South American Root Vegetables

 

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We’re cultivating Oca Oxalis tuberosa and Yakon Smallanthus sonchifolius at Leafhopper Farm! The Oca is pictured here trellising in the kitchen garden. It has a leaf that looks a lot like that of the nasturtium; circular and bright green. This Peruvian root crop thrives as the days get shorter, and this year the original plantings are finally putting out new tubers as they establish. The leaves spread on thin vines, which clime along anything they can get their tendrils on. They are even outgrowing the hops now, a very interesting opportunity for companion planting in future. The colder temperatures will cut short this vibrant growth, causing the tubers to take much longer to form into edible sized tubers. We’ve been keeping our Yakon in the greenhouse, and will put some of the young tubers from this year into the protected covered space too.

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In it’s second year of adaptation in our gardens, the oca is beginning to establish new rootlets, a great sign for future harvesting at the farm. It will, however, be a few more years before we’ll have any real starchy goodness from this investment. The hot summers will also hinder growth, but the plants should adapt as they continue to establish. We might end up keeping a stable crop in the green house, or harden our strain up in time to thrive in The Pacific Northwest.

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The challenges of growing these Andean root vegetables has been catalogued by other Northwest growers on this page, which has a lot of great additional information on other South American root crops. To see how my seedlings are getting on, I dug into one of their established beds to glimps the new tubers. They are modest, but shaping up to be a stable foundation for future oca generations at Leafhopper Farm.

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More Mushrooming

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The Cascades are known for waterfalls, but they also “reign” supreme as mycological action, which also relies on the hydrological abundance of the coastal Pacific Northwest. The Bear’s Head mushroom¬†Hericium abietis pictures above actually grows in a cascade off the side of its evergreen host. The Douglas fir was a standing dead trunk with no top. Another beautiful flush like this was growing up another twenty feet out of reach. One flush was enough for our next few dinners, and it’s one of the largest single fruits I’ve ever harvested. Hericium is a tooth fungus I’m very familiar with, having spent time as a commercial harvester at a grow operation, Snovalley Mushrooms. There we cultivated Hericium erinaceus, Lion’s Mane mushroom, but it never grew to this size!

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I gently pulled the gem of a shroom off the bark of the tree, right where it attached; almost like a stem, the fruit emerged from a small space, about the diameter of a quarter, where I pulled the fungus free from the trunk by tugging away firmly. This delicate removal care keeps the mushroom whole. As you handle the grouping of toothed coral like structures, use two hands until you can get it to a bowel or bag. We had a left over Tupperware that had held our sandwiches. When we got home, Bernard took time to finish removing any bark still attached to the back of the bear’s head and then pulled it apart into the smaller groupings; each one about the size of a baseball. As I heated up the cast-iron skillet, I broke each ball down into peices about the size of hazelnuts to make cooking the water out of them easier. After a med-high heat cook on one side of about 8 minutes, I stir it around and then let sit again for another 8, or until most of the liquid is out of the mushrooms. Test this by pressing down on a pice in the pan and see how much liquid comes out. When you think enough has evaporated, throw in a little olive oil and salt to taste. The meat will have the flavor of mild, sweet seafood. It’s a very special mushroom treat!

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On a hunch, Bernard took us down an old logging road on our way home from Tonga Ridge. There in some 60-80 year old Douglas fir stands next to a small creek we found some wonderful Aureoboletus mirabilis Admirable Boletes, and Boletus edulis porcini. The A. minabilis was older, but a few were still edible. I’ll try to dehydrate a few, but it is recommended you cook and eat them soon after harvesting. I have never found them without some fungus gnat activity, which adds to the need to cook immediately. eat on a cracker as an appetizer with a spicy sour cream topping.

