Respect Your Alders

There are lots of trees in the forest, but I have been having a growing love for red alder, alnus rubra. In the Pacific Northwest it is considered a weed tree. It is a fast growing pioneer, and one of the few non-legume nitrogen fixers.

Soil:
Without a lot of help these guys will transform a soggy soil into something fertile enough for “real” timber growth. They lay down a thick layer of humus with fallen leaves and branches and can rid the soil of bad fungus by just growing and falling in place. Once the tree falls all those nitrogen nodules on the roots slow release fertilizer at the root zone for the next stage of the forest to take advantage of. Fallen trees soak up tons of water and keep the forest moist in the dry season.

We have a lot of uses for these on the farm and at the house.

Firewood:
Clean burning and fast curing I can safely drop a tree in spring and with a little care have bone dry firewood by the beginning of the season. They aren’t as dense as fir but don’t gunk up the chimney as fast with creosote. They look great in the wood pile too. Best of all they are super easy to split. I don’t even need to stand them on end save for the really big rounds. I can drop a tree, buck and split it with an axe in less than a day.

Freshly split and stacked alder

Chips:
Alder chippings are fantastic for orcharding. We save the thinnest branches for this and prefer to harvest them when they are just starting to leaf out. These ramial chips have a lot of nutrition that promotes soil health and good fungi. We use it to keep the pasture grass at bay around our plantings and it holds moisture incredibly well. We have filled our first swale with wind fall logs and branches to create a giant sponge effect near our precious fruit trees too. While alder doesn’t coppice well I have noticed that when a live tree falls the upward branches begin to sprout into mini trees and the parts that are in contact with the soil begin to change into roots. I think I can use this to our advantage to promote more of the little twigs and limbs we want without sacrificing entire trees.

You can see the mass of mycelium in the old chips

We plan on using the sponge effect in the bases of our raised beds too.

Bark:

I have always been drawn to the deep red inner bark that stains the logs orange, and then it occurred to me after it stained a shirt I was wearing while hauling out logs from a thinning project that it would make a great dye. Native Americans knew this and used it to dye their fishing nets. This year I pulled as much bark off as I could to speed the drying process and to leave some nutrients in place where the tree was harvested. I saved some to boil and make dye.

Dye from 3 gallons of inner bark, ready to use

Sap:
I have read that alders can be tapped like a maple and that the water is flavorful and once reduced makes a tasty syrup. This is on my list of experiments for next spring.

Woodworking:
Though not suitable for outdoor use or contact with water this soft hardwood is great for cabinets, interior doors and trim. It is easy to work with and it’s habit of self pruning in close stands makes for a virtually knot free wood. When it does burl it is beautiful and the few boards to have ripped with a chainsaw look very nice. We intend to saw some of the bigger logs for finish work in our future home.

Pollen:
This time of year everything is covered with a fine layer of bright green pollen. To us it is two things. Airborne nitrogen and bee fodder. A friend of mine gave me some alder honey and it is scrumptious. Luckily I’m not allergic to alder pollen, when the grass is in bloom it is another, sneezier story. You can bet that when we keep bees there will be a few hives in our alder stands.

Medicinal:
This falls under the “I don’t know, but I’ve been told” category. Antiseptic properties and tumor reduction are touted, but I’ll let you do your own research on that one.

Downsides:
Large trees are prone to splitting when felling. This is pretty dangerous but avoidable two ways. For trees I feel are at risk I use a bore cut and open notch to prevent a barber chair. Trunks can also be wrapped with logging chain.

 

 

 

Guidance for felling can be found on the OSHA site.

In a windstorm you want to be far away from alders. Large upper branches can rocket down like a spear. We’ve come across them believing they were small trees they had plunged so deeply in the ground. Tops snap off and whole trees can topple over.

When the crown breaks it is just a matter of time before the tree succumbs to heart rot. The wood gets punky fast, so I have been trying to salvage leaners and snapped top trees before they are too hazardous to take down.

