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.

 

 

 

Hericium Haul

Another fantastic mushroom haul from our local forests in the nearby Cascades. This time, the focus was Hericium, a toothed fungi. Yes, this is the kitchen sink full of bear’s tooth Hericium americanum.

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For the beginner mushroom hunter, this is always a safe bet in The Cascades. I stress that this information about mushrooms is only applicable to foragers hunting in The Central Cascades- though study of your local mycology might lead to the discovery of many local  fungi species you too can enjoy. Bear’s head is easy to identify and has no dangerous look alike in our region. It is a mushroom less likely to have bugs and usually grows up off the ground on dead trunks of older. Toothed fungi are very unique in the mushroom world. Here in The Pacific Northwest, we have two strong representatives, one is the bear’s tooth, and the other- Hydnum repandum commonly known as the hedgehog mushroom. I also found a few of those while foraging, so it was a toothed fungi extravaganza.

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The bear’s tooth is prized for it’s beauty and taste. Really, this mushroom tastes like sweet crab meat. The flesh of this fungus is meaty, full of flavor, and so delicate in its form. To prep, I simply tear off any bark and browned edges and as I gently pull apart the white tangle into smaller pieces, I pick out needles, leaves, and bits of bark. I then put a table spoon of butter in my cast-iron skillet and saute on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until most of the moisture is out of the mushroom and the flesh has turned brown. Add salt, pepper, onion, and garlic if you want the added taste, but just a little salt would be more than enough for this amazing taste.

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Above is a great picture of some older bear’s tooth growing on a typical tree specimen. This grand fir Abies grandis is a standing dead trunk now, a perfect habitat for the Hericium. The trees I find them on are usually still hard wood, un-rotted by time, so I would put the death of these trees within a few years. Fallen “fresh” logs are also good hosts, though most of my best finds have been above head height, so remember to look up. In French, this mushroom is known as “Pom Pom Blanc” or white pom pom- and it can grow to be that big! Well worth the hunt in a forest, or in our case this week, a wonderful walk in our local forest looking for our delectable fungi friends.

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!