Farms=Food

Perhaps it is not often reflected, that food is a necessity to live. I would argue, that at least, in industrialized agricultural societies, food is not a focus. We have all been brought up to know that grocery stores are places to get food, and that the shelves are always well stocked. Maybe some of us have experiences a natural disaster in which scarcity of store bought items was very real. Many Puerto Ricans are experiencing this right now, and many other impoverished people throughout the world who are abused by first world industrialization taking natural resources for “first world” manufactured goods.

For example, the love of canned beverages, from beer and energy drinks to those flavored carbonated waters, demands water a the main ingredient. Many of the processing facilities are located in developing nations (because it’s cheaper), it’s also easier to bully small communities for their natural resources. Here in The USA, we think of our liberties, law, and freedoms entitle us to water, food, etc. That’s not how commercial development thinks, or corporations, which are people in the eyes of the law. This is beginning to chip away at our consumer rights, and abuse the very land we stand on. This story is nothing new, but in our backyards, in a world of ever expanding population which is growing exponentially. Finite resources are clearly lost in the capitalistic concept of exponential growth, which drives our military industrial complex.

Our economy has overrun the quality of life for our citizens and the government (which is for the people by the people, meaning us), is selling out to the highest bidder, making our democracy and plutocracy and taking the whole ship down with the crew, so to speak. Here’s how it’s playing out at Leafhopper Farm:

IMG_7299IMG_7300

IMG_7301.JPG

Above is an agricultural land study recently conducted in King County where the farm is located. However, Leafhopper is not included in these maps in any informative way. What? But it’s a farm, it’s growing and producing food, is that not agricultural land? Well, ag land is stipulated in Washington State, by APD (Agricultural Production District). If your land is not within the district, your land could be developed and used for other purposes than farming. Land within the APD is restricted to agricultural production. This is because the land is considered the most fertile and productive for farming. It is also historically used as ag land, which assumes it’s been modified with drainage, tilling, and other management practices.

King County only has two major areas of APD land, and only one is represented in the maps above. Nearly half of the agricultural land in the county rests outside the APD boundaries, and that’s where Leafhopper Farm comes in. In the map below, most of the county is represented, along with all APD land. The red circles are farm land concentrations outside the officially recognized boundaries. All of this farmland in red below is at risk of development.

img_7310.jpg

Imagine if King County lost half its farm land. What part of the country grows enough food to feed it’s population without importing extra? Here’s a look at Washington State production. Note the millions in specific crops, not general food production for local consumption. Here’s a national map of food security.

For all the millions of dollars in agriculture produced in Washington State, there sure is a high rate of insecurity when it comes to actually accessing food. Our state also exports millions in food abroad, most of which is shipped from other states through ours to the ports. We’re the #3 food exporter in the US. Yet when you look at the food scarcity map above, Washington state is not such a food rich landscape for the local consumer.

Food security is often linked to poverty, including a lack of vehicle to get to a store, or even having a store around. It also relates to affordability, as most organic or nutrient rich foods are expensive, mainly because they are fresh, in demand, and are not subsidized like commercial agriculture.  Mass produces boxed, cheap, and non-nutritious products they pass off as food is what’s creating health crisis in our nation and leading to an overwhelmed healthcare system.

Now let’s look at national maps of agricultural production, crop value, and how it all relates to food security.

We’re growing mostly grains. Grains are usually not crops for people, but to feed livestock. The fruit, nut, and vegetable categories are all grouped into one color, which is very hard to sort from the soybean color. Hay and silage are the least economically strong, yet they feed the animals which represents value added livestock. However, we’re not clear on where the grains are going to support the value map below. Vegetable, fruit, and nut production look like the most value for land use, but that’s also misleading, because again, nothing in these maps actually tells us what crops are going to people to enhance food security.

When you reference the food security map over these crop and value maps, you see the agricultural production does not at all reflect food security. This is the wake up call for all of us who see big commercial farms as the salvation of our food. These industrial farms are not producing healthy food for people, but more often large mono-crops of grain for highly processed and additive rich per-packaged foods, which have a long lasting shelf life and can be shipped easily to our box store shelves. This industrializing of our food will be our ultimate undoing.

So, what to do? Start by growing something yourself. Get a grow light and a few plastic buckets, buy organic soil and some non-GMO seeds of things you want to eat fresh and start growing them! Take time to understand what goes into growing food and participate in enriching your diet. Research crops and find out what grows best where you live. If you have yard space, put in a garden. It does not have to be large, or contain everything you’ll need, but even kale is worth cultivating, and easy. By participating directly in your food, you’ll come to understand why fresh is best, and maybe you’ll spend more time outside, in the soil, and eating healthy food!

