under 5.0. Lime was broadcast (by hand) and I don't think it was very effective. Next year, I will use more lime (earlier) and I will apply an organic fertilizer to the corn.

The yellow beans are also beginning to produce. We have 4 rows so there will be lots to freeze. The green beans are into their third picking. So far I have frozen 20 quarts and given away about 30 pounds of green beans.

Monday, August 3, 2009

SALT Water!!!

I finally got up the courage (or the stupidity) to actually taste the water in the shallow pit wells at the farm. It is quite salty. Not as salty as the water in Puget Sound, but definitely salty. No wonder the plants didn't do as well as I expected when we watered them with it this summer. We'll definitely be carrying water to the garden.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Watering Again

I received the low-pressure soaker hose I mentioned earlier. You can find it here. First, I tested it at home and it seemed to be working fine. So I built a platform 2 ft. high from 4x4's and 2x4's to hold a rain barrel up off the ground. This gives a slight amount of water pressure via gravity to feed the water through a hose to the soaker hose which I lay along a row.

I fill this distribution barrel from another barrel in my pick-up truck (hidden behind the cab in the picture). The transfer of 50 gallons only takes about 10 minutes with a nifty 12-volt water pump I got for $30 at Harbor Freight.

I attached about 100 ft. of light duty garden hose to the barrel. That'll reach anywhere in my garden. The soaker hose drains the barrel in about 2 hours. Voila! The garden gets watered and I don't have to carry water or wait around for the hoses to do it. By concentrating the water at the base of this row of bush beans, I am putting the water right in thr root zone.

We'll see how well this works. The forecast is for a continued hot, dry dummer and fall, so this system could be very important for us.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Carol has lots of heirloom melons in her plot. They look pretty healthy. She started the plants at home and set them out in late June, under a cover of thin vinyl plastic. In mid July, she removed the protection and mulched the plants with straw to conserve moisture. Let's hope she gets lots of exotic melons.

Scarlet Runner Beans

We planted some scarlet runner beans as a decoration this year. Does anyone know if they actually produce beans?

Tyler's Watering System

Tyler is bringing water to his garden in his truck. He got 2 50 gal. plastic water barrels at the Cenex Co-op and a water pump at Harbor Freight. Power for the pump comes from the small generator to on the left side of the picture. He gets enough water pressure to throw a stream about 40 ft., more than enough to water his garden. Hauling water this way is the best sure way to get water to the gardens, though I am still tempted to put in a shallow driven well just to see what it could produce.

Tyler brings water via a hose to his tomato plants. Beside each plant is a bucket with a small hole in the bottom. He puts a dollop of fish fertilizer in the bucket and then fills it with water. He has the healthiest tomato plants at the farm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting water

Starbird Farm lies in the flood plane of the Snohomish river. In the winter the water table is right at the surface. This summer, however, has been quite dry (1/4 in of rain in the last 6 weeks). Our shallow pit wells (2-3 feet deep) which we used in May for irrigation water have all dried up. Other gardeners in the area are still getting water at about 5 feet down. One way we could get water would be with a driven well.

We would need a well point, a couple of special couplers, drive cap and a hand operated pitcher pump. Total cost $130 + shipping if you can't find it locally. This is heavy stuff so shipping mught add up to $70, so figure on $200.

That'll get us maybe 5 gal/min which is pretty slow, so we'd want a storage tank. We could use rain barrels at $30 each. They hold about 30 gal so we would pump for min and then water for a while.

Ordinary soaker hose requires a water pressure of 10 lbs/ We would have to set the water barrel 23 feet above ground to get that pressure. So I'd go for special rain barrel soaker hose which is designed to work at lower pressure. $22/100 ft.

So if we did 2 100 ft beds for shallow root plants and 2 soaker hoses per bed, our capital investment for a watering system would be about $385.

Alternatively, we could use 2 rain barrels -- one at the garden and one in our pickup, bring water from home and a 12v transfer pump to move water from the pickup to the garden tank for a capital investment of $110.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Our crops that are planted at nominal ground level seem to be doing alright without watering. Now in early July without much of any rain in the month of June, the soil is moist down about 2 inches and the water table is down at about 2 feet.

