The pond is up and ducks are in at Leafhopper Farm! We’ve had over 5″ of rain in the last two weeks, opening the floodgates for our wet winter weather. On the bright side, this deluge from the south brought with it warmer weather, which keeps the gardens looking green and vibrant.
In the herb spiral, a lot of familiar friends are still thriving, including mint, lavender, thyme, and chives. The edible feast continues with borage, kale, horseradish, and yarrow. Though many of these plants will soon go dormant with the lack of sun and warm weather, for now there are still harvest-able stems and leaves to enjoy, and the farm is taking full advantage.
Cover crops laid down at the end of last summer are now germinated and sprout into fine young greens for salads, including more kale, mustard, garlic, and chard. Winter greens like chard and kale will grow throughout the winter, and with additional covering, like cloches and cold frames, we’ll be in greens again this whole winter. Though Leafhopper Farm has a modest veggie production, there is more than enough to share and encourage the community living here to harvest freely for fresh veg through the winter. Once the cold sets in (though we’ve already had three days of snow) the lush greens that are not covered will get frost bitten and die back. That’s ok because we’ll still have bounty in the front garden, where covered plants continue to grow happily through the cold months ahead.
In the water catchment system of the front garden, our resident goldfish are feeling the cold, but still active in our simple aquaponic system. Here we collect rainwater and house a few goldfish to emulsify the water with rich fish poo. This sludge builds up in the bottom of the tank, and will be watered into new soil for the beds to enrich our growing potential next spring. Of course we do not put fish poop on our mature plants, that would be a contamination issue!
The water troughs also house root stalk, cultivating new plants to stick into our young hedgerow along the east fence line. In the picture above, you can see new pink bud growth on a seemingly lifeless stem. This living branch will go into the soil in a few weeks to set as part of our living fence line. It’s an easy way to make new plants for a growing hedge.
A special shout out to our olive tree (thanks Peg!) who is still thriving the compacted gravel soil and produced two fruits in its first season here at the farm. The tree is throwing out a lot of new growth, which tells me it loves where we’ve planted it in the herb garden to the west of the house. This small bush will one day become a tree, and I have no doubt we’ll have to relocate this fruit tree in the next few years. Always be aware of how big your chosen plant is going to grow before you pick a happy home. Because of deer predation, young trees stay close to the house till they are about 5′ tall. After that, you can put them out (usually with a fence protection) and deer will not be able to kill them off (unless they are particularly font of the species) ((fruit and nut trees)). I’m not sure how they will take to this olive, do others have experience with this?
The goat herd is still working hard in clearing blackberry. This picture above shows a before and after comparison: to the left is new brows, to the right old. Note the change in greenery; there are little to no leaves on the browsed section, interrupting the life-cycle of these tenacious invasive brambles. Though photosynthesis is slowed in the winter months, blackberry will try to keep growing all year in our region, so any clearing work is helpful in knocking back the invasion. Thank you goats for all your hard work, and thank you sky for holding off the deluge long enough to let our ungulate herd out for some chow time.
with the return of winter rains, our water features are filling up across the landscape. These pools were hand dug to catch runoff on a hillside. In the branch piles near them, we planted evergreen huckleberry and blueberry, both love wet soil and rotting wood, so this habitat is perfect! There is notable new growth on both types of berry shrubs, and I look forward to seeing these sweet fruiting bushes established here in the lower herb garden. The hazelnut transplants are also thriving here, and have established the beginning of a new hedgerow in this garden space. Next summer, we hope to host a WWOOFer here to focus the cultivation of native and non-native herbs and other medicinal plants that need specialized tending. This garden space is not easy to water, so continued rain catchment systems will be implemented, until the soil is rich and fluffy enough to retain moisture through the drought prone summer months. In a video featuring the herb garden, which I produced with Cahlen in the summer of 2017, this garden still had mud in these catchment basins after months of 90 degree weather and no rain. That’s testament to the power of earthworks and water catchment creating drought resistance on the landscape, and bodes well for our future plans for this garden space.
The winter plan for the farm will focus on fencing along our salmon bearing stream. We’ve been awarded a cost share from King Conservation District, and look forward to learning how to properly post and tighten a fence to keep out livestock along our sensitive riparian zones. In December, we’ll begin the project and hope to be done by the end of February. The new fencing and gates will help divide up the landscape into specialized zones of cultivation and restoration, while helping to protect our stream and the quality of water flowing off our agricultural land into the water basin that feeds The Snoqualmie River. Once our fence is in, we’ll finish our application for a grant to replant and improve the stream habitat, paving the way for more native plants and mushroom cultivation.
Though winter is often called a dormant time on most farms, Leafhopper will be an exception, because life on a small demonstration farm is never ending, and winter is a great time to work on infrastructure and planting. We’ve also got a lot of great native plants to get into the soil, and a Forest Stewardship Plan to work on, including the thinning of our alder groves, which creates an abundance of logs for mushroom inoculation! We’re hoping to offer a class on plug spawn in January, so stay tuned!