In My Defense

English Morello Cherry Blossoms and our brilliant blue sky

I know some of my readers have been thinking – oh, that silly Lisa.  Where does she think she lives?  California??  You should have expected that frost!

I was afraid you’d think that.  In fact, a couple of my trusty and wonderful loyal readers who live in the state of Washington have told me that they use Memorial Day as the “safe” date for planting out up here, which is a far cry from April 12th.  So, I feel a teensy need to defend myself.  I promise you that I’m not as naive as I seem, um… at least not about plants and the climate up here; everything else is up for debate.  Anyway, I actually put a huge amount of time and research into learning about the climate zone up here and the timing for planting things, and I did know that it wasn’t a sure thing.  You see, the truth is that I’m quite a science nerd – I have an engineering degree in biogeochemistry – I studied atmospheric science, soil chemistry, microbiology, carbon and nitrogen cycles, geophysics, etc, etc.  Nerdy, nerdy, nerdy.  And when I set out to do something in my pretend farm life – design feed for my chickens, feed my berry patch, add symbiotic fungus to the soil, make compost, build a chicken coop, grow vegetables, etc, etc – I approach it very (read: overly) scientifically and I try to arm myself with as much information as I can possibly gather.  I read books and look up data and do calculations and worry myself over the numbers.  That’s just who I am.    However, I don’t bother writing about much of that in my blog because I don’t think it makes for good, lighthearted entertainment for my readers.  Instead, I focus on the everyday trials and tribulations of my efforts, the personalities and dramas within the chicken coop, and the simple successes and failures that result from my efforts.

Hartland Sweet Cherry blossoms

Anyway, I say this not because any of my nerdiness makes me any better at gardening or chickens than I might otherwise be – far from it.  I say it only because I don’t want you to think that I nonchalantly tossed my tomatoes out into the cold to die without much forethought, and had I only looked into it, I would have known better.  On the contrary!  I put plenty of forethought into murdering my tomatoes!  I thought and thought and thought, and still I didn’t know any better.  Murder in the first degree, if you will.

You see, our house is actually located in quite a special spot.  We are smack dab in  the middle of the northern part of the Willamette Valley (yes, the one famous for Pinot Noir the world over).  A little to the north of us, a little to the east of us, or a little to the west of us, and the temperatures are far more extreme.  In fact, 8 miles north of us, the last average frost date is over three weeks later!  West and east are even more extreme than that.  Our little spot here, nestled between the Cascades and the coastal range, and buffered from the south by the Columbia river, is not quite far enough north to be at the upper end of the valley, and so we get no effects from the hills and mountains to our north.  The famous frigid winds that come blasting up the Columbia river gorge and cause massive ice storms now and again, turn south when they get out of The Dalles and hit Portland upside the head, leaving those of us up in Vancouver snug as bugs in rugs.  We really are lucky right here.  It is a special spot.

If you look us up in the Sunset Western Garden Book, you will see that we are surrounded on all sides by an entirely different climate – one with literally half the growing season.  Kelso and Cathlamet, places mentioned by my readers that are nearby and use the Memorial Day rule, are either in or nearly in that other climate zone.  In other words, even though they are relatively close to me in terms of miles, they are much colder places due to the influence of the mountains and rivers nearby.   In that climate, Memorial Day would be the safe time to plant.

And so besides studying up on the geology and climate of the area, I also studied weather maps and historical weather data.  And just to be on the safe side, I check my weather against Brush Prairie, WA, not Vancouver, because we are close to the border between the cities and Brush Prairie is colder, so I err on the safe side.  It has been years since there was a frost here after April 12th.  All that said, I am very much aware of the definition of “average” and I know that it means some years the last frost is earlier than that date and some years it is later.  Hence my Gambler post.  I knew there was a chance of frost.  It wasn’t a huge chance, but it was perfectly possible.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t sad to see it two days after I put the tomatoes out.  And regardless of all that, I am massively disappointed that my Agribon let me down.  It clearly didn’t provide anywhere near the degree of frost protection it promised.  And let’s not forget Mr. Weather man.  Oh yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Weatherman.  You know who you are, and you know what you did.

Live and Learn.

Moving On

In the words of Cookie Monster:

One of these things is not like the other things.  One of these things just doesn’t belong.  Can you guess which thing is not like the other thing before I finish my song?

If you guessed this thing:

then you’d be right.

Once again, yesterday, I was out with the chickens when I heard a really loud scratching and banging in the coop.  I actually said out loud to myself, “boy, I hope that’s a really big chicken and not a mutant rat or something.”  A bit later, I had forgotten about the banging noises and I went inside the coop to check for eggs.  When I saw all the ladies in the nests, I decided to leave them alone and come back later for eggs.  Then, in one of the bottom nests, I noticed  very red comb.  Chicken Soup.  Once again, he is exploring his feminine side.  Ah yes, me and my transgender roosters.  My dad says he’s just trying to show the girls how to use the nests.

