We’re Still Here

There’s a certain point in the summer where we at EEC get caught up in all the “growings on” here on the land. It’s been a busy summer of work and play, with little time for computer antics. But an update is overdue, and as the land begins to slow back down with the loss of light, as fall approaches, I’ve taken a moment to sit down and catch up.

The kitchen garden has become a wild plant paradise, with black eyes Susan and pear tree root stalk, chives, American chestnut seedlings, comfrey, and more. Natural reeseeding of kale keeps our salads fresh, but I’ve never been a vegetable gardener, and that’s a fact. Why? Because I love working with animals and trees, that’s my passion. Growing garden vegetables, like broccoli and carrots, takes a lot of work to get right, especially in this soil. We have to constantly amend vegetable gardens with so much nutrients to keep those grocery store favorites in stock, when so many large greenhouse growers in our valley already have the veggies going and sell them locally at an affordable price.

The sheep are so wonderful, large, and sentient. They water themselves (as long as some is available), they feed themselves off the landscape, and are manageable in reasonable numbers. I don’t have to weed sheep, just de-worm them occasionally and trim hooves every few seasons. They eat the weeds, and mow the lawn, and put great fertility back into the soil. Sheep also need to move around, so they keep me on my toes moving electric fences and keeping them safe from predators. It’s fun, constant (like gardening) but I get to work with animals, my passion.

The her spiral, key hole garden, and other rockery beds in the house gardens are thriving, and could use a trim back. I harvested lavender earlier in the summer, and left more for the pollinators, who need it most. There are still not enough flowers on the land, and that’s going to take time, which we have at EEC Forest Stewardship. Smaller rock gardens are easy to manage compared to large (anything over 4×6′) vegetable gardens with limitless space for both food and weeds.

Edge spaces, along the driveway for example, foster an in between place where I’ve begun cultivating long term hedge species like native twin berry and current, as well as some hybrid experiments, like the fenced edible crab apple, which is managing to survive in a low water zone with a little help form his companion plantings. I’ve co-planted the cultivar with native crab apple as a comparison. The borage survives almost anywhere, reseeds throughout the growing season on it’s own, can be eaten, and is the #1 pollinator station chosen by the insects. Some gardeners complain it’s a weed, but what an easy weed to pull, and what it offers far outweighs the weed negatives in my gardens.

Hens are at is too, producing the best eggs I know. We’re selling a few dozen locally, but I’m planning to keep the flock to under 30, and not produce on a larger scale, as the commercial price does not add up to the true cost of producing happy hens who lay nutrient dense eggs. It’s very important to realize just how subsidized commercial farming is now. Those bleached white eggs in the store with the thin shells and watery goo some call an egg dripping out of them, priced at $2.99, are sad examples of food, and are worth less than the money you pay for them. But for so many, and soon, so many more, food at all is better than none- and “affordable” food is best. It’s what low quality nutrition will do to the body long term, which sometimes keeps me up at night.

This summer we flood irrigated with the pillow tank for the first time. I might add that it was no flood, even with a fire hose. We’ll be designing a slow drip irrigation system off the tank now. Without an electric pump, the water does not have enough force to flood anything as it spills out of the hose. That’s ok, we’re learning a lot about the physics of water. The orchard still received a good watering as we moved the hose around. By the way, a 100′ fire hose full of water is quite heavy.

This is a shot of full flow from the hose. It’s just not going to flood the swale fast enough before it all soaks in. Such a great lesson in water system design. When, after only a year of planning, we implemented all these large scale plans, it was immediately apparent to me that the systems were too big to manage, and that as an individual, I had to scale things back down to my needs. Luckily this world is full of flex, and since the problem is always the solution, it’s been possible to rebuild off the plans already in place, and re-imagine out systems to work within the constraints as they change. This is the mark of any good land steward, because the land is in constant flux, and human imposed systems must change to work with the land as needed. So many of us big brained humans think we can change the land to suit us. In some ways yes, but our little brains can’t fully comprehend the complex web of nature, and we often “monocrop” a space to fit our limited understanding at the cost of a healthy working whole.

Back in sheep land, we just introduced a new breeding ram to the flock. This wonderful guy came locally from Canfield Farms in Snohomish. Michelle’s been running Katahdin sheep there since 2010. Her records are amazing, and though I will never match them, I’m so excited to have this contact, and she got into sheep through dog trials, so I have now met a local sheep dog trainer too. Can’t wait to introduce her to Valentine.

Speaking of, this dog has come a long way in less than two years. She’s now capable of moving the sheep for me. In the picture above, she is sorting chickens out of the flock to help me get them back to the coop side of the fence for feeding. This pup knows her stuff, and can tell the words “bird” from “sheep” without hesitation. She loves to work, and does it well. There’s still the challenge of keeping her form occasionally jumping up at new people in her excitement to greet them, but she does know how to “calm down”. And labor day weekend, she had a chance to really show her training when a young 4 year old visitor to the farm spent two days playing with her. By the end of that enjoyable time, Valley was happily playing fetch with the child without jumping on her, and knew to stay with the little girl when she wandered around on her own. Now Valentine has a new young friend, and a fan.

It’s not all had work and no play. My wise Mother sent us a blow up kitty pool, which I scoffed at, until it was full of cool water in the shade at the end of a hot day of working outside. We’re grateful for an oasis in the heat of summer. Thanks again Mom!

Though the world may be full of strange times, EEC Forest Stewardship continued to thrive here in Western Washington. It is such a privilege to spend my life in this work, with all the opportunities to be on the land, cultivating good food, great ecology, and some wonderful forest. Lots more to come as I get back to writing about this place and all the amazing things to come. Thanks to all who read this little blog and take interest in the world of small scale land stewardship. Have a great rest of the summer!

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