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!

Mechanized Movement

Scale is something I always love thinking about around Leafhopper Farm; the size of my flock, how many square feet of garden I can irrigate off the well without going dry in late summer, or scoops of grain left before a trip to the grange should happen to re-supply. When I look at projects- especially earth works- scale determines so much when we’re dealing with big machines. In past writing, I have talked some about my ethical dilemma around using gas power on the farm, and it is still on my mind with every decision. The logic of scale demands my attestation one more, and the answer is still clear; machines save more time, wear and tear on the self, and ultimately allows longer recovery and restoration of space once transformed.

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When I stand with the teeth on one of the buckets, my spirit sings at the thought of not having to lift and move these masses of material using my wheelbarrow and a shovel. The two days it will take to do this schedule of work with a machine and truck, would take me months, and with all the other projects and responsibilities on my plate- years! When the work is done, I will have a lot of reseeding in the pastures to get done- great, I didn’t have to bring in a tractor to till before I seeded. I’ll rake the driveway to get out the track grooves in my road, and hope everything is well drained as the rainy season sets in.

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The eco blocks are placed to hold an embankment leveled out for our 20,000 gallon pillow tank. The rain catchment will come from two roofs of a combined square footage to collect more than enough water for the cistern. We opted to put in the large heavy blocks as additional structural integrity for both the water tank, and the as of yet built potting shed. In the picture above, the machine is working on the space where the shed will be constructed.

A drain pipe with plenty of drain rock went in against the eco-block wall to allow for any runoff rainwater a place to divert from, to avoid pooling and the softening of the foundations. As the larger scooping bucket began pulling the last of an old pile of drain rock from my materials yard, my heart soared again at recognizing the last of a large truck load of gravel that I had spent years moving with my truck bed and a shovel was gone. When materials move into place and I know that’s their final resting location and the use is full-filled, there is so much success in completion. Earthworks is a sort of instant gratification, and for a person who works her day to day in small increments of human scale, the machines make moving gravel and soil feel like magic.

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The pay off for using large scale planning is large return, but it also comes with a price, in ecological disruption- from the mining of materials to make the machine, it’s fuel consumption, and hydrophilic fluid nightmare should anything go wrong, to the impact on my land and budget, machines are not ideal, but they do get the job done fast and when you are working on a scale so large, it does fit the picture. I would love to see more horse power going to work in place of machines as they once did, but there are a lot of pros and cons surrounding that argument too. Let’s just say, for the sake of the here and now, that machines make the most sense where scale demands.

Mycological Heaven

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mists of Skykomish

The rains are returning to The Cascades, and we’re eager to get foraging in the forests for our mushroom friends. My partner Bernard took me to a very special mycological place where we’ve found some of our best mushrooms and most diverse specimens. This area is special for many reasons; from the second growth established forest, to the sheer inaccessibility, make this area our special foraging spot and it has not disappointed yet!

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Chlorophyllum rhacodes on the road

We drove my truck over some very rough terrain and then hiked through soaking wet forest which left us feeling very sponge like in our hike to the wonderful mushroom paradise. This feeling of being utterly soaked was exactly what fungus thrives on, and we knew our timing was right to see some splendid things. Many are still mysteries we’re trying to unfold.

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Russula

Our forest is a protected place, so the trees are growing large as the forest floor continued to rejuvenate its self after the clear cut over one hundred years ago. Here there are established duff layers and uninterrupted mycelium highways which encourage a healthy and diverse fungal family by providing mature woody food, an active biological landscape with vernal pools and seasonal streams carrying moisture and nutrients throughout the woods. These active wetlands in a maturing forest are what I dream my food forest will one day look like. You can see from the picture below that larger old trees are spaced out well and actually allow light through the canopy. Natural windblown trees create open pockets to the sky throughout this forest, letting a more diverse under-story thrive. The mushrooms love it here, and so do we.

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Second Growth Forest

Hiking around this woodland space was challenging at times, and we often found ourselves having to scale over huge fallen trucks or cross slick rock streams. The pay off is worth the effort. And let me be clear, through we are searching for edible species, we are also looking at all the diversity in our fungi, hoping to see one or two we’ve never seen. Usually, it happens.

