Water, Heat & Smoke: On the front lines of climate change

This is a letter from one farmer to all the eaters out there. This is a small look into how the extreme weather changes from climate change is affecting your farmer neighbors. I hope this will help folks understand what we’re up against, what to expect from your hard-working farmers, farm-workers & ranchers and what you can do to help.


This morning my neighbor and mentor Sandy called with news that set my day in motion and made my heart sink. “We’re out of water. We’re trying to figure something out, but I had nightmares about it all night. This is bad.”

Sandy and her husband Dick are used to their water sources–a ditch and a spring–running dry for a few weeks at the end of August. This year it happened July 18th. And they are not the only ones. I had already planned to go borrow some 50 gallon barrels from some friends this morning to help another neighbor, Jorge, who’s out of water. He bought his place a year ago along with five steers–it was a dream he worked toward for the last 25 years. He relied on the ditch to water them and now he is in trouble. Yesterday we made due hauling 5 gallon buckets from our place to his, but today we needed a better solution.

Sandy had already been preparing for lower flows for several weeks. She put shade cloth on four of her greenhouses to reduce heat and conserve water. She was trying to get more of her mature native plants out the door and decrease her inventory. My other mentors, Andrea & Tony, had seen the drought coming and started decreasing their herd in April to prepare. I followed their lead and didn’t buy cattle this year because I was worried about having enough pasture. We all did the best we could to prepare. Year by year we are trying to build resilience into our soil and systems, but at some point, it is out of our hands. Sandy didn’t know when the water would dry up. Andrea didn’t know her pump switch would fail in the middle of this drought and she’d have to scramble to get animals watered and the pump fixed.

As each of these issues arose for us, we leaned on each other and on other neighbors for help. One loaned us an additional shade cloth. One brought over huge tanks to store water. I searched for 50 gallon barrels to haul water. My dad offered up his 500 gallon water tank. Some friends from town dropped everything to come help harvest a bed of beets that we couldn’t water and pull the shade cloth over the greenhouse. We are working together because we have developed a functional community that acts for mutual aid. What we don’t have is climate policy that will keep this situation from repeating and worsening.

Shade cloth goes over the chiles, eggplants & basil. We are nearly out of water so this is an extra measure to conserve.


The old joke is “if you have to buy zucchinis, you don’t have any friends.” This year I planted zucchinis three times by seed and finally transplanted them into the ground from seed pots. First they were killed off by very low temperatures. Then they wouldn’t germinate because of the very early high temperatures. Now, after weeks over 100 degrees followed by weeks over 90 degrees, they are slowly coming along. I’m a professional–I should be able to grow a zucchini! Bu, the climate change-driven temperatures are out of my hands and the multiple zucchini failures are outside my experience.

One thing many folks might not understand is that each species of plant has ideal heat and soil temperature ranges. Spinach is a spring crop because it hates hot temperatures. Mature plants bolt (go to flower) after a few days of hot temperatures, and the seeds won’t even germinate if the soil is over 85 degrees.

Similarly, while tomatoes love heat, but their blossoms are particular. If the nights get below 55F or stay above 75F, the flowers will drop, which means less fruit. Daytime temperatures above 90F can also cause blossom drop. Prolonged high day and night temperatures are the worst, which is what we’ve had. When I look out at my tomato plants that should be heavy with big green fruit, I see that the excessive heat has left me with only a smattering of fruit and a handful of blossoms.

Perhaps the biggest source of stress for me during the heat is concern for my co-workers and livestock. We have started working earlier and quitting earlier in order to stay safe. Even at 90, much less 100 or 110, folks start to wilt. A farm worker in the Willamette Valley died working during the heat wave in late June. I take this concern seriously because usually by the time folks know they are in trouble it is very serious.

We do the best we can for livestock making sure they have plenty of shade and cold water. My daughter’s bunny even got to live in the luxury of the mudroom for a few weeks during the heat wave.

We just have to make adjustments and adaptations as the temperatures spike but is this a permanent trend? Climate projections says yes. I keep asking myself, how do I keep my co-workers safe out in the field? How do I keep farming when nothing wants to germinate in this heat? I have to be able to plant continuously through the season to feed the people in my community. If I can’t direct seed my crops, I will need more space, more water and more labor to transplant more crops. How can I afford this or ramp up in time?


Smokey sunrise over Twin Butts on Mt Fanny.

