Hay Day

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Make hay while the sun shines! There is a lot of tall grass around Leafhopper Farm this week, so I took the scythe to the fields and did a little mowing. I’m getting the hang of using a large cutting blade in rhythmic swinging to bring down cane and brush. These hay stacks are glorious shaped mound of bounty from the land, and a pleasure to sculpt. Each cutting was brought down, sun dried for a day or two, and them raked up. If the grasses sit in the sun for too long, all the nutrients is cooked out of them, so I have to time all this harvest just right.

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These cuttings are still too green to stack, so I’ve spread them out for another day of drying. If you stack up wet hay and put it into the barns, you could end up with a fire. Green manure left to pile up will get so hot, it combusts. I’m not dealing with a lot of hay at this time, just what I cut around the buildings and driveway in zone one, but it’s still a lot of biomass.

Keeping walking paths and roads open is most important. Last year, I used a weed wacker borrowed from a neighbor to keep things clear. This year, I fully embraced my scythe and have really enjoyed the non-motorized work. I get an ab work out, avoid fuel consumption, and remove material with more awareness, leaving flowers and rare species intact. I’m also taking time to really look at my land, learn the grasses, and better appreciate the growth developing here.

This is the third year I’ve gathered hay, and though it’s only a small amount of what I will need to feed my goats through the winter, it’s a great use of grass clippings and the goats are happy with their native feast. In late August, I hope to have a larger mower make a sweep of the place, because there is a lot of grass still up. Cutting it makes the grass healthier, and more palatable to the grazing animals. Ideally, in the next few years, there will be enough grazing animals here at Leafhopper Farm to do most of the mowing themselves, but it’s nice to have a little hay put away for a rainy day.

Community Gardens & Outdoor Kitchen

One of the important design systems at Leafhopper Farm revolves around community space. We’ve been carving out individual gardening spaces for a few years now, along with fire pit area, outdoor kitchen, and other beautification for the people living here and enjoying the land.

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Lavender Cabin Gardens

Many spaces are still “in the works” so to speak, and it’s going to take more time to fully see this vision carried through, but the trend of growth so far is wonderful to watch. The raised bed built by WOOFers in summer 2016 is now full of vegetables. Flowers are blooming out in other beds where soil is still poor, but wildflowers flourish.

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raised bed on left

The stairs I roughed out two summers ago are now filling in with stone crop, and the yellow plumb tree is in its second year of fruit production. Clematis trails along the wall of Lavender Cabin and new beds along the structure invite a colorful walk through vivid growth. I still have to do some scything of grass and weeds in this space, but it’s putting down more mulch for the soil and giving me a great ab workout.

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stairs and clematis with more flower gardens

Micro-habitats are forming around each living space, much like the kitchen and front gardens of the main residence. In the picture below, I’m standing near the tiny house looking northwest at the herb garden planted below a nice old growth stump supporting the life of a red huckleberry bush. The shade from the dwelling casts a shadow into space that was once full sun. Now a cooler region of air mass stands to support moister soil and sanctuary to more sensitive plants species. If the house moves out, the entire space will change overnight. I try to keep this in mind when setting up impermanent spaces of habitation.

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Tiny house herb garden

The tiny house gardens are a little weedy, but as first year beds, they have a lot of good edible plants, and some usable wild ones amongst the weeds. Daily watering is a must for such open beds, though they get a break from morning sun, shaded out by a cedar grove, which will one day have to come down because of overgrazing damage caused by previous caretakers of this land. Hungry cattle will strip trees of their bark in winter.

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tiny house gardens

The blue tent erected at the back of the pole barn shades a work space erecting the outdoor kitchen. This facility will be near our community fire pit. One of the residence sourced free granite counter top scraps from a neighbor down the road, so our kitchen might be the nicest one on the farm (once water is hooked up). Another couple of tenants put together this construction and I’m so glad for it, as I am personally, not a great builder. Each person in a community has their talent, and skills to offer the farm if they so choose. It’s been a great week of work on Leafhopper Farm.

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outdoor kitchen

Brown Eggs

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This was not an impulse buy, but a quest for darker brown eggs. Welcome to Leafhopper Farm three new chicken breeds for the flock. Two verities of Marans are not on site; Black Copper and Wheaten.

 French Black Copper Maran Chicken Hatching Eggs | eBay

These names are only to do with color. Both kinds are Marans. The Roosters look a lot alike, it’s the hens that show off the color morphs they are named after. Marans originated in the town of their name’s sake in France. In the 12th and 13th centuries, British sailors returning from trading in “The Orient” (Southeast Asia) brought the birds on their ships. Chickens were selectively bread for size, egg production, and color (both of feathers and eggs). Marans formed as an official breed in the 1800s. Barnevelder.jpg

Our other new breed is from Holland; Barnevelder are a Dutch breed of chicken which also lay dark brown eggs. These chicks fit the standard of this breed (it’s all about color): double barred feathers on a dark brown background.This is the original coloration. The standard for this breed also has it’s roots in Southeast Asian bloodlines, like all chickens. It’s so fascinating to see how one animal can become so diverse through human selection and domestication.  We’ll be enjoying the dark brown eggs that took hundreds of years to create.