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The porcini has been a pleasure to get to know this summer, both in the Southwest and in the home rage of The Cascades. This mushroom has a well-earned reputation, surly a pleasure in any occasion where you are lucky enough to find them. These gems were sprouting up along the edge of the compacted road, tucked into the rootlets of a Douglas fir with thick needle duff blanketing the area. Just the tops of a few fungi were visible, but with a little needle clump flipping we found what you see pictured below. I took mine home to the dehydrator and in cutting them up, saw mostly great flesh with little to no insect spoilage. Some of the stipes were as thick as my palm, and just as meaty. I’ll look forward to enjoying the flavorful fungi.

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Hunting for mushrooms is a treasure hunt, and the joyous hours spent wandering across the wild back country of The Cascades is always a special adventure. October is a great time to get out into your local woods to find fungi fortunes- a porcini to me is worth it’s weight in fancy fine dining at the cost of a pleasant stroll through nature’s larder. Please remember to only forage wild edibles if you have been out with an expert and have been taught clearly what is safe to consume. You can contact Leafhopper Farm for opportunities to learn more about wild plants in The Puget Sound region and inquire about planned foraging expeditions.

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On The Hunt

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The mushrooms are out as foraging kicks into high gear at Leafhopper Farm! Though we are unable to find chanterelles on the farm property at this time, a stone’s throw away in nearby woodlands, the golden treasures of Fall abound. On a small “fisherman’s path” around a small pond, Bernard and I came upon some welcome wild edible mushrooms. Our local species of Chanterelles is C. formosus, a strain found in The Pacific Northwest, specifically 40-60 year old stands of Douglas fir and western hemlock. A lot of our tree farms around The Cascades fit these growing conditions perfectly, so you are likely to find chanterelles in the woods if you go looking at the right time of year. When?

Fall, when it cools down, after rains begin soaking in and you can squeeze water from moss. You can spot them from logging roads, but you’ll find more wandering in a serpentine pattern through the woods where things are mossy and/or deep in hemlock/fir needles. The picture above is a perfect example with a good flush of chanterelles along the forest floor. There’s also a slope, near water, and this flush ran towards the water on the lower part of the hill. We were walking in a 50-60 year old managed woodland on state land. It was a sunny day after a few days of rain and great morning mists that did not burn off till noon. This is the time to start mushroom hunting.

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Astraeus hygrometricus

While looking for chanterelles, we also found many other wonderful mushroom friends, taking time to note species verity and abundance as we foraged. There were jelly fungi, a lot of boletes, russulas, and some earth stars pictured above. In taking note of other species, we could hone our awareness as to other areas where these companion varieties were growing which might be a place chanterelles might also fruit later in the season. I have not found a lot of research on mushroom companion fungi, and would like to pay closer attention to fungi neighborhoods.

When we brought our harvest home, I took a moment to clean them (brushing off any needles or dirt still attached, then pulled them apart gently into strips for the dehydrator. They are in the machine now being preserved for our enjoyment in the coming cold months. Chanterelles are great fresh or dried in soups, as additions to any stir-fry, paired with any savory dish you please, but most enjoyed by me with wild venison and some lightly steamed kale from the garden. Good luck hunting this season, and don’t hesitate to buy wild harvested chanterelles from your local grocer- make sure they were locally harvested. Enjoy your fungi feast!

Cat Family Fun

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The cats are cuddled in as the weather starts getting wet and cold here at Leafhopper Farm. The yellow golden eyes of these feline friends echos the spooky Fall time as we step into October. Bright orange pumpkins abound in the garden and we’re starting to harvest them for pies and soups. The cats mind our veggie garden beds, making sure voles, shrews, mice, and rabbits keep away from the tasty nibbles.

 

Our two young kittens, Nikki and Nora are still very close to their mother, Lucia, and spend a lot of time shadowing her as she hunts and dawn and dusk. Muir makes sure both young cats are on their toes, pouncing and grappling them in play meant to teach defense, and sometimes encourage offensive strategies. Overall, the kittens are both gentle and loving, but Nora is a little more standoffish, she really prefers to watch from a distance and not be petted. As I continue interacting with all the cats, I know now that kittens who stay with mom are less connected to people. Where as Lucia and Muir are extremely affectionate and social, the kittens are far less interested in human connection. Nikki is very friendly, and easy to handle, but she, like her sister, maintains enough aloofness to feel much more distant than her mom or dad.

