Shedding a Little More Light

As mentioned in my last post, we had a couple of trees that needed to be taken down back home. One was poised to take out the chicken coop and the other – the house. It was time to call in the professionals.

The first tree to go was a cedar that was sharing a root ball with a Douglas fir. A few months ago we noticed a crack going up the trunk.  The crack kept getting bigger and although the cedar was leaning away from the house, the fear was that if the cedar fell it would lift the Douglas fir up by the root ball which would land on the house.

Leonard the tree guy roped up and climbed up to the top of the Douglas fir and then swung like a monkey over to the top of the cedar. He removed branches on his way down cutting and dropping 10 – 11 foot sections all the way to the bottom.


I took photos of his entire descent but you couldn’t see him. He is at least halfway down the cedar in this pic. I’m taking the pic from my front door.

We are hoping to make 10 foot fence posts from any parts of the cedar that are still in good shape.  The tree was rotten at the bottom and bug infested.  I can’t believe it didn’t drop in the meantime but am grateful it didn’t.  The Douglas fir seems to be unscathed by the whole event.



The second tree was a hemlock that was leaning over the chicken coop. High winds could knock it over and crush the coop. If the root ball came up, it would take out the wood shed.

Hemlock looming over the coop

For this tree, he removed all of the branches on the hemlock working his way up to the top.


He secured the large branches to a rope and pulley system and lowered them down to the ground since the hemlock was sandwiched between the chicken coop and the wood shed.


His assistants made a huge pile of branches in the yard and then he cut chunks of the trunk and pushed them off. For the most part they landed on the pile of branches – there are a few holes in the lawn from the misses.


The picture is blurry but if you look closely you can see a cut log mid-air.

As he worked his way down and the trunk got larger and therefore heavier, he couldn’t push the chunks towards the landing pad so he cut smaller sections and dropped them straight down. He only had a few feet between my garden bed and the coop to aim for and I’m glad to report there were no plants or coops harmed in the process. The assistants ran in after each drop to drag the log out of the way.


They were in and out of here in less than 4 hours. I wish I could say that the clean up left for me would only take that long but we will be chipping branches, bucking up logs, splitting firewood and milling posts for quite some time.



The chickens are also going to be limited in their foraging opportunities until we can clear the way for all of their fencing to go back up. I managed to get a section of the poultry net back up around a portion of the coop but the rest of fence will have to wait.

The added bonus with these two 90 foot trees removed from the thick canopy surrounding our house is that things might be looking a little bit brighter around here. It’s just hard to tell yet as it has been raining all day it is pretty dark and gloomy. Oh, and the chickens have a stump to hang out on.


Posted in Tree Care | 3 Comments

More of the Same…

Keep in mind this is a chronicle of the building our farm, so you get the good, the bad, the ugly and the not so interesting. Maybe we should change the name of the blog to “Diary of a Wannabe Farmer”.

Just getting down to the farm and getting all of our ducks lined up for the weekend took an entire day. M took the day off so we could get a jump start on the weekend. We picked up the tractor Friday morning. That entailed leaving the house at 715 am to catch a ferry to Seattle and then drive to Monroe where we bought the tractor. If we left any earlier, we would have just sat in rush hour traffic adding a couple of hours to our already impossibly long commute that day.

We arrived by 1000 am at the tractor dealer but the owner was at a trade show and no one could find our paperwork or keys. and oops – no one told them they were supposed to also do the 100 hour service. Eventually they found the keys. The problem we brought it in for turned out to be a bad detent lever. They replaced it and – thank goodness – it was covered by the warranty. We picked up extra filters and will just do the service ourselves. It was just a matter of convenience since they had the tractor for almost 2 weeks.

We got out to the farm just in the nick of time to receive our pre- scheduled 200 pm plumbing supply order for the well hook-up but they never showed up and didn’t bother to call. In the meantime we unloaded the truck, got the camp trailer set up and marked where the trees will be planted.  M called the plumbing supply around 330 pm and it turned out they had a delivery “emergency” [really? another "emergency"? Not really - it was more of a poor scheduling problem which I find out on Monday]. Oh, and thanks for the call guys.

M swung by the plumbing supply place for the HDPE pipe in case we’d have time to start laying it this weekend on his way to pick up the box scraper [again]. M specifically told them they needed to call me next week to reschedule delivery of the rest of the order and to definitely not try and deliver on Monday as no one would be there.  Guess who called me at 1230 pm Monday to say he was waiting at the gate with my order???

Saturday morning. A new day.