 

Gushing Grasses

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Leafhopper Farm is a small permaculture demonstration farm outside of Seattle Washington. Within our acreage, there is a mixture of forest and pasture land, along with about 300′ of Weiss Creek running across the southern half of the property. The pastures are mainly grassland; with countless verities of what we all think of as grass. Now, grass is far from just the green stuff growing on the ground in a matted carpet of potential histamine stimulation and pruritus (itchiness).

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Turns out, it’s a jungle out there. I’ll admit that grass is my “green wall”  of unexplored vegetation. These pictures are my first attempt labeling the grass at Leafhopper Farm. I know some of these are wrong, even as I write this. The best way to identify grasses involves the nodes. Since I topped the plants for my gathering convenience, there are no “leaves” of grass to look at. I’ve chosen a more challenging ID game using the complex seed head (flower spike) structures of each species.

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These pictures do not do justice to the complex shapes within each of these samples. Grass is epic! Think of an ear of corn before you husk it. The green layers of textured, hairy roughage are larger versions of the bulging heads of “spiklets” perched on each stem below.

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There could be mislabeled samples of the same species at different stages of seeding too. Just compare Common Velvet and Reed Canary! Because it’s so wet here, many of the grass looking vegetation is actually other plant family look-a-likes. Note Dewey’s Sedge at the end of this entry.

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The Poa Genus has about 500 species which thrive in temperate regions and are the most adaptable grass to mowing heights. They are known as “Bluegrass” in North America.  Once, when I was a little girl, I wanted to have a band called “Blue Grass”, then my Mom told me that was a whole genera of music already. Now I’m a farmer and I grow Bluegrass. 🙂

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The Quackgrass above is also called couch grass. The genus is technically Elymus, and I don’t know why Agropyron is considered a synonym; but that’s scientific names for you. This grass was imported from Eurasia in the 1600s, and considered a weed. It’s a tough grass and is native to many places, even The Arctic biome. This grass is not pervasive on my land, but I think it’s being imported in my hay. I see it the most around the goat barn.

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Sweet Vernal grass is short, and you might not even notice it in a crowd. I hope I’m right about IDing Sweet Vernalgrass on the land. It’s called sweet because when it’s dry, a vanilla scent develops. The seed head (flower spike) on this specimen is damaged, looking much shorter than the full flower spike. There would normally be about 3x as many spikelets on that flower spike (seed head). It’s also an early spring grass. I picked this one already dry in the driveway.

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Elymus is the Genus of our cereal crops. I sew winter rye as a cover crop in some places. Glaucus happens to be a Greek prophetic sea god. He was turned immortal after eating a magical herb used by Helios (sun god) to relive his horses’ fatigue. The herb was also called “Dog’s Tooth”, which happens to be another name for Couch Grass. The two flower spikes look similar. I would think horses would enjoy eating rye more than quackgrass.

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I do know that the grass featured below is what horse lovers enjoy feeding their four legged lawn ornaments. This timothy definitely did come from hay bought for my goats. It’s not a bad species to have in the mix so I’ll happily let it spread in the pastures.

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The rogue specimen in this collection is no grass, but a sedge. The genus Carex has over 2,000 species, and the entry for deweyana has not even been written yet on Wikipedia. I knew this was a sedge when I picked it. It may not be deweyana, but my naturalist eye can pick out Carex from any Poaceae. Well, let me restate that; I can tell a Cyperaceae from any Poaceae, but Carex is a “true sedge”, and I’m no caricologist (yes, that’s a real name).

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I thought trying to identify the grasses around the farm would be a challenge, and I was right! I’ve gone out and pulled more flower spikes (seed heads), trying to name them and locate new species for the continued demystification of my pastures. I’ll also have a whole new respect for cutting the grass.

Chicken Living

There are a lot of birds hanging out around Leafhopper Farm, and most of them are chickens! We’re raising our final chicks who hatched out in mid June. There are 5 little chicks in our movable round pen. Letting a mother hen hatch out chicks is fun, but also unpredictable in many ways. Since all these chicks are also hybrids, there laying productivity is less then that of their pure-bred layer hens. Still, they do lay eggs, and we’re not working towards industrial scale production.

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All of the adult hens find there way to the nest boxes, and it looks like we should start building more! There’s a plan to resurrect an old tool trailer on the property, transforming it into a portable coop for the farm. The old standing coop is full of rat holes and seems too unstable structurally to continue as a safe place for the hens.

