Fall Garden

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peeking pumpkin

The coming Fall harvest is growing fast at Leafhopper Farm! Pumpkins, tomatoes, summer squash, potatoes, and kale dominate the front garden with abundance. Seeds of radish, lettuce, chard, onion, spinach and more are ready to seed next year’s veggies and must be gleaned out before rains set in. Note in the photo below how much space squash need to flourish. These tendrils will need to be cut back to ensure the fruit already developing on the vine will fully mature. There is one verity of squash which has grown very large, sometimes turning orange, but maintaining a zucchini like patterning on the rind. I’ve harvested four green ones and left one orange one on the vine to see how big it will grow. The taste of this fruit is slightly sweet and very pleasant. I like it better than a lot of other well known verities, but I don’t think it will store well; too watery.

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Flowers are still blooming around the edges of the garden to encourage more pollination, but the vitality of these colorful blossoms is waning fast. The tomatoes will also have to come up soon, as damp cool fall weather will rot the whole plant, and fruit. If we pull up the plants soon and hang them upside down in a dry dark place, the fruit will continue to grow and ripen for a few more weeks. After we uproot the tomatoes, another fall planting of root veggies like parsnips can go in. We’ll also sheet mulch some areas of this garden with cardboard after applying a layer of fresh manure into the soil.

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Kale seed is the most abundant this year, and we’ll take time in selecting only the most productive plants to seed out again next year. Some seeds will have to be stored in dry places inside till sewing next year, while others are dropped into the soil now to overwinter under a layer of mulch till it warms up next Spring. In the picture above, you can see bright green small leaves of a lettuce seeded in earlier this summer growing into maturity now as the greens cycle through with new plantings every few weeks. The farm keeps a lot of lettuce seed handy for continual crops throughout the year.

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Because there was not a lot of weeding done in this garden for the 40 days I was gone, a few unwanted species, like bracken fern and morning glory, started to crowd in. But in only a few hours of hard work, the whole garden was soon rid of such pests, for now. The morning glory will overwinter underground where a particularly tenacious rhizome continues to survive. The bracken fern uses much the same strategy. Surface pulling continues to be the best method for long term inhalation. For a garden gone wild for over a month, productivity and diversity continue to thrive.

Cat Update

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Muir and Lucia are thriving, and the two kittens- Nickie and Nora (both female)- are growing up fast. I think momma cat is pregnant again (for the last time) and we’ll be knee deep in kittens again in another month or so if this is the case.

The potato crop was great this year, and most of the starts I planted in the gardens this year came through to harvest, so I will tip my hat to the cats, especially Muir, for keeping voles and rabbits away from our high maintenance food crops.

Mice are scarce, though still showing up in the more removed buildings at the farm. Our grain room is rodent free, and the main house is not hosting any unwanted pests so again, the cat presence is making a notable difference, but still, rats persist.

A new hen house will be the best solution, with elevated main coop off the ground so rats won’t move in underneath. The old coop should be torn down, or at least totally gutted for renovation, but only after the new coop is built. Since the cat’s can’t build the coop, I have a fall mission. Let’s see if we can pair the build with hunting season.

The new kittens will be adopted out to good homes, a few are already spoken for. The two kittens now on farm already have appointments for a vet visit to prevent future unwanted offspring. Lucia will be spayed after her second litter. We’ll continue to enjoy our feline friends here at Leafhopper Farm.

Valley of The Gods, UT

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On our 40 day trip, we visited southern Utah to see the rock monuments made famous by early western like Stagecoach (John Wayne’s first movie). This place is powerful, both in size and scope. We cane directly from the north and descended over 1,000 feet into the valley below on one of the scariest switchback gravel roads I have ever encountered. Valley of The Gods is near the four corners area, a place where, during The Red Scare, plutonium was mined and shipped all over the south west to sites like Los Alamos for use in atomic war machines. The land is naturally saturated with the ore, and reverse osmosis technology is utilized to make drinking water safe for the local population.

