Our tilled up strip in the pan handle continues to bloom. The deer are also browsing, but our diversity of options makes it hard for them to overtake any one species. There are also many deer resistant plants like yarrow and Gaillardia pulchella planted to improve our odds at establishing pollination. By the end of August, wildflowers seeded in late spring are showing their full glory in a first bloom. The color is subtle, but new flower friends are popping up all around, adding brilliant vibrancy to the narrow pasture space.
This Fall, we’re going to add more mulch, and put in a few selective fenced spaces to protect tree roots from vehicle compaction. This panhandle is also used by two neighbors as access to their properties in an ingress egress throughway, but the land is EEC Forest Stewardship, and the land on either side of the 14 foot access is mine to plant and cultivate. I’ve been in a bit of a struggle with said neighbors about changing up the space and taking away the lawn, but it’s my legal right to till the soil and plant my crops, so long as this action does not impede the road. Rather than hindering the drive- I’ve enhanced the view, and the restoration of the soil. What a win win for everyone!
My most aggressive neighbor still feels he needs to occasionally ground up my flowers with the blade of his tractor when he’s in a bad mood (pictured above). Since it’s a minor, passive aggressive action from a sad person with no healthy outlet for his rage, I can’t do much about fixing it directly. Some nice split rail fencing will help direct firm boundaries. I’ve been learning a lot about not so graceful aging, how to keep to the high road, and what change can bring. The flowers and healthier soil will continue, and a new generation with better land connection and restoration will outlive the old machine domination of an outraged, vulnerable patriarchy in its twilight years. Gratitude for land, legal boundaries, compassion, good work, and pollination stations.
It’s really not been that bad, because I am vaccinated- but could have been even better vaccinated if the government had not withheld protection. My Mom is not sick, which is a blessed thing- she was allowed boosters. I went and asked for one before the trip, was told no, but took the risk of traveling to New York City any way. My choice, my responsibility. What will haunt me now? Long term COVID, the possibility of other health complications due to COVID, and being a potential spreader. I’ve been masking since the start of this pandemic, and did all through New York, except when eating. Most others around my Mother and I did not. That’s how it spreads. Current theory on infection point was an unmasked luncheon with friends who did not mask at all. They found out the next day, after our luncheon, of positivity. We tested as soon as they confirmed with us of positivity and came up negative. I flew home to Seattle, spent a couple of days working the farm and catching up on things after a week away, and then came down with a fever the third evening back, and knew what had happened. Sure enough- the COVID test came back positive, and I spent a full day sleeping, followed by what it now my third day of symptoms, though far less aggressive than the first 24 hrs.
Though not religious, I can deeply relate to facing unknown (seemingly “evil”) circumstances, and looking to positive thinking as a way of transcending fear. In the picture above of imagined apocalyptic future, there are terrible monsters prowling the countryside, terrorizing the people. I think of human induced destruction of today, including ecological collapse, and the military industrial complex- we are, and have always been, the monsters attacking ourselves. Until each person can face their demons and exercise responsibility in the face of personal action- like not wearing masks, we will continue the slow slip into oblivion. Calling our misery a product of pure evil is an easy way to pass on our choices to fate. It encourages fear towards a perceived threat, where other’s actions will take something from you, rather than offering a hand in support. Christianity as I know it, having been raised in The Episcopal faith, and having an ordained Mother in that church, means love thy neighbor- every neighbor, and since we are a global community, we must all be neighbors and love one another. So, as reflected on in my recent bee hive collapse, what happens when the resources thin?
People want to be generous, but people can also be ruthless. We’re the only lifeforms that seem to juggle responsibility, ethics, and conscious- creative representation. That tree marker above was set with good intentions, with the understanding of humanity as a whole, in stewardship with the land, it’s precious resources, and the generations to come who would respect and protect them. Instead, “explorers” exploiters, recklessly wandered about robbing resources for greed, and it continues today as the legacy of Neo-liberal capitalism, as though money is all that matters today. Where once we were in connection with nature, products of it, and crafters within its seemingly limitless bounds, we turned it into a thing to be dominated through cruelty and brutality. Separating ourselves from that living world we killed ourselves, and repeat the process with each new generation. Our species is not regulating with nature, and so, nature is now delivering a universal leveler which we, as mere monkey mammals, cannot win against- virus.
Our faith in vaccines assumes we’ll forever adapt medicine to keep our species alive, but at what cost? Right now, I’m already a once infected person who was denied additional protection because I’m young and capable. But what are the longer health issues now activated withing this complex system of my body? I’m certainly still, a month later, experiencing brain fog, exhaustion, shorter temper, and some struggle with sleep- is it COVID? Could it be related- as the stress of sickness, climate catastrophe, inflation, the systematic attempted dismantling of democracy, loss of right to my own body as a woman, and hay prices challenge the very nature of my life? All of the above? Yes. People are very short sighted, and can’t see or won’t see the cliff ahead.
