Manure to Mulch

Many might bulk at the manure pile in their lives, but at Leafhopper Farm, it’s black gold with a few helping “hands”. Our deep bedding method supports manure breakdown with healthy bacteria. To maintain this decomposition, there has to be good air flow in the barn and turning of the bedding. Our chickens are great at turning, which can only be done in relatively dry bedding, so our sheep have to be out on the fields before the chickens can get at it. Once they move in, the compost gets an initial flip, then the fork takes a turn. At this stage, the manure is now broken down with straw and wood shavings to a fluffy mulch. We’ll get a lot of good soil for the gardens, and other planting areas on the landscape. Getting the animal to bedding ratio down is key to a successful deep bedding operation. In our barn, we’ve found that eight ewes is a great overwintering number to allow space and breathability to the straw that’s laid down. When we overwintered 12 ewes, our bedding input was too high, and we struggled to prevent anaerobic breakdown- which creates unhealthy off-gassing of ammonia in the barn. The sheep need dry, clean bedding which is demonstrated in the picture below. There is at least 4 inches of clean, dry straw on the ground for the ladies, allowing hooves to stay dry and clean, preventing hoof rot, encouraging aerobic decomposition with good airflow through the fluffy straw, and providing additional warmth from heat released during proper bacterial decomposition. On top of all that, we get healthy soil full of beneficial bacteria.

Some of our manure mulch is being staged for new native plant beds of shrubs. These now two foot high piles of seeming chaos are actually full of good living things like worms, fungi, and carbon breakdown. The straw, cardboard, and woody branches fold in to add additional carbon to the maturing soil. This spring we’ll spread an initial cover crop into these planting mounds and by fall of 2023, we’ll set root stock of hedge species like hawthorn and bitter cherry. Fruits from these two species will feed our chickens, and wildlife. We’ll coppice the shrubs for more carbon to compost back into the soil or to burn as kindling. There is endless possibility in utilizing manure as compost, folding in the physical work and cooperation with other systems like the chickens and sheep, mimic the restorative cycles of a balanced ecosystem. Elk, deer, grouse, and geese would have all been present in vast numbers playing the same roles. Seasonal migratory patterns would move the animals on, preventing overgrazing and the need for barns.

In winter, when things are wet, the sheep come in to prevent erosion on the landscape. From November to April, the land rests and recovers while the sheep laze in a warm, dry shelter with endless food. On sunny days when they get a little frolic in the field, it’s hard to coax them out of the barn, which speaks to the inside comfort. Manure build up is a consequence of having any animal shelter. It should always be a top priority in any animal system design. Too many times I’ve seen poorly implemented animal systems and the manure is usually a root cause of livestock system failures. Industrial farming is infamous for this. Though capturing and efficient production language is used often, the scale is truly mind boggling, and its long term impact, especially with the effects of climate change. The dairy industry alone has some staggering statistics on environmental impacts. Moving away from large scale would mean shrinking many other scales, including that of humanity.

Scale can flex, has to flex, to survive. In this holistic system, manure cannot outpace decomposition and redistribution within the physical abilities of a single person. In this climate, on less than 5 acres of pasture, 8 breeding sheep are a good balance. We’ve spent 10 years working out ungulate herds in restoration rotation- meaning the land improves with animal impact, becoming more diverse and resilient to climate change. Sheep do work best, though goats are helpful in initial clearing, but will brows lower skirt of trees and debark fruit trees over time. You can tell if a pasture is overgrazed by the health of trees within the pasture, if any still survive. Over time, debarking will girdle and kill trees, leaving a pasture barren of natural shade and shelter. This opens the door to erosion, and on hills like ours here at EEC, the loss of topsoil could be monumental.

The manure and straw has become such an integral part of retaining fertility in the soil while producing topsoil foundation for future forest. Here in Western Washington, where there are intact second growth and old growth forests, the ground is a thick tangle of roots, fallen branches, and nurse logs supporting new baby trees under a protective canopy. The ground is well littered with fertility, building topsoil naturally from intact biomass that has remained in place without erosion damage. For clearcut land without the rich biomass of a forest, the fertility remains bleak, and in active agricultural fields, heavy reliance on costly chemical inputs to revive dead soil enough for crops. Those crops are mono-cultures, destine to be shipped away, removing any fertility that was present, much like the removal of the trees in a forest. The topsoil here at EEC is very thin in some places, so thin a tree trying to root in would find it impossible to break through hard pan after only a few inches of root anchoring, preventing stability for long term old growth development. This is why the manure input is so crucial to restoration of forest. Without the buildup of topsoil, the forest will take many generations of trees growing and falling over each other to repair the ground and replace the thick mat of fertility for large, old growth to return.

Swale Willow

New earthworks update and new plantings abound at EEC Forest Stewardship. We’ve been monitoring water across the landscape and establishing new willow stands for future crafts and medicine. In late winter, willow starts- cuttings of stem about 3/4″ thick and about 18″ long are sunk in the swale to establish hold on the upper bank. Over the next few years, we’ll be adding debris in the swale to build up mulch and soil for the plantings. The down hill and south facing sunny side of this swale is planted with a verity of other native ground covers and trees. The next phase of developing this space will be soft fencing- electric mesh, which will be hot when the sheep are in this hard fenced pasture this spring. Guarding new plantings has always been a challenge. Even our LGD Gill is known to dig up a recent planting in fun and mischief. It could also be the alluring odor of fish emulsion often used to bolster starts.

This swale is communicating a lot in its first year; our lack of rain so far this winter, soil compaction and a lack of organic material on the surface of these pasture spaces, and how much runoff comes from the hill above -even with a forest buffer. From water table to runoff, this area of the landscape is a seep in the wet months, and will catch a lot of water in major rain events. But the water is going away fast, stopping and dropping into the soil instead of coursing down to the creek all at once and flooding down to the sound and out to sea. California’s recent flooding was a master class in poor water retention, preventing the recharge of major aquifers. Even in Western Washington, a temperate rainforest, the water is running off the hills and out to sea with similar effect, though we have been slower in discovering this loss because we still get a lot of rain.

