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

Fall planting and overwintering

August is usually a time when the mowing, weed eating, weeding and other garden chores ebb and the harvest peaks. A few yellow leaves off the cottonwoods are starting to fly, and the nights have that edge-of-fall chill. It may feel like harvest and canning time, but it is also time to start planting for fall and winter crops. Just think of this–for many years my dad and I have had the tradition of digging carrots for Christmas dinner. Wouldn’t you like to be eating the sweetest, brightest carrots too? If so, now is the time to plant.

Our overwintered Bolero carrots.
The Planting Season is the Whole Season

One of the biggest differences between a typical home garden and a market farm like mine is the frequency of planting. To extend the season, home gardeners can simply plant 1. small amounts, 2. more often, and 3. longer into the season.

As a market farmer, I start planting in the greenhouse in February. If it is dry enough, in April I start planting the February starts and seeds outside and in the hoop house. I consider my planting season weekly or bi-weekly from April through mid-September in my 6b hardiness zone.

Home gardeners will have less space than I have on the farm, but the concept is the same. Plant partial rows or plots weekly or bi-weekly throughout the season. Each week you can use a small hoe or hand hoe to prepare a small spot for a few feet of lettuce, beets or scallions. Spend 10 minutes planting a small space rather than putting in 20 feet of radishes. You cannot eat that many. I know the temptation once seeds get into your hand to plant until the packet is empty, but hold back!

How I Plant Season Long

As soon as one crop is pulled out of the ground, I prepare the soil for the next. I plan ahead and cut water to crops that I know only have one more picking so that I can harvest, pull, till and plant right away. I want the soil to dry out so I can till or hoe it into a proper seed bed. Make sure you remember to baby your seeds along with ample water (even if it is hand watering) through germination and into the true leave stage before you forget about them and treat them like the mature plants.

Scallions are a great fall and overwintering crop.
Pick the right varieties

If you want to expand your planting season, you need to buy the right seed. For spring you need “cold hardy” varieties. For spring you need “main crop” varieties or those that don’t seem too picky about heat or cold. For summer you need “heat tolerant” or “slow-bolting” varieties. In the fall, you return to your spring varieties. For winter you look for “overwintering” varieties or cold tolerant crops that have 120 or more days to maturity. Also, anything called “Russian” is a good indicator it is cold hardy.

If you buy your seed from companies with good seed descriptions, you will be better off. I like Johnny’s Select Seed for the very specific growing information and High Mowing and Baker Creek Heirlooms for the variety.

Use row cover & plastic

Row cover (aka cloche or remay) is a wonderful way to protect your fall and overwinter crops from cold and pests. I use Agribon 30 weight because it is the most durable. You can make hoops from number 9 fencing wire or 1 inch schedule 40 PVC thick wall pipe (don’t buy thin walled PVC.) You can make short “feet” and pound them into the ground and bend your PVC hoops over them. If you leave your row cover on all season, make sure to cover with clear plastic too. The weight of snow will damage your row cover.

Many folks use straw to protect the roots of crops they overwinter such as carrots. Some folks cover the straw with plastic too. I tried this on a 60×60 bed and made a perfectly warm, dry mouse house. They ate all my carrots. Now I just leave my carrots uncovered in the wilds of winter and they do just fine.

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Crops for fall

Think about fall crops as those you eat the leaves or roots of as a guide. No tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers or basil. Think about eating things from norther latitudes, not from the Mediterranean or Mexico.

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Scallions
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Peas
  • Cilantro
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cover crops

You can plant any of these crops now (mid-August) in zone 6b, but you can use the Johnny’s Selected Seed fall-harvest planting calculator to get more precise. The calculator is based on the last day of 10 hours of daylight at your latitude. In Cove, Oregon on the 45th parallel north, it is November 4th. Count backwards from there for planting dates by crop.

Here is my fall planting plan for our latitude and based on November 4th. Keep in mind, these are possible crops for each date–you don’t have to plant everything every week. One thing not on my list here are radishes. They can be planted pretty much any time after the heat abates.

Overwintering Crops

As I mentioned, carrots are great for overwintering. Look for “storage” or “overwintering” varieties like Johnny’s Bolero or Napoli. I had great luck with Bolero.

Other crops that are fun to try overwintering are kale, chard, broccoli, greens like mache & Claytonia, leeks, parsnips, and onions. Remember to pick the right variety and get all the info for best planting dates and practices. I really recommend overwintering chard.

