It’s hard to garden from afar

But for now, that’s all we can do, so I’m trying to spend the time wisely.

I’ve been spending a lot of the past few weeks reading gardening books – in particular, books about gardening in the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve gardened in the south, on the west coast in a couple of different areas, and in Texas, where the Imageweather can change from summer-hot to blizzard – literally – in just a few hours.  But I’ve never gardened in an area that has so much water.  It’s also a maritime climate, which will be quite a change from most of the other places I’ve gardened, which tend to be more on the desert side of things.  I figure a little bit of research before jumping into the deep end is probably a good thing.

In addition, I’ve been trying to find out as much about the land as I can before we move out there.  I was able to take a small soil sample the last time we were there (that’s part of it in the picture to the right) and do a very simple soil composition test on it.  The results are the soil from that area of the forest is a sandy loam with a bit of small gravel mixed in.  Which is pretty good, actually, because all of the rain there means the soil needs that more open structure in order to drain properly and not stagnate.  The soil sample I took came from a small trench someone dug in a semi-cleared area.  The trench was a couple of feet deep, and the soil looked to be pretty much the same from top to bottom, so I think that not only is the soil composition good, the soil depth probably is as well.

I will take several more soil samples while we are out there next, and run this test as well as some simple soil chemistry tests on them.  Almost all of the soils out in that area are nitrogen-poor and acidic because the steady winter rain washes all of the nitrogen out of them.  We will likely be spending a lot of time building up the gardening areas with compost and other soil amendments, but we prefer to garden that way anyway, so it’s not a problem.  We garden exclusively organically, so we tend to throw all the clean organic matter we can find into the garden every year until the soil is fertile enough to grow our annual vegetables with only a little bit of side dressing.

Holding Pattern

So this week we’ll be taking our second trip to the property.  It’s not actually ours yet.  We have an accepted offer, financing, and are progressing toward closing.  However the bank that owns the property is quite behind on doing the things they agreed to.  So we’re in a bit of a holding pattern.  Neither of us has ever built a house before, so we’re sort of learning about the process as we go.  There’s a lot to do, and it all has to be done in a certain order with all the proper permits.  We’re just getting a handle on this now and are beginning to wonder whether it might be worth just hiring a general contractor to work through the details.  This week’s trip is in part to make that sort of decision, and in part to let our son Will see the property.  Thus far he’s only seen pictures.  I think he’s going to like it, a lot.

The Basics

So let’s start with the basics.  When we say “Big Woods” we mean 70 acres of forest in the foothills of the Cascade mountains.  The land is gently to moderately sloped with several streams running through it.  At least two of the streams are year round, we aren’t yet sure about the others.  Because of the streams, about half of the land is protected as wetland or buffer area.  The land was logged some time in the late 90s except for the buffers on the two main streams.  However, large trees were left scattered throught the rest of the lot.  This combined with the “copicing” of many large bigleaf maples and a generous rainfall has the regrowth beyond where one might expect it at this stage.  The stream buffers typical of climax forest in the area.  The predominant conifer is Western Red Cedar mixed with a smattering of Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir.  Deciduous trees are mainly a mix of Bigleaf Maple and Alder, there’s a healthy dose of Vine Maple in the under-story.  And then there are the brambles.  The logged areas are thick with Himalayan Blackberry, or, as we like to call it, “Kudzu of the West”.  Some of the thickets are beginning to be shaded out by the regrowing trees, but even there, the remaining vines are treacherous.  The older parts of the forest are thick with their own brambles, Salmonberry.

P1030269We’ll know more about the vegetation as spring progresses, and everything buds out.  For now we’ve only seen it in the wet season, though the rime from frozen fog is gorgeous.