Mushroom Workshop

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We got after oyster mushroom spawn inoculation into red alders at Leafhopper Farm this weekend! People came to learn about plug spawn inoculation into logs and together, we spread mycelium into about 50 good sized logs. The oysters were chosen for remediation support, as the area we left the logs in is within the stream buffer, which will be treated with glyphosates to overtake the blackberry and knot-weed plants. The oyster mushrooms are very good at breaking down and neutralizing many kinds of petrochemicals- including herbicides. The inoculated logs will have time to develop a strong mushroom population to combat the chemical treatment to come.

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Working together with others is such a pleasure, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as we worked. Lots of warm sun helped make the day much more relaxing as we took terns moving logs, drilling holes in them, plugging with dowels of inoculated sawdust compressed into the logs to colonize the wood. We also experimented cutting notches and filling them with loos spawn, then sealing them up with natural clay, found in our creek. We eventually covered the clay with skunk cabbage leaves to keep the rain off. I hope this method works, for it is much easier and fast for on the ground logs.

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Some of the logs were carried up to the pole barn to recive more plugs at another station. Here we could plug into a wall outlet and run a much more powerful drill, which made plugging faster. On Sunday, we hauled the rest of the finished logs back to the site near the creek to be spread out on very wet ground. The added moisture will make the logs easy to colonize, encouraging the spawn to travel along the log and eventually fruiting out into oyster mushrooms.

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Most of the logs were sealed using organic soy wax. This process can be very messy to put down a tarp or work in the grass. In the picture below the last of the larger logs is sealed. There is a much smaller log laying on the tarp, which is plugged with shiitake mushroom spawn as a personal take home experiment. It is much harder to establish this strain of mycelium into a log, so I wished everyone good luck in trying. I’m sure with luck, a few flushes will come from them.

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Beautiful inoculated logs cascade out the back of the truck, ready to go onto the landscape as more rain brings the perfect habitat to these fungal starts. The work of these eager learners was such a blessing for Leafhopper Farm. These logs will help mitigate pollution in the stream and on the landscape. They will continue to produce mushrooms for years to come- we will not harvest the first few years of flushes, but if new alder is stacked on the older logs long after the glyphosate treatments are gone, future oysters could be harvested for personal use.

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It’s the largest inoculation at the farm to date, with about 1,500 plugs going onto the landscape. The work took roughly 6 hours with the help of 15 people over two days. It was not a complex operation, and everyone said they felt they had helped and learned something in the workshop. I was so relived to hear that the weekend was enjoyable, and am in the process of planning more opportunities over the coming months to work together at Leafhopper Farm.

Cistern Setup

There was a crew of people at Leafhopper Farm this weekend for a mushroom workshop and we found time on Sunday morning to pull out the 20,000 gallon cistern. My hope is to have it set up to catch rain before December, but a filtration system must first be designed, and we’ll need to do a lot of calculating and measuring, as the inflow pipe of this behemoth is dead center on top of the tank. That’s not an easy place to span from the top of the roof catchment system. Lots of learning to come!

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The heavy plastic was sticking to its self and took a lot of cajoling to spread fully into the 23×36′ space. At one point, some of us were crawling under the tank, using our feet and legs to pry apart the folds of material. It was a very awkward structure to maneuver into place, but in less than a half hour, the job was complete.

Having the tank set up takes us a step closer to our goal of water security here at the farm. We’ll look forward to planting our swale system next fall, and cultivating more landscape than ever before here at Leafhopper Farm. Thanks again to all the people supporting this space and the vision of clean food and healthy living. The farm continues to be a place of system demonstration and evolution.

Yesterday one of the WWOOFers commented on how this place is always changing, projects may not be finished, but they keep getting better, it’s like the natural world, never finished. That’s the reality of stewarding place, it’s never finished. I appreciate that forward thinking and how it plays out here at the farm. The energy of change is embraced, without the stress of too much expectation. By aligning the rhythms of the farm closer to those of the natural world, systems flow naturally and harmoniously. More is happening here every day, not deterred by the slowness of evolution- in most cases. I’m sure there will continue to be fast changes too, like the work our earth movers do in just a few days.

