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.

Last Litter

Lucia has produced another beautiful litter of kittens here at Leafhopper Farm. Six healthy babes pile atop one another while mom takes a break to eat something. It was a smooth birth, with contractions revving up around 4am, followed by first kitten drop around 8am. The last progeny dropped by 11:53. There are a lot of white socks. One full tortoiseshell and a pair of tuxedo twins. One Kitten is almost completely black, but for a chest patch. Another tortoiseshell with half orange face is easy to spot in the pile of dark fir.

Black dominates the litter, and that’s momma’s coat breeding through. Her kink tail strain is also present in a few of the kittens. One is almost bobbed like Muir’s; the zig-zag of genetics from Lucia’s mom. It’s a unique physical trait with purely aesthetic origins. Some of the kittens have perfectly strait tails too. They are all a bundle of warm cuddles. Lucia is also very friendly, and purrs when she sees you.

Five days on, the six kittens are eating and sleeping- and will for another week before more senses awaken. They pile up to sleep, and do more of that with full bellies. Lucia is on a wet food, for kittens, and the babes will transition to it before dry food is introduced, but that’s weeks away. For now, mother’s milk will be pure luxury, and thankfully, because Lucia is a wonderful mom, her stable diet throughout pregnancy, and a healthy development in the womb, these kittens are all healthy, well developed little felines.

Lucia’s first little was not discovered until only a week before she gave birth, and because it was the cat’s first litter, and she had not received special dietary enrichment through her pregnancy, only two kittens were born, and both were small, like their mom. This little is big, and dad’s genetics were too. The orange tom was a brawler, I’d never seen him before and have not since. This is the farm’s last litter of kittens, and three generations of barn cat will live on this property. Our plan is to phase cats out again in ten years or so (until this legacy ages out). We will not acquire more cats after that.

The cats have kept mice at bay, and improved the overall rodent issues at the farm, but the bird population has declined, or at least moved out from the cats’ concentric rings. They were hunting rabbits, but have recently been letting many in around the gardens, so perhaps tastes have changed? Maybe an indoor cat in future? There are so many neighborhood outdoor cats now, enough to keep the rodents away. For now, we’ll enjoy feline flights of fancy in the pastures and along our stream.

More Planting

For the past two years, we’ve been nurturing root stalk of all kinds of native plants from our local conservation district plant sales. When you buy root stalk, you have to nursery it for a few years before putting it out on the landscape. This prevents loss to predation, and drought in summer. Leafhopper Farm practices restoration agriculture, meaning that our cultivation revolves around long term soil and forest health.

In the above picture, we have a habitat snag left after taking down an old Christmas tree to allow more light into the garden. Now we’re putting in native shrubs to create habitat and restore an area where a tree once stood. Since we don’t want another tall evergreen blocking the sun, we’re kept our native plantings to shrub and dwarf tree size. A highlight from this planting is the native crab apple tree, whose fruits are small, but still harvestable for food, or gleaned by wildlife in leaner years.

The Native People of this area, were known to plant crab apple around established villages as a good food source. We are taking that advice and putting a few trees in along the driveway next to the main house. There are also twin berry, service berry, and wild roses going in as companions. The straw around each plant helps mulch the base, keeping moisture in and weeds out.

By taking out these young plants from the garden where they were tended, we’ve made a lot of great room for more traditional food crops. The garlic planted last winter is looking good, along with a second year kale crop. The Italian parsley I established last year is back, and our wild onions are taking off too. There are still several veggie seeds waiting for warmer weather before being planted out. Luckily, we now have the garden prepped in anticipation.

The grey cat trio admires the onion crop, looking like it needs some good thinning. On the left of the above frame, you can see our red current bush flowering out. It’s in the third year of establishing. Just beyond it is an apple tree in bloom. Beyond the cats is the skeletal structure of our collapse greenhouse. No replacement this year- we’ll forgo tomatoes for now, but I think out summer will be hot enough for many hot house veggies without the use of a greenhouse this year. I’m planting out with that assumption.

The front garden is already bolting- mustard is flowering out, and a number of other overwintered crops in the cloche are racing to the sky in all this unseasonably warm weather. The pea trellis is set, and camas bulbs planted last spring is coming up again. Other self seeding plants, like spinach, are also re-sprouting at this time. All in all the gardens and extended beds of tended plants are thriving here at Leafhopper Farm.

Forest Restoration

Forest restoration takes many lifetimes, which encourages the continued planting of trees here at Leafhopper Farm. The western white pine Pinus monticola pictured above was put in a year ago and continues to grow amongst alder fences, which protect against deer predation. Nearby are shore pine, twin berry, and even a wood rose Rosa gymnocarpa have been planted. These modest small plantings will one day turn into well established forest, with towering pines and thick forest cover for wildlife. These small patches are being cultivated across our ten acre parcle, and will help to reestablish the canopy, as well as the diversity of flora and fauna Leafhopper Farm wishes to cultivate.

Red elder Sambucus racemosa , which has been browsed down by both goats and deer, is finally getting a chance to come back in this restoration under-story system. Established natives on the landscape are coming back with great success. Our farm would like to establish blue elder Sambucus cerulea on the land too. This shrub is not often found in this particular ecosystem, but is native, so we’re re-establishing this tasty berry bush on the landscape for wildlife and human enjoyment.

Wildlife, such as black-tail deer, are common in our forests. A choke cherry with cambium stripping happened this winter, when the snow was on the ground for almost a month. The deer utilize the young fruit tree inner bark as a source of food during the tough winter months- when they happen in our region. We’re working to broaden the diversity of plants in the environment, to encourage more browsing options, cover, and accessibility to food and water within the landscape of the farm. This is also a win for livestock, who will have more forage in pasture spaces too.

In “the back 40” we planted 10 chestnut trees, all grafted verities which have been cultivated up north near the Canadian boarder. Our young trees have been in for about five years now, and the 8 that have survived are doing splendidly. In the picture above, you can see an expansive field with a lot of grass and very few trees. In future. this area will be filled in with massive chestnut trees. Right now, it’s hard to see, because the young trees are still under six feet tall. But they will grow, stretching out long branches into a woven canopy of nut trees. Deciduous trees which will drop their leaves in fall, let brief winter light come through the the ground. The dropped leaves will also offer great mulch and long term fertility in the grove.

Our back pasture will continue to have open ground, with plenty of grass for sheep, pigs, and other livestock to enjoy, along with open sky for people to enjoy, watching stars, or laying out on a sunny afternoon in late summer. But the field can also give up some of its scope to the return of forest canopy. This way, we bank more moisture in the soil, and create a rich habitat for our larger community of plants and animals who need space too. As people stewarding the space, we can choose what trees and plants fill in the canopy, allowing for the planting of nut trees, and other edible plants that might not be native, but still fill a role in the restoration of the environment, and benefit to human habitation as well. This is an important underlying principle of permaculture.

Ponderosa Pines Pinus ponderosa are not often found in western Washington, but they do occur, and we’ve been cultivating a small patch of trees in the back field, which are finally beginning to take off towards the sky. In a few more years, they will be fully established as a self supporting stand of pines on the farm. They will produce long needles for basketry, sap for food and medicine, edible bark, and even pine pollen, which can be harvested and used as a health supplement.

Another more recent addition to the back filed forest rejuvenation is sour cherry Prunus cerasus. This fruit tree will one day stand at over 40 feet tall. It will be dwarfed by the ponderosas, but still gain a large canopy presence in our back field transition. There are two of these in the back field, and they have both been left without deer portection for a while to see how they fair with the deer. I would much rather have the deer enjoying these trees, than the pine or chestnuts. Sometimes it’s good to have a few sacrificial plants on the landscape for wildlife; especially when you are first establishing a new forest or planting of any kind. Planning is key.

No forest will return without help, especially in highly settled areas like suburbs or even small farm acreages like Leafhopper Farm. People can either leave an area untouched, allowing native species like alder to come in and begin the restoration of forest slowly and organically, which is fine, or you can put energy into designing a forest that work on several levels for people and the environment, adding a richness that mother nature could not produce on her own. That’s part of the fun we have in replanting our forests here at Leafhopper Farm.