Friday, September 23, 2016

Local WWOOFing near Myrtle Point, Oregon.

I had this idea to do a Friday Five featuring five things we learned during our recent WWOOF gig near Myrtle Point, Oregon. As I sat down to make the list, though, I realized that five things wouldn't cut it - even with 16 farms and homesteads already under our belts, we still learned a surprising number of new things during our 5-week stay at this beautiful garden and orchard!

the garden

the orchard

For example, we learned how to harvest watercress, lemon verbena, and chamomile.

watercress: cut the tips for salads, 
then give it all a good haircut to promote growth

lemon verbena: three leaves per leaf cluster -
pick two to dehydrate for tea, leave the third leaf

As for chamomile... It's complicated. Next time I see you, I'll explain.

We learned that edible flowers like calendula, nasturtium, and borage make a good salad great.

almost too pretty to eat... almost

We learned about the espalier method of fruit tree training, which saves space, is much easier to manage, and (if done corrrectly) should result in a better harvest yield year-to-year.

espalier: French for Italian for
"something to rest the shoulder against"

We learned new methods of composting and mulching, including scattering coffee grounds around roses and blueberries; improving orchards with taproot plants that are cultivated as mulch for trees; and using biochar as a soil amendment.

chicory feeding the trees

charcoal goodness

Oh, and we learned how biochar is made - in fact, we saw it firsthand!

fire in the hole

I learned how to drive a Mule (correctly) and use a riding lawnmower... both of which rank right up there with leafblowing and weed-whacking in my book. But thanks to my Mule training, I finally understand differential locking. So there's that.

We learned that it's okay to plant cover crops with vegetable crops.

pak choy, meet buckwheat and barley

I learned how to can peaches and pears...

pie coming soon

... and I finally, FINALLY got some practice making cheese - in this case, chevre made from raw cow's milk and kefir grains.

recipe here - who knew it was so easy?

They also make their own brie, gorgonzola, feta, parmesan, and cheddar. And they make their own butter, buttermilk, yogurt, and of course kefir. And a whole lot of other things. (Like bread. Lots and lots of bread. Which we did not enjoy one bit.)

We learned that you CAN grow kiwi in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe bananas too - the jury is still out on that one...

really, coastal Southern Oregon? really?

We learned that bugs are doing their part to keep Oregon weird.

banded alder borer,
our first cabin visitor

"black and yellow garden spider"
(dear bug namers, could you be a little more original?)

We learned that there really is something to herbal remedies. One of the daily routines was "infusion" tea, which supposedly reduces allergies and respiratory issues, and also improves skin, hair, and general health. 

dandelion root, oat straw, and nettle, soaked overnight

Daily gardening and living in a cabin with a wood stove can sometimes lead to a stuffy nose. We definitely noticed a breathing improvement on the days we drank our "infusion," so we're continuing the practice at our coastal housesit. I also learned the hard way, that arnica salve helps to reduce swelling and pain in tweaked tendons. (And I learned not to cut buckwheat with scissors. Ouch.)

We learned that small towns kinda rock.

3rd annual GOATZILLA!
(and the crowd goes wild)

70th annual Bandon Cranberry Festival

Coquille Valley Seed Community's annual tomato tasting

We learned that kittens are AH-DOR-AH-ABLE.


Pepper & Ravi

You knew that already, though.

We learned that army mobile units make pretty good cabins for WWOOFers.

shack #1

shack #2

But the most important thing we learned, we actually re-learned. See, we specifically chose this WWOOF experience because of the intentional community aspect. This is definitely something we want to explore as we think about our farm future - assuming you find the right mix of people, it's a great way to share the burdens of cost and labor, and there is much to be said for being surrounded by "your people." (There is also much to be said when things don't go as planned and you find yourself not surrounded by "your people." Exhibit A: Slowly Global's Farm Internship 2016.)

During this WWOOF stint, we spent five weeks with 11 friends who, over the past 25(ish) years, have created a shared space, a shared business, and a shared life together. The only way for this to be successful is to set aside egos, actively listen, and make time for each other. Common sense for any relationship - friends, family, significant other, business partner - right? Well, after the stressful year we'd had to date, let's just say that we really needed this reminder for us. And surely it will pay off if we do go the communal farm route.