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Clavarioid species (coral mushroom)

 

Many of the species we saw, like the coral mushroom above, are saprotrophic, meaning they feed on dead and decaying matter, like leaf litter or mulch piles. This ability to help compost the forest is an important part of mushroom magic. These little fungi are breaking down huge amounts of material into nutrients for the whole forest. They really are keeping everything in the woods healthy and balanced.

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Mature Russula with feeding sign

Animals love to eat mushrooms too, and you’ll often find sign of this predation on the mushrooms of the forest. Remember, just because the slug is munching on fungi, does not make it safe for you! I’ve said this many times, and I’ll keep at it- don’t eat anything unless you are sure- you’re only sure if a trained mycologist has shown it to you in the field and called it a safe mushroom to identify and eat. Even then, if you are unsure, don’t eat it! Assumptions about mushrooms can and will get you killed. I’m not trying to scare people away from mycology, but I will say that thinking a book will tell you what is safe and not safe to eat in the mushroom world is a crock of ****.

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That said, here in The Pacific Northwest, I find that the genus Boletus is a great gateway of relatively safe mushrooms to start paying more attention to in your foraging quests. Again, go out with a mycologist before you start picking for your kitchen. I love this picture above of a young bolete with some rhizome of mycelium coming off the bottom of this specimen. Though it was probably a safe mushroom, we did not keep it because it was too young to tell which species it was, and some are not that appetizing.

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Boletus edulis (king bolete)

None of our edible species identified were found in mass quantity, but unique shapes abound, and this Boletus edulis above was a great find with a funny shape. I did harvest and cook up this wild edible verity. There were others far too mature to collect for eating, as maggots had already taken hold of the flesh and putrefied the flavor. It is never a good idea to eat older mushroom that are starting to decompose. Often, bacteria has begun to eat the mushroom and might damage you if you ingest, just like eating any spoiled food.

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Boletus edulis very mature

A first for me on this forage was the scaly chanterelle! I found them all over the place and wondered at the fact that this seemingly abundant mushroom was not one I had ever seen before. That’s part of the magic of mushrooms; they can happen any time, any kind, and you can’t really know where. Sure, you can go back to the same spot year after year and assume you’ll see some consistency, but timing in the fungi world is everything, and moisture content also plays a huge role in when a “bloom” might occur.

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Turbinellus floccosus (scaly chanterelle)

Note what kind of substrate the mushrooms in each of these pictures is growing out of. Some are hanging off logs, others pop right up out of the soil. Also know that the mushrooms you see “blooming” are like the fruit of a tree. The main living part of the fungus is within the substrate and continues to grow and expand unseen.

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Dacrymycetes (jelly fungus)

Some kinds of fungus are so strange, it’s hard to identify them correctly. The orange jelly fungus above is my guess on the genus based on a general understanding of physical characteristics, but mushrooms often look alike, and narrowing down to a specific species is sometimes impossible without sport print analysis -usually involving a microscope and some real know how I have yet to possess, but the knowledge is there, and I will be taking more classes soon to better hone my I.D. skills.

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Aureoboletus mirabilis (admirable bolete)

The bolete above is easy to identify from the unique velvet textured cap. Combine that with the spore shape of the “gill” and brown striping on the stipe (stem) leads to a confidant label and another edible mushroom into the basket. This mushroom is safe to eat, and ripe for harvest, being young and untouched by bugs. I know that in my area, this genus has no dangerous lookalikes unless the spores and flesh are red or purple. That’s such a strong marked difference, which is another reason for people in The Pacific Northwest to keep a sharp eye out for boletes. Note I keep saying my region, The Pacific Northwest, etc. Please be aware that if you are living in a different part of the country or world, your local mushrooms could be completely different than mine and therefore, each bio-region should be treated like a totally new mushrooming experience. DO NOT ASSUME!

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Russula

The genus Russula is very different from Boletus, being are more likely to be unpalatable and even toxic to most people. There are a few choice species which are coveted, like Russula xerampelina, known as the shrimp russula. You cannot confidently identify this mushroom by looks alone. That’s where the complications start. In the picture above, you see a very young russula emerging from the ground, coated in a slimy film. This mushroom could look very different from its current form by the time it matures. Mushrooms can change everything about themselves from birth to death, and if you catch a fungus at the wrong time and assume, you might pick a tricky mystery that could make you sick. Stick to what you have been taught by the professionals and keep away from things with dangerous lookalikes.

