Grafting Workshop

A great friend and neighbor, Misty, came to Leafhopper Farm to offer a lesson in grafting. Our WWOOFers were eager to hop in and learn with this great lady and her wonderful experience. We focused on the apple trees, specifically the five heritage varieties we have established on the property.

As a group we collected scion wood from the elder trees and then engaged with root stalk that’s been established in our tree nursery the last few years. These root stalks were in serious need of grafting, and it was a perfect chill day to get outside and cut.

It took an afternoon to fully graft the five young stock trees with freshly cut scion wood. Each root stock will have a single variety grafted on to prevent confusion. We labeled each of the trees to remind ourselves of which scion variety came from which mature tree. This record keeping is invaluable in tracking the health and overall success of the different kinds of apples.

Leafhopper Farm considers fruit trees and important part of our food forest plan, and grafting new varieties to further our orchard is a great way to make fruit trees affordable. Apples tend to be the easiest type of fruit tree wood to work with, and we had established root stock for it. The farm also hosts cherry, plumb, and pear trees. We plan to continue our grafting experience with the more difficult types in the future.

We’ll check in with these trees throughout the summer to make sure the grafts have taken hold. Many of our first tries will probably fail, but that’s expected in the learning curve of grafting, and we know we can graft again and again until it takes. This new skill is so invaluable, and it was a pleasure to have an expert come share her knowledge with us here at Leafhopper Farm.

Special shout out to our WWOOFer team, Scout and Daniel, who worked tirelessly in getting all the scion wood harvested and grafted in a timely way. Work is always easier to complete as a group, and it was a pleasure spending this day together in the orchards, establishing long term viability for the land and our larder.

Mealworm Update

The bugs keep churning out at Leafhopper Farm! Our mealworm production continues to grow, and could become a viable cash crop for the farm with a little more investment in space and time. For the past 5 years, the whole operation has been running in the house, under a counter just outside the kitchen. The worms have loved being inside and close to the wood stove in winter. They are easy to maintain, low input for high output, and a niche product.

Right now we are giving a monthly feeding of these bugs to the hens, which is a perfect nutritional boost, but we’d like to grow to weekly, and eventually grasp how much mealworm production it would take to sustain a flock of 50 birds. We feed the worms organic quinoa and oats, with organic apple or potato as moisture. The great thing about these bugs is they don’t need water! It’s one of the best protein sources you can grow, better nutritional value than beef- at a micro fraction the cost, energy input, space, and pollution. Why is this not a thing everywhere?

I’ve even been selective to improve the breed- just like other livestock! You can see in the picture above, the larger worm is being selected for intensionally, giving us bigger bigs for better value. Insects make genetic selection faster, and the results are exciting to track. I’ll continue sorting the larger animals into breeding boxes to encourage the genetic advantage of size. It’s all so exciting to see in action, this is great!

If these hens could speak, they would vote “yes” for mealworms. Yesterday they got a feast of insects, and are out there again this morning continuing to scratch at the grain fragments in search of a still hiding bug to enjoy. They left half their grain in the hopper too, which says to me that they prefer live insects to the grains. We could be feeding the grain to the bugs instead, still giving the chickens their nutrients while delivering it in a capsule of added protein and flavor.

If you are interested in raising your own mealworms, for animals or yourself, yes, you can eat them too! Then do a search for local mealworm producers in your area- you’d be surprised! Make sure the bugs are being fed an organic diet for health and safety, and ask where the breeder got their worms too.

One great example of this system really taking off locally is Beta Farms. I’ve emailed them for more information on their growing systems (if they will share) and asked for a tour of their facilities to help me implement a small scale growing system for future slow food support in holistic production of mealworms for our community. These systems could be the answer to food security worries around the world. Mealworms take very little to grow, and the frass (bug droppings) are a GREAT organic fertilizer for the garden.

Mealworm farming is the future, and Leafhopper Farm hopes to be a pioneer in this new wave of smarter agriculture for a greener future.