This was our first local WWOOF gig, and now that we're housesitting 20 miles away over the winter, we're happy to say that we're walking away without actually walking away. In addition to introducing us to numerous people in the community, our new friends have hired Patrick at their business. I'll be visiting the garden now and then, and we both look forward to continuing to socialize in the coming months. It's pretty unusual to be able to move into a new community having already made a solid group of friends, and we're really grateful that these folks opened their doors and their lives to us.

But first things first! Our Coos Bay housesit runs through February, which gives us just enough time to save up some money, figure out Operation Five Year Plan (catchy acronym pending), and set it in motion... Stay tuned - we may be standing still, but exciting things are coming soon!

in the meantime, can't complain about our new backyard playground...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

ExplOregon, June 2016 edition, part three.

After three days in Steens Mountain and two days exploring five geologic wonders (among other things) in Lake County, Oregon, family duties called and it was time to meander back to Eugene.

We considered trying our luck at Paradise Campground again, but a quick check showed that almost all the sites were reserved that night so we opted for Coldwater Cove Campground instead. Sometimes no planning really does pay off...

campsite #1 for the win

Our site was surrounded by Douglas-fir pines and steep hills on either side. Hummingbirds buzzed around the flowers all afternoon; bats swooped around the trees all evening. A funny little chipmunk kept us entertained.


And? There was no generator running all night (we didn't even hear any of our neighbors)... Thank you, Universe.

There's a ~5-mile easy loop that circles Clear Lake. The trail goes from the campground through lava fields and pine forests, and offers stunning views of the lake.

 open to hikers and bikers - watch out!

about a mile of this, then forest the rest of the way

 the little boy caught his first fish!

 {hearting} Oregon right about now


 Washington lilies...

 ... and tiger lilies...

... and Alaskan bunchberry, oh my

 to the west
no filter...

... yes, the water really is that color

Many more photos start here. I cannot recommend this loop enough! If you're not up for the walk, you can rent kayaks and canoes from Clear Lake Resort. No engines are allowed on the lake so the walk/row is quite peaceful.

Leftover soup and salad after that five-mile walk didn't really cut it for dinner...

 bottom of the barrel... er, cooler

... so the next morning, we treated ourselves to a breakfast of champions at Clear Lake Resort. 

never. eating. again.

Coldwater Cove and Clear Lake were the perfect ending to our trip. Deserts and hot springs and arid flatlands with geologic wonders are fun and all, but walking (and sleeping) among those tall pines, with that crisp, cool air all around us and that glacial lake just a few hundred feet away, we felt like we were home again.

And now, if you'll excuse us...


ExplOregon, June 2016 edition, part two.

The first part of our FUNemployed vacation took us to Steens Mountain for a few days of gorgeous (and I do mean GORGE-ous) hikes. The second part took us to Thompson Reservoir, Hager Mountain, and five geologic wonders in Lake County, Oregon...

1. Christmas Valley Sand Dunes - the largest shifting sand dunes in Oregon. Formed from ash and pumice when Mount Mazama erupted 7,000 years ago, these dunes are popular with ATVers but we managed to find a few without too many tracks spoiling the view...

the clouds were amazing too

2. Crack In The Ground - as the name suggests, it's a crack. In the ground. A 2+ mile crack that's up to 70 feet deep in places, in fact. The crack was formed by a volcanic fissure just 1,000 years ago. The mosses and colors found on the rocks were quite beautiful and photos don't really do it justice...

not for the claustrophobic

3. Fort Rock - an old tuff ring that's nearly a full circle, where a sea used to live. OSP's web site claims that "sandals found in a nearby cave are the oldest ever discovered, dating back around 9,000-13,000 years." Pretty cool! A trail takes you around the ring if you're so inclined...

to the west

to the east

4. Derrick Cave - a 30' high lava tube that we didn't actually get to see, because the road from Fort Rock is now private for liability reasons and the alternate route would have cost us several hours. Patrick visited the cave years ago and he promises it's worth seeing!