Just like heat, smoke makes me worry about my co-workers. I watch the air quality index, require masks, reduce hours, take more breaks, find things to do inside–but it is hard to know what the best course of action is. I still need to farm when it is smokey. My co-workers still need a paycheck and cutting hours hurts them and productivity on the farm. As I write this the bindweed is taking over and beds go unplanted as we try to avoid working outside in the smoke. We will see the consequences of these decisions in a few short weeks when I don’t have enough lettuce to fill orders or miss my window for the final crop of carrots.

One thing folks don’t realize is that unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke also slows down the ripening of produce. Tomatoes can’t ripen without enough sunlight. Even wheat maturity slows when there is too much smoke in the air. Farmers all have a lot of tricks, but no one can make crops ripen when the sun is blocked out.


  1. Be patient with us

We growers are up against a lot right now–water, heat, smoke, and the regular stuff too. Your tomatoes may be late this year. You may not be able to get lettuce in the heat of August. Please understand we’re doing our best to plan and adapt, but we’re seeing problems we haven’t encountered before.

2. Heed the “Bat Call”

When I have an emergency, I send out a “Bat Call” (a text message rather than a spotlight in the sky.) I ask for folks to come help me. Tell your farmer and rancher friends to put you on their “Bat Call” list. Today when I sent out the Bat Call around our water emergency, I had friends and a husband show up and we got done in two hours what it would have taken me all day to do.

3. Push for climate change legislation NOW

Call your members of Congress and tell them to support climate change legislation in the current infrastructure bill (aka “Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework as of July 2021.) This life-changing, world-changing, critical legislation may be compromised out of the bill. Tell your members of Congress you want clean energy production, a Green New Deal, and effective climate change mitigation NOW.

(P.S. Calling is more effective than emailing your reps. It just takes a few minutes! Once is not enough. Do it as daily as possible!)

Find phone numbers for your members of Congress here: https://www.congress.gov/members/find-your-member

Thank you for reading and for acting.

Your farmer,

Nella Mae

We lost one of my favorite white pines to drought this year. Even closely watched and watered.

Tomato Pruning & Trellising Class

June 13th Nella Mae will teach a class on pruning and trellising tomatoes. Pruning and trellising help increase tomato production, plant health, strength and easy of picking.

Nella Mae will go over how to prune tomatoes to maximize production and minimize disease. She will cover the “Florida weave” technique of trellising. She will also answer your questions about growing tomatoes.

The class is 10-11am on Sunday, June 13th at the farm (69361 Antles Lane, Cove, OR.) The cost is $8 per person or $15 per family. The class is free to folks who stay for the weeding party from 11am-noon.

You will take home a handout and materials for trellising.

Please pre-register by filling out this form (link) or contacting Nella Mae at 541-910-4098 or farmer@nellamaesfarm.com.

May Classes at Nella Mae’s Farm

Nella Mae will be teaching two more classes at the farm on May 8th, 2021. The farm location is 69361 Antles Lane, Cove, Oregon. It is the second driveway on the left on Antles Lane. Look for the farmstand in its new location.

Classes are $8 per person or $14 per family. Cash, check, Venmo (@nellamaesfarm) or CashApp ($nellamaesfarm) are accepted. Weeding Party volunteers can attend a class for free!

  • 10-11:30am: Better Grazing for More Pasture class- Simple rotational grazing methods to avoid over grazing, control weeds, and lengthen your grazing season. This class will help you better graze any species on small to large pastures.
  • 2-3pm: Weed management for the Home Gardener- Different methods for controlling weeds in the garden and weed identification. Bring your questions!
  • 3-4pm- Weeding party. Anyone who joins can attend a class for free.

Click here to register for a class.

Please note:

  • Kids are welcome, dogs are not.
  • Please bring warm clothes and you may need mud boots.
  • Classes will be held outside, but please help us by bringing a mask and socially distancing as everyone in our community is not yet vaccinated.

When you register, you will get an email confirmation with more info. Call or email Nella Mae if you have any questions. farmer@nellamaesfarm.com or 541-910-4098.

Anti-Asian Racism in Agriculture and Our Communities

Two weeks ago eight people, six of whom were Asian American women, were targeted and gunned down at work in Atlanta. I can’t express how horrifying the terrorism, racism, and misogyny of this attack is. This kind of attack isn’t new, but it has been happening more over the last pandemic year. There have been thousands of racially-motivated attacks, particularly against elders in the Asian community. Imagine that. Imagine your own grandparents or parents being targeted at the grocery store or walking down the street. It is excruciating.

As I have followed the news and read about the Atlanta shootings, people in the AAPI community have expressed intense fear for themselves, their families, and their neighbors to simply be out in the world. I am very concerned for the safety and well being of my AAPI friends, neighbors, community members, and fellow farmers and ranchers. And we should all feel intense concern. The people who have been attacked are our grandparents and parents. They are members of our community and state and nation.