It's a different story for those plants we set on top of raised beds. In the early spring we had thought it wold be necessary to put most of our planting on raised beds or mounds to get the roots up out of the water table. It is very low here on Ebey Island. How wrong we were. We didn't know that the water table would drop as far as it has. So we have had to carry in water and we have not been able to carry enough to feed our thirsty vegetables.

Some of us have dug shallow wells for water, and the deeper of those are working OK. However after we've drawn a few buckets from them, they run dry and it takes a while for them to refill.

So here's my idea: Mount a plastic rain barrel on a short tower -- say 4 to 6 feet off the ground. Fill it with water and connect a soaker hose to it. Lay the soaker hose along the tops of the raised beds and let gravity bring the water to the plants a drip at a time.

But how to fill the rain barrel. Obviously not rain. Then I thought about my boat. It has a 12volt bilge pump with a switch that operates it when the level of water in the bilge gets too high. (All boats that have engines inside the hull leak a little around where the propeller shaft(s) exit the hull.)

I could mount a bilge pump and switch on a board and sink the board into the well, the pump can raise the water 10 ft or more easily to fill the barrel. I could put another float switch in the barrel to prevent the pump from running when the barrel is full. Voila!

Oops, where could I get 12 volts DC to power the system? I could use a 12-volt battery and a solar or wind charger. A 360 gph (gallons per hour) pump draws 2.1 amps. So filling a 50-gallon rain barrel would take about 8 minutes. That would take almost 16 amp-hours of power from my battery or about 20 percent of an 80 amp-hour battery. Not too bad.

Let's say that when the system stabilizes it pumps with a 10 percent duty cycle so it would draw .2 amps/hour. That 80 am-hour battery would last 410 hours (17 days). I suppose I wouldn't mind taking it home to be re-charged every 2 weeks. Or I could bring my small generator to the garden to re-charge it.

But I have a better idea. I'm looking for a small solar charger so that my watering system can virtually forever. The sunnier (and hence dryer) the weather, the better it will work.

Stay tuned to hear more about how this works.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Peas ready for pickin'

The sugar snap peas are ready to pick. I put up a fence 4 feet high for them to climb on. They'll easily top that. Yum!

We'll also have green beans within a week or so. You can see the blooms about to open.

The cabbage could be picked. We have a family picnic for July 4th. We could make some nice cabbage salad.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Killdeer Tennant

We have a renter, or maybe we are the renters. I went out to the farm early this morning to do a little tilling in the cool part of the day. As I was tilling Carol's melon patch, I heard a screeching. I looked over and saw a killdeer on her nest, yelling at me to go away. The picture on the right shows her nest, with 4 eggs, and the picture on the left shows her hobbling away, faking a broken wing with the hope that I (the predator) would go after her and leave her nest alone. I gave her nest a wide berth as I finished my tilling. After all, she was probably here first.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The water table on Ebey Island has dropped at least 6 inches in the past few days. It's amazing. A month ago I was slogging around in my high boots in the mud and today everything is quite dry. The shallow wells we dug to get some water for the young seedlings are now almost dry. The water table is about 2 feet down. The soil is still moist down about 3 inches, so established plants are getting plenty of water. However, everything planted on the raised beds are quite dry.

The official temperature in Everett is 93.1 degrees F. Here where I live near the Port Gardner Bay is in the mid '70's. This summer is starting out hot.

I planted the last of the corn today. We now have about 400 linear feet of sweet corn. This evening, if it cools off, I will go back and plant the last of the bush beans. We'll end up with about 200 linear feet of bush beans. That's a lot of corn and beans to get us through the winter. Of course, we'll also have potatoes, onions, squash, broccoli and brussel sprouts. This month I will start lots of broccoli seedlings for fall planting everywhere that anything else didn't grow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beans are up

My bush beans are up. It took almost 10 days, it has been so cool. Soon they will be big enough so that I can discern the rows well enough to start attacking the grass. I plan to hoe a lot and maybe put down some strips of black plastic. I planted 30 ft. rows of bush beans and will plant several more rows.

