Spring Signs

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Though at this moment, Leafhopper Farm is veiled in frost, the awakening of the landscape to changing season cannot be lost. Grass is creeping slowly, turning the very ground into a rich carpet of supple snack-packs. Our goat herd lazily wanders across it, taking advantage of the fresh pasture growth, new energy for new life growing slowly in the bellies of our fat, happy does. As a comparison below, the twins stand together grazing. Bran stands in the background looking lanky like a teenage boy. Branwen stretches her neck out to that furthest blade of grass while her stomach bulges with the signs of her first freshening. Yes, it’s called “freshening”, when a young goat is bread for the first time.

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Brownie is carrying her 4th round of kids in her five years at Leafhopper Farm. She was given a break last year, something I wish more breeders would do for their animals, and is now carrying a very heavy udder, along with what will hopefully be twins. For Brawnwen, her first kidding will most likely be a single drop. When an animal is giving birth, it is sometimes called dropping, as the baby animal drops from its mother’s womb into the world. It’s a very messy site, and full of dramatic pauses for those interested in observing. I try not to stare at the girls, as it’s stressful enough already. Brownie is very good at kidding, and I hope she passes the confidence on to her daughter Branwen. We’ll know soon enough! Both does are due to kid by the end of this month.

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I know I’ve made a YouTube video about how goats are not grazers, but they will eat grass, and especially the rich spring growth. The grass must be supplemented by other fodder, as goats are browsers. That’s what makes the hedgerow cultivation on the farm so exciting! Hedges will bring a wall of eating! I wish more people would think about the use of vertical growing space for livestock. In Europe (where land is VERY limited) people have used vegetation in so many diverse ways. You would never see a wire fence in a pasture, only rock walls and hedges of edible space holding the animals in while feeding them. No barbed wire fence can offer anything close! Hedges are a lineage that reminds us of old world knowledge really being smart technology when fully understood and implemented. You must implement your ideas to fully recognize and understand them. Everything works out on paper, and looks neat, but on the ground, things are very different.

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The ground at Leafhopper Farm is sprouting out new growth, and in the herb circle, the hazel planted last spring is now showing off it’s second year growth with small green buds and outrageous golden catkins. Hazel are some of the first shrubs to jump-start reproduction in the leafy world of hedges. Since they are such early budders, I wanted to use them as a foundation in this hedge. I just planted in young big leaf maples to join the deciduous theme. It’s often a challenge to create a hedge with both evergreen and deciduous plants; eventually, one will overtake the other. Usually, the evergreen wins and dominates with a tree structure. That’s not what’s best for hedging, so select well when setting your hedge.

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I’ve shamelessly mixed some of my hedges with evergreens, wanting to see if I can shape pines and firs like I can the coppiced maple and hazel, but the evergreens will not coppice, hence hazel being a highly favored hedge material instead. This young hedge is just taking root, and I’ll add more to the wall as it establishes.

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Watching all the young growth on these plants shooting up invigorates my spirit! Winter has been long, but not that cold this year. Still, the dark days are slowly giving way to light in her great return to summer zenith, another year of planting to begin. With a heavy frost glazing the land today as I write, I take heart in knowing we’ll soon be celebrating the equinox, and ushering the warm seasons back with growing life and thriving song.

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Down by Weiss Creek, an oso berry has been coming into bloom. Out ecosystem is generous, often showing off flowers in February. That is the earliest I’ve seen Indian Plumb blooming out, and I’m sure the cold snap has taken its toll on the eager new plants rushing the season. Many of my lovely new bulbs are out in full, even through the frosts. It is a pleasure to receive these early spring gifts, knowing there is so much to come as the days warm up and lengthen. This year the herbs really rallied through winter, and we’ve enjoyed kitchen sage and oregano all winter long. We’ve also kept up with greens again this year, enjoying mustard, kale, and chard through even the shortest days of the year. Plants are truly incredible! It’s humbling to see them returning to full glory each summer, only to turn back into shrunken stalks or wither to nothing on the surface, while just under the soil, root stirs on till another spring signals the upward push, back into the light of another season. Gratitude for these spring gifts, and the growth cycle for us all.

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