5. Hole-In-The-Ground - again, as the name suggests, it's a hole. In the ground. A mile-wide, 300-foot-deep hole, in fact, that was formed by a volcanic eruption 13,000-100,000 years ago (depending on who you ask). We were short on time so we didn't venture down, but I've seen comments from others that walking the path is the best way to appreciate the vastness of the hole...

neither meteorite landing, nor hellmouth

Also, not a geologic wonder but a pretty special place: the Lost Forest near the Sand Dunes. Ancient ponderosa pine survive on half the water their forest counterparts require. The Lost Forest covers a remarkable 9,000 acres (~14 mi2 for those of you who don't speak acreage), and is isolated from the nearest ponderosa pine forest by 40 miles, meaning it keeps itself alive just fine, thank you very much...

it also makes a great Subaru commerical

The rest of our trip was "W"-themed. For example, watchtowers! We braved thousands of ticks and mosquitoes to visit Hager Mountain's watchtower (okay, "lookout" if you must) and catch some nice panoramic views. The watchtower is one of just a handful still staffed during summer months for fire observation, and available to rent in winter months - as long as you're willing to snowshoe three miles up a mountain to get there. (Honestly, we'd probably have taken the snow over the ticks and mossies this time.)

and the wind began to howl

Another "W" on this trip - wildflowers! Most were observed on the Hager Mountain hike where the hills were alive with paintbrush, Oregon sunshine, and balsamroot.

kind of making up for all the ticks and mossies...

... kind of

Most interesting on this hike was the rare green-tinged paintbrush, native to Southern Oregon. According to a plaque at the top of the trail, 95 percent of this plant's population is found only in the Fremont National Forest! Very cool.

in bloom

And the final "W" was for wildlife. We passed through Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, which gave us some up-close and personal views of some truly stunning animals...

seldom is heard a discouraging word

and the skies are not cloudy all day

(Originally established in 1936 to protect pronghorn antelopes, the refuge now hosts over 300 species of wildlife and - this is rare - no domesticated livestock. There are also hot springs in the refuge, available free to the public, so in between being in awe of amazing creatures, we partook in a quick soak in a different kind of hole in the ground.)

Anyway, back to wildlife... We were definitely still in ranchland, and cows count as wildlife to some people...

(and some cows, says Clarence)

And a very tenacious chipmunk spent the morning with us at Thompson Reservoir.


Not "W" related, here's a little on Thompson Reservoir's campground and camping in general... We drove through Thompson because it was close to things we wanted to explore. Reservoirs are not our favorite places to camp - only because they tend to attract boaters, and we don't like hearing boat engines all day/night - but we had a really good experience in Colorado last summer, and Thompson seemed like a quiet enough place so we thought we'd give it a shot.

Our first night, we had two neighbors who had settled on the other side of the spacious campground. We heard nothing but frogs, ducks, little brown birds, and water lapping at the shore all evening. The sunset over the reservoir was lovely and the stars came out in full force.


Our second night, an elderly couple parked their ginormous RV right next to our tent site (despite the fact that there were 16 other available sites in a 19-site campground). They took a while settling in, and then the dreaded generator started. The friendly gentleman wandered over and asked if the noise would bother us. Patrick asked how long it would be running. "Oh, all night long," the friendly gentleman replied, and then proceeded to chat Patrick up for ten more minutes while I got in the tent and banged my head on the thermarest. (Seriously.)

Look. I am sorry that his wife was on an oxygen tank and needed the generator to run all night. I am glad they were still able to enjoy the great outdoors and the world-famous all-you-can-eat soup/salad and 30 oz steak dinner just up the road from the reservoir (Friday through Sunday, $30 cash only, reservations recommended, no alcohol served... no, we didn't do it, despite the friendly gentleman's rave reviews). I appreciate him asking if the noise was going to bother us. But at that point, what could we say? "Yes, thanks for asking - could you please move immediately?"

In hindsight we should've just moved. But we are stubborn folk, and instead, we endured the hum of the generator All. Night. Long.

this was our view! would YOU have moved?

Fellow campers - especially you National Park campers! but also you local campers - please be polite and think about others. That's all I ask.

Anyway. The food was simple again this time...

remembering Vietnam with an egg noodle breakfast

the old breakfast standby, oatmeal with all the fixin's
(pretty view optional but recommended)

organic tomato soup from a box, 
fire-roasted cheese quesadillas,
and a side of cheese and crackers for good measure

Insensitive camp neighbors aside, it was very fun to check out this part of Oregon. Everything was entirely new to me and Patrick hadn't been to some of these places in 20 years. With so much variety from west to east and north to south, it really astounds me that more Oregonians don't venture out and explore...