Saturday, December 5, 2015

On The Road: Maui Part 1

Iteration #2. First iteration having been swallowed whole by a passing shark (or a bad keystroke).

Introduction:

For me, after a new experience, it is helpful to decompress through writing. I am not much of a travel writer. Or in reality, I have never tried to be a travel writer. However, having just returned from my first trip to Maui I am feeling compelled to write a travelogue of our adventure. This is the story of our trip, though my eyes.
 Hawai’i is a complicated place with a relatively recent history of upheaval that still remains a very real part of its culture. After this visit, I not only have an appreciation for Hawai’i’s fragile diversity of abundant life (both on land and sea) but also for its people and their traditions and language. Traveling can do amazing things for a person. It may be the most important form of education. It is one thing to read books with lists and dates and facts and figures and a very different thing to witness living reality with your own eyes. I am always grateful when life allows me the chance to expand my horizons. This trip has been one of my favorites. It has changed my heart and if anything I have left the islands feeling more compelled than ever to lend myself toward their conservation (which ultimately, relates to a planetary-wide mindset of conservation). Hawai’i sits in a precarious position. Without an awareness of and a desire for a change in anthropogenic habits, the decline of Hawai’i seems as inevitable as the loss of polar ice or the expansion of the great American deserts.

 Aloha and Mohalo Maui. You are an incredible gem. A paradise; proof of the profound beauty our earth is capable of. Thank you for sharing your treasures with me.

Prologue: The Plague

For the record, this trip was nearly cancelled due to natural circumstances. Leading up to departure, Leif succumb to a bout of stomach flu, Ingrid developed a 102+ fever and I came down with a mild cold. Fortunately, we persisted and everyone (except me) made a miraculous recovery just in time for travel. Illness did not re-appear until our return to the mainland (and a return to 20F nights).


Day 1: Meeting Stella

After an overnight on the backside of Tiger Mountain with Jeff, Lisa and Isiah, we are immediately swallowed up by the early morning rainy Seattle commuter traffic (When isn’t it rainy in Seattle in November?) on our way to the airport. A stop-and-go session leaves us 45 minutes behind schedule, yet we survive the late airport parking shuttle, the understaffed airline check-in counter and the ridiculous (yes) process of homeland security before being essentially forced to run to our gate. Breakfast is not a possibility and I make promises to the kids of on-board snacks (peanut M&Ms for breakfast…no problem!) as we become the last family to board our mid-morning flight.

Flying is uneventful and both Willy and I are amazed at how well the kids handle 6 hours of being strapped into their seats like sardines. Apparently the years of training them to survive 12 hour car rides to Salt Lake City have paid off.

We land in Kahului around 2 PM and are hit with a sweet-smelling wall of heat and humidity as we leave the plane. Birds fly through the open-air sections of the airport and banana trees reach for the sky all around us. We catch our shuttle to Kihei where we first become acquainted with our home away from home for the next 6 nights; a 1989 Steel Blue Volkswagen Westfalia pop-up camper van. Brandon, her owner*, briefly acquaints us with her quirks and shows us the location of several essential features including the jumper cables and an extra screwdriver….just in case…. We throw our packs in the back and prepare for departure. As I am about to turn the key, one of the mechanics knocks on the passenger side window. Willy rolls it down and the guy throws us a big smile…. ‘Her name’s Stella!’ he shouts through the window. We promise to take care of her and head out in search of a grocery store and a place to spend the night.

After stocking up on groceries, ice and guava-papaya juice, we end up heading out toward West Maui in search of an ‘official’ campground. We miss our turn and our turn-around ends up being a roadside fruit stand, which is a good omen for us. We stock up on pineapple, star fruit and strawberry papaya. The dude who runs the stand, although mildly sketchy, is friendly enough and gives us directions to the campground.

We arrive at Olowalu after the office has closed for the night and pull into an over-flow parking area that is currently under construction. There’s orange ‘Caution’ fencing everywhere and a shitload of torn up palms and vegetation stacked on the margins of the platform. Not exactly what I had envisioned when dreaming about camping on Maui but a perfectly acceptable option for the night*.

We exit the van and wind our way down to the beach to enjoy the sunset and wet our toes. Approximately 20 minutes in, Leif has the good fortune of stepping on an extremely thorny branch which alerts us to the fact that the trees overhead are littering the beach with shrapnel. ‘Note to self, wear shoes’ is the take home message of the evening.
We head back to the van, pull together a make-shift dinner of fresh fruit, rice and beans and figure out how to pop up the top of the camper. Still unaccustomed to the tropical heat, we restlessly move through the van trying to figure out the best place to store gear and how to open the windows without blowing out the flame on the propane cook stove. The night is WINDY with gusts around 40 mph. Keeping the windows open is nearly impossible due to flying dust and so we spend a semi-uncomfortable night tossing around blanketless. I get up in the middle of the night to pee and am awe-struck by the clarity of the sky. The stars are bright and clear and the planets are easily visible and in near alignment.
 The van continues to rock in the wind throughout the rest of the night but we are all too tired to care. However, even minor time differences are a bitch and by 4:30 AM all four of us are awake and staring at each other wide-eyed (but good humored) as we wonder when the sun will rise over the horizon. Renegade chickens begin to call from the forest all around us and at about 6 AM the darkness fades into daybreak. By 6:45 AM the van is converted back into a traveling machine and we are on our way.

Day 2: Beaches, Kings and Locals

We drive down South Kihei road and start to sus out the terrain. At the far end of the road we find a quiet public beach which technically falls into the Wailea district. It is 7:30 AM. We make some good strong coffee in the van, cut up some more pineapple for breakfast and head out to explore the beach. Ingrid begins to collect Plumeria blossoms like treasures and an older gentleman with an amazing tan shows us the overhanging avocado and banana trees in the parking lot. I nearly start giggling as I wade into the 80+ water. The sun is still low in the sky and everything is lit in a golden hue.  By 8:30 AM the kids have already built a sand castle village and the beach is filling up with morning walkers and runners. By 9 AM the air is hot and we decide to track down some snorkeling gear. We end up at a Kihei pawn shop and purchase a snorkel and mask for $8 and a fishing pole and reel for $25. We head back to the beach and decide to start doing a little underwater exploring….

On my second snorkel of the day I have my first real-life encounter with a sea turtle. I will admit that I screamed briefly through my snorkel. As it approached out of the blue haze of open water, its size was immense. For a mainlander like me, you spend your life seeing pictures of these incredible creatures, watching nature videos and even visiting them in an aquarium now and then. However, the magnitude of their size is not truly tangible until you are face to face in open water. I am 5’3” tall and my first turtle was almost equal in length and certainly larger in stature than myself. It moves through the water with delicate ease and I feel incredibly clumsy in my false plastic flippers and artificial air. The turtle swims directly toward me with amazing speed and just as quickly changes course and heads off toward the far end of the reef. I exit the water in a state of bliss, with a huge smile and my body vibrating with adrenaline.
We spend the rest of that first day wasting time on the beach (it was still so novel!). Our pale skin starts to feel a little bit crispy from the large doses of UV and salt, so it is time to take on a new adventure…preferably out of the sun. We agree that camping on the coast toward West Maui seems like the best plan for the night so we head in that general direction. There is just enough time in the day to explore the Iao Valley and, as a last-minute detour, we crisscross the van along roads lined in sugar cane for a quick hike in this valley of kings.

The Iao Valley sits just to the West of Wailuku. Wailuku and Kahului tend to blur together into one, large suburb. This is where I start interjecting the not-so-pleasant observations of my time on the island…..

So, we drive North along HWY 30 and encounter the first historical signs of Hawaii’s most recent colonization; namely old plantations, a sugar refinery and some beautiful old buildings that are now home to a grade school and a historic church. The guidebooks claim that before the surge in affordable airfare the islands received about 500 outside visitors a year. After airlines started using Hawaii as a hub (and the US set itself up as a military power) that number jumped to nearly 7 Million. Alongside the older buildings and structures from another era are the pop-up neighborhoods one associates with the suburbs of any large American city, including their strip mall accompaniments. So one starts to ponder the immensity of resources necessary for maintaining a Western-style standard of living on a remote, Pacific Island. Honestly, if the tanker ships stop arriving tomorrow, the population of new-breed Hawai’ians will be forced to live off of sugar cane. There simply aren’t the on-island resources available to keep this many people alive without major environmental degradation and collapse.
I avert my eyes from the new-found sprawl and divert my attention to the abundance of plant life that lines the roadside. The Pothos plant living in my house would be embarrassed to meet its tropical cousins! Hawai’i is a botanical paradise. Even mundane roadsides become exciting when a person stops to enjoy the diversity of species that call Maui home.
The road we are traveling takes a sharp left and begins to climb up toward a looming, cloud-filled valley ahead. Like all good roads on Maui, the driving becomes more involved as the road narrows. Corners become blind obstacles and all bridges become single lane right-of-ways.
We get to the entry booth for the Valley (which is now a protected State Park) and the guy inside looks at us, looks at the van and says ‘You local?’ We feel compelled to tell the truth and to pay our $5 entry fee…our small donation to keeping this place beautiful and accessible…..