Seeds that spring up

At the end of the season, I generally throw out a lot of pea, dill, and cilantro seed. It overwinters in the ground and comes up very early in the spring when conditions are right. It you can eat the pea shoots and young herbs in delightful spring meals you will appreciate after a long winter.

I hope this was helpful to you! Happy planting!

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae

It is time for city hall to support the farmers market

This is an excerpt of a letter I sent to the mayor of La Grande. The recent permit issues uncover the underlying need the farmers market has for stronger city support.

Please write the La Grande City Councilors and 1. Thank them for reversing the market permit decision and 2. Ask for the specific support I list here for the market.

Email your comments to rstrope@cityoflagrande.org by 5pm Monday, June 29th with the subject line “Public Comments for July 1st City Council Meeting.” You can also reach the city councilors directly:

Dear Mayor,
I hope this finds you well.
I am glad that the city reversed its course on the market.
This situation has me thinking about the rather tenuous position the market is in. While Stu is very easy to work with and very supportive of the market, I don’t get this feeling that city hall is. The La Grande Farmers Market draws hundreds of people downtown twice a week to shop. It is one of the only regular tourist attractions, and markets are becoming expected by tourists. We have dozens of downtown sponsors because of the value we bring to downtown. However, we still pay rent at Max Square. We still have regular, protracted negotiations about usage of Max Square. For example, the negotiation to put up the sun shade over the stage seating (which we offered to fundraise and pay for) was year-long process which was held up by a single citizen’s opposition. A few years ago, we were kicked out of Max Square with three weeks notice for Max Square reconstruction. The market was not considered in the reconstruction schedule although we are the most frequent user of the space.
My question is this: How can we change this relationship? When will city hall see the value that the market brings to the community, citizens and downtown? What can the city do to start supporting the market in a real way?
As a member of the Oregon Farmers Market Association, I know that many cities in the state either provide staff, funds, or other support for their markets. To date, the market receives no money or resources from the city and our use of Max Square is tenuous.  I know many cities across Oregon would pay big bucks for a market as vibrant and established as ours. In short, I think city hall takes our market for granted and assumes its permanence.
2020 is the market’s 40th year of bootstrapping existence. The community’s support for the market is clear. The value the market brings to downtown is clear. Perhaps in this toughest of the 40 years, city hall could provide some support in words and deeds. Here are a few ideas:
  1. As mayor, write an op-ed in The Observer in support of the market.
  2. Establish a city fund supporting the market which could help pay for overhead market costs or the manager position.
  3. Improve signage for the market. (We paid for the construction and installation of the signs over the bus stop.)
  4. Build a bathroom at Max Square to accommodate the market and other events.
  5. Promote the market with local citizens to help us grow our customer base.
  6. Develop a long-term agreement with the market to ensure our ongoing use of Max Square.
  7. Waive the annual rental fee during this difficult year and maybe forever.
  8. Establish a working group between the city and market to create a strong relationship and come up with other ideas to keep the market strong downtown.
I’m sure the market staff, board members, vendors and shoppers have many more ideas.
Let’s use this situation to create a better partnership so we can have a strong market for 40 more years.
Thank you,
Nella Mae Parks
Nella Mae’s Farm
Note: I am a market vendor and not a farmers market board member. I do not speak for the board.

Why we should re-open the farmers market in Max Square

This is an open letter to the La Grande city council and city manager who suspended the farmers market’s permit to use Max Square, a city park, due to concerns about COVID.

If you’re concerned about the market and want to see it back in Max Square, please email your comments to rstrope@cityoflagrande.org by 5pm Monday, June 29th with the subject line “Public Comments for July 1st City Council Meeting.” You can also reach the city councilors directly:

To the La Grande City Manager and City Councilors,

First, thank you for your public service during this difficult time. I know you are facing the same personal challenges that the COVID outbreak has brought as well as leadership challenges. You are working to make decisions that balance concerns about the recent outbreak with the impacts restrictions place on local people and businesses.

As a small business owner and farmer, I too am working to balance the need to protect my employees’ health and paychecks with the need to keep my business viable. I raise produce in Cove and sell it to local restaurants, retail establishments, and directly to my customers at our on-farm farmstand in Cove and at the La Grande Farmers Market in Max Square.

