Squaw Creek: Summer Homesteading in Washington State

Ronald L. Engeland talks more about his homesteading in Washington State and the second summer of events his family has been through in their rural homestead.

| November/December 1975

Here we are, about to dig in for another winter after our second busy food–growing season. No two summers are alike, and this year we've run into new problems that taught us more about gardening in our difficult climate. Maybe some of you trying to cope with similar conditions can profit from our experience.

Squaw Creek: Summer Homesteading in Washington State

First, a couple of successes: You'll recall that we decided to consider our grainfields sown after our improvised harvesting technique strewed the area with shattered kernels. The broken heads just lay there all winter, while a good two feet of snow fell and the temperature hit 20 below zero. Then the last of the white blanket melted in three days of heavy winds (April 15 through 17). The wheat began to sprout within a few weeks, and looked much thicker — with no work at all — than the crop we had hand–sown the year before. We disced the wheat under, in the middle of June, as a green manure crop. Our present plans are to sow winter rye in the fall, along with a mixture of grass and clovers, for future hay.

Another bit of good news is that the alfalfa and clover we planted last spring — as cover crops with the barley and oats — came on very strong this year . . . perhaps thanks to cool, wet weather (in fact, I'm writing this on August 12 and summer still hasn't really come). We harvested approximately 6 tons of hay off a bit less than 3 acres.

Otherwise, this was a difficult year for gardens. Four nights of hard frost the last week in June got most of the squash and beans. The pole beans and soybeans, though shriveled right to the ground, did come back all by themselves, but by that time it was too late for them to develop. No other crops were affected . . . partly, I think, because I was a confirmed dryland farmer right up until the dust started getting thick in mid–July. At that point I set up my gravity–feed sprinkler and watered on a regular cycle . . . but it's possible that the lack of water earlier in the season made my plants hardy enough to withstand those 26–degree nights.

This year we planted a fifth of an acre in main garden. I started out by covering the area with a heavy mulch. Unfortunately, however, a portion of the mulching materials was leftover wheat and barley which we hadn't hand–threshed during the winter. Big mistake. Believe me, those little seeds were just as viable as the ones that had lain on the ground all winter and produced our green manure crop . . . and they soon grew up to be a real pain in the fingers. We wasted a lot of time pulling weeds and grassy grain, and the more we yanked out by the roots, the more that grew to take their place. Then, at the end of July, 5 inches of rain fell in one night. The weeds — especially the pigweed, which had sprung from seeds in the cow manure I'd dumped on the land — actually doubled their size in a few days and kept on growing until the garden was almost lost. No mulch could be seen under the jungle of wild plants.

In desperation I took off every bit of covering, cultivated heavily, and pulled weeds until you couldn't see a thing except vegetables anywhere in the garden. That cleanup, plus a little daily working of the soil, finally licked the intruders. You won't be surprised, though, to hear that I never replaced the mulch and have little inclination to do so next year.

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