Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cape Blanco Camping and Spruce Tip Harvest

When you've got wildcrafting goals and camping goals, and only so many weekends, sometimes you just have to multitask it. We did just that a few weekends ago on a camping trip down to Cape Blanco State Park on the southern Oregon Coast. We had been talking about picking spruce tips for a while, and noticed that on the coast, they were coming out in full force. With another batch of our spruce ginger beer in the plans, as well as spruce tea and other good things, this was an exciting find. 

Fortunately for us (and maybe less fortunately for the kids) they had a lot of homework, so while they worked away at the table in our camping cabin, we were out filling empty bread bags and whatever containers we could find with beautiful, bright green, bushy spruce tips.

It didn't take long to pick around 8 gallons. We felt pretty accomplished for just being out on a weekend camping getaway.

When we weren't harvesting spruce tips and doing homework, we got out to walk on the beach and hike the trails. Cape Blanco is one of my favorite spots on the coast, and it's especially beautiful in the spring.

We got lucky with some low morning tides and clear weather.

We also got lucky finding rocks. 

With the tide out, we discovered that the point of the cape below the lighthouse is a perfect spot for tidepooling.

There were quite a few sea stars exposed.

As it turns out, we were not the only ones enjoying the beach that day. 

We returned from our weekend at the coast with spruce tips, cool rocks, completed homework and good memories. It was definitely a successful trip. From here on out, the spring will be busy on the homestead with preparing the garden and planting time, but when we kick back in the rocking chairs at the end of the day with a glass of spruce beer, we will remember beautiful spring days on the beach at Cape Blanco. It's a delicious life.

Here are some useful links with a little more info on Cape Blanco and spruce tips:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's Good to be a Cat

While we've been working hard around the homestead, Little Sadie and Sundance are just being cool cats in the shade.

It's good to be a cat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Glass Window Greenhouse

As is the story with many DIY-ers, an up-cycled glass window greenhouse project was on my to-do list for years. I started saving a window collection when we moved onto this homestead three years ago, and responded to a few "free window" offers from friends who were updating the windows on their houses. I even found a snazzy antique grange door and stained glass window left here in our barn that I wanted to incorporate as key pieces. A lot of folks I know have the same window stash with the very same intentions as mine, but I am proud to say that this year we actually did it! We completed our glass window greenhouse project this spring, almost entirely out of re-purposed materials and now I'm not sure how we ever got by without it.

The window collection that I mentioned grew for a while in our shed, until we had enough seedling losses and mishaps that we decided the greenhouse was an essential. The project was fast tracked to the top of the list.

We started by identifying our location and maximum footprint. The spot we picked was close to the garden and next to a spigot fed by the spring. When Corey's parents were visiting, his dad helped us calculate out what windows to fit together for each side based on the footprint and drew up some plans. Then Corey got to work digging the four post holes and leveling out the floor.

Aside from setting the four support posts in concrete, the project took a pause there as the summer got busy, and resumed in the fall with putting on the clear corrugated roof, framing in the front door and framing windows in on the walls one layer at a time. We would make a row of windows of the same height, secure them to a 2x4 along the top, and create the next layer the same way above them. We were lucky at this point in the project to have another friend donate his unused window stash to the cause.

Because we were fitting a lot of different, funky shaped windows together, there were some gaps and a lot of shimming was involved. We felt like this was OK for this particular type of greenhouse because our climate doesn't get THAT cold, and the biggest issue with most glass window greenhouses is not enough ventilation. We ended up having to secure the shims in place with wood glue after they started to fall out when temperatures changed and things contracted.

We used an empty window frame for the door, which we later covered with greenhouse plastic. The door was set up to latch open, and a couple of the windows were hinged to prop open in summer.

The issue of the corners at the top were solved by filling in with 2x2 strips cut at an angle at the ends so they were flush with slope of the roof line.

By the early spring, we had gotten most of the shimming done and were ready to tackle the floor, raised beds and benches in time for planting time. 

We set in a concrete block for the step up into the greenhouse (it was built at the edge of a small terrace), and put down some black plastic on the floor. The idea was to deter grass and nearby mint from coming up inside. 

We built narrow raised beds out of recycled cedar decking boards around the perimeter of the floor and got them filled in with potting soil. Then we took some recycled bricks I had been saving from an intended project when I lived in the farm cottage at Empty Gate, and set them in on a layer of sand with more sand in the cracks in between. Once we watered them in a few times, it was a solid floor with good drainage from the slight downhill slope to the front of the greenhouse.

