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!
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.
Here is a response I want to share from a question about how tree crop enthusiasts are keeping track of plantings and related info:
Metal tree tags on locust stakes are low-tech and work reliably. 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. If you try this route, I recommend focusing on the following steps to begin with.
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.
Follow a basic tutorial about raster vs. vector file types, and creating shapefiles.
Create a polygon shapefile for your AOI boundary- Create a point shapefile for your individual plants.
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)
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.
A basic tutorial about Coordinate Reference Systems (CRS) and about Georeferencing would be helpful to get ahead of GIS software’s more confusing aspects. Using an appropriate and consistent CRS is especially important for making accurate spatial measurements. You can also go to https://gis.stackexchange.com with questions.
Temperate-climate agroforestry offers the potential for long-term ecological mutualism with humans and trees, and while it is time-tested in having sustained millennia of our ancestors, there are many hurdles to shifting lifeways toward agroforestry in 2020. In this post I introduce the main challenges I have identified, and I outline a potential approach to overcome these challenges. In short, that approach is an agroforestry worker cooperative that ‘owns’ (has rights of control, and rights to returns) land and practices stewardship so to advance tree crops and sustain itself.
I hope this clarifies opportunities that we can turn into realities, to support multi-generational stewardship of trees for basic needs in a way that is mutually beneficial to all relations involved.
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.
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.
A relatively unheard of N fixer that I planted this spring and am liking so far is northern bayberry. It’s a shrub that has waxy berries. The height is pretty variable according to the nursery at 3-8′. One really nice feature is that it’s semi-evergreen. It’s a deciduous shrub with larger leaves (kind of like an oak) and they turn burgundy in the fall and hang on until spring when the new growth appears. I’m using it as part of a screen from the road so that I have some privacy in the spring. The berries are good for the birds and you can make candles from them. One other name for it is “candleberry”.
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.