Pursuing study and projects oriented toward alchemy and ecology, I have had the privileged opportunity to start a land project at Willows Edge Agroforest. This project is intended to make space for ecological mutualism and for a mother tree nursery that can be used to start a variety of tree nurseries. There’s lots of updates I’d like to share about that, but even with the work done and the photos taken, it takes time to report out about it.
Here’s a gallery to share a big weekend at Willows Edge. This was the an eventful occasion: the weekend of my ‘golden’ birthday, my first time camping out in the workshop-cabin now referred to as the casita (Spanish for ‘little house’), the completion of finding permanent homes for the hundreds of trees I began from seed in Fall 2019, and first sight of the organic farm starting on a lease of 2/3rds of this area. A great five days with friends and allies, human and otherwise, shared with much thanks.
A long term steward of the northeast, Sunchoke aka Earth Apple aka Jerusalem Artichoke aka Helianthus tuberosus. This plant is a sunflower species with a starchy, potato-like root that propagates itself (usually easily) from year to year.
In the video below, Ben Falk harvests and discusses a 400sq.ft. area that grows sunchokes year after year, with minimal maintenance, while building soil. This year’s harvest offers 90lbs of starchy “J-choke” tubers, leaving some in soil to regrow the patch for next year’s harvest. He notes using them as pureed soup after some slow cooking, as well as pickling and lactofermenting them. I have only had them a few times. When I cooked them I cut them thin and stir fried them, cooking them for a while and adding other veggies and seasoning into the mix. They are dense plants and feel like a good staple, able to significantly help mitigate ‘the hunger gap’ as Ben says regarding strains on food supplies and ecology. I look forward to growing, harvesting, and cooking more of this perennial plant ally.
A nice day planting tree seeds in a field with a dear comrade. This completes my Winter 2020 seed stratification plantings. About 80 acorns went in modular air prune beds, with probably 100 more going in a section of a field that will no longer be mowed (last mowed last summer). In adjascent sections as seen in an image below, there is an area of hybrid hazelnut and shagbark hickory seed plantings (see images & video from that planting), and an area of black walnut dispersal.
As these areas stopped getting mowed they will begin succession toward forest. With some extra help from existing plant and animal communities, these planted seeds making their way up, and ecosystem management / caring disturbance from above: may this field become a bountiful food forest.
What does productive ecosystem restoration look like to you? What about mutual benefit? I consider these questions as I watch this water and seed this field.
Photos from this workday field planting trees from seed are shown below. As I work out a system for sharing photos and videos, I appreciate feedback on viewing options! Please let me know how the gallery works for you and if you have any suggestions.
The surplus of my Winter 2020 seed stratification is going toward the seed bank of this back field as it rewilds. I had planted around 80 shagbark hickories and 800 hybrid hazelnuts in air prune beds earlier this Spring. The field section being planted was mowed Summer 2019 and most of the field has been hayed for years in the past.
These seeds serve as a subtle bump toward hazels and hickories in the decades to come for this forest. The potential of these seeds will be supported by my attention and selective-removal or support for certain species as ecosystem succession brings this field through the stages of life. In adjacent sections I’ve broadcasted and planted some black walnut seeds [and later on planted acorns], and I’ll continuing building the seed bank of useful ‘provision’ trees as this area reforests. In this area, I’m aiming for low-input food forest restoration.
Photos and a video from this workday field planting trees from seed are shown below. As I work out a system for sharing photos and videos, I appreciate feedback on viewing options!
From a food resiliency standpoint: collecting wild nuts, cleaning and drying them properly, and storing them in-shell with decent airflow in a cool space like a basement – it’s probably one of the highest levels of resiliency for fat and protein that you could store, I think. These hickories should be good for 10 years, I’ve heard for up to 15 years. Chestnuts when they’re dry, more or less indefinitely. Acorns, more or less indefinitely. These Japanese walnuts from 4 years ago…one out of 50 is a dud, the rest taste absolutely beautiful.
from Edible Acres (@4:31 of video below)
@ 5:34 some processing footage
“It feels like a critical base layer to food security, with gardening, wild foraging and hunting as additional layers of benefit.”
Replying to a comment about wild nuts being a most efficient form of hunting & gathering
Food sovereignty, good when times are good and when times are not so good.
An imaginative exercise – what does an ideal food system look like to you? When I envision optimal food systems and resilient, rewarding primary sectors that are grounded and guarded by ecological mutualism, I see trees are a key & core part.
Towering timber trees among their families and cohorts of diverse company, gifting staple crops for current and future generations with numerous co-benefits. Agroforest cows? Shiitake and other medicines? Trees of all types, hazel in the northeast alongside other handy hardy bushes. Alley & edge crops. Wildlife habitat. Connection to place and harmony with neighbors human and nonhuman. Productive conservation & restoration agriculture. Forest gardens. Community food hubs, gathering and processing.
How can we integrate ecological mutualism into our lives, at various scales? Go nuts
I begin giving thanks to the source, to the indigenous people of the land I’m in, and to the indigenous people of the ancestry I’m from.
Lest we forget, forests can provide for all our basic needs as humans. It may not be easy but it is true, and tight knit nutrient cycles remind us of our arboreal foundations.
This guy (Primitive Technology channel on YouTube) and bushcraft have been a huge inspiration for me. Whether that inspiration shapeshifts into homesteading or what, I have it near and dear to my heart.
What was a nuisance plant with these weeds, you try to control that with mechanical means… we’re growing lamb! We’re growing lamb, with weeds! Ok? Oh look, that little yew right there at that tree just going to town on something…what are you eating? It’s weeds. Ain’t even grass under that tree, it’s weeds.
Funny though, you change your mindset, you look across the landscape at all this brush up there. I got a crew up there. *looks at flock of happy sheep* …
No shortage of great scenes and statements from Greg Judy’s ecological grazing. From another video talking about animals and land:
I used to work myself to death putting [chemicals] and diesel fuel on the stumps trying to cut’em and kill’em. Just spent a lot of money and probably wasn’t good for my health either. Look at all this diversity. Nature is not about just growing one plant. …We’ve got the cattle coming in here tonight, they are absolutely going to be in heaven…
In this video is a beautiful and simple example of agroforestry’s mutually beneficial closed loops in action: black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
Black locust is grown in pasture to create a managed savanna known as silvopasture, one of 5 common agroforestry techniques.
Black locust has a few roles in the silvopasture system. It is part of
the fabric of holistic grazing, wherein herds of large mammals rotate
around partitioned areas, intensively
grazing on each then moving on to let it regenerate growing more soil
each time. To manage livestock, many fence posts are needed, and what
better wood for fence posts than black locust?
Black locust is rot resistent and can grow quickly (3-4 ft/yr in NY).
Its density and rot resistance makes it an excellent material for
firewood or weatherproof construction including fence posts. While it
grows it fixes nitrogen from air into plant-usable form in soil; it
offers leaves with similar nutritional value as alfalfa for animals; it
offers honeybees and humans sweet flowers; and it offers many other
co-benefits of trees.