Side Note: The Hawai’ian islands have become so popular as a world tourist destination that resentment has been building among the locals for some time now. After essentially having their royal government overthrown by a handful of white colonial sugar and shipping barons, there is still a strong negative emotion elicited toward the large population of visiting ‘Haoles’ (yes, this term is derogatory, and aimed strictly toward Caucasians). We knew this coming into the trip but decided that we would do our part to be respectful visitors and hopefully avoid being labelled too vigorously with this slanderous term.

As a consequence of the upsurge in visitation by the outside world, certain culturally significant and historical sites have been forced to check IDs; charging entry fees to off-island visitors while allowing the local population to continue to enjoy their home country free of charge. This feels completely acceptable to me. So even though, as it was becoming obvious that our family could pass for Hawai’ian locals, we were always honest about our origins and paid our way.

Immediately upon exiting the van, the Iao Valley swallows us whole. The kids run loose up the trail toward the overlook and I feel a little breathless as I marvel at my surroundings. The energy emitted by this valley resonates clearly with me and I understand why it has been set aside as sacred ground. We spend an hour or so wandering about on the winding pathways both up toward the needle and then down along the stream. We scan the treetops for native Hawai’ian birds. For the first (and only) time on the trip our bare legs are bitten up by hungry mosquitos. The sun begins to drop lower in the sky illuminating the foliage. Our stomachs are starting to grumble and we make the decision that it is time to leave and start heading toward our new camp somewhere out along the beach.

 We had decided to camp ‘legally’ on our second night and bought a permit for the county park known locally as ‘Grandma’s’; an unmistakable strand that winds along the coast between Maui and West Maui. All of the sites are drive-in style with a bush or two delineating one camp site from the next. We find a vacancy and back the van in so that it is parked about 20 feet from the edge of the breaking waves.
Within a half an hour we meet our first locals, Jimmy and Chris. Both of them live on the beach. Jimmy, in his converted cargo van and Chris in his Previa. They come over to check out Stella. This is when we learn that Westies are a hot commodity on the islands. Very few are still in private circulation, forcing most Maui surf bums to convert older mini-vans instead. We knew that at some point during our camping adventure we would be running the risk of stepping on the toes of the locals. But Dirtbags love Dirtbags and we all hit it off immediately….our parking spot being located directly between both Jimmy and Chris. Jimmy had been living on the beach for probably 25 years, with his spot marked by the grave of lava stones dedicated to his dog Nuisance. Chris is an East Coast transplant who saved enough money to move to the island full time for its warm and sometimes ‘sharky’ surfing. We talk about fishing and turtles and surfing and winter and van life. Then, as quickly as our visitors arrived, they departed… Jimmy leaves to go turn off his TV (so he wouldn’t drain the battery) and Chris decides it is time to settle in for the night. The beach becomes quiet and dark as the sun sets and the sky lights up in a rainbow of color. Everyone turns their attention to the ocean, the sky and the soft warm sand.
During the night the campground is dark and quiet so we open up the back of the van and let the air move in off of the ocean. We fall asleep to the sounds of crashing surf. I wake myself up regularly to look around and soak it all in. This was going to be a great trip!

*Westfalia rentals on Maui available through Aloha Campers 

*If ‘van camping’ on Maui, skip Olowalu. You can’t park anywhere near the beach. The tent camping is much more inviting here. We opted to not ‘pay’ for the experience of spending an overnight in their parking lot.


2015 Christmas Gifts for Gardeners

The Season of Giving is upon us. Although I prefer to spend some of my energy giving to people in need within our global community (Heifer International) or donating to causes that are important to me (Panthera.org), I also expend a great deal of energy on trying to find great gifts for each member of my family.  I am an apple that did not fall far from the family tree so gardening-style gifts are a common theme from year to year. Here are a few that I have both given and received (or would like to receive!).
Tulip and Daffodil Bulbs from RoozenGaarde Flowers and Bulbs in the Skagit Valley- If you have ever taken in Washington’s Tulip Festival then you are familiar with RoozenGaarde. Acres upon acres of amazing tulips spread as far as the eye can see. Over 12 years ago, I started giving bulbs or cut flowers from this farm as special occasion gifts to members of my family.  The quality of their bulbs are exceptional and very affordable. Typically, I like to order a mix of early, mid and late bloomers. I also like to mix daffodils in with the tulips to discourage bulb loss due to below-ground pests. Daffodil bulbs are poisonous and act as a natural deterrent to gophers, moles and voles. Bulbs are a great gift for mothers and grandmothers especially.
Fleece-lined work pants- Not a romantic gift but certainly an appropriate one for those gardeners in your life who love to get outside even if the weather is horrible. I received a pair from a family member several years ago and live in them during the late fall and early spring. Seriously, life in the garden would be miserable without them.
Arborist saws and high end pruners- These are the tools that one hardly ever buys for themselves. They can be pricey and one often wonders if the ease of use is worth the extra investment in capital. Without a doubt I can say that Yes, these tools are worth the extra cost. The blades are of high quality and are easy to sharpen. The grips are comfortable and ergonomic. And for avid gardeners, the materials are rugged enough to stand up to several seasons of hard use (and sometimes neglect).
Cured garlic braids- This one has become a hot commodity in our family.  Nothing beats fresh, home-grown garlic! We send braids to our family members every year along with a care package of honey from the Tierra Garden hives, dried fruit and canned wild mushrooms. Depending on the year, we will throw in home-made jam or a package of home-grown dried beans.  It is our way of sharing our life in the Pacific Northwest with those living far away.
Bird feeders and nesting boxes- Both of these have been gifts that my husband has made for family and friends throughout the years. Birds are important allies to our garden and watching them brings pleasure to everyone. Constructing nesting boxes is relatively easy if you are handy in the woodshop. A simple on-line search offers up plans, how-to instructions and guidance on hole sizes for the opening, depending on the birds you are looking to attract. Several years ago, this gift was inspired by the Pygmy owls that live above our house in the forest and that we sometimes spot in the tree outside our kitchen window. Included with the owl box was nesting material and a short story and photos about the Pygmy owl.

These are only a few ideas to get you started. Ultimately, your love and time are your greatest gifts. Give whole-heartedly this season and Happy Gardening!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Mine Sne Hjerte


Soft whites in a steady cascade,
Of flakes, og perler or fragile hoar frost and rime
Of gentle sounds and dampened footsteps…
I come, born from arctic blood
Of Mo i Rana and fjørds cut deep.
Blue eyes flecked in silver and storm
As still as waters fractured with ice
Mine hjerte synger med winter light
Of long dark nights og branden  bright
Vi findes vores stemme med hver nyt søvn
Strong and steady and in continuous chorus it rises;


To meet the morning of the first fallen snow.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankfulness

What am I thankful for?  I thought I could summarize this in a word or two; maybe a string of emotions or the obvious list of nouns. 
As I sit here, my thanks is nearly overwhelming. It bubbles up from the center of my chi and enters the world through every pore of my being. I feel my inner heart filling and my eyes watering as I contemplate what it means to be 'thankful'.....

It is easiest to start with those closest to me.
I am thankful for my husband; my compassionate partner. We, by a small miracle, found each other long ago and the bond that we forged forms the ramparts of my heart.
I give gratitude to the forces that brought our children to us; each unique, loving, beautiful molecule of their beings....
I am blessed with a family; scattered across the frozen tundra, rolling fields, sapphire lakes and desert lands far from my home. Although we are far, I feel them calling...
I remember my ancestors; both those I have known and those who are a mystery. Without you, I am nothing.
My friends, near and far, fill me with happiness. I embrace them today with my love.
And yes, our pets. Dogs and cats living together in anarchy. You warm our beds and encourage us to curl up for a nap once in a while.

I am thankful for the divine intervention of art, creativity and ingenuity. Of mathematics, language and scientific inquiry. These human expressions of the innermost secrets of our world are the bright colors in the tapestry of my life. Without them, I am black and white.