We’ll continue too crap in our water with household chemicals, burn our air into fossil fuel oblivion, and keep vaccinating as new drugs are offered up, until they aren’t. We’ve been watching, passively, on slow-mo thus far, but mother nature is revving up. We’re experiencing exactly what our medieval ancestors feared and knew to be the truth- that death cannot be bought off, it comes for us all at will. With helpful hands we drive, wash, spit, and crap into the wind through modern convenience and corporate greed. Just pop onto prime and order another load of guilt ridden consumerism. Tip back another glass and sing the end with joy. I know I did in New York, and COVID might be the least of my worries.
Honey Bees are an imported species used to pollinate commercial food systems. Domestic honey bees have been developing in direct relationship with humans for thousands of years. Their abundant success lasted until about one hundred years ago, when cumulative chemical pollutants and devastation of habitat was just beginning. Now, with so much destruction of pollination larders, and food growing no longer in practice in most backyards, honey bees are feeling a lot of pressure. In the 1970s, a green revolution in better living through chemistry exploded onto the agricultural market. You can read more about post war to current age (there have been three) military industrial complexes here. There was understanding of what those chemicals would do, but little science on how these chemicals would impact our very molecular structure, once released in large quantities throughout our environment.
Science makes the world a better place, like feeding starving people around the world through bountiful chemical miracles. Humans thrive, while the clean air, water, and food we rely on to survive, saturates with poison. Many others in the animal kingdom, besides ourselves, have disappeared almost overnight in what scientists are now calling another mass extinction. This one is human induced, and more recent chemicals (industrial evolution in the past 100 years) we’re spraying on crops to counter our zealous for mono-systems, are fully vulnerable to catastrophic loss. Should the genetic modification prove faulty, which it always does, massive global starvation is inevitable. We’ve also spent so much time trying to fight off insects and fungi <- (this link is ominous at best), that we’ve stopped caring about what death chemicals do to ALL life.
For bees, the mono-chemical death blow was, and still is, a nicotine synthetic, neonicotinoid. This pesticide used widely in crops around the world, has been slowly weakening bee immune systems as they fight to stay alive in a slow poisoning. It’s also detrimental to many “pest insects” <- I have lost many plants to insect predation, but also gained much biodiversity, thriving bird populations, and good pollination on most production species, like orchards. The native plant pollination is usually exemplary, with our two most common invasives (blackberry and knot-weed) being corner stone pollination options for domestic bees. This all sounds so out of balance because it is. Bees are loosing the battle to sirvuve, and human use of industrial chemicals in agriculture is just the beginning.
In their immune compromised state, mites took hold, and you have to treat hives with other chemicals seasonally to keep the parasite count low enough for the colony to survive. You can use formic acid treatments, which are organic, but you still stress the hive and loose a lot of bees in the process. Hives are piled up next to one another in close setups. These social, physical animals will contaminate the entire colony rapidly with only a few initial infections. You have to keep treating for mites all the time, which does not feel very holistic or sustainable for the bees.
Meanwhile, why do we keep bees? HONEY! That medicinal wonder is in a highly concentrated form, please don’t think the chemicals in the bees isn’t also going into the honey, and we’re eating it folks. BE aware! The earth is a closed loop system, meaning all the chemicals we make stay, and sicken us as they do the bees, and all living things. Our pollution output has added up over the years, gotten into the soil, air, and water- even human blood carries a toxic signature, and we’re eating about a credit card of plastic each week. The bees are one of many indicators that things are at a serious tipping point.
After a recent war with another colony during a rough spring of slow starvation, the colony fled its rotting hive filling with maggots. The bottom super, usually a thriving nursery for brood, was half full of dead bees, and what was left of the colony could not clean them out fast enough. Rot set in, and the brood died, adding more death. The queen packed up and shipped out, swarming into the Japanese Viburnum, and then into a black cap raspberry shrub for protection. I set out a new, clean super, and, without a bee suit or any protection, slowly scooped up the branches holding the bees, and dropped them into the new box. I still have no idea if there’s a queen in this hive, but I have continued feeding the bees still there, and some do float in and out of the entrance with pollen. Perhaps the colony will survive, but EEC is not looking to perpetuate bee keeping, as we cannot produce enough food, or contend with the chemical treatments expected in keeping a colony mite free.
Our goal was to care for an important indicator species on the land, not harvest honey for any commercial gain. Perhaps, if the hive survives, and we continue feeding them 100lbs of sugar a summer (for one hive), we might take a frame of honey for medicine, but that would be it at this time. EEC does not use any pesticides or other synthetic chemical treatments in the soil or water. We do run engines, so chemicals are around, and we cannot control what our neighbors do, and some do use chemical agents on their lawns and on their flower beds. We do not know of any commercial agriculture operation near us now, but in the 70s, dairy happened up the hill. We test our well annually for nitrogen, which could eventually contaminate through the water table. Luckily, we do not have any evidence of PFAS in our area- yet. Because it’s all connected, even our atmospheric rain carries chemical pollutants around the world. Our bees have to take the stress of all these human inputs, then also provide food- a super food, which us usually what allows the bees to thrive and survive. Now that bees are barely surviving, they really don’t have extra for us, and we should acknowledge the loss.
