at Elk Meadow Farm & Nursery

(Established Jan, 2009)

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Dr. Denice Moffat with her husband Michael Robison

December, 2009

The adventure continues…  We are smiling as we write these words because our lives this past year truly feels like an adventure. So much has happened and we’ve accomplished so much, even we are quite impressed with ourselves.

Our new home; 40 acres of forest, with meadows and a pond are even better than we first imagined. We have deer in the yard regularly; a situation we are working to remedy in order to allow us to have vegetable and flower gardens.

While walking along the lower road, Maggie, our Border collie and Michael met a sow bear this fall. She was just 25 or so yards away when she noticed them before turning off into the forest. Now 25 yards is too close! Maggie stays pretty close to us when the pack of coyotes start howling but she wasn’t so afraid of that bear.

This fall a bull moose wandered past our pond, across our meadow and into the woods. And the very next day, a cow moose and her yearling calf followed in his footsteps. They were in full view from our front window. We have had wild turkeys in the front yard, as well. We had to finish enclosing the tack room (currently a cat room) in our barn to prevent a very large raccoon from eating all the cats’ food.

While we haven’t yet seen an elk; we have awakened to find fresh tracks (and poop) in the front yard and we’ve heard them down in our canyon.

Michael has mostly “retired” from the water treatment business. He’s now a farmer! We are in the process of creating a small commercial nursery. In 2010 we will be offering cut flowers, a few potted plants and trees, blueberries and vegetables for sale at two farmer’s markets in Moscow. We both love our new home and our new life! It is so completely wonderful to not have to “go” somewhere else to work.

My naturopathic doctor/veterinarian phone consultation practice continues to grow. I got a little behind on the newsletters this year but that hasn’t stopped me from filling the appointment book. We now have over 3700 subscribers to the newsletter and the website is currently getting about 2.5 million hits/month. It needs some work though, so that’s what I’ll be doing partially this winter until February when we’ll start various vegetable and flower seeds. I suspect this year they’ll be started in the living room under lights but as soon as we can, we’ll build a small heated greenhouse to keep things producing more quickly. We’re hoping to find and build protected beds to put these plants as the year progresses in 2010. It will keep us both busy.

I now have clients all over the US and Canada and from many other countries. During the summer and fall, I managed to get in an hour or two of gardening, fence building or whatever was needed to be done outside each morning before my first client called then was back outside not long after dinner. What fun!

On a good day with nice moisture I can dig a post hole in 6 minutes. We put in hundreds of feet of fencing this year. Mom, Jerry and my sister-in-law Barb came over to spend a couple days with us on Mother’s day. The weather was perfect. I dug dandelions while they all took an afternoon nap one day. My goal was to dig at least 5 gallons of weeds a day to feed to the chickens. Most days I succeeded in surpassing that goal for several months.

My brother Jerry came over again from Montana early September and donated a week’s work helping Michael level pads for greenhouses (pictures below). I’m most proud of the 340 cubic yards of compost cooking in our straw bale beds. Building soil and protecting the plants from early frosts is a must in our Zone 5 climate. Ok, I’ll admit it… we fall into bed each night and sleep deeply with visions of flowers dancing…

Our fall/early winter weather was very pleasant but it’s getting colder now. Oh! I almost forgot to mention that we have a new granddaughter… Anna Caroline Robison. Michael went back close to when she was born and I painted the outside of the house while he was away. We were both able to visit her in St. Louis this fall. I now have two beautiful granddaughters and feel really blessed that I didn’t have to birth a child. My adopted family is really nice. The kids even call me Grandma Denice. Kind of weird and awesome all at the same time.

I’m just happy with my life as it is now full of pets and clients. They’re my family, but we’re looking forward to the day when Melaina and Anna can come spend some time with us in the summer and learn gardening and alternative medicine or whatever else we decide to explore with them in the years to come.

We send blessings your way and hope things are going as well for you as they are for us… even better!  Merry Christmas and do email us when you have the chance. We’d love to hear from you! Much love.   Denice and Michael

Pictures from 2009

Biggest Cedar Tree

Denice and Michael at Idaho's Biggest Cedar May, 2009

We’ve been trying to find the biggest Cedar tree in Idaho now for several years. We were shut out by road closures twice due to show. This year we finally found it. That was our day trip for the year:

Since we don’t currently have any deep well-developed soil, this year we built several hundred feet of straw bale beds and used those for the bulbs that I had ordered last year which came this year. We purchased a couple hundred straw bales for $1-2/bale, used all our leftover cardboard from moving, gathered truckloads of wood chips from the forest floor, hauled in hundreds of bags of leaves and truckload after truckload of all kinds of manures. Our neighbors were very generous. Of course this project took several months to complete. Thought you’d be interested in some of those pictures.

