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Journaling my experience with 20 weird acres in Skagit County  RSS feed

 
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Greetings!

I'm intending this thread to serve as a journal for my new piece of land. Feel free to comment or give advice, but I also won't be bothered if it is just a place where I talk to myself. I didn't see a category for journals so let me know if this would be better placed elsewhere.

I've been looking for a few years now for a piece of land (5+ acres) near my family in western washington and finally found something in my price range. My first visit was in early June and I finally got it into my sweaty little palms toward the end of July. The land is funky, it is actually ~19 acres (the county claims 20 but I'm pretty sure it got shorted decades ago, I was able to find two of the original survey markers and make a rectangle).

Anyway, 19 acres is still plenty of land for my purposes, which are:
* Growing a food forest (~2+ acres)
* Providing a safe haven for local pollinators (so, growing appropriate native plants and providing living areas for their whole lifecycle)
* Growing a million tomatoes for my personal consumption, god I love that fruit
* A little off grid cabin and some day a wood fired hot tub
* Which means managing a woodlot for winter (and hot tub!) heat
* Moving there full time in ~5 years (for now my job means I can only be there about 1 week per month. The primary problem with this is I can't partner with livestock any time soon.)

Geography:
* ~2 acres of mostly clearned south facing slope, cleared of trees but being invaded by everything else, also very poor soil
* ~15 forested acres with a wavy elevation profile (it was last logged in the 80s and doesn't appear to have been managed since, a good thinning of shorter lived alders/cottonwoods to give more space for the big cedars and ferns and I think it could be really nice back there)
* ~1 combined acre of full on skunk weed marsh in some lower ares
* 1 year round creek - small though, and toward the back of the property (but hello secret micro-hydro operation...)

Structures:
* An existing small cabin, it has a permitted septic and working solar panels, but the home inspector said "I can't decide what scares me more; the wiring or the framing". So... that'll need a do-over.
* A greenhouse (~20 foot x ~30 foot, very weathered poly cover, but good steel bones)

Flora in the front 2 acres:
* A small orchard (2 big blueberry, numerous tiny blueberry, 6 apple, 2 small plum, 3 asian pear all of unknown origins but so far delicious!)
* A wildly aggressive hardy kiwi with a handful of little fruit trying to eat the cabin jumanji style
* No less than 8 different kinds of bamboo, at least half of which are runners
* Butterfly bush literally everywhere (even growing out of the 6 inch thick gravel parking pad) and
* Blackberries, because of course there are blackberries. And so many kinds too! The himalayan invaders are there, but also some absolutely delicious evergreen brambles that I'd like to keep and the tiny almost grayish local vines, oh those were good. And a bunch that look like nothing I've ever seen but are presumably crosses of all three.

Flora in the forest:
* Many trees and mushrooms, sorry my identification skills just aren't good enough to name them all yet
* Many healthy ferns
* A handful of areas that look to have been cleared which are now solid salmonberry thickets with a nettle understory

Fauna:
* at least one neighborhood bear (probably why all my blueberries disappeared one night, pretty sure I found the bed walking through the forest one day, thank god it was empty)
* bobcats (previous owners said they ate all their chickens every time they tried to keep chickens)
* migratory elk herd
* a lot of bunnies
* and of course the true menace, deer. Lots and lots of deer, I can see the damage to the fruit trees, and there is no fencing or discouraging barrier.

So, if any of this is interesting to you feel free to follow along, it's going to fun!
 
master steward
Posts: 8466
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Welcome to permies, Ashley! I added your thread to our projects forum (https://permies.com/f/69/projects) as that seems to be where most journals go. And, we've got the ability to have one thread show up in multiple forums, so I kept it in Cascadia, too!

You've got a whole acre of the lovely skunk cabbage. Mmmmm, the sweet smell of skunk cabbage in the spring! We have a few of those plants, but thankfully the smell doesn't bother me too much. If I had an acre of it, I might think differently, though!