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There’s a type of mushroom I shy away from to this day. “LBM’s” or Little Brown Mushrooms have always challenged me. My limited knowledge on smaller verities of mushroom is already limited, stack on that the color brown and you have a huge diversity of species which are mostly toxic or completely unpalatable. Because of this I neglect these shrooms, but they are still great to photograph. My hope is that as I document them, I might begin to see subtle differences between certain genus and widen my awareness of fungi. Does this mean I might start eating some? No! But learning who is who in mushrooms is a fast track to finding more yummy things to eat.

Mycology is a vast discipline of such alien beings, yet compelling to the senses, and a study of unique fauna on this earth who deserve more attention. Next time you encounter a fungus, take a picture if you can, study the shape, color, placement, substrate, and size without even touching the specimen. Avoid taking samples from the field until you are more familiar with different species and how to properly take them from the wild. Mushrooms are endless fun. and some of the most amazing flavors to experience, but again, with good instruction and awareness, this hobby is not for the impulsive. To take steps towards becoming an informed mycologist, join a mushrooming club in your area or take a class at your local college or university. In the Seattle area check out Puget Sound Mycological Society. It’s a whole world waiting to be discovered!

 

 

 

What’s In The Kitchen?

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Fall kitchen smells are off the hook at Leafhopper Farm! Took some duck fat and bone broth (from a local farmer I helped with duck butchering), added potatoes from the garden, kidney beans, chipotle peppers (from Tucson AZ), winter chanterelles (picked locally), and a little spice for flavor (cayenne pepper and cumin). This stew will keep warmth and richness close during the misty wet days of Fall.

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Mushroom season is on in our forests too, so a lot of preservation is happening at home using the dehydrator. Puffballs and chanterelles dry out and store well in glass jars with a tight lid. This is how most of my mushrooms end up so I can enjoy them for special occasions. Many are also cooked fresh- and Bernard made a great soup with tomato and fresh chanterelles last weekend which was divine! There will be lost more mushrooming to come, also look for my other blog post about what we’re finding up in the mountains and bringing home to the kitchen.

Any good soup should have a nice bread to go with it, so I took some wheat berries sourced in state near Palouse WA and ground it up to make a few loaves of fresh bread. In this baked treat I also added some home grown seeds like plantain. I’m waiting for yeast to rise as we speak, and hope to have the whole meal ready by this afternoon. Bread baking can be a fickled sport, with chemistry demanding your full compliance to reach maximum success. Because my yeast is stored in the fridge, it takes a little longer to activate with warm water and the flour.

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The key to fluffy bread is lots of yeast rise, and I’ll be letting this chemical reaction happen twice before I bake, meaning I have to follow a strict timeline and not get distracted by animal antics or other lovely farm flavors beckoning out the front door.I’ve lost a loaf or two when the yeast rose too much and finally collapsed in the oven and I was left with a flatbread I had not intended. These culinary risks are great lessons in how precise cooking can be.

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One other fun taste of the kitchen comes in the form of simple home brewing. I took some frozen blackberries, boiled them for the juice, poured off into carboy and cooled down a little before adding honey and the juice of two grapefruits. I’m trying this recipe in trust that there was enough natural yeast on the berries to coax fermentation on with the sugars from the honey. My airlock is bubbling a little- I’m sure if it was a little warmer, things would be more active, but that’s brewing in The Pacific Northwest, temperatures can fluctuate quite a bit, which is why there is a sweater on the carboy- it also shuts out light. I plan to let this jug sit for a few months, then rack it off a second time and add more honey to encourage more fermentation before bottling the final project as a fruity wine. Let’s hope there was enough natural yeast!

From mushrooms to wine, Leafhopper Farm is churning out inspiration for your culinary exploration of local taste and flavor. The recopies are general guidelines -I rarely use measurements outside of 1 cup. and often add a dash of this or that. It’s really about flavors you like coming together to create something edible and fun. At food production is a big focus of this farm and my own life, I try to share what’s being consumed to pair the harvest with the table. Enjoy!