The corn I planted at the same time is not yet up, and the corn I planted a month ago never did come up. I attribute that to poor seed. I got it for free and it was probably packed for 2008. The free carrot seed also did not germinate well. I will replant carrots.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Driveway 'Pavement'

Hi Gardeners. We have chips. I mean a load of wood chips has been dumped at the entrance to the garden. There is probably enough for us to spread out over the mud holes at the entrance and along the road so that we can drive vehicles up the central lane to our gardens. We all need to bring our shovels and all pitch in to get this done ASAP! Then we can be off the road and our of the sheriff's sight. Whoopee! You folks along the front, spread them out along the road. Any excess should be put on the south side of the entrance, well inside so that we can create an off-road parking area there. Be sure to make the filling deep enough so they can be driven on -- at least 8 inches, deeper in the mud holes.

I can hardly wait to be able to bring truckloads of compost to my plot. I wouldn't think of trying to wheelbarrow a truckload of stuff back to the southeast corner.

Planting Corn -- will it grow?

I nave planted about a fourth of my 1/4 acre in sweet corn. We'll see how it will do. I did not do much soil preparation -- just the original plowing and two times over with the tractor rototiller and then once with the hand tiller. I made long furrows with the hoe and then spread the seeds by hand. I planted approximately 4 inches apart and covered with about half an inch of soil. That's a bit close for corn, but I don't expect to get a very high germination rate in this grassy soil, and seed is cheap.
The problem I see is clearly visible in the picture: lots of competition from the abundant grass rhizomes. It seems that the soil here is mostly grass roots. Those thick rhizomes will grow new grass stems and it won't take long. The challenge this year is to kill enough of the grass to let the corn crow. Time will tell.
The early corn I planted 3 weeks ago did not germinate. I dug among the rows and found un-germinated corn seeds. The seed was given to me free and it was probably last year's seed. it lost its vitality over the year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I was at the gardens this morning. We must have gotten over an inch of rain in the last 36 hours. The mud holes at the entrance were fuller than I have ever seen them -- even fuller than last winter. The roadside also contained water and I could not pull off the road very far. As I was returning to my truck I encountered the mail carrier. She was about to call 911 to report my truck parked on the road. I moved it before she could call but I pass this warning on to everyone:

If you park on the road in such a way as to prevent the mail carrier from being able to back out of the driveway of the house across the road, she will report you. If the sheriff is available, he or she will come ticket you. It's probably best to park south of the garden entrance, and as far off the road as possible.

Hey Chris, where are those wood chips? There is a pile of wood chips over by the Dog Park just sitting there. Why can't we bring them to the garden entrance?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tyler's work

Tyler has been working very hard for the past two weekends digging two very long (100 ft) raised beds. He says he has some starts at home to bring to the garden. I hope he has a big greenhouse full of starts.

Seriously, this kind of raised bed will get your plant roots up away from the water table, but still be able to wick the water up to the root zone. Plants need water, but they also need good drainage.

Don't bother with water

The Dugways (in the big, grassy plot) have dug a well in the lowest part of their plot. Smart idea! Now they (and by invitation all of us) don't have to lug water to the garden for those tender young seedlings that need a little extra boost until their roots reach water. Thanks, Dugways. Just dip your bucket in the pool and be careful you don't fall in yourself.

I have dug a couple of wells myself. I had do go further than they did since our ground is a little higher. THis shows just how high the water table is on Ebey Island.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


It raining pretty hard this morning and the garden was pretty muddy yesterday. So I am going to talk about chickens.

My grandfather had a great solution that involved chickens, tilling, weeds and fertilizer.

He had a very large chicken house, at least 200 hens. On each side of the chicken house was a large outside yard, at least as large as the chicken house. Each year he alternated which outside yard the chickens got to use. The other yard was used for vegetables. He got the chickens off the vegetable yard by Christmas so that the rich nitrogen-filled soil would have time to "cool off" before planting.

He did not have to till the chicken yard. He had very few weeds (some blow in on the wind.) He did not have to fertilize, and each fall the chickens got the advantage of any left-over food.

Now, I'n not suggesting that we could do this with 1/4 acre plots, but think about it on a smaller scale.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


We planted things that we want to stick around for more than one year on the edge of our garden so they won't be in the way of tilling next year. Here you see a bed of strawberries and a long row of raspberries and thornless blackberries. The posts are to support wires which will be installed later to support the berries.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I've been concerned how I am going to plant small seeds in amongst the soddy soil in our gardens this year. These include carrots, onions, radishes, etc. I think I finally found the solution. I tried two things: purchasing soil enhancing compost at $10/3cu ft bag and simply sifting the soil that is already in the garden.