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In the pictures I share, you might notice smokey haze all around. Even in a desert, we are still feeling the forest fires from Idaho and Yellowstone. The sunrise above is red for this reason. By our second day here, winds picked up and carried the smoke another direction. Though the people who live in and around this valley have little fear of fire, they are aware of drought which has gripped this region for over 15 years. August is usually the time of monsoon rains all over the south west, but here in southern Utah, there has been little rain during this month, and no sign of things changing any time soon.

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The Navajo once wandered this range with their sheep, left by the Spanish explorers in the 1600s. The tribes have moved on, as without rain nothing will grow and the animals starve, then the people. In this valley, there is only one house, of stone, a bed and breakfast operated by a wonderful couple who are passionate about ecology and the environmental movement. They chose to live here for many reasons, the view alone is incredible. They also love the remoteness; their nearest neighbors are some miles away and you can see no other human built structures from the house. But the drought is starting to pressure even them. After 25 years, the house is for sale, only to the right people of course. Whom ever does try to take on this space will contend with a low producing well, having to haul water from 45 min. away each day, and lots of alone time.

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All over the southwest, drought is taking a deep hold. We noticed hardy plants like willow dying back, and even cacti were struggling. Our hosts informed us that in the past five years, they have watched most of the vegetation in the region turn brown and wither away. The bastion of green around the house is maintained through grey water systems. Their roof catchment cistern never fills, and they must haul a tank back and forth on a truck which at least runs of vegetable oil. The writing is on the wall, deserts are becoming deserted. For people who watch weather for 25 years and have some experience with ecology, it is impossible to deny that the climate here is changing, and not for the better.

40 Days

August 1st – September 10th, 2018

From Duvall, WA to Santa Fe, NM and back at a whopping 6,873 miles of driving. From Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington, to Four Strong Winds Kennel in Potlach, ID, our many adventures, both planned and unplanned, offer some wonderful memories to share.

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Palouse Falls, WA

One of our hightlits on the journey was hunting fossils at a famous deposit near Kemmerer, WY. At American Fossil, you can dig all day for a fee, and keep what you find, though there are some rare exceptions. Bernard and I loved our first planned dig so much, we decided on our way back to Washington, that we would go a second time.

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American Fossil Quarry, WY

We were armature geologists with a passion for all things crust related, which helped focus our planning in the big drive. Though our destination was Santa Fe, NM, we wanted to take our time getting too and from the southwest, enjoying the topography as we traveled, as that was what we were going to be seeing most of anyway, and it was truly a pleasure to “enjoy the scenery”.

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McConkie Ranch, UT

Near Vernal UT, we tracked down the most amazing petroglyphs and petrographs at a place stewarded by McConkie Ranch. I’d ever seen (though I am sure I’ve seen little out there). These culturally rich stories in pictorial language -vague gestures, stark shape, sending a message to all who gaze; my mind searching for understanding, always wondering. The art sprawled across over a mile of canyon wall, and that was only what we had access to at the ranch. The family who allows public contact with their precious artifacts, are very generous indeed, and they say the land will continue to be open to the public (with a small parking fee of $5 for continued maintenance of the trail), so long as the pictures are left undisturbed.

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In Idaho, we encountered a forest on fire, and so, spent the evening at Arrowrock Reservoir outside Boise, ID. There, a swarm of mormon crickets Anabrus simplex, gave us a warm welcome as we watched an orange sun set in a red sky. Fire is part of forest ecology, but with the complete disruption of natural cycles by human development (lack of enough elk to brows down forest under-story, keeping tinderbox environments to a minimum for example), conflagrations can happen, always threatening human life because we are building into these self-cultivated hot zones. We also noted how low the reservoir was, as with growing population, growing demand consumes more natural resources, though those resources remain finite. When will too much become not enough?

