Young Tree Update

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It’s about time for a young tree update here at Leafhopper Farm! Last year we planted 10 sweet chestnut trees in the back field. It’s been a wonderful wet start to the summer, and record rains last winter to help the small root systems establish into the less than perfect soil of our gravely glacial till. This morning I tool a stroll to check these little babes, nervous about finding out just how many had not survived. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. There are 6 chestnuts throwing out new leaves and looking very good, the other 4 are not leafing out. I’ll give the “dormant” ones another year to see if anything happens, but plan to replant with a few more next winter.

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Along the west fence-line, our Ponderosa Pines took off this year, surpassing their fence enclosures to soar for the sky. See if you can spot 2 in each picture below. They are fighting the blackberry and with a little pruning help, will continue to thrive as their roots continue reaching into the soil. For a pine, our gravely till is not so bad, and the wet environment gives them a boost to boot.IMG_7030

The pine trees will offer us basket material, pine sap, and a very flammable wood if we need special tinder for stating out wood stoves. The pollen is also edible, and hornets are important pollinators for this species.

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Many other experimental plantings have not survived. None of the shag-bark hickory made it, but there was one surprise; a pecan tree has leafed out, showing us that it’s southern heart has found a home in Washington, and I can relate. Pecan trees will only bear fruit (the fatty nuts) in hot temperatures. Unless our climate heats up into the 90s consistently in the summers, this little pecan will not be fruiting out, but it’s an experiment, because we do not know what climate change will bring. In the mean time, we’ve got a cool hardwood tree joining the back field food forest team.

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Dog Days

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Indonesia’s final resting place at Leafhopper Farm

On June 27, 2017 at around 11am, Indonesia, friend, dog, and companion of Liz Crain for 11 years died. She had been fighting lymphoma cancer since October of 2016. Our vet, Dr. Buchholtz, of Cascade Animal Clinic, said Indo had lived far beyond any expectations of a dog fighting that kind of cancer. I believe that was a true testament to her wonderful upbringing and a life fully lived. It is a great relief that the dog is no longer struggling to keep up normal appearances when inside, she was being eaten alive. For me, her owner, things are sad, but I’m so grateful we had such wonderful times together. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on my friend and some of the amazing moments we shared.

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Marlboro, VT 2006

Indonesia was born in as Windham County Animal Shelter to a boarder collie cross. She was the first pup to greet me when I walked into the kennel and looked in on the young litter. I knew then I had found a very special friend.

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The Long Trail, VT 2007

As a young dog, Indo spent some time living with me in Marlboro Vermont where we ran around in the woods a lot and enjoyed taking college students into the woods on week long wilderness skills trips. Later, this passion for outdoor education would lead us to Washington State, but first, a stop over in Colorado.

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hiking outside Alma, CO 2011

Indo loved hiking up mountains and carrying her pack. She was a working dog, following me on rides into the back country and keeping a watchful eye out for bears and unwanted visitors. It was amazing to watch her move around the horses and know where to be on a trail as we galloped across The Rocky Mountains. In the picture below, she’s hiding on the other side of my horse, but right there with us, keeping up and loving the mountain views. She would know when to be out front keeping oncoming hikers aware of out approach, or dragging in back to keep mountain bikers from coming up behind us too quick and spooking the horses.

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Kanosha Pass, CO 2012

Indo loved the mountains, and felt right at home when we moved to Washington in 2008.

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Central Cascades, WA 2013

She would follow me up when I skied the back country, and keep up down very steep mountain sides, sometimes in powder that was over her head. Indonesia was not a big fan of water, but she loved snow. I was so thankful this final winter we had together, to have one last day of skiing with her at Leafhopper Farm. She was a puppy again, flying across the white blanket over the land with wagging tail and panting smile. It was such a gift.

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Leafhopper Farm, WA 2017

Indonesia and I also had the chance to spend three seasons at Scanlon Lake in The Okanawa, WA. There we spend many a happy day (and night) tracking around the land and enjoying the most freedom we’d ever had in out lives. No leashes, no rules; just a pack, a friend, and some great outdoor wildness. It was paradise on The Lime Belt.

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The Lime Belt, WA 2012

Indo loved sitting in the deer brush and sage, watching and listening silently. She was so good at sit spot, and often shared them with me. It was always so amazing to see hwo calm and collected she was, no matter where we went, even in cities, though she did not like being leashed. Who does? People would often comment on who well trained she was. I took her to a few obedience classes, mainly to socialize her with other dogs and people, but she really trained me. I learned that sensitivity is something to watch and have patience with. That when I didn’t understand something I should wait and watch, ask questions and ponder, rather than force an answer or give up and walk away.

