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.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Typical Northwest Cold 'Spring'

What happened to Spring?

Our Pacific Northwest weather of late has been cold (36 degrees F at night) and wet. We haven't been able to do much with the garden. The coming weekend holds promise, however. I need to get in with the tiller between the planted rows to get the small grass that is popping up.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Crops Planted

We got the first crops in this week: three varieties of potatoes, 3 types of onions, lettuce, carrots, arugula, radishes, Calendula (for some color) and Chinese cabbage. This weekend I'll also set out some broccoli. I used my rototiller to make furrows and Jennie used her hoe to create a long 'bowel' on the top of the furrow. She put cotton seed meal (an excellent source of nitrogen) in the bowel and then scattered the seeds and covered with a layer of sifted soil. We'll see how this works. The furrows are up about 6 inches above the mean soil level so they are dryer. At this time of the year, on Ebey Island that is important. Later, when the plants have developed a root system they will be able to reach the water which is only down about 4 inches below mean soil level. We may need to do some watering early, depending on rain, but not later.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Tilling Complete

I was able to get into the garden yesterday and finish (at least for now) the spring tilling. It's funny. The water table is only down about 6 inches, but the surface was dry enough to till. Could have been drier, but it worked. All of the garden has been gone over twice and some as much as 6 times now. I think I've got the canary grass handled. The areas I had covered last fall with black plastic were by far the easiest to work. I wish I had covered the entire garden. Fundamentally, I don't like black plastic, but when a garden is new, I feel justified in using it to save a lot of labor and energy. My grandfather never used anything more than a shovel and a hoe to 'farm' his quarter acre garden. But that was after years of working it every year and good use of mulch over the winters. Ultimately, I'd like to get back to that if I ever stayed in one place long enough.

After I completed the tilling, I wanted to prepare an area for the early spring planting -- potatoes, onion sets, carrots, etc. For those plants, I wanted to get the root area up away from the water table for sprouting. Later the water table will drop a foot or more so the later crops do not need to be raised. Last year, we laboriously hand dug raised beds, lifting clods of canary-grass-root-laden soil. Most of those beds did not do very well. This year the root clods aren't there, but it's still a lot of work to hand dig raised beds. I used the furrowing attachment on my tiller to make three long raised rows in about 8 minutes. Slick. The furrows are 6-8 inches above the rest of the soil and appear to be 8-10 inches above the water table. The soil settled a lot in the rains since I made the furrows. I'll need to re-make them -- a little higher when it dries out some more. I plan to plant potatoes and onions on top the furrows. I'd like to be able to get the tiller down between the furrows a couple of times during the summer to keep the weeds under control.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring Plowing

I went to the farm today to see if Bruce King (of Ebey Island Farm -- see link to the right) had delivered a load of wood chips that I had ordered. Not yet. Bruce needs to get his truck running. No hurry! But I did notice that the ground was probably dry enough to get some tilling done.

3 hours later, I had covered about 2/3 of my plot -- 2 to 4 passes in some cases. The areas that I had tilled a couple of times last fall were easy and are now ready to plant. The areas I didn't get to had more canary grass and will have to be tilled at least one more time before they are ready. So now it depends on the rains. The forecast is for rain tonight and tomorrow, so it might be next week before I can get int the garden again.

It is sure nice to be working with the soil again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 -- a new gardening year

We signed up for another year at Starbird Farm. I went out yesterday and it appeared to me that I might be able to do some rototilling. I want to get at the canary grass before it gets too big. I had gotten about half the garden well tilled several times last year and that part is still really clean of weeds and grass.

I have learned that the City of Everett owns some 400 acres of farm land south of the Lowell River Road a few miles south of Ebey Island. This is good farm land, also within the 100-year flood plain so the city can't build houses there. I have made a propsal to establish community gardens on that land. It has been farmed recently and is in pretty good shape -- not covered with canary grass like Ebey Island. My long term vision is that those 400 acres should be made into 3-5 acre farms that could be leased long term (like 25-year leases) to small farmers who would produce fresh food for the city. With the looming fossil fuel shortages, we need all the food production we can create near the cities. The hill above that land -- adjacent to Interstate 5 -- could be developed into affordable housing for the farmers and their families.

For the past two weeks I was touring southern Mexico, Mayan country. I did get to visit a Mayan village and go inside a Mayan family compound. It consisted of several oval huts with thatched roofs. The Mexican government has brought water (via a garden hose), electricity (lights in the huts and a TV in the corner) and education to the villages. The people are farmers who farm very small acreages often several miles away from the village. Water is a problem. They grow corn, beans, squash and a few melons. Education is in their own language via satellite and DVD. All over the Yucatan, one sees special modified bicycles with a large cargo bay on the front end. A few of them are even motorized. The Yucatan is very flat, so this makes sense. In the Everett area, these things would need some help getting up the hills.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Short Sale

The purchase of the property described in my last post will definitely be a short sale. I discovered that the seller's bank (BoA) is now using a system called 'Equator' to facilitate short sales. I had my realtor initiate an Equator account on this sale. It is supposed to take 60 to 90 days to close the sale on Equator. I also lowered my offer by 10% -- just for the hassle. Since it's a short sale anyway, why not offer what the place is worth. So I now think my offer is high enough to pass the bank's appraisal, but low enough to be a better deal than I first had. We'll see. I may yet get this place in time for some 2010 planting.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not so Fast There ...