I think they’ve already got it down, buddy.  Thanks for the effort, though.

Strong Genes?

One-Three, sunbathing

Since the beginning, I’ve had a hunch that Pol Pot, our resident red Easter Egger, is Thirteen’s biological mama.  Until recently, that guess was based on nothing but egg color.  Of our five EEs, Daisy Mae and Pippin lay utterly blue eggs, with no hint of green.  Lady B lays light mint-green, and Shelley and Pol Pot lay the greenest eggs.  Thirteen hatched from a quite green egg, and so I’m pretty sure it was Shelley’s or Pol Pot’s… and my intuition has said, “Pol Pot.”  But, over the last few days, the baby has been exhibiting two qualities that scream, “Pol Pot!”  First, her voice.  As I mentioned, a few days ago, she started making grown-up chicken noises, interspersed with her baby peeps.  These have increased each day and are becoming more distinct, and she sounds JUST like Pol Pot.  Pol Pot has always had a distinctive voice.  It is quite low, and she speaks slowly and not as often as the others, and she always sounds like she is gently asking a question.

“brrrrrrrrrrrrrruuuuuck bruck?”  “Bruck bruckbruckbruck?  Bruck?  Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrruck?”

Her tone goes up at the end of every sentence and she tilts her head, inquisitively.  While the others cluck and squawk and scream and sing, Pol Pot just has quiet conversations in her low, even, question voice.  And this, my friends, is how Thirteen speaks.  I have no idea if that sort of thing is genetic, but it is very striking to me.  Perhaps it means I spend too much time with my chickens if I am talking about recognizing their voices and speech patterns.  Don’t judge me.

The second thing has been brought about by this incredible weather we’ve been having.  Except for that dadburn frost on Wednesday morning, it has been the most perfect temperatures with crystal-clear, azure skies.  This has inspired Miss Thirteen to take full advantage; she sunbathes like a pro.  And, while all my chickens enjoy sunbathing, only one other takes it this seriously, and she lies in exactly the same position.  My long-time readers may recognize this as Pol Pot’s signature move.  Click here, note the date, and scroll down to “Silliest Chicken Ever.”

At this exact same time of year (a year ago minus one day), at the exact same age, Miss Pol Pot started spending half her time, sprawled out on her side, feet stuck out, soaking up the rays… and she’s been doing it ever since.  When everyone else is out eat grass and bugs and scratching through the compost, Pol Pot and Thirteen are too busy tanning to be bothered.

Again, can something like this be genetic?  I haven’t a clue, but the similarities are uncanny to me.

Other Garden News

Today it was 78 degrees in the shade on the north side of the chicken coop, and my planties are loving it!

flowers on Hood strawberries

As a side effect of covering up my asparagus to save them from wascaly wabbits, my strawberries were covered with Agribon too.  The extra protecting from the elements and the slight greenhouse effect sent them into a frenzy of growth and they are now full of strong green leaves, flowers, and buds.

heirloom red and green cutting lettuces

My lettuce is beautiful and happy.  This was started indoors and then planted in the garden, and I also have some direct-seeded container lettuce that is up and growing.

baby Bright Lights Chard

My baby chard is already ahead of where mine was last year in mid June.

My peas are up and happy, though I started them later than I wanted, mostly because I forgot.  This year I have planted:

  • Progress #9 Shelling peas
  • Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers (Dutch heirloom green shelling peas with blue-colored pods, which makes them easier to see at harvest)
  • Heirloom Golden Snow peas
  • Heirloom Dwarf Gray Sugar snow peas
  • Sugar Snap peas

Hey, Soul Sister

Three Sisters' plot, in progress

I am very excited to announce that I am going to try my hand at growing a Three Sisters’ garden.  There is a long story behind why, but the short version is that when that nice septic man was here a few weeks ago, he said that I had built my original 12’x12′ in-ground garden plot on top of our underground septic sand-filter.  Apparently that is why the grass and vegetables did so well there.  Also apparently, the water is not safe for growing vegetables at that point in its journey through the filtering process.  I grew all my veggies there our first year here.  Mmmmm!  Yummy!

He said that the veggies seek out the nutrient-rich water source and send roots deep, not only taking up unsafe septic water, but also tearing the filter cloth that covers the sand, which will eventually cause us to need the whole thing to be dug up and blown out.  Oh yay.

So, the long-short of it is that it had to move.  No more planting there.  So, I took my mix of two-years’ worth of purchased soil, mulch, amendments, and chicken manure and bedding that had been happily cooking, preparing for my Triumphant Year of Vegetables (aka “2010”), and I moved it, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful over to a new spot, safely away from the septic.  I tilled up and moved away the top layer of native sod, I lined it with hardware cloth, just like the old garden and my raised beds, to keep the moles out, and I topped it off with my lovely dirt.  And so now it sits, awaiting my Grand Plan.

The Three Sisters’ Garden is something cooked up by Native Americans long before the first European settlers arrived.  They believe that corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters that can’t live without each other.  It is a beautiful system.  The corn provide natural supports for the beans to climb, the beans provide extra nitrogen for the heavy-feeding corn corn with the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots as well as helping to stabilize the corn stalks to stop them from breaking in heavy winds, and the leafy squash plants provide natural mulch, shading out weeds and helping to retain soil moisture.  That’s some serious science!  I truly love that the plants will work together in symbiosis, doing better together than any one would on its own… and I love that this has been done traditionally for hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years.  Talk about an argument against monoculture!

Anyway, I am using the model offered in an article from Renee’s garden, which is also where I got most of the info for my summary about the way the garden works.  Credit where credit is due, and all that. Click here to read the full article on Renee’s website.  She says a 10’x10′ plot is the minimum required, so that is what I have made.  Check out the directions in the article.  And although corn should really be direct-seeded, I had some extra blocks created when I started my tomatoes over again, and so I popped some corn in there because they are supposed to do pretty well in blocks, and tonight, 48 hours after planting:

corn sprout

we have sprouting corn!  I’ll definitely direct-seed some too, fairly soon… but we’re supposed to wait until all danger of frost is past… and, well… you know how that goes!  When the corn is 4″ tall, then I plant the beans and pumpkins.   Ooooohhh ho ho ho boy.  Oh yes, the pumpkins.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention that I have 26 varieties of pumpkin seeds this year?  Yes, indeedy.  I have no clue what I’m going to do with all of them, but I can certainly tell you that they are extremely important.  MY very happiness depends on them.

I’ll keep you posted on the Three Sistas.  Until then, good night and good luck.  Peace out.


4 thoughts on “In My Defense

  1. I do miss the weather down there. I was so surprised when we moved an hour north that our weather systems were so much more extreme! We seem to have 4 seasons that hit with no warning instead of 3 that flow into each other. Love all the pics and I wasn’t judging you for trusting the weatherman. One time I trusted him that it was going to be a hot spell…no rain is sight, so I left the top down in my car that night. We had a tropical storm dump 4 inches of rain overnight. I was slightly pissed :)

  2. Speaking of green houses – hint hint

    I picked up the latest Mother Earth News Food & Garden Series at the grocery store yesterday that features amoung other things, Backyard Chickens and Simple DIY Greenhouses with five great ideas with one made out of old storm doors and a lean-to.

    Checking out Craigslist tonight came across the following ad:

    These new greenhouse kits will meet or exceed NRCS high tunnel pilot program requirements. These are the same kits we have been selling on a smaller scale around Washington and Oregon for the past few years for the home grower and small nursery applications. They have proven themselves by standing up to our extreme snow loads at the end of 2008 and as always standing up to our fierce winds from the beaches to the deserts of the east side, including the Columbia Gorge.
    Our houses come in 10′ and 12′ and now 16′ widths with lengths from 10′ to 145′ With prices starting at $325 for a 10’x10′.
    I am a retired nursery owner and know greenhouses after building over 30 of them over the last 25 years. All of the houses I have constructed for my own nurseries are still in use today and producing a regular income. So if you are going to take advantage of the high tunnel pilot program please check out our greenhouses. We can save you almost half on the cost of the kits produced in China and drop shipped in the USA. These kits are locally manufactured by local labor in Washington state. Who says we can’t still do it better and cheaper in the USA.
    If you would like a small backyard greenhouse or are in the nursery or farm business we would be happy to help you get started. Kits from 10′ wide by10′ long. Easy to build in a weekend, and strong enough to tolerate our high wind areas. <br
    Thanks and if you have questions call. Steve 360-560-3998 please visit our website at

  3. My hens sun bathe in much the same way. :)

    Sometimes I look out the window, and I fear I am looking at a dead chicken. Nope, just basking in the rays. lol

  4. Lisa,

    I know exactly how you feel with the whole researching everything and taking calculated risks. I personally think that’s the best way to approach things….know what you are getting yourself into BEFORE you get into it. Seems like a reasonable thing to do to me. Also, I’m was recently reading about the Three Sisters planting method. I’m very curious to try that out. Probably next year as my garden is already spoken for for the season but I’m extremely excited to hear about your experiences. Talk to you soon!

    PS. I’m way to jealous of your chickens….darn HOA rules and there pesky “no farm animals” rule.

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