Today I arrived on “Let Us Farm”. I sat down and talk for a few minutes with Steve and Cecelia, the farmers, then we made our way to one of the greenhouses where I was given an overview of how the facility works and then learned how to mix a special blend of potting soil that we compressed into soil blocks using a tool called a soil blocker. Our soil blocks are similar to the small blocks of soil you find plants growing in at nurseries in flimsy plastic flats. The soil blocks are the first stage of growing and a sure sign that the growing season is about to begin. Today we seeded six trays with tomatoes, cabbage, little red riding hoods and a few other lettuce and tomato varieties. The trays are 6 x 13 rectangles. I’m sure I’ll learn more details and interesting things about it as time goes on. At this point we are making blocks and starting the plants like this every Monday.
Cecelia showed me around this morning. We went into most of the buildings and talked about their uses. She identified, for me, some of the equipment we will be using and went over basics of recycling, composting and trash on the farm. Included in this tour was feeding the chickens and ducks. By that time Steve returned from morning meetings and we all had lunch and went over my employment documents. Once all of that was taken care of Steve and I replaced the refrigerator from the house I’m in for one that works. We cleaned out and restocked the refrigerator and called it a day. It’s slow so far, but I know it will pick up soon. I continued cleaning the house that night and got it into more suitable living condition. It’s an old house and I didn’t even want to take a shower or use the bathroom until I cleaned it. It’s better than not having anything at all I guess.
Today I spent time away from the farm and attended three workshops at Centralia College in Centralia, WA. The professors were from Washington State University Extension School. My first workshop was divided into two parts: pasture and mud management. For mud management we discussed the importance of mud and manure management to avoid health problems and harmful runoff into streams and rivers, methods for drainage and how to keep from turning pasture into mud bowls. For pasture management we discussed how to keep pastures productive by using herd rotation and possible rotation procedures and nutrient grass varieties and grass lengths.
The last two workshops were on agriculture and forestry, agro-forestry. The professor split it up into a two part session. The first focused on forestry and native plants as arts and crafts. Centerpieces, wreaths and other methods for creating and marketing naturally produced gifts. In the second half we discussed native plants as part of landscape, for food and for medicinal uses. Above all I am much more aware of the native species in this area now and hope to put at least some of what I learned into practice here on the farm.
I’ve got mud in my hair and dirt under my nails. Today was a short day but we took advantage of the weather (no rain) and did some repairs on one of the greenhouses where the plastic covering had blown off over the winter. I got the “green machine”, a small four wheel utility vehicle, stuck in the mud and spun the tires, that’s how I got the mud in my hair, but it was easy to get unstuck. It’s nice being here early so I can learn about maintaining these buildings and let Steve in on things I know and don’t know about manual labor.
Before starting on that project I had a chance to walk around on my own and learn a little of what the orchard is going to produce. Tomorrow is Monday, which means more soil blocking and seeding.
The rain came and went with perfect timing this morning so we could get things done in the greenhouse and then move to an outdoor project. We made several soil blocks and planted mostly lettuce, but a few tomatoes too. Here are a few of the varieties we started: Merlot (not the grape the color of the lettuce leafs are similar to the grape color), Red Salad, Bullet, Waldmann’s and Galissa. Those are mostly the one’s I did. Cecelia did others and a lot more than my novice planting skills could accomplish. There are lots of tomato varieties going in soon too. One that I’m especially interested in seeing is the Indigo Rose. It has a blueberry blue color on the outside but it’s as red as a typical tomato on the inside.
After lunch Steve and I headed out to the fields to plant native Sequoia along fence lines and tag other native trees that had been planted during previous seasons. This project was started on the farm to reintroduce evergreens on the property and to create natural barriers between open fields. When our hands got too cold and we had planted the last of our Sequoia, we went to the river to tag a few more trees and to meet Rick. Rick is a local that comes to the farm and fishes for Steelhead on the river. When we got there he had only caught one Steelhead that he couldn’t keep. Steelhead is a protected species, so you can only keep them if they are a certain size and come from a hatchery. Hatchery Steelhead have their adipose fins clipped, an easy way to distinguish the two.
Cecelia came to my door around 8am and was excited to show me elk on the far side of a pasture directly across from my house. She gave me a pair of binoculars and told me I had the best view from an upstairs window. So I went up and watched them for a few minutes. Elk are magnificent animals but it’s a love hate relationship when it comes to planting young evergreen trees that the elk really like to rub up against and end up ripping off their tiny branches.
Around the same time Steve came over to investigate a problem with the water well, which is located behind my house. We all started losing pressure last night and found this morning that a new well pump was needed. The replacement pump didn’t come until late in the evening as we were trying to finish pruning some pear and apple trees.
