Flock Refresh

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The new chicks hatched in March are now integrated with the adult flock. Though noticeably smaller, these hens and young cockerels are fully fledged chickens now. To introduce them to their now home, and let the older gals get to know them, I keep all the chickens in for a day together, with plenty of grain and fresh greens as a distraction. The young hens are brought in during the night while they are roosting, then they wake up in the coop with the other hens and begin socializing. It’s important that new hens in a flock come in a group of three or more, so they can bad together in the face of an established flock. This avoids bullying and pecking, but some will go on as “pecking order” is established.

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Our Ayam Cemani rooster, “Black Jack”, is minding the hens well. He’s a handsome guy, and I’m excited to see how his genetics play out in next year’s clutch. I will not be buying extra chicks this year, instead focusing on the Cemani genes. They seem to pair well with the Delaware hens, and the Barred Rock genetics come out strong too. I’m not so happy about the Rhode Island Red genes with Ayam Cemani, the offspring have rather bladed heads and smaller frame. The Delaware genetics enlarge the Cemani frame, making them better layers. If I do introduce another breed, it would be Orpington, as those hens will be large, and pass it on into the Ayam Cemani.

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Next year, we’ll see how the Maran genetics play out, and the Barnavelder. It will also be interesting to see how Black Jack’s genes look, compared to his brother Big Comb’s. Big Comb was obviously a mixed Cemani with Barred Rock, and those genetics were showing up strongly in the chicks. There is one Barred Rock cross in our flock, but Big Comb had a lot of red in his comb, which is not present in a pure blood Cemani. We’ll see what Black Jack “throws”. This batch of chicks was another successful incubation, with a lot of nice black hens in the final flock count. In a few more years of breeding, Leafhopper Farm will begin to sell Ayam Cemani stock for collectors interested in working with this Javanese native.

 

 

Garden Delight

The second round of planting is in and growing strong at Leafhopper Farm. The gardens are “thicker” this year with a sprinkling of native plants which have been slowly establishing in the garden. Young plants need a few years of nursery care before being planted out on the landscape. Many of these plants are shrubs and trees, so the gardens are not their final home. With a cover crop in, weeding has been very easy, and a lot of lovely green mulch abounds.

Potatoes planted last summer are showing up with gusto this year, and we’re bound to have a good crop. The greens will not get a lot of mounding, because they were unplanned, and I’m going to start thinning them out, to make space for other crops, but there were certainly some left overwinter in the soil and they are not back in action, for better or worse. Most information on this issue is vague, and using the same seed potato stock each year is not recommended, so next fall, I’ll be sure to hunt out all the tubers.

Onions are also thriving this year, though most are small native verities, like nodding onion (Allium cernuum), we’re still using them in substitute for store onions with great success. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), are useful too, and easy to transplant, bringing more flowers around the garden for pollination. Brassica oleracea has flowered out in all her verities. I’ve certainly gotten a very good head start in the garden this year, and hope for a lot of good eating this growing season. 

Many more seeds have yet to be planted through the next few months, and I will try to get a cold weather garden in by September this year. This last weekend, many of the greenhouse herbs were transplanted, and I took a risk in putting out baby pepper plants, who are still very vulnerable to slug predation. A few extra starts are still in the green house, to be planted out in a week or two. The timing of planting this year seems more in sync, with some plants bolted for seed, while enough young plants to harvest tender leaves from are coming into maturity at the same time. Now if I can keep the plantings in rotation enough to keep those young plants from bolting too soon in the hot temperatures of mounting summer sun.

Weeds are down, but still present, and rather than fight with them or worry, I just keep planting in new things to help shade them out. Weeding is also a given, and the study of what weeds come in and when they seed is ongoing. My cover crop did preempt the weeds in some parts of the garden, but enough weed seed is still coming though to illicit more mulch and better seed prevention through early removal of unwanted species. I’m itching to get a new scythe stone in the mail, as I lost my old one on a day of cutting and have no other rounded stone to use on the curved blade. The grasses are going wild with our recent rains; warming temperatures only add to the abundant growth.

This wonderful kickoff to the growing season has put Leafhopper Farm’s gardens in full bloom, and we look forward to cultivating more verities of tasty edible morsels, along with some good pollination color. The diversity and scale of gardens continued to grow, and with it, more advanced systems of watering, weeding, and planting to support this labor of love.

Kittens Continue – for now

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These little grey puff balls are slowly mutating into cat like formations at Leafhopper Farm. Lucia moved them under the woodpile to cooler locations after we had an 87 degree day. The new “den” is dark and cool, colder then I would like, but heaven to a momma cat with two kittens. We’ll be taking the whole pride in for vet check next Friday, and Muir will be castrated while Lucia gets her final blood work before her own surgery to spay in a few weeks.

