Micro Transhumance

Every Spring, once the last frosts are gone, the sheep move into back pastures. The trip takes less than ten minutes, from the barn to the back field is only about 1,500 feet. However, with limited pasture year round, this micro-management of grazing space, on already marginal sloped terrain, with a rehabilitating temperate rain forest all around, poses some unique ranging systems.

Limitations are as malleable as the seasons, with lush grass in warmer wet months, drying out into yellow crusts of little nutritional value in a drought year, to muddy swamps during wet months. Each biorhythm of the earth signals change; ever adapting, ever reinventing- the dance we are all in, together. For the sheep, an introduced species on the landscape, management is crucial.

Naturally, elk and deer would fill this ecological niche within an intact ecosystem. Due to human development, these natural balances have been disrupted. At EEC Forest Stewardship, the long term plan is to allow old growth trees to return. But in the mean time, for this first generation of restoration, livestock have come to mimic the active herds of elk and deer which once roamed this forested place. Open pastures are slowly being grown in, but the canopy will not close out here for hundreds of years. Humans have also established in this habitat, impacting the landscape with their needs and wants, not always for the improvement of the environment as a whole.

Livestock can decimate landscapes- and the history of human activity is evident all around. In the aerial photo above, you can see parcel 29221, EEC property, and surrounding neighbors. The long green scar to the right is an electric power line. Ironically, the electric lines create a buffer of green on either side, as most people don’t like living near, or within site of big high-lines. Imagine that! In the photo, you can make out a road, which is also a highway for wildlife. If we could assess it, I would love to walk my sheep there, but private property hindrances abound. This is why large migrations of animals across the landscape is now impossible. But at EEC, we’re still using the principal of movement.

If proper rotation on and off grasslands are followed, you can keep a good number of animals on areas of marginal land. Pressuring stock on pasture till they eat all the plants is a delicate dance, in which too much tango on one pasture could destroy sensitive species. This neglect compacts soil, setting back our restoration intentions by decades. Climate also determines what a pasture can take- if it’s too dry, the plants will not come back quickly, meaning more rest time, and less available grazing. But if you follow the environmental ques, you’ll know when to keep stock off the land, and when to move them on.

Right now the land is in a bonanza of new growth, and the sheep are barely keeping up with it. In moments like this, I wish I had triple the flock size. But I’m really glad I don’t- or this landscape would eventually become decimated. Spring growth is peak abundance on the land. All that winter energy has stored up into an eager new sprout and leaf, ready to face the sun in all her radiance. Sheep love this fresh, new growth, and the young lambs take in that new growth to power their own expansion into fine animals for eating. It’s the magic of grass into meat which has always inspired me in this work. What a great trade in energy, with fertility as a byproduct, when operated in manageable amounts for the location.

Many people have pointed out to me that I could run more animals on my land. Yes, many things are possible, but are they ultimately for the best? This is the question all consumer agencies should keep asking themselves as the implement smart design to temper industry back to the finite resources of reality. More animals means more inputs, like winter hay- and summer hay if there is drought. The poo piles up in winter, when the sheep spend a lot of time inside to avoid wet, cold weather. Our current barn setup is not conducive to manure pileup, and shoveling by hand limits the amount of mucking one can do in a day. Now we’re talking about a tractor input to keep up, and we’ve just jumped into a whole new category of consumption, which is a far cry from the holistic, small scale vision of EEC.

Quality over quantity is very wise advice. Quality of life is my motto- from farmer to chicken, clover to sparrow, we’re all woven in together. These lives ebb and flow together in marvelous harmony. It’s how to know if your stewardship is intuitive with place. The ground shows its wear- and knowing when to move on, taking up the flock and browsing along into a new field, it is this flow I relish as a herder. Watching the sheep take in a new landscape also tells me a lot about the quality if the pasture. If they move quickly around the space, they are unimpressed by the offerings, which means I need to reseed the ground, add diversity, mulch in some new species of under-story, or maybe look at water flow, and redirect some moisture to the space.

In small paddock systems of only a few acres, the movements are regular and often. The rewards will show up in the first year of this style of management. In time, we’re brought our numbers up too, but slowly, as the land recovers, and maintains the abundance. In 2014 we had a flock of eight sheep. Now, in 2020, we’re raising 24 animals right now, with plans of overwintering 13. In the coming months, I’m starting to work on a deal with a nearby neighbor to lease some of her acreage for more pasture space. It would be a great expansion of my business, but also a step beyond the space I currently steward, which means a lot more time away from EEC.

Another part of adapting is the chance to partner up with like-minded herders. A few years ago I had the chance to see a real transhumance occur in Provence, France. Hundreds of sheep were paraded through a small town in celebration of the return to spring pastures in the mountains. Many flocks came together for this move, and the herders helped one another to drive all the stock at once. This makes the move safer, as all the town stops to watch, and over the years, a celebration became part of the journey. Now the event garners international attention, as it is one of the last surviving transhumances in Western Europe. This migration has survived because the herders banded together with one voice, and supported each other in keeping their right of ways to mountain pasture alive.

In working with neighboring herders, I may not be opening up literal migration routs for the sheep, but I am weaving the landscape together for a shared cause. It unites land owners in rotational grazing systems that betters more land at once, providing more fertility and long term viability to more agricultural land in the area. Since King County in Western Washington is also one of the fastest growing, it is important to establish restoration farmland where we can to provide long term stability to the fragile ecology, also ensuring its return to the area.

These small management styles, which keep in tune with the overall improvement of the landscape for wild and domestic pursuits, moves human productivity back to stewardship, rather than dominion over all things. This is the vision EEC Forest Stewardship strives for, and we’ll continue to feature small scale agricultural restoration methods that have worked with great success. It’s taken a while to dial in capacity, as well as selecting the best animals to fill each role as it evolves on the land, but the results, so far, look very good. We’ll continue the great experiment in holistic land stewardship, and look forward to sharing more of what works and what does not- here at EEC.

