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.

Lessons in Trail Blazing

Paths of access are one of the most important parts of any system design involving people. For a human to enter a landscape, there has to be a path, or at least, a directional flow. How we get around a place, our routs of passage, lend to the overall use of space, and our ability to tend it. Places where people do not go often will not have paths of access. Areas of high traffic, like the zone one living space, could even have roads to allow cars and other vehicles a place to go on the landscape. Whatever the rout, people will establish trails of connection, and how those pathways are developed, creates smooth or hindered flow.

Why would we hinder access? Well, in places with sensitive terrain, or a nesting sight, people should stay away to prevent erosion or disruption of growth. Knowing what time of year nature’s cycles are in also plays a key role in pathway management. In winter, we don’t drive trucks through the landscape because of the moisture causing instability in the soil. In summer, when the ground is solid and dry, we can drive, when we need to.

Roads are one thing, but what about a small footpath? Well, if you want to keep people out of a space, hiding the access can be helpful. For instance, I have a lot of mushroom logs on the bank of my stream. The wetlands there are sensitive soil habitats that I don’t want people walking through all the time, so I keep the trail hidden.

There are also some very subtle reasons to keep a small foot path underdeveloped. One big reason, which a lot of people don’t realize, is invasive plants. The path pictured above leads to some mushroom logs in the stream buffer zone of the farm. It used to be well hidden and uncleared, except for a small foot path you would really have to weave through. I left the path hidden partly to prevent lots of foot traffic, but more importantly, to keep the canopy cover.

A friend thought they were helping me one day, by coming down to the path and clearing it to make the walk easier. Well, in doing so, they opened the door and invited a very aggressive invader into the forest. Japanese knotweed Reynoutria japonica has stepped in to fill the void. It thrives on compacted soil (from the foot traffic) and lots of great sun, which the path is now receiving. This path was cleared last fall, and now, with spring warmth returning, the knotweed is popping up all along the path.

It’s going to usher in a whole new layer of knotweed into my forest, and the only thing that will stop it is glyphosates, which will have to be used in larger quantity with the spreading of this highly invasive species. This is such an important lesson in the cost of development, even the simple clearing of a trail through once intact habitat. As stewards, it’s so important to look at the whole system working together before putting our mark on a landscape. Even when we think we’re doing something helpful to people, we could be hindering the long term sustainability of place for everything, including the humans.

Leafhopper Farm is an established agricultural landscape on a hillside. Our vision with this space focuses on restoration of native forest, while weaving in human elements for the long term sustainability of people living on this landscape as part of the regenerative cultivation of the land. Part of us being here disrupts many natural rhythms, but people are a part of the ecosystem too, and it is how we chose to live in our environment that determines its long term health, and ours.

Spring Blossoms

The orchard is opening its first blossoms here at Leafhopper Farm. Other trees that will fruit later in the season are putting out leaves. It’s a sure sign that Spring is here in Western Washington. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll have a good fruit year- it’s warm, there is good sun, and pollinators are out in force, looking for those flowers to dust. Sometimes the flowers come out before the bugs, and we miss getting a good pollination. Other times a late frost will take out many of the buds

The older apple trees pictures here are part of the original homestead. We’ve been taking back the growth of a decade from these awesome old producers. Our apple output has been in decline as these ancient verities begin to age out. But thanks to some grafting earlier this winter, we hope to get new trees from the old to keep our native stock alive. Those new grafts are in with Mom’s Orchard.

The frost peach is blossoming out nicely too- and it looks like a good year for fruit! This tree is still not espaliered yet, and it might be a little late, but maybe next year. Right now, happening flowers are out on the branches, and to prevent any damage to our crop, we won’t fiddle with this stone fruit any more through fruiting. 🙂 Well. we will apply a nettle spray to the leaves in hope of deterring a number of pests and fungi.

Leafhopper Farm will continue to cultivate fruit trees. We’re sure they are a great fit for hill farming, and offer such sweet rewards when the season is optimal. We also understand that the climate is challenging, so our harvest can be very unpredictable too. Our fruit easily goes into cans and the freezer, so we can process the fruit in whatever condition it ends up. Ideally, we get a bumper crop and have enough for a local you pick. Right now, we have enough to sell a few on, but most goes into apple sauce, dried fruit for oatmeal, and frozen for use in baking.

Cascadia Coop Egg Washer

The Cascadia Cooperative Farms has hired me to manage the egg washing and packaging facilities located at Goose and Gander Farm here in The Snoqualmie Valley. The coop has been trying to get off the ground for a few years now and we finally have the facilities in place to begin processing and packaging our eggs. This new machine system cut my egg washing from hours to minutes.

The beautiful eggs you see going into the machine are from Leafhopper Farm! We’re up to about 15 a day, and if we collect for about two weeks, we have about 10 flats of eggs for the coop. The farm will not give all its eggs to the coop, but we will occasionally make a “donation”. I say donation because the coop cannot buy Leafhopper Farm eggs at a price that makes our grain affordable. We are committed to using only USDA organic, Washington grains and cannot find anything comparable to the quality of Scratch and Peck.

In future, the coop plans to have an organic label, but that’s a long way off. Till then, I’ll give eggs when I can to support the coop’s mission of small local farms, but the reality is, they aren’t looking for small 40-50 bird flocks like me. My vision is many 40-50 bird flocks in the hill farms, which collectively, like a coop, produce plenty of eggs. It will be a hard road to prove to the bottom land crowd that only sees bulk purchasing leverage, but that could work with a larger number of small producers. However, we would have to raise the base price to the farmer, because right now, it’s not enough for quality small organic flocks.

Leafhopper Farm’s mission is keeping eggs local, as close to home as we can, which is not large enough a market for Cascadia Coop. Perhaps we can sell our eggs at the local farmer’s market while talking about Cascadia Coop to local consumers who might sometimes find themselves in a grocery store where they can reach for a brand that is still local for them. We’ll see- Leafhopper would have to run a farmer’s market booth, and we ‘d need a few more people here solidly working to get that vision fully off the ground.

For now, working with the coop to help get more local farmers connected to local markets is easy to get behind. More updates to come as the coop picks up speed this summer.

Animal Farm

We’re rearing’ some great stock here at Leafhopper Farm! Puppy play includes tug-o-war, branch fetching, fir cone chasing, and even a little goat trailing. Though Valentine is a herding breed, she’s still a little young to fully engage a goat, and we’re not yet taking on sheep, as they have already gone toe to toe with her head on in introduction, we’ll need to train up the sheep too. This little Aussie is also happy around water, even wading in to fetch a stick, but swimming was not happening, yet.

The three doe goats will soon be joined by a new Buck, who we hope to call Falkor’s Dream. He’s a mostly white young buckling, with a pair of brown chaps on his legs. His father looks very harlequin. We’re sticking with Nigerian Dwarf, and hoping to use electric mesh netting to wrangle the herd of smaller animals. The genetics will be a good mix in too, so the farm goal of dairy cross over with smaller body height is back on track.

Goats remain an important part of vegetation management at Leafhopper Farm. Goats are the highest input for return at the farm, and it’s more in the physical maintenance of the land than even meat, milk, and bone. The simple cycle of blackberry and goat preference for bramble make the farm a continued source of sustenance, but as we reforest with young plantings, the blackberry begins to shrink back, and we don’t produce enough pasture on site to cut our own hay or fodder.

The farm will also be investing in more Katahdin sheep, a breed that seems to be handling our climate well, and offers a good meat carcass in the first year. Along with our established ewes, Salt and Pepper, we’ll also be receiving another 3-5 ewes and 1 ram for breeding stock. They are the future of Leafhopper Farm’s four legged vegetation management system. They will be pasture managers, with some forest forage. This breed does forage, like the Barbados sheep I had before. They are also conditioning the land before I put chickens on

Our Ayem Cimani roosters are working hard, and the flock is developing nicely here at Leafhopper Farm. We now have a flock of 40 birds, and at least 10 of them are good breeding stock from our Cemani genetics. We’re going to make two flocks in future, one breeding and one laying. Once we hone in a little more to the good cross breeding, we’ll focus on the best hybrids to replenish the flock genetics and hope to start selling breeding pairs of this rare bird to backyard poultry enthusiasts.

Our current non-breeding rooster will get a chance to mix into the layer flock later this spring, once we establish the two flock system. I’m a little apprehensive about taking this step, as the birds will become twice the work, but the overall payoff for selective breeding will show in the future of our flock. Because Ayam roosters cannot share space, we do have to keep the males apart. At least now the up and coming younger male will have his own ladies to companion with.

These are some of the many animal developments happening at Leafhopper Farm. If you are interested in birds, lambs, kid goats, or home butchering, please contact us at info@leafhopperfarm.com. We’re excited to see the continued development of our livestock honing in on certain breeds, their health, and good meat production on our farm.