Hedge Edge

4 year old hedge

Edge space is the most happening part of any ecosystem, hosting the most diversity and transition. A multitude of plants and animals use edge space; plants take advantage of the light, having open space to grow into, and animals like the thick shelter offered by low lying shrubs and dense briar. Most transition zones happen where forests meet clearings, but can also occur where land meets water, or any major topographic and/or ecosystem change happens upon a landscape. At these edges, a forester can grow the most biomass, and should take care in selecting a good hedge where they can.

Hedges are cultivated edges, usually creating a boundary between fields, or a field to forest transition. Sometimes they include rock walls, or split fence backing, especially when newly established. In the picture above, our young hedge is backed by pallet fencing, which is a great barrier to livestock, as well as the ever invading blackberry. All the hedge plants have an orange tag, and most are mulched with cardboard. This is the fourth year of this hedges growth, and we’re still adding new plantings. The oldest trees will be pleachered this winter, encouraging abundant new shoots to thicken the hedge, as well as laying the trees to encourage horizontal growth. .

Back in the home garden, a nursery of young trees awaits transplanting into the hedge this winter. Mulberry, birch, and twin berry are along some species selected as good hedge species. Red alder and vine maple are two examples of native plants which are good hedge material. Other ground species like twin flower, comfrey, yarrow, and day lilly are great companions.

tree islands

Some parts of the land at EEC Forest Stewardship are being reclaimed from pasture into tree islands. Above is an example of two islands close together, one established with cypress and spruce cultivars, while the one in the foreground is comprised of native willow and crabapple. These micro-habitats are not an intact forest, or hedge, but they do provide that crucial transition zone, offering more edge space within a larger pasture. Within the shade of a few trees, under-story can thrive with teaming diversity. In these islands you can find iris, thimble berry, carrot, dock, clover, sweet pea, rose, and more. Wildflowers often come in around these edge spaces in early spring. It’s a great pollination station too.

Cultivating nursery space for future hedge plantings is important, not just for the cultivation of species to plant into the hedges, but also as a way to save money. Instead of buying expensive potted trees and shrubs, you can order root stock, and also take cuttings and re-rootings from already established plants in your forest. Just remember to keep track of these plants and make sure they eventually find a place in the planned hedges. The Douglas fir in this tree nursery is getting almost too big to replant. The red oak behind it will stay where it was initially put in, which also means eventually, this tree nursery will be overtaken by an oak. By then, we’ll hopefully have enough established plantings on the landscape to negate the need for a set aside nursery bed.

Forest Fruit

Frost Peach

Late summer ushers in the bounty of nature, and she’s putting on a feast for harvest with bright, rich fruits of all shapes and sizes. From Peaches to Blueberries, we’re beginning to pick nature’s natural sugar with an enthusiastic sweet tooth.

The land cared for by EEC Forest Stewardship has a few, well established apple trees, which are in high production. We’ll end up with so many apples, it’s hard to keep up. In past years we’ve had a pig to eat the glut, but this year, we’ll end up composting a lot of our fruit, which makes great fertility for the soil.

scab on apples

Because these trees are older, they have a common disease many fruit trees in western Washington end up with called scab. It’s on the red alders in the forest naturally, transferring to the fruit trees easily if they are near an older stand of alder, which these trees are. Though scab makes the apples unmarketable at a fruit stand, we’ll still happily eat them at the farm, because the scab does not harm the flesh of the apple, or taste, in any way. It’s simply a cosmetic blemish. The tree its self will be less productive with scab, but we’re grateful for the abundance that comes from the tree, and feel no inclination to treat with harsh chemicals to fight the blight.

more apples

Fruit trees are a great way to repopulate the landscape with canopy. For people who wish to cultivate a food forest, nut and fruit trees are an important main stay. If you want to run an orchard, you’re looking at a lot of hard work and inputs to get fruit production up enough to pay the bills, and you’ll need a lot of trees. However, if you are instead, cultivating an intact forest cover, with companion under-story, including medicinal and edible plants, you’ll end up with a self regulating ecosystem that puts out endless food and medicine for you’re household, and the extended neighborhood.

tree island

Above is a snapshot of a young “tree island” being established at EEC Forest Stewardship. In this small mix there is a small decorative evergreen, already established to mark the curve in the driveway, and added to it’s grove is an edible crab apple, a native crab apple, and shrubs, including lavender, twin berry, and two types of current. As this island takes shape, we’ll have a few trees for canopy, with plenty of light around the edges for all the under-story. The diversity of habitat will feed us, the wildlife, and offer multi-season pollination options for the beneficial insects. It’s an island, because of it’s isolated location and size, with only one or two trees forming the “grove”.