... buster. It turns out that our offer on this farm, which we were assured by the listing agent was adequate to get the place, and which the seller accepted, was too low for the seller's bank. Due to a miss-communication between that bank and the seller, our offer was only enough to cover 95 percent of what the seller owes the bank. The difference is the back interest resulting from 6 months of non-payments. What we have heard is that after moving out of the place, the seller rented it for 5 months AND THE RENTERS NEVER PAID. Hence the bank didn't get paid and now they want their money. In effect, they want us to make good on those 5 months of freeloading renters. Sorry, not interested.

On the other hand, don't you think that in today's economy the bank would be happy to get 95 percent of what they are owed? But that would make too much sense. Instead, we loose the farm, the seller will be forced into bankruptcy, the bank will foreclose, the house will sit empty for months while the process happens and eventually the bank will have to sell the house at a loss of 40 to 50 percent. We live in strange times. Does this sound like bank-suicide? It does to me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

We did it!

We found a drier place to farm. It is just 3 miles up the hill from Ebey Island on the outskirts of Snohomish. Last week we made an offer and it was accepted on a .82 acre upland 'farm.' There's a house -- vintage 1940's -- that we will rent so someone who wants a share of an organic garden. We will keep half the property for our own use. That will include a small barn, chicken coop and a 1/3 acre open, gently sloping area which is now in horse pasture. We have already paid for the StarBird Farm for 2010 so we will continue through this summer there. It will take us a month or two to get the house into rent-able shape and we don't want to rush ourselves too much to get a garden in there.

Now we will have a place of our own (and an investment, we got a good deal) where we can plant fruit trees and other permanent food crops. If we decide to buy an RV after we sell our boat (38 ft long, 14 ft beam Californian trawler), we will also have a place to park that instead of using up all of our driveway.

The property also includes a large shop. For someone who could live in a three bedroom, one bath house and needs a large shop, this could be a good deal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Update on search for a drier place

We've looked at several alternative sites for gardening. Our criteria are:

1) Nearby -- 6-8 miles from where we live in Everett
2) 2-3 acres with at least 1/2 acre available for gardening. We wouldn't necessarily use all that at the same time, but it would be nice to be able to alternate plots.
3) Uplands, of course, winter gardening possibilities.
4) A small house that would qualify the property for a mortgage and give us some rental income to help cover the mortgage.
5) Room to park an RV for when we sell our boat.

Right now there are a lot of short sales on the market. These are properties where the buyer is under water -- owes more on the mortgage than the house is worth -- and the bank agrees to accept less on the sale than the buyer owes. The bank puts the property on the market and sets the price lower than they'd like to get. They hope to collect a lot of offers and then they'll go back to the offers and ask for their highest and best price. The sale goes to the highest bidder. Sounds fair. The bank may loose some. The problem is that this kind of sale can take a long time. The bank can take weeks or months at each stage in the process hoping something better will come along.

We've looked at two properties, both less than 7 miles from where we live. Both are right outside Snohomish on the west side. One is 1 1/2 acres with a house. But that one has a problem. A neighbor has an easement on the property for a septic field. That, plus the septic field for the house and the house itself mean that half the property is unusable. That still leaves 3/4 acre. But it is not fenced, no shed, water not easy and location (across the street from a major shopping center) doesn't appeal to us.

The other peoperty, that we will probably look at again, is only .82 acres, but is somewhat better laid out. It has a detached 2-car garage that could be rented with the house or not. It has lots of fruit trees, though not well cared for. It has a barn with a chicken area, a tack room with hay storage, a horse stall and a small 'office' area. All the outbuildings have water and power. The house is 3 bedroom, one bath with a one-year-old roof and all appliances. The prime crop area on this property is a 1/3 acre well drained pasture.

We might make a contingent offer on the second one and keep looking. If it does really take a long time and we find something better we can just take the offer off the table.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Ideal Garden

I've been thinking a lot about what my ideal gardening situation would be. We live in a small city, Everett, Washington. We have a small yard -- two city lots -- which is only 50x100 ft. Two houses and the city-required off-street parking take up 75% of the lot. Another house to the south of us blocks direct sunlight from most of the yard that is available for growing food. We do have a strip of grass between a retaining wall and the sidewalk in the front of the house, but it has a light and drainage problem.

That is why we are gardening at StarBird Farm which is only 3.5 miles from our house. That proximity means I can go there every day and I can walk or ride my bike much of the time. However, if I need to take bulky tools or my rototiller, I have to drive my small truck. None-the-less, this is much like the village system in Europe or Asia where people like in villages and have a short commute to their food production areas.

Ebey Island is good, but not quite ideal for us.