Since M was primarily going to be using the tractor over the weekend, I brought 9 Empress trees,  14 Black Locust trees and 24 comfrey plants thinking I could get them planted while he was trenching and leveling. He dug a few holes for me with the backhoe for the Empress trees but he needed to get going with the box scraper as we had to return it by 500 pm.


I took the Empress trees out of their pots and into feed sacks so I could lay them down flat in the bed of the truck. I later tucked in the Black Locusts and Comfrey.  They were all a little tattered upon arrival, but in pretty good shape given the route they travelled that day.

I only ended up getting four Empress trees planted as our good friend and resident curtain drain expert “S” stopped by with our electrical cable (they got us a screaming deal on it) and pointed out that we really should top off the drain rock with more fabric as the clay soil will filter down through the rocks we placed on top of the drain cloth filled with drain rock and could compact and create blockages. Thank goodness she saved our butts again – but ding dang it – now I had to run into town, buy more drain fabric, lay it out and secure it ASAP so M can get on with the leveling and backfilling before we have to stop to take off the box scraper, clean it up and drive it back to the rental place 45 minutes away.

It looks a little sad - but this Empress Tree should be pretty impressive next spring.

It looks a little sad – but this Empress Tree should be pretty impressive next spring.

Unfortunately there had been just a little too much rain this past week and it was a mucky mess. He did the best he could to level the site, but we will probably need to take another pass at it next summer when everything is completely dry.


We will also have to finish backfilling the curtain drain later as well. He placed enough dirt to secure the fabric, but there will be no planting of this area until next year. Hopefully a few hours of tractoring (yes – I’m pretty sure that’s not an actual word but I’m taking artistic license here) won’t make or break the soil.


M returned the box scraper and put the backhoe back on so he could finish trenching for the well line from the curtain drain to the barn. While he worked on that I seeded the site with 65 lbs of a soil building cover crop and 10 lbs of Daikon radish. Then we covered it all with straw. That clay soil can use all of the organic matter we can get our hands on.

In the meantime back at the “ranch”, I have to plenty to do getting ready for the tree service that is showing up first thing in the morning to take out a few large trees that are in precarious positions threating the chicken coop and the house.  I need to move the 200′ of electronet fencing from around the coop and set up a temporary place for the chickens on the other side of the house out of harms way. That on top of unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning the coop, etc….


Hemlock looming over the coop

Hemlock looming over the coop

This is right next to the house. A Douglas Fir and a Cedar sharing a root ball. The cedar (on the right) has split up the trunk. Even though it is leaning out towards the woods, the fear is that when it falls it will lift the Douglas Fir by the root ball and would definitely fall on the house.

A Douglas Fir and a Cedar sharing a root ball right next to the house. Actually my view from the office through one window is the hemlock over the coop and the other window is the doug fir/cedar.  The cedar (on the right) has split up the trunk. Even though it is leaning out towards the woods, the fear is that when it falls it will lift the Douglas Fir by the root ball which would definitely fall on the house.

close up (well as close as I can get with a phone camera) of the split cedar

close up (well as close as I can get with a phone camera) of the split cedar

Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Forest Management, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Tree Care, Water Management | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Between a [lot of] Rock and a Hard Place

We’ve had a hard time finding a well company to help us with our off-grid pump and line install.  We’ve been strung along all summer by two different companies who in the end decided off-grid was not their area of expertise.  Thanks for wasting our [very little to spare] time.  We are on to well company number three – they actually carry the particular type of pump we want to use and so we are keeping our fingers crossed they will come through for us.

While we wait for the well stuff to get worked out (fingers crossed) we decided to switch the order a bit on some of the other tasks we need to complete asap, so I started getting the materials together to button up the curtain drain.  That seemed easy enough.  Or so I thought…

I had to head down a day early as plumbing supply and gravel yards are only open during the week. Then I had to pick up the supplies from three different places enroute to the farm because, of course, none of them had all of the items we needed in stock. The gravel pit ran out of 1 1/2 inch drain rock and was short a truck but said they might have 1 inch rock and would try to find a contract truck. They would call me back the next day. It wasn’t until 5:05 pm the next day when I realized they never called back. Dang!  We are over two hours away, plus there were the three stops along the way. In order to be at the farm in time for 60 yards of rock to be delivered (5 dump truck loads) – I would have to leave by 630 am that morning just in case they could deliver.

Needless to say I was a stressed out mess, trying to coordinate everything (which includes the usual weekend prep work of packing everything we might possibly need including tools, food, supplies, getting the animals that were staying home set up, filling propane tanks and diesel tanks, etc… ) – but in the end they did find a truck and had enough 1 inch rock. Whew! Another crisis diverted.