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Our water system is scaling up, with a jump from a few 800 gallon cistern tanks catching roof run off, to a massive 20,000 gallon pillow tank to flood irrigate our quarter acre food forest, which will be developed in the coming year. The capacity to hold to much water, allows us the security to generously water through our drought season next summer. This in turn invites the planting of larger swaths of space for cultivation, knowing we will be able to tend these gardens through the driest times which we’re now facing here in Western Washington with continual frequency. In future, once this first food forest is established, we could move the portable tank to another area of the property to help establish more cultivated space at Leafhopper Farm.

Cold Mornings

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sheep graze through the frost

Leafhopper Farm has become a frosty wonderland as winter begins to set in. Our livestock come in during the nights now for comfort, and the gardens are covered with mulch or cloche. November is usually our coldest month, and the weather has been generous, offering more sun than expected, but at what cost?

It’s an El Nino year- meaning less rain and warmer temperatures- great for spring or fall, but not the winter of a temperate rain-forest. If we are in for a dry winter, it will make next summer all the more hazardous to fire. Let’s hope the winter rains are still on there way for The Pacific Northwest.

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cold frames and cloche are set up

Cold temperatures also usher in new species of migrating birds to our region. I’ve been hearing some unfamiliar calls first thing in the morning, and look forward to identifying our winter visitors. Other animals like elk are also returning to the lowlands to avoid the harsher snow up in the mountains. Over the next few months, Washington will get darker and darker, and our seemingly endless growing season will slow to almost standstill; almost.

We’ll be hustling to transplant young trees and shrubs, pruning fruit trees back, and mulching with as much cardboard as we can to get ahead of Spring weeds. Our large cistern will be going into place before the end of the month, and fully installed to catch rain water through the wettest time of our year. Let’s hope the weather does offer at least enough rain to get that tank full before the start of what is now becoming our regular summer drought season.

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neighbor Sam helps move the 20,000 tank into place

Whatever the weather is, it’s sure to be ever more dramatic than past records show, which means planning for these extremes by building a system of agriculture which supports resiliency of the environment. This includes diversity of species which can flex with the changing weather patterns, and as much water retention as we can get for irrigation. Our growing spaces are developed with deep beds of organic material to absorb moisture and store it away deep in the soil for when plants need it. Leafhopper Farm is taking the time to develop a long lasting landscape of rejuvenation and abundance, hand in hand with mother nature as she responds to our man made madness.

Welcome Katahdin Sheep

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These two new stars at Leafhopper Farm are Salt and Pepper, Katahdin sheep from the east side of Washington. They are a hair sheep, meaning the fleece will naturally shed off without the need for shearing. They are also used to colder wet weather and have a great health record, with low susceptibility to parasites, something you find in most older world breeds. Old world to me means shedding sheep- a trait left over from before human domestication and sheering for wool weight was desirable. It also means better genetics and low maintenance care, both highly desirable traits for animals that inhabit Leafhopper Farm.

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Old world sheep are also adept at browsing a diversity of forage in the field, unlike moderns breeds which prefer grass alone. These rugged animals wander the pastures with great energy, hopping across the swales and confidently moving around the landscape without the typical fear and panic you see in many modern breeds. Salt and Pepper were hand raised by a young girl who fed them grain every day and handled them often. This has lead to very gentle behavior form the sheep, and they are a pleasure to work with here on the farm. An extra special thanks to Alice and her Mom for raising such wonderful sheep.

Our plan at Leafhopper is to acquire more of this breed for the farm next Spring. As we slowly shift towards sheep, the farm hopes to utilize more electric mesh netted pastures, opening up more grazing and better access to the fields at the farm for grazing livestock. We’ve has sheep before, and are happy to have a breed that is calm and docile, unlike the wild soay and black bellied barbs we tried in the past. With luck, the Katahdin will be the farm breed of choice, and we’ll work towards building a herd of 8-10 animals for pasture management and meat. It’s great to have sheep back in the pastures of Leafhopper Farm.

Forestry

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Taking advantage of a few sunny days to fell red alders at Leafhopper Farm. The alders are a pioneer species in forest regrowth. They come up first, grow quickly, and climax as the evergreens begin to take over the canopy. The farm is part of King County’s Forest Stewardship Program. This means, there’s a plan for the landscape that focuses on restoring groves and encouraging them into old growth. The area I am taking alders out of is part of our stream buffer with Weiss Creek to protect salmon. This buffer will be replanted next spring and in the mean time, I’m opening up the canopy to let in light for the young plants. By dropping the alders, we also create a perfect substrate for mushrooms.

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Leafhopper Farm will be hosting an inoculation class this weekend to establish oyster mushrooms in the fallen logs. We’re doing this to remediate the space after it is treated with glyphosates to kill off the invasive blackberry and knot weed. The county uses this method for convenience, and to receive funding for the project, the chemical treatment is required. The mushrooms, specifically oysters, will happily eat up any chemical toxin that might leech from the injection treatment. Those mushrooms will not be eaten, but allowed to return to the soil with the neutralized substances. This is called mycoremediation.

The composting alder will add nutrients to the young plants as they establish habitat and diversity on the landscape. Trees are also planted in to ensure the return of a healthy forest with diverse established under-story to complete the canopy cover. For some it may seem counter intuitive to cut trees to make a forest, but access to the sky is at a premium, and, though the alders would eventually drop naturally- and we are leaving some up to do so- our restoration planting will ultimately fill in faster with the additional light.

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The branches from fallen alders will be piled up and moved to the upper field where our young chestnut grove will enjoy the protection and nutrition of the slash. When I drop a lot of trees at once, I take the time to break down each tree as I go to prevent tangle and difficulty. Even with careful planning and organization, sometimes things can still get hung up in the process. Quite literally, one of the trees I cut did not make it all the way to the ground. Instead, it hangs precariously about 20 feet in the air against another alder and some red cedar bows. That’s not ideal, and creates a safety issue.

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I left the hanging problem for a few days in hopes that a breeze would bring it down. Next week, with more sunny days, I’ll get a chance to finish the project and get down the rest of those alders. We already have more than enough logs for the inoculation party. It’s such a pleasure to do this work, knowing a new forest is on it’s way to filling this landscape with a lasting stable ecology. This is a legacy I am proud to support.

 

Animal Updates

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Brownie, Brawnwen, and Gamble

The goats are roaming between rains here at Leafhopper Farm. There are a lot of yummy fall seeds and final leaves to grab across the landscape, and our three girls are scavenging the ground for nibbles. These three goats are the start of a new herd direction at the farm; the final years. Yes, goats have been pushing back blackberries for years, and it’s time to start thinking in a new direction of animal management. In working with goats now for six years now, I’ve learned so much from my animals and really loved the work they’ve done on the land to keep things clear.

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Now, with our footpaths and pasture spaces well established, we can return to electric mesh rotational grazing with sheep to keep the bramble at bay and utilize the infrastructure we already have to put in place. The goats have been rotated in a tether system, and will continue to move about for another year, but long term plans have goats phasing out, and that’s important because the goats have been the most difficult animal for those helping me here on the farm to handle. By replacing them with sheep, we reintroduce a grazing system with animals docile enough to stay within the electric mesh netting. This makes livestock management easier for average experienced people.

We’ll introduce Katahdin sheep next week from a flock on the east side of the state near Entiat. These two yearlings will be a test herd for setting up new fencing for this rotational animal system. We’ll fold it right in with the hens so all the netting can be on the same electrical current from the shop. After years of struggling with a solar charger that failed in winter, we’re plugging directly to the main grid for a strong charge in our fence. This will keep animals in, and predator out without worry about the sunny days that never come in winter months. At night, all animals will be shut up in the barn for protection and shelter.

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In the hen house, shelter is at a premium. The 14 young hens hatched in August are moving in with the main flock and roots are filling up fast. I’ll have to get on building the new coop soon because as these newest ladies grow up, the perches will not be large enough for the whole flock. That’s another great motivator for me to build, and I’m sure we’ll have time this winter to get the new coop together and ready for spring laying season. It’s great to know we’re over 50 birds right now at Leafhopper Farm. We’ll be culling a few more birds later this winter, but this is our ideal full flock, including the full range of ages and productivity. Our ideal is 30 laying hens, and another 15 younger birds in development, with about 5 old hens to be culled next season.