All things considered, these “weeds” are pretty awesome.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Forest Management, Mulch, Permaculture, Sustainability, Tree Care | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ram Pump

Last year we suffered through pumping water from a spring and pond into water totes and our big cistern at the top of the hill using a little 12 volt pump I picked up from Harbor Freight. It required lugging a heavy battery up the hill and priming it by pouring a gallon or two of water down the hose and my arm, dipping it in the pond, and repeating until it started sucking water. The process reminded me of the Harry Belafonte song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” it just wasn’t as funny to me because I was living it. Even after it was pumping, the flow wasn’t huge. I could pump about 375 gallons per fully charged battery up that hill. So I would lug the battery back down and charge it on our solar cells, which usually took a day, and by that time we would have to leave.

To be clear, the incoming flow to our little pond is a steady trickle, not a full stream, and that usually dries up by August. If only there were a way to do this without a power source.

Sounds like a perpetual motion machine? Well there is a way.

In the late 1700′s a pump was created that used gravity and water flow to push some of the water much, much higher than the pump itself. The Hydraulic Ram Pump was born. A company called Rife still sells them but at steep prices.

1896_bme32

Then I found this fellow’s YouTube Videos. Credit where it is due. He explains it in a three part series very well and shows how to assemble it from parts you can get from a plumbing store. Don’t waltz into Home Depot and expect to get everything you need.

A ram pump had always been part of our plan, and I have talked it up to my friends for ages it seemed like but now I had a chance to put it into action.

Step One:
Get all the parts. This required trips to 4 different stores. Mostly because the professionals only sold 20 ft lengths of everything. I don’t need 17 feet of 4″ schedule 40 pvc, just 3 feet, and for the galvanized pipe I really wanted 10 ft lengths that were threaded so I didn’t need an expensive pipe threader. This will all make sense when you look at the pictures. With LeFemme  and the dog  along for the ride you can imagine the amount of eye-rolling and feigned patience I had to endure.

Step Two:
The hard part. Drive a 10 ft pipe horizontally through 9 ft of packed dirt and clay and come out of the inner pond wall in the right spot. Tools: T-Post driver and muscle power. It was several hours of pounding and extra digging before I was ready for the next part.

       



Step 3:
Knock out 4 ft of packed mud without totally stripping the threads on the pipe. Rebar seemed like the best choice. Once it got flowing I needed to wait for it to clear the pipe.

 

Step 4:
Assemble. The compression tube gets fitted with a bicycle tube. This helps keep an air pocket in the tube. As the pump fills the tube it compresses the air and when it reaches the point it pushes the water uphill it then begins compressing again. The two swing check valves keep water flowing in the direction we want.

Starting the pump is just a matter of tapping the first check valve open, then monitoring the pressure until it passed 20 PSI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I ran up the hill I was greeted to the sound of water gurgling up the 100 ft length of hose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day I hooked it up to our cistern and directed the overflow to our swale, which eventually charges the groundwater which is what the spring overflow was doing farther down the hill.

Lastly, I installed a screen on the end of the pipe to avoid sucking up the flora and fauna that have found our little pond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pump was still going strong a week later with its steady heartbeat rhythm.

Posted in Construction, Homesteading, Permaculture, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Tree Care, Water Management | Tagged | 3 Comments

Build It and They Will Come

We have put in two small ponds of the eight planned. The first one is located at the top of the property. It was a small, seasonal pond M dug by hand summer before last. We used it to pump water into a 3000 gallon cistern which in turn was used to drip irrigate fruit trees planted on the swale berm during their first year. We referred to it as “Pondle”. When we had use of the excavator a few months ago, M decided to dig it deeper and a little wider. It didn’t take long before local flora and fauna started to settle in.

WP_20140412_008

The second pond is actually a 4 x 4 x 4 silt pond at the end of our curtain drain. It too has only been around a few months and already has algae growing in it and now salamanders and frogs are using it as their breeding grounds. I counted at least 12 salamanders in there last weekend.

WP_20140331_002

A few frogs frequent the joint as well. In the next year or so a larger pond (the largest one we have planned) will be dug into this area providing more habitat for the locals as well as our planned flock of Cayuga ducks and other waterfowl.

