Category Archives: Agriculture

The Square of Cultivation.

How to add trees to iNaturalist digital records for the Eastern Agroforestry Conservancy

This post offers step-by-step instructions on adding trees to the Eastern Agroforestry Conservancy (EAC) project on iNaturalist. This same approach could be useful for other public planting projects.

Project Description

The EAC is a collection of precious tree crop genetics that have been planted for observation, propagation, and respectful enjoyment by the public. This project is centered in Northampton County, PA where county parks embraced the idea, honoring and extending the work of the Hershey Tree Nursery in Downingtown, PA.

Trees in this multi-generational project are documented in 3 ways: labeled where they are planted with a unique ID, in paper records matching ID, and in a digital iNaturalist project with matching ID. Digital record-keeping of trees in iNaturalist has a few benefits. In short: it is a robust platform with a broad like-minded user base; it allows commenting and updating/adding observations to record seasonal effects; and it can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.

Observations of trees can be added to the EAC project by anyone, anywhere. The project is moderated, so that observations unsuitable for the project will be culled. The project welcomes observations of new plantings and additional observations of existing trees in the project.


Continue reading →

Northeastern Indigenous Agroforestry

Thanks first peoples for simply living so that others may simply live. Thanks Jono Neiger for sharing this 1984 paper on indigenous agroforestry to the Northeast Permaculture Listserv.

Some Ecological Aspects of
Northeastern American Indian Agroforestry Practices

This paper was written in 1984 while I was a student of Professor Arthur Lieberman at Cornell University.  Professor Lieberman was then Director of the Cornell Tree Crops Research Project and taught landscape ecology in the Department of Landscape Architecture.  This version was submitted to the international journal Agroforestry Systems in 1988, but never published there due to its length.  A somewhat condensed version was later published in the 1994 Annual Report of the Northern Nut Growers Association (Volume 85). For a broader perspective on Native Americans’ land management practices, see this online article by Doug MacCleery.
“Figure 2. Reconstruction of Major Dietary Constituents in the Early Seventeenth Century (Indian) Subsistence Cycle (from Thomas [83]).”

Growing love of hazels

Diverse hazel coppice example in bloom, with flowery understory. From
Diverse hazel coppice example in bloom, with flowery understory

These relatives of birch, ancient and awesomely rugged, adding golden bark and kindling salvation to tree lines around the world
These shrubs with long flexible bows
These fruits from charming hot pink flowers that greet the spring and stay

These nuts that come in energy-dense compostable packaging, shelf-stable for years, made by arboreal solar panels
These nuts that are easy to eat raw and one of the healthiest snacks I have
These nuts that are even tastier roasted; simply apply fire and enjoy a sweet, earthy, ancient gastronomic ally

These branches, that have been warmth in peaceful and desperate times
These branches, that have been homes in peaceful and desperate times
These branches, that have been the crux of countless wooden items

These gifts, that have come from ancient hedges, woven into the fabric of lives over time
These gifts, that host the humans and other kin, who enjoy them and who need them
These gifts, that can make the giver better as they enrich the recipient, when given and received in good relations

Ancient hazels, though we face harshly changing times,

Your past and present company comforts me, knowing you have helped my ancestors through ice ages and then some
And so, knowing we work together even where we are not in touch,
I wish peace upon you, and I love that in that, peace may be upon me too.

Tree crop doodlings to support KTCC tree nut gathering, processing, distribution, and enjoyment

Here are a couple of drawings from this past winter, inspired by cooperative and integrative tree crop happenings throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I would like to draw a series in honor of the ‘five branch’ vertically-integrated nut supply chain pursued by Keystone Tree Crops Cooperative. For now, I am sharing two early drafts in honor of that same cooperative effort kicking off its first fundraiser (for gatherer payments and some basic equipment).

Doodle about production and gathering of tree crops

Doodle about enjoyment of tree crops

Strategic trees: hazelnut

On a regional permaculture listserv, someone asked the great question of what trees are strategic to grow during these challenging and chaotic times. That thread received some good answers, including a shoutout to hickories, willows, cypress, hazels, the great book Trees of Power by Akiva Silver, and more. Of course, diversity is a strategic priority in itself, as are site specific selections. Here, I’m sharing an ode to hazelnuts as one such strategic tree:

Hazels have a long history of resilience themselves, surviving climate chaos in the past and being in the birch family who extend to the edges of where hardwoods can survive. There is evidence of hazelnuts being a resilient food source for our ancient ancestors. In terms of site suitability, hazelnuts can be a good fit in both urban and rural settings.

Hazels are botanically unique in that their beautiful flowers stay open for pollination for weeks (a grower recently told me they observed one open for 8 weeks!) Those flowers can also be cold hardy down to -20F, so they are less vulnerable to climate chaos.

There’s so much more to say, but the last bit of inspiration I will share to encourage learning and engaging with hazels is this.

Of all the ways trees can provide for our basic needs in mutualism, hazels offer many gifts.