The early shut down of restaurants highly impacted my revenue, but I was able to make some adjustments and find sales outlets in new places. However, when the city suspended the farmers market’s permit to use Max Square last week, I had to start cutting employee hours. The farmers market makes up 60 percent of my sales income.

I am baffled by the city’s decision for three reasons:

  1. We know that outdoor shopping is the safest way to get groceries,
  2. The farmers market followed all the mask, distancing, and hand washing requirements laid out in May by the city without complaint, and
  3. Neither the city nor the mayor have provided evidence, reasoning, or timeline for the permit suspension or ability to discuss returning to Max Square.

There are many reasons that the farmers market permit should be reinstated by the city council at the July 1st meeting.

The market follows precautions–better than grocery stores

Our market manager worked with city employees to adopt strict mask and distancing rules, which are enforced at the market.

  • All vendors wear masks and we provide masks to any customer who doesn’t bring one.
  • We provide a mobile hand washing station for vendors and customers.
  • Vendors provide hand sanitizer for customer to use.
  • We mark six foot spacing in front of booths to help folks line up at a distance.
  • We space vendor booths 10 feet apart (when in Max Square and on 4th street.)
  • Vendors do not allow customers access to the produce or goods to avoid touching and handling.
  • The market is outside where spread of COVID is unlikely if folks are wearing masks and distancing.

There are many more guidelines and rules we are following which can be found on the homepage of the farmers market website: www.lagrandefarmersmarket.org. In my experience shopping at other grocery stores around La Grande, most of these precautions are not being made.

The city’s suspension makes the market less safe

Due to the dedication of market employees and board and the generosity of EONI, we were able to hold the farmers market in the EONI  parking lot last week. This space is very crowed and does not allow us to have 10 feet of distance between market stands. It also leaves less room for customers to socially distance.

Current space constraints will permanently hurt the market

The market will be permanently damaged by a prolonged exclusion from Max Square.

First, the market manager told me yesterday she doesn’t have enough room at the EONI parking lot to accommodate all the produce vendors. One vendor who has been coming to the farmers market for the entire 40 years it has been around doesn’t have a spot for Saturday.

Second, while the move around the corner to the EONI parking lot seems small, it is certain customers will not find the market. In my experience working with the Baker City Farmers Market, a two block venue change took years for customers to return at previous levels. My experience talking to other members of the Oregon Farmers Market Association confirms that market venue changes have lasting, deep affects on sales and the customer base.

Produce is on now–it won’t wait and people need it.

The produce is ready now. If vendors cannot get a space at the market or don’t come because the venue change has decreased customer traffic, the produce will go to waste. This impacts the viability of small farms and small businesses like me who are already struggling due to the loss of other sales outlets.

People need this produce now. The farmers market is an essential business that feeds people of all incomes across our community. The market has a robust SNAP program and dedicated customers. We also provide a SNAP match of $10 per customer per visit, which means low-income customers are able to make their SNAP dollars go further. This is particularly important as more people are utilizing SNAP and unemployment continues to rise.

Vendors & community members rely on the market economically

Due to the rippling impacts on our other sales outlets, the farmers market has become even more essential to farmers. People are staying at home, cooking more, and buying more produce. The market could buoy our struggling small farm businesses–unless the customers can’t find the market or vendors can’t attend the market due to space restrictions.

Furthermore, many of the vendors who attend the farmers market are already on the edge financially. For decades the market has provided a place and a customer base for community members to make extra money selling produce, baked goods, art, woodworking and more. Right now, the market is only allowing food vendors to attend in our restricted space, which means folks who could really use the extra market cash now are shut out.

I urge the city manager and city council to work with the farmers market to reinstate our permit and allow us back at Max Square. We are willing to following any rules that will keep our customers, vendors and the community safe. We want to feed people and keep our businesses afloat and keep the market open. 2020 is the La Grande Farmers Market’s 40th anniversary, and it is more essential than ever to keep it open.


Nella Mae Parks, Nella Mae’s Farm, Cove

Former La Grande Farmers Market board president





Tips for Growing Tomatoes

I have been getting a lot of questions from new gardeners at the farmers market about tomatoes lately. Can I plant them now (May)? What’s the best way to plant them? Why are the plants I started so spindly? I want to give my best tomato growing tips for northeast Oregon to help you have a bountiful season.