Since the sun was out and will be for the next few days, we were hard at work on the orchard spraying to prevent fungus and other bugs from attacking the trees and pruning. The pesticides we use are all natural and acceptable for use on organic produce. I found pruning to be a challenge because I didn’t want to cut off good growth, but at the same time it was very relaxing and fun. Everything about this work is laid back and quiet, but pruning, and maybe it was partly the nice weather, but pruning felt good and made me want to learn more about it to get better. It made sense that we would be taking back parts of the limbs and redirecting growth for our benefit and at the same time it seemed kind of unnatural that I was clipping off this trees hard work. Still the trees are very resilient and I know they will be able to produce more because of our efforts.
In all it was a good productive day and I’m excited to get back at it in the morning as it’s supposed to be sunny and nice again.
Today was another beautiful sunny day so we kept going with pruning and working outside. This weekend I’m hoping to go to a class on fruit tree pruning. It’s been a fun learning experience so far and I’m excited to keep learning more new things.
At 11am a representative from PCC Natural Markets, a natural food grocery store from Seattle, came to the farm to discuss the possibility of selling our produce. Yet another aspect of farming that I am grateful to be learning about in a hands-on way. Economics and marketing, and numbers in general, have never been my flavor, but it’s all part of the business and it’s a lot easier for me to learn hands-on rather than in a classroom.
After lunch we went to a nearby farm to look at a new greenhouse. No decisions were made on whether we will get it, but if we do it will be a big project taking it down and then setting it back-up here on the farm. When we got back from checking out the greenhouse it was right back out to the orchard for more pruning, which we should be done with tomorrow.
With possibly our last day of sun and warmth for a while, we finished up pruning with the exception of a few trees, transplanted several lilacs that had been planted in the wrong place and I had my first day working without supervision.
After completing pruning in the main orchard I was sent to prune Elderberry trees by myself. The Elderberry is a native species to the Northwest and its growing pattern is unique and interesting in terms of pruning. The tree shoots its stock up from the root and builds off of those shoots. But once the old shoots finish producing they die and have to be taken out to make room for the new branches. I don’t fully understand how it’s growing so my description is a little thin, but hopefully it makes some sense. It will make a lot more sense after I complete a pruning workshop this Saturday.
After lunch I fertilized some rhubarb that had recently been transplanted. This was my first time doing work that brings a typical picture of hard farm work to mind. I had a pitchfork and a load of straw mixed with chicken manure in the middle of a field. I walked right along the row of rhubarb and put the fertilizer all around each plant. Despite the grossness of working with chicken poo and the burning arm workout I got, it was kind of fun and definitely rewarding to know I was doing something productive. The rest of the afternoon I was back at the pruning and got all of the Elderberry trees finished before we called it quits for the day.
We got one more half day without rain today so Cecelia and I had a chance to feed the chickens and ducks and finish the rest of the pruning while Steve was at his weekly conservation district meeting. We decided not to do anymore work outdoors after lunch as it started raining. Instead we put over one hundred tiny Sequoia trees into pots so they could mature for a year before transplanting them to different locations on the property. When that was done we all went to a neighbors farm and looked at Alder trees that they hope to plant later next week. Tomorrow I’m off from the farm so I can learn about fruit trees and pruning them.
I was up earlier than usual today for the pruning class! It started at 9am and was an hour drive from the farm. I went to so many workshops today that I can hardly remember what I did today. I still need to go back over all the notes I took and handouts I received. But basically I learned the basics of choosing and working with fruit bearing trees and plants and then got into more specifics about caring for the plants. Then I went to a plant propagation lecture, followed by a talk on possible diseases fruit trees are susceptible to and ways to prevent them. After that lunch was provided and made of entirely local farm ingredients. Following lunch was a talk given by a very well-educated bee scientist (not sure what they’re called) who enlightened me on the most active and useful pollinating bee in this region, the Blue Orchard Bee or Mason bee. There were a lot of interesting things about bees I never knew and I’m not so afraid of being stung anymore. Finally I got to the main event, an actual fruit tree pruning class. We talked for an hour about techniques and everything you need to know about it and then spent another hour outside watching an expert prune three different trees. This was the most important part for me since I had been pruning all week. It expanded on the things I learned earlier in the week and brought lots of new ideas and techniques to my understanding. Another aspect that we did not do on the farm was a technique called grafting. Grafting is a way to take small branches of a tree off and attach those pieces to another part of the tree or another tree altogether. I won’t get into the benefits or reasoning behind doing this, but if you want to know more just ask and I’ll do my best. It’s not the easiest to explain on paper. It was a long day of sitting and listening, but I’m grateful for these opportunities to take classes and learn more about what I’m doing here.
I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, maybe a day off, but I’ll be sure to let you know.