While many white Americans like me might interpret the Atlanta shooting as “random,” the underlying causes are racism and misogyny. When we are silent about what’s really going on and why, it erases the truth and perpetuates the deep and ongoing root causes.

My words are not sufficient or important except to help call up fellow white folks. There are many people who are speaking up about anti-Asian racism and how these most recent attacks have affected them, and we all need to listen. And we can’t stop there. We have to actively dismantle the racist system that lead to the murders of Asian women in Atlanta; the murders of Latinx shoppers in an El Paso WalMart; the murders of Black women and men in asleep in their homes and jogging in their neighborhoods; the thousands of disappeared Indigenous women; those attacked in their houses of worship for being Jewish or Muslim or in their favorite night club for being gay. We have to dismantle and oppose racism and prejudice in our work places, our homes, our families and ourselves because it is the root of the violence that we see.

WWII Japanese Internment Camp“WWII Japanese Internment Camp” by MarcCooper_1950 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I call on folks to join me in remembering this kind of anti-Asian sentiment is not “out there.” The Pacific Northwest and eastern Oregon where I live are steeped in anti-Asian history. In 1893 La Grande, Oregon where my local farmers market is located, an armed mob of 200 white people marched Chinese immigrants out of town and burned and looted their businesses. The relic of the “Chinese Underground” where Asian-Americans were forced to live and do business is now a tourist attraction in Pendleton, Oregon. During World War II, Japanese-Americans were interned in concentration camps. Many Japanese farmers in our region permanently lost their land. Decedents of these farmers live in our communities and have never received restitution for the time lost, the property lost or the betrayal and heartbreak.

I was thinking about these stories today as I read a letter of solidarity from the National Young Farmers Coalition, of which I am a member. I encourage folks to read the letter and keep going from there. Here’s an excerpt that broadened my understanding.

The U.S. has a shameful history of creating policies designed to deny, limit, and take away access to agricultural land and economic viability for Asian Americans. These policies were lobbied by white-led institutions and policy makers, agriculture associations, lenders, and farmers and ranchers who felt economically threatened by Asian American farmers. These strategic racist policies include but are not limited to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1913 & 1920 Alien Land Laws, the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1935, and 1942 Executive Order 9066 and the ensuing theft of more than 250,000 acres of Japanese American-owned land. Anti-Asian xenophobia has also been expressed through U.S. imperialism, which is intricately connected to militarism and misogyny, from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, to military control in Okinawa and Guam. We continue to frame recent events through a zero-sum lens, from the China trade war and scapegoating blame of economic decline on China. This narrative permeates agriculture, where a mainstream portrait of the U.S. farm economy portrays a sector principally threatened by China in order to obscure the responsibility of our domestic agricultural policies.” 

National Young Farmers Coalition, April 5th 2021,

I also encourage folks to listen to this conversation between Justine Yan and R.O. Kwon and read Kwon’s essay here. It is a powerful expression of how many of our AAPI neighbors, friends, and family are coping in the aftermath of the Atlanta shooting.

Here’s an article on supporting your AAPI colleagues and friends at work. Again, don’t stop here.

Thank you for reading.


Nella Mae

Nella Mae’s Farm is Hiring

We’re looking for two Farm Assistants for the 2021 growing season. Please read on for more information.

Feel free to email or call Nella Mae Parks at farmer@nellamaesfarm.com or 541-910-4098 to discuss position before submitting application. Please do not contact us via text or messenger in regards to this job.

Farm Assistant Positions Now Open

Background: Nella Mae’s Farm is a small vegetable farm growing for local markets. We sell to restaurants, retail outlets, through our on-farm farmstand, and at the La Grande Farmers Market.

Farm Assistants experience first-hand what it takes to manage a diverse small farm through the growing season. The work is physical and mentally engaging. Farm Assistants help with harvest, planting, weeding, irrigation, pruning, trellising, and other production tasks. The work is varied throughout the day, the week, and season. It is a great job for someone who likes to work outside and likes to learn new skills.

We value our employees and appreciate the skills and ideas they bring to the farm. We have a friendly, organized workplace with clear procedures and daily objectives. We have a strong sense of community and teamwork on our farm.

Farm or gardening experience is not required. Interest, curiosity, and a strong work ethic go a long way.

COVID note: We require masks and appropriate distancing until further notice to keep all our employees safe.

Wage: Starting at $13/hour.

