I think many this day and age ask themselves, what can I do? I know I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years. I vote, I volunteer, I donate, I do what I can for my local communities…but I wanted to do more. More for me, more for us, more for you, more for this mother earth and more for the future generations of this planet, so they don’t have to live on the dry and dusty rock ball we are headed for. The world and planet are changing, there is no question about that. So the bigger question is, what can I do?
I’m going to tell you a story, about how we found permaculture, What I believe is the answer to life and all its riddles.
Like the start to a lot of recent stories, Covid pushed many out of their comfort zones, but we decided to push further than we could have dreamed. Hi, my name is Jesse (37), and my fiancé Kristin (38) and in 2020 we decided to sell our small 2-acre farm outside of Portland, OR and make a bigger change in life. We had some experience on our little farm, grew many of our veggies, raised chickens, eggs, small herd of milk goats, and the occasional cow would find its way into the pasture (Kristin LOVES cows). Looking back, we could have done so much more with that property, but we ultimately were not happy in the location and living in a 1920s home really had its own challenges. We wanted to focus our efforts in other productive ways. So, we decided to look for some land in Eastern Oregon, a place we have always found ourselves drawn to whenever we go camping and exploring. Someplace to plant some roots. The high desert does something to your soul. Plus, we were just tired of all the winter rain!
As the year went on, we paid off all debt, cleared the clutter from our lives, physically and mentally. You see our goal here was to move once and only once. Invest in ourselves and retire early. So, we searched and searched. As the year progressed it got harder and harder to find land (we were looking for 50+ acres), even more so with a decent house. A place to start the rest of our lives. In November of 2020, we found it, but it wasn’t going to be an easy task. Selling a home and buying is never fun. Its stressful, exhausting, and tests your patience to the ends. Ours was tested…. continentally. One day, camped out in a friend’s yard... waiting for final appraisal on our new property. Kristin tells me about this “Permaculture Summit” and it’s starting today. “Let’s do it”, I said. “I need something to listen to while I work”. So, we watched and learned…our eyes opened, a little wider with each speaker, Food Forests, Swales, Water management and so much more. We had already planned to expand our garden and grow our own food, but this just exploded with ways to grow more, give more, take in more CO2, restore the dry arid desert soils and provide.
This is the only answer to the world’s problems, and I am going to do something to give back to my planet, with the hopes that my little life raft will take care of us as we do her.
So how about this property? Most of our friends didn’t even remotely understand our interest in this property, to them it is filled with sagebrush, dusty, dry desert, 2hrs from any major services (Hospital, Groceries). It’s funny how people look at things and the basis the put on them. Frankly we are glad no one else saw what we did or else we would not be here today. We moved in on May 6th and we will never leave. 160 acres located in the SE corner of Oregon, one of the most remote places in the state and has the darkest skies in the US. The Alvord Desert.
If you have been here, you know what it's like and likely cannot even begin to explain the feeling this place brings. It's silence and clarity. More need to experience this place. For those around the world, Alvord is a dry lake bed roughly 12miles long and 7 miles wide. Being in the rain shadow of the Steens Mountain range causes a very mild and dry climate, we receive over 300 days of sunshine and only 7in of rain annually. Most of the property is sagebrush and other native plants, its needs serious help! Native grasses grow towards the edge of the property that touches the Alvord. During my observations, the water is literally running off the property, so it makes sense why more grasses are growing downhill. Around the house is where it gets exciting though. There is LIFE! So many trees have been planted. Fruit, shrubs, Nitrogen fixing Black locust, maple, Ash, Aspen, so much more native grasses. The previous owner was on to something…she just didn’t know what. Our water is provided by an artisan well @ 145’. Instead of pumping it’s just bubbles to the surface, it also has a byproduct…our Pond. Currently stocked with goldfish, its roughly 30ftx30ftx4ft and year around. I'd like to learn how to expand this in the future! How did we find this life giving treasure in the middle of the desert, we don’t know, but we are meant to be here.
We know this journey is just getting started and there is much work to be done but when it’s the right work, it's worth doing. I am happy to have found my people, my tribe. I am humbled to give back this ancient land and just be happy, centered and balanced.
It's so nice to finally meet you all! I look forward to this journey, together.
Sounds like an awesome adventure! I am also just outside of Portland, on 0.7 acre with 0.5 of it in permaculture food forest/forest garden that is about 12 years old and doing great overall.
Of course your new place is in a very different environment, but I'd be happy to share what I've learned. I started writing down my "lessons learned" a few months ago and it's up to 12 pages which I'd be happy to share.
I bet your pond & wetland attract a lot of wildlife. My first thought when I saw the pond photo was "bat house". I've built about 15, and lead bat walks at a nearby wildlife refuge. Bats will help cut down on insects in your area, mostly moths and flies.