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Tracking Cougar near Scanlon Lake, WA 2011

My dog was the most wonderful teacher. She  always showed me patience, bravery, and honest self. That’s what makes loosing her so hard; I’ve lost that reflection of myself, and I won’t ever see it in her eyes again. At least, not in this life, but she is in my memories, and I’ll always have that to carry with me.

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Scanlon Lake, WA 2012

This is my favorite picture of my dog. It was taken in June of 2012, the last few weeks of our time at Scanlon Lake. Later that summer in Colorado, I was to learn that my friend Chris, who owned the property at Scanlon, had died unexpectedly, and the plan for Indo and I to return in the fall to remain in The Lime Belt, had changed. We would spend another year as nomads, and eventually end up on Leafhopper Farm.

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Leafhopper Farm, WA 2017

Indo loved to sit out on the porch in a little nook that looked down the drive. She would bark an alert to every one who came to the house, and often greeted people on the road to the house. On the morning I knew it was time to say good-bye, I sat with her by her spot and watch the sun come up as birds sang out. It was the most beautiful parting gift my friend could give, reminding me of how much richness there is in this life for me to enjoy, and offering one final sit, being still together. I have to end my reflections here, as I’m longing to go sit with her right now and the tears are making it hard to see what I’m typing.

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Indo’s Spot

 

A final shout out to everyone in Indonesia’s life while she was with us. Each of you who knew her, took care of her while I was traveling, lived with her, or just knew her as that little black and white spotted dog that hung out with Liz Crain, thank you. Thank you for knowing Indo and loving her. She gives a tail wag to you all. We will all miss you Indonesia, thanks so much for all the kisses!

Rivers

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A small farming village outside Dusseldorf Germany

Above you see a picturesque small town in central Germany. It is old, at least middle ages judging by the stone church in the center of town. The vineyards, utilizing steep hillsides, show that agriculture was innovative. It was from central Italy that the root stock for fine German wine was carried, in the packs of Roman soldiers, for their coveted drink. These grapes were planted any and everywhere Rome conquered. In Germany, growing grapes is a challenge, unless you happen to have a large river with hillsides. which hold in the heat. and create a perfect micro-climate.

Rivers gave Roman’s a place to grow grapes, and the waters to transport any material need to colonize the known world. Every great city sits on the banks of a port, and inland country utilizes rivers as veins to the greater ocean trade zones around the world. River driven micro-climate agriculture interests me because Leafhopper Farm is located on the hillside of one of America’s rivers; The Snoqualmie.

Most major settlement on this planet revolves around water. Recently, I had the pleasure of exploring one of the most famous and ancient river systems in Europe; The Rhine. Along it spans a history of human civilization and engineering that shows the world how management of water can create one of the busiest trade routs on earth, and support cities that were unmatched in their day.

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Cologne Cathedral from The Rhine, West Germany

Koln (Cologne) in West Germany, is a wonderful example of metropolitan settlement made possible by rivers. It’s similar to that first settlement picture in this article, on steroids, but the same basic principals of settlement exist. There’s a central church, surrounding homes and places of commercial trade, then agriculture on the outer edges. In the case of bigger cities like Cologne, the agriculture is outside of town, but easy to transport along the river into industrial areas where it can be processed.

The mill below is a great example of this food distribution. If you recall the first picture in this article again, you’ll see two silos further back from the river’s edge. Chances are, that village used to be closer to the water, but canal building, which began on The Rhine in the 1820s, moved the river in many places, straightening it to ease transport and  encourage strong flow year round. Before this, in summertime, it could be impossible to navigate the waters in many places due to sediment buildup in the river bottom and a lack of water in the rivers themselves. Once the canals were made safe to travel, predictable supply lines for major cities could function, and agriculture on and near The Rhine exploded.

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Working mill outside Strasbourg France

With all the wealth being generated in shipping trade along these waters, fortifications sprung up to “protect” merchants by demanding a toll for safe passage. In what is today Germany, along The Rhine, there are countless castles and derelict forts which once controlled the river. King Louis XIV is credited with burning most of them to the ground. Many were destroyed and rebuilt again and again, as the wealth of Rhine life was too good to pass up. Sadly, agriculture suffered greatly through these times of conflict, and cities that relied on these rural goods often went hungry. Urban people suffered bouts of plague and starvation due to overcrowded conditions and little sanitation; while rural peasants lived in fear of marauding armies.

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Castle Fortifications on The Middle Rhine, Germany

A few families with money and influence got wise to river conflict and chose to remove themselves from central action. Families like the Eltz  formed a conglomeration “Ganerbenburg” and the three family branches built one big castle near rich farmland on a plateau above The Moselle River, a tributary of The Rhine. The castle is surrounded by The Elzbach River, which is un-navigable, but flows year round and could support three families and their extended household. Not a commercial river, but flowing water none the less. One branch of the family still lives within its walls today and is the 33 generation to do so.

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Eltz Castle,

Back on The Rhine, along with The Moselle, vineyards abound, as these river micro-climates are the only places to grow grapes in Germany. All the hillsides are utilized, and the grapes must be harvested by hand, as heavy equipment cannot move along the incline. It makes this wine today un-affordable outside Germany and little is exported. You’ll have to make your own trip to the region to enjoy its hard earned drink.

 

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hillside vineyards along The Rhine

The Rhine River is totally controlled now by bulk heads along its banks and locks with large dams to control it’s flow while still allowing ships through. No salmon swim in it’s current any longer, though before industry, fishing was the main source of economy in most villages. Today this large river is a major shipping lane, ending in Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, considered the continent’s gateway.

My home town river, The Snoqualmie, has wild banks and no dams. It floods seasonally and winds its way around the landscape, even creating the famous Snoqualmie Falls. Leafhopper Farm sits 400 feet above the river on south facing slope towards the valley. Unlike The Rhine, my little corner of Duvall, like much of Western Washington, retained huge evergreen trees which do not offer quite the same direct river micro-climate warm up, but there is still a warmer atmosphere in winter, more to do with Pacific marine winds and The Cascades.

Snoqualmie River Valley

These two comparative photos say it all: wild and curvy versus straight and engorged.

Rhine River Valley

The parting shot accompanying this narrative is one I took from the bow of our ship heading up The Rhine on our final day of travel. Both banks are cemented and rocked, straightened and widened for boat traffic. It’s a river crafted into a highway by the hands of man. I’m so thankful that this day and age, people understand what the cost of river development means for the water and surrounding life on its banks. The Rhine still struggles with massive flooding and erosion, challenges brought on by an engineering feat of navigational achievement.

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Upper Rhine, straightened between 1870-1876

Summer Fishing Begins!

As an avid Fisherwoman, it pleases me greatly to spend a little time in some of our fresh water havens seeking out delicious trout! These two were caught at my secret honey hole, a place with no real name, but a lot of great fish. You have to really focus in this place, as the brush makes casting challenging, and the fish are weary of frilly lures. These two beauties were hooked on worms hung off pink beads and a Colorado spinner.DSCN1969

The fish on the left is Oncorhynchus mykiss, our native Rainbow Trout or Steelhead. Though this picture does not show it, this fish was the largest. The fish on the right is Salvelinus fontinalis, or Brook Trout. This fish is not native, but has been established in Pacific waterways from The East Coast.

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Indo is not a big fan of fish, but she does enjoy lounging on the bank watching me cast. These two fine finned friends are more than enough for dinner tonight. The joy of harvesting fresh meat from the waters near home are most fulfilling. I’ve been learning the good spots in the area and can now confidently stop by any number of lakes and ponds to procure a tasty meal of fresh trout. Worms are the secret, and I swear by them. I’ve never used a fly or floater, only pink beads and silver sipper with a fat juicy worm. I’m excited about fishing in The Netherlands later this summer with Bernard. We’ll be spending a lot of time in canals, which I’ve not fished before.

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We enjoyed these trout with lemon, garlic, butter, and onion. My favorite part of a trout is the cheek meat, little oysters of delicious found below the eye. You have to pull the meat from the bones carefully, with practice, this becomes easy enough as you learn the makeup of a fish. The skin is also very nutritious, and should be baked on as a crispy outer layer to the soft, pink meat. I’m so grateful for the fish and the knowledge to know where and how to catch them. It’s also a great luxury to have all these lakes and streams right in my back yard. Western Washington is truly the place to be for fishing!

June Updates

Gardens are thriving at Leafhopper Farm! The spring growth is in full swing, and the first fruits of the season are already being enjoyed. Strawberries ring the herb spiral with little red sweet treats. The lavender is budding out and will soon be decked in purple splendor. Mint and lemon balm are already being enjoyed in fresh teas, while cat nip flowers to attract bumble bees.

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Our Frost Peach tree is putting on many little fruits. I pulled off the smaller ones to give more energy to each peach in hopes of having the largest harvest yet later this summer. Sage, oregano, and French Parsley (Chervil) are all being trimmed for the dehydrator for the pantry. Garlic will soon be sending up scapes, the buds that would bloom if left untrimmed. Hopefully I’ll be back from travels in time to nip them off to encourage bulb growth.