It was a cold, wet June in 2022, so the bees were already struggling. Looking at what’s left of the brood comb with my mentor, she pointed out that many of the bees are butts out in the comb, instead of face out to be fed. My mentor called that starvation practice, which is another signal to me that the bees don’t have enough food, that our land cannot support a hive with other hives in the area. It’s ok, I’ve learned how much goes into propping up domestic honey bees and I’m making the choice to stop funneling energy in that direction at EEC. Instead, we’ll keep planting our more diverse flora and monitor the native pollinators, supporting them with good habitat and no chemical poisons. For insect control, we encourage beneficial friends like Coccinellidae, and apply neem oil on heavily predated plants when necessary (I’ve actually only used it once- on our Kaffir Lime).
We’re sad about loosing our bees, but recognize they are not a realistic system at EEC, for now. Our neighbor who is keeping bees will help us pollinate the orchards and be a source of local honey, so we’re happy to see this as an opportunity to encourage her bees while developing our habitat for denser plantings of pollination species. Our next update on the recently planted pan handle will feature these expanded habitat plans. There is also some amount of grief in giving up the hosting of bees. Learning from them was amazing, and their signal for us to develop stronger pollination habitat rings true. We’ll keep planting and restoring for our bumble bee and hover fly (too name a few), and enjoy seeing our neighbor bees flying through too. Recognizing the problem is the solution always reinforces the relationship of change in all living things, and to adapt as nature dictates.
June was gentle, with cool wet weather delaying many flowers and fruits of the season. Peas were off the hook, and nettle held its lush, tender leaves. Grazing was fantastic for the sheep, and ewes put on good weight through milk production, and the lambs bulked up on rich milk fast. We sold out of stock this year before Solstice, which was a great blessing. Fishing continues, with the goal to find a small dingy for alpine lake trout. Cedar waxwings hung out, gleaning fig beetle larva off our Japanese Snowflake Viburnum. Because of the cool weather, we lost a lot of germinating seed in the garden- the risk of direct sewing. Slugs won this year’s garden race, but our established perennials are thriving.
July has been tame, giving us a feeling that this summer will be pleasant and typical for Western Washington. Strawberries were out late, but fruit trees seem well pollinated, even with the cold June dampness. Our Bee hive collapsed after a struggle for resources with another colony. Leafhopper Farm will not resurrect the hive again, instead focusing energy on the continued development of our pollination resources for native insects. Our new dingy, named “Alaska Amber” by my partner, has carried us into good alpine lake waters as we continue harvesting the wild and stocked bounties in freshwater paradise. The sheep are enjoying out “back forty” pasture with ram introduction. Gill, our LGD champion, enjoys good pets and doggie play time with Valentine.
July brought us a 90sF weekend with a 30 degree temperature jump overnight. As we head towards the end of the month, a week of 90s is set to push the limits of our ecology again. When August comes, wildfire threat will be hot to trot across much of The West. If this summer continues to be “normal”, we’ll hope for some rain, and cooler temperatures to prevail. Watering remains a high priority, along with weeding, including blackberry suppression. Harvesting herbs, seeds, and berries brings much looked forward to rewards of labor. Watching the swallow tail butterflies seeking nectar across the newly planted oak grove, gave me pause to think on an ever changing landscape, bringing many lives together at different times. I reflected on how much change the butterflies had imposed to that landscape over thousands of generations, compared to human impact in only a few.
Up until the late 1800s, people had lived on the land for thousands of years within tight knit communities that had thriving culture and established territories across the landscape within great temperate rain forests teaming with life of all kinds. Then, European manifest destiny came and imposed western implementation for resource extraction from what was deemed an inexhaustible supply. That generation of thinking continued into another, and another, and then neighborhoods of patched together squares and odd angles split land into pieces for personal want and gain. Pastures replaced slash and burn, and a new onslaught of domestic consumption arose. Horses, cattle, and human extortion through mechanical abuse continued into today, where we still mow, till, and sew our demands from the soil. That’s a brutal picture, and it’s important to look at with the same lens as the butterfly.
Nature has not stopped, the complexity before us, the system we are intimately woven into might be lost in some ways, but found in others. Temperatures will continue to rise, causing the decline in western hemlock, which you can see dying center stage in the video above. This clearing was cut and burned at least twice, and has been grazed by pigs, cattle, horses, goats, and today, sheep. But a forest is also growing here- big leaf maple and hazel stand with oak. There’s some knot weed, which will be shaded out in time. The oaks will outlive the maple, which will decline much like the hemlock if the heat continues. In this human lifetime, turning the tide on extractive, to a focus on regenerative shifts our impact towards the lofty butterfly. That winged pollinator drifts in unseen currents of constant change- it is adapting to what nature offers, not adapting nature to suit its needs and wants. The butterfly plays only one part in the whole. For people, it’s sometimes very hard to accept that the earth spins around the sun- so to speak. I promise you, it does, and we are helpless little beings that will only survive if we adapt and change.
June in 2022 has been wet and cool. It’s fantastic in so many ways, I’m grateful for the cool comfortable working conditions, the abundance of water on the land, and lower fire danger, at least for now. Our currant weather satellite shows moisture vortexes being pulled up from the tropical southwest, this Pineapple Express has continued to carry atmospheric rivers into the Pacific Northwest, and it’s making the lush green forest and pastures thick with vegetation. Last summer I ran the weed wacker only a few times. Now, I am cutting back incursions of blackberry every few days. I wish the vegetable garden was as enthusiastic about this weather, though some crops are thriving, like sweet peas, and the beets have not yet bolted.
But the bee hive is struggling, cold, and unable to pollinate flowers that wilted early in the damp cool environment which persists. It’s not going to be a boom year for hot weather crops that take so much time to mature in the short warmer summer days this far north. I’ve tried to move away from greenhouse extenders. If I want tomatoes, I will go to the farmer’s market and buy a flat of tomatoes from the east side of The Cascades to enjoy and can for future need during the winter. I’ve focused more on what grows well here, from kale to nettles, there are fresh greens that thrive 8 months out of the year, and with cold frames, I have enjoyed kale and lettuce year round when I’m attentive. But in the ten years I’ve spent working with the soil in this place, I’ve come to realize I’m not a passionate gardener. I prefer establishing perennial shrubs and reforestation. My food production focus has and always will be the animals. The livestock build up enough fertility in this lifetime for a future forest to return.
We received a lot of grapple in early spring this year. It’s a nice slow seep way to get water on the land, and in the soil. I worried that the hard ice pellets would disrupt fruit blossoming, but the flowers seemed to dodge any major bruising, as fruit is starting to form on the pollinated buds. If I try too comprehend the continued exaggeration of climate shifts, then perhaps this grapple might grow to serious hail size in future, thus destroying the fruit tree blossoms down the road. I could also see things swinging in a warmer direction, in which our summers become long drought periods, which we’re already planning for with the pillow tank for irrigation, and earthworks to slow and sink all the water we can during the rainy season.
By mid July, 2022, we’ve experienced only one weekend of real heat, but it came in a great swing from mid 60s to low 90s overnight. That was a shock to most of the vegetation, and the animals I’m sure. In the swelter, our hive was robbed by other opportunistic bees looking desperately for food. We began the seasonal ritual of sealing up the house- including insulation sheets in the windows, and fans circulating the air inside as humidity rises. Last year, 2021, when we had a week of high 90s and a record braking 112F on our front porch, we invested in a standing AC unit, which will keep the appliances (like our fridge) from failing. It’s also a lifeline for us, as our inside temperatures last year reached 92F. On that day, my partner had mild heatstroke and spent some time in a cold shower to moderate his body temperature. Outside, our dogs had a shady plunge pool and the sheep hung out in a thicket to stay cool.
We’re going to climb back into the mid 90s next week, and it will be a time of strain for all the plants and animals, including us. We’re planning for weather like this to continue, and planting future generations of forest that can adapt. At EEC Forest Stewardship, we’re looking at the extremes to come- like harsher winters with heavier snow, and grapple that might one day turn to hail, like the events seen in Europe this Spring (2022). I’m also thinking about wind, wind and tall trees with shallow root systems. Yes, the weather keeps me up at night- especially when I sit and watch the treetops dancing ominously, listening for any snaps or pops near the house. But the greatest threat is fire. This year, we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by a damp Spring and cool start to summer. Now, with two weeks of little rain, surfaces exposed to sun are drying up fast, and watering regiments dictate daily routine.
As the pendulum swings towards further extremes, we have to think about resiliency and catastrophic response capacity within community. Here in King County, there are well established response plans and evacuation centers setup throughout our region. Knowing where to go and when is important, so look into local protocols where you live. Have regularly updated first aid supplies for home, and a weeks worth of food and water rations. Create your own emergency response kit and check in with friends and neighbors about their preparedness. Make evacuations plans and know how to walk to safety if roads are blocked. We’ve experienced sheltering in place for COVID, and that taught a lot of important lessons for our future preparedness. Know that chances are slim, but by having your own ducks in a row, you can then support others in their time of need. This is the greatest importance of preparedness, by having a plan and resources in place, community as a whole becomes stronger in the face of coming change.
Forest Stewardship is the name of the game here at Leafhopper Farm. Regenerative agriculture plays an important role in bringing back intact canopy of our keystone ecological system here in Western Washington- The Temperate Rainforest. Clear-cutting the landscape, especially in hill country, where the soil is more vulnerable to erosion because of slope, covering and retaining topsoil is most effectively done in these topographies with trees. It’s why any good hill farmer in Western Washington using livestock should be invested in silvopasture.
Here at EEC, the logging industry deforested this hillside multiple times, then 9.8 acres was subdivided out of a 160 acre parcel, and a homestead was born. By then, in the 1970s, elk were gone from the hillsides. The old forests, which had witnessed thousands of years, disappeared overnight in an horrific act of manifest destiny. With the protective canopy gone, rainy climate and sloped terrain in the foothills of The Cascades created erosion as soils washed down into rivers and out into the sound leaving degraded land cleared for agriculture. Pastures were established, and a few acres of forest somehow managed to naturally reseed and mature. Now, a generation later, fertility is starting to rebuild as the reintroduction of understory in shrubs and ground cover helps support the forests return to old growth. The sheep are also slowly removed from areas of the land as new forests are established. We’re planting in from the edges in most areas. There is a replanted maple and oak forest marked below on our land map. That and our CREP project in Weiss Creek are two officially replanted forests on the property.
This map shows the major part of our livestock rotational grazing area. There are two main paddock systems that are fully fenced, and we sub-divide those areas into smaller paddocks using portable electric mesh fencing. This is enough grazing for our flock of 13, and has supported seasonal grazing of up to double that number, with winter feeding almost exclusively on imported alfalfa.
The yellow area is out most recent replanting of maple, oak, and pine. It’s fenced to keep sheep out. We put our rams in there for short stints to eat up the blackberry and grass. The unmarked area to the left of the yellow area is the rest of that grazing paddock, consisting of three pasture spaces in about two acres.
The red area is out CREP planting, and no livestock systems can happen here. We move the sheep through on a road crossing a bridge over Weiss Creek, a salmon bearing stream, to access the back pasture south of the red CREP area. Much of this 2.5 acres has been replanted with native plants and continues to remain protected as restoration space and active wildlife corridor. This habitat remains the most divers and ecologically sound landscape at EEC Forest Stewardship.
This area of EEC is not commercially productive, but could be utilized as a foraging area for materials, medicine, food, and some animal forage- if we cut it and take it to the animals outside the CREP space. We also have permission to plant any other non-invasive species in the area, encouraging more diversity.
In the back pasture, we have established a nut grove comprised mostly of grafted chestnut verities planted in 2017, from Washington Chestnut Company. We plan to implement another planting in the fall of 2022. This fenced pasture is our largest at 3 acres. We can sub-divide the space into eight smaller pastures using portable electric mesh fencing.
The green highlighted area is about 1 acre. As the nut trees establish, creating good deciduous canopy, we’ll fill in with understory species of other food plants with a focus on native verities when possible. With climate change causing much dryer periods of time, many of the temperate rainforest species will struggle to survive, so EEC plans to introduce species capable of adapting to the fast changing times.
Our Cascade Katahdin Sheep are a perfect breed of browsing and grazing sheep to work in the many layered heights of vegetation. They are also adaptable to changing temperatures from scorching summers on the east side of Washington, where this flock started, to the bitter cold winters in Maine, where the Katahdin breed originated. Our flock has thrived in the wooded hillside environment through all the seasons now for going on four years, and EEC has been working with sheep on the land since 2013. In that time we’ve also established many new tree groves with understory natives, and continue to plant in from the edges with more forest and hedge to restore protection and stability to the landscape.
Fruit Orchards also play a role in our vision for the land here at EEC Forest Stewardship. Not all the forest we’re planting is native, some excellent domestic fruit trees are establishing, some of which are putting out fruit for the first time this year. It’s always encouraging to see fruit on a tree you planted- and a special shout out to my Mother for purchasing these trees. The grove is named in her honor. What these trees are in need of is ground cover companions. We’ve got a plan for that, and it has taken a few years of budgeting and some climate change revamping of species selection to better adapt to the hotter summers we’re expecting in future. We’ll also be replacing a couple of fruit trees that have failed, as some verities do when you are establishing any grove of trees.
At this stage of cultivation, we’re still trying out different verities of apple, and pear. Russet varieties seem resilient to blights and insect damage, and that’s what they were developed for in the first place. There’s endless info out there on heritage fruit, and it’s a wintertime pleasure of mine to pour over historical records of these fast disappearing gems. I’m also always thinking about the native North American fruits that thrive in our region. The fruit and nut trees have to be fenced off from the livestock, and even native young trees need protection when establishing. Though the natives take off faster and need far less attention to reach healthy maturity. That’s a fact I’m always turning over in my head when I’m looking at agricultural crops vs. wild species. In the long term, trialing blackberry will win out over strawberries or raspberry cultivars.
So why are the sheep so important to establishing the forests? They brows and graze, turning the vegetation into nitrogen rich poop which they spread around at they eat in the perfect quantity to regenerate fertility in the soil and providing meat protein for our omnivore diet. As I’ve talked about in other writings, the sheep are taking the place of elk and deer who would have roamed these hillsides in vast numbers when the old growth still stood and wolves helped manage the herds. We’re a far cry from that intact ecosystem, so we have to offer substitutes and take advantage of gaps in regrowth to input diversity in species for additional food and medicine we humans seek sustenance from through cultivation, which can still go hand in hand with restoration too. This creates a more furtive ground for the trees to thrive, the animals to jive, and the people to survive in an ever changing environment.
For the land, we insulate the ground by letting the grass grow a little longer, and moving the sheep a little sooner than usual. The fields look shaggy, but that rough cut will provide mulch the soil will need to protect against hot temperatures. Evaporation from exposed topsoil would make any cultivator cringe, so keeping grass on the ground is imperative for water retention. If you mow your lawn, set the blade up a few inches so the grass remains thick near the root. I’m always surprised at how grass is cut so short in the hot summer. If only we could see the evaporation happening, the loss of water from the soil kills all life on the surface. UV rays bake the earth’s surface, and sterilize, which denudes the soil of its living structure, rendering it sterile, which is impossible to cultivate food in. Yes, tall grass can be a fire hazard, but only if left up- our sheep stamp down a lot of the tall grass while grazing, mixing it together with dung and mud while things are wet. It’s a great tonic for soil health, and keeps our sheep fat and happy.
Seasonal changes always dictate grazing rotation. Anyone actually running stock knows there’s no magic formula of guaranteed output because of climate shifts and environmental impacts far beyond the control of animals or the people caring for them. Spring is the boom time when weather is cool and the ground remains wet. We’re having a lot more vegetative production right now, so I could be feeding twice as many sheep. Why do I not have more sheep? By September, after a few months of baking hot temperatures and little pasture recovery, like last year (2021), I’d be feeding my sheep hay in the barn two months before the winter season (wet season) officially started. That puts additional costs on me, expenses that my clients will struggle to accept in lamb prices going up. There is a tipping point. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s a closely watched subject in these times of poor supply lines and record breaking inflation. I’ve not secured alfalfa for next Fall, no one is promising orders right now. East side planting just went in (over a month late) and it will mean a shortage.
In a boom Spring like this, why not cut hay? We do some hay cutting- with a scythe, and have an offer from neighbors with a tractor to come rake up their cuttings. We might be doing that this year, which would be a lot more work, and still cost in labor and time. At that point, we’d cull down to 4 sheep and keep a home flock, thus shifting from production farm to reforestation, which would be moving 20 years ahead on the EEC conservation plan, but hey, seems the world is in need of rewilding, so hey, skip ahead. That would mean a personal pivot from being a farmer/shepherd to getting back into the work force and completely changing personal career plans, but that’s also common in this age. EEC has been developing into a food production template, and when that space for cultivation is needed, things are ready. That has always been the short term goal, and we’re about there as far as restoration activation. If we walked away tomorrow, the land would be cleaner, more diversified, and enriched for long term growth, but it would be ideal to have another 30 years of active replanting continue to optimize restorative potential. That’s still my personal commitment to this place within my lifetime.
Livestock systems are so crucial to this restoration process, and if this land could leave one solid lesson in legacy of its transformation, it’s holistic grazing. From the time we first became stewards of this property, animals were the driving force. Goats, Pigs, Sheep, and Chickens have played a role, mimicking wild ungulate numbers if they were healthy. Yes, though it feels like there are a lot of deer in the neighborhood, there would be far more, and countless elk moving through, pushed up into the foothills by wolves on the hunt. Humane development has stagnated wild lands in our area, and around the world. Suburban Neighborhoods scour over important habitat, which then snuffs out the capacity of a landscape to support animal and plant life. Here in Western Washington, wetland setbacks have begun to set a limit on development in certain areas, but enough money can be thrown at anything to change the rules. Mitigation ponds (holding ponds) are now accepted alternative to preserving wetlands in high development potential zones. Again, hubris in thinking human construction can perfectly replace the complexity of a natural system.
So, are the sheep kind of the same thing? Oh yes, they are a sad mimic to elk, deer, and wolves. Our dogs don’t chase the ungulates out of lowlands. Though Valley, our Aussie mix, is a great herding dog who does move the sheep off old pasture and onto new, much like her wild cousins. Only having 13 sheep and a few acres is limiting, but our rotational plan and animal numbers keep a fine balance of ecological health and food production. That food is meat, fruit, and vegetables. Ecological health looks like native plantings, temperate rainforest restoration, as well as the preservation of clean soil and water. All are in play, with or without human “stewardship”. But we’re here, and cultivating change, both productive and destructive. Livestock can be incredibly detrimental to landscape and its delicate ecology. If left unchecked, and degraded landscape will collapse under animal predation.
If EEC were to stop using sheep tomorrow, we’d have to do a lot of mowing and replanting of forest fast. The Katahdin sheep do very important work keeping land clear, and meat on our table and those of our dear patrons. They are also sewing endless fertility in manure for the soil, and thatch for carbon boost and water retention. The mower can’t add manure fertility, it’s only chemical output is toxic- and we’re still using a few two stroke engines, but not all the time. If the sheep have access to grazing, they are eating. A good flock will happily munch into darkness and rise again for a midnight snack during the warm dry summer months. Right now, July 2022, our flock is in the back pasture busily grazing grass and blackberry. The lambs, ewes, and rams are putting on good weight. Weening and breeding are in full swing, as peak abundance arrives.
Gratitude for these animals, their original instructions to graze, brows, and grow, and the land fertility we cultivate together in shared partnership. Thanks to the dog nation and these two pups who help with the sheep, keeping them safe and providing support in vigilance, loyalty, and grace. Gill, our Livestock Guardian Dog, provides necessary protection from very real predatory threats like cougar and coyote. Without the dogs we would not have a flock on this land. Our relationship with predators is one of respect and the acknowledgement that they were here first, and a very important part of the natural system. We welcome them in the same way we welcome the elk. We create space for them, and plan long term habitat restoration to offer more food and shelter. Many generations from now, long after the sheep are gone, we hope that bear, cougar, bobcat, coyote, elk, and all the other native wildlife will continue to thrive in this temperate rainforest home.
Mid-May, I got a chance to visit the east side of Washington- which is a whole other bio region full of dramatic landscape and colorful people. When making the pilgrimage to the east side of The Cascades, grab a friend and make it a real road trip- the journey is half the fun!. My friend Peg offered to join me in hopping over to the dry side, and had a mission to retrace some artist haunts and creative cats that dwell in the sage. We stopped off in Pateros to find some of her work at the local school- these fish are schooling! The small town of Pateros is located at the confluence of The Buttlemuleemauch River into The Colombia River above Wells Dam. The Methow Tribe, now part of The Confederated Tribes of The Coleville Reservation, once used this area extensively for salmon harvesting to feed the people. The sculpture seems to echo past salmon runs that once thrived in these waters. Now, with damming and industrialization of the water front after the removal of tribal people from their homeland, our colonial footprint leaves only trace shapes and haunting memorials to deeper connection with the rivers, mountains, and home.
The Colombia Basin was once filled with roaring energy as the glacier melt poured down from Canada and The Missoula Floods. Driving along the once rapidly flowing river, it is sad to recognize how the water has slowed and stagnated by damming. Though the cheap electrical power and “green” energy is nice- it’s killing the river and many of the species who had thrived in the currents. Elder first nation people tell stories of the singing river- it’s voice silenced by the dams. The salmon, sturgeon, peoples who ones lived together in interdependence with nature is all a distant memory. At least through art, we can remember what once was. At the base of this statue is frog- healer, medicine animal of repair and transition between water and land. His subtle connection to the salmon reminds us that change could happen, that the river would be released to flow in health and happiness once more, ushering back salmon runs and vibrancy to the landscape.
There’s a special place I usually head off 97N outside Tonaskit. A close friend and mentor raises her Katahdins here, wandering hillsides and rocky outcrops with her flock and good Kangal dog. She inspires me every day with her off grid living in a straw bale house built originally for rabbits. They’ve since moved down the hill into a vast warren of truck caps and buried chicken wire. We have a lot of fun talking shop, watching the animals on the land, and predicting our future in a fast changing world. Morning coffee fills our heads with caffeine and warms our hearts as we women tend the land.
Later that morning, we headed to Riverside, the nearest town form where I spent 8 months in The Lime Belt just above The Okanogan River. This area is wild, with active detachment faulting hillsides jutting up in the upheaval of Cascadia. I’ve always loved this ridge line for its color, although that has changed drastically in a recent fire caused by faulty wiring in an old trailer parked at the base of this extensive granite wall. The picture below was also taken on a cloudy morning, a rare thing on the east side of the mountains. While visiting Riverside, we stayed in a concerted church lovingly restored by a passionate artist. Craft was a running theme in this trip, as we all use our hands to create. Mine are handling animals or soil, but I got the chance to try my hand at glass on this trip.
While fire is a personal favorite of the elemental, I’ve always had a healthy respect for the chemical change. Looking out from the studio to the burned rock face of sacred slopes, I reflected deeply on the destructive force of fire. Then I turned, put on a pair of welding glasses, and began creating with fire under the close tutelage of a master. The sun had come out, and light filled the room with shattered color. A heated torch turned the glass rods white hot, and as the liquid became more and more elastic, my hands rotated, ambidextrously with help from gravity, to form a small bead. Temperature was crucial, and cooling happened quickly. Glass is always a liquid- even when its hard and set into windows. Watching it droop like taffy on a thin metal rod created some anxiety in me, but the glass remained thick and sticky, much like the huge lake of molten crust our continents float on.
Plates of earth, a crust of active movement, sometimes quite sudden and violent, the other signs arcross this eastern landscape of huge lava flows, carved out by ice sheets a mile or more thick, then polished off by floods of unimaginable force. My small blue bead shaped round and glossy on the metal rod, and I moved it gently off the torch to cool. It’s creation, much like our planet, a chemical wonder of elemental transformation. The magic of our living earth in a small trinket I could put in my pocket. Forged in the shadow of crested granite charred by licking flames, a return to base rock. In another hundred years of elemental change, new vegetation will establish, or grate quakes will come pushing geological time forward, lifting some while slipping other sheets of land under, back towards the core, a glowing torch of energy reshaping the earth.
Naturalist eyes have opened the world to my observations and added so much reference to time and space. Seeing geological time in road cuts on the drive, and formations of hills and mountains, rivers and dams. Driving through rainforest into sage desert and back again is such a trip. I have fallen in love with Washington though its geology, ecology, and creative people. Getting outside the farm from time to time helps me reference my place in this greater whole. Keeping up with good relationships that feed creativity and shared love of land replenishes my soul craft. And dipping my hands into art, making something, that’s one of my deep callings. With the intentions forged in front of a torch, in studio church, backed by the hills that awaken so much passion in me- I promised myself a home studio at EEC. Yes, the land has been that studio, in a sense, but a place for creative energy to centralize, an actual studio for creative process, is the next step in evolving my craft and embrace more purposeful art.
Eye to eye with the locals of EEC Forest Stewardship
There are two Spring stars of the wildlife corridor trail cam at EEC. Weiss Creek is a thriving wilder space- returning to native nature, the original time capsule of human existence and recognition of surrounding life. Too deep? Well, here’s coyote with haunted holler and bone cracking smile. He/she/it/they/them have been cruising this territory for a long time, and we’re glad to see them from a distance. In the past, these jackals of the west have killed sheep from my flock, and might again still. That’s part of the living covenant between us as predator animals and adaptive opportunists. My most lasting solution to preventing predation is the introduction of our Kangal Livestock Guardian Dog, Gill.
We’ve had no losses since this K9 sheep specialist teamed up with EEC. He’s thriving in his work and the Katahdins trust him. Coyotes who experience Gill’s alert weariness and territorial presence shy away to safer ground. Our trail cam footage is far from the barn, several acres away in the wildlife corridor of the property. Here we support and appreciate the wildness, making space with plans to keep restoring and growing habitat until this land’s ultimate conservation as native forest. Long after Gill’s tenure, and many generations of sheep have come and gone, this land will be coyote’s domain, and hopefully, by then, elk, bears, and even wolves if we give them space. What a wonder it would be to see the great temperate rain-forests, and all they posses in rich diversity of life abundance, returning to this place, their home.
Near the trail cams we sometimes place leftover bones and scrap from animal processing, in small amounts, to focus encounter potential. This is always in the wildlife corridor, so as not to offer any land where sheep are or will be grazing as a meal spot. It prevents scent and territory cross over, and it’s working in our modest 10 acre system. Coyote is the most frequent visitor to the area, at least weekly, sometimes every few days if there are bones to pick at. And the scraps are gone fast. This animal is cousin to the wolf, but much more singular in appearance, sometimes as a pair, but rarely a pack in this area. I’ve heard the cackle of howling group antics nearby, but our cameras have never filmed a pack on this land- yet.
Heading up as our second star of the season, just arriving from a winter over The Cascades or further down the coast in California, our seasonal scavenger expert and forest picker upper of the best kind- TV!
It/He/They/She/Them are so handsome/dapper/depraved?- no really, these iridescent black feathered folks are playing the best role in nature- clean up crew. They are bold brilliant beings on a mission to find and devour bacterial dangers before bad outbreaks related to rotting flesh occur. The neck feather boas on this bird are shear genius in lay and color. If you catch a gimps of them during flight, you’ll see silver tips on the under wing. Bald head bloody wrinkle fest face might be hideous in high fashion, but it’s all the rage in cleanliness. This animal has one main tool for its job, a beak, made to deconstruct corpus putrefactio. These birds also sport a pair of goggles in a protective lens which covers the eyes during a messy meal. I was lucky to catch this optical shift, how cool.
Turkey Vultures had a bad wrap in colonial culture, much like coyote. Ranchers were known to put poison in a dead cow to kill scavengers like these two important ecological players. The TVs are protected now, and most people get what they do any why they need to be respecter in their cleanup role. Coyote, because they will kill a live animal, are still given a lot of shade. The attitude towards predator animals, who are also important workers in the environmental web we all share, will only change when we start reflecting on why mankind feels so threatened.
We’re tilling up some new agricultural restoration space at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our panhandle has been the sight of continual mowing for thirty years. It’s about a quarter acre of some of the best soil on our land. This growing zone is being renewed with a propagation of fresh plantings. Using mostly native species, we’re setting a hedge for added value in vertical vegetation. The plan includes low growing species to prevent any unwanted entanglement with power lines across the road. New introduced plantings include “cranberry tree” Viburnum opulus, which is a rarity in the wild these days. It will be the main species in our hedge, and quite the wildlife attraction, so animals will get a boost of food and shelter. Our other two minor hedge species are a purple snow-berry and yarrow. There’s also a hint of red currant, comfery, and Gaillardia pulchella. In addition to planted species, we broadcasted three different seed mixes for PNW wildflowers. This nearly 300 foot long space will be a pollinator strip for the neighborhood.
We had planned a few more years of sheep grazing as the main agricultural practice for the strip, but we saw an opportunity to take out the sod, removing any need to graze, and are now restoring the land for ecological enhancement and diversity. The south neighbor will have a native plant natural fence to enjoy, north neighbor will receive an attractive boarder hedge set well back from the road. Our selected species can survive well on their own, with little human input, and we’re creating more good wildlife habitat and ventricle vegetation to enhance the landscape biodiversity, water conservation, and so much more.
Most local soil has quite a bit of glacial till, making it rocky and difficult to farm. But this particular strip stretched into what was a shallow lake left after the glaciers retreated further north. There is an abundance of good tilth for growing things, and the older trees left as standards a lifetime ago, testify soil health and water abundance- fertile land. There are a couple of places where water pooled in some tractor compression marks my neighbor left after an unexpected exploration of the freshly tilled soil. It’s a helpful sight map to plant species that can handle occasional standing water during atmospheric river events. The clay count is high in this soil, due in part to years of compression from vehicles driving over it and mowing, which prevented much needed thatch building better soil over time. The clay holds water, but introducing more vegetation and diversification within the soil will create better draw of moisture into the ground, replenishing our groundwater systems drinkable water.
Mulching will be key in keeping up with this initial setting of new growth. Grass will creep back in, but hopefully, once the newly planted vegetation establishes, the change in micro climates will keep grass out of the hedge, and managed with occasional road side trim with the weed wacker or scythe. We’ll move the sheep along it once or twice a year for a good cut of the hedge, and prune annually as needed. Pollinators and other insects are already utilizing the new environment, EEC will maintain it, and mother nature should do the rest.