Tag Archives: fishing

Slowly slowly is surely progress

Nope-don’t ask-No farm yet, but our paperwork is working its way through the county.  I am not chilling any champagne just yet, but I am contemplating buying some.  In the meantime I pull weeds and mow around the farmhouse…wash the windows, make it look like somebody cares about it.  In town I am throwing out peppers and tomatoes I couldn’t get into gallon containers or buckets, and wondering if I will get my newly sprouted squashes and cucumbers into the ground.  Hesitantly packing a few more boxes, even as I try to find my summer clothes and barbecue tools which were all packed up sometime back in February….it is odd to live on hold for so long.

On the other hand, my mustang mare is making great strides-gaining confidence every week.  I got my first ride on her last thursday…in the middle of a gullywasher but I could have cared less!  first rideShe gets more beautiful every time I see her.  Can’t wait until I can walk out my front porch and see her everyday!  I found a good used saddle that fits for a great price, and look forward to putting her in English gear (though she looks great in a Western saddle too).

The fishing has been pretty good in the Columbia and the Willamette.  This helps keep us cheerful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand berry season has begun!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy summer everyone!




So in the name of all things summery, here in my last summer of Not Farming I am hoping to take full advantage of all fun-hog opportunities that come my way.  My sister and I leave for Scotland next week, so I apologize in advance for the radio silence, but promise to come home with some stories of our travels!  We are hiking across the Highlands from Aberfeldy to Fort William, and then taking a couple of days to explore Skye.  Very very excited.

In hopes of other summer adventures, and because she needed it badly, I have refinished my wooden sea kayak that I built 15 or so years ago.  I used offsets from Pygmy kayaks, it is their oldest hull design I think, and meant for long journeys….the Queen Charlotte Standard.  I can easily pack 200lbs of gear plus myself in it, though I would say overall the boat is too big for me and is hard for me to handle in a stiff wind, as the big nose causes it to weathercock pretty hard especially when it is empty, and my short stature and lighter weight and short arms (and, lets be honest these days, lack of upper body strength) make it hard for me to control and turn quickly in rough conditions.  That said, I have had it out in some big swell, and though I couldn’t turn it when I wanted to, quartering into the wind this boat shouldered off anything the lower Columbia threw at it that day.  I’d love to build another one sometime, that was a better fit for me and a little lower profile (and maybe with a skeg).  Boy is it nice to have a big heated covered shop to work in! One of the benefits of the students being gone for the summer.  With any luck, the husband and I will take our boats up to the west coast of Vancouver Island some time in August for a little trip….

roof racks....such a fan

roof racks….such a fan

shiny varnish

shiny varnish

kayak camping at our favorite spot...the 'shack place'

kayak camping at our favorite spot…the ‘shack place’

Hope everyone out there in blog land has a great summer!

First Fish

The Celilo Indians hold their Salmon celebration this weekend up on the Columbia.  My salmon fever wracked husband caught the first fish in our household today, not long after he dropped me off at the dock so I could go to work.  Always nice to know we have some in the freezer, especially this time of year when the protein supply is getting low. Funny how spring salmon and bee swarm season align……  We will be giving thanks tonight, and firing up the grill.  Thank you Chinook, for your generosity to our household.

(this fish must have had a tag, which is why most of its head is missing)

Happy Spring!

Water water everywhere….

and not a drop to irrigate.  My husband and I fell in love with a piece of Clackamas county a couple of weeks ago…great price, good location, perfect aspect, on a paved but quiet road, excellent soils.  There is water on the property, a creek runs along the bottom, and there is at least one spring, and a wellhouse with a newer looking pump, two good outbuildings and a house that needed a lot of work.  The well is not to be found on any county or state record, and the land has no water rights.  It is also in an area of poorly producing wells (the average is about 11 gals/minute) so there is no chance of getting a right from the county.  So from a vegetable farming perspective, this piece may as well be in the Sonoran Desert.  We liked it so much I began a flurry of research, primarily in rain water harvesting (in Oregon you can legally harvest water off of any impermeable surface, such as your roof, for any purpose without a water right).  Here are some of the numbers I came up with.