I found that the purchased bag was mostly barely composted sawdust that might hold some moisture but would rob the soil of nitrogen as it lay there all summer. I'll use those bags, and we will see what the results are.

The better solution, I think, is to sift the garden soil through a screen of 1/2 inch hardware cloth to remove grass roots and break up the large clods. You can't quite accomplish that with just hoeing. I bought a 3 ft x 5 ft piece of hardware cloth at Lowes and built a frame of 2x4's to support it. It's big enough to fit over my wheelborrow. 1/4 acre is a pretty large garden and I'm going to need a lot of sifted soil.

So I used this device Thursday to sift a load of soil. I got enough in one large wheelborrow load to cover one 3 ft x 10 ft garden bed. That took me about an hour. By comparison, the $10 bag of compost covered only half a bed. So my time was sorth $20 an hour for that little exercise.

Stay tuned to see how these two methods worked.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No Wireworm Found

I've been expecting to see some wireworm in our garden area. Wireworm is the larval stage of the adult click beetle and prefers sod for its food. Wireworm will attack corn (which is a grass) and all root crops such as potatoes and carrots.

So I set some traps. This is the prescribed way of looking for wireworms. I poked a long stick through a potato and buried several traps in the soil. A week later I retrieved the potatoes. Voila! No wireworms! This doesn't mean they're not there. It may just be that I missed them. Anyway, I've decided to to be concerned about them.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More raised beds

Those are grass rhizomes in the picture. The grass will grow vigorously from these. Without extensive mechanical tillage or smothering with black plastic, newspapers or cardboard the grass will grow back fairly quickly.

The last two days I have dug 7 raised beds about 3 ft x 10 ft. The soil consists of sod-bricks and is not very smooth. I plan to construct a 3' x 3' soil sifter of 1/2" hardware cloth to sift enough soil, removing the grass roots and breaking up the clods to get enough fine soil to make seed beds a couple inches deep atop these raised beds. This will do for the small seeds like onions and carrots. The seeds need firm contact with moist soil to get started. I'm afraid that if I just seeded directly into the pile of sod bricks, most of the seed would not germinate. As soon as the seeds are up, I will cover the raised beds with black plastic to keep the grass smothered. I'll let you know tomorrow how that works.

Other beds I will cover with black plastic to start and just cut holes in it so set plants in -- cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, etc. My wife is opposed to black plastic because it is a petroleum product and hence not 'organic.' I say it's OK to use black plastic the first year or two until the garden is established. After than, I'd prefer to use green composts such as grass clippings to control weeds and grass.

We may not be able to farm the entire 1/4 acre this year. Too much work. Some may have to wait until next year.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Canary Grass

I believe that most of the grass in the field is Reed Canary Grass. I will quote from google: "Reed canary grass is a large, coarse grass that reaches 2 to 9 feet in height. Reed canary grass is difficult to eradicate; no single control method is universally applicable. In natural communities, mechanical control practices are recommended. Small, discrete patches may be covered by black plastic for at least one growing season; the bare spot can then be reseeded with native species. This method is not always effective and must be monitored because rhizomes can spread beyond the edge of the plastic."

It spreads by seeding and by rhizomes (roots). It is great for wetlands (loves wet feet) and withstands heavy grazing. In other words, it is ideal for the use the pasture has been put to in the past.

Raised Bed

Well, friends, I have been working my plot for several days now, and learning all I can about the environment we're dealing with, and it is not encouraging. Tonight my wife, Jennie, and I worked about 30 minutes to make a 10 ft x 4 ft raised bed. We dug down in a pathway and threw the dirt onto the bed. The idea is to get the plant root zone up away from the water table which right now is less than a foot below the surface. Most vegetables won't do very well with wet roots. They need water, but they also need good drainage. By piling the soil up into mounds, we can get better drainage. At 30 minutes per 40 sq ft, it will take us 138 hours to mound 1/4 acre, if we could work at the rate we worked this evening. That is more than 3 normal work-weeks of back-breaking work.

The soil that we're working with has been plowed once and gone over twice by Bruce King with his tractor-mounted rototiller. It is mostly 'bricks' of sod. It takes a lot of chopping to work it fine enough for most seeds to sprout in it. So figure on at least another 138 hours or a total of 276 man-hours of work to prepare 1/4 acre by hand before planting.