I get down there in plenty of time to meet the driver. The bit of rain we had earlier in the week made the ground just mucky enough that the truck was unable to dump the rock at convenient locations along the curtain drain and so had to dump most of it in a single location.



Mid-way through rock deliveries the driver was called off for a “rock emergency” (must have been the county project that used up all of the 1 1/2 inch rock!) and they asked if they could bring the rest of the rock the following Monday.  Aaaarrrggghhh!  If we lived there – no problem, but ding dang it – I’m going to wear myself out before we ever plant a vegetable! They must have sensed the panic in my voice (I had not been well all week and had not slept well either – making things seem a lot more dramatic) and was able to squeeze in another delivery at the end of the day (I hope the driver got OT for that one) for which we were extremely grateful and much relieved.

Over the weekend we were able to get all of the drain cloth in, all 380 feet of drain pipe installed, plus a couple of feet of rock on top of the entire run.



The next step is to fold the drain cloth over the rock, secure with landscape staples and top off with more rock.  We were able to do this step on about 1/3 of the curtain drain before we had to pack it up and head home.  Not bad considering things seemed to be falling apart at the seams (no pun intended!) a couple of days earlier.


The following week I planned to head down again on Friday morning so I could pick up a box scraper from the tool rental place. We would use it to re-level the site so we could then backfill the curtain drain with the excess dirt and hopefully have it ready in time to sow the 100 lbs of cover crop seed I ordered a while back.

Again – simple enough. The weather was cooperating and it felt like we were getting back on schedule. I planned to get there early enough on Friday to put a big dent in closing up the drain cloth and topping everything off with the rest of the rock, leaving most of Saturday and Sunday for re-leveling. Since the rental place is closed Sundays, I would have to stay over to Monday morning to return the box scraper.  When I have to be at the farm on a Friday to take rock deliveries, etc…, M rides his motorcycle into the office and then heads down to the farm after work. We have a motorcycle carrier that hitches up to the truck so we can ride home together on Sunday evenings if I don’t also have to stay over to Monday.

So far, so good. I pick up the box scraper, button up most of the curtain drain and spread a decent amount of rock. M will be pleased when he gets here.



M called that evening and told me that as he was heading out the door at 4:58 pm he was waylaid to do a last minute project at work.  He didn’t get down to the farm until 1030 pm that night. That is a long, cold ride at night –  but he arrived safe and sound.

Saturday morning we are finishing up the curtain drain when my back goes out and I’m in excruciating pain. I’m trying to take it easy but it’s hard as I’m [again] so frustrated and stressed out about everything that needs to get done. See how pain and lack of sleep change your perspective?  M assures me not to worry – he finishes up the rest of the curtain drain that afternoon and gets ready to take the backhoe off of the tractor to hook up the box scraper.  Despite the pain, I’m starting to feel better and better about getting get caught up. We are making progress. We always make progress – in spite of the bumps in the road along the way. I just have to keep reminding myself of this.


What’s that saying – don’t count your chickens before they hatch?  Arrgghhh.

The hydraulics that operate the backhoe suddenly quit working and he can’t get the backhoe off. Even if we could somehow get the backhoe off without the hydraulics, the PTO isn’t working either so we can’t use the box scraper. The weird thing is – the front hydraulics are ok. It doesn’t make any sense.  M checks everything he can think of but being new tractor owners – that knowledge is somewhat limited at this point.

Well, maybe things got a little overheated and it just needs a cool down. We wait awhile then try it again but it still won’t work. It’s pretty late in the day at this point so we might as well call it “beer-thirty” and enjoy the lovely evening. After all, tomorrow is another day and by then the tractor will be completely cooled down..

Next morning – Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Crap. It’s a Sunday, so no tractor shops are open.  I remind M that his little brother (who lives in Illinois) is a diesel repair guy and didn’t he work on tractors when he was in the Marines?  M eventually gets a hold of him and they troubleshoot several different scenarios throughout the day over the phone but still nothing.

Now it’s late Sunday afternoon and M needs to hit the road. He’ll have to call the tractor dealer Monday morning and see if they have any ideas. We are still hoping it’s something simple that we are missing and that M can fix it because the logistics of hauling this thing out of here to the dealer is a nightmare at best.

Well, to make a short story even longer – M talks to the tractor guy who suggests it may be a pinched line or a blown seal.  M grabs more tools so he can take the seat off to access the rest of the hydraulic lines and heads back down to the farm after work on Tuesday evening. He has to use a headlamp to take the tractor apart and inspect the lines for pinching, blown seals, etc… as we don’t have any power in the barn yet.  Good times.