I am thankful to live in peace. This thanks is larger than me. It is one voice in a collective sigh of relief and often of guilt. The world is in need of more islands of solitude. Today, I send my cry of mercy to those in this world living in struggle. May peace find you, may you have loving kindness surround you and keep you safe.

I send my gratitude to our Earth, our mother. You have granted us unlimited possibilities to enjoy your beauty. You create and destroy. May we all find a space for you in our lives. I remain humble before you.

I send my thanks to the heavens that surround us. Each night, I am afforded the opportunity to observe the immensness of your contribution in my life.


I live in a state of Thanks but today I celebrate it as the focal point of my thoughts. Love to all of you and a Happy Thanksgiving.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Storing crops into winter 2015

I probably spent too much of my time as a little girl reading books like Little House on the Prairie. I have been fascinated with the idea of root cellars and food preservation for most of my life. Growing up, we would always make an effort to bring in the last of our tomatoes and would carefully lay them in shallow boxes with sheets of newspaper near our downstairs woodstove in an attempt to ripen some of the remaining half-ready fruits. My mother and grandmother were canners and we had a small room in our basement with a chest freezer and shelves stocked with preserving jars. But we never did much of what I would consider ‘root cellaring’.  This was something I began experimenting with much later in life.
 Probably the greatest deterrent to root cellaring is a lack of experience or understanding the ‘correct’ space to do it in. You don’t have to have an actual cellar to hold over many traditional root crops into the winter months but you do need to have a space available that is above freezing and below about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (between 32F and 50F is ideal). For most people in this area, that space could be a garage, unheated porch or basement. Having a method of reducing the amount of sunlight that enters that space is also helpful. If you have access to both of these things, you can begin to practice the art of long-term produce storage.
Some of the most traditional root crops to hold into the winter are potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets.  It is also possible to hold over kohlrabi, celeriac, Napa cabbage, leeks and Belgian endive. These are all vegetables that tend to be biennial in nature. When left to their own devices, these plants tend to hunker down for the winter in an attempt to re-grow the following spring and produce flowers (and eventually, seeds). The first rule in root cellaring is to pack away this produce unwashed and topped (meaning, cut off the foliage). The washing process removes the thin layer of dirt that essentially encases the root crops and protects them from unwanted pathogens that eventually lead to decay. Washing also stimulates growth by providing the root with excess water that it feels inclined to try and soak up (Potatoes, carrots beets etc.… are roots….water absorption is their primary function). The process of stimulated growth reduces the long-term storage ability of root crops and will eventually lead to a minor amount of top growth and a very soft, spongy, hairy root. Often, our root crops are dug and then left to dry off for an hour or two (especially if dug after fall rains begin). Then, gently, I use my hand to brush off any large clods of dirt before arranging the produce in layers in a shallow Rubbermaid tote. For our family, we typically eat one tote’s worth of carrots a winter and at least 2 totes of potatoes.  Lids are placed on the totes and then labelled with tape and a sharpie indicating the date and contents. Finally, the totes are stacked inside our walk-in refrigerator for the winter (about 38-40F).  That’s it. Pretty simple. To date, we have held potatoes this way for over a year without sprouting; their flavor remains as sweet as when they were first dug.

Surely, as you experiment with root cellaring, you will experience failure from time to time. However, success is eventually guaranteed if you continue to experiment with your technique. And for me, in the winter, I would rather eat my own carrots and potatoes. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Northwest Harvest Interview 2015

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Northwest Harvest about working with local food banks. Here is a link...
 Notes From the Field

Preparing for Spring with Cover Crops and Soil Building 2015

Our summer season has officially come to a close. The leaves are continuously transitioning into their winter apparel, issuing forth a profusion of reds, oranges and yellows in the maple understory on the hills surrounding our farm. And although it may seem like a season of rest is upon us, there are still a number of jobs yet to accomplish before retiring the garden until the spring. Maybe you are a fair weather gardener; your season encompasses the warmest months of the year that span from May until September. This abbreviated version of the growing season leaves out some of the most critical times of the year for both building soil and preparing your garden for the next summer. The time that exists between early September and early November is what I typically think of as one of the two shoulder seasons. The fall shoulder season can be a very productive time. It is the season for planting greens, cilantro and spinach. It is the time for preparing beds for over-wintering leeks, carrots or parsnips. It is the time for planting garlic, for mulching unused beds, for pulling the weeds that are going to seed and for putting away irrigation. And although the summer squash and cucumbers may be tiring under the strain of the cooling nights, the summer planted kale, collards, chard and choy are all thriving.   The spring sown Brussels sprouts and celeriac are nearly ready for harvest. And it is when you may be tilling under your summer sown cover crops and sowing your cover crops to overwinter.
So how does one go about using these very limited last days of the growing year to the best of their abilities? How does one prioritize the jobs that are left to be done? Perhaps it is best to begin by mentally jumping forward to the spring. What are your goals for the next season? Improving soil texture? Reducing moisture loss? Hastening your first harvest date? Fewer irrigation repairs? All of these questions can help to pinpoint the goals for fall that will increase your enjoyment of your garden during the coming spring.
For me, soil building has been a long standing priority. After working in many sandy gardens, it became obvious that an increase in soil organic matter should be a goal for every growing season. The most effective way of doing this has been to incorporate a cover crop into the garden at least once a year. Many gardeners working with small spaces find the easiest way to add a cover crop rotation without giving up growing space is to plant the cover at the end of the season (September) and allow it to overwinter. During the winter, the fall planted cover crop protects the soil from nitrogen loss to the atmosphere and soil erosion from wind and rain. In the spring, the crop is allowed to grow until it is at the 50% flowering stage and is then turned under and allowed to decompose. This added organic matter has several functions. The small pieces of decomposed plant material act like sponges, trapping some additional moisture in the soil. This is incredibly important in arid regions where maintaining good soil moisture is critical to healthy plant growth. The added organic matter also loosens clay-rich soils. It opens up pore space which allows air to move through the soil and allows plant roots to grow. If legumes are used as the cover crop (ex. peas, vetches and beans) it can act as a readily available source of nitrogen when incorporated in the spring.
 If cover cropping is not an option, an alternative form of soil building involves fall mulching. Although most people consider baled alfalfa as animal feed, it also makes a rich and effective mulch. We have been using alfalfa as a mulch for our garlic for the last two seasons. There is a noticeable increase in plant vigor in the beds that received the alfalfa mulch vs. straw mulch. After some consideration, the reason for this became blindingly obvious. Straw is strictly a straight carbon source and sequesters nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. Alfalfa (a legume) when incorporated in the spring, increases rather than decreases the amount of nitrogen available in the soil thereby boosting the production of following crops rather than stealing from it. Weed-free alfalfa can be used to cover dormant beds to protect from wind erosion during the winter months. When spring arrives, it is shoveled into the beds and allowed to decompose just like a cover crop.

The list of fall-related gardening projects is long and involved. It is hard to do it all. However, taking the time to care for your soil is probably the job that will offer the most immediate and satisfying rewards. Have a great winter, and Happy Gardening!

Winterizing Your Garden 2015

Now that the harvest moon has come and gone, it is time to think about tackling those last tasks in the garden before winter. A little preventative maintenance can save a handful of headaches in the spring. Here are a few jobs to consider tackling before the weather really gets cold.
By now, most people have finished using their irrigation systems but probably have not gone through the job of winterizing them. Clearing all of the stagnant water from your lines will save you the trouble of replacing broken fittings and split hoses in the spring. If you have above ground drip lines or black poly tubing, you should have the ability to open up the ends of the lines and allow any extra water to run out. Typically this means removing either the figure 8 piece or the end cap from each line. If there are low spots in the line, it is a good idea to help gravity along by starting at the water’s source and then slowly lifting the line in a hand over hand motion moving toward the end so that any extra water flows out from the hose and eliminates unforeseen puddling in the low spots. If you have a below ground irrigation system, you may need to put a little extra work into clearing the line. An air compressor can be a useful tool in physically ‘blowing’ out the lines. The strong jet of air does the work of pushing the water out of any low spots.
If you have garden hoses laying around, clear these of excess water as well. To eliminate any unnecessary weathering, coil up the hoses and put them inside an out-building or on the shady side of your house. Lessening exposure to direct UV rays can help lengthen the life of your hoses.
Gather up all of the hand tools that you may have left lying around the yard. Shovels, rakes, trowels etc. should be brought in for the season and put inside an out-building or at the very least under the eaves of your house. As with the hoses, the length of life for your handles can be extended by lessening exposure to moisture and UV radiation. Some people will take the time to polish any rusty tools with a small piece of sand paper and then oil the tools for the winter. This is always an option for the more ambitious and conscientious gardener. At the very least, look over the handles of your shovels and rakes. If they are starting to splinter and crack, consider replacing them now so that you are ready to go next spring. Spare handles can be purchased at most home supply stores.
For your wheelbarrows, roll them in out of the weather and prop them up against a shed or wall so that water does not gather in the bucket. As with the shovel handles, wheelbarrow handles are also replaceable. Rather than purchasing a new wheelbarrow, consider repairing the handles instead.
Mulch any unused garden beds to protect from wind and water erosion. Good mulches are grass and alfalfa mixes. Be sure any mulch you are purchasing is weed free. Spread the mulch to a depth of 4-6” over the top of dormant beds. In the spring, this mulch can be turned into the soil and allowed to decompose.
And finally, if you keep a notebook, make a short list of any improvements or changes you want to make to the garden next season. Do it now while it is fresh in your mind.