WP_20140323_003

We have about six large compost piles cooking in different locations around the property. The field mice have been taking up residence under the tarps to stay warm. When I pulled the tarps off to turn the piles last week, the mice came scampering out. This one seems to think he is “hiding” from me behind that clump of grass.

WP_20140330_003

He made a run for safety in the slate stacks, but unfortunately Magpie caught one of his buddies. You have to look closely to see the tail sticking out of her mouth. I felt bad, but it’s hard to discourage her from doing her job as a ratter. When we have the farm up and running, we don’t want the field mice taking up residence in any of the outbuildings or the house.

WP_20140226_003

Posted in Compost, Dog | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Not Set in Stone

Although we try to get down to the farm almost every weekend, there are times when I need M’s expertise on a few projects at home I am unable (or unwilling) to tackle like the kitchen sink constantly backing up (despite multiple past efforts to deal with it), or things that just can’t keep getting putting off – like changing the oil on the motorcycles and fixing the electrical short on the Land Cruiser so we can drive it after dark.

I think M is always secretly thrilled when we get to stay home – mainly because he can sleep in a little bit longer and he gets a reprieve from yet another commute. Well, let me rephrase that – he can stay in bed a little longer. Two roosters crowing from 4:00 am on just outside your bedroom window does not allow for much extra sleep. (Farm design note – place the coop as far from the bedroom window as possible.)  That reminds me, we’d only have to hear one rooster crowing if he had the time to get around to “harvesting” the last cockerel from our most recent hatching. I’m still “too chicken” to do it myself…

Jose' - the Spanish Dancing Chicken. He does a mean flamenco.

Jose’ – the Spanish Dancing Chicken. He does a mean flamenco when the ladies are around.

But the 240 mile round trip also adds up in fuel costs and we only have two days get things done around the farm, so we try to maximize every single trip down.  As previously posted, we pick up a truck bed full of dairy cow manure every chance we get from a farm on our way down.  The last couple of weekends we have been picking up loads of flagstone.  Adding these to our whirlwind working weekends has been hard.  By the time we make the pick-ups and spend the time unloading when we get there, it doesn’t leave much time for all of the other things we really need to get done like peeling the rest of the logs, limbing the rest of the trees in the field and then dragging them under cover to get peeled before they rot.

We also need to chip up the limbs to mix in with the cow manure for the compost piles. We still have cover crop seeding and tree transplanting to do and we are trying to buy a tractor before we break our backs.  The most pressing project that we haven’t been able to get started on is finishing the interior of the barn.  I suppose you can only do so much when you are running back and forth.

Lots of work yes, but there’s always a silver lining if you look close enough.  Like meeting the very nice family that wanted to get rid of about 1000 sq ft of flagstone set in a huge patio area in their yard.  M had just asked me to keep an eye out for stone on craigslist and my first search turned up this ad asking for offers on their flagstone.  I quickly responded having no idea what to offer as I had not had time to research how much stone we needed let alone how much it would cost. I threw some silly number out there and even offered to come pull the stone from their yard for a discount.  They said they had a few offers under consideration and would get back to me.

A week went by – I was so busy with everything else I almost forgot about it.  I assumed they must have sold it in the meantime, so went back to searching and their ad popped back up.  I had done a little research in the meantime (and realized how silly my first offer was!) so made another more reasonable offer.  A little more negotiating and the stone was mine.  We still got a great deal in comparison to what we’d have to pay retail, but the bonus was meeting the couple and their sweet little daughter.  We are always so thrilled to meet genuinely kind people and we’ve met so many since we embarked on our journey to farming.  I think stepping out of the hustle and bustle associated with “big city” living allows you to slow down and appreciate people and nature more.

About 4 trips with the pick up and the cargo trailer loaded to get it all to the farm

About 4 trips with the pick up and the cargo trailer loaded to get it all to the farm

So now we have stacks of stone that we plan to use for paths through the gardens.  By slightly sloping them, we will create a passive irrigation system on contour. The water will follow the stone footpaths between the beds and very slowly wind down the hill eventually spilling into a pond.