  • Food: can be eaten raw, can be used as a staple food in various ways, incredibly healthy, can be valuable for trade.
  • Fodder: can be forage for animals, good for wildlife.
  • Fuel: coppices provide a short-rotation source of dense firewood that does not require splitting, and the nut shells are also energy dense.
  • Fiber: hazel rods were used to build early cool temperate-climate homes, and their strong, flexible wood is handy for many tools and applications (even boats!)
  • Farmaceuticals: “Let food by thy medicine…”
  • Fun: Hazels have deep roots in my ancestral culture and many others. They make lovely places for wildlife and can be used in all kinds of play. Their pink flowers softly announce the arrival of spring, and that kind of forward-looking positivity is needed with the challenges and metaphoric-winters we face.

Nut tree mapping with iNaturalist

Trees offer an abundance of gifts. Both wild and tended trees provide food, fuel, fiber, animal feed, medicines, and a range of co-benefits, including clean water and wellness. Much more has been said on this, and there is more to say. For now, I zoom in.

How can we reconnect with trees for basic needs? One way I’m drawn to is that of a sprouting organization called the Keystone Tree Crop Cooperative (KTCC). KTCC aims to gather food from existing nut trees and enable broader audiences to connect with these gifts from trees.

To catalyze the harvest of existing nut trees, gatherers will benefit from incentives (such as compensation for nuts), education on methods (including food quality standards and comfortable tools), and guidance on gathering locations (as in maps). This post is about the latter: mapping existing nut trees and identifying hotspots to efficiently harvest from, with an eye for the coming autumn 2021.

iNaturalist was homed in on as a pretty good platform for nut tree info. There are observations and observers already on iNaturalist. This site also has experts maintaining a cross-platform database of trees, which is useful to build on. While iNaturalist has some limitations discussed below, it is a good starting point – let’s take a look!

Continue reading →

World eater, world propagator


conventional & organic
degenerative & regenerative
degrading & restoring

I like the last pair because they feel difficult to green wash. Take any feature that is necessary for the systems that support us, and see if it is being restored/enhanced, or if it is being degraded. Water quality. Soil fertility. Biodiversity.
Alas, if there is a will there is a way, and all of these terms will be “greenwashed” to some extent, making environmentally degrading acts seem restorative.

And by what means is the greenwashing motivated and manifest? Who done it? Some words commonly attributed to the complex system in question, which degrades essential qualities while feigning friend of fundamentals:

The man
The system

These terms too are not perfect. Each has assumptions and complexities, they lack precision and can be tricky. Then I read something which shared a term so precise, so empirical, it could not be misconstrued or exploited:

The cosmophagous world: that world which devours all other worlds to feed itself.

From Ancient Greek κόσμος (kósmos, “universe”).
From Latin -phagus, from Ancient Greek φάγος (phágos, “glutton”), from φαγεῖν (phageîn, “to eat”).

And what is the alternative to devouring other worlds? To multiply, to propagate, to support many worlds. Consider, as you go about the polarized and dissonant world, whether this dichotomy fits: some ways grow themselves by devouring other worlds, while other ways grow all by propagating many worlds.

Sheep inhabiting a woodland edge, with forest and meadow to graze, at a diverse silvopasture farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I think of this as I visit small farms and see the countless worlds that are hosted there: the worlds of the orchard and of the pasture, the worlds of the meadow flowers and of the insect colonies which enjoy them, the worlds of the varieties of people who are part of the community affected by the small farm, and the worlds of the countless communities which have other small farms of their own.

That world catalyzation is a stark contrast to the vast monocrops, moonscapes, and mines producing homogenized ways of life, wherein one world grows larger while the others are whittled away.

May this be a high-level guideline, leading us toward Earthbound mutualism rather than parasitism.

I end with an excerpt from the text that introduced me to this concept of cosmophagy, and with a wish that you will celebrate and support the many worlds we coexist in as One.

Power is inseparable from the capacity to be affected. We find potentialities in our shared sensitivity: that sense of urgency that pushes us to seek new ways of living — to want to change this world; that feeling of belonging that pushes us to act, and likewise to risk everything. How can we unleash these potentials? The paths suggested by the existing order — call it what you will, Empire, capitalism, colonial modernity, white supremacy, the cosmophagous world — aim to capture the affects that make life worth living.

Neither sinners, nor victims: we inhabit climate change. We see that this period of disillusionment with centuries of misdirection is also one of infinite potential. Each of us have within us the remote possibility of stemming the tide of the catastrophe. By organizing pessimism, the fundamental affect of the times, and giving it a creative consistency, we can hope to bring about other worlds. But first, it is essential to make a break with this one. We did not choose to be thrown into a world that seems doomed to its own destruction, but we can decide to continue it or break free from it.

via “Re-Attachments: Toward an Ecology of Presence” by Dispositions Collective (2021 Jan 29) @

Burying the dead in the beginning

Adult raven photograph by Ron Hanna via

Studying Jewish folklore brings one around many old testament stories, and with that, the source of many cultural idioms and expressions: “the writing on the wall”, the value of atonement, among much else.

Something new to me is a source of wisdom on burying one’s dead. I did not realize advice about it for Jews goes back to beresheit:

After Hevel [aka Abel] was slain, he was lying in a field, his blood spattered over sticks and stones. The dog who had been guarding Hevel’s flock now also guarded Hevel’s corpse from the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky.

Adam and his mate came and sat by the corpse, weeping and mourning for him, but they did not know what to do with Hevel’s body.

A raven whose companion had just died said: I will teach Adam what to do. The raven took his dead companion, dug up the earth before the eyes of Adam and his mate, and buried him in it.

Adam said: We will do as the raven. At once he took Hevel’s corpse and buried it in the ground.

Commentary on the fourth reading of the first torah cycle, via, with image via

Tracking agroforest tree plantings and farm features using QGIS

Asked how tree crop enthusiasts are keeping track of plantings and related info, I shared this info:

Metal tree tags on locust stakes are low-tech and work reliably. Next best is grease-pen or indentations on metal or vynil tags, attached to trees themselves. Overall, it’s great to be pro at plant ID, but that doesn’t always work to differentiate between cultivars.

For a more advanced, digital approach, I use QGIS. It offers the benefits described in a comment above about ArcMap, but it is free and open-source software. It has a little bit of a learning curve, but it is a very powerful tool and it can interface with other geospatial technology including GPS, Google Earth, and iNaturalist. Google Earth has an easier learning curve and has more than enough features for most users. If you want to go the QGIS route, I recommend trying the following steps to begin with, and feel free to ask questions in the comments or on

  1. Install (and if you can, make a contribution to) QGIS
  2. Find and download raster files (.jpg, .tif) for overhead views of your Area of Interest (AOI). These files are referred to as aerial imagery or orthoimagery, and in the U.S. you can get them from county GIS websites or from
  3. Follow a basic tutorial about raster vs. vector file types, and creating shapefiles.
  4. Create a polygon shapefile for your AOI boundary- Create a point shapefile for your individual plants.
  5. Add new attribute fields to your ‘plant points’ shapefile to describe characteristics you want to keep track of. Here’s some fields I use (+ examples/explanation):
    • species (corylus spp.),
    • planted_date (fall 2019),
    • permanent (y/n in case it is to be transplanted),
    • measured (y/n to indicate if its location is precise or estimated),
    • source (to keep track of cultivars, purchases, etc),
    • updated (date for when this entry was last updated, since inevitably the records can get out of date; update this every time you update any other field for this data row)
    • notes (misc info that doesn’t fit cleanly in other fields, try to use this sparingly as it is better to have distinct fields in case later on you want to select or analyze plants based on some attribute)
Screenshot of QGIS in use for agroforestry mapping
Here’s what QGIS looks like in regular use for me. You can add shapes as points, lines, or polygons, which can represent individuals, linear plantings, or orchard blocks. This screenshot shows an individual tree point selected, with the kind of info I described above and more displayed on the right-side ‘attribute table’.

At this stage, you will have a powerful, interactive map of your AOI, with individual points or polygons to depict features of interest on your property, and those features can have a miniature (or massive) database of characteristics associated with them. You can have as many or as few fields as you’d like, and you can even associate fields (e.g. feature_ID) with other datasets, such as yield records or amendment history for an orchard block.

In practice, as I plant or inspect plantings, I jot notes in text messages to myself or on a muddy piece of paper, and then I digitize those notes by updating my QGIS project for the plantings. A text might be as cryptic as “purp os willow x4 3′ e of ne hazels” and I use those notes to enter four purple osier willows planted at 3-foot spacing starting east of the northeast hazelnut hedge. As long as I don’t wait too long between field notes and digitizing, it works well enough, and this could be much more precise if I wanted to take the time to GPS-locate each planting.

Lastly, if you are just getting started with GIS tools, I suggest exploring a basic tutorial about Coordinate Reference Systems (CRS) and about Georeferencing. That will help you get ahead of GIS software’s more confusing aspects, which many people don’t learn about until they are tangled in problems with coordinate systems. Using a CRS appropriate for your region and consistent for all layers in your project will help you avoid problems and make accurate spatial measurements and maps. Again feel free to drop questions in comments or visit the very helpful

Example map from QGIS
Here’s a finished map from QGIS. It is not as easy to make proper maps in QGIS but it is possible – a tutorial will save you a ton of time vs. winging it.

We are all in this together: balancing individuality and oneness amidst evolving mainstream metaphysics

Importantly, the universe being a simulation does not imply solopsism.

I have seen a few cases of solopsism and similar philosophies taken as a given, based on the ‘universe is a simulation’ press circulating. Eventually news will spread that theoretical physicists think of mind as a substrate of reality. What philosophies will people be drawn to while digesting that revelation?

It is important to remember that in any of these metaphysical views, it can still be true (and perhaps much more-so) that we are all in it together.
Perhaps I am just an ant, or just dust, or just digital. And so, I know how much an ant, or dust, or digital bits, can suffer, aspire, inspire, and love.

May peace be upon you!