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

 
Posts: 4
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: 4907
Location: Pacific Northwest
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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: 4
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: 4
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
 
pollinator
Posts: 1100
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!
 
Posts: 82
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!
 
Posts: 80
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: 4
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: 4907
Location: Pacific Northwest
1359
cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
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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
Posts: 80
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: 4907
Location: Pacific Northwest
1359
cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
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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.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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