For The Birds!

IMG_7611.JPG

Leafhopper Farm Ayam Cemani “Big Comb”

The black cockerels are revving up for Spring, and we’ve got eggs in incubation. The incubator can’t handle the weight of a full 24 eggs, but at 18, we’re in business! Our laying flock of hens is at about 40 birds, and that’s more than enough to full-fill demand for eggs in our small community of consumers.  This summer we’ll be at our largest production level ever, and I’m not sure, but with the egg co-op getting off the ground for sure this year (the egg washing equipment is online!), Leafhopper Farm might have enough eggs to sell a case!

IMG_7577

Because these ladies are “pastured” (out all day on the landscape in a free-range electric mesh setup), they already have a “higher value” in the egg market. On top of that, we feed our hens USDA organic Scratch and Peck feed. That’s a second “higher value” tier, which our farm is proud of. The grain is our preferred brand not only for it’s organic certification, but also because it’s a loose grain. Meaning, there is no cooked pellet in the mix. Pellet grain is always cheaper, but at a cost, since it’s cooked, the grain has lost much of it’s nutrition. It’s also a glob of uniform feed, preventing the bird from selecting what she needs for her body at a given time. The Scratch and Peck grain has loose minerals, at least two different grains, legumes, and other seeds. Hens pick what they want from that spread and receive a balanced diet with pasture supplement.

IMG_7578

The flock is starting to turn black, which makes sense with the rooster genes being all Ayam Cemani. We’ve now got three pure bred hens, along with a new young roo who will be kept for future breeding (he has yet to be named). This gives us 3 breeding roosters. It’s a great investment for the long term viability of this flock and I’m excited to see what the next generation will bring. I have noted that crossing Cemanis with Road Island Reds is not a good combination. It seems to favor the less desirable characteristics of both breeds, including smaller body and slightly exaggerated beak length. This is something to take note of, and will remove RIR from our flock.

IMG_7579

The merans are laying now, pullet eggs are small, but yummy. I mix them in with the regular eggs, as my clients love having a few small egg servings, especially for breakfast. The larger eggs are favored for baking. Meran eggs are dark, almost chocolate, and will be when they are fully mature. In the picture above, you can see two wheaten merans and a copper too. We will not be buying new birds this year (I hope!), and our last chicks were all Cemani dominant, so black is taking over.

On another note: Leafhopper purchased some Barnevelder hens last summer, because the breed is rarer, Dutch, and I loved the look of the hen, so I wanted to mix in those genetics to the flock. I bought the chicks at Monroe Coop, and do not know who the breeder was. This is sloppy work on my end, as I am ultimately responsible for the ignorance of this issue. To make a long story short, the hens came from a bad breeder. I know this because two hens recently showed up with health issues attached to bad genetics. One hen was stunted, and having trouble with mobility, she had a sister with the same issues, and they both had elongated beaks with poor comb development. It was bad, and I culled both hens to avoid genetic contamination. The other 4 Barnevelders are great, looking healthy, and beginning to lay. However, the bad genetics could still be lurking in their genes, and it could continue to damage flock health in future.

In buying chicks from a breeder, make sure the person selling you animals is credible. This goes for buying and animals, from livestock to pets. Because of poor breeding practices, sick animals keep showing up and the contamination to healthy genetics holds back the breed. This can be catastrophic, especially when working with rare breeds, like the Barnevelders. This was a lesson in risky buying, something I won’t do again! Always take note of where your animals come from, and know the breed well. This helps you select the best breeder to buy from, investing in clean, healthy genetics for your future, and the future of the breeds.

Wind!

Today we had some gusty weather, the signaling of a rough cold front moving through the area over the next few days. Being in the forest was unnerving, especially when the sound of cracking was heard. Keep in mind, most of the trees I filmed today are at least 60′ tall. Many of these gusts were clocked at over 40mph, more than enough force to send trees toppling over.

IMG_7592.JPG

I watched this red cedar fall on the neighbors property. The tree fell so slowly, as though laying down for a nap. I don’t think it will be getting up again. When the winds come through like this, it really is hazardous to hang out in the woods. Sudden gusts, like the one filmed above, can send tops of large trees crashing down. Many of our larger evergreen trees shed branches in the wind. Some of these branches are sizable, and capable of impaling through the roof of your house, or car.