Dutch Mushrooms

Laccaria verity

While traveling in Holland, we found many nice mushrooms. There’s a fungus everywhere in the world, yes, even in The Arctic, but luckily, you don’t have to go all the way to the south pole to meet some new ones. Whenever Bernard and I find ourselves in a new place, we keep an eye out for mushrooms and are never disappointed. Even in December, in The Netherlands, with cold wind whipping across the landscape, we found our fungi friends.

puffball- vert mature

We wandered a dune system near The North Sea, where oak savanna dominated. The site was now a park, but was once a military instillation with bunkers and large guns to defend against sea invasion. We saw many bare spots in open fields that reflect great impact from human use. The park is now allowing recovery, and water systems for public drinking water support the larger cities near by.

Tremellaceae- “witch’s’ butter”

Oak groves are a rare treat for those of us living in Western Washington. Even in a very different bioregion on the other side of the world, familiar friends of the fungi kingdom were easy to find. The mushrooms are as recognizable as the oaks themselves, and it was such a pleasure to just look around and see so many knowns. That’s the reward of pursuing nature. She will become a close friend, and you’ll find her everywhere you go.

The soil beneath our feet is often neglected in our search for nature, yet it holds most of the nutrients and living matter that supports all life on earth. Within the leaf litter and debris of the oak savanna where we wandered, mycelia was running, just out of site under the duff. Pulling up a large white cap, we can see the extent of a mushrooms connection into the soil, and better understand the complex living system around us.

Mycelia on foot of a potential Hygrophoraceae

The mushroom kingdom is a wild one, with many new faces in every search. I’m drawn to these little fruits of the woods, because they are so unique and under appreciated in the natural world. Mushrooms have some of the most mysterious and amazing chemical compositions, as well as the ability to consume and neutralize many toxic elements now polluting the earth. There are also some delicious species to eat and enjoy, with confidant identification and awareness.

As mushrooms continue to captivate, Leafhopper Farm pledges full support to fungal farming, and encourages anyone interested in mushrooms and how they can help save the world to contact us- info@leafhopperfarm.com

New Year Update

Common Merganser

Our pond is back to hosting wildlife again after a stint of domestic ducks, and the female common merganser is an example of return species. By removing the pressure of domestic livestock from this sensitive bioregion, we allow wildlife a space to exist. This is often overlooked on farms, and more so in backyards where even a small oasis of green can be a haven for animals, especially birds.

The greenhouse is looking a little underutilized, and in need of fresh plastic. It’s about time for a redesign, and the honest truth is, I really am not taken by greenhouses, so it might just come down permanently while we focus on rewinding forests and tending the landscape which is already growing so much. I don’t need tomatoes every year, and I can’t put starts in here because the slugs get everything. In future, I would love to pair ducks in this environment seasonally to keep slugs down and heat in. I’d try a fall, winter, spring cycle, with ducks butchered before it gets too hot in summer. Another idea to cogitate on. We’ll see!

Pleachered cherries are growing strong, you can actually begin to see the natural fence developing. Many more trees will be pleachered this winter, and I must say that the bitter cherry is a superb candidate for this activity. They also put out a lot of suckers, so replanting offshoots is easy too. Birds love the fruit, and you can make jelly with them, if you add a lot of sugar. Blackberry is still trying to take over in this area, and it’s soo sensitive to brows down with goats, so we’ll spend some time hand removing, which is tedious, but not a forever thing. Once the larger plants establish and block out light to the understory, the blackberry will be unable to get a foot hold. In the mean time, pruning and diligent weeding will have to suffice.

Our cultivated turkey tail logs are flushing nicely, and really taking off through the wet months. I am so glad we can establish a thriving colony of this medicinal friend on the land, and hoping this strain will be here for years to come. I’m very happy with the productivity of these first logs, and look forward to more inoculation with this strain. It was interesting to see how much more productive the logs are on the ends up against another tree. This could be coincidence, but I think something about the moisture on the moss attracted them. It will be fun to keep watching the development of these logs as they continue to produce. I will try not to move these from this spot, accept to harvest. We’ll dry all the mushrooms and grind them to powder to make it very easy to extract their medicine using a decoction.