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The cat’s are also enjoying the Fall harvest, having feasted many a night on pig liver, goat kidney, and other sweet meat treats. Making fresh food for all the animals at Leafhopper Farm is a challenge, but for the carnivores, fall butchering time is a gluttony of eating before the really cold weather sets in. Everyone is looking healthy and happy as they lounge through the afternoons here on the porch.

Something else to mention about cats- if you have more than one, your vet bills can add up fast, so talk with your vet about cost saving ways to make barn cats more affordable. Our biggest expense will be spaying the three ladies later this fall. At the local vet clinic, this would be too expensive, but at a spay and neuter vet nearby, where all they do is this surgery to keep population numbers down, the cost is much more affordable. I’ve already got an appointment to take all three ladies in. This will ensure our cat family stays manageable and healthy for a long time to come.

Reclaiming Territory

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A pile of cardboard awaits placement around established under-story shrubs and young trees through the coming wet season. The bramble below is deceiving, for many other verities of native plants are hidden in the vegetation. Using the scythe, hand shears, and a pair of gloves, I took time clearing back the overgrowth of about a month and a half of good summer sun. That’s how quickly you can loose young transplants in a temperate rain forest.

Old goat manure and bedding have been piled up around the base of each plant after a good layer of cardboard is put down to keep back weeds. Allowing young transplants space to slowly spread roots is important to the long term success of the planting. If there is no room for the new roots in an established soil, it will have to put a lot of effort into establishing and thriving, energy most young plants don’t have. They will end up stunted if they survive at all.

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For each of these shrubs and trees, we added mulch for keeping down weeds, as well as insulating the young trees through the winter. I enjoy layering materials to serve one another; not only the nutrients from the manure and hay going into the soil for the young plant, but also holding down the cardboard mulch to keep it from blowing away in the wind. Note that green manure is not used, this bedding is from the lower layers of a deep bedding stall which has not had a goat in it for months. Green manure will burn the plant with too much nitrogen.

Because I’m planting by hand, and doing this with a wheelbarrow and pitch fork, there is always material available and plants that need transplanting. To keep from feeling overwhelmed by the projects, I work in sections at a time, slowly establishing a planted area within a tended edge space. It’s important to not get ahead of newly established plantings, forgetting to clear them of bramble or mulching enough for summer drought. In the past two years, Leafhopper Farm has been cultivating nursery stock with real intention. At last, there is enough root stalk and young seedlings being self-generated at the farm to keep up with replanting, at least in the zone one area of the farm.

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The downside of using the bedding mulch is the enthusiasm of the chickens getting into the mulch to scratch out bugs. I can’t fault the birds, and appreciate their support in spreading fertility across the landscape, but fresh mulch placement is purposeful, and the birds are unwelcome around the young transplants. Chickens love fresh greens, especially delicate young growth of a baby plant. The young crabapple above got no love from the hens, and lost half of his leaves last Spring.

The reward of establishing new spaces around the farm to improve diversity in the flora of the land continues. As Fall sets in, I look around the fresh plantings and dream of a new under-story of lush shrubs and small trees offering a verity of food, medicine, and materials for use on the farmstead and in the greater community. The change will be slow, but long term vision feeds and encourages. I am so grateful for the continued opportunity to steward land, planting new life for the future health and fertility of the earth.

 

Applesauce and Mushrooms

We’re cooking up more great fun here at Leafhopper Farm! The apples are piling up and some sauce must be made to keep our fruit through the winter. Applesauce is a simple way to can fruit in a water-bath canning method. Apples have a high acid rating so they are safe for water canning. Not all food can be canned in this way so check before you water-bath can. The next step up for safety in canning would be a pressure cooker.