Luckily nothing serious fell at Leafhopper Farm today, but there were a lot of cracking noises in the forest, and another windstorm could easily finish felling what was started today. I’ll be keeping an eye on the trees as we plunge into freezing temperatures down to the teens with a chance of snow. Let’s hope there’s not another winds storm soon!

Readying The Garden

IMG_7516

We’re already planting Spring crops at Leafhopper Farm. From radishes to Brussels sprouts, these little seeds were sewn under the cloche for protection against future frosts. I’m also shrinking the garden size by moving the lower fence back a few feet. This is to harvest any nutrient dense soil which has eroded down hill over the past few years. In setting back the fence and stirring up so much dirt, I might as well plant something, so I did; lots of hedge plants!

IMG_7514

There are now roses, a shore pine, and kale dug in on the outside of the fence line. Hopefully, as these plants take, they will build a wall of green to keep any plant predators (like goats and deer) from getting into the garden. The new hedge will also bring native plants into the mix, encouraging better pollination and greater diversity in and around the garden.

New path stones have been set in the main walking trail through the garden. After slipping down a muddy hill for a few years, it was time to put in some good footing. The stones are loosely set in the soil and can be moved around as needed, because the garden is a fluid place where dirt moves often, and there are no set beds. Note all the spinach coming up in the lower photo (bottom frame).

IMG_7512

To move the fence back, a lot of rich soil was moved up into the upper garden and piled, then covered with cardboard so the heavy Spring rain does not leech out all the great nutrients in that soil. Other soil was piled below the cloche for a new row, where the cloche will move next. It’s good to move things around in the garden from time to time; both to deter infestation, but also to rest some soil, giving it time to renew and refresh for better growing. You can also have bacteria in you soil that might be combative with certain crops. I know we have a leaf mold which usually attacks our squash plants in late summer. That mold is in the soil, and will get on the squash anyway. You can spend a lot of time worrying about it, or just plant enough squash to get the fruit you need and allow for some spoilage too.

IMG_7513

This year, there are a lot more crop plants volunteering from the soil. It warmed up quick here, and though the rains are sill very persistent, the weather has been staying above 40, even at night, and that’s signaling the seeds to germinate. It’s part of what motivated the first planting so “early” this year. I will also not be using grow lights to jump start the season. Last year, I did this with great enthusiasm, and ended up with only a few plants from the inside early start under lights to make it to maturity in the garden. Perhaps I should keep them inside longer, but I’ll use the cloche instead this year and see if it makes a difference.

IMG_7515

I also did a little maintenance on the drainage in the garden too. A down spout from the roof catchment in the picture above used to spill out onto the driveway below. Now, with a little drain rock and some digging, I’m redirecting the flow into the new hedge bank below the garden. This new direction of flow invited the water to nurture plants we eat, rather than the lawn. It’s another experiment, and time will tell weather or not this shift in flow will work.

With all this warm weather, it’s tempting to put in the whole garden now, as a jump start on the season. But knowing Washington weather, we’re still in for some freezing temperatures before the end of April, and I don’t want to have to plant twice. There are cold hardy species which can go out now, but check a planting calendar for your area before putting in seeds.

We’ll also try more starts in the greenhouse, though keeping things watered is a challenge and I’m not putting irrigation drip in yet… or am I? 😉

Flock Update

IMG_7509.JPG

Our 4 Magpie ducks are thriving in the pond. They are not laying yet, and my plan is actually to cull these birds in favor of another breed. The pond seems like a great place for the ducks, but it’s not a sustainable situation. I just ordered 20 Kaki Campbells from a hatchery in Oregon. These runner ducks will be pastured, not in the pond. It’s a big shift in planning ducks on Leafhopper Farm.

