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?

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