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.
The amazing abundance of trees from seed. Reforestation happens through a range of approaches, and from seed is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most time-tested of ways. It comes with pros and cons, the bad including relatively high loss and diversity of traits (such as shell thickness or fruiting time, which industrial operations seek consistency in). In such chaotic times diversity is good. This low-tech approach embraces loss en route to life. Life of the critters enjoying these trees & their seeds along the way, life that comes with the space and legacy of endings, life from letting life be as it will. Seed is a powerful source of sustenance, survival, and succession toward better local adaptation for chaotic futures.
Like the idea of trees and long-term improvement, enjoyment, environmental restoration, and if needed, sustenance? Hazelnuts are a tree you can trust to thrive easily and be enjoyable company. Measuring in at 18ft high and 15ft across, these beautiful bushes have been at the heart of our ancestors’ lives for many, many millennia. Food; some of the healthiest fats available to us. Fiber for homes and many essential crafts. Fuel as both coppice1 firewood and as-energy-dense-as-coal residues (shells and husks) for burning (is that true? nearly2).
Hazel is a gift in social resilience as well. A folk hero. How do all the gifts hazel offers sound as renewables, compared with other strategies for food, fiber, fuel, health and wellness? Fossil fuels and ‘renewable’ energy that depends on mining and toxic processing at industrial scales is degrading the foundations of life: water, soil, air, weather, ecosystems. How about a hedge of hazels instead?
How about a biocultural renewal? A deep adaptation? A relational agriculture that reciprocates and enhances nature’s gifts rather than degrading them.
If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.But if you only see what is ugly in the world,then it is you yourself that needs repair.”
Acorns have great potential as a staple food. This may seem like it takes a lot of processing, but compared with conventional staple food sources with similar nutritional profiles and palatability, this and many other tree crops require less energy overall to enjoy, potentially require less capital as a cost-of-entry, and have numerous co-benefits. This calls for a different culture however, as there’s a shift in where much of the energy is expended in enjoying regional nuts and trees for basic needs:
In conventional systems, energy use and negative externalities occur “Not In My Backyard“, in rural areas and in far away oil and fertilizer producing places. In systems offering greater food sovereignty, resilience, and positive externalities, energy use is brought closer to the point of consumption and after the point of sale.
Shelf stability of acorns highlights a trade-off of this shift in the point of energy use to enjoy the crop: acorns and many nuts are very shelf stable, but when they’re processed enough to be ready to eat (e.g. as acorn tortillas or roasted hazelnuts) they become less shelf stable. This is not a critical issue, as acorn flour and many value-added nut products can last for weeks dried or refrigerated and be preserved for months or maybe years frozen. This trade-off affects the culture of use and markets for local nut crops:
Tree nuts are long-lasting, resilient, more intimate staple foods which require more labor close-to-home, but
tree for basic needs also bring home closer with the source of one’s well-being and being well in ecological mutualism with that which supports oneself.
And with this in mind, I give thanks to Osker Brown and Living Web Farm for the information below about acorns for landscapes and livelihoods.
Distribution of time for tasks to enjoy acorns:
1/3 labor gathering and drying
1/3 labor cracking, leaching, processing
1/3 labor quality control, removing nuts with signs of mold
Gather & quality-control red oaks, dry, store in-shell . . . here is a very informative video series, starting specifically at part 5 which details home and community-scale acorn gathering.
Ready to prep for meals? De-shell red oak acorns using hammer, nut cracker, nut crucible…or for large home-scale (e.g. ‘5lbs batch weekly for two months’), Davebilt #43 nut mill has been found effective and robust.
Sort and quality-control, winnowing kernels from shells. Discard kernels that are not a shade of brown whether dark or cream colored, e.g. remove nut meat colored white, yellow, green, or blue), discard shells for mulch or fuel or tanning.
Leech (various methods) until astringent flavor is no longer noticeable when tasting nuts. Dry. Break down further into flour using food processor or similar methods. To begin with cut with 50:50 all-purpose flour and use as you would all-purpose flour. Acorn flour can replace all purpose flour for many recipes.
An improvement to this video’s recipe: the acorn mash/flour should have been dried (at least squeeze-dried in cloth) after final decanting, prior to cooking. That way the pancakes would not have fallen apart.
Awesome footage of Finger Lakes-based Edible Acres plant nursery and homestead:
@1:44 Cool contrast of the land cover texture at Edible Acres forest garden alongside neighboring sparsely-treed lawn. From sunshine to complex, interdependent and diverse self-regenerating life and succession.
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.