Category Archives: Technology

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.

Instructions

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Growing love of hazels

Diverse hazel coppice example in bloom, with flowery understory. From https://midwestpermaculture.com/2012/11/coppicingpollarding/
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!

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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 gis.stackexchange.com.

  1. Install (and if you can, make a contribution to) QGIS https://www.qgis.org/en/site/.
  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 https://nationalmap.gov.
  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 gis.stackexchange.com.

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.

Storied Selves

Highlights generously provided by a YT commenter:

– We are all unreliable narrators of our own lives.
– To tell a story is inescapably to take a moral stance.
– Stories are the way we make sense of our lives.
– The way we narrate our lives shapes what they become.
– Change, even really positive change, involves a surprising amount of loss.
– What would happen if you looked at your story and wrote it from another person’s point of view?
– Life is about choosing which stories to listen to, and which ones need an edit.
– There’s nothing more important to the quality of our lives than the stories we tell ourselves about them.

O Sol, InsPHIre I

Sunday: It is all about our unique individuality and what we do with it.

“All that survives of these solar hymns are an altered version of Proclus’ Hymn to the Sun, and the 9th hymn in the Nomoi … the Sun is ruler of the other planets, and with them governs all terrestrial things. …The theory of prayer with which Pletho introduces his hymn is remarkably like the theory of magic behind Ficino’s astrological music; Pletho addresses the gods thus:

‘May we carry out these rites in your honor in the most fitting manner, knowing that you have no need of anything whatever from us. But we are molding and stamping our own imagination and that part of us which is more akin to the divine, allowing it both to enjoy the godly and the beautiful and making our imagination tractable and obedient to that which is divine in us.’

Pletho’s hymns and rites, like Ficino’s do not aim at any objective effect on the deity addressed, but only at a subjective transformation of the worshiper, particularly his imagination.” -(p.61)

Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella by D.P. Walker

via Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies

What will come of this?

Year 2222
200 winters away
How many generations will have passed?
What will I&I enjoy in life? What of one's own ways will continue?
What lessons will I&I have learned?
What challenges will I&I face?

What will I&I have of the essential gifts to sustain oneself? Wood, water, air, soil, energy?

#TreesAreTheAnswer #WeAlreadyKnow #Hózhó