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Back in the herb gardens, lavender thrives with sage and wormwood. My only surviving peas are trellised up nicely. More strawberries line each bed, offering a sweet snack to anyone weeding or watering. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is soon to bloom, and I look forward to enjoying the large white umbels of this highly medicinal plant. Some of the foxglove (digitalis) has already flowered, with more still to come. The wildflower mixes are offering subtle color and diversity to the garden’s edge and I look forward to spending more time later this summer identifying the new flora.

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In the front garden, hops dominate, and their trellis awaits expanding vines. The LHF Red Lettuce has begun to bolt, a natural part of it’s life-cycle after a good 2 seasons of leaf production for salads last winter into this spring. I look forward to gathering a second year of seed from this plant, as it thrives quite well in the cold frame. There should be a nice potato crop this year too, as I have again banked my three main plantings with mulch to encourage more rooting. This is the first year I’ve maintained potatoes with any real intention, and the crop looks good.

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Gardening is a lot of work, but the cultivation is most rewarding. I love seeing more and more perennials establish as I develop the beds with the intention to have all the food thriving together with good spacing and excellent ground cover to prevent weeds and store water more efficiently. This front garden is in it’s third year of growth and already it has surprise us with morels, roses, an iris this year, lovely lettuces, and front porch viewing. A pair of robins are raising a clutch of 4 babes right off the deck with great success. Though we lost our honey bees, the mason’s and bumbles are thriving among flowers and trees.

Lost Hive

Well, the hive of bees left in a swarm over Memorial Day and have not been seen since. I tried putting them back in their home twice to no avail. Seems the farm is not able to host what the bees need, and that’s good to know. They did start making comb, and the queen was laying brood. At first, it seemed to be a temperature problem so I set the hive back in the shade and propped open the top to let more air in. This is typical summer maintenance. I was also feeding the bees extra pollen and sugar to make up for the lack of abundant pollinator species around the property, to no avail.

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After the swarm left, I was able to look at the inner building of my colony in depth, learning so much about what the bees were up to and how a hive is built from scratch. The bees are amazing constructors, engineering quite the comb in this hive. Some of the frames were wax, others plastic, and some just the wire to hold comb on. The bees used all three and built what they needed with what they had. Though it looks less cosmetic, this comb is functional and well crafted in spite of it’s wonky nature.

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Some of the brood was still hatching out as young workers a few days after the swarm left, and I explained to them that I had no idea where their queen or sisters had gone, but I wished them luck. I’ve kept and eye out for the swarm, but no buzzing hails the hive home and I do not have high hopes. Honey bees are not native to Washington, and I’m not interested in attempting to bring them here again, personally. If another resident at the farm wishes to take up bee keeping and all that entails, I wish them luck.

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As of now, Leafhopper Farm will continue to support other native pollinators like bumblebees and mason bees. We’ve build some habitat for our masons, and need to build some for the bumblebees, as many of them are threatened. The honey bees were a great learning experience, but the loss of this hive so soon gives me the feeling I should work on other things more aligned with nature in this bio-region. I am so thankful to the bees and their lessons, and I hope the queen and her swarm find a wild place to thrive nearby.

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Dogs, Kittens, and Chicks!

Well, the cuteness continues here at Leafhopper Farm!

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Our two kittens, Muir and Lucia are playing all day in the tall grass and fun jungle gym of logs around the farm. Indo watches with interest from her sunny spot and wonders what these high energy balls of fluff are up to.  The Dog is feeling a lot better on new meds to help with her cancer, but the comfort will be short lived. She has a little bit of extended life on these medications, but after a few more months, the Lymphoma will act fast. I am hoping she makes it to August when I’ll be home and settled to be there with her in her final days.

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In the mean time, she’s enjoying a retirement like no other, with kitten friends, all the wet canned food she can eat, and warm sun to bask in. She also gets regular treats of chicken sausage, venison, and occasional cheese treats. Since we’re not too worried about keeping her figure slim (the cancer and meds eat at her muscles) she’s as far from a diet as rich meat and dairy can afford.

The brooding hen who was sitting on 6 eggs finally hatched her clutch. One young chick did not make it fully out of the egg and so only 5 healthy chicks made it. These little peepers are sweet babes, already out and scratching around under the watchful guidance of mamma hen. These chicks are the third clutch this year on Leafhopper Farm, bringing our flock number to 35.

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