WP_20140226_002

WP_20140226_011

Posted in Homesteading, Permaculture, Water Management | 11 Comments

Meet Magpie

P1010690

St. Patrick’s Day two years ago marks the day we picked Magpie up from her foster home. The rescue organization that found her living in a car named her Maggie.  We renamed her Magpie (although we still call her Maggie a lot of the time). She was about three months old and absolutely irresistible! I don’t know if I was the first person to inquire about her after seeing her picture on petfinder.com, but I was smitten at first glance.  However, within a few minutes I knew she would be a handful. She had that look in her eye…

P1010595

But she was so ding dang cute, who would even hesitate to scoop up that little bundle of fur and take her home?  I now recall the wording in her petfinder post – something along the lines of “will need a home that can provide creative ways to harness her exuberant personality”.  So she has personality – even better!

Oh, how those words mock me now.

Seriously people - how could you walk away from that face???

Seriously people – how could you walk away from that face???

Since this blog is a chronicle of our journey to the farm and Magpie is part of that journey, it was high time to write a post about her.

Magpie is an excellent alarm system.  Just ask our neighbors…  She hears things.  Lots of things.  Half of it I don’t hear, but she takes her job as our great protector very seriously. I just hope that at some point [soon] she will at least be able to distinguish between everyday sounds we make in the house (i.e. closing a cupboard door) and potential threats.

Magpie is learning to be a pretty good Livestock Guardian Dog.  She is very protective of our chicken flock and just about comes unglued if she hears them call out and she’s in the house.  Magpie is still struggling with the difference between “Wow! I just laid the biggest egg ever!” cackles and the “OMG!!!! I think there’s a coyote out there!” cackles.  It doesn’t help that one of the young roos is a bit of a Chicken Little himself.  Needless to say, we are not popular with the neighbors between two crowing roosters at 4:00 am and the Barky Barkstress.

Magpie is an excellent travel companion.  Just like a toddler, she falls asleep as soon as we hit the road.  Magpie knows the two plus hour trip very well.  She always wakes up at the stop light we turn off on that puts us “in the country” and away from freeways and main roads.  I think it might be the change in smells that triggers her – after that turn we are in farm country.  She can hardly contain her excitement for those last 15 minutes of the trip.  The second we stop the truck in front of the gate she is ready to go – if the windows are open there is no stopping her.  While we fiddle with opening the gate lock she runs through the tall grasses, drinks from the puddles (these are some of the wetlands on our property) and hunts for field mice and voles.  We can barely see her unless she leaps at some little critter. As soon as we get back in the truck and start up our road to “camp”, she doesn’t even hesitate to leave her prey behind.  The race is on.  She LOVES to race the truck up the hill, probably because she always wins.  She’s a Heinz 57 pup and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have any greyhound in her, but when she runs like that you start to wonder.

Magpie is a great huntress. This will be quite useful on the farm for predator control - both for livestock and the gardens.  She spends a large portion of each day catching field mice and voles, as well as chasing rabbits and deer.  The downside is that she REALLY likes to dig…

Wow - this smells good! I think I can get my whole head in there

I’m pretty sure there’s a critter in here somewhere

catching voles

catching voles

Magpie loves to play. She will make a game out of just about anything. If you don’t have a ball or a stick to toss, she will make her own even if it means chomping a branch off of a tree or shrub.  Too big?  No problem, she’ll just break it into to “fetchable” sized pieces for you.

WOW! Look at all of those sticks!

WOW! Look at all of those sticks!

wanna play ball?

wanna play ball?

Perhaps a nice game of fetch?

Perhaps a nice game of fetch?

They have special parks just for DOGS?????  Magpie's first dog park.

WHAT????  They have special parks just for DOGS????? Magpie is overcome with joy at this new discovery.

Magpie is super duper helpful.  No task can be done without her.

helping dig ponds

Helping M dig a pond

Helping me dig up potatoes

Helping me dig in the garden

Don't dump it there!!!

Just a little more to your left…

I think you need more dirt up here

I think you need more dirt up here

I'm an excellent driver

I’m an excellent driver

Magpie is a water dog.  Nary a puddle, pond or creek escapes her attention.

playing in ponds

How about a swim?