At 1030 pm that night I get a call saying he can’t see that anything is amiss so we will have to take the tractor back to the dealer. As it is still under warranty, we need to go to the dealer we purchased it from – a good 2.5 + hours from the farm. And we don’t have a trailer yet. M rode down on his motorcycle and I am at home with the truck. Blerg.

So, I get up at 500 am, feed and secure the animals and head down to the farm. We borrow our good friends (and constant saviors!) S & J’s trailer (they live about 15 minutes from the farm), load, strap and chain the tractor up and hit the road. Me in the truck hauling the tractor and M on his motorcycle heading to work.

I dropped the tractor off about 1230 pm Wednesday.  The tractor guy says it might take them a few days as they have never encountered an issue like this before – the front hydraulics operating but not the rear. I don’t leave there feeling too confident about getting the tractor back by Friday so we can use it this weekend.  I try reciting my new mantra “we always make progress – in spite of the bumps in the road along the way”, but man the bumps lately have jarred me so much I have a constant buzzing in my head (and low back pain too!).

Oh well, there’s a super awesome taco truck across the street from the tractor dealer. A couple of tacos and some sopes will set me to right. Then it’s back in the truck and the long journey home…


Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | Tagged | 6 Comments

Using Your Noggin

Or looking for a Darwin Award Nomination?


I’m not sure if the picture shows it clearly enough, but neither of the rear tires are touching the ground.

No worries. It was all part of the plan…

There is a pretty steep descent down to the curtain drain that we needed to trench through for the well line. The always clever and innovative M decided we could chain the tractor to the truck and ever so carefully back down the hill together, me in the truck and M on the tractor.




Once he “straddled” the curtain drain, I unhooked the chain, drove the truck around to the other side and we hitched up again to pull the tractor onto terra firma.


I have to admit I was skeptical and a bit worried. I even tried to talk him out of it, but M was pretty confident the plan would work. And it did. Thank goodness.


Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | Tagged | 2 Comments

Time. Is It On My Side?

Let’s hope the Rolling Stones were right as we have a lot of plans for this fall and they are going to run smack dab into the all of the summer projects we are trying to finish up.

Summer projects included getting anything done that required dry, firm ground for the tractor. Oh, and can I say how much we LOVE having a tractor?  Digging holes, trenching, moving logs, grabbing huge piles of branches, turning compost piles, moving dirt, lifting straw bales – all thanks to our trusty tractor Wiley (he’s a Kioti you know). We debated long and hard about whether or not we should get one, and man are we glad we decided to bite that bullet.

So to recap the summer to-do list, we moved the rest of the logs under cover, got in two mowings (it takes about 16 – 18 hours to mow our property), the roundabound is 98% complete, retaining wall is built, built a couple more large compost piles, thinned out the woodlot and secured this coming winters firewood supply, limbing up Douglas firs to prevent frost pockets and chipping the branches is getting under control, and we are in the middle of trenching for the well line.  Speaking of thinning the woodlot, we just heard back from the county and our forest management plan was approved so we should see a significant break on our property tax bill next year. Yay for us!

This weekend M reached the end of the swale and made the turn down hill towards the barn.

It's all down hill from here

It’s all down hill from here

Once he hits the top of the curtain drain (just beyond the Douglas fir behind him), he needs to stop trenching for a bit while I have a zillion yards of drain rock brought in.  Once the drain cloth, perf pipe and rock are installed in the curtain drain we will backfill on top with dirt and then re-level the site to ensure water moves away from the barn and the future house site.  M will then finish trenching from the curtain drain down to the barn and God willing – we will have running, pressurized water!  Woo Hoo!

Another project we are trying to finish before the rains set in is caulking the underground cistern.  It’s about a 20′ section of an old grain silo we put in the ground last winter and plumbed our barn roof runoff into it.  Within a month of installing it, a section of metal crumpled from the force of the water (an underground spring?) about halfway down. No one saw that coming, but yet it holds water up to that point.  From there up it seeps out (all underground and on a downhill slope), so we are sealing all of the seams and bolts and hoping that will keep more of the water in.

Now I know there is nothing lurking at the bottom, but there is something a little creepy about lowering myself into that cold, dark water…  It was about 90 degrees this past weekend, so I quickly got over my creepies and enjoyed the cool respite.