To fill in the gap along the top front, Corey made a frame covered in greenhouse plastic to latch open on hot days and get a cross breeze going.

For the frames, we used a couple of metal grid panels that we unearthed from the brambles along our fence. They fit perfectly on the sides. We fastened them with heavy duty zip ties onto sturdy "L" brackets along the vertical 2x4 framing. 

For the back bench, we just happened to find a metal shelf at the recycled building goods store that fit EXACTLY in place. We did the same "L" bracket and zip tie routine, and it was good to go for holding wet seed trays.

It was exciting to get those starts going and know that they were safe from the mice, slugs, marauding cats and other would-be seedling killers.

I wasted no time planting kale, lettuce, cilantro and 5 different types of arugula. I really love arugula in case you couldn't tell.

There is nothing quite like eating salads out of your own greenhouse in the early spring, and going out to plant and water seedlings in the morning. Now we can extend our season of home grown greens into the fall as well with greens and winter lettuces. Not to mention, it makes a great reading spot on sunny winter days. I may be biased, but I think everyone needs a greenhouse for better quality of life. Mine is certainly improved with a greenhouse in it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Healing Allergy Inflammation With Stinging Nettle Article

My latest article published in Organic Lifestyle Magazine is all about stinging nettles as a treatment for allergy related inflammation. Check it out!

Friday, April 15, 2016

About the Birds and the Mason Bees

When you have all the chickens you can handle taking care of and are busy working, but you want to add more critters your homestead, the struggle is real. I would really love to get more chickens, some ducks, maybe a turkey or goose, but now is definitely not the right time. The cool thing about living out on the edge of the wilds is that you can always make friends with the local wildlife and pretend like they're your pets. Birdhouses and mason bee houses were one of our spring projects this year with the goal of supporting the birds and the bees while adding to our homesteading scene. We already have a couple of wild honeybee hives around our place, but mason bees are known to be more efficient pollinators of fruit trees, hence their other name, orchard bees. The swallows, I figured, could help us out with the mosquito population, plus watching them just makes me happy. Sometimes that's all the reason you need.

We built three cedar swallow houses from a set of plans I found on the Internet and put them up on poles around the garden. Last year a group of swallows came and hung out for a day checking out all my birdhouses, but none of them were proper swallow houses and they moved on. I'm hoping this year they will recognize our property for the cool place that it is and decide to stay around.

The mason bee houses came together after a little research and a combination of ideas. I read that you could use bamboo or any thick, hollow plant stems for them to inhabit rather than the cardboard tubes or wooden drilled out blocks you have to buy. We have plenty of bamboo around here, and I had a funky old birdhouse from someone's free pile, so my son and I cut the front out and packed it with a handful of bamboo tubes with moss around them. The little box of mason bee cocoons cost around $10 at the feed store, and the instructions were to just set it open with the cocoons inside their house once daytime temperatures were above 50 degrees. This all seemed simple enough, so we set it up and sat back to watch what would happen.

I checked on the cocoons every day, and eventually found two empty ones and a little mason bee chewing it's way out of another one. This was all very exciting, but I was seeing no mason bees whatsoever flying around the house. I wondered if they had maybe flown away or been eaten by birds. Then, on a sunny day, I noticed two black things buzzing around this other birdhouse I had stuck four bamboo tubes in the bird entrance as an experiment. No where on the Internet could I find anything about anyone doing this, but it made sense that it should work without taking the whole front off of this birdhouse.

When I went up to investigate, it was two mason bees flying in and out of the tubes! They must have moved over from the other mason bee house where they hatched out. I went over there to check it out and there were a couple of them moving in and out of those tubes as well.

Now the mason bees are busy packing mud into the tubes with nectar, laying eggs and sealing the tubes off with mud. They are also busy pollinating our fruit trees, which is a win for everyone involved. They may not be the most affectionate pet ever, and they don't lay eggs, but they are playing a valuable role in our orchard and are 100% low maintenance. Right now, that's exactly what we need.

Here's a little more info on mason bees and where to get them:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Viva la Nettles!

Not to brag or anything, but...

My nettle patch is pretty much winning at life right now. 