Mmmmmm.... freshly drilled water

Mmmmmm…. freshly drilled well water

Get your muck boots on - it's pretty muddy in here

Better get your muck boots on – it’s pretty muddy in here

After a hard day of work and play, it’s time to head home.

it's long road home for a tired little pup

it’s long road home for a tired little pup

A mid-day nap is so refreshing

A mid-day nap is so refreshing

playing is hard work

I play hard and I sleep hard

going...

Going…

going...

Going…

gone!

Gone!

Posted in Dog | 12 Comments

Getting Started

DIGITAL CAMERA

Despite the 10 – 20 degrees below our normal temps around here and the recent snow, I’m itching to get things growing. With the running back and forth between the two properties, I can’t focus too much effort in the annual vegetable growing department these days, but I am trying to grow as many perennial shrubs, trees and vines from cuttings and seeds as I can at home to take out to the farm. We have a lot of space at the farm and it would be too costly to buy all of the plants needed to get things going.

Last year I grew rhubarb, oregano, sages, alpine strawberries and rosemary from cuttings off of plants here at the house and planted them out at the farm with the fruit and nut trees (which were purchased bare root). I also grew Osage Orange, Mosu Chiko Bamboo and Paulownia from purchased seed last summer and will be planting those out at the farm this spring along with the white Concord grapes, Hebe, Hardy Fuschia and Golden Hops I grew from from cuttings.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Red Cedar, Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Alder self seed all over my yard and I’ve been digging the little starts up and growing them out in my unused vegetable raised beds until they are big enough to transplant safely out in the woodlot at the farm.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia.  There are at least 15 seedlings in here.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia. There are at least 15 seedlings in here waiting for me to dig up.

Bed of Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed

Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed. I’ll be digging these up shortly to plant out at the farm.

I also have a zillion Copper Sedge plants that self-seeded everywhere from a potted one up on deck. I keep digging them up and putting them in plastic pots.  Hopefully I’ll find a good use for them somewhere at the farm as I’ve also saved a lot of the seed.

I just started Black Locust and Saucer Magnolia from seeds I collected, as well as Sea Buckthorn, Blue Elderberry, Asparagus, Comfrey, more Osage Orange and Szechuan Pepper from purchased seed. I also have a wide variety of saved and purchased perennial herb and flower seeds I will start in another month.

The Saucer Magnolia is an anomaly. We have one here in the yard and I saved a couple of seed pods to experiment with. The rest of the plants were selected for particular reasons (nitrogen fixing, edible, mulch maker, medicinal, chicken forage, etc.).  The Magnolia is purely an ornamental, but I suppose one needs to feed the eyes as well.  I guess it could also be considered a mulch maker, so maybe it’s not such a poor choice from the permaculturists’ point of view.

magnolia

My daylight basement mudroom was converted into a propagation room several years ago for my vegetable seed starting. We have a deep freeze in there too and it keeps the room at around 55 – 60 degrees in the winter.

My propagation room (older pic)

Potted up tomato and pepper plants. An older pic - I’m not even going to think about growing tomatoes or peppers this year.

I also grow forage strips for my chickens to get them through the winter. It’s a mix of annual ryegrass, common vetch, winter peas, flax, cereal ryegrain, crimson clover and buckwheat. They take about two weeks to grow to this size so I keep about dozen or so trays in continuous production so they have access to fresh forage when pickins’ are slim in the yard or they are confined to the coop because we are down at the farm.

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

P1000946

This year is going to be tricky with all of the perennial trees and shrubs I’m trying to start as they will be taking up more room here shortly when I starting potting them up. Construction of the greenhouse at the farm is still a little ways off, so I’ll just have to make due the best I can between the two places until then.

M bought me a couple of soil blockers (a mini and a 2″) for Christmas one year. I use Eliot Coleman’s recipe for the soil mix. The mini blocker is great for the asparagus seed as they take up very little space allowing me to put all 200 of them on one my heating mats. After they germinate, I just pot them on to a 2″ block, and then I can plant the blocks out at the farm when things warm up a little. For the rest of the seed I start with the 2″ blocker and will pot the trees up into special tree pots I found on Peaceful Valley’s website.

mini blocks

This standard plant tray holds 60 mini blocks and is about half the size of the one pictured below

two inch blocks (the mini's will fit into these come time for potting up)

This is a repurposed pizza dough tray which will hold 60 – 2″ blocks.  The mini blocks also fit into these come time for potting up

I have an 8′ x 4′ raised bed in the back yard that M enclosed in polycarbonate. I call it my greenhouse bed. I use it to harden plants off in early spring and [used to] use it for planting out my peppers and cukes or tomatoes when it was warm enough to put them in the ground.

Greenhouse Bed

Greenhouse Bed being used to harden off tomato plants from a previous year.  They were started in 2″ soil blocks and then potted up to 8″ pots.

The house where we live now is in a very shaded wooded area and we just don’t get very much sun – it has to be pretty high in the sky to peek over our trees and shine on my vegetable plants – but I get enough to ripen some varieties. The bulk of my tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers are grown in very large pots on my southern facing deck.  This is where I get the most sun at home so I really have to work it to squeeze every bit of sunshine I can. We will have to wait until I get out to the farm full time before I attempt to grow anymore peppers and tomatoes. Too fussy for now.

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes

tomatoes

I have loads of unused annual vegetable seeds from the past couple of years and think I’ll experiment with them on the hugels we just built. We will see if the buried wood soaked up enough water to get the veg through the dry summer as irrigating is a chore in and of itself with hauling water. Although we just built the hugels last November/December, the trees and stumps sat out in the field over a year before that, so hoping there was a jumpstart on the biological activity.

I would like to get a bunch of berries started as well, but the budget is tight with the barn using up most of our reserves. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a good deal. That reminds me I have several Mulberry and Fig trees I got for next to nothing at a fall plant sale in pots on the deck I need to take out to plant in the area we will be housing our laying flock. Time to get off of the computer and back to seeding!

Posted in Chickens, Gardening, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Can you see the Forest for the Trees?

P1010430

After the first year of owning our property the taxes doubled. I contacted the Assessor’s office to see why and found out that when the larger parcel was split, our 24 acres became classified as residential. Mind you, there is no residence on this land [yet] and the property had previously been classified as agricultural.

I asked why the taxes doubled and was told because now that it is a smaller parcel it is a more marketable size and therefore there are more comparable parcels to measure it against, so our taxes were increased to match what similar “residential” parcels are rated at. Now that doesn’t seem fair, does it?

I asked about getting the Ag classification and the assessor was kind enough to advise me  that it would be easier and a better tax rate if we applied for the timber classification on the 13.5 acres of our parcel that is wooded. She said filing for the Ag classification was more complicated and you have to continually show a certain amount of gross income per acre.  Well, at least that was helpful.

At about the same time we attended a workshop on mushroom cultivation sponsored by our local land grant university extension program (WSU) and hosted by a small farm nearby.  In addition to learning how to cultivate mushrooms from the farmer, the WSU rep talked to us about using your woods for wildcrafting as another value-add to farming.  Wildcrafting in this instance was about using your woods to grow mushrooms, host wildcrafting workshops where participants would gather wild edibles and medicinal herbs, or make crafts from forest products and by-products like wreaths and baskets.

Interesting to note that the farmer (who had the “appearance” of being a little on the “hippie” side – not a criticism by any means – just providing a visual) was cultivating his mushrooms in plastic bags in highly managed and sanitized re-purposed shipping containers - not in the woods on logs.  In contrast, the WSU forestry guy (picture a 60-something university professor type) was promoting going out into the woods and communing with nature.  The juxtaposition was priceless and just goes to show you can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a book by it’s cover.

We chatted with the WSU guy at the break about our property and he offered to come out and do a walk-about with us to discuss forest management practices, wildcrafting/value-add ideas, etc….  He works in the Forestry department at WSU Extension and they help local landowners develop Forest Stewardship Plans, a much more intensive plan than the Forest Management Plan the assessors office requires for the tax classification change.