My grandparents lived through The Great Depression, and always had a small vegetable garden. They has known hunger and scarcity, but that wisdom is dying out, and our current generations are taking food for granted like never before. It will come back to haunt us, but you can take steps towards self-sufficiency and community reliance. That’s why King County is doing this agricultural land survey. They plan to use this map to find out what land is being underutilized, then set up support to get farming started in places that are neglected. They are also beginning to look at land once though of as unfarmable.

Places like Leafhopper Farm, which are in the foothills, will never be river bottom land, but the soil can be cultivated, designed with smart water systems for better irrigation and productivity, especially if we look outside current USDA models of what is considered a farm and start designing with food production and habitat restoration in mind. I talked with the county about mushroom cultivation, food forest growth, and earthworks to better retain water, preventing runoff and nutrient leeching out of the soil.

New farming techniques are popping up all over the world as people see the need to produce and conserve. We have to evolve our food systems to supply an ever growing population, while working within the limitations of our soil and climate. As any farmer can tell you, nothing is a sure bet in nature, and those limitations are becoming ever exaggerated by climate change. Tilled soil and row cropping is one of the most vulnerable ways to produce food. That in hand with mono cropping only a few species puts all our eggs in one basket.

At Leafhopper Farm, we’re hedging our bets by cultivating diversity and holistic management. The farm is here as a recourse for others wishing to produce small amounts of food in a manageable way. The farm is not productive enough yet to compete with commercial farms, but it does have enough land to offer those new to farming opportunities to try out small gardens, see a cistern set up for rain catchment, and understand what it takes to properly maintain modest acreage for personal productivity and long term fertility.

December Harvest

There were a few chantrelles in the woods still calling, so a foraging we will go! It was a late season this year, also minimal. I’ve written more reflections on the weather and mushroom cycles in previous blogs. It was truly marvelous to find these fungi treasures!

IMG_7279

December is not usually a time of lush greens, but thanks to the cloche, there are a variety of succulent vegetable bliss. After such success with overwintering greens, I added other cold hardy crops like peas and chard into the mix. Kale seems to bounce back quickly after frosts, though I am cultivating some in the cloche.

IMG_7280

The one critical point about winter gardening this year is my lack of utilizing the greenhouse more efficiently. It’s a great growing space, but the cold temperatures at our elevation require heating to maintain growth. This challenge is easy enough to remedy using compost and animals, but I’ve not built a system yet, and am still questioning even the placement of the green house.

The front and kitchen gardens are wonderful, and the cloche design could expand. This takes the pressure off needing greenhouse space for the winter vegetables. Perhaps turning the greenhouse into a mini barn set up, complete with chickens (or rabbit), manure compost system; and raised start beds. That’s the kind of demonstration space for a small scale gardening systems Leafhopper Farm is all about.

IMG_7302.JPG

On a festive note-

Holiday greens are an old tradition in the dark winter times. Coniferous decoration brings color and pleasant smells into the house; along with light, from candles to electric string lights of today. There is indeed a celebratory feeling in decking the halls with boughs, or in this case, a young cypress tree. This cultivar will find its way into the farm’s tree nursery. Right now, it’s small branches are holding up symbols of goodness to brighten the cold nights and short days. Fungi and octopuses dominate; all decorations, which usually hang modestly above the stove in the kitchen. In this time of sticking close to the hearth for warmth and comfort, gratitude to all the gifts and thanksgiving we share.

Sunny Paradise

IMG_7292.JPG

Well, our wet winter is taking a break as the typical December high pressure system moves in to give us a reminder of why The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful place. This panorama above was taken looking northeast from near the flint napping pit (blue tarp). The morning fog was finally burning off to reveal a sapphire sky.

IMG_7293.JPG

As the morning light filtered through our evergreen forests, the beauty of frost melting into glistening pearls of delicate damp. The goats were out in force with the sun taking advantage of the good weather to clear out some more blackberry. This winter will be the last chance to heavily graze within the future stream buffer fence line. Next fall, if Leafhopper Farm is awarded the CREP grant, we’ll have the entire stream buffer area cleared of blackberry and replanted through federal funding from USDA. After the plantings are established, the goats will be persona-non-grate.