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In New Mexico, we met with family and enjoyed many excursions into the surrounding public land available in the southwest. Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites was one such place, and if you are anywhere near Bandelier National Monument, please go. This site is a chance to see the homes of early N. America Peoples. The rock cliffs were fortifications for villages who made there homes in the rock. The homes were no so much caves in the rock, but wooden lean-to structures against the rock. Below is a photo of a foot path carved deep into the stone paired with the tourist path above, as the more worn trail is really too narrow for people of today. It was possibly also a way to catch water, channeling down the rock faces into catchment basins below. When drought hit in the late 16th century, the people were forced to abandon their well loved home. Climate change has been shifting populations since the beginning of time. I wonder how long the people held out before finally getting the message and move on?

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If you visit the southwest today during August, you might experience the monsoon season. Rains do come to a lot of the desert, and we happened to time our visit to hit New Mexico’s mushroom spring! Bernard and I scoured the hillsides of nearby mountain forests and found an abundance of wonderful fungi. The basket below shows the diversity of edible shrooms we collected in only a few hours of walking around. It was a truly magical time in the mountains, and we were so lucky to witness the rains. I also found my first white king bolete Boletus barrowsii, a rare treat in foraging circles.

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We also continued our search for petroglyphs and found one site that had the most Kokopelli depictions available to the public. This too was a wonderful rock moment, climbing a cliff of basalt above The Rio Grande and finding a concentration of prehistoric art like nothing I’d ever seen. Studying the art, I often found that moving back and forth across the space from different directions revealed new pictures, depending on where I stood. I wondered how important stance along the rock canvas mattered, also how much had changed since the original rock was carved. It was evident that some of the stones had fallen down, causing a shift in perspective. This site, because of it’s ease of access, had a lot of modern graffiti on top of the original art, making it hard at times to sort copies from original work. It was great to walk right up to the face of the rock, experiencing these forms so freely, yet sad to also see how people had misused the space, carving into what was probably quite sacred and unique stories. We carve the earth in much the same way throughout civilization, never truly looking into the soil and stone we turn in the name of progress.

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Protected open space, where plants, animals, and people can enjoy the natural cycle of each season uninterrupted, is near to impossible today. The topography of the landscape has been altered so drematically by human hands, it is sometimes hard to see, but even in the picture below, Valles Caldera seems like prestine wilderness, and it is now in protection, but it will take many more generations of stewardship to let this habitat return to her own. For hundreds of years, settlers grazed cattle and sheep in this valley, cutting all the trees back and driving out wild animals like the elk, who once roamed here in the tens of thousands. In recent years, forest fires have wrought havoc on the surrounding mountain tops, leaving a reminder of nature’s ability to quickly change the environment. If you take another look, you can see even more powerful energies of the earth at work; the very rim of this caldera reminds us of the extrema geology right under our feet. Many millions of years ago, this area was home to many large volcanoes, spilling ash and lava across the landscape, an impossible place for any life to survive.

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Valles Caldera, NM

The beauty of nature can be short lived, but in our short stint on earth, we struggle to see the bigger ecological picture. On our trip, I sometimes struggled with feeling outside of the natural world, usually looking at it from within a truck at 60mph. We spent a lot of time out in nature, camping, hiking, sitting, watching, melting in, but still, gas stations, grocery stores, and the scope of man’s intrusion into natural cycles through industrial and commercial activity were impossible to ignore.

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Valles Caldera, NM

Even in more remote spots of National Forest, where we drove several hours to get into back country, we came upon cattle guards, fencing, and a lot of cows. Most of the National Forest in the US rents out the land to loggers, miners, frackers, ranchers, and other takers of our public natural resources. Those materials turn into fast food burgers, unleaded fuel for the truck, paper in a journal, jewelry, even parts of a cell phone, all of our materials come from nature. We must consume, to live, but our consumption is left unchecked, and our population keeps growing, therefor demanding more. How many more cows can we put in the shrinking forests? How many more of those forests have to be cut down. What if wildfires keep growing? Where will we get our resources then?

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Valles Caldera, NM

Even in the picture above, burned forest is the backdrop now for grazing cattle. Ranchers take advantage of new growth within the national forest surrounding Valles Caldera. Forest fires do renew the soil, but they should not be hot enough to burn all the trees like this. Then new growth begins, but if you run cattle on that new growth, it will be very hard to get trees to regrow. For ranchers, that’s just fine, because open pastures are better for grazing than forests, which shade out grasses below. Without proper recovery management for burned forests, those forests may be lost forever.