Think about how big your fruit trees will get as you are planning your plantings. I usually select for dwarf verities to keep height down near my gardens and pastures. Along the eastern fence line, I plant taller verities, because there is a young forest just on the other side already blocking the light, so my full sized apple trees can develop into 50-60 foot monsters and still be dwarfed by the towering evergreens. EEC is also focusing on diversity of verities, because western Washington hosts a lot of diseases, which cripple many fruit bearing plants over time. We’re also making sure to incorporate native plants into all our cultivated space, like the currents, twin berry, and native crab apple. If the cultivars fail, at least we’ll have a relatively resistant native to back it up.

Blueberries

Livestock and wildlife are another big consideration when establishing fruit species. Our blueberries were covered in bird netting, with a 3 foot high chicken wire mesh around the base to keep out rabbits. The setup worked well for a few years. We knew to keep our goats away from the structure, and let our two sheep graze briefly in the area under supervision. This year, we got a larger herd of sheep, and they completely decimated the blueberries in half a second during a mob graze. Luckily, our blueberries were mature enough to resist the invasion, and we still managed to get some fruit off the top of each bush. Still, we’ll be building a more substantial structure to protect our little berry patch.

Once we have blueberries spread out across the landscape, we’ll have no need to fence everything because there will be enough to support both wildlife and our community. Livestock are a different story, and you’ll need good fencing and even better rotational grazing to prevent the destruction of a young food forest Baby trees and shrubs are most vulnerable, and you will need to fence them off to prevent complete predation. Eventually, they will establish enough to fend off most attacks. The long term pay off for your efforts will be endless bounty.

Summer Wilds

The activity in our local forests amps up during the summer months, with an abundance of wildlife moving around the landscape, including this Black Bear, who’s tracks are pictured above. A domestic dog’s tracks parallel the bear’s, and they happened the same day. Did the dog spook the bear and run after it? Or, did the dog smell the bear’s recent passing and investigate the tracks? These prints are about ten feet off a logging road that is frequented by joggers and hikers in state forest. People come to the woods more in warmer months with less rain. The age of the tracks could be roughly determined by a light rain earlier that morning. Neither track has signs of that rain, yet the undisturbed ground around them did.

In this closer picture, with my hand as a size reference, there is a very fresh grass stalk well pressed into the mud by the animal’s broad foot. This bear’s hind foot is a medium size for a western black bear, so I would guess it’s a yearling, which is larger than a cub, but not fully mature. Looking closely at the distance between front and back feet, the bear was moving quickly, lunging across the muddy wetland towards the cover of thick brush, away from the road. Usually, wildlife is moving away from people, and having a dog helps, though it should stay leashed; for both the safety of the wildlife and the dog. An encounter with a black bear is possible, and startling them is the worst, so keep up a clear sound as well as visibility when hiking in the woods. Some people wear bells, I was talking actively with my friend as we traversed the landscape, and we were together with my young Aussie.

Because of our great rains, which have continued generously into July, keeping the temperatures dreamy and cool, (like a normal summer) fungus is thriving. I would be a great time to take a hike into the mountains on a shroom hunt. You can also still find a few in the lowlands, so keep your eyes open, even in planted landscape beds along sidewalks and buildings. The most diverse selections will be thriving in the forests, so take time to wander under an intact canopy if you can.

One other summer observation in the landscape- berries! Many are out early, so check your thimble berry and huckleberry patches sooner this year. I even saw blue elder fruiting out on a 4th of July visit to the east side of The Cascades. My apple trees at home are putting on fleshy fruit rapidly, and I worry for the branches of some overladen in the orchard. Peaches are ripening up fast too as our fruit year continues on epic proportion. If you know of any blueberry bushes nearby, start checking for the first fruiting flush. I’ve knabbed from my few shrubs and look forward to more. Though I’ll have to check out another secret patch in the area, an old farmstead that’s become a city park, because the sheep got to my mature bushes this year.

Alpine Lakes are great trout fishing hot spots. I always recommend live worms from the compost. In the elevations, you can still find minimal snow, which is a good sign for keeping the forests damp and streams flowing through the driest months of August and September. The Snoqualmie Tree Farm, where the above picture was taken, boasts two large alpine lakes, both of which I’ve caught my limit in. There is also older growth trees around these remote bodies of water, and on Lake Hancock, pictured above, old logging families have established summer cottages along its shores. This alpine wilderness offers great fishing, hiking, bird watching, and other wildlife encounters. I’ve seen loons, black bear tracks, cougar tracks, and bobcat in this area, and look forward to more adventures in the mountains this summer.

Why Goats?

Our herd of awesome goats clears land and keeps blackberry at bay. They are a hand full to control, one of the most difficult systems in the landscape, yet their contribution and hard work are invaluable. For years these hard working stock animals have moved around the property eating invasives and keeping our freezer full of delicious meat. This year is a milestone, as we are working with 5 animals through the summer, and planning to breed 3 does next fall, which will be the largest gestation hosted on the land.

before

In the picture above, you see a wall of thick green bramble and ferns, a forest floor without much diversity, languishing in briar. There is a thick green mat of vegetation, but little diversity to recommend to wildlife or the greater ecology of the area. When goats move through. they open up the landscape to new opportunity. It also becomes easier to access parts of the landscape that might otherwise be neglected. This stand of forest is slowly being cleared of red alders, opening the canopy to new plantings of western white pine, wild Nootka rose, and native crab apple. These species are native, productive as fruit baring, and offer good pollination opportunities to insects.

after one day

When the bare ground is exposed, reseeding can occur, allowing the introduction of ground covers like knick-knick, elder, and twin flower. Wildflower mixes and shade loving under-story crops can be directly seeded into the landscape, through irrigation through early plant development (several weeks), will be necessary in our dry summer climate. In shad areas, like the one above, its more successful to plant out roots stalk instead of seeding, but I always throw something down, just to offer a foot hold.

before

Goats brows hard, leaving little in their wake of appetite. This is not a system I would recommend to sensitive ecosystems that are fully intact, not without a lot of supervision. Tethering goats takes a lot of work and good planning. Most people who raise goats, keep them in well fenced paddock systems. Chain tethers are used to maintain strong boundaries on the goat’s destruction zone. Many areas of the property are scattered with fragile young trees and shrubs, which the goats would gladly chow down on if they were left unchecked.

The challenges of goats revolve around negotiating strong individuals with iron will. If a goat wants to go somewhere, and you don’t have a good hold on her, she’ll drag you along for the ride. She’s usually heading for the nearest fruit tree when she escapes, and she knows their location by heart. A goat will panic when alone, so you can’t have just one. They are prolific breeders, so if you do have a stud in the herd, you’re going to have a large herd in no time without proper planning. Goats are sensitive creatures, and cannot handle extreme temperatures- meaning most of the winter is spent under cover, eating expensive hay. In summer, extra oversight is needed to make sure goats do not overheat.

The herd plan for our goats is all about mixing two wonderful breeds; the Boer, a meat breed, and Nigerian Dwarf, a milking breed. Gamble is out first product of this crossing, and she’s already showing the slightly smaller frame of build, along with good muscle mass. We’ll breed her this fall in her second year, after she’s finished growing. Our new buck, Valcore’s Dream, is a papered ADGA Nigerian Dwarf. He and Gamble should produce the perfect homestead animal, something duel purpose but not too big. Next spring, we should have around five kids, a lot of genetic material to work with as we shape our ideal goat for a smaller forested landscape.

Lumber From Our Trees

EEC Forest Stewardship finally got its lumber back from the mill! Our local miller, Duane, took care of our red cedar logs after the cutting last year. A stand of compromised trees over the chicken coop and barn had to come down before we plan and build any new structures nearby. The crew that took down each large standing pillar of timber were masters of the saw, and all was done efficiently, but most importantly, safely.

The final product of all this hard work is a pile of neatly stacked lumber in the pole barn, making the whole place smell heavenly! We could store all the wool sweaters and fur coats you want! But ultimately this fabulous natural material will support the frame of some kind of structure. Originally we had planned a shed, but this material is so special, and unique, from the land, that we want to make sure it’s featured in special new building. What will that building be?

We’re renewing the master plan for this property (a good thing to do every 5-7 years or so). With help from a few architect friends who specialize in unique, alternative property development, we’re looking ahead at how the infrastructure of EEC Forest Stewardship will continue to cultivate community learning, and living. Certain amenities are in high demand, so we’re looking at how to better accommodate our growing classes, and spaces for the people who live here full time.

Another big design to come will be a barn, or something like it to house our flocks of livestock, mainly chickens and sheep. The two animal systems will continue to keep vegetation in check, and feed us eggs and meat through the year. This building should be multipurpose, and not too big. We hope to combine the feed shed, coop, and stalls into one building. Right now it’s a collection of hodgepodge sheds, all leaning at odd angles. Maybe the cedar lumber package can be utilized in that structure. More to come here at EEC Forest Stewardship!


Oyster Bonanza!

While enjoying some forest stewardship time with a neighbor, we stumbled upon a cash of spring oyster mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus. The older red alders were in perfect form, having received a good drenching over the past week. On both standing and resting, logs, we found a treasure. The other great thing about this discovery, is timing. We found almost all of the flushes were fresh, and had very little bugs.

After gathering several meals worth of mushrooms, we put some right into a cast iron pan for a good dry sate. Then added a little butter for flavor and salt to taste. It was a wonderful first feast, but there were more to come!

Back at home, I took a handkerchief home and later that evening, took time to finish cleaning and sorting the fungus. I took the wettest ones and threw them onto a stone pizza pan. Then I threw them in the oven at 375F for 20 minutes. They were cap up, because the gills are vulnerable to the heat. Initial cooking of most mushrooms lets the water cook out. If the water is not released, flavors will not come in and you are left with a soggy noodle.

Next, I flipped the mushrooms on the pan and added salt, onion powder, and garlic powder, along with a little sriracha. You can add any flavors you want, or a marinade. The gills up allow the flavors to stay on the mushrooms. I dabbed on powders and put the shrooms back in the oven at a reduced 350F for another ten minutes. If the mushrooms look crisp and brown, take em out. If they are still a little white and wet, turn off oven, but leave them in to cook a little more.

When the mushrooms came out of the oven, still warm, I added olive oil and some sun dried tomatoes. It was a fabulous dinner, and I had it again the next night. By then, my mushrooms were at the end of their firmness. You don’t want to eat old mushrooms. Browning, softening, and bug predation will speed the decomposition of a fungus. Eat them as young as you can, and don’t keep in fridge beyond a few days. Fresh is best.

Oysters are like pasta, and I think on my next harvest, I’ll try lasagna. When these mushrooms are flushing in the forest, you’ll have a haul- most of it’s water though, so plan to cook down a lot. The oyster does not dehydrate well, so stick to fresh eating. I hear some people pickle them, but I’ve never tried, and don’t have it high on my list of experiments coming down the line.

Puppy Play

Valentine is loving puppy time here at Leafhopper Farm! She’s picked out the creek as one of her favorite places to play, and thinks everything should go in her mouth, so we encourage a lot of toy time, and “fetch the stick”. She’s great with a game of tug-o-war, and has the mischievous bright blue eyes to make your heart melt. It’s sometimes hard to say “no”.

We had our first vet check and all was normal. Worm count is down because we recently dosed for it- a hard de-worming, but she’s also been enjoying a gourmet of animal dung on the land. We’re working on that, and sticks are becoming more interesting, so lots of fetch games ensue. “Valley” as we call her for short, has a passion for being outside and on the move, so keeping a close watch on her exploration has been challenging at times. I have been working with her on tethering outside, but I also love letting her run and tumble around, so there’s still a lot of free time.

Puppydom is grand, and she’s a bonnie dog for it. We’ve also been getting introduced to livestock work, though very informal, around the pasture king of work. Valentine is learning to calmly move around the animals, and when to rev up and nip heel to get a move on. She’s also playing in shallow water, though not all out swimming yet. We start puppy class this Sunday. so it will be a lot of fun starting a more structured routine of learning. I think Valley is going to rock puppy school, and I hope, as her personality comes through, that she continues to be a unique animal here at the farm.