Let’s say I want water for one acre of water needy vegetables.  Our droughty season here is about 3 months.  I will need to water my acre a minimum of an inch a week (now if I am using drip irrigation of course my needs will be less, and if I use dryland farming techniques and possibly even some hugelkultur beds it would be less still, but what that fraction is exactly  I won’t know until doing).

Assuming I was going to overhead irrigate my acre an inch a week for the 12 weeks I would need to get through Oregon’s dry season I need one acre foot of water (the amount of water required to cover an acre 1 foot deep).  An acre foot of water is 325,852 gallons.  The number of gallons in a cubic foot of water is 7.4.   In Oregon, I can legally harvest all the rain that doesn’t hit the ground (i.e. what hits the roof).  Average rainfall in Clackamas county is about 40 inches.  Lets say I have a barn with a 3000 square foot roof…Area times inches of rain divided by 12 times 7.4 gallons gives me….74,000 gallons.  Or, about 23 % of my needs.  Water is bulky and expensive to store….the cheapest tank I  have seen was a community built (ie free labor) ferrocement tank that cost about $.75 per gallon.  Most tanks run more like $1 to $1.25 per gallon, depending on materials (you might be able to find cheaper tanks used).  There is also site prep, installation, and plumbing costs.  You can do the math there…..rainwater may be free but storing it is really really expensive.

The cheapest way to store water is in a pond (I don’t have a good figure for this per gallon, I think it varies depending on soil type, site, who does the earthmoving, and size of pond).  Unfortunately in Oregon, if you are planning to store rainwater for irrigation in a pond, it has to have a berm (so no water that hits the earth will go into it) and be lined with plastic (so it can’t have any hydro-connection to the ground water system).  I was very sad to learn this, because of course, who wants a big sterile plastic lined pond?  Not me.  Plus the plastic liner puts the cost of the pond more in line with tanks.  I was also very sad to learn that the beautiful and logical keyline and pond system of water harvesting used by permaculturalists in arid regions (which injects water back into the system while providing ponds for irrigation, aquaculture, livestock and human pleasure) is illegal in Oregon if you plan to use the ponds for irrigation.  The genius of this idea is that you are using swales and plantings to slow rain water flowing across your landscape and allow it to absorb into the soil, so the soil is the primary storage vessel.   The water isn’t stopped really, just slowed down, so the system actually (through limiting speedy runoff and evaporation) adds to your property’s water bank.  Using swales in this way can even create springs in theory.  The definitive text (which I have just ordered but I haven’t read yet) is P.A. Yeoman’s book Water For Every Farm.

There was a fabulous presenter at this year’s OSU Small Farms Conference (this last weekend in Corvallis) who basically admitted that he was using his keyline and pond system illegally.  He lives in a county where he can get away with it.  He also has water rights to a stream, and a great well, so he has backup options should the powers that be ever change their minds.  I am not sure I would be comfortable embracing this system as my only source of water for production and base my business on it.  Which puts us back at square one in terms of looking at properties.  We have to walk away from that pretty piece of Clackamas county.

Everyone talks about financing land as the primary obstacle to small farmers getting started in agriculture.  I would add to that that we need to rethink our water use and water laws in this state if we truly want the younger generation to get started in small scale sustainable agriculture.  I have looked at a lot of smaller properties (10 to 50 acres, a size that young farmers might be able to afford) that had beautiful soils and were well suited to sustainable crop production, but they have no water rights.  When larger farms parcel out acreage to generate revenue, they usually keep the water right (and who could blame them?) for themselves, divvying up and limiting a lot of good agricultural lands to a system that can only produce McMansions and maybe some livestock.  And the groundwater and surface water systems are already overtaxed….wells in Clackamas county are drying up, elaborate deals are being made with water rights holders across the state to ensure that native fish have enough water to support healthy populations, so even I can’t advocate for additional water rights to surface and ground water systems.