Why not the pond? It’s too much impact on the space. Already, with just 4 ducks full time, the pond is looking stressed, especially around the edges where the birds choose to hang out. In the picture above, look to the left side of the photo. That bare spot with a lot of feathers is the ducks’ favorite place to rest. It’s impacting the ground and not in a good way. The mud and much caused by this small flock, would be utterly destructive to the pond with “production” numbers.

Why not Magpies? These ducks are high stress, meaning they overreact to seemingly normal actions. If anyone moves too quickly, the ducks panic. If I come down to feed in a poncho, the ducks flee. They will not be handled, or allow you to get close. I hand raised these guys, and now they act like I’m going to eat them. (Well, I am) But my calm nature does nothing to reassure the ducks.

Kaki Campbells are runner ducks, prolific layers, and I could find a breeder in a neighboring state with fair pricing. It’s not an ideal way to put together a flock, and certainly not the most holistic. But there are not a lot of duck breeders locally who can sell bulk numbers of the breed. Maybe a niche industry? I’m definitely ready to expand production.

img_7517.jpg

The hens are ramping up with the return of the light! There are more wonderful colors appearing as the genetics of the ladies mix with Ayam Cemani roosters. You can also spot a few chocolates, courtesy of the Marans, who just began laying. By late Spring, all 40 hens will be producing, and that’s the most eggs ever produced at Leafhopper Farm. Yay chickens!

Incubation of a fresh round of chicks will start by the end of the month (Funerary), and I’m excited to see what kind of birds hatch out this year, especially with the Marans in the mix. For the ducks, it’s a straight run flock I’ll be receiving in April, meaning the birds aren’t sexed. We’ll be able to breed more ducks in future. The journey in developing these flock has been wonderful, and there’s a lot more to come!

 

2018 Farm Outline

IMG_7505.JPG

As a Blue Blood Super Moon rises over Leafhopper Farm, a stirring resonates across shadowed landscape; life is stirring all around. Seeds, who slept through winter (it’s usually short here), have begun awakening to lengthening days and warmer nights.

February:

-Finish stream buffer fence

-Inoculate logs

-Kidding (Brownie and Branwin)

-1st garden planting

-Select eggs for incubation

March:

-Acquire lambs

-2nd garden planting

-Native plant instillation

-Finish raised beds

-Chicks

April:

-Incubate duck eggs

-Establish WOOFers

-Tree isalnds

-Harvest spring greens/flowers

-Gardens, gardens, gardens

-Pigs?

May:

-Build duck and hen houses

-Set up pig rotations (tilling swales)

-4th planting of garden

-Continue spring harvest

June:

-Focused garden harvest

-Preservation of fresh food

-5th planting garden

July:

-6th planting gardens

-Harvest garlic

-Continue food preservation

-Fish for trout

August:

-Water gardens

-Harvest early apples

-Monitor animal systems

September:

-Earthworks Project

-Fall garden prep

-Harvest fruit

-Canning

October:

-Butchering

-CREP site prep

-Mushroom Spring

-Hunting Season

November:

-Final garden harvests

-Woodland maintenance

-Cover-crops down

December:

-Mulching projects

-Tree island replanting

-Log inoculation

 

Mushroom Workshop!

DSCN2790.JPG

“Mushroom Makeover”

Restoring Your Soil with Mycelia

Why? better soil=better growing

How? mycelia=nutrient network in soil

Where? Leafhopper Farm in Duvall

When? 2 day workshop Saturday-Sunday January 20-21st

img_7437.jpg

Price- $200* per person includes:

-home cooked lunches using farm fresh ingredients

-take home inoculated mushroom log

-two days of workshop activity and learning 9am-4pm

For more information and to RSVP contact info@leafhopperfarm.com

*scholarships are available on a sliding scale

 

Please join us for a free talk Friday, January 19th

7-9pm at Carnation Tree Farm

 

 

Water Wonder

IMG_7429

We’re in the high water stage of Weiss Creek’s winter flow. After several inches of rain in the past week, the soil is finally saturated and surface runoff is cresting.

IMG_7431

Bank erosion of glacial till

Fresh bank erosion demonstrates the power of water; cutting into glacier compaction, loosening clay and rock which has been locked together for thousands of years. This stream bed changes a lot during these floods, and over the years, the farm policy has been not to disturb the stream bed or remove fallen trees.