Work Schedule: 10-30 hours per week. Schedule is flexible but harvest days are required–Tuesdays and Fridays. Daily schedule is 7am-12pm, lunch, 1pm-3pm.

Term: June-Oct

Job Description: The Farm Assistant will work with a team of other workers under supervision of the farm manager. The Farm Assistant will be involved in daily fieldwork with instruction in pest and disease control, soil health, and irrigation and water management.

  • Field work: includes field preparation for planting, transplanting, weeding, thinning, pest control.
  • Greenhouse: seeding, transplanting, watering, trellising and pest control.
  • Harvesting: Field harvesting, washing, sorting, and packing salad mix and vegetables.
  • Record keeping: Assisting with planting, harvest, farm activity records.

This position also provides an excellent learning experience for someone who is interested in agriculture, food and running a small business and who enjoys being outside. At the farm we strive to provide learning opportunities for all employees per their interests.

Qualifications: We are looking for a hard-working, self-motivated person who is able to communicate well. The Farm Assistant must be able to work quickly and deftly with their hands. This person must be able follow direction of the farm manager and provide constructive feedback about operations. Attention to detail and adherence to our food safety procedures is critical. Applicants should be ready for physical work and to lift 30lbs regularly. They should also be able to work outside in all weather conditions from rain to heat. We invite a person of any skill level to apply for as long as they are excited to learn and work outside.

How to Apply: Please send the following to farm owner Nella Mae Parks at farmer@nellamaesfarm.com: 1. A cover letter of 1-2 pages explaining your interest in the position and availability; 2. Current resume and; 3. A list of three work references with contact information. Please email as attachments in MS Word or PDF format.

Feel free to email or call Nella Mae Parks at 541-910-4098 to discuss position before submitting application. Please do not contact us via text or messenger in regards to this job.

More information about the farm at www.nellamaesfarm.com and on Facebook and Instagram.

Tips for Starting Tomatoes

It is March 1st, so it is time to start thinking about starting your tomatoes indoors. Below I outline my tips for starting tomatoes in my climate, zone 6B in northeast Oregon.

Tip 1: Don’t start too early! They will catch up.

In northeast Oregon zone 6B, it isn’t really safe to transplant your tomatoes outside until June. The earlier you start your plants, the more of your house they will take over before they can go outside. Also, the earlier you start them, the deeper the hole and the more time it will take to transplant them outside.

I shoot for a plan that is about 8 inches tall and no more than 12 inches. However, my friends at Val’s Veggies in Medical Springs plant them much smaller and they catch up easily. Seeing how Val’s does it has made me want to plant smaller and smaller plants. I think smaller starts are generally more healthy because they have less time to develop problems or get leggy.

I think planting any time in March is safe for a healthy crop. Maybe try planting some tomatoes early and some later in March this year and see what works for you. Notice if the starts catch up with each other in size before planting and what happens with transplants too.

Tip 2: One seed per pot

I’m all about reducing complexity and work down the road. If you can carefully put one seed per pot or planting tray cell, it is a lot easier than trying to carefully disentangle tiny seedlings or thinning them later.

Tip 3: Big, deep pots

I like to start my tomatoes in large, deep tubes because I don’t have time to transplant 400 plants up from small trays. If you do start in small trays, make sure you transplant up to larger pots once they get bigger. Remember there should be at least the same depth for roots as you have for the shoot above ground. What I mean is you don’t want a two foot tall plant in a shallow pot. It is better to have a pot that is too big than too small.

Tomato starts in deep tubes.

Tip 4: Lots of light

Many people ask, “why are my tomatoes so spindly?” Answer: Not enough light! If your plants are consistently “leggy” your window isn’t doing the trick and you need a grow light.

Tip 5: Watch for disease & pests

We have trouble with mice getting into our greenhouse at night and mowing down young tomatoes and peppers. We set traps to reduce loss. Slugs will do the same thing, so consider leaving Sluggo pellets around your plants.

If you’re a smoker, do not touch your tomato plants without gloves. Tobacco mosaic virus can easily spread from your hands to tomatoes and it is bad. Give your plants the best start.

Tip 6: Whack ’em back

If your tomatoes get really healthy, and tall with thick stems, you can whack them back without worry. If they are making a jungle in your house or just getting too darn tall, it is important to prune them for a better transplant. Again, you want a 50/50 root to shoot ratio. If anything, you should have more/deeper roots than you have shoots above ground.

Remember to pluck off flowers and fruit before you transplant them. Both just waste your plant’s energy at the beginning of the season when they should be putting on vegetation rather than fruits and flowers.

Tip 7: Don’t transplant too early!