The Colorado river, a poster child for overtaxed surface waters in the west.

Western Oregon gets 40 inches of rain a year, plenty to support agriculture through the dry seasons if we are wise in our use of it and creative in how we capture and save it.  John Wesley Powell when he explored the west recommended a watershed based system of community building.  Instead we got a hierarchical system based on precedent overlaid on a grid that pays no respects to soil types and natural boundaries.  So wish me luck in my land hunt, for I am going to need it.

Buying the Farm

I have begun my land search in earnest this fall.  I am getting excited as this weekend I saw the first farm that might actually work for what I want to do.  It is different than looking for a house, as the house is totally secondary to the land in terms of my priorities, although I think I will fall in love with a piece of land the way I fell for my first house.  I have looked at a lot of beautiful properties with pretty gross housing situations.  With my husband’s and my building skills that is not a big deal, unless the property is at the top of what we can afford, as most likely we would have to finance any rebuild with our own cash.  The other question is whether or not a bank would finance any of it if the house is no good.  The irony of course, is that while houses have ballooned and popped in value, good farmland really has not lost its value in the market (unfortunately for me).  Added to that banks still view farming as a bad investment, which means it is harder to find financing for a good piece of land with a double wide than a piece of crap house on poor soil. Here’s my new crush:

20 acres total, 13 acres of good class II soils, killer view, perfect location, and a double wide that I haven’t seen the inside of…..yet. This is right at the top of what I think I can afford, and there is not an outbuilding or a fencepost to be had anywhere on the property.  I am fortunate in that I will have a large down payment, a great credit score and still quite a bit of equity in my little house, so hopefully the bank will see things my way, but the fact that the house is an older double wide may be a deal breaker for a loan.  But I won’t know until I ask, things have changed profoundly since I last went to get prequalified.  The guy who owns this place is pretty savvy in my opinion:  he rents the house for 15000$ a year, gets a small income from a few acres of christmas trees, and rents the rest of the arable property to a local farmer who is paying the owner to keep the place in shape.  So this place is probably generating somewhere from $16-18000/year to cover $1500 in taxes and whatever maintenance he needs to do to keep his trees trimmed and his renters happy.  Plus he logged the wooded acreage (much to the detriment of the small stream on the south side of the property) and cashed that in last year.

In contrast, I looked at a farm last week that was 37 acres of good soils, no water rights, with 20 acres leased to christmas tree farmers.  Ole Ma and Pa were living in the doublewide, so I am guessing little or no income was being generated there, and the rental income on 20 acres of trees was $3000/ year.  Except for the house, the farm was in great shape, so someone was putting a lot of effort into keeping the place mowed and presentable.  Taxes were minimal, so that place too is probably holding its own financially, but certainly not being maximized the way this little farm in the picture is.  I will have my work cut out for me dealing with this land’s owner if it comes to that.

So far, here are my criteria for looking for land:

Non negotiables:

Class II or better soils, at least five acres.

Water rights to irrigate, at least five acres. (This is the major impediment of agricultural land hunting in the west)

12-20 acres total (or more), so I have room for a woodlot, pastured critters, and orchard in addition to the 5 acres of vegetables.

Tolerable housing on site with a good well or public water supply.

Some slope to the property, and SE aspect.

Well out of flood zones.

Within an hour’s commute of Portland.

On a quiet road, preferably a dead end road.

Mortgage payment equal or less than what we pay now.

Good neighbors.

Reasonably good access to salmon and steelhead fishing (a happy husband is a happy life)

No major polluters nearby (big conventional ag farms, big nurseries, industry).

zoned EFU.


Running water on property. Creek, springs.

Pond or possibility of a pond in future.

Backs up to forest land.

Outbuildings, especially functional shop and barn buildings.

A place nearby to ride horses.

Fencing and other useful infrastructure.


Farm that is for the most part a blank slate, though I do tend to like places with old orchards and outbuildings.  20 acres of overgrown christmas trees or blight ridden hazelnuts means years of work just to clear for pasture (though it would save me planting the woodlot).