The two kittens will be additional barn cats, and that’s the cat legacy of the farm. After a year of observation and continued debate over cats as part of our systems, they have done a good job with keeping mice out of the buildings, but rats continue to survive on the property, especially at the chicken coop. We’ll be building a new coop soon, which might help address the issue, but the cats have not kept up with rats, and I had to bait for them again as a result of a minor spring infestation. The cats have caught and killed rats, but I’ve only seen them with younger ones. The number of adult rats on site speaks for it’s self. We’ll double our cat numbers to 4, and skim down on feeding to stimulate appetite.

Muir had a young rabbit this morning, and I have not seen many bird feathers about. Robins even have nests in most of the usual places. Ground nesting birds are absent from the zone 1 areas of the farm, but there are many hedgerows being planted to supplement cover and create more habitat. The cats will be here for now, but no plans of continuing this species at Leafhopper Farm is slated for the future.

Farming is Suicide

NPR ran a story this week about how farmers now have the highest occupational suicide rate in The United States. Note that educators are lowest in this risk pool, so it’s not about salary. This is about the soil, the earth, and an impossible task to squeeze blood from a stone. Any large scale commercial farmer, we’re talking mostly people growing industrial crops like soy, corn, and grains, are waking up to the loss of any financial safety net from the government. First I have to ask why these large scale places need such a safety net that without it, their farms fail, and second, why supposed food crops are tied up in political shenanigans.

The first question takes us deep into the history of farming in America. From The Dust Bowl on, government stepped in to give financial buffers to farms when bad weather or international trade prices caused a major upset to profit margins. We’re still talking about mega farms, places where a mono-crop policy of planting the most lucrative plants like fuel crops, and animal feed crops for factory farms, overtook a farmer’s focus on feeding people. These industrial farmers are still fed the myth that farming feeds America, but that is a threadbare story. Most soy, wheat, and corn goes overseas, into ethanol, or down a pig/cow/chicken’s throat in a feed lot where the animals are fed more than just grains.

Perhaps it is the realization that most farmers really aren’t feeding people any more, which has an effect on their moral fiber. Maybe the idea of poisoning the land with chemicals to get a better crop, while seeing the devastation it causes, then feeling their hands are tied, pushes farmers on large grow operations to despair. Most large farms in the Midwest are controlled by corporations, not the families running the farms. Those bright red barns and smiling faces of young families we see all over the consumer market are total facade. Politically, it’s a staple in conservative rhetoric, and the conservative minds of Midwestern towns eat it up, like they eat up Tyson meat products and push into WalMart with open arms, not realizing those are the companies preying on their small town industries and putting them all out of work.

I feel this personally, as an Oklahoma native, watching my father’s small home town disintegrate before my eyes as the peanut and cotton industries abandon the state for international markets, ushering oil and gas to drill and frack, polluting water and soil even more. What I see planted near town now is fuel crops for ethanol, and that plays into the commercial energy market just fine. But there are no more family farms, and the only real cattle ranch left is the Braum’s corporation; an ice-cream chain that is known for using growth hormones in their animals to produce more milk. Those cows are not happily wandering a grassy plain, but cooped up in a milk parlor while what’s left of their range is carved into drill decks for more fracking operations.

Another article I read recently about farmer’s suicide links the current crisis to a commercial fallout in the 1980s. In a nut shell, the farming economy bottomed out, and loans were called in. Millions of acres of land were lost to corporate mega-conglomerates who seized on privatizing farming and creating the huge mega-farms we know today across the Midwest. The control of farming was finalized with the patenting of life, and any farmer not participating in the Monsanto seed programs ended up in court battles over GMO seed contaminating their crops. For those who are still unaware of these practices, read this. Monsanto, and other large industrial agricultural companies now run farming practices and prices all over the world. This is part of a much larger consolidation of all consumer goods into the hands of a few large businesses which now run the world economy, and not for the greater good of the people, but for the profit of investors.

Food is not a stock, it’s a staple for survival, and that’s why most of us who go into growing food feel passionate about what we do. Some farmers keep to the organic method, and have a successful time of growing smaller, better quality crops that people will eat. But the capitalist market wants its share of profit, and food is a requirement to live, so it’s an easy market to corner and control with the right execution. Farmers are the one’s being executed, through manipulation of the market, and a false floor of economic support promised by government, then pulled out from under them like a cheap rug.

When farmers are forced to sell their land, they loose the ability to control their lives, and put food on the table, even for themselves. If you know a farmer, you know someone who lives a very thin profit margin, but it’s not just happening in farming these days. With such success in the agricultural market, corporate America is turning to every field, not just those of wheat and soy, but those of education, construction, medicine, you name it, a corporate Leviathan with “investors” is lurking in wait for the next big cash cow to slaughter. Sadly, we the people are on the chopping block, along with our health, sanity, and freedom.

Agricultural Awareness

At Leafhopper Farm, a small stream, Weiss Creek, dissects the landscape down the southern slope of the property. This modest water feature continues down into Sonqualmie River, which feeds into The Snohomish, and on into Puget Sound, then north through The Wanda Fuca Straight to The Pacific Ocean. Water permeates all things on this earth, and we are made up of a staggering 60% H2O. If the water in our streams, rivers, and oceans are polluted, how’s the body doing? Chemicals are permeable in water, and come into all bodies of water, including the plants and animals we eat. You may have a water filter on your well, or even your kitchen faucet, but do you have one on your meals too? This is a core foundation at Leafhopper Farm, and the fundamental practice of holistic agriculture. You are what you eat and drink, and folks, the diet of planet earth is increasingly toxic. Forget climate change as “the boy who cried wolf”, we’ve already got a serial killer in our midst and its name is consumerism.

Where it hits home the most to me is still the water, because that’s a tester for the world’s blood, not just the H2O, but also Hemobloben. Our runoff water from farming is clogging the waterways, turning thriving aquatic landscapes into “dead zones”-actual places with no life, because common soil fertilizers has saturated our water tables. There is no debate about this, and summer algae blooms are the inconvenient tip of the iceberg. And to shatter, then sink a titanic myth perpetuating this abusive agricultural practice of industrial fertilizer mega-farming genocide; we’re not feeding the world from America’s breadbasket, we’re feeding a commercial industry of livestock and transport, a Leviathan of truly hideous decent for our consumer needs.

From fast food to your uber lyft, the engines that run America are fueling monopoly on all our dreams as a nation, now acting on frustration. We’re griping about Mellennials, who are now 30 by the way, as a generation of teenagers we’re calling the right to life march, that’s a wake-up call. But back to agriculture; this farm, a place where no industrial chemical fertilizers are used, the soil is generating some wonderful productivity, endless abundance, and more to come. It’s small, not commercial, but focused on food and health as a baseline of action.

The research on unsustainable agricultural practices is mounting, though current administration response continues to lag, and we’re running out of time. This TED talk with scientist Nancy Rabalais, explains how phosphates and nitrogen run off are killing our water systems, and she goes on to clarify what our industrial agriculture is up to, besides continuing to toot their horns about feeding the world, which they don’t.

Farmers are held hostage by the companies that control them. Ask potato farmers in Idaho who really makes the call on what kind of spuds to plant. Ask chicken farmers in Missouri who own their chickens, it’s not the farmer. Add suicide statistics to the list and you’ll quickly see why farms are disappearing across our country, but the pollution only grows. Please, if you can, find a local farmer and ask how you can support them. Look into conservation efforts along rivers and streams in your area. Do your own part to buy less toxic food, materials, and think about how to lighten your footprint on this earth.

At Leafhopper Farm, we have volunteered a larger stream buffer, and put it into a long term lease with USDA to protect salmon habitat and our water. We do not use sprays that are not totally biodegradable, like whey or vinegar. Neem oil has also come into our list of approved garden and orchard “chemical” support. All of these are totally organic and safe in small doses. That’s another secret, staying small. I may not be feeding a nation, but I am giving the nation clean air, water, and soil; investments with a sure return for a future of health and happiness. May we all continue to have this shared vision, and work to better the environment which supports all life, including ours.

Tanked

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bye-bye tank! So close, and yet, so far away.

So, I spent a lot of time in March and April, purchasing a large water tank for irrigation using rain catchment. I found a company in Florida, GEI Works, which had potable water pillow tanks that could be shipped to me in Washington. It was a far journey. but the prices were right and the tank design was doable in my location. I happily worked with a gentleman via email to make sure I had all the parts and space to set up such a large tank, and clarified that, as a small farm, I would not have a forklift or tractor to take the 500lb. crate off the truck. They said a lift gate would be fine, and assured me the tank could be delivered.

Well, it came May 1st, without a lift gate, so they drove away with my tank. Then we rescheduled for Tuesday the 8th, and no truck came. The delivery company is Saia, and the driver told me they had no lift gate trucks with unloading ability available to come here, that they all stay in Seattle for urban delivery, and never leave the city area. I told GEI Works about this, and offered to plan a delivery in a few weeks, after I was able to contact someone locally with a tractor, and have them bring it to the farm for the delivery. GEI didn’t want to pay storage fees for the tank while I got unloading equipment, and assured me the tank would come Tuesday.

Tuesday I was on site all day with my phone in back pocket on full volume. I hate having my phone on my body all the time, but didn’t want to miss the call when the truck was on its way. No call came, and by 6:30 that evening I was back on the phone trying to negotiate what happened. Saia told GEI that I had not answered the phone, but the Saia policy is to deliver anyway, so someone was not taking responsibility, and instead blaming the client. They also lied about the call, as i have no such call in the record of my phone. I’ll say this much, Saia is an awful shipping company.

GEI Works is not much better, as they emailed me with a phone number and said to reschedule. I had the unfortunate experience of working for both companies without pay, calling and chasing people to try to get my merchandise, which I had already paid for in full. Meanwhile, everyone else I talked to was being paid by the hour and taking their time in figuring out how to help support the delivery. We tried again for Thursday the 10th, and I said I could be there waiting till 5pm. I stressed this because I had made plans that evening.

Guess what happened? At 4:45, I called the Saia help number and asked them to track my truck delivery. They did, and informed me the truck had two more stops and would be to me before 9pm. This was not what I had scheduled, and I said so. The lady on the other end was helpful, telling me the delivery was scheduled from 9am to 9pm. She then called the truck driver and made sure he was coming my way. After confirming this, I hung up and waited. Another phone call, it was the driver. He would not be able to deliver the tank because he did not have a lift gate. He again informed me that no lift gate truck would come from Seattle. I said that was not my responsibility, and thanked him for his time.

I’ve written GEI Works and demanded a full refund. This has been the worst business experience I’ve ever had, for something extremely costly and important to the farm. It was classic miscommunication, and instead of taking responsibility on their end, both businesses were putting it on me. Apparently, if you have the word “farm” in your business name, it is assumed that you have large equipment and plenty of time on your hands to wait for others to figure themselves out. A greater question from this is how are these businesses still in business? Oh wait, they usually work with large companies that are being paid by the hour to work with them. Because I am not, I lost on all fronts, from not getting my tank, to having to spend several days waiting for nothing and being lied to on both ends of the deal. This is not how I do business, and I am concerned that large companies like this do, but it’s not a surprise.

Cheerful Cherries

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Bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) is a great quick setting plant for hedgerows. I’ve been pleachering some in a field at Leafhopper Farm for the past few years and my work is finally starting to take shape. This past winter,  I cut a second pleacher layer off these cherries and they are leafing out beautifully.

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Pleaching allows the living trunk of the shrub or small tree to lay down from it’s main stump with an angled cut which only partially disconnects the living tissue of the plant from its roots. This stimulates new growth in much the same way coppicing does, only you do not take away the upper growth, instead, laying it over to create more vegetation and a living fence. The young growth below will turn four cherry saplings into many more, in a web of new growth. The bitter cherry is also a fruit wood, producing flowers and small berries for wildlife, as well as livestock to brows.

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These thickets of pleachered branches weave together into an impenetrable living boundary to keep deer off sensitive plants, and hem in livestock, keeping them out of replanted ecosystem for wildlife habitat and native plant nursery. Bitter Cherry grows rapidly, so you’ll see the “fruits” of your labor within a few years. I’m thrilled about this corner of the pasture, and know the cherry will set a well rooted hedge, which we can add other plantings into as the hedge grows and expands. Livestock and deer will keep it trimmed back, and my shaping will guide it’s upward growth into a solid living fence.

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When you pleacher your shrubs and small trees, you bring them down to browsing level for livestock and wildlife, you’re also opening up the canopy, and encouraging new, young growth on the root stalk of the plant. I think the bitter cherries thrive on this practice, as most stone fruit can take heavy pruning, in fact, it thrives on it. Other native species that would work well in a pleachered hedge are vine maple (Acer circunatum), hawthorn (Crataegus), and Oregon crabapple (Malus fusca). When you set a hedge, give it 3-5 years to grow initially, as I am with a new hedge on the west fence line of zone 1 on the farm.

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This hedge needs to establish enough woody stalk for pleachering. When the plants are this young, you can actually pin them down sideways by bending the tops over and putting a heavy stone or stake in to hold them down. I am trying that with a few maples, but letting the other hedge plants like dogwood (Cornus), and cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) bush up a bit, gives the plant a “set of legs” to stand on (healthy root system) before we pleach them over.

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Once the plantings have taken root for a few years and gained some trunk mass, I’ll pleach them the same way I did the cherries to form a living fence for the farm. This hedge is very diverse, and will continue to receive more plants as it thickens in. The advantage of picking your plants for the hedge means more diversity and usefulness of your living fence. There is a well established, even overgrown hedge on the north fence of the property. It’s mostly on my neighbor’s side fo the fence, and dominated by European holly (Ilex aquifolium), a great pollinator and tool wood, but an invasive in King County Washington. Be sure that if you are planting a hedge, you use species you won’t regret later on. Since your hedge will probably outlive you once you put it in, make sure you maintain it well so future stewards will recognize the living fence, and reap the benefits of diverse fodder for livestock, medicine and food for people, and a long lasting boundary on any property.