This well deserved sun time ushers in a very busy work period on the land mostly focused around transplanting and tree felling. As part of the farm’s Forest Stewardship Plan, many of our 15-20 year old red alders Alnus rubra are crowded, and because of there lifespan, already reached crown height maximum and are now dying back as they shade each other out. To hasten their secession, I’ve taken the saw into my forest and begun felling in an upper grove to open up canopy space. The native plants purchased from Tadpole Haven are going in to diversify and “beef up” the under-story. I’ll also be transplanting other native plants from the nursery such as our native roses like Rosa nutkana.

IMG_7287.JPG

Today I also moved all the cardboard (it filled the back of the truck completely and towered over the back window too). This biomass was distributed in the freshly transplanted areas where alder have already been removed. The logs will be inoculated with mycelia for mushroom cultivation and then put back in the environment where they were harvested to replenish the landscape as they decompose. The cardboard mulch will keep back bramble re-establishing in the planted areas while boosting nutrients and the possibility of mycelia spreading along the breaking down boxes. It’s like rolling out a red carpet to the mushrooms!

IMG_7296.JPG

Across the pasture, our layer flock of lovely hens is hard at work in another bramble patch. Here I spread some scratch feed to encourage their earthworks. The lovely light pouring through a cedar grove in the background is another storybook vision. I expect to see faeries and gnomes dancing together in the woods beyond. Though winter is starting to set in with cold dark nights and gray days, the sun does occasionally make her self known and when she shines, all of Western Washington is alight. It is great to be working on the land rain or shine, but admittedly, it’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable when the weather is mild and clear.  Thank you sun!

Black and White

One of these birds is not like the other. What if I told you color was just the tip of this ice burg? The meat from these two birds will taste the same, cook the same, share a similar texture, and are both domestic breeds of chicken. These two carcasses are actually hybrid roosters born in the same clutch of naturally brooded chicks hatched last spring.

dscn2835.jpg

The left bird is of Ayam Cemani stock, but a known hybrid because of his plumage color. The bird on right could have Ayam Cemnai blood, but not as likely because of the lack of fibromelanosis, an overactive pigmentation gene which causes the darker coloration. At this time in the development of the flock, I had just culled the last breeding rooster who was not Cemani. A fertilized hen will hold on to the genetics of her last breeding for up to two weeks.

DSCN2836

even the organs are different colors

Even the innards of these two birds shows a pigment variation, and what that means genetically, and how it affects nutrition and health in the meat is fascinating. I’d like to take a moment to delve into genetics and why they play an important role in nutrition and the continued improvement of our health through what we’re eating.

Can we all agree that you are what you eat? Enough research has been done to convince me of the important role diet plays in short and long-term health. The domestication of animals and plants through selective breeding played a big role in what’s on our plates today. Though genetically modified food is a huge topic, can we all agree on the genetic selection that’s been going on for hundreds, if not thousands of years in agriculture? Let me be clear in saying the genetic technology of today is far and away from the simple selective breeding of yesteryear. It is important to know what genetic manipulation in a lab can mean to a species, and the consequences of drastically changing genetic makeup of a living organisms in a global economy.

For instance, we have genetically manipulated certain foods, like the potato, into a very few select strains for commercial agriculture. This is great for short term profits and a reliable mass production to feed all those fast food french-fry places, but at what long term cost? The homogenization of our food crops is causing devastation to genetic diversity and health, something forgotten fast in our race to out-compete nature’s limitations. When something is homogenized, we gain short term predictability, mostly related to production, to grow a business driven enterprise into profit and what we have been taught to embrace: exponential growth. Nature is finite, cannot be manipulated without consequence, and we will be corrected, by pestilence, plague, or biological crash. It has happened time and time again in the course of human evolution, and we’re in one right now.

But I was talking about chicken genetics, so I’ll get back to it!

So geneticists are actually mapping out all the strange and wonderful genes, which make up biological structure, and in doing so, we’re starting to understand how all these DNA strands are networked together. I’ll apologize now for not being a savvy scientist with all the answers, and admit that this article is a layman’s attempt at explaining the benefit to eating fibromelanosis genetics. It’s really cool to realize that the genetic differences in what appear at first to be cosmetic, are actually healthier; and here’s why:

“Indonesian Ayam Cemani exhibits fibromelanosis or dermal hyperpigmentation and possesses complex segmental duplications on chromosome 20 that involve the endothelin 3 gene, EDN3.” –PLOS (Public Library of Science)

Ok… so what?