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Lost Creek Wilderness, CO

In Colorado, Bernard and I took time to visit my old stomping ground near South Park, in The Lost Creek Wilderness. This is a place which is cultivated as wilderness, yet still allows cattle to graze. At leas we could enjoy the grand nature without too many cow patties where we camped. Wilderness is supposed to be left to its own, with access for people to enjoy primitive pursuits in a more intact back country. On this night, we woke to below freezing temperatures and realized summer was coming to an end. This site was also the highest place we camped, at about 10,000 feet above sea level.

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Puma Hills, CO

Fire was a constant companion on the road, for better or worse. We did enjoy taking the time to design safe and warming campfire ovens in some places where fire danger was high. At this site in Puma Hills Colorado, we camped in a boulder field and were able to make a wonderful rock oven. This charming evening scene with our two camp chairs was a nightly occurrence for many days, and we grew quite fond of the ritual. Our first night back in Duvall, we sat in the living room and felt a little less connected without fire. Luckily, in a few months the woods stove will be back on, and fire will become a routine once again in our day to day living.

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Florissant, CO

Our second quarry dig took place in Florissant, CO. The dig site was known for it’s insect fossils, and though they were very small, we managed to find a few in the soft shale. Millions of years can be traced in only a few thin layers of rock, spanning time, climate change, evolution, and endless other signs of the change our planet has seen through its creation. All the small things, microscopic things that make up our world, the endless learning as we delve deeper into the bones of the earth, how enriching!

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Kemmerer, WY

We did take a second trip to Kemmerer, WY, and dug ourselves a few more cool fish from the shale beds. Bernard enjoys driving with his fish against the backdrop of shallow sea sholes now rolling with grasslands instead of ocean waves. As we spent more time interpreting the landscapes around us on our travels, we began to see extinct volcanoes all around, incredible upheaval in the earth’s crust. We wondered at how stable and calm the land is now, and has remained through human history in our little blip on the earths history as a whole. Mother nature could flip on her tectonic plate shuffle and turn us all head over heel overnight if she likes, and we are helpless to even comprehend such destructive force.

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Teton Valley, ID

We had the pleasure of spending a few days in Teton Valley Idaho, on the other side of The Teton Mountains from Jackson Hole, WY. The Teton Range is the youngest mountain range in America. The tectonic plates working their magic here are the same faults shared by Yellowstone National Park. In the picture above, we spent the night in an old shepard’s wagon, enjoying a more rustic night on the range. On Labor Day, we were invited to join friends on The Teton River for a float. I even purchased a two day fishing license and caught some tasty trout while we lazily meandered down the river with breathtaking views of the mountains. We also saw 3 moose.

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Norris Geyser Basin, WY

In Yellowstone, we took time to appreciate the geothermal activities of the area. We spent 2 nights in Norris Camp Ground, taking day trips into the surrounding park to see wildlife, geysers, and a lot more. While touring Norris Geyser Basin, we happened to bare witness to the awesome power of Steamboat Geyser. Above is a picture of the geyser before eruption, below, behold the awesome power of nature!

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Norris Geyser Basin, WY

We watched this explosive action for a while, the realized the truck was getting covered in silica across the parking lot from the eruption, and took our leave to save the windshield from micro scratches. It was still a great experience, and we have lots of great footage of the eruption. WordPress is not very friendly with video content, so I will share a link to You Tube instead.

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Lamar Valley, WY

Yellowstone National Park is an epic place, and I’d like to go back to spend more time there exploring, especially in less popular seasons like winter to avoid crowds. We hung out a lot in Lamar Valley, hoping to see wolves. We didn’t but buffalo behavior was all around, and we spent an enjoyable amount of time roaming with them across the glacially formed valleys beyond the thermal activity of the caldera. Recognizing when something was volcanic, versus ice flow in form, was a great lesson from the park.