IMG_7432

logs of fallen trees across stream

The logs which lay across the stream often block up debris, forming dams which, in flood stage, create beautiful waterfalls over the jams. As the logs soak up in the waters, woods eating mushroom spores happily inoculate within the substrate of the timbers. In the case of the big leaf maple Acer macrophyllum pictured in foreground above, the mycelium is clearly visible under the moss as it begins to colonize the log.

IMG_7433

Last fall, the southern log pictured above was inoculated with Rishi and Lion’s Mane strains of mushroom spawn. Perhaps these awakening hyphae strands are some of those plugs from last year. With a good flood soaking, maybe this log will now fruit out.

There are some logs in this area which have been fruiting out since they were first introduced to the land about three years ago. White birch Betula papyrifera is not common in our area, but planted as a cultivar for its aesthetic qualities. It is a great mushroom cultivating species of wood, and has been fruiting out blue oysters for a few years. These fungi friends naturally inoculated these logs. A few red alder logs next to these birch have not fruited once, though they were inoculated manually with shiitake a few years ago.

IMG_7426

Looking closely at the other purposefully inoculated BLM across the stream, more white mycelium clusters begin to surface in other areas of dowel implanting. Without microscope testing, it will be hard to know which kind of fungi we’re dealing with until a recognizable fruit appears. The other maple log just north of our inoculated experiment has been hosting artist conks Ganoderma applanatum which are another great native strain of medicinal shoom in our area. 

IMG_7427

The habitat shared by all of this dead wood is identical. In the picture below you see all these talked about logs resting together. This goes to show that colonizing a log with your chosen strain of mushroom may become more difficult than you think. Let’s hope that the rishi and lions mane strains have done their work on the maple log. Regardless, we know that something fungi driven is happening in the log, and the land and stream will benefit regardless of the mushroom which fruits. As the farmer waiting at the other end of this mystery, I have my hopes that it’s a purposefully introduced species.

IMG_7428

In another area of the land, further downstream, there is a much more regulated inoculation space, including selected red alders with plug spawn stacked to prevent external colonization from stray native strands. These logs were plugged last spring, and are now also beginning to show signs of mycelium colonies. The mottled white end of the log show in the picture below is a wonderful example. This stack is inoculated with Pleurotus ostreatus.

Pearl

IMG_7435

Pearl Oyster stack

Another stack nearby hosts Trametes versicolor, a very common mushroom already in our area. These log ends are much more mottle and notably discolored. It’s no surprise considering the abundant success of this strain in the area already. It’s wonderful to track the progress of our first full set of dowel inoculated stacks of logs made from storm induced downed trees on the land. In future, we hope to be producing our own inoculation materials at Leafhopper Farm. For now, to cultivate more genetic diversity on the landscape, we’ll import a few strands from noteworthy labs in our bio region.

IMG_7436

Our temperate rain forest environment here in The Pacific Northwest is a perfect habitat for mushrooms. Our backyard here at The Farm is a host to countless strains of fungal magic, and we hope soon, some cultivated verities too. In the mean time, we’ll continue to explore and document our journey with the mushrooms at Leafhopper Farm. It’s one of the cornerstones of our holistic restoration model for the landscape, and we hope to inspire other land stewards to look into cultivating mycelium for the enrichment of the soil and living biomass of the forest floor.

IMG_7437

By taking the time to invest in cultivar species for agricultural production, fungi could become another established food and medicine in our local economy. There are many examples of this already growing across the world, and mycology is gaining in popularity, as people begin to rediscover the endless uses of our fungal friends. They are thriving all around us with the help of our wet weather and the endless supply of rich organic material. Leafhopper Farm looks forward to cultivating more mushrooms and workshops of mycoremediation and mushroom log cultivation.

We will be hosting a talk Friday,  January 19th (2018) from 7-9pm at Carnation Tree Farm

Saturday-Sunday Jan 20-21st Leafhopper Farm will be hosting a mycoremidiation workshop and log inoculation class. For more information please contact: info@leafhopperfarm.com