Tomatoes are funny in that they are not very hardy (not resistant to frost) but in all the other ways, they aren’t too picky or difficult to grow in northeast Oregon (zone 5b.) Here are my tips.

1. Rotate your tomato bed

It is a good always a good idea to change up the places you put crops in the same family each year or every few years. This helps prevent crop-specific pests and disease from establishing in the soil. With tomatoes it is important to rotate because they are also “heavy feeders.” They can deplete the soil and if you don’t give the soil time and other plants to help it recover, you won’t have vigorous tomatoes in that place.

2. Wait until after Father’s Day

I think the safest thing to do is wait to plant your tomatoes until after Father’s Day in northeast Oregon. My poor husband has woken up to me cursing like a sailor on Father’s Day when I walked outside at 4:30am to find that the weather forecast was off by 10 degrees–it was 30 and freezing my tomatoes, not a safe 40. He spent the first three hours of Father’s Day rushing around with me in a continual circuit spraying frost off tomatoes, then returning to spray again before the water froze until after sunrise.

If your plants are screaming to get out of their tiny pots now, get some potting soil and pot them up into larger containers. You can also prune them smaller when you pot them up. If you just can’t wait until Father’s Day to plant, either get some wall-o’-water at the gardening store or cover them with plastic or sheets nightly for awhile–it is easy to get surprised by frost. Either way, you’ll have to keep a close eye on the weather forecast and subtract 5 degrees from the estimated low to be safe.

We used Wall-o’-Waters in my first adult garden. Shown on right.

3. Plant deep or horizontally

Tomato plants need lots of roots to keep them upright and mine the soil. If you have tall plants, first take off most of the lower leaves with scissors or pruners. We plant them so 60-80 percent of the plant is in the ground, and 20-40 percent is above ground. You can either: 1. Dig deep holes or 2. plant them horizontally.

At the farm, we dig little trenches with a hoe and lay the plant horizontally in the hole. Since tomatoes can make roots from any part of the buried stem, this gives the plant a solid root base as they grow. The same happens if you plant them deep.

4. Pick off flowers & fruit

If your tomato transplants (starts) have fruit or flowers on them when you buy them or are ready to plant, pinch them off. Your plant needs to focus energy on making shoots and leaves, not flowers and fruits to begin with. Many tomatoes are indeterminate, which means they will continuously flower up until the day the frost takes them. If you pinch flowers now, you will still get plenty later.

5. Trellising

Home gardeners usually use tomato cages to keep the vine-y plant upright so the fruit is off the ground and easy to pick. Cages work fine, but are kind of expensive. At the farm, we use the “Florida Weave” to trellis our tomatoes using posts and twine. (We actually just use old irrigation tape instead of twine now, but twine works great.) Please do yourself a favor and watch this great video on how to do the Florida Weave.

These are our tomatoes trellised in our hoop house.

6. Pruning

Tomatoes are so easy to prune and pruning is worth the effort! You just have to get comfortable taking a lot of vegetative matter off the plant and learn what suckers look like. Suckers always come out of the main stem at a 45 degree angle. This is a really great, quick video that will help you learn to prune. At the very least, prune the lower leaves and branches so that none are touching the ground and picking up disease.

7. Deep, long watering

Transplanted tomatoes need frequent watering to get them over the transplant shock. After they are recovered and putting on growth, it it is time for deep, long waterings. At the farm we water every three or four days for three hours. Daily watering can cause the fruit to split. Long waterings help encourage deeper root growth which helps with stability and resilience. Think about deisingin your irrigation set up so you can water the tomatoes separately from crops that don’t want that much water.

8. Freeze them!

I will never miss a chance to encourage folks to roast and freeze their tomato bounty. You don’t need to spend every weekend canning tomato sauce. Just roast tomatoes in the oven and bag or jar them in the freezer. You can make sauce, salsa, etc all winter long. Check out my recipe here.

Thanks for reading!

Your grateful farmer, Nella Mae.


Tips for Growing your Victory Garden

If you’ve been thinking about starting a Corona Victory Garden, I am writing to say, it isn’t too late in the season! No matter where you live or your climate, you can always plant seeds and enjoy the freshest produce you’ve ever tasted. No matter how much experience or space you have, you can grow a garden and your farmer is here to help you get started.

I started gardening like an adult with three roommates in 2011. Our landlord allowed us to garden in the front and back. Our motto was “food, not lawns!” The neighbors had mixed feelings until they started finding bags of produce on their porches.

The garden we grew (below) is, well, not the tidiest. You can do better than we did in that department. Or you can go wild with the rain barrels and the corn patch and sunflowers.

Before: Prepping the front yard garden with my roommates.

After: Our garden in full production.

I want to help you garden

A big part of what I want to do at the farm in 2020 is host gardening workshops and classes. I finally have enough experience to share with you all! I hosted a terrific class in early this year (before Coronavirus made it dangerous to do so) with 25 people in attendance, even on a snowy, cold day. I wish I could be hosting more classes right now during the peak of our camas bloom, but alas. Instead, I am hosting regular Zoom meetings, called “Garden Hour with Nella Mae,” where I answer your garden questions. Check out my calendar or Facebook page for the next Garden Hour as well as on-farm classes once it is safe to host them again. I am also trying to get your questions answered with this blog. Please let me know what topics you’d like to see.

Choosing Your Seeds

Check out my earlier blog post about reading a seed catalog. Even if you’re buying seeds off the rack at the hardware store, this will help you understand a lot of vocabulary.

Also, check out my resources page for handouts I’ve made for early/beginning gardening, irrigation, and more.

seed catalogs

Prepping your soil

I have had great luck turning over sod at rental houses (with permission mostly) and getting a productive garden in year one. There is a lot to say about prepping your soil, but the most important thing is to add organic matter (dry, fluffy compost) each season and to avoid compacting your soil by tilling or walking on it when it is wet.

My next blog post will be about prepping and amending garden soil, but for now, check out this article in Mother Earth News for some tips.

Tips for starting your garden

1. Start with the “tried & trues.”

If you’re new to gardening, don’t start with asparagus or blueberries. Start with the “tried & true” crops that are easy to grow and you can eat this season. (Asparagus and blueberries take a few years to produce a crop and have finicky soil requirements.) I suggest starting with these crops.

  • Roots- Radishes & beets
  • Greens- Spinach, lettuce & kale
  • Herbs- Cilantro & basil
  • Fruits- Tomatoes & cucumbers

I suggest buying tomato and basil plants to transplant into your garden because they are susceptible to frost. I suggest waiting until after June 15th in northeast Oregon to plant out these plants due to frost. Everything else you can “direct seed” into your soil now. You can also direct seed basil seed in June for continuous harvest.

Carrots can be tricky. They need careful monitoring and watering during germination. if you are careful with

2. It ain’t gotta be fancy!

Don’t think you need to buy expensive boxes or expensive seed or expensive tools. Start small with what you have and make improvements and changes year by year. Grab that old dresser marked “free” on the sidewalk and use the drawers to make planter boxes. Use the hoses and sprinklers you’ve got and add to your irrigation system as you go. It is better to see how things work first and buy things to match your needs.

At our rental house there was a broken hot tub when we moved in. We didn’t have a truck to haul it away, so we filled it with soil, made a glass lid and gardened in it when it was snowy. You might have a higher sense of decorum than I did in my early 20’s, but the point is, use what you have!

You can see the hot tub greenhouse at the bottom of the photo.

3. Grow what you actually eat.

There is something about the possibility that seeds embody that makes us loose our heads. Universally, we buy too much seed. We buy things we don’t actually eat because they are intriguing.  Just stick to five or 10 crops you actual eat on a weekly basis. This will also mean you actually save money on food.

Tomatoes from my 2011 garden.

4. Plant in succession

Beginning gardeners don’t realize that planting is an ongoing activity, not a one time thing. At the farm we plant on Wednesdays all season long. We plant greens every other week ensure a continuous supply and replant crops that we pulled out or that were not vigorous. The same week we pull broccoli, we’re putting new broccoli starts right back in. In planning your succession, choose varieties that are “early,” “main season,” “heat tolerant,” and “overwintering” to take you through the whole season and into next spring.

5. Weeding

Weeding never ends, but it is also seasonal. You will have more weeds in the early spring, so focus more weeding time then. Devout an hour or two a week, but if things get away from you, it is ok. You can recover.

My weeding philosophy is this: there will always be weeds; there will always be new species of weeds; take it one day at a time; enjoy the meditative process; get the roots; keep them from going to flower or seed; there is an ebb and flow to weeds–it isn’t static.

The weeds got away from us this year in a few lettuce beds, but we plugged away and spent some quality family time pulling them.

6. Watering

Different plants need different amounts of water. As a general rule, deep rooted plants like tomatoes and peppers need water less often for longer. Shallow rooted plants need water more often for less time. It is best to water in the morning or at night rather than the heat of the day. The hotter it is, the more water needed. Seeds need constant moist soil to get started.

7. Make your experiments small.

It is fun to try strange or new plants. Do it! Enjoy your experiments but focus on your main eating crops. Our rule on the farm is we only allow 10 percent of time and space to be spent on experiments. This year’s experiments include a row of fava beans, a row of bulbing fennel, a row of cress, and some new varieties of herbs including saltwort, cumin and leaf celery.

Best of luck!

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae

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The summer bounty in our garden in 2011.

Food is for eating & enjoying–not wasting

“The best thing we can do with food is to eat and enjoy it–not waste it.”

This is the message Tristram Stuart delivers in his TED Talk about food waste. His presentation and the fact that more people are at home cooking during the COVID outbreak put me to thinking a lot more about food waste lately. I want to share some stories and encourage everyone to appreciate food more by wasting less.


Lessons on Food Waste

Growing up on a farm, we wasted very little food. We had pigs, chickens, and compost to feed our waste. As a child, I slopped the animals. I watched my dad delight at the steam coming off the compost pile in the winter. Over the years through the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, I’ve learned a lot more about how to enjoy and fully use food.

1. Ecuador: I remember watching my host mother, Margarita, crack and egg and wipe the whites out of the shell with her finger to get every last bit. I remember thinking how much sense that made–it shows respect for the value of the food and it is cleaner than dragging strings of egg white across your counter. But I wondered: why have I never seen someone do this before?

2. Other kitchens: After every meal preparation, my friend Rossi would gather up all the naked rosemary stalks, celery tops, potato peelings, bones, shrimp peelings and other things I would put in the compost or trash. He would zip it all into a bag and pop it in the freezer. During the weekend he would use these scraps to make stock. Only after squeezing every last nutrient and flavor molecule out of the scraps would he compost them. Again, I thought, why have I never seen this before?

3. Foods we look down on: When you travel outside your country, you see that in many places other folks eat with less waste. People in the US often look down on the food culture of other people, but as omnivores, our extreme squeamishness about some foods seems silly. In travel I’ve seen whole fish served with the head on–people eat the eyeball and cheek meat first because they are the most tender. Margarita cooked dishes with every kind of organ meat–tongue, pancreas, liver, heart–to show me I had prissy food assumptions. I have learned I like broiled beef tongue and pancreas stew. I learned from rancher friends Andrea and Tony Malmberg that “the heart is just another muscle” and barbecued it is amazing. (Unfortunately, I haven’t come to love liver yet, but I always save the beef livers from our beeves and find people who love liver. It is a real treat for them.)

4. Ashley’s Roadside Oranges: Last week local artist Ashley Barnes drove upon a pile of oranges that had fallen off a truck. Ashley is quite a cook and baker, so she collected them and took them home. Although they were past their prime, she peeled them, dried them and made orange powder for baking and cooking with. Where others saw trash, she saw an opportunity. I’m with Ashley. I am known to dodge traffic on Cabbage Hill for roadside potatoes and onions.



Why Food Waste Matters

Carbon emissions: When food goes into the garbage instead of nourishing you, animals, worms or compost, it “rots” anaerobically in the landfill. This means your wasted food produces methane gas which is among the worst of greenhouse gases–worse than CO2.

Land & Wildlife: When we reject imperfect food or waste it instead of eating it, more food has to be grown to feed us. We are deforesting the Amazon to grow soy and sugar cane. We are turning wild places into agricultural land and displacing plants and animals. This is not hyperbole–you can draw a line from food waste to food production–it is called supply and demand.

Wasted Effort: Our prim expectations for perfect looking food or our lack of imagination when it comes to using produce that is old or wilted is a problem. Think about the water, seed, effort, and time that made your food. Think about the farm workers bent over for long days picking your food. Think about animals who became our food. We can honor effort and life of our food by eating it and enjoying it rather than wasting it.

Our chili powder and roasted tomatoes are made from 100% ugly or unsold produce.