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Beartooth Pass, MT

In our final driving, we stopped off in Potlach Idaho to meet the momma dog of my next puppy. Bill is an old world mountain man with a passion for good hunting dogs. I’ve been talking with him via email for many months now and already put down a payment for a Large Munsterlander puppy in 2019. I’ve chosen this breed for temperament, drive, and the challenge of training a good hunting dog. My old pup Indo, who died in 2017, was such amazingly trained dog, I can’t take all the credit, but I want to see if the training was really partly my gift, by trying a more formal breed with the intention of hunting grouse and truffles. It was a pleasure to finally meet the breeder n person, see his dogs, and watch them work a field as we took a stroll.

Potlach, ID

Finally, after 40 days of driving, we headed back into Washington and made the long eastern crossing back to The Cascades. In coming over Snoqualmie Pass on I90, we were greeted by rising clouds and forming rain. Truly, the Pacific Northwest, the temperate rain-forest, this special place is where we call home. Though Bernard and I talked a few times about why we might move to a particular place we visited, we always came back to our beloved western Washington as the ideal, even while picking some epic mushrooms in New Mexico. The great thing about this trip, is we learned how close some of these amazing places really are. Yellowstone is less than 12 hours from our doorstep, that’s a day or two of beautiful driving to enjoy. We’ll continue to plan more trips into the field, but also want to take more time to appreciate what’s already in our backyard. Washington state is truly a lifetime of exploring, and we’re well on our way!

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Fossils back at Leafhopper Farm, WA

 

 

Garden Growth

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The feast of growth in the gardens at Leafhopper Farm texture the landscape with beauty, form, and function. Wildflowers boarder the front gardens. Pictured above is the nursery garden where our perennial native plants mature from young root stalk. There are also companion edibles like kale and yacon root, snap peas and borage. The kaffir lime is potted to go in during the winter, and some rooted grape cuttings will be planted out along a holly hedge which should serve as a great trellis. These plants are all on a watering schedule together, and with many of the nursery plants so young, it is imperative that a regular watering schedule be implemented. Luckily, these plants are right off the front porch of the main house, and I walk by it several times a day to monitor the health and happiness of our long term herbaceous investments.

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Another garden out front of the main house is hosting some important young plants. Ever heard of chinquapin? Think of a smaller chestnut tree with more resistance to its larger cousin’s blight. The verity we’ve selected for future nut production on the farm is an east coast species. There is also a native western verity called Golden Chinkapin. We’ll also plan on introducing this more regional species, but the eastern verities produce an easier to harvest nut. The young trees will stay in the garden for a few more years while they put on more growth and establish in this environment.

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Oh how a rose- this shrub of ruby red beauty has exponentially stepped up production over the past few years and is noticeably thriving now. It’s blossoms are very fragrant, and add color in the house as well as a pleasant scent. Cascading down below the rose are the two plots which hosted cold frames last winter. Now, the spaces are full of mature seed for next year; from radish to chard, any seeds not harvested will go into the ground for fall crops. Our potatoes are also maturing nicely, and we expect a good crop this year. Beyond the seed crop is the new cloche location with a crop of mixed greens, flowers, and herbs. Below the cloche is a large bed with carrots, squash, and cammas bulbs. Along the fence line at the very bottom of the garden is a young hedge trying to set, but also getting crowded out by mature seeded kale, tomato vines, and roses.

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There are a couple of raised beds near the spigot by the tenant kitchen, and there is a great mix of growing friends together building layers of green vegetation to protect against drought. This bed will eventually have partial shade from the crabapple Malus fusca, which is to the back northwest of the bed. In old village sited around western Washington, these modest fruit bearing trees were planted and well tended around the edges of a seasonal or permanent camp area. They were coveted as a food source, and the bark is medicinal. At Leafhopper Farm, we are establishing these trees around the landscape as an emergency food source, and also, a great food for wildlife.

 

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We’ve been growing a red lettuce at Leafhopper Farm continuously through two years now, and the seeds from these plants will be saved again for another year of good fresh salad greens. Mustard seed is also collected and reseeded in the fall, some of the later seed is turned back into the beds during weeding in late summer. Since this bed is drip irrigates, we usually establish transplants during the summer around the hose, but this bed is going to be refreshed with additional soil, adding another foot of root space, so we’re waiting to put in perennials till after the new bed is set.