For plants that might do well with those skunk cabbages, you might find some on the list I made here: https://permies.com/wiki/76253/Edible-Plants-Shady-Wet-Areas. If there's any I didn't mention that you know of, please tell me and I'll try to get them added!

Beware the thorns on those evergreen blackberries. Mine are KILLER. When I first moved in, I was excited to see a different type of blackberry...then I got snagged by the thorns. Not only are they sharper than the himilayan ones, but they're hooked! Now I'm trying to outcompete with salmonberries, thimbleberries and even the himilayan ones!

The blackberry you can't identify might be blackcap raspberry. Is it really thorny with a lovely pale blue cane?



 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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While I'm there all I really want to do is walk around and gawk at all the new things while pinching myself and repeating "it's mine, it's all mine!!". Then I eat some blackberries, pull out the ones that are meh, take pictures, and lay in the hammock. I do enjoy hard work and planning, it's just that the place is so peaceful and once I'm there I want to enjoy it.

So that I may continue to enjoy such a lazy life though I shall plan now, here are the things I'm thinking about:
* Soil building on big stones and sand
** Before everybody starts chanting 'hugelkulture' yes I do intend to use some of the thinned forest trees in this way, but there is a lot of land needing soil building and I want to be gentle with the forest
** Additionally the front part of the land is bone dry and has not enough soil to top a hugelkulture mound with
** So before I can hugelkulture I think I need at least *something* to cover the top, so soil building is my top priority; with cover crops, coppice trees, in worm bins, in leaf piles, I'm going to do it all, but would welcome thoughts from people who have worked with building up a parched sand/rock soil without the budget to buy a hundred yards of compost.
* Managing bamboo (because wow, it grows like gangbusters, and could be very useful once I get the species identified and find more resources for working with it)
* Managing/eradicating butterfly bush

I'm going to do some experiments to see how much the cut bamboo and butterfly bush can help with soil building, but I'm worried they'll re-root. So for now I've just been cutting and making piles to dry in the sun.

The front 2 acres really are bone dry, the organic matter content is negligible (I still need a soil test, but I can tell from looking at it, there ain't much). One good thing about the bamboo is that it sheds a ton of leaf litter and inside the biggest bamboo runner areas there actually is some rich black soil, but only a few inches of it. Under that soil is still a fast draining "Chuckanut gravelly ashy sandy loam". On the bright side I expect that I'll never have drainage problems, there is no clay in sight.

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A view of the "soil" from septic test holes.
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The butterfly bush apocalypse
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Hi Nicole! Thank you for the warm welcome and putting this where it belongs, and especially thank you for that shady/wet area plant post, this'll come in handy I'm sure. Fortunately the wet land is *way* in the back of the property, cross my fingers but I doubt I'll smell it up front, still it'd be nice to swap in a few other useful things.

My mystery blackberries aren't blackcap raspberry, though that might be a fun one to try out here (they grew on my childhood farm so it's a nostalgia berry), I'll have to get a good picture next time I'm there and see if anybody can ID it.

As for the evergreens, I accept the thorns for these fruits, they truly are some of the best blackberries I've ever tasted. I just pick with leather gloves, but I do look forward to cultivating some less thorny fruit in the near future :D
 
garden master
Posts: 3139
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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Hi Ashley! This is exciting hearing about your new land and your plans for it! Thank you for coming out here to permies to share your adventure with us.