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Straw Bale Bed Step 1 August, 2009

Straw Bale Bed Step 2 of 4

Straw Bale Bed Step 2 of 4 August, 2009

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Straw Bale Bed Building Step 3 of 4 August, 2009

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Straw Bale Bed Building Step 4 of 4 August, 2009

 

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Straw Bale Bed Building Step 6 August, 2009

 

Because you plant things into the straw bale beds and water them regularly, composting takes place quickly. I tried to order a pound of red wigglers through the mail but they perished in the process. Our postmaster was less than impressed! She called to ask me to pick them up there because she said she wouldn’t torture her mail carrier with it. Whew! Stink!! As I was calling to complain, Maggie was out rolling in it! That was a less-than-perfect day here at Elk Meadow Farm.

We finally found some worms locally contained in a batch of horse manure we collected from a neighbor. We counted our blessings that day because that one load was spread into hundreds of square feet of garden. I hope they survive the winter. A neighbor and some friends supplied us with raspberry starts.

I have a picture of beautiful gladiolus growing in the straw bale bed by the house but I can’t find it! The directions said that within 2 years the bales rot. You then take the strings off and till in the straw, mixing it with the compost inside the bed that has nicely broken down. Cool!

I put in a couple layers of cardboard for the first layer. That way I figured it would keep the worms in and the weeds out. The second layer consists of larger pieces of bark, chips and small branches. Then I alternated dried grasses, chicken bedding, semi-composted mulch, pine cones and whatever else I could find. When the leaves came down we put those in too and topped everything off with more manure and some top soil. In the spring as the beds settle we just add more topsoil and manure.

We removed the sod before we laid out the bed but some say that you don’t have to do that, but I tried this technique once with the “Lasagna gardening” method and the weeds came through with great vigor.  Forget about that lasagna method! This one is much better.

We don’t like weeds around our place. They go into the compost bins or 5-gallon buckets which we fill with water. After the weeds start to stink we toss the bucket onto the straw bale beds or the compost piles to get things really cooking. Sometimes we add some feed molasses to feed the good bacteria. Our goal is to become totally organic but right now we don’t know what’s coming in on the straw and the manure so we can’t be sure that it’s totally chemical free. We just need so much raw material right now!  We’re what you call (unofficially) transitional at this point.

Below are pictures of Jerry and Michael leveling the pads for future greenhouses. I have the best brother on the planet! Jerry thinks we should purchase a tractor (Michael does too) but I’ve never had one and have done perfectly fine all my life with my Mantis tiller, a ditching shovel and a wheelbarrow that my mom gave me. Of course maybe I should be thinking bigger since we have more land now.

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Jerry and Michael creating the greenhouse pads Sept., 2009

We’ve been collecting bids for the greenhouses but are thinking that we’re going to start small and save our money for a couple larger structures. We have faith but don’t want to go into debt because we don’t know what will grow here yet. Of course all the companies say the greenhouse pays for itself in the first year but what if it didn’t? We’re not ready to go out on that kind of limb yet. So we’re going to use quick hoops and row covers to extend our harvest at first. We’ll hopefully keep up with all the flea beetles and grasshoppers! Yuck! I think we’re on year 4 of the 7 year grasshopper cycle. We don’t want to use poisons because we don’t want to hurt our chickens, wild birds or beneficial insects and bees. We’ve been reading about natural non-toxic grasshopper bait though!

Last year those two types of insects devastated most of the trial plantings we did. Maybe we should get some turkeys. They love grasshoppers. But then we’d have to process them and we don’t want to do that. Turkeys are really sweet and I’m afraid I’d get attached to them. We had a pet chicken who met her demise this summer and it really was quite agonizing. That bird followed us everywhere. It was so fun to watch three cats, a dog and Snicklefritz follow us back and forth as we worked and cleaned up the yards around the house. Just one big happy pride (or whatever you call a big group of mismatched animals).