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We’re really excited about expanding our flock over the next few years from an average of 20 layers to about 50. One portable coop will start us in that direction, but another will have to be built to hold the numbers in time. For now, the ladies are spending the summer in their familiar home, utilizing structures already in place, including the nest boxes.

We lost one of our three Ayam Cemani roosters last month to what was most likely an owl. Rock-star chose to live outside the coop. I explained to him the risks, and he knew what was at stake. It’s one of only two birds we’ve lost to predators this year, and the other was also lost to an owl. There’s a Bard Owl who likes to come sit in one of our red cedars right outside the hen house hoping for a straggler. I love the owls, and understand that they need to eat too. So, I encourage them to be rodent hunters and it’s my job to keep the flock safely shut in the coop at night, out of the talons of our carnivorous birds of prey.

In the young flock of five babes, there is a black bird. I am hopeful that it’s a female Cemani, as we need more hens to breed! I’m still trying to fix the incubator, which burned out it’s fan last winter, ruining the last batch of eggs I tried to manually hatch. I’d like to start one more batch of babes to raise through the fall, but that might have to wait till next spring.

The chickens have been a staple livestock system of Leafhopper Farm since our first year in 2013. Birds are worth their cost in organic feed, as they offer eggs, meat, and gleaning of the land. This fall I will be replanting the native plants out of the kitchen garden, then turning the flock loose on my garden beds to clean out the bugs and their eggs from the rich earth. I’ll get a pest free garden, ready for spring planting, and the chickens will get all that rich bug matter to eat and enjoy.

I wonder why people don’t add the value of insect gleaning and soil tilling into the numbers game of making chickens an affordable system. Many of my fellow chicken farmers talk of how expensive feed is, and the numbers rarely come out beyond a break even scheme. I find that, though the organic grain is costly, my hens eat less of it in the warm months because they enjoy rich pasture, made even richer by their bug gleaning and tillage. I try to re-seed more aggressively scratched out areas with diverse pasture species like clover, plantain, and even some grains like rye and wheat. In winter, I throw the grain out on the landscape more often to encourage continued earth turning under the feet of the hens. The grain they do not pick up usually re-seeds too.

Perhaps if we chicken growers look more closely at all the benefits of our chickens, we might find greater payback in the work the birds do to the land, and continue to enhance pasture for our birds and other grazing animals that can also enjoy the fertility of our organic fields. In the mean time, chickens abound and we’re loving the eggs with rich yellow yolks filled with organic protein.

 

 

 

 

Cats, Fruit, and Medicinal Herbs

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The kittens are turning into little prowling rodent hunters. They are so cute! Muire is the dominate male, growing bigger and more cuddly every day as he plays in the grass, batting at wood chips and stalking his sister. Luchia is sleek and supple, outmaneuvering her brother’s onslaught and lurking in dark shadows watching for an opportune moment to pounce.

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In the green house, out tomatoes loom, heavy green leaves hide yellow flowers which turn into the bright red fruit we adore. There will be a good harvest this year, with many jars of red sauce to be canned later this fall. Our apple trees hang heavy with young fruit of another kind. They are wonderful trees awaiting another year of pruning as they ripen their gifts of red, gold, and green. Peaches are ripening up too, after three rounds of thinning to prevent branch damage from the weight of so much bounty. The leaf wilting bacteria on some of the tree have not diminished production, but a treatment of organic spray will tend the tree through its budding out next spring.

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Down in the lower beds, a variety of wildflowers and pollination species bloom with multi-color brightness. The native plants put in earlier this spring are now leafed out and growing with enthusiasm. We’ll need to give them a watering soon, as rain is not in the forecast for this month. In summer, The Pacific Northwest earns a good spell of dry weather, demanding frequent watering in the gardens to keep them green and lush. I’m so glad the established fruit trees are stable enough to need no extra water. Our grey water systems feed the roots of our orchard with a slow drip dampness to keep the fruit lush.

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There are ripe raspberries along one of the hugaculture beds. The red berries are a great breakfast treat while weeding.

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Near the raspberries is the pond, still holding water and supporting a great many living things. The fish are still within, schooling to the surface in early evening to glean bugs from the surface. I’ve been picking off bullfrogs again this year, though none have been close enough to shore for personal harvest. We’re not hearing them sing, and i intend to keep it that way.

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The bounty at Leafhopper Farm continues, with a work party planned for this weekend. We’ll be building an outdoor kitchen for our campers, including visiting WWOOFers. I’ll post an update on our progress early next week with photos of the changes. Any time people work on building something here, there is great immediate change. The plants grow much more slowly, but the lush green carpet of divers plants is no less transnational, though perhaps harder to see at once.

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This bed holds a collection of fodder plants from a mix to enhance pasture space. Radish dominates the thick growth, paired well with kale, turnips, and calendula. The radish pods will be harvested and put in with pickles during canning in the fall. This mix has also provided a lot of good pollination material, and I look forward to sewing more of these seeds at the end of summer in hopes of another harvest before the first frost in November.