“Proteins in the endothelin family are produced in various cells and tissues, where they are involved in the development and function of blood vessels, the production of certain hormones, and the stimulation of cell growth and division.” –US National Library of Medicine

I found the part about cell growth and division to be most interesting, so I looked deeper at what this all means in added benefits from the consumption of this “genetically enriched” meat. Endothelin receptor B proteins, which work with EDN3, are responsible for transmitting information from outside a cell through the cell membrane. Still confused about what this means? Well, let’s put it this way, the link between EDN3 and EDNRB forms when your cell matter is building a spinal chord and sending out receptors into your outer functioning parts. It’s the building block of your entire sensory construction. Wow!

“In particular, endothelin 3 and its receptor are essential for the formation of nerves in the intestine (enteric nerves) and for the production of specialized cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that contributes to skin, hair, and eye color. Melanin is also involved in the normal function of the inner ear.” –Genetic Home Reference

This brings us back to our dark coloration in the meat, it’s a melanin thing, and it boosts the count of endothelin, which is crucial for healthy cell formation and sensory development. The Ayem Cemani birds have a higher count of EDN3 and it shows in the meat quality on carcass studies referenced in the PLOS article above. I’d like to see a study done on weather or not ingesting this genetic advantage serves the human cell development in some way. Based on other digestive studies about diet linked to health, I will go out on a  limb here and say it would do some good. In my research I also learned that a drop in EDN3 production is a suspected link to breast cancer. (link)

DSCN2557

I purpose that Ayam Cemani genetics will improve both the health and quality of meat produced here at Leafhopper Farm. It will be interesting to continue following genetic studies on the unique qualities of some of the less known livestock breeds, which were selected in the past for very important reasons, beyond just looks, or possibly in the belief that something a little different, might also enrich our lives. However, with science beginning to unravel the actual genetic material that makes up biodiversity, we may finally understand and appreciate the alternative structures built into animal husbandry. Maybe people will start going for the dark meat as a conscious health choice.

 

 

Warm Winter Pros and Cons

IMG_7259.jpg

It’s late November here at Leafhopper Farm, and though the official winter months are not quite here yet, our climate has us thinking it’s spring. A fly perched in one of our water catchment tanks is an indicator of the insect activity still very active on the landscape. This is great for scavenging ducks and chickens, but a real challenge in the garden as slugs and other plant predators eat their war through overwintering garden greens.

IMG_7267.JPG

The gardens still have a lot of life, but if you look closely in the picture above, many of the once lush greens are looking a little holey, and that means we’ll need to set out more slug traps to keep our younger greens alive. The active insects are also hard at work in our livestock. Ingested larva give our goats and chickens worms, and they need to be treated to keep parasite counts down. We use garlic to treat our goat herd, where both our does are pregnant and cannot afford to loose their precious fat reserves to gestate healthy kids. Our chickens are still laying a good amount of eggs (I think it’s the healthy diet of pasture and organic grain). They can only keep up the massive protein production in egg form if their bodies continue to store up good fat, which would not be the case if they were housing any parasites in their system.

Because The Pacific Northwest is a temperate rain forest, it does not usually have harsh winter freezes to knock back the insect populations. I learned this when my pup Indonesia got a case of fleas in mid-winter one year. I realized that unlike New England, where a good long winter with plenty of snow and below freezing temperatures lock out parasitic problems, the warm wet Northwest cultivates not only crops, but pest species too. It’s manageable if you are managing it, but if you are gone for the holidays, or just hope for a good freeze, chances are you’re opening the door to infestation.

IMG_7263.JPG

The great thing about warmer winter weather is the extended growing season! The gardens are leafing out and green with lush foliage, ready to eat. This added productivity in the garden is a real treat, and we’re making sure to harvest what we can while temperatures hold. I might even try using the dehydrator to store up more of these greens, and the freezer can hold lots of kale once it’s been blanched and salted.

At home, we’re not using so much wood to keep things habitable inside, and that’s great news! Any extra wood left over this year will be ready for next winter’s burning needs. No harvested wood goes to waste at this farm. It being the end of November, we only have about 5 more months of wood heat to go, and if I get the rest of the wood pile pictured below full, we’ll be good to go! You can never have too much wood, and its money in the bank.

IMG_7268.JPG

The warmer weather is easier to work in too, and we’re taking full advantage of extra fall chores like gathering leaf litter to bulk up organic matter and mulch in the gardens. Much of the landscape is still lush and green, which is why Washington is called “the evergreen state”, along with all the conifers.

In the mountains, the snow is still holding back her winter wonder, leaving the powder hound in me at rest till more snow graces out Cascadian Peaks. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed, as I took the plunge and invested in a season ticket. This splurge was in response to a predicted heavy winter, and though we just got 5″ of rain in the valley, tropical temperatures did not do us any favors at elevation. Opening day came and went, are we’re now on hold till at least another foot falls to build up a base layer. Perhaps I’ll be hiking logging roads to find the powder again this year, hopefully not!

DSCN2808.JPG

We had snow earlier this month, and were locked into cold temperatures for three days, but the climate did not hold, and we just had 60 degree days for Thanksgiving. It’s really confusing! Even our salmon berry and oso berry shrubs are already starting to bud out! We’re not even into real winter yet, and stinging nettle is up. I’m not sure what this means for the rest of the year as far as native growth goes, but I talked to the spring bulbs and warned them that this warmer weather cannot last. Yup, even the bulbs are popping out.

IMG_7251.JPG

Other warm loving plants are still producing, and the nasturtium are still green and happy, well, more green and happy than they usually are in late November. The change will come, and when it does, I’ll write a great comparison. Luckily, the trees have shed their leaves, and other normal routines of seasonal change are still in effect, including the arrival of many of our migratory birds. Flooding rivers also ground us in usual fall fare, though the deluge has been above average. I’m going to see the warm spell as a last gift before we plunge into the darker time of winter here at Leafhopper Farm.

November Farm Update

IMG_7253.JPG

The pond is up and ducks are in at Leafhopper Farm! We’ve had over 5″ of rain in the last two weeks, opening the floodgates for our wet winter weather. On the bright side, this deluge from the south brought with it warmer weather, which keeps the gardens looking green and vibrant.

IMG_7265.JPG

In the herb spiral, a lot of familiar friends are still thriving, including mint, lavender, thyme, and chives. The edible feast continues with borage, kale, horseradish, and yarrow. Though many of these plants will soon go dormant with the lack of sun and warm weather, for now there are still harvest-able stems and leaves to enjoy, and the farm is taking full advantage.

IMG_7252.JPG

Cover crops laid down at the end of last summer are now germinated and sprout into fine young greens for salads, including more kale, mustard, garlic, and chard. Winter greens like chard and kale will grow throughout the winter, and with additional covering, like cloches and cold frames, we’ll be in greens again this whole winter. Though Leafhopper Farm has a modest veggie production, there is more than enough to share and encourage the community living here to harvest freely for fresh veg through the winter. Once the cold sets in (though we’ve already had three days of snow) the lush greens that are not covered will get frost bitten and die back. That’s ok because we’ll still have bounty in the front garden, where covered plants continue to grow happily through the cold months ahead.

IMG_7258.JPG

In the water catchment system of the front garden, our resident goldfish are feeling the cold, but still active in our simple aquaponic system. Here we collect rainwater and house a few goldfish to emulsify the water with rich fish poo. This sludge builds up in the bottom of the tank, and will be watered into new soil for the beds to enrich our growing potential next spring. Of course we do not put fish poop on our mature plants, that would be a contamination issue!

IMG_7260.JPG

The water troughs also house root stalk, cultivating new plants to stick into our young hedgerow along the east fence line. In the picture above, you can see new pink bud growth on a seemingly lifeless stem. This living branch will go into the soil in a few weeks to set as part of our living fence line. It’s an easy way to make new plants for a growing hedge.

IMG_7266.JPG

A special shout out to our olive tree (thanks Peg!) who is still thriving the compacted gravel soil and produced two fruits in its first season here at the farm. The tree is throwing out a lot of new growth, which tells me it loves where we’ve planted it in the herb garden to the west of the house. This small bush will one day become a tree, and I have no doubt we’ll have to relocate this fruit tree in the next few years. Always be aware of how big your chosen plant is going to grow before you pick a happy home. Because of deer predation, young trees stay close to the house till they are about 5′ tall. After that, you can put them out (usually with a fence protection) and deer will not be able to kill them off (unless they are particularly font of the species) ((fruit and nut trees)). I’m not sure how they will take to this olive, do others have experience with this?

IMG_7256.JPG

The goat herd is still working hard in clearing blackberry. This picture above shows a before and after comparison: to the left is new brows, to the right old. Note the change in greenery; there are little to no leaves on the browsed section, interrupting the life-cycle of these tenacious invasive brambles. Though photosynthesis is slowed in the winter months, blackberry will try to keep growing all year in our region, so any clearing work is helpful in knocking back the invasion. Thank you goats for all your hard work, and thank you sky for holding off the deluge long enough to let our ungulate herd out for some chow time.