The problems are 1) It is in the flood plain, vulnerable to spring or fall flooding of the Snohomish River. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. Years of flooding have unriched the soil, but we could loose much of our effort if a flood did come. Fortunately, Ebey Island has not flooded recently. The north end of Ebey is protected by a dike that has been breached but not overtopped in 100 years. 2) Even without flooding, the water table is very high in the winter, right at ground level. This means that we can't drive a vehicle into our garden and we can't seriously consider any winter gardening there. 3) We only rent the use of the land; we don't own it. That restricts what we can do, that plus the rather onerous restrictions placed on the flood plain by Snohomish County. We can't put down gravel to make a reliable lane into our garden, we can't build a shed there to store tools.

So what would be ideal? 1) The land would be up, out of the flood plain. 2) We would own the land. 3) The soil wouls still be fertile and mostly free of rocks.

We've been looking for such a place. We could afford to buy it. We've been looking for 3-5 acres that are mostly open. We would want 1/2 acre to farm, alternating tillage of 1/4 acre on a 3-year cycle. We would also want about 1/8 acre for fruit trees and berries. Why 3-5 acres? If there were a house, we could get a bank loan to help pay for it. We would rent the house to help pay the mortgage. We could put $50 - 100K down on a place and make payments of $1500/month. Having someone living there would be added security and possibly allow us to take a vacation sometimes.

It would also be desirable if the place had a well-defined separate area with a shed or barn with RV hookups that could be our part, while we rented the house. We presently own a large boat which i am preparing to sell. the proceeds of that sale could easily purchase a comfortable RV where we could stay on weekends and use for traveling sometimes.

One would think this kind of place would be easy to find.

Now, having said all that, what could make Ebey Island and Starbird Farm in particular satisfy our needs?

First, the lane into the garden would have to be made passable year-round. This could be best accomplished with either coarse gravel or even with an ample application of wood chips.

Second, We would have to raise some portion of the garden about a foot. This would get winter roots up out f the water table and make winter gardening possible.

Third, we would have to be able to erect some sort of simple, yet secure shed big enough to house simple tools and our rototiller.

Fourth, we would need to at least obtain a 5-year lease on the land. This would give us the assurance that we would have access to the land long enough to bebefit from investments we would make there.

Strictly speaking, I think all three of these things shouldn't be too difficult to obtain at StarBird Farm, except for local regulations.

I have been told that it is illegal to spread gravel in a flood plain. I have also been told that the use of wood chips is illegal, except that I see it being done a lot , even by the county in wetlands areas.

Could I bring in fertile soil to build up a portion the garden -- say 20x40 ft. That might require 3-4 truckloads of soil. How would I get a large dump truck loaded with soil into the garden on the lane as it now exists. That might be possible only in the driest part of the summer. And then, would taht also be illegal in a flod plain. I don't know.

I understand that building virtually any kind of structure is illegal in a flod plain. I know of a case nearby where small (20x20 ft) barns wer build and have been ordered removed. I don't need anything that big -- say 10x10 ft -- but I would want it to be secure. I would remove everything from it during flood season (November thru January).

At present we are only able to rent the land year-to-year and without a contract at that. We have no legal assurance that our efforts will last any longer than a few months. We can't do some of the food production we'd like to do on such a temporary basis.

So that is why we are looking. We know that we can use Starbird farm for another year (at least that's what we have paid for) but beyond that?? Also, we know that Snohoimish County is buying land all around us for the purpose of creating wetlands in favor of salmon. If the dike that protects Ebey Island is one day breached intentionally, then hundreds of acres of fertile farmland will be lost. DOes this make any sense in light of declining fossil fuel supplies? Why is it that the county talks about protecting farm land but all their actions are to the contrary.

Personally, I think that our semi-urban counties should today be giving the highest priority to protecting farm land -- from both development and natural forces. We should be nuturing our farmers, not fighting them. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Signs of Spring

The chives are coming back!

For me this is always one of the first signs of spring. I'll bet that if I go out to the farm, I'll find more signs of spring. It was freezing just a couple of weeks ago. The 2010 planting season is approaching rapidly. Jennie and I will be out of the country the first two weeks in March. Probably just as well, wouldn't want to get into the garden too early. April 1 is plenty early on Ebey Island. Most serious planting will have to wait until mid May unless it is a very dry spring. We shouldn't count on that in the Northwest.

We are looking for another piece of land to garden -- something higher in altitude and a bit drier in the winter where we can do some serious winter gardening. Ideally 1/8 to 1/2 acre. We might want to also park an RV there. Anyone got any ideas?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Garden 2010 (Twenty-Ten)

This time to order seeds for this year's garden. We generally buy all our seeds from Territorial Seeds because they produce seeds particularly suited for growing west of the Cascades. This year we will grow much the same plants that we grew last year with these exceptions: fewer bush beans since we couldn't use all that we planted. More carrots since we like them and they keep well. More emphasis on growing for fall/winter harvest for fresh food over a longer season. More onions. Also, we will reverse the garden so that we don't get a pest build-up. As soon as I have a plan for the garden I'll post it here.