Well, as with most things, time slipped through our fingers with the barn building and earthworks projects this past fall/winter, so when I stumbled upon the Timber Tax Classification application the assessor sent me last summer I cringed.  You have to file the application along with your FMP by Dec 31 to qualify for the tax benefit for the following year – so this would not go into effect (assuming we filed on time and qualified) until 2015.  If we missed this deadline, we would be looking at waiting until 2016. Ding dang it – another opportunity lost… or was it?

I emailed Mr. WSU guy mid-November just in case he was available but it took us until mid-December before we could find a mutually agreeable time to meet up.  He came out and spent a good 3-4 hours walking the property and discussing the status of our current timber stand, ideas for improving it, as well as tips on thinning, harvesting and replanting it.  We also ran some of our ideas past him for value-add products and related ventures and he shared some additional ideas as well.  It was a great meeting and well worth it even if we weren’t able to get our application in on time to qualify for the tax break in 2015.  And I still pinch myself as it didn’t cost us a penny.  Thank you local land grant university!!

Now I have to take this opportunity to remind myself that even though this entire farm venture can be incredibly stressful, financially draining and time-consuming – we have met more of the nicest and most generous people since we started down this path than we have in our entire lives.  Not to say we haven’t known nice and generous people in our “other life” – but seriously – everyone we’ve met in connection with the farm has been over the top genuine, friendly and generous with their time, their tools and their knowledge.  Well, there is one exception – we’ve met one nasty fellow and unfortunately he will be one of our neighbors, but maybe he’ll mellow by the time we live there full time. Anyhow, Mr. WSU guy who was going to be on vacation until the end of the year said he’d work with us on getting our tax app and FMP filed on time and not to worry that he was on vacation.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?  Pinch me again.

We researched forest management plans and poured through the info Mr. WSU guy shared with us.  We emailed a couple of drafts back and forth with him (he was happy with what we had done) and filed it in person at the Assessor’s office on Dec 30 (right after we dug that second hugel bed). Whew!  Just in the nick of time.  Fingers crossed the inspector that will come out to our property in the next month or so will be able to make sense of what we filed – I can tell you it is not a standard FMP as we have no intention of ever clear-cutting our woods.

Red Alder

Red Alder

Our woods are mostly 20 – 30 year old Red Alder and Douglas Fir with some Bitter Cherry and a mix of other native trees. For the FMP, we divided it into 9 tracts (probably way more than a typical timber property would and we are only 13.5 acres!). The FMP requires you to list and describe the current timber species in each tract, provide somewhat detailed plans (dates, methods, etc), for harvesting, site preparation and replanting each tract.  In a nutshell, we will be thinning to improve the health of the timber stands, selectively harvesting over time, and replanting with trees that target the specialty hardwood market (handmade furniture, woodworkers, etc) as well as marketing non-timber products (i.e. mushrooms, chair bodgering workshops, wildcrafting workshops, and so on) and maintaining a healthy eco-system to support native plant species and wildlife.  We plan to take WSU’s Forest Stewardship Plan class this spring. The FSP goes into way more detail than the FMP and will help us to manage our woods in a much more sustainable way.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

Red Alder

Red Alder

Somewhere in between hugel building, charcuterie and preparing the forest management plan we squeezed in a little Christmas.  Just a little Charlie Brown tree from the woods behind the house - no lights, no decorations. We never made it up into the attic to get everything down. We intended to make a popcorn and cranberry garland to then leave out for the birds but charcuterie day turned into charcuterie week and we ran out of time.  No Christmas cookies or candy making this year – just a rum cake for Christmas day dessert.  The grand plan to serve Duck L’Orange for dinner turned into Rooster L’Orange.  I waited too long to get a local duck, but luckily M had recently harvested a couple of our young roos.  Despite the busyness, we somehow managed to overstuff our stockings and ourselves (with pate and sausages from charcuterie week – yum!) and still ended up with quite a few presents under our tiny tree come Christmas morning.  Thank goodness for that free trial of Amazon Prime.

Posted in Forest Management, Homesteading, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 13 Comments