Our goats and sheep are tending the land for us with gusto, and you can see in this picture just how well they clip the grass by comparing the left side of the fence line (no animals) to the right side where the grazers and browsers have been working away at gleaning green growth, taking out tall grasses and blackberry with no hesitation. I love these fence line shots, and often use them to judge when it’s time to rotate animals. When the goats start going for the trees too much, we have to move them out to safe guard the bark of our arbor friends. A goat can girdle a tree very easily, which only happens when a space is overgrazed. Leafhopper Farm has avoided these devastating issues by keeping up a healthy rotation, and making sure the goats are given regular mineral blocks and good fodder.

Middle East Reflection

Over the winter, Bernard and I took a trip to Egypt and Jordan. Of corse we began in Egypt, with The Great Pyramid!

Regardless of one’s belief in who, what, when, and why these monuments were erected, they are splendid; worth making a trip to North Africa for. Though travel in Egypt is challenging, and defiantly not recommended without a licensed guide. Luckily we had a great tour group from G-Adventures, a travel company with ethical mindfulness. We were able to see fantastic historical monuments, stay in clean, safe accommodations, work with local guides and small village businesses, as well as be a tourist and relax- most of the time.

There were certainly moments of cultural ignorance and typical tourist trap experiences along the way, but the overall adventure was a great trip with no regrets, though I would not go again. Why? Because you only need to see it once. Truly, it was a spectacular journey through history. However, Egypt and Jordan are both places that are not so welcoming to certain beliefs and lifestyles pervasive in America. They look upon us as decadent fools- though we carry a big stick- we still stumble in our youthful ignorance. However, most of the travelers who joined us were from Australia. It didn’t make a difference really, we were all light skinned, English speaking, and Christian- even if we weren’t- because none of us prayed when the minarets called all to worship.

Petra is another must, if you are going to be in Jordan. The Treasury is impressive, and I’m sure most have at least seen a photo of this part of the park, but it’s just the tip of a monumental iceberg. For instance, it’s not even the largest carved edifice in the complex of deep canyons and high craggy mountain tops within the historic site. It’s called “The Treasury” for no other reason than European explorers who stumbled onto it thought treasure might be buried there, and sought it out. They found nothing but empty “tombs”, as they are called by other excavators, and are as probable as “treasury”.

We’ve forgotten our history, oral tradition passed down into writing, which ultimately changed with the needs of those who wrote the books. It was demonstrated when our guide explained why Israel was and forever will be Jewish. He used names, Hebrew names from The Old Testament, which is not a political collection of writings at all is it? No- religion is purely faith, that’s why so many have died in the name of belief. We all hope for a black and white answer in the end. Ethics will never bee easy, but it’s taken a back seat to moral ambiguity for too long, and time’s up.

Bernard and I walked the lengths of Petra, even climbed the “1,000 steps” to gaze upon “The Monastery” a place where later Christian monks set up shop, finding the isolation of high mountains to be more defendable from the barbarous resident people who did not encourage organized religious conversion. No one at the time could remember the Nabateans, who are credited with building the monuments of Petra. Though like all history, we seem to get hung up in painting our own understandings of life, only living memory, onto ancient experiences which have little direct influences on our present conditions, other than imaginative speculation.

camel garage- Petra, Jordan

Many of Petra’s splendors are more metamorphic than man made. Though the soft sandstone did make shaping easier, the actual color and design of geologic activity is far more engaging. In the end, the blending of natural with artistic license does bring about a rather grand display, and even the modest carved spaces are still impressive, and no man could copy the splendid color of mother nature’s own work.

It was only after climbing up into the peaks, looking back at the path we had come and seeing the mountains still stretching on in all directions, only then could we begin to comprehend the vastness of man’s hold on the landscape. Carved stairs seemed to curl around every cliff, water basins with smashed clay pipe, all partially worn away with time. In those moments of discovery, we came closer to seeing the fleeting moment in ourselves, of being only a few footsteps fallen into far deeper whispers of the past. Haunting remembrances carved in rock, stacked over older rock, carried to the sea with wind and rain; all eroding softly with every breath we took in our climb. Could it have been what our ancestors in this rock garden of beauty, tried so desperately to capture? Tombs yes, tombs of our past collaborations, triumphs, and struggles, tombs filled with stories of conquering nature, falling victim to our hubris, then crashing down like the very cliffs in earth’s trembling furry. This is the memory I took from stone monuments across The Middle East.

Mushroom Season

IMG_9678.JPG

The mushrooms were out as foraging kicks into high gear at Leafhopper Farm! Though we are unable to find chanterelles on the farm property at this time, a stone’s throw away in nearby woodlands, the golden treasures of Fall abound. This season was one of my personal best, not so much in quantity, though this was a “haul year”- the verity of species and locations was broad too. From Bear’s Head to Chanterelles, the awesome fungi feasting has lasted into late November, and will continue!

The Bolete above was spotted by my partner Bernard on a steep mountain slope just below the snow line. Mushrooms are out even after the snow covers the peaks! Below you can see Hypholoma of some kind roosting in the green moss of a decaying log just above the snow covered road. On a continued exploration of mountain elevations (above 1500 feet)- we came across a variety of species which really encouraged me to keep hunting into the winter cold months. Within the observed list included enough winter oyster to feed a family. That’s some great foraging in a terrain many might overlook. 

A lovely Hygrophorus puniceus, scarlet waxy cap mushroom in an almost pink blush against evergreen and clubmoss. Brightly colored mushrooms really pop in the landscape, drawing the eye. Though many mushrooms are brightly pigmented, many others are not, and should not be overlooked just because of a more camouflaged appearance. Another common misconception of mushrooms is that they are always on the ground. In fact, many species are up on standing dead wood or even on the tiny dead twigs. Fungi is all around us, so remember to look above and below- some mushrooms grow underneath logs. 

Another variety of fungus we engage with often in The Cascades are shelf fungi. The brightly colored young specimen of saphoridic (wood eating) mushroom below is a red belted conch. This familiar friend is great medicine (grind up and steep in boiling water, drink tea). These are very young mushrooms because of the amount of light colored flesh on the forming cap. Older specimens will have a much darker cap, while this white  color will be found on the underside. To me, this is a great sign of the health in this forest. 

Winter oysters were still the prize find of the day for edible picks. Another great thing about this species is it’s tolerance to freezing and reshaping. Many mushrooms will melt after freezing. The winter oyster is an exception; having a thick enough flesh to remain fleshy and whole even after continual refreezing. I learned this trick when I accidentally left a frozen winter oyster in my jacket pocket for a few days and then finding it unfrozen but still firm a few days later. So lucky!

Oysters favor red alders in Western Washington. This log pictured above has been in this creek for a few years and I’ve witnessed flushes like this over the past few winters. This log will most likely continue to host these oysters for a few more years, but it a larger flood comes through, it will be swept on down stream. We’re inoculating oysters into alder logs at Leafhopper Farm in hopes of getting great flushes like this, year after year. 

Some mushrooms are very bright, but quite small. Mycena, like the M. acicula pictured above, has an average size of 1 cm across the cap, and a 4cm high stipe (stem). The whole Mycena world takes you right into the micro, turning red cedar needles into up close scaled patterns netted across the ground in much the same way the mycelium of all these fungi roam within the organic material of the soil. It is that unseen mat of nutrient transport and chemical communication which threads all life together in the natural world. I think that’s why you can find mushrooms everywhere, almost any time. Keep looking and please share any specimens you come across. 

Bernard and I are heading overseas for a few weeks and plan on seeking out mushrooms in more exotic places like North Africa, where even in deserts, you can find fungi. In our own backyard on the farm, inoculated logs of pearl oyster mushrooms await colonization. There’s more mushroom magic to come here at Leafhopper Farm. 

The Forest

 

IMG_9812.JPG

 

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep

-Robert Frost

 

img_9790.jpg

Walking through the woods may seem like an everyday activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world, but it’s not, and most people do not walk through woods very often, if at all. Many people drive through woods, or look at the edge of forests, like the two pictures above, but when you are in them, standing with giants, you take a breath of something so real, palpable- rich earthly loam and rotting wood; the climax of earth’s biological productivity in physical form, forest.

IMG_7588

Trees are taken for granted; we grow millions a year to chop down as annual decorations in the house, only to be thrown out on the burn pile or into landfill a few weeks later and forgotten for another year. What if we decorated neighborhood trees that continued to grow and thrive; adding life to the community and creating a shared gathering place for festivities of peace on earth and good will towards your fellow man? I know, it’s cold at Christmas time, and if the holiday season is your thing, green bows of fresh evergreen are crucial for that old time smell of the woods, complete with crackling fire and warm tidings of feasting.

A forest can support such revelry, and heat a home; if the woods are cared for, and the people manage themselves within the landscape to support such consumption. Neither is happening today, and so, for those of us who do have the advantage of mature woodlands; good stewardship and restoration are crucial to allowing a future where anyone can know the collective consciousness of forest. In understanding the climax of soil production, we can perhaps take a closer look at productivity related to our own food cultivation- something we need to survive and sustain the numbers of people we are willing to produce.

Greater Bellevue Area Growth

In The Pacific Northwest, we were told 200 years ago, that the forests of our towering evergreens could never be completely cut down. Trees are renewable- they grow right back when replanted. Oh how foolish we were, and still are. The only reason our trees grew so big out here and survived was the climate and amazingly rich volcanic soils. Once we cut the timbers, all the fertility eroded away in our winter rains. You can see the silt outflow into Lake Washington still happening today in the time-laps above.

When forests are abruptly taken away, massive loss of top soil happens through flooding, because nothing is left on the landscape to drink up the rains; and so, the waters flow uninhibited across the landscape and take any loose debris with them into the rivers and oceans beyond. Forests have the most ground to sky cover in the form of canopy, which catches the falling rain, defusing impact of rain on soil. Organic matter on and in the soil soaks up the water, holding it where it falls. Plants and animals drink up the waters too, storing the moisture in their own bodies and keeping the water localized

.

In this picture, a snow melt during heavy rains flooded the land. As water sheeted down the landscape, it comes into our swale system and stops there, slow seeping into the ground for a deeper watering on this hillside. Our main food forest will be planted here over the next few years. 

 

 

Would it not make sense that the more layers of biomass on the surface to soak up and utilize water, the more could be stored in place? Could the retention of water on the landscape ultimately lead to more fertility and growth? What about additional composting biomass in the soil to aid in water retention? Studies say YES! When we improve canopy layers and create more biomass in soil, its ability to remain resilient as the climate becomes more unstable will be necessary for all survival.

At Weiss Creek, our local salmon bearing stream on the farm, there is always a flow of water here, even during the worst drought season. This abundance is due in part to its relatively intact forests along the banks. However, recent developments above the headwaters of this stream have sent large amounts of silt down stream. It fills up the deep pools where salmon love to spawn. Without good flood years to push the debris on down, reopening the important spawning habitat, the water way becomes clogged and causes more flooding and erosion across the landscape. 

On the southeast side of the farm property, a neighbor clearcut most of their 40 acre parcel in the late 90s. There remains to this day, a seasonal stream which comes from their land onto Leafhopper Farm’s back pasture, feeding directly into Weiss Creek. It was carving away at the bank and forging a path along the east fence line which will eventually carry off the topsoil. By ditching and diverting the flow over the landscape with some intentional earth dams and holding pools, we’ve slowed the runoff, diverting a lot of it into our willow basket grove, nut trees, and future “back 40” food forest. 

Taking advantage of runoff due to deforestation can be to your advantage, but the clearcut land next door will continue to experience drainage problems, flooding, and erosion. In The Pacific Northwest, without the rain-forest, the rain will carry off our landscape, including any development, especially structures built on slopes. Even with good forest cover, entropy does continue, and landslides happen. Human caused deforestation for timber and developable land in a rainforest will lead to a chain reaction of environmental collapse that has already begun. The best thing you can do today is plant trees, everywhere you can, now. 

There are places in the world right now reforesting the landscape and it’s bringing water and bio-diversity back to places once thought lost to desertification. The movement is gaining steam-