That is all. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Elwha Without A Dam is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle

Growing up on the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, I spent a lot of time around the Elwha River. Whether it was hiking in the Olympic National Park on the Elwha River Trail, fishing on Lake Mills, collecting rocks on gravel bars at the various river access points, or stopping on the way up to Olympic Hot Springs, it was always a special place to visit. As a result, I think of the Elwha much in the same way I would think of an old friend. I always enjoy getting together for a visit, and I am happy to see it doing well and thriving.

I first started paying attention to the Elwha dam removal project when I was in college studying environmental horticulture and natural resource sciences. I had a summer internship with the Lower Elwha Klallam Hatchery collecting data on vegetative restoration sites around the west end of the peninsula, and the focus often tied in to gearing up for dam removal. I had big plans to get my degree and come back to make my life's work out of the re-vegetation of the river, but life had other plans for me. I graduated college with twin two-year-olds and settled down in Oregon raising them. Still, I have followed the dam removal efforts closely, celebrating the removal of the Elwha dam in 2011 and the draining of Lake Aldwell, and finally the removal of the Glines Canyon dam in 2014.

I had been eager to see the Elwha as a free flowing rive since the Glines Canyon Dam came out, and make it a priority destination on our spring break trip up to the Olympic Peninsula. The road had washed out in winter storms at the Elwha Campground, but the hike from the National Park entrance was only around 3 miles and had just opened to foot traffic with a foot path bypassing the washout and road work, so we decided to make a hike of it. We went with some local, long-time friends who were just as excited about these changes for the Elwha. Lindsey is a friend from high school, and his partner Carolyn is an outdoor eco-tour guide with Experience Olympic, so this not only a fun excursion, but a practise run for her to see what the hike was like along the road for an upcoming tour group. Carolyn offers informative and fun adventures throughout the Olympic National Park, and I can't recommend her tours highly enough! The last time we were visiting the Olympic Peninsula two years ago, we hiked with her up the Elwha to Humes Ranch and got to see some wildlife up close with her spotting scope. 

You can read about that adventure here: Hiking the Elwha with Experience Olympic Tours.

Hiking along the road was easy going, and the added effort made this visit to the former dam site a little more special than just driving up to it.

Walking up to the top of the overlook and seeing an empty Lake Mills with the Elwha winding through the bottom was hands-down one of the most moving experiences of my lifetime. It felt like I was seeing a part of history and a glimpse of the future all at the same time. A river without a dam is a beautiful thing.

Seeing the wide open space where the Glines Canyon Dam used to be was no less impressive.

Walking out to the edge, and looking down at the Elwha River flow unencumbered through the 200 foot deep Glines Canyon, it was almost hard to believe there was ever a dam there in the first place or remember what Lake Mills looked like. The word "restoration" has become so scientific in it's function and meaning for me, that it takes some effort to step back and think about what it means "to restore" what has been. It's a pretty powerful thing to think about, going beyond science and ecology and the occupations involved in this work. The fact that things even CAN be restored is pretty amazing as well. Obviously the Elwha has a ways to go, but it is now moving freely in the right direction.

After taking it all in from the overlook, we followed a trail down into the newly formed river bottom. The veg crew and Mother Nature had been busy, and young plants were growing everywhere. There were small ponds and stands of alder beginning to take shape. We decided to stop and enjoy our picnic lunch on a sunny gravel bar. I decided right then that I need to come back and camp out here the next time I'm in the area.

Almost the entire time we were the old reservoir bottom, we were serenaded by the chorus of tree frogs. Carolyn said this was the first time she had heard tree frogs in this area, and it was an excellent sign for the ecosystem. Seeing how nature is taking back the Elwha valley gives me a lot of hope for the future in the bigger picture. The more studies and reports that come out about climate change, the more clear it becomes that change is inevitable and we'd better get to work if we want those changes to be positive. If we can collaborate on a project like the Elwha, and undo something that has had such a negative impact on the environment, we can certainly do more. And more is being done.  There were over 50 dams removed in  the U.S. in 2015, and more are in the works. I just heard the good news this week of the signing of two Klamath Basin Agreements that include the removal of four dams by 2020, and a major river restoration project. Moving forward with positive changes often starts with removing obstacles that we don't need in our way. You could say that a river needs a dam about as much as a fish needs a bicycle, and both need to move freely to move forward.

Here are a few links where you can learn more about the Elwha River dam removal and restoration: