Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Before, During, and After

So I likely haven't mentioned exactly where I live on the blog before. But the story I'm going to share today lets that little secret out of the bag, so here it is. I live in Okanogan County, in Washington State.

On the east side of the Methow Valley, towards the south.

The east side that has been devastated by the so-called Carlton Complex wildfire.
Last official acreage I saw had approximately 250,000 acres burned. I can't even fathom that many acres. Except I can. It is almost the entire forest I know between here and my husband's work, between here and the larger town we stock up in once a month or so. Much of the forest is black. Moonscape. Charred beyond recognition.

Approximately 300 structures burned, I'm not sure if that is inclusive of barns and outbuildings or not, as in the last couple days as deputies were finally able to get around and drive the roads to check on houses, and that number doubled from 150 to 300 overnight as they realized the extent of the damages.

Luckily, three times lucky to be exact, our house survived. The gardens, apart from pig-caused damage due to loss of electricity for over a week, survived also. The chickens and pigs are doing well too. But the rest, the riparian along our little creek, the forested north-facing hillslope, the sage-brush dominated south-facing hillslope, charred beyond recognition in most places. The pines just north of our house by the pullout, torched (and responsible for the second attempt on the house).

At least three of our neighbors, one being a part-timer, have lost their homes. Two in the initial roll through as the Cougar Flats fire steamrolled south aided by high winds and extremely hot & dry conditions, and ended up on top of us, prompting a very short notice level three (get out right now) evacuation with no other notice than the smoke plume getting closer and closer behind the hills to our north. The other may have been due to a poorly set back burn, which also almost took our place out.

We were so very lucky in that my husband was able on Friday to go to the house and see if it was still standing from the huge fire that forced evacuations Thursday late afternoon, and his presence is honestly the only reason why the house is still standing. He witnessed the secondary fire come down the hill slope just to our north. Torch the large pines. He left, as the fire spotted across the road, melted our old white fence, approached the house, and as he was thinking it was all over, that it was just too dangerous and hot, and with only him, luckily at that point a neighbor and two locals out sightseeing drove by, and together the four of them went back and saved it, running buckets of water from our (luckily gravity fed thus still functioning without electricity) irrigation water, and the neighbor (who lost his house later that day, although he is a part-timer so it wasn't his primary residence) offered the use of his mini excavator to run lines around the house to stop any more fire from slowly burning grasses up to the house.

Then the same friend who helped us load a second vehicle of our possessions in the moments before we had to evacuate on the day before, came down and helped my husband finish up, get the animals into safer locations, complete the lines around the house and fields. And then the fire picked back up, spotted way across the alfalfa field to the south hillside, and they had to leave quickly as it got too dangerous yet again. My husband drove to me and the girls thinking that it was done, that the house was sure to burn.

But it pulled through, all their work paid off. The house was still standing Saturday morning. We were so lucky to have those neighbors, friends, to help us. We stayed with those friends for 2 days after we were evacuated, before I couldn't handle the constant stress of fires all around us, constant huge mushroom clouds of smoke southwards in the direction of our house and my husband's work, and the constant noise of the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead as they were fighting the fire. I then left with the girls and dogs to the other side of the mountains to stay with my sister-in-law and her family live. We stayed there a week, and returned on the weekend, to see the house for the first time in 9 sleeps. To see my husband in the first time in 7 days.

We are fine. Shaken, mourning, overwhelmed at times, but overall we are grateful to be alive, to have our house, to be ok. The community is rallying, moving from disaster, crisis, on into recovery, repair. We are so thankful for our friends, our neighbors, our family, the firefighters and first responders, and so heartbroken for those who lost their homes, their possessions, their livestock to this fire.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Family Canoe Number One

We went for an afternoon in the canoe the other week. It was the girls first time in a canoe I think, definitely Baby E's, not as certain about Little M, she's been in a sit-on-top kayak, but I am not certain of whether she has been in a canoe or not. Anyway, we went up to our favorite local fishing spot, which is a small lake nestled up high in the woods.

The canoe did great, the mister and Little M caught two smallish fish (the lake is stocked), and the baby did alright for the most part, with a break in the middle for me to go for a bit of a hike up the nearby forest service road while she napped on my back.

Overall, I would say our first outing was a success. Things to do better at next time mostly just includes timing it earlier in the day so the littlest one isn't desperate for a nap! Also, the mister has to my knowledge never paddled a canoe for any distance before, and since I've got to be up front with Baby E, he needs to be steering in the back. Let me just say that his J stroke was non existent... So we need to remedy that at some point...

I'm hopeful that we will be able to get out at least one more time for a day trip in the canoe, maybe a day that will include more paddling than fishing and floating around, and I'm even overly optimistic that maybe we will be able to get out overnight... Of course, overnight would require some gear that we don't quite have all together yet, but again, I'm overly optimistic that we might be able to patch somethings together and make it work... we shall see :)

I spent a lot of time on the water in my teen years, and I'm quite comfortable paddling for extended trips in the backcountry, in kayaks or canoes, and so I'm not worried about that aspect of things at all. It's more getting the gear together, and figuring out sleeping arrangements so that we can manage the youngest during the night...


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Irrigating the side garden

When I started actually planning the side garden layout over a year ago, one of the things I thought about was how were we going to keep it watered. You see, the old garden, or as I've been calling it, the lower garden, is right beside the main 3" irrigation pipe going down to the middle and lower fields from our turnout. That makes it simple to run a hose off of the irrigation line and set up 2 sprinklers, one on each end of the garden. We don't have them on a timer, but every morning, or every other morning, I make sure to toggle the valve on the hose off the irrigation line to turn the irrigation water on to my garden for about an hour give or take.

I've wanted a more user friendly and automated set up, but the irrigation water is rather sediment-filled. In fact, chunks of various sized crayfish are common (and sometimes whole, live crayfish - the other day I had to flush 4 live ones out of the grass irrigation riser in sequence!)... The hose and simple sprinklers we have in the garden currently don't get clogged up often, but a timer with a screen on it would definitely need more unclogging maintenance, likely making the time savings actually nonexistent! What we really need is a screen/filtration system, but that would likely then necessitate a pump, so at the moment we aren't quite going there yet.

The side garden, though, is located much closer to the house, and further up the slope from the irrigation pipe, so in terms of water pressure off the irrigation system, we would likely have trouble getting even the low pressure sprinklers in the lower garden to work up there. So that means watering off the house well water. I don't have a problem with that, after all, we keep the small patch of grass near the house and orchard watered using well water. But it seemed like I could be more water efficient in the garden by using drip irrigation or some sort of smaller sprinklers directly on plants, and thus avoid watering the paths, thus saving all that water (and avoiding all that weed growth!).

Initially in the lower garden I had planned on using drip irrigation, but without a filtration system on our irrigation water, that just wouldn't work. I realized this after several summers ago we put drip irrigation off the irrigation pipe on the orchard, and not even a year later the drip line was so clogged up that it was basically useless. It makes sense, the drip tubes are 1/4, plus all the little drip holes are even smaller, so even fine sediment would build up and clog them, even without the chunks of crayfish!

The benefit of having tried the drip irrigation in the orchard is that I had a bunch of semi-functional parts on hand last spring when we were setting up the side garden irrigation. I used much of what we had on hand up while assembling a workable system to irrigate the (then smaller) side garden. Of course, I had to go bit by bit using house water and basically flush all the drip irrigation tubes out, but it worked alright for the raspberries, 2 rows of strawberries, and peas, plus a loop around the rhubarb and in the herb circles.

This spring I purchased additional drip lines, and some drip emitters, as with the doubled area, I was needing more areas irrigated. It was working alright, although the drip lines for the herb area was the dregs of the old orchard stuff, and was piecemealed together and most was not functioning at all, let alone enough to keep the area wet enough to really fill in. But it was working enough to keep the plants in there alive, and there were a couple extra spots to fill in marigolds and some other flowers and herbs.

But then the bottom row of tomatoes started getting pretty wilty, and I realized that we needed two runs, to operate at different times, so that there wasn't so many drips off of one hose. At the moment I've ordered another timer, with several outlets, so that I can have the main single timer on the house, and then split it down by the chicken coop and have several different systems going in sequence every morning. This way I hope to be able to add microsprinklers to the herb area, and have the tomatoes get enough water. I expect the irrigation system in the side garden will take me several years still to nail down the right components and such for each sort of plant/pot, especially as the garden expands over time to completely fill the fenced area, moving the pigs to another area yet to be determined, but I think we are on the right track now!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fencing

When we bought our place, we knew we would need some sort of fenced area for the dogs, so they could be outside with us more, and outside unsupervised more. Over the almost 5 years we have been here (and how it has been that long I have NO idea!!), we got used to the lay of the land, and moved things around (like the chicken coop), and established new garden spaces, and slowly we worked out where the fence would go, and what it would contain. We decided that it made sense to have that fenced area for the yard, for the kids too, so that there would be a 'safe' area where the kids could play, with the dogs out with them. We decided that having the existing orchard separate made sense, and having the new side garden and chicken area, as well as the lower garden, adjoining the yard also made sense.

I can't speak enough of the benefit of letting the space work as it is for a while, and making updates and changes slowly, once you see how you use the place, and what the strengths and weaknesses of the different areas of land are. As a result, we're pretty happy with where the fence is going in, where the gates are, how the overall area works within the larger landscape of our property, and how our play, garden, and living spaces work within the fence.

Building the fence has definitely been a learning experience for us, one we have taken slowly, and one that has shaped us in more ways than we likely realize. We started the fence 2 years ago (!), redid the posts last spring, and finally are at the last stage in the final side. Much of the fencing material was free, either fencing and posts existing on our property in other areas, or as trees cut into poles, mostly from our property. Early on, I bought a great book - Fences for pasture & garden, by Gail Damerow, which really helped as we imagined and installed the fence. The details were especially great for figuring out things like H-brace tensioning, which I had never done before.

Just as we have learned from installing the fence, so to has my husband learned from building the gates. His first gates were flimsy things with short lifespans, but these latest gates have been things of beauty, with the strength necessary to last.

Although at times we get frustrated with the number of things still on our dream list for this property, and at the slow progress we seem to be making, when we sit back and look at the pictures of when we moved in, and compare those pictures to how the place is now, we are somewhat awed of what all we have accomplished, even if it isn't near done, or quite under control yet!

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