IMG_7255.JPG

with the return of winter rains, our water features are filling up across the landscape. These pools were hand dug to catch runoff on a hillside. In the branch piles near them, we planted evergreen huckleberry and blueberry, both love wet soil and rotting wood, so this habitat is perfect! There is notable new growth on both types of berry shrubs, and I look forward to seeing these sweet fruiting bushes established here in the lower herb garden. The hazelnut transplants are also thriving here, and have established the beginning of a new hedgerow in this garden space. Next summer, we hope to host a WWOOFer here to focus the cultivation of native and non-native herbs and other medicinal plants that need specialized tending. This garden space is not easy to water, so continued rain catchment systems will be implemented, until the soil is rich and fluffy enough to retain moisture through the drought prone summer months. In a video featuring the herb garden, which I produced with Cahlen in the summer of 2017, this garden still had mud in these catchment basins after months of 90 degree weather and no rain. That’s testament to the power of earthworks and water catchment creating drought resistance on the landscape, and bodes well for our future plans for this garden space.

The winter plan for the farm will focus on fencing along our salmon bearing stream. We’ve been awarded a cost share from King Conservation District, and look forward to learning how to properly post and tighten a fence to keep out livestock along our sensitive riparian zones. In December, we’ll begin the project and hope to be done by the end of February. The new fencing and gates will help divide up the landscape into specialized zones of cultivation and restoration, while helping to protect our stream and the quality of water flowing off our agricultural land into the water basin that feeds The Snoqualmie River. Once our fence is in, we’ll finish our application for a grant to replant and improve the stream habitat, paving the way for more native plants and mushroom cultivation.

Though winter is often called a dormant time on most farms, Leafhopper will be an exception, because life on a small demonstration farm is never ending, and winter is a great time to work on infrastructure and planting. We’ve also got a lot of great native plants to get into the soil, and a Forest Stewardship Plan to work on, including the thinning of our alder groves, which creates an abundance of logs for mushroom inoculation! We’re hoping to offer a class on plug spawn in January, so stay tuned!

 

 

Sonora Desert Visit

IMG_E7200.JPG

great horned owl Bubo virginianus

Traded forest for cacti over Thanksgiving for a chance to dry out a bit down in Tucson Arizona. When there, I always take time to visit here. The raptor flight demonstrations are amazing, and birds do get way up close and personal at times. Different birds species are featured, and the animals are getting plenty of much needed exercise in their native terrain.

Many of the animals found at the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum are rehabilitated and returned to the wild when possible, the rest are cared for and given a good quality of life as ambassadors for the bio-region, helping to educate people about the importance of desert ecosystems. Though I have strong opinions about zoos, this space caters to the indigenous species of the region where it is located, and works hard to integrate the natural environment into the enclosures.

 

IMG_7214.JPG

The museum also has a completely recycled water system, utilizing up to 90% of its waste water in habitats around the zoo, including a full water treatment facility which cleans and redistributes water into irrigation for the native plants around the property for the animals and people to enjoy. For a desert, water conservation is crucial, and you can see great examples of water catchment, retention, and recycling at this museum.

Though the terrain of The Senora Desert is night and day compared with The Pacific Northwest, many of the same animals share these totally different habitats. Both the bobcat and cougar roam in these drastically different environments, demonstrating the impressive adaptation of  predator species of the feline family. It also speaks to the rich diversity of life that a desert can support; enough to allow large apex predators enough prey to survive.

IMG_7228.JPG

 

Even though The Senora Desert is one of the driest placed on earth, it’s rainy season is call a monsoon, and when it does rain, it pours! The Senora Desert Toad is a surprising resident of this arid place, and only makes a public appearance during the wet months in winter. These toads are known to show up in houses right before the monsoons start, an indicator of the wet weather soon to arrive. They hibernate deep under ground during the hot, dry summers, and emerge only during the cooler months to enjoy a flash flood of mating and egg laying in the churning mud or an occasional lahar like flow of sediment and debris.

Deserts are often overlooked as thriving habitat, because of the lack of water, a life giving substance required for survival, but the water does not have to be present on the surface all the time, to cultivate biodiversity. The Sonora is a perfect example of this, and after spending some great naturalist exploration on the landscape, I can tell you, this arid climate still hosts a myriad of very special living things, maybe even more than Western Washington, with all its wet weather and towering trees. I’m glad to have spent time in this desert, and look forward to exploring it more in future family gatherings down in Arizona.