We’d like to dig in another swale but not sure we are going to have enough time to get everything else on our plate done, and as we had to learn the hard way with the first swale – you need to plant it out completely so the pasture grasses and weeds don’t take over.  And you also need to fence it to keep the deer from devouring all of your freshly planted trees and berries…

Next week we will be digging perc holes for our septic permit. We need to get those dug while the soils are dry and the water table is low.  We also want to get our septic design submitted and our perc holes inspected now to make sure we won’t have any conflicts when we are ready to start the micro-hydro project.  Our septic design guy has convinced us we can install the septic system ourselves (his wife installed theirs!) but thankfully we won’t need to start on the install until next summer.  It just means another long, wet winter with the composting bucket…[heavy sigh]

On the fall to-do list is to sow more cover crops in the zone 1 area to help build that compacted clay soil into something more hospitable for our eventual gardens.  The Chicken Food Forest is also going to be staked out and the perimeter fencing installed so I can get the trees, shrubs, vines, etc… I’ve been growing at home planted this fall. Not all of the plants will go in the chicken food forest – we need nitrogen fixers and other supporting plants for the nut trees, and some of the Black Locust and the Paulownia’s will be planted in various spots around the property for their quick shade and mulching properties.

Finalizing our design and filing our permit to build out a section of the barn for an eventual processing kitchen and a bathroom is next on the list. If we can pull that off we will spend the wet months framing the space out so we can install our solar battery bank in the space above and hang the solar panels on the roof of the barn. Hopefully by next spring we will have power in the barn. Imagine that – running water, electricity and dare I say it? – a flush toilet!

Posted in Barn, Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Taking Stock of the Nursery

I’ve been growing more trees, shrubs and vines for the farm here at home from seed (saved and purchased) and some from cuttings of plants I already have. From seed – true comfrey, sea buckthorn, Szechuan pepper, paulownia, osage orange, black locust, copper sedge. From cuttings – white concord grape, golden hops, golden raspberry, rosemary, bay, hardy fuschia, lemon geranium, hydrangeas. Plus I dig up the alder, hemlock and cedar seedlings I find in my home garden and hold them in a raised bed until I can plant them out at the farm.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I'll be able to save my own seed this year.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I’ll be able to save my own seed this year. I’ve been feeding the chickens armloads of this stuff all summer.

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

More Black Locust

More Black Locust

I also have some fig and mulberry trees I purchased from a local nursery using my customer appreciation punch card, so they were “practically free”.  I earned a bunch of points and then spent them during their big 40% off fall sale.  Trying to stretch that dollar every chance I get.

More purchased figs.

More purchased figs.


Szechuan Pepper with Osage Orange in the background – both grown from seed

More Osage Orange

osage orange

The plan is to plant my stock out this fall.  What I didn’t factor in was how ding dang big and fast everything would grow! The $64,000 question is how the hell am I going to get those trees transported without destroying them? They are 6 and 7 feet tall and seem to be growing by the hour.  It’s a 2.5 hour drive in a pickup truck.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers. I grew these from seed last spring. They died to the ground over winter and came back with a vengeance! I thought I was going to have another year of die back but the trunks are pretty substantial.

These trees are only a little over a year old - look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures.  See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

These trees are only a little over a year old – look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures. See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

My yard and deck feel like a jungle but I know as soon as we get everything transported to the farm, it will only be a drop in the proverbial bucket.  This will be a whole lot easier when I have a greenhouse, nursery beds and easy-to-access water for getting plants established directly on site.  Just another layer of complication when you are split between two locations.

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

Damn Backseat Driver…


Anyone remember the pushmi-pullyu from Dr. Dolittle?


Kind of how I felt this last weekend trenching for the well line.


M thought it would go a lot faster if I moved the tractor forward when he was finished digging a section with the backhoe, but I’d have about 20 – 30 seconds of work and then wait what felt like 10 -15 minutes (M says it was only 3 – 5 minutes) while he dug the next increment.  It did not feel like the most productive use of my time, so M just switched back and forth on his own.  It was definitely slower, but then I was able to chip piles of branches and fill the cargo trailer with more compost and mulch material.


Starting at the well. Only 597 more feet to go… You can see the barn in the background – that’s where he’s headed.


By the end of the weekend M trenched about 175 feet. He’s almost to the end of the swale and then he will start to head down the hill towards the barn.


He didn’t spend the whole weekend trenching as there were plenty of other tasks to be undertaken like greasing the backhoe, and then running around the countryside trying to find a zerk to replace the one that popped out in the process.  Oops.


M is getting pretty good with that backhoe. I’m hoping now he will use it to scoop cow manure out of the back of the truck so I don’t have to pitch fork it out anymore!

Posted in Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | 2 Comments