At our farm, we’ve had frost as late as Father’s Day often. If you plant before Father’s Day in June, be vigilant. You can use “Walls o’ Water” or remay/cloche to keep the frost off, but they only provide so much frost protection.

At our farm, we plant tomatoes inside the hoop house about May 15th and plant outside after Father’s Day. A lot of folks in our valley say, “wait to plant until the snow is off Mount Emily.” So you can try that if you want.

Keep an eye on the 7-day weather forecast to look for a good time to plant. I know the weather report for our farm is usually correct when it comes to precipitation, but wrong on the forecasted low temperatures. I usually just subtract 9 degrees to the forecast for a more accurate estimate.

Again, if your plants are huge but you don’t think the conditions are right for transplanting, just prune them back and wait.

Those are my tips! Thank you for reading.

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae

Letter in Support of Double Up Food Bucks

The Oregon Legislature is reviewing two bills that would give state funding and support to the Double Up Food Bucks program. Here is my letter in support of these bills.

Click here to learn how to submit your own testimony by 9am Feb 2, 2021.

Double Up Food Bucks cards from the La Grande Farmers Market

February 1, 2021

Chair Gelser and Members of the Committee,

My name is Nella abdae Parks, and I am a farmer in Cove, northeast Oregon. I am writing to request your support for SB 440 & 555.

SB 555 and SB 440 support the expansion of Double Up Food Bucks Oregon, a SNAP incentive program with a proven record of success. For every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods at participating farmers markets, farm share programs, and grocery stores across the state, shoppers will receive a dollar to spend on Oregon-grown fruits and vegetables.

This program is important to me for two main reasons. First, it increases access to fresh, locally grown food for my neighbors, and second, it increases sales for my farm.

I accept hundreds of dollars of Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) each Saturday at the La Grande Farmers Market. Shoppers who use their Oregon Trail EBT card also get a $10 match at each market to buy more produce grown by local farmers and ranchers like me. Just like the Oregon Farm Direct Nutrition Program, Double Up Food Bucks help food benefit dollars recirculate more times in our rural community than if they were spent at a big box store. My business directly benefits from DUFB purchases. My employees benefit too because of the income the program brings to my business.

The impact of DUFB is not small. At our medium-sized, 5-month long market, shoppers use over $10,000 per year in DUFB to buy healthy, local produce. This money benefits many farms in my county and region and can make or break a slow day at the market. Furthermore, the DUFB program results in higher Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) spending at our market as well. Double Up Food Bucks is both an incentive to shop at our market and a welcome sign showing our community we really want everyone to shop with us.

The La Grande Farmers Market started our Double Up Food Bucks program about four years ago. In the first two years we received grant funding for the $10 matches. The program was so popular and so well supported by all shoppers at the market, we were able to fundraise about $10,000 per year from grants and local donations for the last two years to support the program. However, the grant funding is not sustainable for the long term.

SB 555 and SB 440 would assure the long-term sustainability of the DUFB program for our market and our shoppers. Double Up Food Bucks is not a complicated or convoluted safety net program–it directly addresses food insecurity and nutrition by putting dollars in the hands of folks who need them and directing them towards the purchase of healthy, fresh food from local farmers and ranchers.

Furthermore, many of the vendors at our farmers market themselves are low-income, so DUFB directly benefits even more low-income people.

Given the deep economic impact and loss of life and income during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the Double Up Food Bucks program is more important than ever. More and more of my neighbors are in need of both food assistance and work. I am able to provide both through produce sales, produce donations, and by hiring local people. During COVID there has been a great increase in demand for my produce, and I have hired more people, produced more food, and provided a free food pantry at our farmstand. I am shopping for my elderly neighbors and helped our school meal program reach elderly residents and students. I feel I am doing all I can with my neighbors to help my community, but I am just one person and one farm. I urge Oregon’s senators and representatives to do all they can and support the citizen efforts on the ground like Double Up Food Bucks.

The power of our state government is to help address the problems and build the things that are too complex, too large or too global for us to address ourselves on the community scale. Please support the citizens of the state support our neighbors by passing SB 555 and SB 440.

Thank you for the consideration and for your service to our state.

Nella Mae Parks
Nella Mae’s Farm
Cove, Oregon

Get Your Garden Ready for Frost

We have had a mild summer and fall this year on our farm in Cove, Oregon. The usual Labor Day frost didn’t touch us, but now it is the end of September and frost is inevitable–possibly tonight, September 27. Here are some tips on keeping your garden going a little longer this year.

Frost nipped the top of the pumpkin plants in early September.

Tip 1: Prioritize

Covering your garden every night and uncovering in the morning is tedious, so first prioritize what you really care about and what you can feasibly protect.