At this point we have 32 laying chickens which are pets. Other farmers butcher them and replenish the birds every 16 months or so but our girls die of old age or I euthanize them. They are valued and do a great job of helping to clear land and make compost. We feed them organic food and sell the extra eggs to the neighbors and our local food Co-op in Moscow.

We’re planning on planting beneficial insect attracting plants in the spring but I don’t know what kinds of insects eat flea beetles or grasshoppers. We seeded the new roads and cleared areas with forest grasses and cover crops that will help put nitrogen into the soil.

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Too many grasshoppers here this year!

This stump was so big Michael had to knock it around about 30 minutes to be able to lift it because it kept tipping the bobcat forward when he tried to lift it with the bucket. After Jerry left and the fire danger season had passed we torched several big piles the size of small houses. We stoked the fires with the trash left behind from logging. All told this year I think we’ve cleared about two acres out of 40. We have a ways to go.

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Stump removal on pad #2

Here’s a picture of the completed pads. You can see the bottom pad really well. We put three 80 foot straw bale beds on the two pads before the snow hit. We had a plan to keep about 100 bags of leaves aside for compost piles in the spring but the deer thought they smelled pretty good so were breaking into them to eat them.

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Completed greenhouse pads, Sept. 2009

Michael and I noticed those critters can eat a bag of leaves in a meal. It’s kind of fun to watch them paw the ground then cram their little mouths full. We watched them from the bedroom with our binoculars. I shared several bags with them but then decided if we wanted the leaves that we should use them as quickly as possible after that, so we filled the straw bale beds to the brim then covered the leaves with fresh rabbit and steer manure. We’ll top them off in the spring with topsoil and fill them with plants starting in March or April after covering them with quick hoops (bent electrical conduit covered with plastic).

We hauled in many, many truckload of leaves–actually planned it pretty meticulously. Figured out when leaf pickup was scheduled in Moscow then went door-to-door a couple days before that asking people if we could have the leaves for our garden.

Some people did not have them bagged so we had to make extra trips but we found if we really stacked them high we could get about 50 bags/trip. Back and forth we went for several days on my day off, weekends and after hours. What a haul! It was kind of an awesome feeling knowing that so many trees shared their treasure with us. Many of the trees were between 60 and 100 years old. We noticed people were more than willing to give us the leaves knowing they were going to be part of a garden.

Nearly completed straw bale beds on the lower greenhouse pad. We figured the cross bales would separate the different crops. When I do this again I’ll omit the cross bale baffles. They just attract slugs as they rot faster than the outside bales.

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Straw bale beds on the upper pad Oct. 2009

I first saw Batik Irises at a street fair in 1978 and ever since I’ve wanted a garden filled with them. So I ordered 100 rhizomes in 2008 and put myself on a waiting list. Every place I had checked for years and years were sold out or only had a few at very high prices. I finally found a wholesale distributor that would sell to our start up nursery but had to wait a whole year!

It will be worth it eventually, but there were no beds to put them into at our new place so Michael and I rented a sod cutting machine and cut up some sod. I then hand dug down 4 inches and used my Mantis to till back and forth, fortifying the rows with compost, rock phosphate, ashes, kelp and bone meal, then built raised beds on top of that.

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Backyard Iris Bed June, 2009

The irises are planted in this brand new bed way in back there in 8 rows. I can hardly wait until they bloom! The pots contain Hickory tree starts. We have a neighbor who grows trees for a living and she shared some leftover nuts with us and instructed us how to plant them. We’re wanting to make some designated nut orchards on the 40 acres to eventually harvest the nuts and feed the wildlife living there. We read that it only takes 20 years for the harvest of some nut species so we thought we’d at least start the plants this year.

Here’s a picture of what a Batik Iris bloom looks like if you’ve never seen one. The blooms are often 5-8 inches in diameter. Spectaular!:

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Batik Iris

Jerry asked us to make a list of all the things we’d like to have dug up when he got there and to prioritize them so we could get the best use of the rented Track Hoe and Bobcat.

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Jerry working on the circle flower bed

One of those projects was the center circle in our driveway. I had Jerry dig the roots and big stumps up and remove the biggest pieces with the bucket. It was my job after he moved down to the greenhouse pads to pull the roots out by hand and truck them down to a burn pile using a wheelbarrow. I think I hauled over 100 wheelbarrows of roots in three days from that center bed alone. He and Michael then came behind me with the big equipment and piled the loose dirt into a big hill which I then smoothed out after Jerry left.