Tips to eat and enjoy more of your food

1. Embrace the imperfect foods

As a farmer bent over all day growing fresh, nutritious food I have a hard time with the expectation that it also look absolutely perfect. That’s not how plants grow! They don’t all ripen at the same size or shape. They sometimes look a little weird. My mom says, “use soft eyes” to appreciate and eat the uglier of the food. It is also better to assess food with your eyes than your hands–your handling creates damage that leads to more food waste at the market and grocery store.

2. Properly store your food

The fridge is dry and vegetables are alive! If they are a stock (celery) or have a way of taking up water (heads of lettuce, herbs), try storing them in a glass of water on the counter rather than in the fridge. Try mesh bags for things that usually get slimy. Otherwise, use your crisper–it is more humid and dryness is death to veggies.

The correct storage of living vegetables is key to reduce waste. This bag was not the right choice for greens!

3. Rescue sad veggies

If something goes limp, just cut off the root end and stick it in a glass of cool water to revive. For roots, fill a Tupperware with cool water and submerge. Stick it back in the fridge and they will perk up.

If they don’t refresh, well, that’s what stir fry is for.

4. Plan your meals

This is the best way to avoid needless trips to the store and food waste.

5. Triage your food before you start dinner

Maybe you’re planning on spaghetti, but before you start boiling water, triage your fridge. If you see broccoli going south, again, that’s what stir fry is for.

6. Use your scraps

Like Rossi, let’s save our scraps and make stock. Save your veg scraps, bones, and even shrimp peelings to make stocks and broths. Everything you cook is better cooked with stock. Here are some recipes for shrimp stock, beef stock, and vegetable stock. These are starting points so don’t buy anything. Use what you have.

7. Freeze ahead & after

Double your recipe and freeze quick meals. Are you tired of eating lentils? Freeze them and use later rather than overdosing on left overs. Most things freeze! Milk, rice, cheese, butter, whole bananas, soup, etc. Just leave head room for freezing expansion.


8. Preserve your food

Most food will preserve by pickling, canning, freezing or drying. Google it!

9. Make new products

My mom suggests searching for recipes for using avocado and peach skins for face masks and other skin products. (I’ll never forget the first time I saw a hippie in Eugene eat an avocado, flip the skin inside out, and rub his skin with it!)

10. Get chickens or worms

Most of our kitchen and farm food waste goes to making eggs. It is a magical thing. Worms are a good alternative if you can’t have hens. Order worms online or find the Red Wiggler Worm Ranch in Union to get started with a  worm bin.

Our chickens eating scraps

11. Compost

Not everyone can have chickens, plus they don’t eat citrus, avocado or onion peels. Try composting. Listen to this great podcast about how to get started in composting.

For more ideas on how to decrease your own food waste, here’s another enjoyable podcast.

Here’s to eating and enjoying our food more!

Your grateful farmer,

Nella Mae

Cleaning our cull Brussels sprouts.




I’m your farmer, and I care about you.

As I write this, disruptions from COVID-19 are rippling through all aspects of our lives. It is surreal, strange, and scary. I sat down to write to you to tell you a few things. I want to buoy you if you’re feeling scared or need help, and spur you on to help others. I care about you. We are here for you. We need you.


I am your farmer/neighbor/friend, and I care about you.

If you need help, if you need someone to talk to but you’re not sure who, please call or email me. I will figure out how to help. We’re all in this together, and I really care about you. nellamaesfarm@gmail.com, 541-910-4098.

You are needed right now.

There are folks have lost jobs and wages; who can’t leave their houses to get what they need. I challenge everyone to adopt one neighbor or friend and integrate them into your thinking as you cope with this situation.

Who do you know without family near by? Who do you know with underlying health or mobility issues? Who do you know who works at a restaurant or other closed business?

Find out what this person may need, and keep checking in. Things are changing and it is hard to ask for help.

If we all adopt someone into our lives right now, we will build community resiliency for whatever is to come.  Building more connections now can help you and your neighbors in the future with problems big and small. And when the danger has passed, you will be more integrated and connected in your community. Think of all the potlucks, holiday cookies, and stories you’ll reap by sowing neighborliness now.


What we’re doing in Cove

On Friday a group of volunteers sent out a letter to everyone in our Cove zip code. The letter states support for our neighbors and offers a list of resources. Folks can sign up for help or to volunteer online, by phone, or by mailing the letter back to us at the farm. Volunteers will adopt neighbors who need support, and keep track of them as we ride this whole thing out.