By September at latitude 45 north, no flowers will amount to mature vegetables–there just isn’t enough warmth or daylight left. Zucchini is the exception, but you might be tired of zucchini and glad to see it go anyway.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Not all your crops need frost protection.

Anything in the Brassica family–kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage–will make it. Lettuce and other leafy greens are also cold tolerant. Root vegetables are protected by stable ground heat. In my family, we dig carrots for Christmas dinner.

Many folks like to leave root crops in the ground and cover with straw for extra insulation. I tried this and even covered the straw with plastic. The mice ate 300 feet of carrots and were happy for their warm, dry home. I prefer to leave them in the ground without creating a mouse house, and have had no trouble with them freezing, especially once the snow falls and insulates them.

Basil can die above freezing–at 35F!
Crops that need protection.

Protect tomatoes, peppers, basil, flowers and any very young seedlings you planted for your fall garden. Remember–basil can die at 35 degrees or lower, so it needs extra protection.

If you bravely planted Dalias, rosemary or other crops that are marginally successful in my zone 5b, you need to come up with a plan to protect them over the winter.

And don’t forget about your potted plants. Above ground their roots will freeze, so bring them inside or dig a hole and put the pot in the ground.

Tip 2: Quicken Ripening

Our most beloved plants didn’t evolve in the northwest. They come from Mexico or Italy–Mediterranean climates. Give your plants more clues that it is time to ripen.

Your indeterminate tomatoes are probably flowering like there’s no tomorrow, but it is time to tell them the end is nigh. Hack off any flowering parts of the tomato. Pinch any flowers from peppers and keep the basil flowers pinched too. Cut way back on water so plants are “shocked” into ripening. Tomatoes need water 0-1 times per week at this point in the season.

If what you’re trying to ripen is flower seeds to save, cut off the water all together.

Photo by Richard Fletcher on Pexels.com

Tip 3: Watch the Weather

Every morning and late afternoon, I check the weather forecast. I want to know the nighttime low and weather the skies will be cloudy or clear. I don’t ready the NOAA forecast or anything fancy. User friendly weather sites for non-weather nerds are fine.

Frost is most likely to form on your garden if the nighttime low is near 32F and the skies are clear. Cloudy skies trap more heat and result in warmer nights. A weather forecast of a low of 35F and cloudy skies doesn’t alarm me as much as a forecast of 38F and clear skies. However, I always cover if the forecast is below 40F because I just sleep better.

We cover tomatoes outside the hoop houses with remay and boards keep the remay in place. We pull twine between the trellis posts to keep the remay above the tomatoes where it could get wet, touch, and freeze the plants. Photo by Evy Wallace.

Tip 4: Cover Up

Once you’ve prioritized which and how many plants you want to save, find covers you can use to keep frost off your plants at night. The idea with covering is to physically block dew from settling on your plants, freezing, bursting plant cells, and killing vegetative matter. The frost you can protect against is basically frozen dew.

Often the lowest temperatures will come after wind blows a storm through in the night. Your coverings must be able to withstand nightime breezes so you don’t have to get up at 3am to fix them.

What You Need
  • LIGHT WEIGHT, DRY coverings
    • Tarps or plastic sheeting
    • Remay, bedsheets or fabric
  • Weights or straps to keep covers in place.
    • Jugs or buckets of water
    • Boards or rocks
    • Bungees or ropes criss-crossed over covers

Testing out your frost protection system ahead of time is key. While their not pretty, I leave my coverings and weights right next to where they will be used so I can easily cover if the forecast unexpectedly changes.

uncover your plants & Keep covers dry

Especially if you use clear plastic, you can burn your plants up during the day if you leave the covers on. If you leave the covers on, the plants will get less light to ripen fruits. Also, keep the covers dry during the day. If you put wet covers on your plants, the covers themselves could freeze and freeze your plants.

Photo by FOX on Pexels.com

Tip 5: Melt Frost with Water

If the nighttime lows are forecasted to dip near 32F just before sunrise or you forgot to cover up, you can opt for spraying frost (frozen dew) off of plants before it has the chance to freeze plant cells.

In order to effectively melt the frost off and save your plants, you MUST spray it off BEFORE sunrise and continue to spray it off until AFTER sunrise.

The coldest temperatures occur after sunrise. Temperatures continue to drop until the sun is able to overcome the cooling of the earth. If you spray frost once but the temepratures are still below freezing, the water you added to your plants will freeze again. You have to use continuous water to keep the plants warmer and frost from forming. If sunlight hits tender vegetation with frost on it, it will blacken and die.