Now that is for garden-quality seedbeds. Most farmers are satisfied with a lot more coarse ground than that. I can plant corn in a furrow made in the existing tillage, but that corn will be planted within about 6 inches of the water table. Corn needs better drainage than that. So I am not encouraged about corn. I'll do it, but I won't have high expectations.

I suspect that one of the best crops for this area will be broccoli and the other brassicas (cabbage, kale, etc). They will have to be on raised beds to get good drainage. I plan to prepare lots of seedlings to be set out in July for fall and winter harvest.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cheap Greenhouse

Here is a design for a cheap plastic greenhouse that should last many years, though it will require a new cover every year unless you can find some sort of ripstop, UV protected vinyl cover. The plans are a .pdf file that you can download here. The greenhouse uses mostly parts that you can get in any hardware store. If you wish, the referenced website tells how you can order a few special parts.

In previous years, I have used such a greenhouse to grow tomatoes. In our climate, tomatoes often don't ripen and in the fall you have a lot of green tomatoes going to waste. This greenhouse should allow you to get ripe tomatoes earlier in the summer and later into the fall. With our high water table, watering the tomatoes should not be a problem.

Our neighbor, Bruce King

If you haven't done so, I highly recommend checking out the Ebey Island Farm blog authored by Bruce King, our neighbor. It's on the links list on the right side of this page. Bruce did the plowing here for StarBird Farm gardens. He is not an organic farmer and he focuses on meat production, but he has a lot to say and he has good knowledge of growing conditions on this island.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We've Got Peas!!!!

It was a cold, windy, rainy day early in March when we laid out our first mulch bed and planted peas in hopes that they would be convinced that Starbird Farm is a good place to live. Well, after all these cold, rainy days they finally have the courage to peek their little heads out.

In the four weeks since we put in this first bed, 20 feet long and 3 feet wide, we have been preparing 3 more beds which will be home to a variety of peas and beans. Yesterday, we planted a row of snow peas and put in a low fence to act as a trellis between the two rows.

We've also put in two blueberries, black currants, red currants, strawberries, and rhubarb. As an experiment, (which much of this garden is for us) we planted potatoes. All we did was chop a slit in the sod and stick a slip of potato in it. Once they start coming up and we can identify the plants we'll put down layers of newspaper and mulch around them to kill off the weeds.

In our greenhouse here at home we have tomatoes, squash, melons, and cabbage started in pots. Once the weather shows a warming, drying trend we will put them in the ground at Starbird Farm. Each plant will be planted in it's own mini-garden by digging a hole about the size of a small dinner plate, loosening the soil and adding compost with the plant. Again, we layer newspaper and mulch around these mini-gardens to kill off the weeds.

Yesterday we finished digging our well. It is about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet deep. Next time we go out we will be stabilizing the sides by sinking a big tub with holes in it, dropping a few good sized rocks in it so it won't float to the surface, and shoring up the edges with more rocks. It's amazing how deep the roots go down. We were digging out roots down to about 3 feet!!!

I hope you are all as enthusiastic as we are about this. I would like to hear more about others' plans and methods.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

At Long Last Spring

The weather seems to have finally broken. We're in a week-long dry spell finally. Most of the plowing and rototilling has now been completed at StarBird Farm. Two of us have had lime spread on our plots. I think this weekend we will start planting -- strawberries, broccoli for us. We will also get some supports installed for raspberries and boysenberries. Life is good.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Our Starbird Plans

We're the big green spot in the middle of the muddy field. Obviously, we have chosen not to plow our plot but rather use a no-till method of preparing our soil. Since we got such a late start this year we probably won't be as productive as we would have been if we had been able to start last fall. In light of this, we will be doing a modified version that combines raised beds with mulch layering. We are gradually building the beds and have one completed and planted with peas. We'll be doing the same with at least 3 more long beds that will be planted with a variety of beans. We are also preparing a similar garden for corn. As the spring and summer progress we will continue creating these beds and planting as we go. Happy Gardening

What to do with it all

Have you thought about what you are going to do with all the produce you grow in your garden this summer? Eat it? Give it away? Sell it?