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The oldest hens perch at the top on the roost; younger hens are stuck at the bottom of the pecking order and perch lower too. Our new coop design will give more space for roosting, safer enclosure, and more layer boxes for eggs. The flock will remain around 50 birds with 30 layer hens, 15 young ones to replace old hens, and 5 older hens to be culled next season. This is the optimal small farmstead flock. We’ll continue breeding with Ayam Cemani roosters to develop a flock of pure bred Cemani birds with good layer genetics thrown in to up production while retaining the more primitive jungle fowl instincts. These birds continue to show great skill in survival and hardiness. They are still smaller than the layer hen breeds I’ve introduced, but the new Cemani hens we’ve been breeding are gaining in girth. The Leafhopper Farm bred hen on right in the picture above is a similar body weight to the heritage Delaware layer on left. We’re excited to keep working with this breed, and hope to one day have a good Cemani layer hen.

 

 

Hunting Time

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Snoqualmie Tree Farm, October 2018

The hunt is on for black tail deer Odocoileus hemionus columbianus. In Western Washington, it’s best to find yourself a nice clear cut for a good scope of range and sit in a slash pile or against an old stump. Waiting is the vast occupation of hunting; outside stalking, the wait is your ticket to harvesting some great venison. It’s likely that you’ll sit for 2-4 hours at a time, and you can’t be looking at your phone. The hunt means focused senses; lots of watching, listening, and time to think. It’s really a moment of decompression in a world that cannot slow down. Sit spot during a hunt is my down time, relaxation with vigilance, because it’s hunting, not sun bathing.

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Ozette, WA June 2018

Sunlight on a hunt might seem like a great thing, but in black tail country, rain is another helpful ally. The deer are up and active in the rain, feeding comfortably in weather that makes a sane person want to curl up with a book by the fire. You’ll get your best chances at a deer in the worst weather, because not only are the animals roaming, but your inevitable noisy self moving through the terrain is muffled by the droplets of water falling around you. If you do get a sunny day, look for deer bedded down in tall grass of low growing shrubs. It’s not uncommon for a hunter walking through waist high brush to have deer jump up in front of them, seemingly out of no where.

Black tail are masters of hiding, as you see in the trail cam above- this doe tucks out of site as soon as the camera goes off. She takes just a few steps back into the brush and disappears. When I’m hunting, this sink and fade technique has dodged my sites successfully more than once. This is where patience can really pay off. I’ve often come upon deer standing in a way that is not conducive to a good shot; this is common and can be remedied by waiting, watching, and hoping the deer will shift positions. Often times, they do.

This was the situation with my hunt this year at Leafhopper Farm. One of my tenants texted me that he had seen a buck in my back pasture with other does that morning. I met him at the door in my camo with 12 gauge and got the scoop on where, exactly the set up, direction, and number of other deer. Then I calmly walked down to the bridge at Weiss Creek and saw the small herd together resting after heavy rains. Sure enough, the buck I wanted was standing eye to eye with me, leaving no good shot. By now, another younger buck had stood up and the herd was beginning to exit, stage right.

I knelt and set up my Pole Cat shooting sticks which steady my gun to make an accurate shot. The buck was about 15 yards away and turning so I took aim. My backdrop behind the animals was the creek, and with a 12 gauge slug, I was not worried about the bullet traveling miles down stream, in the case of my 30-06. The only funny thing about the whole situation was my cats. Both adult meow meows had come down to the stream with me on what they thought was a common walk about. Well, the gun went off with Lucia right under me and Muir just behind. The feline friends exited back to the farm house and forgave me when fresh venison showed up in their bowl for dinner.

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The buck hunched as the slug struck his lower right shoulder, instantly piercing both lungs. He leapt into the woods with the others as they scattered, only to come crashing down beneath a red cedar near the stream. Since I was able to get to the animal so quickly, and he was still alive, I took one more shot to the throat and stilled any suffering. The animal was magnificent, and I knelt to give thanks, recognizing that this was the first deer I had ever harvested on the farm property. The land was giving back, and I was so humbled by this gift. I also thanked the deer people for their sacrifice, knowing one day my bones will feed the grasses that feed the deer.

October harvest has been very generous this year, and I am so thankful for a full larder, great healthy food to share with wonderful people I love and share joy with in this life. A special shout out to Kyle for seeing the deer and telling me, to Bernard for joining us in hauling out the buck in his boxer shorts, and to the rain for holding off long enough for my successful hunt and the processioning time there after. It has been a wonderful season with so many lessons. I look forward to future hunts an more opportunities to feed people with wild game from the land.