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The small punpkin on the table is slated for pie- we had a great harvest of sugar pumpkins this year and that means lots of sweet treats through the Fall and into the dark lean times of Winter. Squash of all kinds are wonderful to store for a few months in a cool, dry place out of the sun. We’ll store out squash in a back bedroom and monitor it through the next few months. Some of the larger squashes will be kept to feed the goats too.

Yesturday a good friend came to visit and I had a special treat to share- crackly cap boletes from the farm! I was out hunting and found a lot of great young mushrooms for the pan. Foraging on the farm is always fun, and the mushrooms are eager to be discovered across the pasture and woodlands if you know where to look. I snagged a few and was especially taken by these two very small shrooms- also crackle caps, who were too cute to cook. I’m still fawning over them in the kitchen and will cook them up with some farm fresh eggs tonight.

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The crackle caps are wonderful in a pan with a little cooking oil- I use pig lard right now, there’s a lot of it available from a Kunekune we recently butchered. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously until soft and slightly shriveled. You want to get the water weight out of them for optimal taste, and also cook them well enough to receive the nutrients. Many mushrooms will not unlock their nutrients until heat breaks the fungus down. Add a pinch of salt to taste and there you have it, a delicious simple meal of mushrooms!

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Fall is such a¬† busy time in the kitchen- with all the food prepping and larder filling, things are hopping! The apples will simmer overnight until the fruit is liquid and spices are added to heighten flavor. I use cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The apples have enough sugar that I don’t add extra, but if you want yours to taste store bought- put in sugar, and a lot of it. I usually pair my applesauce with meat dishes, so it can be a little more savory. That’s also a bonus to making your own food, you get to hone in on the particular taste and method that you like. It seems so obvious, but I’ve learned so much about my own taste in cultivating my own food. Still a lot to learn, and that’s the fun happening now at Leafhopper Farm.

Butchering Day

A wonderful neighbor friend gifted me a Muscovy duck and Kunekune pig for butchering and I got around to it this weekend here at Leafhopper Farm. The pig was culled last week, then scalded and hung for a few days for ageing. The Kunekune is a breed of pig from New Zeland and the name means “fat and round” in Maori. This pig certainly is fat and round, which means lots of fat for the freezer! Anyone need some lard? Grazing is another trait of this species -they can survive on grass alone! 1 acre of grass can sustain 5 Kunekune, which is a very good return on your investment of veggie to fat

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Half a Kuni-kuni

Butchering is one of my favorite jobs on the farm. I appreciate looking at the meat, seeing the amazing result of human evolution with this animal as a food source and how domestication and forethought has magically turned grass into meat. As you can see below, there’s a lot of fat too!

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“Loin and Belly” Center Body Cut

The cut above is a rib rack with bacon and thick back fat. I’ll say my main cut to separate is not as smooth as I’d like. Every place a crease shows is a place more surface area invites bacteria to make a home. In the commercial meat world, because the cuts will be shipped around the country and sometimes internationally, there is high risk of contamination over time. At the farm, we process the pig and have it in the freezer much faster, sealing in freshness and avoiding defrosting situations in between handling. There’s nothing better than home grown!

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most of half a pig

It took me a few hours of good cutting to take apart half the pig. Another hour went into wrapping- a not to be rushed process involving an initial plastic layer to prevent freezer burn, followed by a layer of butcher paper for added protection and easy handling. All this meat will go into the chest freezer and the lard will wait in the cooler for friends and neighbors who are looking for nitrate free pork lard to cook with. We’ll never have to buy cooking oil again. The only parts not shown above were the grids- small bits which go into sausage. Those went into the freezer first thing.

Leafhopper Farm has been processing it’s own home grown meats for seven years now and continues to raise quality animals on certified organic grain and no-spray-non GMO pasture. We’ve raised goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and pigs- all of which were processed on site at the farm by me, Liz Crain. I hope to continue offering one-on-one classes in butchering, along with opportunities for local residence to acquire safe, natural meat from small, local farms. Please inquire at- info@leafhopperfarm.com for more information on how you too can have clean local meat and support local farms!