When I was growing up on a farm in the Midwest in the '50's, we grew and preserved all of the vegetables and fruit we needed for the year. How, you might ask. The fruit we canned included apple sauce, peaches, grape juice, apricots, plumbs, and cherries. My mother had an old Presto pressure canner and she used dozens of Ball and Mason glass canning jars. You can still buy those and if you see them, grab them quickly. There's likely to be a shortage of canning jars this summer, what with the economy and all. Today, I prefer the wide-mouth jars, since it is easier to put fruit in and get it out of them. You can re-use the jars and lid rings but you will need to buy new lids with their rubber seals every year. A pressure canner will save a lot of energy in canning since it cuts the cook time by half.

Vegetables, for the most part, must be frozen. Vegetables are low in acid content and that would encourage the botulism bacteria if you were to can them. Be safe and freeze. A quick blanching before freezing will halt the deterioration of the food. More on that later. If you plan to freeze a lot, start shopping now for a freezer. The chest type uses less energy.

We didn't do any drying, although I know that some people have been very successful with drying.

Even better, plan your winter garden to yield some fresh vegetables even through the winter: Brussel Sprouts, broccoli, carrots.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Hi Everyone:

I have access to a large quantity of seeds. If anyone needs them I have onion, peas, beans, corn, carrots and maybe some other. If you would like any just let me know. I have bags of these things that would given to the Master Gardeners and they need to be used. There are three types of peas, black eyed, snap and snow. Several types of beans as well. Let let me know what you need. I sure do wish this rain would stop, I am anxious to get out there and plant!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lime -- "Put yer money in yer dirt"

That is what an experienced farmer said to me once.

He was advising me what to do the first year with a new garden. I did that and I was not sorry.

The pH of the soil at StarBird Farm is quite low -- about 4.5, not surprising given the history and location of the farm. This is great for berries and most trees. Vegetable production requires a pH from 5.5 to 7.0.

You can add agricultural lime to your soil to raise the pH. According to WSU: "A rough estimate for a garden that hasn't been previously limed would be: per 100 square feet of garden: sandy soil, 4 pounds every 2 years; loamy soil, 6 pounds every 2 years; clay soil, 8 pounds every 3 years. Dolomite lime is most often used because it supplies magnesium as well as calcium. Add it in late fall after crops are harvested to prepare soil for planting the following spring."

Chris reports: "Carol had a "lime requirements" test done by UMass and they recommended 500 lbs. per quarter acre." That's a dozen 44 pound bags, less than $50 at the CENEX Co-op in Everett. A good investment!

More on plowing

Chris reports:
I wanted to update you on the pasture plowing by our neighbor: It has now been plowed down to 12" and the soil looks just as pretty as expected. Photos attached.

The final step is to rototill to smooth and fluff up the soil. To do this, the soil needs to be reasonbly dry, which is a factor of both how fast the raised furrows "drain" and the rainfall. Our neighbor is best-qualified to make this assesment, so I'm leaving it to his discretion. But, the tiller is mounted on his tractor and he's anxious to get it completed, so that he can get paid. I'll let you know just as soon as the job is finished, hopefully by the end of the weekend.

Although not everyone opted for the soil prep, everyone is still getting the lower rate as if it was a simpler job. That's $45 for 1/4 acre and dirt cheap compared to how much work it would be to prep the soil manually or with a small tiller, that wouldn't cultivate nearly as deeply. This will be due as soon as the cultivation is completed.

So, if you have a 1/4 acre mini-farm and have not already paid, please be ready to mail a check either now or soon. Please make your $45 check payable to "Bruce King." You can mail it to me at:

Starbird Community Farm
1907 51st Avenue SE
Everett, WA 98205

I'm as excited as you are to get rolling and see how everyone's planning unfolds.

all the best,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Plowing

I was also at the farm yesterday to see how the field was coming. It is still rather wet out there. I am anxious to get planting. I have lots of pea seeds I received that I can share with anyone that is interested. I am a Snohomish County Master Gardener and I have been gardening on my own property for sometime, but this is the first large gardening project I have under taken. I am also part of the group out here teaching about Growing Groceries for families and communties. I feel it is essential that we all know where are food is coming from and that growing locally is very important. I will help anyone with questions if needed. I am trying to draw up my own garden plot. I intend to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. My special interest is growing Heirloom melons. I am looking forward to gardening with everyone it should be lots of fun!! Carol

Next Winter's Garden

We haven't even got this spring garden planted yet but it is time to think already about next winter. Since winter is one of the most productive times in Northwest gardens, it is worth some planning.