Cove School District is offering free breakfast and lunch to anyone in Cove Monday through Friday starting March 30th. Meals are available for pick-up and home delivery.

Cove Ascension School took everything out of their pantry and kitchen and made a food pantry on the front porch of their office. It is open to everyone. The Cove Methodist Church is still running the food pantry on Tuesdays and the 4th Saturday of the month.

We opened Nella Mae’s Farmstand on March 27th (very early this year) to provide easier access to food. We have limited supplies of greens, but we also have plenty of eggs, bread, baked goods, coffee, tea and a box for people to share free supplies and food.

Let’s make this easier on each other.

In my last blog post, I gave many suggestions on how we can make things easier on each other. Check it out here.

I wanted to add one more suggestion:

Let’s make this easier on each other by practicing resiliency in our thoughts, deeds, and words. It may be easy to feel trapped in your home, barraged by bad news, thinking your neighbors don’t care about you. But mostly, your neighbors do care about you, regardless of your politics or your past rows. Your farmer cares about you too.

Instead of acting out a bleak Hollywood apocalypse movie, let’s take advantage of this forced slow down to make things better.

  • Let us mend some fences and build some bridges;
  • Let us reroute catastrophic thinking and start taking days one at a time;
  • Let us be impeccable in our on and off line language to perpetuate compassion and cooperation rather than fear and mistrust.
  • Let us keep our cool. We cannot all flip our lids at the same time–we have to take turns. (I might claim Tuesdays if you don’t mind. 🙂

We’re in this together.

My best to all of you.

Your farmer,

Nella Mae





Ordering grass-fed beef

Here at Nella Mae’s Farm, we offer grass-fed beef in the fall. Spring is the time to put down a deposit on your beef for fall.

beef promo

How it works: Customers purchase by the quarter, half or whole animal.  That means you get all the cuts from that quarter animal (steaks, burger, roast, soup bones, dog bones, and some organ meat if you want.) We arrange the on-farm slaughter and meat processing. After two weeks, we’ll let you know when your beef is ready to pick up in mid to late October.

Customers pay by the carcass weight. The finished product weight is 55-65 percent of the carcass weight. Customers also pay a slaughter fee and for the cut and wrap of the meat.

What you get: Actual quantities vary based on the size of the individual animal and cuts you request. Every butcher varies somewhat based on their style and processing facilities. You will make cut choices based on options provided by the local butcher. By rough example only, each quarter receives (on average):

  • Steaks cuts: 1-2 pkgs each New York, petite sirloin, rib steaks, flank steaks, eye of round, tri-tip, filet mignon, prime rib, chuck
  • Steak cuts: 2-3 pkg each T-Bone, top sirloin
  • Roast cuts: 1 pkg each tri-tip, sirloin tip, London broil
  • Pot roasts (arm, chuck, shoulder): 3-4
  • Rump roast: 1 pkg
  • Brisket: 1 pkg
  • Stew meat: 3-4 pkgs
  • Kabob meat: 3-4 pkgs
  • Short ribs: 2-4 pkgs
  • Ground beef: 20-25 lbs
  • Soup bones: 2-3 pkgs
  • Heart, liver, oxtail, tongue & dog bones upon request

A Quarter Beef ranges from 100-200 lbs hanging (carcass) weight, $5.00/lb, or about $475-$950 for the quarter. Slaughter fee is included, but you pay but you pay the per lb cut and wrap fee. You get 65-120 lbs of meat for your freezer.

A Half Beef ranges from 200-350 lbs hanging (carcass) weight, $4.90/lb, or $940-$1,650 for the half. Slaughter fee is included, but you pay the per lb cut and wrap fee. You get 130-230 lbs of meat for your freezer.

Butcher Shop: We use Hines Meat Co in La Grande as our butcher. Customers pay the cut & wrap fee which is currently $0.70/lb. You have a choice of vacuum packed or wrapped in brown paper, which is what I recommend.

How much freezer space do I need? A quarter beef requires approximately 3.5 cubic feet of freezer space or the majority of the space in the freezer of a standard kitchen refrigerator/freezer. A half will require a small chest freezer and should easily fit in a 7 cubic foot model.

 Deposit: A $100 non-refundable deposit is due for all first time customers.

Contact Nella Mae for questions or to sign up. 541-910-4098 or nellamaesfarm@gmail.com