You can set up sprinklers around your garden and turn the sprinklers on in the morning or set them up on a timer to start before sunrise for frost protection. Just remember to drain your hoses every night so they are ready to use in the morning and not frozen themselves.

Photo by Anna Urlapova on Pexels.com

Tip 6: Observe Your Backyard Weather

Weather forecasts are general for your area, not specific to your garden. I have learned through the years that the forecast at my house is generally warmer by 5-9 degrees. That is to say if the forecast in Cove, Oregon is a low of 40F, it will be between 31-35F at our garden and may freeze. The forecast is perfectly accurate a quarter mile away at my friends’ house.

I have an indoor/outdoor thermometer and I keep mental track of the afternoon forecasted low versus the actual low at our house. Make sure you mount the outdoor thermometer near the ground where it is colder. Over the years, observation has allowed me to make the 39 degree rule–I will cover if the forecast is 39 or below. This rule just makes it easier to decide when to go to the enormous trouble of covering the farm.

I hope you are able to keep your gardens going through the nighttime temperature dips.

May we have a long, warm October.

Your Grateful Farmer,

Nella Mae

Wildfire Preparedness for Everybody

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Today is September 16th, 2020, and 40,000 Oregonians have had to evacuate their homes. About 10 percent of our state’s population, 500,000 people, are in an evacuation zone. Thousands of people on the wetter, rain forest side of the state never expected to face catastrophic wildfires. They expected the earthquake, the “big one” perhaps, but not fires that incinerate entire towns.

In central and eastern Oregon, we are accustomed to the smoke and fires that pile on the worst month of the year–August. Every three years or so, there are fires very near to one of the towns in my county, but until last week, we didn’t have an evacuation plan or “go bag.” Of all people, I really should have one because I need a plan for evacuating livestock and hardening a whole farm to fire.

I have been pulling my head out of the sand about wildfires inch by inch over the last year. Many of us were deeply disturbed by the fire the destroyed Paradise, California. Paradise felt so familiar to many rural mountain towns. I pulled my head out of the sand a little more as my family and I planned to build a house in the woods on our farm. We have made design choices to maximize fire resistance.

I have done a lot of reading and research in the last year about wildfire, and I finally have an evacuation plan and “go bags.” I want to share here what I’ve learned so far. I hope you take it to heart, make your plan, and get prepared for something I hope you don’t have to face.

Long Term Preparedness

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Here are things to do not way ahead of time–not in the midst of evacuation.

Preparing your home, whether your rent or own, is important to increase the chances of protecting it and your belongings. If you have a house to come back to after a wildfire, you will recover faster economically and emotionally.

I’ve learned there are three components to think about: vegetation, house materials, and insurance. These are boring topics. Sorry grownups!


Usually, fire moves through vegetation like a ladder from the ground up into the tree tops or into your home. You want to keep fire from getting on the first rung of the ladder, which means removing pine needs and keeping grass green or dry grass mowed. Keep dry vegetation from accumulating in the corners of your deck or underneath. You also don’t want to create a ladder of dry vegetation (like our glorious hops vines) onto your house, surround your house with stacks of firewood or landscape with kindling (aka, wood chip mulch.) I’ve read that you want a buffer of five feet of no vegetation around your house. From 5-30 feet from your house, you want to landscape with fire-resistant plants, limb up trees to six feet, and thin trees whose canopies touch.

Here’s what we’ve done so far: At our farm, we rotationally graze our cattle and then horses (who crop the grass shorter) throughout the season to keep our vegetation low, especially near our house and buildings. Even my daughter’s rabbit, Bunny Jane, pitches in keeping the grass down. My husband has limbed up all our trees up to six feet so that the small, dead lower branches don’t create a fire ladder. Finally, because we’re in the middle of house construction, we expanded our water system and added a lot more spigots near our road and throughout the property to keep vegetation green and to put out fires. I still haven’t been able to give up the hops climbing our barn.

House Materials

As we’re building a new house, we have been able to choose materials that “harden” our home to fire. We have chosen fiber cement siding (Hardie board), a metal roof, a cement deck, and fiberglass (rather than vinyl) windows. I have also learned a lot about the importance of screening your vents, cleaning your gutters, and blocking your eaves from the CalFire wildfire preparedness program.

CalFire has a list of inexpensive retrofits on their website including gutter covers and stove pipe screening. If you’re a renter, when windows, roof or siding needs to be replaced, talk to your landlord about using materials that harden the home.