So what are good winter crops? Greens: kale and arugula, brassicas: Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli, root crops like turnips, carrots, parsnips.

Plan to start these crops from seed in June for winter harvest. You can make a nursery bed for starting the greens and brassicas. Then transplant to appropriate spacing when the plants are 2-3 inches high. You should be able to harvest fresh vegetables all winter long. When these plants mature during the winter months they are much slower to bolt (go to seed), which means that you can stretch out the harvest much longer.

Root crops like carrots and parsnips can be left in the ground in this climate and dug as needed through the winter. In the case of StarBird Farm with our high winter water tables, be sure to mound up the soil at least 8 inches above nominal ground level to ensure good drainage come winter.

(Don't leave potatoes in the ground. They have a much greater tendancy to rot.)

Of course, there is always the possibility of fall flooding in the Snohomish valley which could completely wipe out winter gardens. A good farmer provides him or herself with as many alternatives as reasonable. For that reason, also plan to freeze at least broccoli from your summer garden for winter eating. If we're lucky, and you have planned ahead, you may have fresh broccoli to eat and the frozen broccoli can be made into soup.

Brussel sprouts require a long, cool growing season. Don't be too quick about getting them planted this spring. If you plant seed in June, you should be able to harvest by Thanksgiving and then all winter.

Hey, with a large garden and realtively inexpensive seeds you should be able to grow a lot of fresh winter vegetables.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring plowing 2

Chris reports:

Regarding tilling the West Pasture, the process began a few days ago in pastures to the east of the barn. After about an acre, the friction clutch on the farmer's tiller attachment burned out and caught on fire. The new part was put on order and should arrive soon.

The weather is also a big factor at the moment. The day after the tiller broke down, we were blessed with 4" of snow in an hour. The snow then half-melted and then froze solid for a few days. The result is that the soil is currently saturated with water and it would have been counter-productive to till it. As our farmer neighbor put it, "Rather than aerating the soil, it would have turned it into a frappe." When it dried, it would be as hard as a brick down 6".

Obviously, we don't want that. So, we need to wait until Mom Nature gives us the go ahead to till. We are watching this every day and everyone is anxious to get it completed. As soon as it's done, I'll let you know, and to whom to write the check for the tilling.

In case you run into anyone who's looking for a garden patch, there are still about a dozen jumbo p-patches left to lease @ $110 including tilling. On the other side of the barn are a 1/4 acre pasture and a 1/2 acre pasture, that could be split in two, remaining. Both are already tilled. For the larger parcel in one piece, I'll throw in the cost of the tilling for free.

It should be a fun season ahead. There will be at least 20 gardeners working in this field, with a wide range of backstories, all connected by a love of gardening.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Plowing

Chris Newman, the instigator of Starbird Farm organic gardens reports on plans for spring plowing:

I spoke with the local farmer who will be doing the ground prep and we're targeting late March for the work, with the exact timing depending on the weather. So, the folks who are having this done should avoid putting stuff on the land that will be tilled.

He's going to do a three-step process: Plowing down to 10", tilling down 6" and power raking to get out the field grass rhizomes. A lot of work for $45. I'll let you know when the date is set.
Having grown up on a farm in the midwest, I well remember Spring Plowing. Beginning in early March, my dad would walk the fields several times a week. He was looking at soil moisture and temperature. As soon as he thought he could get his tractor through the fields without causing soil compaction (from plowing before it was dry enough) or plain getting stuck in the mud, he would hook up his John Deere 3-bottom plow to the old Farmall M tractor and start making his furrows across the fields.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Garden Layout

One way I like to spend the month of February is drawing plans for my garden. This is especially fun the very first year when the garden is still just an idea. Later, I will change the plan to agree with actual plantings. I will also keep records on the plan -- actual varieties of seeds planted, dates, harvest quantities and dates, etc. I usually print the plan on a large piece of paper and post it on the wall. This year, I will post it on this blog and share it. Expect to see more posts later about how it all works in reality.