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Center Isle March, 2009

Our goal was to work on infrastructure our first year here, only we had to do it on a budget. We put the rental of the big equipment on a credit card which we’re still paying off. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith to get things done. And we know that the tide goes in and the tide goes out, so when we’re low on funds we do grunt work. Either way we’re having a lot of fun! We figured this one week’s work has saved literally hundreds and hundreds of hours in hand work–more to spend with clients and on my website. Not that we would have complained about all the hand labor because it doubles as our exercise program but this whole big-equipment process was just a real eye-opener for me in what big equipment can do.

A retaining wall would have been our first choice to hold in the soil around the center island but we settled for bales of straw this year. I back filled it with woodchips I found close by. We were hoping that once things froze the bales wouldn’t move and it would prevent erosion. We’re crossing our fingers.

Planning ahead. We ordered a few varieties of perennials. Built up the soil by tilling in rabbit manure. We chose deer resistant plants like Echinacea, garlic, daffodils, Veronica, and Siberian Iris. What we hadn’t planned on was free-range cattle! We woke up one morning and found we had to do some repair work because three cows had wandered on through the bed! We’ll be putting up a shorter cedar fence around the bed this spring. We found some 8-11 foot cedar poles for $3-5 each and have been hauling them home little by little each month as we can afford. We also purchased several hundred linear feet of used cattle fencing for only $75 which we’ve been using to protect our growing places with. It pays to read the classified ads! We check them often for really good deals.

Jerry also dug up the roots to this big bed on the north side of the house. Michael and I dug an 18″ ditch so that we could move the propane tank here because it was an eyesore located in front of the house. We dug so many ditches this year we could go professional.

I planted perennial sweet peas where the blue flags are and we’ll put up a trellis this spring after it thaws and hope the deer stay out of here. The fence you see to the right side of the house will eventually be planted with clematis. I’m hoping to have an eye-popping blue and red wall of flowers several feet high once they mature. (Well, actually we haven’t purchased the Clematis yet because we can’t really make money off them. We’re starting with cut flowers and market vegetables which we hope will generate the funds for tools and greenhouses the first two years. Next year we’ll make the beds and get them ready for the clematis–but we’re open to having things happen faster of course.)

Jerry’s first job with the track hoe was to dislodge the roots from Pixie’s Patch. Our blueberry patch was named after one of my favorite patients that passed over this year. Pixie’s owners donated money in her name. Since we weren’t ready to put in the orchard yet (we were planning on purchasing a tree in her name) we purchased several blueberry bushes instead and named the patch after her.  Jerry said he felt like a bull in a China shop starting with the most intricate project first. Luckily he knew how to use that big piece of equipment. He only bent the fence in one tiny little place and he didn’t even run over any of the new little bushes that we had planted just a couple months before he came. I was totally impressed!

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Pixies Patch Feb 9, 2009

The blueberries were protected with netting this year because we didn’t get the fence up in time. Deer love these plants we heard. We had one friend purchase over a thousand dollars worth of blueberries which he protected with electric fence, but when it snowed so heavy last year the fence shorted out and the next morning there were only stubs in the ground–remnants of blueberries past! We didn’t want that to happen to us.

We were actually going to get the blueberries in 2010 but as timing would have it we found that Hays in Lewiston had about 50 varieties last March so we purchased 24 high-bush plants. We read in The Good Life (by the Nearings) that they would be a good income generating item. Since we had acid soil here and it faced the sun we felt it would be a great place for our patch.

The two posts in the front of the picture will become an arbor next year. And we’ll plant flowers and some vegetables between the bushes until they get to their mature height of 5-8 feet. We think we’ll need every inch of protected ground we can muster these first few years. We chose high-bush varieties because we figured we didn’t want to be bending over to pick berries once we get up into our eighties and blueberry bushes live about 30 years.

This year we harvested about 3 quarts from the plants. We expect several gallons next year and up to 75 gallons by the end of year three. We planted early, mid season and late varieties to extend the harvest as much as possible but we’re planning on getting a few more Darrow bushes in March of 2010 because they bloom early and we can start off with a bang each year at market. We’ll let you know!

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Elk Meadow Farm Sunset Sept. 2009

Every day is just spectacular here! We are so blessed to watch brilliant sunrises and fantastic sunsets from inside our home no matter what month it is. Stay tuned for 2010 accomplishments!

The adventure continues. . .