If I was in your shoes the first thing I would do is find a "wild"/"undeveloped" area near you that has similar conditions as your property and observe it carefully. Learn every plant that is growing there and its function in that ecosystem. Then find plants in the same family or that perform the same functions which are useful to you and which grow in your USDA zone - edibles, materials, etc. Those are the plants that are likely happy to grow there and which will hopefully make you happy.
Yeah we get ton of wildlife, we are actually in migration pattern for many of the birds in the Great Basin and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I have seen large cranes fishing in the pond. Lots of native birds, raptors, etc I would love to provide a way point for those animals, stop and take a drink and grab some berries. Our neighbors were complaining they eat all their raspberries, I thought to myself, plant more then! We can share the bounty! I have seen very few bats, but they are around. Bat boxes are on the menu! The mosquitos are terrible haha
Yes I have been doing that, learning all the plants and watching their interactions with nature. The property actually has a fault line that runs through it, native trees and shrubs spring from it with vigor! I suspect the ground water is finding it way closer to the surface in these areas. Soils are a bit Alkaline
Re: very few bats, that is probably because I don't see any suitable bat roosts. Although I bet the bats have explored every nook and cranny of your house exterior to find a suitable roosting spot. If you put up a bat house I think your chances of occupancy are very high. And yes they eat mosquitoes too but will go for bigger insects first.
Re: birds, it would be great if you learned to identify them and logged them via ebird etc. The free Merlin app does a pretty good job of identifying birds via their calls and you can post to ebird from it. I bet there are very few data points from your area, I think your observations would be quite useful to bird science. Speaking of bird science, here is an intriguing device I saw on kickstarter: https://www.terralistens.com/ Basically an automated ebird, but you can also use it to listen to your birds on your bluetooth speaker or phone. A bit geeky, but if it becomes popular it will be quite useful to science. I'm curious if you have ever seen or heard a Vaux's swift in your area? If so I have another project for you to consider, which I am building for my yard (vaux's swift roosting cylinder made from used cedar fence boards).
Re: birds eating your crops, that will definitely happen. Often, planting more "bird food" just means more birds will come. I use fine mesh over the plants I'm not willing to share such as blueberries. Otherwise when I see birds start pecking on my fruit I know it is time to pick them. But if a whole flock shows up they will get it all. So I have to watch very carefully to only let the birds get a little. And they do of course come back after I harvest and get anything I missed, which is fine with me. You can of course do things to discourage birds such as raptor perches, predator bird houses, etc. But you'll need to observe and think through the long term impact of those things.
Been some decades since I hiked the Steens and visited the Malheur refuge. Really beautiful, ....... somewhat of a worrisome status as they are as minimally protected by legislation as they are obscure as a destination. But that may have all changed quite a bit over the years. Food forest may be a challenge there, but I suspect using the general concept in that region of the irrigation ditch, you may be able to make some use of the meager rainfall and spring melt. If I recall, some of the abandoned farmsteads there had what looked like orchards and the remnants of gardens. Maybe with a Permaculture touch you could produce a modified version of what occurred along the Wasatch front, transforming high desert into a fertile garden. If you are committed to the region, it may be worth as well tapping into Oregon State U. extension information on farming in that region.....taking what would fit with a permie approach and leaving other elements behind. As for "Soils are a bit Alkaline", that is legendary.... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax_Lake_(Oregon)
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”― Albert Einstein
This area has seen some really increased traffic over the years and due top Covid, 2020 was record. Its actually why the seller decided to move. Alvord hosts all types of large gatherings. There is usually a rave happening during the summer weekends but things calm down as the seasons change. We have actually taken it upon ourselves to talk with BLM about some more management out here. The playa is getting beaten up by the increased travel. We will do what we can, our property line actually extends into the playa so it makes things a little more interesting... The trees that are here on the property have taken hold very well. We host a few apple, peach, cherry, apricot, and plum. As well as some, Ash, Aspen, Maple, and Black Locust. These species are doing very well in this environment and other locals have had luck with planting biggest issues being lack of organic matter in the soils. I can walk my yard and one spot its sandy nothing and 5 feet away down slop we have growth, trees, grass and other native species its far more fertile. This soil just needs some love, its wants to thrive and live. These range lands have been over grazed and striped of there nutrients. All they need is a permie to come in! :D
We are neighbors, sort of, Our place is close to Monument Oregon. Moved here 6 years ago from Eastern WA. Have spent our time installing rainwater harvesting systems, building a greenhouse and planting 350 trees and gardens.
If interested we could share what has worked and what has failed. perhaps we can exchange email or phone numbers, but unsure of how that is done on this site.
Best of luck, Geoff
Wow, very cool! I have thought a lot about trying to live in eastern Oregon or NW Nevada for years. There are so many great natural areas and the skies are so dark at night! I spent a few days in Frenchglen while attending a UO historical preservation field camp - we worked on the hotel there. Anyway, good for you! Awesome! I'd love to see more pics and/or follow your progress.