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mother Earth News Blog Post #5 Community Education Through Farm Tours

I wrote a brief post about the Sustainable Living and Farming Tour that happens every year in Leavenworth. Here's the link to the post.
Community Education Through Farm Tours

An introduction to row covers 2015

Summer is taking its swan dive into fall. The weather is cooling off and nights in the Upper Valley have been dipping down into the 30’s . There has been a bit of talk around the area about how to best protect crops when the weather begins to chill. There are several options available and it partially depends on your budget and ambitions.
Floating row cover is available for purchase and comes in a number of thicknesses. This cover is essentially a white, spun polyester fabric that allows light and water to penetrate (the thicker the fabric, the less light transmission) but protects plants from excessive cold or heat just like an insulating blanket. The covers can be lain directly over the plants and can ‘float’ on top of them. However, this is less than ideal since the leaves that are touching the fabric still tend to be harmed by the cold. A better solution would be to do one of the following things in addition to using the floating row cover.
For those who planted a movable garden (containers, pots etc…), the first thing to do is move those planters closer to the house at night. The warmth from you home will help to protect your plants. Also, move the planters to the down-wind side of the house if possible. Cold mixed with wind can desiccate your tender plants leaving them limp, lifeless and stressed.
If your plants are in raised beds, consider building a hoop structure to cover the entire bed. If the raised beds are made out of thicker material (boards of the box are at least 2” thick), you can drill small pilot holes spaced every 12-18” with a ¼” drill bit. Then, you can take a stiff wire that is the same diameter as the hole (such as ¼” bailing wire) and you can bend a half-circle that fits snugly into the corresponding holes on opposite sides of the bed. This will create a ‘hoop’ over the top of the bed that is strong enough to support a light-weight row cover or contractor’s clear plastic. A quick tip, the wire hoops can become floppy if they are either too tall, or the span across the bed is too far. This type of hoop works well for beds that are 4 feet across or smaller. Larger spans will require a different plan.
If your raised beds are larger than a 4 foot span or if you would like to create a structure that is a little beefier, galvanized electrical conduit can be bent into a sturdier hoop structure. To secure these hoops, it works best to sink a pipe ‘sleeve’ into the ground on the outside of your beds that the bent conduit hoop can slide into (just like the wire slides into the holes in the example above). To create the pipe sleeves, purchase galvanized pipe that is of a diameter slightly larger than the diameter of the conduit so that the conduit can easily slip into the pipe but there is not so much extra space that the conduit is loose or rattles inside of this sleeve. Cut the pipe into 18 inch lengths and use a sledge hammer to sink the pipe into the ground leaving 6-8 inches of pipe exposed out of the ground. This will set the pipe deep enough that it can withstand wind and weather and will leave an above ground section to support the hoop.

For most home gardens, these simple hoops combined with a cover will be enough to stave off the cold for a few additional weeks….enough time to harvest all those tomatoes! Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Retirement of a Generation of Farmers

**I wrote this short essay as part of our farm's CSA newsletter this week. I thought it would be best to share it on the blog since the gravity of it's contents is something to be considered among a broader audience than just our CSA. Maybe you agree?

Yesterday, I was once again reminded that farming is a very special career choice. I openly admit to getting frustrated at least once or twice a summer (maybe 3 times!) with the workload and lack of time off. Willy is much better at coping with it than I am and he certainly takes the brunt of the work upon himself. Often, he is at the farm literally from dawn until dusk with me arriving at a more civilized hour and leaving before it is time to make dinner. He really, hardly, ever complains. He loves his work and feels an almost parental attachment to the fields and the crops. While most people enjoy a few days off every week (that little thing known as a weekend), Willy may take off a 1/2 day now and again but never, ever more. The idea of leaving the farm for an overnight (or 2!) does not cross his mind. Indeed, he has told me regularly that he doesn't feel like he has to go to work when he gets up in the morning. Farming to him isn't work, it has become who he is.

So it is with great sadness yesterday that I was reminded that more than a handful of very dedicated farmers in our area are retiring this season with no one stepping in to replace them. This isn't the type of job you advertise for. There rarely is that one special person who wants to step in and 'buy the farm'; accepting the responsibility, long hours and low pay that come along with this commitment. Farming as a career choice makes very little sense; it is a lifestyle choice, or nothing.

To put our predecessors lifetimes into perspective, Grant Gibbs just celebrated 40 years of farming on his homestead in Leavenworth. 40 years of fighting the weather, building the soil, scrambling to find help, and persisting against all odds. Those farmers who are retiring are some of the pioneers of organic agriculture in this region. Watershine Woods, Jerry Pipitone, Ken Toevs... (and across the state Terry Carkner, Nash Huber and others...) they have all decided that it is time to move into the next phase of life. An entire generation of farmers who's time has come and gone. The gap that they are leaving behind makes me feel nauseated and humbled. Farming is a career built on experience. Year after year an accumulation of knowledge increases one's skill and chances of success. Those who have spent a lifetime in the soil hold a wealth of knowledge greater than any doctorate degree can decree and broader than any book can hold. So who is left to turn to for advice and support when these scholars are no longer available?

'We are all counting on you now.' was the message I was left with yesterday after discussing this situation with my dear friend Kim Lohse (another pioneer in her own way as she, in her retirement, continues to champion for local food) 'But no pressure!' she says with a smile. And isn't that the truth of it? One generation retires and the next must step up and try and fill their shoes. But I don't nearly feel ready to lead the charge. Somehow, an entire generation gap has presented itself between those who are retiring and our younger generation who are still learning the ropes. Where are the farmers who come in between? An entire middle-age missing from farm life.

I sincerely hope that our generation and the one following us can pick up the slack. I don't really know if we can, but I know that we will try. I am continuously inspired that there are people like my husband who find that their place in life comes with calloused hands and dirty work clothes. With any luck, there will be more choosing this path behind him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mother Earth News Blog #4 Selling Your Abundance and Building Farm To Table Relationships

I promise...once summer is done, I will have time for more creative writing. But for now, I can be found posting at Mother Earth News, writing for the Wenatchee World and posting newsletters for our farm on our farm blog Tierra Garden

Here is the latest Mother Earth News post about forming farm-to-table relationships and working with restaurants.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Squash Beetles 2015

Who doesn’t love squash? Winter squash, zucchini, summer squash? Squash is a quintessential part of nearly any home garden. They are easy to grow, are prolific producers and love the heat of summer. However, as much as we humans love to eat the fruits of the squash plant, the Squash Beetle may love it even more than us.
Squash beetles can be a serious problem in the Wenatchee Valley. Although, the upper valley has historically been too cold to harbor large populations, Wenatchee and East Wenatchee suffer dearly from annual infestations….especially in home gardens.  The incredibly warm summers and mild winters allow the squash beetle populations to persist from year to year. As our climate shifts, some of the problems that have been reserved for the warmest portions of the county will begin to show themselves in areas that have traditionally been problem free. The squash beetle is a likely candidate for movement up valley.  Therefore, even if you have never experienced squash beetle problems before, it is a good thing to know how to recognize and control.
Infestations usually begin to show themselves in the late spring through mid-June as over-wintering adults emerge from garden debris and mulch and begin to reproduce and lay eggs. This is one instance where mulching your plants can exacerbate the problem.  The beetles lay a series of copper colored, oval eggs along the undersides of the newly emerged squash leaves. Over the course of a week, the eggs begin to hatch and squash bug nymphs begin to feed on the squash leaves and stems. Both the adults and the nymphs are active feeders on squash plants and squash fruits. Their feeding will begin to cause water transport within the leaves of the squash to halt and leaves will begin to wilt. If the infestation is great enough, the plant will eventually die. During warm summers, squash beetles can complete two life cycles; the adults of the second cycle will over-winter to begin reproduction again in the spring.

So what can a gardener do to lessen their losses? The first recommendation is to remove mulch from around squash plants if you live in a neighborhood prone to squash beetle. Removing excess garden debris will help as well since this is where adults go to hide from the cold and to over-winter. Also, perform weekly leaf checks on the undersides of your squash leaves. If you see a cluster of small, copper colored eggs, squish them. It is much easier to squish the eggs than to squish adults and nymphs. The next tactic is to go out and pick your plants free of adult and nymph squash beetles. Either squish the adults and nymphs or put them into a sealable plastic bag and then allow them to cook in the sun within the bag before putting the container into the trash can…..this is one pest that you do not want to accidentally spread to someone else, so make sure the adults and nymphs are dead before throwing them out.  Diatomaceous earth has also been proven effective in lessening the population of squash beetles. This is a method that has been approved for organic production. Several insecticides also work for control. Before applying an insecticide, seek advice on proper usage first. The Chelan/Douglas Master Gardener Diagnosis Clinic can be contacted for more information on chemical controls. Also, work with your neighbors. If you remain vigilant attendants to your gardens, it is possible to keep an area free from pest problems. When you work together to control squash beetles, everyone wins. Good Luck this Season and Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mother Earth News Blog #1

Wow, what a thing. I get to blog for Mother Earth News.
Here is a link to my first post: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/6-steps-to-creating-a-community-farmers-market-zbcz1506.aspx 

Alternative Fruits 2015

There is more to life than apples, pears, cherries and peaches. I know this may sound like blasphemy given that much of the economic success of our region is dependent upon these four crops.  Come harvest time, we all know a neighbor or a friend of a friend who will give us a great deal on a case of one of these staples. Often the quality is better than what we are capable of growing ourselves and certainly the price is worth the time and labor that we are saved from having to squeeze in the pruning, watering, care and maintenance that it would personally take to harvest that same box of fruit. This abundance also means that home gardeners are free to experiment with lesser known and hard to find fruits.
Our climate makes growing berries and other bush and tree fruits relatively easy and problem free. We don’t have to worry about humidity related illness, such as mummy berry, which can be a crippling problem in Western Washington.  Here are a few alternative fruit crops that do well in our region and are prized globally for their flavor. Often, if we do not travel abroad, we are unaware of some of the world’s most popular foods since they do not fit into our regional paradigm or cultural customs.
Honeyberries- These are a honeysuckle derived fruit common in the northern hemisphere of both Asia and North America. Honeyberry is confusingly absent from the West Coast of both regions.  To date, Russia has spent the most effort on breeding programs and the fruit is regularly harvested from wild growing plants.  Honeyberries are ready for harvest a full 2 weeks earlier than strawberries which puts them several weeks ahead of traditional blueberry harvest.  This is a good item to work into your garden if you have adequate sunlight. They can be grown in a wide range of pH soils and cultivars can be found that are hardy to zone 1! You will need at least 2 varieties planted close by for good pollination.
Hardy Kiwi- Hardy Kiwis are a perennial native to Japan, Korea, Northern China and Siberia.  They are grape-sized fruits that are similar in flavor to traditional kiwi fruit but are often sweeter. These are a fast growing vine that will require trellising. There are both male and female plants. You will need at least one of each for pollination. Although the plants themselves can be hardy down to -30F, they do require approximately 150 frost free growing days for fruit development. However, late freeze events are okay provided that there is a gradual cooling-off period beforehand to allow for acclimation.
Mulberries- The mulberry is a swift-growing deciduous tree that can reach a total height of 30-50 feet at maturity. They are loaded with elongated pale to dark purple fruits that have a delicate sweetness.  They are commonly found in the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Indian subcontinent. In this region, they grow exceptionally well in the upper valley with little to no supplemental irrigation. Their fruits are very attractive to Cedar Waxwings and Western Tanagers making them an excellent choice as a wildlife forage species. They are highly productive but require netting if you hope to have any fruits left to harvest after the birds have discovered the tree.
Gooseberries- This is another native to Europe, Northwestern Africa and Asia. This moderate sized bush can be heavily laden with quarter sized maroon berries.  They require some irrigation but are fairly hardy and naturally occur in low nitrogen environments. The fruits are prized for jams and jellies.
Have fun experimenting with something different in your garden this season and Happy Gardening!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Elemental Life

Why does life form?
A better question would be, Why doesn't it?
Why does Iron form?  An elemental bi-product of the inevitable chemistry of the universe.
Life is an element. An inevitability that arises like a phoenix from within the universal rules of chemistry and physics. Life abounds in all places. Life abounds where we cannot yet see. We have never been alone. We are not alone now.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

existential

I don't know much about life after death but I may believe in life after life.
*****
what do you see when you look at yourself? do you know that person well? can you look them in the eyes? who looks back?
*****
I used to turn myself around and around, in front of a mirror, trying to understand.
My mother hinted that I may be vain....a mortal sin. What I could not explain to her, in my child's voice, was my curiosity as to who I was. This shell that I inhabit must be very different from the last. Who grows up thinking that they have been placed inside the wrong body? Who physically feels their eyes becoming windows....not made of glass but a set fashioned from thin sheets of Muscovite; ancient and milky?
*****
A friend and I have shared the same dreams. Not a hypothetical dream for the future or the ephemeral dream to someday be a writer (although we do dream that dream together)  but the dreams of the unconscious soul. Dreams of lilacs blossoms blowing on the breeze, dreams of dead friends, dreams of the divine. He once explained to me that he can no longer meditate because he is afraid of what he will find. He has found the way....the tunnel that leads to light. He found the way and the one on the other side shot out of the darkness and delivered a hard right hooked punch to his gut. He will not meditate now; the pain was too real.
Many of us have found this place and are afraid to enter. We are not taught to know what to do when we arrive and so we flee. But we are drawn here, over and over, to stand at the gate and to let the wind howl past. The buzzing and crackle and the alignment of neural energy....if you have been here you may know how startling this discovery can be.
*****
I do not believe in who I am...Meaning, I do not believe that this is all I am meant to be. I have been more and I have been less. I have purpose and with luck, my life will have meaning to others. After I pass, I may return as a swallow, another woman, a man, or your cat. I may be the ant who is tortured by children or the peasant who is tortured by circumstance.
I will not return as a demon....one of the unconscionable souls tending the alter of economy, persecution and power. Hell is very real but its dimension exists now. Demons exist but they wear the skins of sharks and prey upon the poor. Damnation is often a choice.
*****
Are we animal or are we human? Do you know the difference? Lost Souls, you are not lost. You have only forgotten the way. The path is laid out before you, now walk forth and exist.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

summer skin

I stand naked before the mirror and admire the return of my summer skin;
pale pink above my breasts and bronze in over lapping layers of straps and sleeves. Muscles form and re-form in a progression down the length of my arms.
The silt washes off in a torrent of mud mixed with the sweet scent of soap;
my hair once again bright as the moon; casting off the dullness of the day in its many layers of sweat, grime and sunshine.
My toes will not be clean again until the leaves fall from the trees in their cascade of relief and exhaustion, as summer wanes and autumn embraces us with darkness.
Next to the sink, I study the black of my hat. Its surface a rainbow of textures;  an oil soaked and sleek band fades into bleached and brittle edges. A history and a reflection of my unconscious habit of removing it and reapplying it over and over as I struggle to shield my eyes from the light....my fingerprints are nearly visible on the brim. Like my toes, my fingers will bear the burden of the season; rough and frayed corners, calluses, and healed-over blisters.
From head to toe, I am amused by my appearance and I contemplate Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. I remember my mother, grandmothers, great-grand mothers. I look into my own eyes and see eternity laid out before me.
I am the one that arrives with dirt in the cuffs, spots, stains and small tears.I am a woman of beauty; a creature of struggle, persistence and undying optimism. I am the light that is not seen and only felt. I am starlight and madness. I am the womb of creation. I am all of these things. I am dust.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Welcome to the Farmers Market 2015

Summer living, here we come. After a milder than usual winter and an early spring, it feels like we are jumping into summer a little ahead of schedule. Already, the apple blossoms have come and gone; the wildflowers have arrived in a profusion of color, while the drier hillsides have turned from dormant brown, to lush green and now to red as the wild grasses make their way through their annual life cycle. And finally, after a long break, the Farmers Market season has begun.  The weather has been favorable and many crops are weeks ahead of schedule.  Already, visitors to the Market have been able to find radishes, rhubarb, bok choy, salad mix, arugula, spinach, turnips, napa cabbage and asparagus. Over the coming weeks, expect to see the arrival of early carrots, baby beets, young garlic, spring onions plus much, much more.
Master Gardeners will be on hand at the Wenatchee Farmers Market, The Leavenworth Community Farmers Market and the Chelan Market and are happy to answer your garden related questions. This is a great chance to get some much needed advice on your home garden and to become familiar with the Chelan/Douglas Master Gardener Program and the classes and events they will be hosting throughout the summer.
Below, are the operating dates and times for four of our best local markets.  If you can’t make it to a market, Sage Mountain in Leavenworth and Rhubarb Market in Wenatchee make local, seasonal produce available year round to their customers and often honor special requests.
·         The Kittitas County Farmers Market in Ellensburg opened on May 2nd and will be operating every Saturday from 9 AM -1 PM, May-October.
·         The Wenatchee Farmers Market opened for the season on Saturday May 9th and runs from 8 AM-1 PM.
·         The Chelan Farmers Market will begin its market season on Thursday May 21st from 4-7 PM.
·         The Leavenworth Community Farmers Market is slated to open on Thursday June 4th from  4-8 PM. This season, they have added a kids-only vending booth beginning on Thursday, June 25th and running through the rest of the market season.

And, if you have ever considered becoming a vendor at one of your local markets, don’t wait. Now is the time to contact them directly about special vendor days or hosting a regular booth. Whether you grow flowers, fruits or veggies, participating in your local market is a great way to meet your neighbors and join a community of like-minded gardeners. Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Inside of Me

Only when you walk
Naked through your house
Are you Truly Free

It is when
You walk naked through your garden
That you are Truly Wild

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Planting For Beneficials 2015

The natural reaction of most humans when confronted with an unknown wasp or stinging insect is to be suspicious and even a little nervous. The sight of a stinger brings a knee-jerk reaction in our mind; trained from the accidental encounters with yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets or the occasional honeybee (All the worse for the poor honeybee, whose demise is guaranteed through the expenditure of their only defense). But most stingers were not created to be used in deterrence of human intruders. Many were designed as biological weapons to be used against other insects. Stingers could be considered modified reproductive devices used to paralyze a host before inserting its eggs into the host’s body cavity (Hosts are often aphids or moth caterpillars). Beneficial wasps are known as parasitoids because of this reproductive strategy. For this, we should begin to consider wasps and a variety of other insects as our allies in the war against garden pests.
If you have ever over-wintered leeks and allowed them to flower the following year, you have seen how attractive allium flowers can be to beneficial wasps. There have been days at our farm where more than 20 different wild species have shown themselves on these bulbous, beautiful blossoms. Although some of the wasps we noticed looked downright intimidating, their primary interest for visiting was to feed on nectar. Providing nectar sources is the easiest way to keep and retain a large diversity of beneficials in the garden.
 Alliums aren’t the only flowers that can be used to attract beneficials to the garden. A very common bedding plant; alyssum, is another attractive nectar source for beneficial insects; primarily hover flies (also known as syrphid flies). Hover flies are hunters, used to control both aphids and mites. Phacelia is another great source of nectar for wasps, hoverflies and pollinators such as bees (both wild and domesticated).
The key to keeping a healthy population of helpful insects in your garden is to provide a nectar source throughout the entire growing season. As one source wanes, another should take its place. The more sources you offer, the more babies these benificials will have and the fewer problems you will have with pests in your garden. The following link will provide more information on identifying insects that are helpful in the yard and home garden:  http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/EM067E/EM067E.pdf . Of particular note; the best way to keep a healthy population is to avoid the application of broad spectrum, synthetic pesticides.

Happy Gardening!

el lago

As I sit here staring at these peaks, this lake, this life
My children with toes buried up to their ankles
The gentle slap of water on sand
And try to imagine a life without
this place....
without this warm sun....
without the evergreen, cedar skeletons, pebbles, solitude.....
On this perfect May day
 in this place that I call home
but is not the home of my birth
And will I ever feel fully at home
as at home as a birth-right allows?
Is this the gift we give our children
without them knowing it
This security of belonging
to a mountain vista
never questioning
only living
only alive

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Creating a Community Farmers Market: A step-by-step guide

When I moved to my little town over 11 years ago, there was hardly a farmers market to speak of. The market that did exist took place in a dusty, sun-baked parking lot at the edge of town. Market hours were from 9 AM–1 PM on a Tuesday; hardly the prime shopping hours for most 9–5 working types. Needless to say, consumer participation was low.

Vendors at the market were in short supply. There were 5 tables; 3 vegetable growers and 2 crafters. The growers and crafters that participated were not local (other than 1) and the produce that they furnished was likely (based off of its appearance)something that didn't sell at the nearby Saturday market, was trucked back to the farm, reconstituted in water and held until the following Tuesday in marginal refrigeration. Not exactly the awe-inspiring display one wants to see when taking the time to shop local.

In those days, the market that existed was an off-shoot of a larger organization located nearly 25 miles to the East of us. There was an absentee market manager, no advertising, awful signage and the impression that our town’s produce needs really weren't all that important to anyone in charge. It was dismal.
Back then, my husband and I were newbie farmers…well, more like over-producing backyard growers who were tight on cash. On a whim, we contacted the market board to see if it was worth our time to participate in our ‘local’ market. The short answer,after reading through the fine print and seeing the vendor fees, was a resounding ‘no’. There was no incentive for local small producers to participate in the market process. Discouraged, we searched for a better outlet for our abundance.

Fast forward one year in time….Our small backyard enterprise had since grown into a 1.5 acre mini farming operation and we were desperate to establish some steady markets for our crops. I attended a Farm-To-Table event in a near-by town and was introduced to several other young growers plus a slew of agency staff. As we were departing the venue, one of my new acquaintances hints at the idea of creating a new farmers market and is actively recruiting participants. This is how, nearly 8 years ago, I was pulled into the market creation process.
Here are a few of the things that I have learned:
  1. Farmers Markets can be contentious; prepare for a fight (even if you aren't looking for one). This was a huge eye opener to me. Who wouldn't want a successful market in their town? Apparently (and obviously) anyone involved with the ‘other’ market that already existed. To be fair, in our effort to keep from reinventing the wheel, we approached the board of the original market and asked if they would allow us to become our own, self governing entity. They very vocally, and rudely declined. As part of our community outreach, we held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of creating an additional market in town; allowing the original market to continue to exist but adding a second market on a different day that would be run by our new entity. During and leading up to the public meeting, members of the original market board were openly slanderous and vocal about their dissent and went to lengths to discredit our planning efforts (including setting up several secret meetings with City officials, placing anti-market ads in the local papers and even placing anti-market radio spots). Fortunately for us, the positive support we received from the remainder of the community was enough to convince the City to issue a second permit; allowing us to create a farmers market independent of the first market without forcing the shut down of the original market in the process. From our perspective, this was the closest thing to a win; let the customers decide where their allegiance would lie.
  2. Be prepared for internal growing pains and choose a strong group leader. As with any new entity, there were massive differences in opinion about the best way to organize ourselves. The most well-intentioned neighbors and volunteers were, at times, reduced to yelling matches over our boardroom table. Items as simple as choosing a name or the day of the week and timing for the market became heated debates. In those early stages, we lost many participants because of the strain of these decisions. It was only with the designation of a strong group leader that we were able to make it through these formative decisions into the real meat of setting up a market; bi-laws, market rules and a budget.
  3. Research other markets for guidance on rule making and budgeting. All markets are not created equally. When starting a new market from the ground up, you will be faced with decisions that set the tone for your market’s ‘feel’, which will ultimately be its identity. Will you allow re-sale? What will your crafter to vendor ratio be? How much will you charge for stall fees? What will the ratio be of vegetables to fruits? Will you allow GMO crops? How will you handle Non-Profit booths? Will you host live music? We were fortunate to have a strong and engaged group of rule-makers who were willing to do the research and legwork the first time around which led to the construction of a strong framework of bi-laws, market rules and operating budget. Over the years, there have been some adjustments to our original bi-laws (For example, our inaugural board was limited to 7 members but has since been increased to 11.). But for the most part, the original framework remains unchanged. The strength of this ground floor rule-making has allowed for the smooth transition between the original board members and all new board participants. Our documentation has always been strong and transparent, making it easy for a new member to come up to speed on the reasoning behind each of the rules or regulations.
  4. Foster a good relationship with city officials and community members. Our little town has many regulations regarding signage and setbacks that added some complication to our application process. Fortunately, our board members have always been on good terms with city officials and an open channel of dialog has kept us relatively free from controversy. This isn't exactly an easy task. Shop owners in town have felt threatened by the market from the very beginning and constantly nag the city to limit the reach of the market. This includes limiting prepared food, wine sampling, crafting etc…anything that may be viewed as ‘competition’ to the other downtown businesses. Because of our strong relationship with the city and our ability to concede on much smaller issues (such as signage regulation) we have been able to continue the growth of the market with little regulatory impediment. Our strong commitment to our community and their strong commitment to us has allowed us leverage when negotiating larger political potholes such as lobbying for free parking on market nights. In a town where revenue is intimately tied to parking fees, this concession by the city would not have been possible without our strong community base of supporters.
  5. Hire a good Market Manager. The Market Manager is the mouth piece of the market board. They are the face of the market that the community and your vendors are most intimately involved with. It is therefor important to hire the right person for the job. The manager should be personable, responsible, strict (yes, strict) and tireless. Fortunately for us, we found the right candidate our very first season. Our manager arrives early and leaves late. He is the voice of our radio spots, organizes the pre-season vendor meeting, sets up signage and amplification, marks out booth locations, keeps our vendor ratios favorable, manages disputes and directs traffic during vendor un-loading and loading. Essentially, he rallies the troops and keeps us in line without alienating a soul. To show our appreciation as a board, we have built into our budget an annual salary review and bonus process. This has kept the working relationship between the board and the manager strong.
  6. Hire a book keeper. Originally, book keeping duties were the job of our board Treasurer. What became apparently obvious as members of the board reached the end of their term was that the hardest transition to keep seamless were the finances. This was due, in part to the heavy workload involved with both maintaining the books and then explaining the system to a newcomer. We made the unanimous decision to work into our budget a little extra money allocated for external book keeping services. This has taken pressure off of our volunteer board and keeps our book keeping from becoming ‘sloppy’.
We are now entering our 9th market season. Much has changed over the years and I feel fortunate to be involved in a market that does not seem to be going away any time soon (That original Tuesday market didn't last more than another season after the formation of our new Thursday evening market). In fact, participation continues to grow, with a wait list of potential vendors and ever-increasing consumer participation. The strength of our market regularly attracts customers from as much as 100 miles away and our vendors receive frequent praise about the quality of the market experience. Most certainly, there will be future challenges that are yet to be anticipated. But for the most part, the decisions we made early on in our formation have proven to be sound ones. I can only hope that some of you who will be undergoing a similar process can find guidance from the words that have been written here today.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On Bees and The Fragility Of Our Food System; An essay on the eye-witness account of a honeybee massacre

I recently returned from a mini road trip to Seattle where I doused myself in culture, the arts and some amazing Puerto Rican cuisine. It was a long time in coming and I really relish the chance to don my city shoes, tapered jeans, chic skirt or something other than a pair of grubby work clothes and strictly utilitarian footwear. Visiting the Westside (wet-side) of the Cascades reminds me how very close we are to the Pacific Ocean. It is easy to forget the smell of damp, salty air on our Ponderosa Pine  and sun-drenched Eastern Slopes. I love to wake up on a sunny Ballard morning, walk out the door and greet the neighborhood. There is truly a part of me that loves city life....
But after 24 hours of  indulging in the privileges that only sidewalks offer, I begin to feel out of sorts and mildly uncomfortable; like wearing a coat that is one size too small. There is a very real and Vulcan-like instinct to assess my surroundings for what they really are...namely an ecologically unsustainable bubble of hipster culture. Sure, there are curbside gardens, but realistically these little 4 ft-by-4ft plots are not capable of feeding a household. At most, you may get a good salad or two once a month and maybe some garnish for your afternoon mojito.  At this point, Urban Claustrophobia begins to settle in and I am thankful that I get to jump back into my Subaru and high tail it out of town and back over the mountains to my country roads......almost....
Usually there is some anthropogenically generated roadblock that keeps me from escaping the urban interface unscathed. This trip was no different.
Except, that it was.

This time, the roadblock was a 3 mile back up at the intersection of I-5 and I-405 just North of town. That morning while eating breakfast, my friend told me he had heard there was some type of accident involving a truckload of bees. As I drove North out of Seattle and gradually lumbered to a rolling stop with all of the other late morning commuters, it occurred to me that I may have found myself taking part as an eye-witness to this bee massacre. Slowly, each lane crept forward in the timeless 'stop-and-go' dance that is now an unavoidable part of suburban life. I kept to the outside lane hoping to catch a glimpse of the over-turned truck.

The first signal of the approaching accident site was the honeybee that careened into my windshield about 300 yards South of the crash site. As we crept closer, small clouds of disoriented bees zigged and zagged between the traffic until the over-turned truck was in sight. It was a beautiful, warm day and the windows of my car were wide open. Approximately 200 feet from the crash I was hit with the overwhelming smell of honeycomb and wax; the scent any bee-keeper knows only too well.
The sight that lay before me was devastating. My heart ached in a way that I have never before experienced as I lay eyes on the mountain of broken bee boxes,supers, frames and comb; all having been pushed into a massive pile on the side of the road by WashDOT in an attempt to re-open one of the 3 lanes of Northbound Interstate. The carnage stood over 15 feet high. A fire truck stood nearby supplying a high powered stream of water to the first responders who were vigorously soaping and scrubbing the freeway free of honey.  Alongside the guardrail, in full bee suits were the 3 Latino farm workers who were invariably in charge of the large load. (* I will continue to document the ethnicity of the farm workers I observe until there is no longer a disparity between us out in the fields*). Meanwhile, lost bees continued to fly in search of their missing queen, their brood, their homes.

It was seeing the farm workers with their grim expressions, that really brought home the devastation of this event. The likelihood of them being gainfully employed was quickly slipping away with each broom-stroke. The farmer who had been expecting this shipment of bees to pollinate their crop would be getting the call that, indeed, no bees would be coming, as the window for pollination steadily drew to a close. The owner of the hives would also be receiving a call informing them that they were no longer the owner of some 100 or more bee colonies; a season of contracts negated prematurely with countless other farms left short on pollinators for the upcoming season. And most tragically, the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of bees whose houses had been lost that day were nearly and almost undoubtedly destined to die as well. With no queen, no brood and nowhere to go, they continued to fly aimlessly, encountering one windshield after the next.
Who writes the insurance policy for a flatbed of bees?

And this is the system we have built for ourselves. In our ever increasing enthusiasm for playing God to the Natural World, we have placed ourselves precariously in exactly this position. We are continuously increasing the level of responsibility that We Humans have over the well-being of the World's many Creatures. Our folly is the undoing of the lives of our subjugates. In mythology, the persecuted cursed the gods for their callous disregard. Have we not become our own protagonists?

 I will remain obstinate to a paradigm that carelessly tampers with the natural order of our intricate living systems until we have proved ourselves worthy of such a position. From my perspective, we have a long way to go.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Landscaping for Fire 2015

Fire in North Central Washington can be a powerful and dynamic force.  It alters landscapes as well as livelihoods in a matter of minutes, days, or even weeks.  Each year, more people migrate to the greater Leavenworth area from different parts of the world so that they can experience life nestled within the beauty of this wild and scenic environment.  There is a gravity to these vistas that is hard to escape. Many newcomers have not grown up with fire and often, it does not play into their decision on where to settle down and spread their roots. Yet, every rose bush has its thorns and the Wenatchee Watershed is no different.  The snowy winter, glorious spring, blue-skied summer and prolonged fall come at a price; mainly a shortage of precipitation during the hottest and driest portions of the year. This type of climate can be described as monsoonal and it lends itself exceptionally well to wildfires. Historically, fire has been a common part of our landscape and many of the native plants that live here have evolved to co-exist with regular intervals of low intensity burning.  Some even require fire for reproduction. However, forest practices (including extensive logging and fire suppression) over the last century have led to an overabundance of fuels in our forests and now, catastrophic fire events are a symptom of this illness. 
So how does one prepare for living with fire? As landowners, we have the good fortune of being able to take control over our personal landholdings even if the larger tracts surrounding us are out of our realm of influence. As stewards, we have the ability to make decisions about the interaction between our homesteads and our neighboring forests.  Wise landscaping choices are a key piece in preparing ourselves for an eventual encounter with fire.
So maybe you do not personally see yourself as an individual with an aptitude for gardening. Or, maybe the thought of taking on an extensive landscaping overhaul is not how you would choose to spend your free time.  The good news is that there are some very simple steps any homeowner can take that can help to protect your home in the event of a forest fire.
One of the easiest jobs is to create a boundary of tended yard around your home.  Firewise Communities offers excellent information on the way to create Zones of defensible space around the home; http://www.firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness/be-firewise/home-and-landscape.aspx .The first and most important space should extend at least 30 feet around the footprint of your house. Keep in mind that decks should be considered as an exterior extension of your home so your measurements should take this into consideration as well. Within this boundary, yards or landscaping plants should be regularly irrigated, trimmed and thinned to remove excess flammable material.  In the spring, this area should be raked free of debris and fallen sticks. Larger trees should be high-limbed to 14 feet above ground level and should be kept away from the main structure of the house whenever possible. It is within this zone that many homeowners focus the bulk of their irrigating or install in-ground watering systems.  Keep in mind that in the event of a real fire emergency, power to your home may be lost, limiting the amount of irrigating that is possible during a fire event. Irrigating should be a regular part of your landscaping routine, not the fall back plan. If irrigating is not an option for your situation, aim to keep dormant grasses mowed short, especially around the foundation of the house or install xeriscape flower beds. More information on xeriscaping can be found at http://www.arboretum.wsu.edu/xeriscaping.html. Many xeriscape native plants for our region are also fire-wise plants.
When installing landscaping, choose the correct materials for mulching or beautifying around your home. Beauty bark can become a fire hazard. During a large fire event, hot fire brands can travel over a mile from the point of ignition. Non-irrigated bark mulch can offer brands a place to smolder and ignite. When looking at options for top-dressing around your home, consider small or medium sized stone to create a tidy appearance.
The next step on the path to a fire-wise home is to choose the correct plants for inclusion in your overall landscape plan.  Not all plants are created equal and some plants are more fire resistant than others. Many agencies have put together lists of plants that are well suited for fire-prone regions. One resource for fire-wise landscaping in Eastern Washington comes from Kitittas County; https://www.co.kittitas.wa.us/firemarshal/documents/Firewise-Firescape-Brochure.pdf.  Another comes from Oregon State University and can be found at: http://www.firefree.org/images/uploads/FIR_FireResPlants_07.pdf . Included in these documents are a number of recommended plants for landscaping around your home.   It is important to know that fire-adapted plants are not immune to fire (they may still blacken and die under such extreme conditions) but have been chosen because they are less likely to ignite and increase the fire hazard around the home since they contain fewer volatile oils or resins.  
Below are some of my personal favorite fire-wise plants that do very well around our region:
Ground Covers: Rock Cress, Epimedium, Creeping Phlox, Hens and Chicks and Kinnikinnick
Perennials: Autumn Joy Sedum, Sea Thrift, Columbine, Coreopsis, Fireweed, Coralbells, Irises, Lavender, Lupine, Penstemon and Echinacea.
Beauty abounds! Fire-wise does not have to equate to sacrifice when it comes to the attractiveness of your landscape. And as always, Happy Gardening!





New Year's Garden Resolutions 2014/15

The New Year is always a time for reflection and reinvigoration. Looking back over the past year, there were a number of changes that I had intended on making for myself in the garden. Some items always fall through the cracks leaving room for improvement during the following year.  That is the beauty of gardening, there is always a new season to try again.
This past year, I had hoped to begin doing some variety trialing of spinach and broccoli at the farm in a concerted sort of way. Unfortunately, I made my decision to do this just as the season was getting busy and it ended up getting shelved in favor of maintaining the status quo. Each time I walked past the rows of broccoli or spinach I was reminded about how improper planning was setting my project back another year. So this season, I am resolving to go into the spring with a plan for my trials before the seeds are already in the ground.  I am resolving to be prepared.
Another resolution I had intended on making last year was to learn more about cultivating various types of grain crops including northern dry-land rice. I had purchased a book about growing grains last summer on a whim and it never got read and still lays unopened on my coffee table. I am resolving to at least read this book so that next year, I can resolve to start planting a few test plots.
I have the open-ended resolution to stay in tune with our changing climate and to learn to interpret what it will mean to our gardening season.  This year brought a number of bird species to the farm that have never been present before. The same was true for my parents in Northern Wisconsin and for friends living elsewhere around the country. This migration of species is the fore-runner to subtle shifts in climate and food availability. It is worth paying attention to the patterns of wildlife so that we ourselves are not caught unaware.  I resolve to remain observant.
I am resolving to stop lifting so many heavy objects. Seriously, my back is killing me. I have older friends who spent their younger lives refusing to pace themselves while gardening and now suffer from chronic injuries that nearly prevent them from gardening altogether. I am resolving to be smarter than I am stubborn so that I can continue to do this activity that I love for many years to come.
And I am resolving to continue to be open to teaching others. I often feel like a novice who has nothing of value to pass along in the way of gardening knowledge. What I conveniently forget are the years I have spent making mistakes and learning from them. If nothing else, I can teach others how to avoid the same mistakes. We all have some kernel of knowledge worth sharing...don’t be afraid to pass it along. Resolve to be a teacher.
May the New Year bring you closer to the fulfillment of your own gardening resolutions and as always, Happy Gardening.




Season Extension 2014

First frost is upon us. To most gardeners this signals the end of the traditional gardening season. From last frost to first frost (basically Summer), most home gardeners focus their efforts on turning the soil and sowing their seed without giving much thought to the remaining months  that lie on either side of these distinct weather events. However, there are those of us so inclined to eating fresh produce that we see the other 7 or 8 months of the year as a gardening challenge rather than a respite. This is how I came to be a full convert to the methods of season extension in the vegetable garden.
Growing up in Northern Wisconsin, my first introduction to season extension was the common bed sheet. As September crept in, my parents would watch the evening weather in anticipation of the forecast for over-night lows. Anything close to 32 degrees meant that we would be pulling the extra blankets and sheets from the closet and would spend our time after dinner covering as much of the garden as possible to protect our still ripening tomatoes and winter squash from settling frost. If the forecast looked especially dire, we would pull whole tomato plants and hang them in our basement near the woodstove to try and salvage the blushing fruit.
Season extension can be as simple as a small attempt to protect crops from first frost, or it can be as elaborate as building structures to offer growing spaces that are available for planting and harvest even in the dead of winter.
Here are a few of the techniques that we have used over the last decade to glean the most possible produce out of our seasonal gardens.  Maybe you will find one of these ideas to be helpful to you.
Succession Planting- In its simplest terms, succession planting is the technique of sowing weather appropriate crops at the correct time of the year. When people visit our booth at farmers market in August and ask for spinach, I know that they do not understand the seasonality of their produce. Crops are used like a toolkit....some tools you only use once or twice a year (snap peas), other tools you may use all season long (beets). Knowing how your tools work is the fundamental basis for understanding succession planting. For example, some crops prefer to be planted only in spring and fall for optimal production (spinach or cilantro) and other crops are best planted after solstice to avoid bolting (daikon radish). As you come to know the growing habits of your favorite varieties, you can begin to take advantage of these characteristics to increase the over-all productivity of your garden.  Whenever we have an empty space left by a preceding crop, we think about what the weather is like, how the light is changing and which ‘tool’ in our seed box would be the best match for the upcoming months. Utilizing this type of thinking has allowed us to harvest at the farm up to 11 months out of the year (even through several feet of snow if need be).
Structural Protection-Any type of structure that protects crops from excessive rain, wind or changes in temperature is nearly essential to true season extension.  We are fortunate to have two large ‘high tunnels’ (metal framing with 6 mil clear plastic walls) to use at our farm for this job. In fact, growing eggplant and tomatoes in our side canyon would be nearly impossible without them.  These structures allow us to begin sowing seed as soon as the ground is thawed in the spring and to continue to harvest even when the ground outside the structures is already frozen in the fall. In a home garden, this can be created using PVC piping bent into hoops with contractor’s plastic stretched over the top. Or even better would be bent electrical conduit (much more durable than PVC) for the hoops. There is no shortage of plans available on the internet for these tunnels and the amount of work required for setting them up or tearing them down is minimal versus their benefits. Hoop benders are available for purchase at a reasonable price through a number of reputable seed catalogs and can be shared with your friends or neighbors. In the Wenatchee region, one of the greatest advantages to this type of structure is the protection from spring winds. Newly set out seedlings can be stunted or broken by being wind-whipped when they are still young. With a little added protection, you can start your spring season earlier with a greater chance of success.
For further information on both succession planting and structural protection, I recommend reading The New Organic Grower and The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.  Both are quality reads. Happy Gardening!

Eron Drew

WSU Chelan County Master Gardener and Co-Owner of Tierra Garden Organics in Leavenworth,Wa.