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of harvesting our lavender. On the table you’ll also see sagebrush Artemisia tridentata from the east side, wild catnip Nepeta cataria, and some mullein leaves Verbascum thapsus. I’ll be using these medicinal plants to make herbal remedies for the natural medicine cabinet. Most of these plants will be put into tinctures which are alcohol based. The alcohol acts as a solvent, releasing the chemical compounds from the plant which we can then take in small amounts to receive the healing properties that might not otherwise be released from the plant when ingested.

With all this wonderful material around us for healing, nutrition, enjoyment, and fun; no wonder the natural world is truly a lifetime of adventure and learning. I look forward to sharing more!

 

Pollination Stations!

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The gardens have been left to their own devices this summer, as I take time to travel with family. When I left, most of the flowering plants were just starting to form buds. Now, the whole place is an explosion of color. My hope that the diversity of new flowers would attract a variety of pollinator species like bees and humming birds. I think my plan is working, because I’ve seen many little zipping blurs chirping around the lavender and sage, while the sound of humming insects has raved up, and bumble bees crash around in the foxglove and asters.

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This year the wildflower seeds exploded, yielding so many new flower species, and the pollinators have responded en-mass.

The Cascadia Hops are off the hook, as expected, but next winter, they will need to be dug up and transplanted to better locations where their experiential growth is more appreciated. Right now, these fantastic vines are trying to overtake everything they reach. Including all my other vegetable plants in the front garden.

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Most of the front garden has become bolted lettuce (meaning the hot sun sent them from sweet leafed salad mix to bitter seeding out towers of inedible vegetation) but that’s ok, we’ll use the seed for next fall’s batch and have salad all the way through winter, a second year of using Leafhopper’s own seed! The corn is barely six inches high, and I have my doubts about getting any kind of crop out of it this year. The snap peas are happy, and trellising nicely along the cloche. My one asparagus is leafing out, which means we might get more shoots next year if the root crown can grow a bit more. All of the radishes bolted, as they tend to do, but that gives us a lot of succulent radish pods to enjoy and pickle for next winter. I think I actually like the pods better than the radish root, and will plan on allowing them to bolt from now on. Anyone else find this to be a better way to utilize radish?

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I did buy and plant a few potted plants, like pansies, which have edible flowers. I’m enjoying the diverse color and hoping some make it through the winter for another year of food and brightness in the garden. The rock-star of the garden this year is strawberries. Though they are small, being of a more wild variety, the fruit is extra sweet and keep putting out new little red nubs of delicious.

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Yarrow, borage (bee butter), and blueberry grace the east garden beds, along with onion and wormwood. There is a rather productive trellis of snap peas also going strong. These beds have very marginal soil, so I’m happy to see things establishing in them for the coming years. I need to get some comfrey in there for chop and drop fertility. Here’s a Wikipedia breakdown of their benefit to a garden:

“Comfrey is a particularly valuable source of fertility to the organic gardener. It is very deep rooted and acts as a dynamic accumulator, mining a host of nutrients from the soil. These are then made available through its fast-growing leaves (up to 1.8–2.3 kilograms (4.0–5.1 lb) per plant per cut) which, lacking fibers, quickly break down to a thick black liquid. There is also no risk of nitrogen robbery when comfrey is dug into the soil as the C:N ratio of the leaves is lower than that of well-rotted compost. Comfrey is an excellent source of potassium, an essential plant nutrient needed for flower, seed and fruit production. Its leaves contain 2–3 times more potassium than farmyard manure, mined from deep in the subsoil, tapping into reserves that would not normally be available to plants.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfrey]

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This log bed is wonderful, with tropaeolum (nasturtium), and a mix of small wild flowers. These little hidden islands are fun to cultivate, and I have not been watering them very much, so the output from the soil is productive, without a lot of work on my part. A lot of these flowers can be eaten too, and I made a nice colorful salad last night for a friend and myself which was mostly flowers and peas. Yummy!

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This parting shot is a newcomer to Leafhopper Farm, and some might say, an unwelcome one. Dipsacus (Teasel) is very invasive and prolific. These seeds are rogue, but I did spread some on another part of the land, and will make sure this year to cut them before they seed. This plant was such a mystery when it first popped up, and I was reluctant to pull it early in springtime until I identified it. Until the recent flower buds began to appear, I thought it was a thistle. Now I know I’ve got Dipsacus fullonum, a naturalized species that was used in the textile industry to raise the nap on fabrics. Wool was the most common fiber utilized in this process.

The teasel flowers will minister nectar and later provide seeds to our American Goldfinches. Dipsacus is part of the Honeysuckle family, and will continue to show up at Leafhopper Farm in many forms.