 

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Our frost peach has been trimmed up a bit, as you can prune stone fruit any time of year. We will trellis it this winter against the kitchen to combat curly leaf in early spring. The passive solar heat radiating off the south side of the building creates a wonderful warm climate for the fruit tree. A carpet of herbs, oregano, kitchen sage, and chives, establish below within easy reach of the kitchen for culinary use. These herbs can handle full sun, and will be expanding in size enough to protect the soil moisture during the summer drought time. We’re also mulching the bare ground with good leaf litter.

These well tended spaces are productive and ever growing in their abundance. More companion planting will continue to encourage diversity and inner connectivity between species. Cooperation in nature ensures a wider range of survival and security for both the plants, and those who steward them. No matter the size, tended space with intention, weather growing food, or beautiful flowers to brighten the day, stewardship of place is so important. Making that space you tend most accessible and easy to water, all parts of smart design, will encourage successful cultivation and enjoyment of production.

 

Mushroom Blooms

The red alder logs inoculated last year at Leafhopper Farm are colonizing nicely; even fruiting in some cases! The shiitake are still shy, maybe even predated by another fungus – we’ll hopefully know this fall when the logs fruit. You can see in the stack pictured below, mycelium is spreading across the wood layers and turning the ends of these logs white. If we really wanted to get technical with the stack, we could send a scraping of the mycelium to a lab for confirmation, but for now, we’ll just keep monitoring the stack and hope that by October, fruit will bloom.

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Blooming is the name of the game with our turkey tail stack next door. Trametes versicolor is one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate on a log stack, and sure to show fruit within the first year of inoculation. Here below we can see the young fruit developing from a more subtly whitened log butt. This modest polypor is a popular medicinal mushroom. Polysaccharide-K is a very promising medicine that The American Cancer Society claims “slows the spread of cancer cells. PSK also appears to have some immune system–boosting properties in people undergoing chemotherapy and may lessen some side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. PSK is also believed to be a strong anti-oxidant, a compound that blocks the action of free radicals, activated oxygen molecules that can damage cells.” (ref.)

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Here at Leafhopper Farm, we’re interested in diverse cultivation of food, medicine, and materials for daily use. Turkey tail mushrooms are a part of the pharmacopeia, and increase mycorrhiza in our landscape to cultivate fertility and the neutralization of things like free radicals in our soil and water. Our turkey tail will be harvested, dried, and used in teas. This species of mushroom has shown to be the easiest and most successful colonizer in our log stacks so far, and we would encourage anyone trying out mushroom cultivation in logs to try this species first as an introduction to the process.

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Duck Departure

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Ducks have played a role at Leafhopper Farm on a few occasions now, but our most recent flock of Kaki Campbells is departing to another nearby permaculture farm for good. Though the ducks have burdened our pond with nitrogen, causing an algae bloom, it was not the cause of their leaving. Instead, it was the acknowledgement that the electric mesh rotational system was not working, as the ducks were getting out constantly and going to the pond. Also, because I am traveling next month, there is no opportunity to solve the duck system quirks in the next week and when you hand off your farm to others in a temporary care situation, it’s best to have things simple and working.

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The ducks could have ranged freely, with a night pen to go into, but the pond was still a draw, and even after we fenced it off, the ducks were still getting in. To protect the integrity of our water feature, and to make things easier for farm care while I’m away, the ducks had to go. Luckily, the farm taking our ducks on short notice, special shout out to Alexia of Hawthorn Farm, has said I can have some eggs to incubate any time. Reacquiring livestock is not hard, and the flex to have and have not is important to accept from time to time. If ducks to return, it will have to be in a much more enclosed and controlled environment. Perhaps we will short fence our pond permanently, to encourage a boundary. Maybe the electric mesh just needs a little more tweaking, and maybe ducks are not meant to be on Leafhopper Farm.

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