Renters insurance is really useful for more than just wildfire. I’ve used it as a renter to recover my belongings after a pipe burst, and a friend of mine used it when he was in a bicycle wreck with a pedestrian. Theft and other events are covered too. If you’re a landlord, please encourage and assist your renters in finding insurance.

For home and property owners, check your policy on an annual basis. When I checked mine, I found great news! Our company, Mutual of Enumclaw, covers wildfire and will even send a private company to apply fire retardant around our home if it is in danger at no cost to us.

Evacuation Preparedness

Here is what I have learned to do so far if we do have to evacuate.

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Make an Evacuation Plan Plan

Here’s what we’ve done: My parents, husband, a few neighbors and I have made a verbal evacuation plan together. I have also written everything up and shared it. We have agreed on the WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, and HOW we will evacuate.

We plan to begin evacuation early before or during level 1 (level three is the highest.) We have discussed the order in which we will move things if we have time (camp trailers first, livestock second) and who will take which animals in which vehicles. We have made sure our vehicles are in working order, trailer tires are aired up, and trailers are easily accessible. We have also discussed our options for where we would go and where we would take our livestock. We have discussed the different routes we can take to leave our valley and who might host us out of harm’s way.

You may not have livestock or a farm, but I’m sure you have specific concerns of your own to think about. Who’s picking up grandma? What medications do you need? Do you have an irreplaceable keepsake at the bank safe deposit box or a storage unit? Do you have a physical disability that will make it harder to evacuate?

Preparedness for Humans

You need a “Go Bag” or “Go Box” that you can toss in your car and leave quickly. Wildfire preparedness educators suggest you need to think about the 6 P’s, but I’ve added a few more: People, pets, prescriptions, phone, photos, important papers, plastic (money & credit cards), and personal computer/hard drive.

Emergency preparedness educators say we all need a “Go Bag” that will sustain us in multiple kinds of disasters. The problem is, this ain’t cheap. Although I have scrounged what we already have for the Go Box, I have spent $150 on further supplies and I don’t have everything I’d like together. Maybe it is something worth building over time so you don’t have to plunk down so much cash at once.

Here is a basic list of what should go in your “Go Bag.”

  • Wallet/purse with ID, money and credit cards
  • Face masks or coverings
  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
  • Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
  • Prescriptions or special medications
  • Sanitation supplies, toiletries, towels
  • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Change of clothing
  • An extra set of car keys
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight or headlamps and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Phones & laptops with chargers for wall and car
  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
  • Pet food and water
  • Camping & sleeping stuff including folding chairs

For me, secondary things I want to take if I can are:

  • Instruments
  • Photos on the wall
  • Expensive stuff & stuff that will quicken recovery. For me this is my saddle, rototiller, and extra rolls of greenhouse plastic. Obviously taking this stuff would mean evacuating very early.
Preparedness for the Home

If we have to evacuate our farm and home, these are some tips I picked up from a lot of articles and podcasts. Do these things well before you have to evacuate. Some of them could become regular summer tasks.

  • Temporarily cover attic vents so embers can’t get inside (you can make metal covers ahead of time and have them near the vents at the ready.)
  • Move flammable outdoor furniture away from house
  • Move furniture inside house away from windows & remove drapes
  • Move any firewood, flammable vegetation away from house (I will have to tear down my hops!)
  • Close all windows, vents and skylights
  • Turn OFF propane or natural gas lines to your house and buildings
  • Leave ON electricity and water
  • Leave ON all outdoor lights for firefighters
  • Turn OFF sprinklers–leaving them running can reduce critical water pressure
  • Leave ladders out and available for firefighters
  • Leave gates open and doors unlocked
  • Leave hoses attached to hydrants/spigots for use by firefighters
Preparedness for Animals

This week I wrote an article about livestock evacuation and preparedness for the Capital Press. I interviewed a couple who evacuated their entire dairy goat herd 300 miles to escape wildfires in the Willamette Valley. I think their experience and tips are very valuable to learn from. (Luckily, their place didn’t burn!)

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The main points to know when evacuating livestock are: 1. Ask for help early, 2. Evacuate early, 3. Take what you’d need for 24 hrs.

To prepare a animal/livestock “Go Bag,” I recommend taking a look at the American Veterinary Medical Association website. They break it down by species so it is very useful!

Preparedness for your Community

Once you’ve planned out how to prepare your home, family and animals for wildfire and evacuation, look to your neighborhood and community.

Put people into your plan that might need extra help. Who needs a ride? Who has pets or livestock?

The best thing you can do to help your community is have a good plan and evacuate early. This will free you up to help others and free up resources that can go to someone else.

Thanks for reading!

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae