The Forest

 

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The woods are lovely, dark, and deep

-Robert Frost

 

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Walking through the woods may seem like an everyday activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world, but it’s not, and most people do not walk through woods very often, if at all. Many people drive through woods, or look at the edge of forests, like the two pictures above, but when you are in them, standing with giants, you take a breath of something so real, palpable- rich earthly loam and rotting wood; the climax of earth’s biological productivity in physical form, forest.

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Trees are taken for granted; we grow millions a year to chop down as annual decorations in the house, only to be thrown out on the burn pile or into landfill a few weeks later and forgotten for another year. What if we decorated neighborhood trees that continued to grow and thrive; adding life to the community and creating a shared gathering place for festivities of peace on earth and good will towards your fellow man? I know, it’s cold at Christmas time, and if the holiday season is your thing, green bows of fresh evergreen are crucial for that old time smell of the woods, complete with crackling fire and warm tidings of feasting.

A forest can support such revelry, and heat a home; if the woods are cared for, and the people manage themselves within the landscape to support such consumption. Neither is happening today, and so, for those of us who do have the advantage of mature woodlands; good stewardship and restoration are crucial to allowing a future where anyone can know the collective consciousness of forest. In understanding the climax of soil production, we can perhaps take a closer look at productivity related to our own food cultivation- something we need to survive and sustain the numbers of people we are willing to produce.

Greater Bellevue Area Growth

In The Pacific Northwest, we were told 200 years ago, that the forests of our towering evergreens could never be completely cut down. Trees are renewable- they grow right back when replanted. Oh how foolish we were, and still are. The only reason our trees grew so big out here and survived was the climate and amazingly rich volcanic soils. Once we cut the timbers, all the fertility eroded away in our winter rains. You can see the silt outflow into Lake Washington still happening today in the time-laps above.

When forests are abruptly taken away, massive loss of top soil happens through flooding, because nothing is left on the landscape to drink up the rains; and so, the waters flow uninhibited across the landscape and take any loose debris with them into the rivers and oceans beyond. Forests have the most ground to sky cover in the form of canopy, which catches the falling rain, defusing impact of rain on soil. Organic matter on and in the soil soaks up the water, holding it where it falls. Plants and animals drink up the waters too, storing the moisture in their own bodies and keeping the water localized

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In this picture, a snow melt during heavy rains flooded the land. As water sheeted down the landscape, it comes into our swale system and stops there, slow seeping into the ground for a deeper watering on this hillside. Our main food forest will be planted here over the next few years. 

 

 

Would it not make sense that the more layers of biomass on the surface to soak up and utilize water, the more could be stored in place? Could the retention of water on the landscape ultimately lead to more fertility and growth? What about additional composting biomass in the soil to aid in water retention? Studies say YES! When we improve canopy layers and create more biomass in soil, its ability to remain resilient as the climate becomes more unstable will be necessary for all survival.

At Weiss Creek, our local salmon bearing stream on the farm, there is always a flow of water here, even during the worst drought season. This abundance is due in part to its relatively intact forests along the banks. However, recent developments above the headwaters of this stream have sent large amounts of silt down stream. It fills up the deep pools where salmon love to spawn. Without good flood years to push the debris on down, reopening the important spawning habitat, the water way becomes clogged and causes more flooding and erosion across the landscape. 

On the southeast side of the farm property, a neighbor clearcut most of their 40 acre parcel in the late 90s. There remains to this day, a seasonal stream which comes from their land onto Leafhopper Farm’s back pasture, feeding directly into Weiss Creek. It was carving away at the bank and forging a path along the east fence line which will eventually carry off the topsoil. By ditching and diverting the flow over the landscape with some intentional earth dams and holding pools, we’ve slowed the runoff, diverting a lot of it into our willow basket grove, nut trees, and future “back 40” food forest. 

Taking advantage of runoff due to deforestation can be to your advantage, but the clearcut land next door will continue to experience drainage problems, flooding, and erosion. In The Pacific Northwest, without the rain-forest, the rain will carry off our landscape, including any development, especially structures built on slopes. Even with good forest cover, entropy does continue, and landslides happen. Human caused deforestation for timber and developable land in a rainforest will lead to a chain reaction of environmental collapse that has already begun. The best thing you can do today is plant trees, everywhere you can, now. 

There are places in the world right now reforesting the landscape and it’s bringing water and bio-diversity back to places once thought lost to desertification. The movement is gaining steam-


Earthworks

Our first major earthworks were in the fall of 2015. At that time, we had swales dug in the northeast pasture, and a catchment pond and wetland area restored. We then went on that fall to dig more water directional ditches, off the roads and around buildings to make sure water sheeting down the hillside was directed to the pond to maximize the retention of rain runoff on the farm. 

When there is a lot of water on the surface of the landscape, it needs direction, and if you put in some smart ditches and pipes allowing water to flow under roads, you can catch a surprising amount of water. It’s work thinking about, especially if you have land on a slope like Leafhopper Farm. 

Our pond has been a great addition to the hydro works, catching all our upper property runoff and hosting a variety of wildlife throughout the year. We are committed to keeping this water source open to our local fauna, including deer, and waterfowl like hooded mergansers and wood ducks. 

When big machines can make light work, with good planning, many amazing things can happen to enhance the landscape for generations to come. At our farm, we’re still planning many more machine works at the farm, but where we are right now can suffice for this generation of improvement. We hope in future to have our water planning move throughout the landscape, sending water from the top of the property to the creek with many swales and catchment basins in between to filter, feed, and rejuvenate the soil without erosion of harmful runoff. 

There are still many places on the property that need to be addressed, and when we have a significant rain event, like the one pictured above; even with pipes and ditches, water will still cascade down the driveway, but will find it’s way to the pond further down this hill. Most of this writing addresses earthworks in use as water control, but earthworks does so much more, and to see it, I suggest visiting here, or another farm where earthworks are being executed, or already in place and established to see the results. 

Goats- Boer and Nigerian Dwarf

Boar goats originated in South Africa as a meat and dairy breed fit for the harsher terrain of aired savannah. The goats we raise today at Leafhopper Farm come from genetics imported through Texas. Brownie, our lead doe, was born here in Washington, and she and her offspring here on the farm are well adapted to life in a cooler, wetter climate. Though they still harbor many traits of their desert dwelling ancestors, like long ears to offer better heat loss, and an incredible immune system, capable of fighting off most infection, including a resistance to parasites. 

We introduced a Nigerian Dwarf buck into our herd last year. Broc was a wonderful stud, but in an unfortunate tussle with another male goat (our boer weathers Bran) Broc sustained a fatal internal injury and we were forced to put him down that summer, only getting one breeding season in. Our current herd has three does, including one female by luck from this year’s covering. The other two male kids were butchered and I am still kicking myself for that decision because we lost our buck and had to requests for bucks in the community this year, only after I had butchered. We lost all our male genetics in one false swoop. 

Gamble is the dream mix of genetics I was hoping for in the herd planning. A good smaller dairy breed mixed into some great boer stock. We’ll plan on picking up a male goat again next year, and selecting Nigerian dwarf genetics again, this time, without a pushy other male to batter him around. We’ll also wait to cull till we’ve advertised our kids to the community. 

We’ve recently been testing the goats out in pasture with electric fencing. This method, ensuring the power is plugged into a main grid for stability, seems to be keeping the goats in without much hassle. We’ve also recently moved our larger stock into new pens. These stalls will keep our goats and sheep dry, while offering daytime access to open pasture. Hopefully this new electric setup is enough to deter escaping. It will also require us to maintain a strict rotational system to keep pastures lush enough to persuade goats to stay in. Fingers crossed!

New Flock

Leafhopper Farm has taken in a small heritage flock of layer hens and one slate blue turkey hen. The birds came from a neighbor who was out of the country with knee surgery and unable to find consistent care of the livestock. Unexpected life changes can often lead to animals being let go of. Our farm sent a flock of ducks to another farm when the mixing of ducks and our pond did not work out. It is great when fellow farmers can help take on other animals when situations change, but it should not be expected. 

These lovely ladies are in quarantine for a week while I observe them to make sure no sickness is brought into my own flock. I am excited about these new heritage breeds- lacy wyandotte hens are great- we’ve raised brown ones, but not white. The Delaware, Barred Rock, and Road Island Red are all familiar; we’ll see how they hybridize with the Ayam Cemanis. 

The odd bird out is our new slate gray heritage turkey hen. She’s a little confused about the flock, and probably a little lonely too. We’ll probably cull her with a group of older hens, as Leafhopper Farm is not yet ready to take on turkeys. The turkey is nice, a new behavioral study for the barn yard, but also a separate set of needs. Each animal on the farm has a special set of dietary requirement, pasture, and shelter. Mixing multi species poultry together too much is not recommended, especially in small habitats. 

These new hens will find there way into the main flock for now, but with this many birds, we’ll have to split the flock for fertility success. A rooster can only consistently cover about 15-20 hens. We’re already in need of a second rooster to keep the numbers sure. Perhaps it’s about time to create a breeding flock of Ayam Cemani from current numbers. That way there could be a selective flock for genetics and a layer flock for community needs. It would be a step towards specialization, but that’s how you get a breed with specific characteristics. 

The Cemani genes are already dominating the home flock after only two continuous years of pure Ayam Cemani rooster breeding. In 2018, we purchased no chicks and hatched all our own Cemani chicks. In 2019, we plan to specialize a flock to Cemani breeding, as well as continuing a farm flock of layers at Leafhopper Farm. 

New Digs

There are two new stalls at Leafhopper Farm! We put together new space for goats and sheep under a lean-to next to the coop. The old enclosure is housing some new birds we recently received from another land owner nearby.  With this move, we begin to slowly transform our entire animal housing location. The old coop is getting too small; even after a bird cull at the end of November, we’re still over the count for that small coop, and it’s time to grow. 

The security of these new stalls is weaker- a cougar could crawl into this enclosure, but space and ventilation are much better, and as we adapt this new building, we’ll reinforce the walls. Eventually, this new area of enclosure will allow us an opportunity to rest the old coop ground, improve on those existing structures to better are overall livestock production, and get rid of rats and old rotting structure that is decrepit and unsafe. 

The goats love their new hay creche, and Gamble climbs into it for the best eating. She’ll grow out of it soon enough. Feeding your livestock off the ground is important to avoid parasite infestation from eating off the ground in the poop. 


Below, you can see all the animals standing happily in the pasture to the right of their new “Barn”. Now everyone can be outside with access to their stalls so rain or shine, they all have pasture available, and shelter with water and mineral. We were not able to do this before because the goats were jumping out of the electric mesh netting. They might again, but we’ll hope with the right pasture rotation and access to the stall, they will be content. I know for Brownie, her size might make it difficult now to jump over. 

We’ll continue to try this setup for the next month. If it works, and the animals follow rotation successfully, we’ll go back to using electric mesh instead of the tether system. Though tethering works well, it limits the amount of animals I can manage. Another reason the fence is working now, involves direct plug in to the grid, rather than risking solar charges weakening. There are advanced battery systems you can use, and we will look into that in future, but for now, all animals respect the fence and are grazing happily here at Leafhopper Farm. 

Mushroom Workshop

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We got after oyster mushroom spawn inoculation into red alders at Leafhopper Farm this weekend! People came to learn about plug spawn inoculation into logs and together, we spread mycelium into about 50 good sized logs. The oysters were chosen for remediation support, as the area we left the logs in is within the stream buffer, which will be treated with glyphosates to overtake the blackberry and knot-weed plants. The oyster mushrooms are very good at breaking down and neutralizing many kinds of petrochemicals- including herbicides. The inoculated logs will have time to develop a strong mushroom population to combat the chemical treatment to come.

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Working together with others is such a pleasure, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as we worked. Lots of warm sun helped make the day much more relaxing as we took terns moving logs, drilling holes in them, plugging with dowels of inoculated sawdust compressed into the logs to colonize the wood. We also experimented cutting notches and filling them with loos spawn, then sealing them up with natural clay, found in our creek. We eventually covered the clay with skunk cabbage leaves to keep the rain off. I hope this method works, for it is much easier and fast for on the ground logs.

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Some of the logs were carried up to the pole barn to recive more plugs at another station. Here we could plug into a wall outlet and run a much more powerful drill, which made plugging faster. On Sunday, we hauled the rest of the finished logs back to the site near the creek to be spread out on very wet ground. The added moisture will make the logs easy to colonize, encouraging the spawn to travel along the log and eventually fruiting out into oyster mushrooms.

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Most of the logs were sealed using organic soy wax. This process can be very messy to put down a tarp or work in the grass. In the picture below the last of the larger logs is sealed. There is a much smaller log laying on the tarp, which is plugged with shiitake mushroom spawn as a personal take home experiment. It is much harder to establish this strain of mycelium into a log, so I wished everyone good luck in trying. I’m sure with luck, a few flushes will come from them.

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Beautiful inoculated logs cascade out the back of the truck, ready to go onto the landscape as more rain brings the perfect habitat to these fungal starts. The work of these eager learners was such a blessing for Leafhopper Farm. These logs will help mitigate pollution in the stream and on the landscape. They will continue to produce mushrooms for years to come- we will not harvest the first few years of flushes, but if new alder is stacked on the older logs long after the glyphosate treatments are gone, future oysters could be harvested for personal use.

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It’s the largest inoculation at the farm to date, with about 1,500 plugs going onto the landscape. The work took roughly 6 hours with the help of 15 people over two days. It was not a complex operation, and everyone said they felt they had helped and learned something in the workshop. I was so relived to hear that the weekend was enjoyable, and am in the process of planning more opportunities over the coming months to work together at Leafhopper Farm.

Cistern Setup

There was a crew of people at Leafhopper Farm this weekend for a mushroom workshop and we found time on Sunday morning to pull out the 20,000 gallon cistern. My hope is to have it set up to catch rain before December, but a filtration system must first be designed, and we’ll need to do a lot of calculating and measuring, as the inflow pipe of this behemoth is dead center on top of the tank. That’s not an easy place to span from the top of the roof catchment system. Lots of learning to come!

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The heavy plastic was sticking to its self and took a lot of cajoling to spread fully into the 23×36′ space. At one point, some of us were crawling under the tank, using our feet and legs to pry apart the folds of material. It was a very awkward structure to maneuver into place, but in less than a half hour, the job was complete.

Having the tank set up takes us a step closer to our goal of water security here at the farm. We’ll look forward to planting our swale system next fall, and cultivating more landscape than ever before here at Leafhopper Farm. Thanks again to all the people supporting this space and the vision of clean food and healthy living. The farm continues to be a place of system demonstration and evolution.

Yesterday one of the WWOOFers commented on how this place is always changing, projects may not be finished, but they keep getting better, it’s like the natural world, never finished. That’s the reality of stewarding place, it’s never finished. I appreciate that forward thinking and how it plays out here at the farm. The energy of change is embraced, without the stress of too much expectation. By aligning the rhythms of the farm closer to those of the natural world, systems flow naturally and harmoniously. More is happening here every day, not deterred by the slowness of evolution- in most cases. I’m sure there will continue to be fast changes too, like the work our earth movers do in just a few days.

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Our water system is scaling up, with a jump from a few 800 gallon cistern tanks catching roof run off, to a massive 20,000 gallon pillow tank to flood irrigate our quarter acre food forest, which will be developed in the coming year. The capacity to hold to much water, allows us the security to generously water through our drought season next summer. This in turn invites the planting of larger swaths of space for cultivation, knowing we will be able to tend these gardens through the driest times which we’re now facing here in Western Washington with continual frequency. In future, once this first food forest is established, we could move the portable tank to another area of the property to help establish more cultivated space at Leafhopper Farm.