More snow in winter might help in addressing some of the harder rains we’ve been experiencing. Hard rains, much like those in California, run off the barren land and into swollen rivers which are diverted and hindered by man’s fool hardy belief in dominion over natural systems that are so complex, we are still trying to comprehend them. Earthworks are manipulations to the landscape, which is already severely altered by clear cutting, and detrimental animal husbandry for a few colonial generation. The swale encourages renewal of natural resources which will ultimately fill in the canopy and encourage enough biomass to support climaxed old growth forest. Where wetlands lay, forests thrive. We can speed up time by mimicking some natural systems- like a fallen log or uprooted tree, which makes a hollow in the ground with a pile of soil on the usually down hill side. These landscape features in a forest are called cradles and pillows.

Dips and mounds across the landscape create more surface area for growth and catchment for moisture. The micro-climate diversity formed by cold sinks and sun traps on south facing slope offer another layer of diversity in ecological possibility. Shore pines tolerate late summer drought while willow will soak up moisture and hold the sloping terrain. You’ll often see old willow in active floodplains laying over on their side, completely re-rooting along the trunk and throwing up countless suckers which develop into new trunks in time. The willow stakes are placed leaning in against the bank they are closest to. This bank is on the north side of the swale, so the willow will want to grow downhill, towards the light and away from the bank, but the initial root set will encourage the trunk of the future tree uphill, into the bank for additional long term rooting. I’ll control this optimal shaping with pruning for the next few years. The plantings in the downhill mound will also grow up and shade out the south side of the swale, forcing the willow up to remain in the light.

After a large rain event, this large swale holds water for a few days, but the continued drought makes our soil very thirsty, and the slowed surface flow has time to sink in. The willow stakes will set in this wet weather, but will also need additional mulch cover by late spring to survive our hot summer drought season. There will also be an electric mesh netting system protecting the young growth of these plants, preventing sheep from grazing them down. It will take a few years to establish the planting, but once the shrubs and ground cover established, the livestock will be allowed through on occasion. The restoration of soil, vegetation, and overall rainforest canopy will take generations of human time, but the long term abundance will sustain even more generations to come.

This is the vision of short term terrain change and seemingly disruptive upheaval. To be clear, we would not dig swales in wetland terrain. It would be a tragedy on several levels to take heavy equipment into soft ground. Machines are utilized on heavily used landscape with long established compaction. Swales break up topography and soil composition. Most earthworks should play a role in restoring long term adaptation for maximized success in natural abundance. This landscape was once capable of fully self perpetuating temperate rainforest, but it took millions of years for the geology to establish, and thousands more for terrestrial vegetation of today. In a few generations, human consumption wrecked ecological systems, converting what was a fully sustainable system for food, water, shelter, local survival and thriving ecology, into a wasteland of catastrophe, which reverberated throughout the greater ecosystem. The Sound is full of once abundant topsoil from the surrounding hillsides. Weiss Creek, on the landscape of EEC, was completely filled in by sediment within two major cuttings of the forest in this area. By the third generation, a dredge and resetting of the stream course revived the small creek’s flow into The Snoqualmie River, which also endured a few generations of man’s hubris.

Black Prince steamboat on the Snoqualmie Cherry Valley Swinging Bridge, Duvall, WA 1909

Imagine log jams like these in The Snoqualmie Valley, carrying the massive biomass out of thousand year old forests, now leveled by human hands and early coal powered engines. There is a very old railroad grade through EEC Forest Stewardship, which once shipped trees from our hill down to The Snoqualmie River, where it was floated to nearby mills. Often times, abandoned logs would jam up the bends along the massive river valley during major flooding events. Try to grasp how much nutrients- by the ton- was sent off the hillsides and down into waterways soon choked with debris. Now long gone, the mass of missing forest has been replaced by pastures, buildings, roads, and fencing. Forests have begun to regrow in some areas, but not enough to replace the canopy. Climax forest is a long way off. We’ll never see the land like it was before industrial tree farms took root, but we can take a trip to The Olympic Peninsula for a glimpse at what might one day be again.

So the swales help return the landscape to abundant forest by slowing water, banking nutrients, and hosting a diversity of vegetation and micro-climates to enhance long term forest growth and natural resource protection. We’re cultivating a giant sponge of debris, fostering the foundation for old growth magic in a few more lifetimes. Plant a tree today, stake willow, dig a modest swale in your yard and fill it with mulch and nice garden plantings- the scale is what you can manage, but in disrupting our continued degradation of place, and renewing those resources, so precious to our own survival, we can do some mending and setting the stage for nature’s abundant return.

Flock Talk

At the end of the first week of January all the ewes are looking good as we move into lambing season here at Leafhopper Farm. Alfalfa ration remains steady with an occasional loaf of organic bread as a treat. All the mature ewes who have lambed before are showing belly. The first years look round, but determining by looks alone is no guarantee. Large sheep operations use ultrasound scanning to check pregnancy. This is important to determine lamb numbers, barren ewes who should be culled, and saving on feed. In a small flock like Cascade Katahdins, bread for good fertility, mothering, and food conversion champions- meaning, these sheep put on weight with minimal inputs- they don’t need grain. Katahdins are independent birthers- meaning humans don’t usually have to lend support. They are also great mothers, rarely refusing a lamb. These qualities make the lambing season a welcome time, with little stress- thank goodness!

As we move through January, appetites grow with belly size and I have fun speculating on twins vs. singles- remember, we don’t scan. But we’re not betting the farm on our lamb production, putting everything on one system, especially finances, is not cultivating diversity of resources, something any growing asset will need. The ewes need a few other minerals, which are crucial outside inputs for raising healthy Cascade Katahdins; iron, sodium, selenium, manganese, and Vitamin E are some of the most important in our region. A red/pink salt block covers most, and additional range blocks every few months add protein to support good lamb development. The sheep could survive without the range block, but optimal health is preferred to survival in a domestic setting. Wild ungulates don’t get salt or range blocks, but also know mineral location on a much broader landscape, and have adapted to life in the environment with what’s available. Copper is toxic to sheep, and you should never feed sheep goat or cattle supplements without first checking the label, because copper is necessary for those species.

Our fist lamb of 2023 comes into the world on January 25th- a healthy ram we named Otis Redding. His mom was a second time mother of a single, which is not optimal breeding, but the ram lamb is turning into a fine looking fellow and we’re happy with her offspring performance. The ewe is only three years old, but her lamb from last year is in the herd with great prospects too. In this herd, production is important, but the health and quality of lambs is just as important. The mother has two teats, and producing two healthy lambs is her optimal design. Single, large lambs are ok, but this ewe may not be in the herd for much longer, unless she produces twins next year. These herd decisions are hard, but keeping productive genetics in domestic animal system is a crucial part of what makes domestication applicable. We’ve optimized the inputs and have to get equivalent out. Wild systems are not held to commercial standards and have unpredictable margins which cause population boom and bust cycles, which humans have struggled to remove themselves from with stability. Domestic systems are stable only with the outside inputs. Have we lured ourselves into too great a false sense of security?

Leafhopper Farm LLC has been hosting successful animal systems for ten years, and the few outside inputs for our livestock have remained constant, even with price fluctuations, political turmoil, pandemics, and climate change. There are weakening links in supply chains, and costs are rising beyond our scale of productivity, but the lasting contributions of these domestic affairs will offer enough foundation to foster the return of temperate rainforest to a small patch of The Pacific Northwest. Dung, browsing, breeding, and becoming food for the community is an honorable life and death of sheep. It’s why we raise them, slaughter, consume, and shepherd Cascade Katahdins here at EEC. Gratitude to our working flock, and all the new life of 2023.

Wacky Weather

Well, climate extremes continue to escalate around the world. In late December, this satellite image captures the epic storms moving across North America. While we hunkered down for a few days of snow and ice, The Grate Lakes area received record breaking snow and blizzard conditions which killed several people caught in the weather while trying to get home from work. Our own radar reads were not too agro, but the collective patterns are growing stronger, and later in 2023, California began to experience unprecedented storm fronts that keep on coming. What does all this mean for EEC Forest Stewardship? Hold on to your hats folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Our fruit trees were less than productive this year- drought, smoke, and grapple during flowering all played a role. Alfalfa crops were less productive because of late cold and wet spring weather, costing more and causing our reduction in flock numbers. Our chickens didn’t get broody this summer, many native plantings failed, and overall stress from environmental change effected all living things. We’re fast adapters here, but the intensifying storms will continue to erode stability across the planet. The earth is a closed loop system, so what comes our way will keep coming back around with the seasons. Right now, the rain is here, though it took its time in coming. We endured wildfire and 90F in October. November and December were colder than normal, and now we’re in a typical winter, but most of our rain is still somewhere else, and that somewhere right now is California.

The west coast experiences atmospheric rivers in winter thanks to our neighbor, The Pacific Ocean, and her weather patterns traveling up from the tropics in what is called “The Pineapple Express“. These rain events can last for days, or weeks. Western Washington is usually ready for these rains, with a temperate rainforest eager to catch moisture and bank it in the soil. This year’s climate change pushed the rains south into Cali, and boy did the heavens open up. Though CA has been in a very bad drought for many years, the rains were more a curse than relief, as the parched land has been unable to cope with the deluge and now, whole cities are evacuating because of floods. From wildfires to raging rivers and landslides, our southern neighbors are on a rough ride. With over one billion in infrastructure damage already, and more rain on the way, you can see how the continued building in catastrophic weather events compounds to overwhelm our vulnerable civilization.

These weather events will continue to compound, and ecology cannot keep up any more than our infrastructure. What’s the plan? Apparently, throwing money at it. However, the money going into “solving” climate does not acknowledge what’s funding climate change. Our developed world will not let go of fossil fuels in time, and I’m right there in the problem, consuming like all used to ease and comfort we enjoy though the rosy glasses of prosperity. Going electric has become the answer, but it’s only another folly, without infrastructure or enough renewables to power all the future cars, homes, and businesses we continue to build and develop. Exponential growth does reach its climax, then erodes away. We are eroding- and the literal ground dropping out beneath us seems compelling, but will not change the outcome of our actions, which are already at work and unstoppable.

More mining will be needed for more solar, wind, and thermal energy development. Plastics are irreplaceable in our daily life, and plastic is fossil fuel. The microplastics are in us already, and won’t be removed. The oceans are acidifying, and currents slowing down, slowing the storms that travel across the planet, allowing rains to stall over the land and dumping those record rains. Hurricane Harvey is a great example of this catastrophic event, which caused over 100 billion in damages. Even the winner of Power Ball can’t afford that kind of expense. Though they could fund the rebuilding of California’s infrastructure from these recent floods.

There is no stopping our current global system from continuing its rampage. We’ve passed that point, so most countries are dropping the idea of curbing emissions– especially the developing ones. Other nations are starting to cry out for compensation. Pakistan was hit with monumental flooding in 2022, then argued that top developed nations emitting the most pollution should pay up for damages. Rightly so on one hand, on the other, economic progress and share holder dividends. If we reported daily cost of climate change like we do the ebb and flow of the stock market, people might better understand the impact- especially financial, this wacky weather has on us all. The markets will not outpace mother nature. It is our financial system which is destroying the earth, so why not change how we operate? Because we can’t, especially fast enough to shift the course we’re on. So why care?

Things are still heading in the right direction. We’re past denying there is climate change (for the most part). America is trying to shift the narrative away from big oil. People are less violent now than ever, and more willing to cooperate in crisis. Though I’m not wishing crisis on us to make the world a better place. We’ll keep seeing great change in consumer products available. Out little farm is shifting away from livestock in the long run, as input expenses will become unforeseeable, like hay this year. I recommend all farmers look at growing bugs as food in future. Can’t predict, but we can plan ahead and have options to pivot towards as the change ramps up. I know it’s getting hotter in summer, dryer, and colder in winter here. We’ve stopped planting hemlocks and selected oaks. The change in hardiness zones will cause ecological collapse of many species, and it’s already in progress.

Move with the change or be consumed by it. We all die in the end, so live richly while you can and be prepared for the shifts to come. Accept reality, work with it, and be grateful we’re still living in a relatively survivable world. Technology has helped us map the changes, and could offer more solutions, but it’s still based in an extraction economy. What instead? I’m not sure, but here at home, we’re planting as much diversity into the soil as we can, slowing and sinking water for drought resistance, and pitching our roof lines to shed snow. It’s the people who can’t adapt facing the real struggle in climate change. Maybe we do owe Pakistan, and should start paying for our consumption on another level. A climate tax on all luxury goods. No insurance for building in flood prone places- using current climate mapping. Though I heard an argument once by a developer who said because septic systems can now be build air tight, homes could go in on the flood planes. Such madness!

Hey, because we can- we should! No, but the problem is the solution, and flooding brings a lot of very good things to the landscape if we learn to live and work with the gifts of weather, rather than fearmongering. The news was calling Cali’s atmospheric river out like it was some king of new monster coming from the deep. The rains have been monstrous, but the development in California has been too, and the water management poor, so you get serious reactions once flooding begins. Small steps, make small changes to help prepare yourself and your community for these weather events. People in Buffalo died in the cold, many of whom were expected to stay at work or loose their jobs, but they lost their jobs anyway, because they lost their lives. It is these short sighted mistakes, which will be our end if we cannot begin to comprehend the strengthening extremes facing humanity.

Christmas Chicks 2022

Baby chicks hatched on December 25th! We had a very low success because the temperature shifts froze a lot of the eggs before they were gathered for the incubator. It’s a big winter moral booster to have chicks in the house at the darkest time of year. The sound of peeping and chirping brings smiles and a warm feeling of joy. The little flit and flight of young life scratching around brings a liveliness into the home when most needed. It’s also the best time of year to hatch out chicks for a layer flock. What?!? Yes, by the time these birds reach maturity in mid-summer, they will start laying before the fall. If you let chicks hatch out in the warmer months with a broody hen, your chicks will start laying as winter sets in, and birds slow production in line with the darker times. This means your egg production will not really expand for yet another year.

Though our farm does not work to force maximization for profit, we do find our birds have better success and development if we hatch them at this time. We’re currently incubating a second round, and have a much higher success in fertility this time. Ironically, in a way, we also received a flock of 10 birds needing a re-home. Current flock is at 30. This next hatch out will grow us to 40, and that’s a few too many, so we’ll cull and/or sell some adult birds this Spring. We also donate a few birds to a wilderness survival class at the local nature school nearby each February. EEC Forest Stewardship supports nature education, hands on learning, and slow food. Happy to supply healthy animals providing healthy food to our community.

Our in house setup is modest. We’ve been using Brinsea products, and can’t say enough about how great they are. The brooder has eliminated fire hazard caused by heat lamps- trust me, the heat lamps are serious fire hazards- we experienced this first hand. Out Brinsea brooder remains effective and safe. The incubator is great too, though I will say newer design options have improved. When we’re ready for our next investment, we’re sticking with Brinsea, as it’s worth the price for durability and reliability. Why do we not use hens to brood naturally? Sometimes we do, but to enjoy winter chicks, we use the mechanical devices to improve hatch rate and have the most control over when. This summer, 2022, we did not have a hen raised clutch. It was most likely related to the hot temperatures and smoke. The birds are sensitive to environmental change, and smoke this summer darkened our skies, changing the birds’ rhythms in subtle, but noticeable ways. Egg production this summer was a little below normal rates. I’m purposing the smoke dampening natural light played a role, but I can’t find any studies to back this statement. General stress from hindered breathing would also effect the birds.

Right now, there is no smoke to hinder our flock, and the chicks are developing nicely. The next clutch to hatch will be much larger, and time in the blue bin will be limited by quick development. The three pictured below are still in the bin at this age, only because it’s only 3, and there’s enough room. In a few days, they will be moved to a larger pen in the pole barn to continue growing. At 2 1/2 weeks, they are fully feathered and have enough body mass to keep warm without the brooder. We’ll continue daily monitoring- including feeding and water refresh as they continue to develop. Moving these older chicks out makes room for the new babes to come. Different aged chicks don’t mix well, the older ones will bully and even kill younger birds, which is the nature of survival. By six weeks, the chicks are teenagers- big enough to go in with the adult birds, as long as there’s a good number of them to flock together for safety. A single young bird would be attacked if alone. This trio should be enough ‘bulk” to muster against the older gals once they reach teen hood. By then, the other clutch will need the pole barn enclosure. I’m not particularly happy about having a double clutch happening. Timing is not ideal, as the new chicks will need a lot of space and these three current babes are such a small flock to have the whole barn, but we’ll solve for that when we get there. If we need to make multiple enclosures, we will.

Crepuscular Light

Fire lights up the sky, not like the licking flames from summer, but in that time of year when light grows scares, and the colors of dawn and dusk signal compelling transitions of life. Red alder and black cottonwood shivering in bare branches to reveal impressionistic masterpieces with every dusk and dawn. These are some of my favorite times of day, and usually correlates with animal chores on the farm. Waking and returning to dreams the transition places in life which are starkly marked by the return and removal of light. So much happens in the natural world at these two points in the cycle of our planet’s rotation. Life is compelled, yet in a state of change, vulnerable, and there are opportunities to see, to witness dawn chorus, twilight colors, so many shades within the forest too. You can see in the field, then step into the canopy returning to shadow, yet the golden light still filters through once dawn breaks into day. As night folds her wings of darkness over the land, in winter, through the skeletal frames of some trees, we can see a little more color and brightness bringing comfort in these cold times of dormancy. The heavens never rest, after a parade of stars, another dawn reveals the changing landscape with her rosy reflections. In the cold months, rising mists from moist forests and wetlands crate a tangle of sky and earth. The low clouds obfuscate reality, moving the skyline down into a lake’s reflecting surface, sipping the warm hues of morning as ducks splash down to feed.

We live 30 miles from a large body of water, and 150 miles from The Pacific Ocean to our west. This makes sunsets amazing, and the afterglow lasts after the sun drops behind the horizon, continuing to reflect form vast waters. Often, lavender tucks into peach watercolor flames. Silhouetted evergreen giants lean towards western winds, whispering evening chorus into light’s last symphony.

The gaze is often drawn to warm tones, especially in this place of evergreen moss and dark, wooded groves. Fleeting visions of fiery shrubs and electric green broad leafed ground covers in the garden- even the old tin roof seems to glow with the changing western sunset. Moisture in the air extends the pantomime of color. Clouds spread golden rays out of a late Turner feeling sky. Another spectacular impressionistic sky by Mother Nature. This particular landscape in Western Washington has enough open clearings to offer skyscapes. It’s surprising how often we forget to look up and appreciate the heavens. Often, throughout most of the day out skies remain overcast and grey, but when the clouds part, a cascade of pigments abounds. Dramatic cloudbursts climb over the trees chasing the winds far above. Sunset catches across billowing tops, spilling into forest crowns, gilding them majestic gold. These shows come and go quickly, so take a moment as the day opens, and another at it’s closing to appreciate and applaud natural light at its most active.

At the time of winter solstice 2022, the land is locked in ice and snow. Cold blue sky has only just begun a retreat in the face of first dawn. At it’s most southern point, the sun touches her lowest point, and still erupts in warm glow from the east. Preparing another day though even the shortest of her treks across the sky. Gratitude for each light’s return, and for the amazing color and emotion brought across this landscape with each dawn and dusk.

400 Native Plants

Oxbow Farm in Duvall, WA has supplied EEC Forest Stewardship with gathered wild seed of a number of native wild plants for a major fall replanting project. These babies have been carefully germinated and coaxed through the initial development into plantings stable enough to establish in the wild. There are a number of wetland specific species heading to our salmonid stream and CREP buffer, while others are more suited to savanna grasslands, and will be planted in full sun on well drained hillsides. It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re land has suitable habitat for the species you want to establish. You’ll also want to make sure where you’re planting is safe from predation. Instead of trying to keep deer and rabbits out, I try to over-plant species to create abundance where some of the plants will doge the grazers and survive. Since these species do survive in the wild, they should, en mass, be productive here on a landscape embracing restoration. Still, I did put a few plants near the house in our kitchen gardens for added protection.

For years now, most of our native replanting stock has come from Native Plant sales- usually hosted by our local conservation organizations. But in the past few years, these sales have run out of plants early on, and not offered enough diversity for our restoration ambition. Oxbow was able to source an impressive variety of species- especially ground covers. They could also offer larger bulk numbers, which fits in with my over-planting scheme. This fall’s order was the largest, with about 400 individual plants in 18 species. What a range! Some, like Acer glabrum, Douglas Maple, should be common in our area, but you can never find them in a native plant sale. Others, like Anaphalis margaritacea, can be identified along most logging roads in clear-cuts late summer, but have been quite a challenge to establish. All are nestled safely in for winter, and hopefully we’ll have a lot of new growth at EEC come spring.

Distributing these “plugs” around the landscape took some good mapping of ecology to make sure each species had its correct climate needs. A lot of plants went into our protected CREP area by the creek- wetland species like wild ginger were tucked away in the thick bramble to protect them from deer predation. It was still very dry in the soil in early November, but established species in the wetlands helped identify where new wetland friends would best live. Valley, our Aussie cross lays at the edge of one such planting. See how many verities you can identify- including the ginger. There are three fern types too. The sedge let me know this was a wetland area. Rushes are also helpful guides in finding your wet ground.

Planting directly into stream beds is risky, as winter floods can drastically change a landscape near its banks. A few plugs went into muddy creek bed, but most were put in on seeps on higher ground. I rarely go into the creek wetlands, as that space is heavily impacted by any foot traffic. I’ll try to get back down there in spring to check the plantings, but for the next few months, plants are in and set. It’s a little challenging, not being able to measure progress immediately, but nature cannot be rushed. She’s better left to her own. With a little bit of encouragement, she can repair sooner, and that’s the plan with all the inputs of new vegetation. In ten years, there has not been a lot of diversity without bringing the species in. That’s the challenge with human induces habitat change in these forests. The forests were removed twice, sometimes three times, and bulldozed, burned, then grazed out. Seeds tried to sprout a few times, then failed, and no new seed came. Much of our forest today here in Western Washington has been reduced to mono-culture Douglas fir timber stands. What appears under the industrial lumber is of little concern, so many species are lost.

Weiss Creek, our salmon stream, was also lost during Weyerhaeuser industrialization of the landscape. Erosion filled in the creek with sediment, and it’s flow clogged up, turning the water course into swampland and erasing the fish paths to breeding grounds upland. This is a snapshot of the ecological destruction reeked upon these pristine forests, and the people thriving within them. Legacy is not always good, but can be repaired. That’s the mission at EEC. We’re bringing back lost species and offering a fresh start, in hopes that by the end of this lifetime, we can give back the land better than when we purchased it. We’ve recently contacted The Snoqualmie Tribe to learn more about the possibility of leaving our land to the tribe in trust. They have an Ancestral Lands Movement, which we’re hoping to learn more about in our quest to give land back to the people originally living- and still living there. The Snoqualmie Tribe is part of a greater Lushootseed speaking people in this region who have tended and thrived in the forests and waterways here for thousands of years.

Take a moment to think about where you are right now and who lived there before you. Think of colonial development moving in, for us in North America it’s pretty clear- 1492 onward, that European gluttony drove exploration for wealth and new land to own and exercise dominion over. This often celebrated global grab was directed by short sighted vision and perpetuated cruelty and abuse of the noble savage- both land and people. Cut the trees and burn the ground, drive out the natives and bring in the cows. But there are a lot of great historical reads out there for your education if you don’t know what I’m talking about, or wish to quest for enlightenment. Know place, history, and self. Why are you here and what did you get for it? What will you give? There are only 400 plants today, but 400 tomorrow, another 400 after that, and in a few more decades, my life is done, and another generation will inherit. But it will not be children of mine. My ancestors are back in Europe, and another trail can be followed from there back to Africa, but 40,000 years ago in my ancestry is lost. The Snoqualmie Tribe never left, and continue to thrive here, where I sit now. Land acknowledgment can be enough for some, but knowing how important land is, I cannot ignore that this place, where I sit, was taken long ago, and should be reunited with the people who have tended and celebrated here, always.

I’ll plant, plant, and plant some more. Move some earth to slow the water back into the soil. Roots go down, down, down, into the ground. My lifetime is now rooted here, what privilege, and the gifting back, returning- this is an honorable vision, a righting of wrongs. I did not cut the trees here in 1900, but others like me did, not The Snoqualmie Tribe. The Lushootseed speakers continue to weave their lineage, around all the colonial baggage coming in still. Be proud of ancestry, but also recognize the history you’re woven into so deeply. We’re all in, like the forest, full of many kinds of plants and animals form all over. But the invasives have changed this place forever, and not for the better. Please acknowledge this truth and start the healing. Plant love, seed learning, and harvest understanding through the whole process. Growth takes time. Another swale, more grasses, shoots, and leaves covering bare earth. Scars across our hearts will keep the memories of what was, and what can be again.

As I worked at replanting, this Pacific Tree Frog appeared. The living forest is alive, in small ways, as well as towering trunks and lofty bows. So many layers of complex ecology, with a few surfacing signs that the original people are still there, thriving, adapting, and ready to come back when invited. I plant them in invitation, thanking everything for being present. Even the Japanese Kotweed is telling us something- disturbed soil, too much sun on a ground that should be shrouded in old growth. The same with blackberry- you won’t find it in a deep, dark forest of older stands. Bring back the trees and you have layers, diversity, and balance in the intended ecology. Where the forest thrives, birds sing, bugs hum, and the joyful spirit of nature abounds. Slowly the vibrant colors of life return. Planting, planting, planting love and gratitude with every handful of soil.

Let It Snow

Snow is always a treat here in Western Washington. Our warm ocean climate rarely delivers the right conditions in the Puget Lowlands for a winter wonderland. In November 2022, a winter weather advisory went into affect, and snow began sticking to the road and trees with enthusiasm. In just a few hours, our landscape was blanketed in gauzy white flocking. The animals were tucked away in dry barn and our cats had tucked up on the porch in comfy quilted chairs. I got out the snow shovel to monitored paths and accesses around the property keeping doors and walkways open. Snow can turn from fluff to cement in hours here, so active clearing saved hard labor later. Our driveway remained easily passable with four wheel drive, and no one missed work or play.

At the farm, chickens rebelled against the cold footing and hung out in the covered sheds and barn. The sheep lazed away at their hay and rested in fresh straw bedding. I’ve been forking loose hay from a big round bale, and refreshing my skill with a pitchfork. That same fork helps me clear ice out of the drinking troughs. Cold weather, even with beautiful snow, makes livestock systems more challenging. I could get water heaters, but we get so few truly cold snaps like this, I can handle ice breaking for now. Back in Vermont, I used an ax all winter to crack ice half a foot think. Here in Western Washington, it’s not more than an inch thick. If we drop into the teens, I carry hot water from the house to top off overnight troughs, keeping them from freezing. We’re not there yet this winter- thank goodness! Snow like this does a lot of insulating. It’s helpful for re-hydrating the soil with slow drip too.

The winter splendor of snowy days is charming, so long as you have a warm place waiting your return. Gratitude for home, wood stove heat, and the time to enjoy winter weather, rather than fighting it. There was plenty of extra work brought on by the snow, but it’s playful atmosphere was not lost on humans or furry friends. The dogs were especially frisky and light. Gill seems to use the fresh powder as a sort of bathing while basking enjoyment. He’ll lay down and rub through the snow on his sides and back, rolling and swimming through the frozen water. He could also just be playing around. Maybe a little of both. Valley does this too, only she prefers running, and goads Gill into occasional romps that end with a stalemate. Movements are a little more exaggerated and carefree, but action in snow does take more energy too. We all got a workout running and chasing around the land.

The slow watering snow brings for the ground is greatly needed. Moisture has only reached down a few inches since the fall. Frozen water sits on the surface and then drips into the soil during warmup periods of the day, refreezing in the evening to slow the saturation. It’s brilliant for ground that’s been parched by summer heat and sun. It feels like the future climate for our region will continue to shift in this direction of more extreme climate change. Winters will be colder, with more snow and ice, and summer will be hotter, with less rain and more triple digit highs. Banking water in the soil is the only way to combat these weather stresses on the landscape. Our swale designs support the slow and sink method of tending water.

Rain events here have shifted from weeks of misty sprinkles to afternoon deluges with an inch or more at once. The landscape this year was so dry, the fall rain ran right off the hillsides and into the rivers heading out to sea. At this point, snow was the only way to slow and sink water efficiently. Snow like this in November is as wild as the 90F October days with wildfire smoke this year. I can foresee, in another 5 years, smoke all summer into 90Fs October, burns continuing on the west side, and come November, snow on the ground for months, much like New England. It’s the kind of weather livestock cannot thrive in. We’re keeping that in mind as we plan through the next few years of EEC Forest Stewardship. Tree planting is becoming the next big shift, shrinking the farm production for more forestry restoration. That remains the ultimate goal of this great adventure at EEC Forest Stewardship.

Winter months offer a little more time for reflection, planning, and enjoying the moment. Cold, crisp evenings outside while flickering firelight keeps spirits warm and bright. May all who read these words carry warmth in their hearts, abundance in life, and joy in the days ahead. Happy New Year from EEC Forest Stewardship!

First Bird

Gal’s Turkey Hunt 2022 was a great weekend of tracking and snow sitting with evening feasting, wine, and games. During the early afternoon of the first day out, I spotted a flock of Merriam’s Turkeys from the truck as we were driving to another hunting location in Northeastern Washington. Our mistress of the hunt checked her online mapping ap to make sure the land these birds wandered was public, and indeed, a square of state land surrounded our sighted quarry. We planned a two pronged approach and began a deliberate stalk towards nearby ponderosa pine grove. The trees would offer shelter and hiding from the astute birds. Turkey are difficult to sneak up on, and an ambush setup is often more successful- especially in the fall. Spring turkey season is another routine all together, but back to our hunt. Two of our party were not hunting that day, and took a walk around the power line road to block a potential escape rout for our targeted flock. Then the chaos began.

I’m an experienced deer hunter, and usually approach the hunt quietly, sitting in one spot waiting for the animal to walk by. In theory, turkey are similar, and you scout tracks in the snow during fall hunts to locate high traffic areas the birds are accustomed to. Turkeys love routine, and stick to it, if you avoid disrupting their flow. We had set down in the middle of the birds’ larder, and tracks were scattered everywhere. This was reflected in the flock’s movement, they had already circle around behind us, crossing the power-line road and out maneuvering us. I watched birds running behind our non-hunting “beaters” as they motioned to us where they were heading. We’d reached the grove of pines, but had to retreat back to the truck and road to cross over in pursuit of our flock. Birds were running all around, and it felt like total chaos. It was also the first time I was hunting with a group of people, which meant a lot more communication and distraction.

Our new grove of trees across the power-lines overlooked a hillside covered in kinnikinnick- a ground cover with evergreen leaves and red berries in the fall. The snow was still shallow enough to reveal much of the ground plants, which also invited the turkeys in to feed. Deep snow inhibits the birds’ movement, and the hunter’s. We lucked out that weekend with no fresh snow, but enough on the ground to track, and relatively warm daytime temperatures in the 20s with shining sun. It was heavenly hunting weather, and great foraging for the turkeys too. By now, the flock had regrouped in the thick forest just to our left. We took up sits against trucks and made sure to all be a safe zones of fire from one another. As we sat, my hunting partner began calling the birds in. I call using my own voice, but most people use a calling tool. The call should interest the birds and encourage them to come over and see who’s calling, but it’s no guarantee.

For us, the birds didn’t call back, but the began flocking towards us, seemingly indifferent to our presence. That was strange, as turkey are infamous for being shy and running away from strange changes in their routine. These birds were caught up in the feast of berries, and kept inching towards us without a care. My hunting buddy whispered- “Take the shot if you’ve got one.” Well, I saw a bird coming out of the brush and pulled the trigger. Chaos ensued. Birds exploded up in all directions. My hen popped up too, but came down again and I stood to get another shot off before she could fly. Even then, the turkey got into the air once more and took off towards the thick cover beyond. I followed her flight path with my eyes, noting trees and fallen logs as markers till she was out of sight, then I turned to check in with my hunting partner. “Should I run after it?’ I asked. “Yes.” She answered. It was an important safety check in. Never run out in front of fellow hunters- that would be in violation of your zone of fire.

With renewed tracking drive, I took off towards the direction my bird had flown. Second really did count in getting to where the animal might have landed. My shotgun was empty, so I unloaded the empty shells and picked them up out of the snow as I slowed to enter the brush. The visibility was low, but I put a new load in my gun to make ready in case I came upon my turkey unexpectedly. Approaching steps from behind told me my hunting buddy had caught up. The dense brush went for only a little bit, then I stepped out into what looked like an old logging road. Across the clearing, I could see another line of trees. Heading towards them, I saw my bird moving and raised my gun again. Pulling the trigger, nothing happened. I thought maybe I still had the safety on, no, it was off, so I took aim again- nothing. I was beside myself now, wanting to finish the hunt and claim my bird in a good way. Then my hunting partner was at my side, offering me her gun after watching my struggle from behind. I took her shotgun and took careful aim one last time. The turkey dropped, and I ran to it in gratitude.

As I stood, surrounded by other supportive women in the field, the harvest felt very special in so many ways. It was my first successful bird hunt, my first turkey, and my first ladies hunt. A group dynamic is so different, and great for turkey hunting. I would not like having a group involved with my deer hunt, but without the group support in the turkey pursuit, my success would not have happened. I ended up being the only successful harvest in that two day hunt. Turkey hunting is hard, unpredictable, but a lot of fun and good learning. Turkeys in Washington state are introduced, and out-compete many native species of ground bird like grouse. Hunting them helps to reduce this impact, and graces our table with wild meat. It meant a lot to have the additional support and expertise from my fellow hunters in the field- and an extra gun. Why had my shotgun not fired properly? Well, when I reached in my pocket to grab a new shell, I grabbed one of the empty ones I had just picked up when I unloaded. Classic mistake- and an important lesson not to repeat.

When I got back to the house and plucked the bird, I also took out the crop for a better look and what the turkey had been eating. Sure enough, the organ was full of kinnikinnick berries, which I’ve brought home and planted in my garden. The carcass weighed in at 7 1/2lbs dressed. That was the perfect size for our modest Thanksgiving. What an honor and pleasure to enjoy wild turkey! Brined and baked with so much care and gratitude, the meal was delightful and the turkey sublime. Gratitude to the bird nation and all the gifts and gentle lessons it offers. Grateful still that our hunt was safe and fun, that I received a bird for my work, and that we all shared experience in the field. We’re hoping to make this an annual tradition for women to gather and hunt together sharing love and support in harvesting wild food.

Why I Hunt

There’s a legacy here of ten years in deep relationship, perusing and learning the art of the hunt; accepting so many beautiful lessons, and reaping the rewards of hard work, focus, and vision. Sometimes my sight was clear, and the harvest successful. Other times, my sights remained empty, and I came home without wild food from a crucial source of protein, greatly appreciated in lean times. The abundance of EEC Forest Stewardship, specifically our Cascade Katahdins at Leafhopper Farm, provide additional support to our pantry, stocking the larder with enough diversity to sustain through a few years of missed fertility. This year’s challenges included a large wildfire near our home, driving the deer away for the first week of our limited two week season. Climate change is the single greatest threat to our survival right now, and the scales are tipping.

Through a decade of perusing blacktail deer in Western Washington, I’ve come to love dark, cold, wet predawn silence. Every prick of rain drop sound crashing through the leaf litter and drawing my awareness ever deeper into the edges. Clearcuts are good habitat for deer, if tended as wilderness, where native plants can collect and thrive, with water retention and diverse replanting after a commercial harvest. Repetitive logging over a forest before it ever nears climax, preventing an established ecosystem to replenish the nutrients carried away in timber tonnage, is not good for the deer, or the forest, or any ecology that is balanced and abundant. Spraying treated sewage on the land is also damaging the soil and water, adding perception drugs and heavy metals in concentrate to our hillside catchment basins where the valley rivers come from. Those valleys are full of poison now, which is tainting our crops and livestock food resources and pressuring wildlife.

My first deer hunt, I was in Snoqualmie Tree Farm with my beloved hunting mentor and deer medicine friend. He had coached me through several days of observing deer brows along the roads, then finding the heavily used trails connecting habitat resources. I’d take long sits atop slash piles, watching as still as I could, only moving my eyes along the forest edge, hoping to see a buck walk out into the clearcut. The mind will always try to see what it wants, and my spotting glass focused on many seemingly active movements that emerged as stumps when I focused the gaze. Always have your spotting scope handy, it makes sighting a great sport, and teaches the eye a lot about depth and range. On the evening of October 31st, 2013, after days of spotting, waiting, and learning to sit still, I was atop another slash pile in Snoqualmie Tree Farm, waiting for that buck to wander through before last light of the last day of blacktail season.

It was not too surprising to hear another truck beginning the long haul up from the foot of the foothill I was perched atop. After all, my mentor and I had recently driven up here for a good spot, and we did not own the mountain. It was poor timing really. The driver was road hunting, driving along the roads before dusk hoping to catch a deer on the move. It’s not the most ethical way to hunt, but more successful, and on the last day of the season, understandable, but not mindful of hunters who are having a sit. As the vehicle rounded the switchback and rose into the far right of my field position, I unloaded my gun. There was an active hazard in my field and I deemed the situation unsafe. My gun action clear, I proceeded to step out of the field, knowing the newcomer was unaware of my location. I didn’t want to call out and spook off the potential harvest for anyone. Slowly, I walked up the road and around another switchback, which took me out of firing range and back to my mentor, who was waiting at the truck looking very confused.

We both heard the shot as I reached him. “That was your deer.” he said. “I know,” I replied, “but the shot was not safe for me, I’ll take the karma this time, and hope my other hunts reward this act of kindness.” My mentor was less forgiving, and as we drove by the other hunter, who was busily gutting a nice two point on the road, he shook his head. I was thrilled for the gentleman elbow deep in his excitement. I waved and wished him congratulation on a successful hunt, and I had no other feeling but that in the moment. I could see how my joy would be, the wonder at harvesting wild food, connecting to place and an ancestral legacy. “My first hunt!” Cried the man as he awkwardly embraced the animal. “My first deer!” He announced again, looking back over his shoulder at the driver side of the vehicle where a woman sat proudly. “My wife is here with me, we’re so glad.” My mentor was still shaking his head, but I congratulated the successful hunter again and left him to the hard work still to come, in the dark. At least is was not raining.

My second hunting season was successful. I went on my own, every morning, to the same dead end clear cut where I parked my truck at the head of that dead end and walked in a mile to my sit spot. It was cold, dark, and invigorating. Most predawn times there’s so much energy building up, like a long dormant seed finally quaking to life, just before that explosion of sprouting- germination. I’d sit into first light with the binos on an enormous old growth stump that towered above the slash and muck left by the logging machines. There was a little brook and some lovely green strips on either side about 1,000 feet down the hill from my perch. That morning there had been light rain, and the does were moving in, like that had the past few days, towards the end of my window to harvest a deer. It was the last day again, and I wondered if I would experience what most hunters of this illusive ungulate species experience- an empty tag.

The relationship with this small herd of does had included several encounters at close range. They often entered the clearing from the edge just below my stump. I had chosen that spot for that reason, expecting, then confirming the flow of deer from the edge, down towards the wetland strip, which was a perfect bowl, and safe shooting field with no roads. It was just getting light enough to see down into the wetland where the does were already feeding quietly in the mists. I began spotting each individual animal with my spotting scope, one, two, three, four does, all mature and confidant in their meandering graze across the lush vegetation. It was really a wetland, and should have been part of the greater wild water setback, but with wet soil came abundant growth, and these deer were familiar with the larder zone. My attention was suddenly firmly shaken into focus, as my binoculars revealed another ungulate form emerging from behind the familiar does. A modest set of points flashed, then hid again in the brush as the animal browsed.

I’ve never harvested a deer based on the size of its antlers. The object of hunting blacktail deer for me, is wild food, nature connection, and conservation. In my hunting encounters, taking what is offered is usually a good action. If you take no action when the opportunity presents its self, you may not get another chance for the season. Personally, I also think the deer know, being in a predator/prey covenant with humans for thousands of years, knowing deep in their being, the exchange taking place. I never take a shot at a running animal. The bucks I’ve had the privilege to harvest for food have all been standing broadside, looking at me head on. It’s a magnificent scene to encounter, with powerful intention. Following through the cycle of birth and death, seeing the death of a landscape as the backdrop of this experience, there is a feeling of end, with the last of the light stretching into final harvest before the cold hard times of inward reflection begin.

That cold October morning in 2014, I looked through my scope and took aim at the buck blacktail quietly grazing a thousand feet down the hillside from my stump perch. The rifle scope was close range, and I had to take my time in setting up a good shot. The animal paused, letting the other deer pass him and move ahead. Then he looked up the hill directly at me and I began a deep breath of concentration. Inward draw and the flick of ear, flash of bright eye in the pink light of dawn. An exhale lets finger arch and a light pressure releases one of the most impactful actions a human commits- combustion. This particular explosion sends a lethal projectile at blinding speed to a roughly 4×4 inch vital organ area on the deer’s side. If the shot is correct, the animal will drop to the ground and die very quickly from loss of blood. My buck did indeed fall, collapsing under the sight of my scope, which I’d kept glued to in preparation for a second shot if needed. The buck was not moving, so I unloaded my rifle and plotted my hiked down to the awaiting quarry.

Moving through a recent clearcut is no easy feat, and I knew the real work was now about to begin. When I first approached the deer laying in the slash, my instinct was to move on in search of my deer, which must have run off on down the hillside into deeper cover, because it really could not be that successful a first shot from so far above, but it was, and I had to stop and reassure myself of this incredible moment. I’d just harvested a wild food source of great sustenance for my winter larder. This beautiful food, grown in the forests surrounding my home, this abundance to celibate and be so thankful for was the fruits of my labor and learning. Then, as I later hauled the carcass out of the clearcut, pulling from the antlers in a slow drag up the hill to the truck, the mists and rain began to close in. In a moment of resting to catch my breath, I felt a strong fulfillment in self-sufficiency and personal growth connected to a deep ancestral calling.

To hunt, to gather and harvest wild food, was a crucial part of my identity and drive. I’d come back to these same feelings and experiences with every hunt, every opportunity to connect with the living world in the cycle of life directly. My predation of the deer in line with legal hunting supports a healthy ecosystem in my immediate area, as our encroachment on wilderness de-pleats the habitat animals need to survive, including predator species, some of which have been completely exterminated from our region, thus perpetuating high birthrates in prey species like blacktail deer, which then overtakes the carry capacity of the landscape, ending with population crash and mass die off. Hunters harvest the overflow numbers within a given population of deer to reduce winter kill from starvation, and habitat degradation. Hunting regulations, including harvest limits, are determined by scientific observation and research done in the field by wildlife biologists. So far, no hunted wildlife managed in these scientific methods has gone extinct. Restoration has remained successful in hunted wildlife populations throughout the United States, with numbers continuing to rise and stabilize where carry capacity allows, but human encroachment still remains wildlife’s number one threat.

Hunting remains a personal choice in connecting to wild food, nature, conservation, and personal growth. Each lesson in tracking, sitting, listening, and connecting to place, wilderness, animals and plants forms a tighter relationship to the land and ecology I’m a part of. It’s so rewarding too- harvesting food, gathering abundance from the land in thanksgiving, this is a powerful set of original instructions I’ll continue to follow as long as the privilege allows. It’s also important to give back, and teaching hunter safety certification for my fellow citizens is a way to pass on the knowledge and experience to future generations who wish to peruse their own sacred covenant with the land. Gratitude to all the mentors, teachers, family, and friends who support my hunting journey.