I look forward to watching your site develop and grow!
 
pollinator
Posts: 162
Location: Near Philadelphia, PA
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What a beautiful piece of property!  It is wonderful to hear your plans and see your progress!
 
pollinator
Posts: 260
Location: PNW
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Your place sounds a lot like mine (although drier).  Some of the same setup, visitation struggles, time frame, etc.  I'm looking forward to reading your posts.  :)  I enjoy your writing style and your pics are great!
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Thank you for the warm welcome and kind words Dave, Phil, and Sonja! I'll try to keep it interesting for you :)

This past week has definitely been fall, and it fell on me fast. One day I'm enjoying a sun warmed asian pear and feeling on top of the world and the next it's 40 degrees, soaking rain, and somehow all the asian pears have coddling moths. (Which means they always had coddling moths, like while I was eating them, blegh. I know it's fine, but still). The coddling moth discovery really has been a bummer, the little wigglers infested a majority of the fruit. I went ahead and sorted through, cutting around the damage on a bunch of them and intend to do some preserving so it isn't a total loss. And actually I shouldn't mope about this, I *just* bought this land and I'm already harvesting things! That is incredible! Plenty of people have to truly start from scratch, but I get to start with a handful of trees! Moth infested trees, but trees nonetheless.

The fact that fall is definitely here also reminded me that I needed to clean out the wildly overgrown raised beds and get a cover crop going (priority #1, hello soil building!). The local country store provided crimson clover and annual ryegrass (selected based on https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2053/2015/09/Cover-Crops-in-WWa-FS111E.pdf) I'm second guessing the ryegrass a bit but fingers crossed that it will be fine and I'll be able to turn it under and convince it to die in the spring. I forgot that it was a *grass* and would be a till-heavy crop when I picked it up, and I was going to transition toward no till, alas.

Sign, argh, I can feel the worries weighing on me, the little voice that says "what the heck are you doing anyway?" It's a pesky voice and it tries to make me doubt the decision to buy this place. It's the voice that insists I shouldn't do things until I know that they'll go *perfectly* and it's total BS.  So far my best cure for the pesky voice is to walk in the forest, or to just let go of the project planning and observe the wildlife for a while, to focus on being part of this place instead of pretending like I control it.  I especially love being in the forest here and walks through the forest the past couple days have yielded various and sundry fascinating fungi! Everywhere I looked something (or many somethings) were fruiting and tempting me to take just one more picture so that I might try to identify them later. In fact I'm going to follow up on that identifying work now, but I'll share a couple pictures below.

Hope you are all having a happy transition to fall! My own is a bit melancholic right now, but I think it'll pass as I embrace indoor research activities and remind myself that this land is a project that will take decades, there is nothing for me to "get right" right now.
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I sense venison in my future, or a tall fence, or both
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Still fascinated by the flower/cookie shaped mushroom
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I'd never seen a blue mushroom before! Still the only one I've seen after days of trekking around the forest
 
Nicole Alderman
master steward
Posts: 8466
Location: Pacific Northwest
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I'm pretty sure my parents have coddling moths apple maggot in their apples/asian pears. It was really bad three falls ago, when at least 90% of their fruit had the buggers. BUT, for two years they have successfully battled them. The first year they put all those little nylon socks on each and every fruit. They thankfully have espalier trees, so it wasn't impossible to do, but it still took a ton of time. This year, they sprayed the trees with kaolin clay, and so far there's been no maggots, and the trees look healthy. Maybe one of those options will work with your codling moths!
 
Sonja Draven
pollinator
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Location: PNW
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Thanks for the update!  I so understand those worries!  Am I doing enough?  It is going to take me forever to complete what I want to.  And I am making mistakes, I just know it.  What if none of the seeds I'm planting this year come up?  What if the trees/bushes I bought die?  What if the house doesn't hold up through the winter?  They would have a better chance if I were on my homestead full time.  Things would happen faster too.    But I couldn't afford to do any of those things if I weren't working and saving now.  So baby steps and monthly trips it is in the meantime.

Some of my apples had worm trails in them too.  It is annoying but since it's not a cash crap and not even the majority of them, it's not worth the effort to eradicate them.  Certainly not worth bagging all of them.  Hopefully your issue doesn't turn out to be too tough to fix!
 