Interesting things I have learned so far:

Christmas tree farms generally indicate good soils (who knew?).  Same with grass seed production (although at some times of year it can be hard to tell what is in grass seed and what is in hay).  The best soils in the state are tied up in growing seed for America’s lawns and christmas trees for America’s holiday decor.

The Soil Survey website is an amazing storehouse of information.  You can look up basically any address in the country and see what type and classification of soils it has.  Now those are some tax dollars well spent.

I don’t really want to live on a pancake flat valley farm.

Rental income from a christmas tree farm is pretty minimal ($150/acre if the contract I saw is typical) although it is guaranteed income for 6-8 years.

There are a lot of dark, crooked, rotten old houses out there that should probably just be set on fire.

Finding information on domestic wells can be very challenging.  Many folks are still getting their water from hand dug wells.  Caveat: you can apparently use an old hot tub pump to pump water from your hand dug well.  For water right information you need to make a Water Right Information Search on the OR water resources department website.  It is most helpful to have the Township Range and Section information on the property.  Otherwise, you will need the name of the original landowner who applied for water rights on that land.  You still may not find what you need, and have to go visit the county Watermaster for more information.

Deep wells in Yamhill County west of HWY 47 generally produce salt water.

Be aware of proposed future routes of things like LNG pipelines.

The condition of the equipment, shop and the land say much about the farmer.

fall’s wild harvest

One of the great perks of being a teacher is the breaks in the academic schedule.  We just had our fall break, and this year it coincided with 7 days of glorious weather.  The husband also had some time, so we did some fishing and crabbing out at the coast.

my favorite way to cook big oysters...on the grill

The fish my husband caught was a hen fresh from the sea.  We used to take salmon roe and make steelhead bait with it, now we salt it and make caviar instead, because we are Much Wiser Now.  It is really beautiful, and of course, delicious.  This is what the roe looks like when it is removed from the fish.

And in all the fair weather, I got to do some hiking in the coast range, and picked some wild mushrooms.  We had some heavy rains followed by a long stretch of fair weather, so the mushrooms were in beautiful shape.  Chanterelles are lovely in cream of mushroom soup with just a touch of nutmeg.  Picked fresh they have a slight scent of apricot.  We dry ours in the food dryer and then rehydrate for soups and sauces.  They are also excellent on homemade pizza.  Good picking etiquette is to cut the mushroom above the bulb at the base, and always leave a few in every patch to perpetuate future good picking.

you never find just one! A gorgeous clump of chanterelles

I found one of the possibly most delicious and satisfying wild mushrooms….a giant King Bolete.  It had several companions who were all past edibility, but this one was still in good enough shape to bring home and eat.  It was the most delicious mushroom I have ever eaten, and we dried the stem and tubes for future use.  The cap was almost as big as a dinner plate!

And finally, as if we haven’t been eating well enough, my husband tagged his first deer in 11 years.  I literally have been thanking the earth for her generosity, and marvelling at the richness of our lives for the last 10 days.  It is a blue wonder.  We have been joking about how one cannot find a mason jar anywhere in our house as they are all being used to store food.  I think we will make it through winter, no matter what La Nina throws at us.  Let it snow I say.  Or rain (more likely).

I also got to help Clare and Brian from Big Table Farm sort grapes one day for this year’s pinot vintage, which was a hoot.  Clare made us amazing pizza for ‘winery lunch’.  These folks work so hard and make just beautiful wines from some of the best organic grapes in the Willamette Valley.  Clare has documented some of the process here on her blog.  And I had a lovely day in the fields with my friend Amy at Square Peg Farm, harvesting mangels for pig food.  A mangel is a type of gigantic beet, and Amy and Chris will use those as well as squash and pumpkins to finish off their organic pork for market.  Their farm outside of Forest Grove is so beautiful I literally get homesick for it over the winter.  You can find Square Peg Farm produce (and Amy and Chris) at the Saturday market in downtown Portland.