Nicole Alderman
master steward
Posts: 8466
Location: Pacific Northwest
3068
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The first year my parents had apple maggots, maybe 1/10th of the apples had worms. The next year, 90% did. Granted, their fruit trees weren't in a permaculture-setting (they spray round up in the vicinity to kill weeds and used to have grass everywhere except right under the trees, where they had plant-less mulch). But, I thought I might mention that what might be a few apples having worms might be nearly ALL the apples having worms next year. The kaolin clay seemed to be a much easier option for combating the maggots than the nylon baggies. You could also nylon baggie just the amount of apples you want, so that you know you'll have a few to eat in case 90% do end up with squigglers next year.
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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I'm definitely going to be taking a few moth related preventive steps with the trees for next year, I am especially intrigued by this pro-tip from https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/tree-pests/codling-moth-control/

In spring, band tree trunks tightly with corrugated cardboard strips (4- to 6-inches wide) to provide a site for larvae to spin their cocoons. Remove and destroy the strips after cocoons are formed.



Brilliant!

This past weekend I made great progress on the apple harvest, the Liberty and Macintosh trees were ready to be fully picked. They are both fantastic fresh eating and I hope to do a bit of cider and sauce making. In the mean time it's just apple pie time whenever I feel like it. The Hawaii apple tree was exquisite, but way less productive (and appears to have been a favorite of the neighborhood bear based on branch damage and giant scat piles). Alas, but you have good taste black bear. The final apple tree the previous owners claimed was a Gravenstein, but the apples are still solid green and very underripe tasting, I've left them on the tree to see what might happen, but I also think I might take a sample to the local extension for re-identification.

But the very best thing about the past couple weeks has been the fungi party in the woods! Wow, but it was been amazing to watch everything pop up. I am eagerly running down the rabbit hole of learning about mushroom identification and can't wait to inoculate some logs. In fact this weekend I'll be at the radical mycology convergence in Oregon! Hit me up if you're going and we can meet in real life :)

I tried to limit myself to a few pictures (out of respect for y'alls bandwidth) but it is hard! There are so many fun things to see, hope you enjoy these. I felt like I saw dozens of distinct fungi on each walk in the woods, the variety is just breathtaking.
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From left to right: hawaii, gravenstein(??), liberty, macintosh. My sister declared the hawaii the best, followed by liberty (
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I showed this to some experienced mycologists and they agreed it was an oyster, but said they'd never seen such a pink one in the wild before. Makes me wonder if the previous owners were intentionally inoculating logs back here.
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Supposedly angel wings only grow on conifers and this is definitely a maple, but as beautiful as these are they're a bit flimsy compared to the oysters I'm used to so I'll only be appreciating them with my eyes.
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According to the experts these little fuzzy houses are totally edible, and when friend up in some butter take on the crunch and flavor of bacon
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This fallen tree stretches 50+ feet and is covered like this over the whole length, just incredible to walk next to
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Same log from above stretching across the creek
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Like a little piece of the ocean in the trees! The common name for these is very apt
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The almost fractal way that these mushrooms come up is mesmerizing, they perfectly fill each space and all around this entire stump. Unfortunately, it isn't a hugely desirable fungi to have around as they can actively kill healthy trees.
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I haven't learned the true name of these beauties yet
 
Posts: 117
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This is so amazing and beautiful!  Thank you for sharing the pictures. :)
 
steward
Posts: 3086
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Your "Gravenstein" looks like a Granny Smith!

Please, share more mushroom pictures: those are GORGEOUS. Did you learn cool things at the Radical Mycology Convergence?
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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So I finally harvested those Gravenstein/granny smith apples (I agree Julia, they do seem more Granny Smith like), and I have to take back all those bad things I said. They are amazing!! I guess they just needed that extra month on the tree, but also my husband baked some up in a pie and it was phenomenal. I finally understand what people mean when they say "baking apples" it had never clicked for me before.

The forest continues to be an enchanting and downright magical place, some friends have started to suggest the previous owners must have intentionally cultivated mushrooms for this level of diversity to exist. I feel rather the opposite, when people cultivate they often make monocultures, I think the previous owners were benignly negligent toward the forest and nature just did as nature does, bringing this amazing variety. The only worrisome thing about the land right now is the sheer volume of dead trees, it seems that every day another one has toppled and I worry someday a person will be injured. I went out when there was no wind blowing and intentionally/proactively pushed a few more leaning ones down. I definitely feel the need to learn more forest management.

Now on to what I know you all really want - a few photos - the land can speak for itself :D
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A few things harvested on the last visit, those giant purple tubers are actually radishes. They grew like crazy and ended up very spicy but I like them.
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Incredible coral mushroom growing inside the greenhouse, it is truly a strange one
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Beautiful little laccaria growing inside the car port
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This was a fun one, this purple jelly fungus is growing all throughout some large downed trees. They feel like octopus tentacles.
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Just some photogenic LBMs :D
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And a fun sampling of orange peel
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Just wow! This mushroom inverted and became an accordion
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more photogenic LMBs - probably a mycena
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Forgot to reply to the question about the Radical Mycology Conference! Honestly, it was a mixed bag, the social aspect was fun, but from a purely educational perspective I think I would have been better off buying myself a few more books with the money spent. Some of this is just down to learning preferences, I really like reading books and learning in that way, to sit in an audience with ~100 other people and hear a presentation doesn't work as well for me (but I know it is great for some folks).

But there was a wealth of smart people there, maybe if I'd forced myself to be a bit more extroverted I could have tapped into that better and gotten more out of the whole event. Sometimes the "un-conference" is the way to go, where you just go talk to other attendees and blow off the planned presentations.
 
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great pics!
thanks for posting the cardboard trick also
 
Sonja Draven
pollinator
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How's it going, ashley?
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Hi Sonja - it's going pretty well, thanks for asking! Your prompt inspired me to get some fresh pictures to share with you all.

These past few months have been keeping me busy enough off the land that I haven't enacted any great plans, but I have been getting out as often as I can to observe. I was richly rewarded back in November when I found a gigantic cauliflower mushroom fruiting in a new-to-me part of the woods - it took my breath away completely.

I'm a little worried that the unseasonable warmth of the past few weeks is going to cause problems for the fruit trees, all of them started budding out already. I was dismayed because I thought I would have more dormancy time to prune, now I'm just hoping they'll be resilient to the freezing temperatures headed our way.

I hope that everyone else is having a good winter. I'm off to place orders for strawberry plants and decide how many new trees are in the budget for this year :D

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The berries of the false lily of the valley plant, they were a bard whitish/green until late in the summer, but have ripened to stunning red.
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This salmonberry had snuck in against one of the blueberry bushes and left me scratching my head for a while when I first saw it!
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Another new-to-me, there have been several jelly fungi still popping this winter but this particularly symmetric and yellow one is interesting
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Look closely! A fern frond was laying against this snag, then a mushroom oozed out of the snag and *around* the fern!
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Just thought it was cute
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The nettles are already upon us!
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Explorations from back around the swampy part of the property reveal the skunk cabbage are also alive and well.
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After a long day of exploring I settled down on my favorite fallen tree, it's shaped just like a hammock and perfectly positioned by the waterfall :D
 
Posts: 2
Location: Washington State, USA
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ashley bee wrote:
The only worrisome thing about the land right now is the sheer volume of dead trees, it seems that every day another one has toppled and I worry someday a person will be injured. I went out when there was no wind blowing and intentionally/proactively pushed a few more leaning ones down. I definitely feel the need to learn more forest management.


This is a real thing to be aware of. I generally wear a hard hat anytime I'm working under a canopy just out of habit,  they also make good rain and sun hats :). You can't really eliminate the risk but you can pay attention to your surroundings. Sick looking trees with fungal or insect infestation are more likely to break. So are red alder and black cottonwood.  Look up occasionally to check for hanging dead branches,  these are called widowmakers. Impractical to remove them but make a note of them,  perhaps flag the tree.  Branches break more often when they've snow weighting them down. Don't work under a canopy while it's windy. Try to have someone else with you or at least nearby. Make and carry a first aid kit.

The woods actually are somewhat dangerous but there's pretty simple things to reduce your risk,  don't let the fear keep you from living.

You ought to post that blackberry you saw for an ID. We have quite a few native species of rubus, the evergreen and Himalayan are noxious weeds that I'm sure you've noticed fight back. Luckily they're not horribly difficult to get rid of with a little elbow grease. Shade,  mowing,  and digging the roots out are all very effective. It's worth the effort in the long run if you're methodical, especially since that forest looks pretty intact.

I highly recommend you buy "native plants of the Pacific northwest coast" aka "the pojar". It's a really good book for beginners since it's easy to use with lots of pictures,  but is also pretty dense with a broad scope of information on each plant. It's a lot of fun (when it's not winter twigs) to practice looking up plants you don't know. Having a name for each one really helps you notice it more often and begin learning each one's personality. After you're addicted to plant ID you get so good at it that you start to do double takes when you don't recognize something.
 
ashley bee
Posts: 18
Location: Skagit County, WA
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Greetings! I've been having a blast getting things planted and prepped these past few weeks, but I haven't been doing a good job with my pictures because muddy fingers and the smart phone don't mix.

So I'll try to find a couple nice images for y'all, but here is the gist of recent developments on the land:
* I learned right here on permies that Wasabi might consent to grow along the shaded creek banks! This was thrilling, I acquired 10 little plantlets from Oregon Coast Wasabi and split them into 3 groups to test out different conditions. Can't wait to see how they do over the coming months and years. My creek temperature has been a pretty steady 46 degrees which is a touch cold but still at the edge of their tolerated range (if you're interested in wasabi this is a helpful pdf -> http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/pnw0605/pnw0605.pdf )
* Added many trees: figs, jujube, apricot, nectarine, mulberry, persimmon, and azara
* Added many shrubs: seaberry, jostaberry, elderberry, silverberry, siberian pea shrub, aronia
* Other perennial things: started an asparagus bed, a strawberry bed, and another raspberry bed

Just this past weekend I saw the first of the spring mushrooms, there were some huge Verpa bohemica (an early false morel) and many other small mushrooms. It has been wonderful watching the forest transform so fast with just a few days of rain. There are carpets of bleeding hearts over huge sections of the trails right now, and they're so beautiful I wish I didn't have to step on them.

This is my first spring on this land and I've loved getting to closely observe the older established trees, watching first the plums, then the pears, and now just the beginning of the apples coming into bloom. The mason bees and bumblebees were out in the drizzle and even a couple hummingbirds came around (not sure if they consume fruit tree nectar or were just flying by).

I've also been giving some thought to how I want to organize and share my various learnings and experiences. I think this journal is a nice place to put pictures and give a sense of what I'm up to, but there are so many
random things I'm learning or experiments I'm running that I don't get around to including because I'd rather be doing them than writing about them. So I've got a little side project to make organizing my photos and notes simpler and hopefully more easily shareable, more on that later in the summer I hope :)

p.s. Hi Johnua! Welcome to the weird acres journal! I am indeed already thoroughly addicted to plant ID, but I have not read that particular book so I'm looking forward to checking it out!
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Every path in the forest is carpeted with something right now, and it has been fun to observe which plants dominate. These indicators are really helping me better understand the soil and light conditions in different places.
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This giant jumble of mystery plant finally revealed itself to be quite lovely. It has been tip layering and propagating itself, which is great, but I don't really want anymore so I'll be digging and gifting many of these come winter
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After sitting under 2 feet of snow for a few weeks in February and then some serious wind storms many parts of the land transformed
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I spent a nice day back in January putting a few dozen bulbs in the ground, while I wait for trees and shrubs to mature I love having a couple quick turn around perennials to enjoy now
 
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All of the video from the Eat Your Dirt Summit
https://permies.com/t/106759/video-Eat-Dirt-Summit
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