Scapes and Strawberries

In late May, it’s time to check garlic for scapes- the young flower heads and stems of hard neck verities. I take time to remove them for two reasons; putting the plant’s energy into the root head for larger cloves, and as a delicious late spring treat in culinary delights. Garlic is a wonderful, easy garden food, and worth planting every year- though rotation is important. In talking with other garlic gardeners, I heard it said that garlic is sterile- that to try planting seed would yield little success, and bulb clones were the best way to propagate. Well, nature rarely makes herself sterile, so I wondered how hard it would really be to cultivate garlic from seed. This article is making me think a lot about cultivating my own seed grown garlic strains- but the road is a long one, which is why there is limited variety in markets, and why garlic festivals, where holistic new strains are often found, is crucial to long term viability of garlic in our gardens.

In the mean time, I keep happily eating scapes and looking forward to garlic harvesting in July. I’m also keeping an eye out for mature flowers on some of the plants which miss “de-scaping”. I’ve had one or two make it each year, and I make sure to plant the seed heads- as I do with all Alliums that seed in the garden. But the results are slim, and I’m not keeping track through the years as I could, but that’s also nature. She’s always teaching lessons if you take the time to watch- a long time. The garlic will keep whispering her successes in new stems, which are appearing in solo spots here and there around the two main gardens. It’s a passive experiment, and will take many more years of tending, but that’s part of the reward in growing things.

The other great late spring treat popping out in the garden is strawberries! Our patch here at EEC has been slowly establishing over the past eight years, and we’re excited to snack on down in this fabulous larder of fruit. The first thing you might notice from the picture above is the size of these rubies- much smaller than your average grocery store variety, but don’t be fooled by her compact couture, these tiny treats pack big flavor with every bite. I usually harvest about a quart full every few days to liven up pancakes, or more likely, scoop by the hand full into my mouth. My tenants always snack on them when they walk by the garden, which is encouraged, as there is so much fruit. It’s an easy way to engage others in the pleasures of tending.

The strawberry plant is amazing, and prolific, so make sure the ones you establish are good producers of sweet fruit. Some verities are for decoration only, and have beautiful fruit with no flavor. Mine came from a backyard raised bed in Georgetown- a south suburb of Seattle being gentrified by progress. The house was condemned, so the tenants offered up all their landscaping to friends. I came to help clear and load for someone else- and ended up with some great local strains of plants, including the strawberries. When you can acquire plants bred in your area, the genetics match the soil and climate, providing a better acclimation and survival rate.

These strawberries certainly reflect health and happiness- but it’s also good to note that this plant is a tenacious runner. If you plant strawberries near other plants, get ready for a constant battle. I placed mine around the base of my herb spiral and key hole gardens. At the time, the rock bases were built on gravel drive, so the strawberries were the only thing established at ground level. They also thrive in rocky, marginal soil, so it was a great fit- till the grass moved in and the berries began their campaign for space. When I pull the grass, I often end up pulling up a lot of strawberries too- it’s a real loss when the flowers are blooming- I end up pulling my crop! I’ve learned to gently pull the tall seed heads of the grass, and wait to do a full uprooting after the berry season ends.

Fragaria × ananassa is a runner- meaning it throws out tendrils, which stretch out about 4-6 inches off the main plant and re-root further away. They are reaching constantly, so you have to prune them back all the time to keep them out of other beds. I weed often, so it’s not that much a challenge to keep them at bay, but I did give them one bed, which was already struggling- and they thrive there now, which is great! I’d still recommend planting strawberries in their own space, as a ground cover. They are hardy, and can take more compacted ground. Sun is a must through, so shady undercover won’t host well.

I’m going to plant garlic cloves into the strawberry bed this summer, and I’m excited to see how the two work together. Here’s a great article on garlic companion planting which inspired me. Another wonderful piece of information I picked up recently is why the first June full moon is called the “Strawberry Moon.” I guessed it was a way to mark seasonal harvest schedules, and yes, that’s true. Most “folk” lore is based in very real ancestral knowledge, though not always informed, so make sure you research broadly, especially regarding “remedies”. Both garlic and strawberries are seen as important medicines across the cultural landscape, and they are easy neighbors in your garden, so establish them if you can.

Coop Build

We’re finally launching the build of a new chicken coop for our hens. They have thrived as a major player in our agricultural restoration plan at EEC Forest Stewardship. Chickens are a great way to start any livestock plan, bringing eggs, meat, fertility (poop), and bug control (gleaning). Because of the sloped terrain on our hill farm, we cannot easily move a large coop around the property. This is an important challenge to recognize if your are planning a rotational system for your animals. A stationary coop system can still utilize rotational planning, but the ground directly around the coop will be high impact on the land, and required extra movement and resting to prevent erosion and degradation.

Utilizing existing structures on site has been a crucial part of jump-starting the livestock operations at our stewardship forest farm. These buildings received minor reinforcement for safety a few years ago, but have remained otherwise untouched. Now, after years of lively goats, sheep, and chickens, these ragged sheds are starting to lean precariously, and rather than propping up the ancient foundations once more, we’re tearing down the old construction to make way for a rebuild. In the photo above, the current coop space is right center where the white door stands open. The new coop is going up far left on the corner of the lean-to, where you can make out an “X” shape of two supporting beams.

Our original plan was to tear down the coop area and rebuild it in 4 days. That was a lot of pressure, and would involve creating another temporary chick house out of another part of the structure for the birds. Since we would have to retrofit something for a temporary coop, we decided to utilize the lean-to building as our next coop space, allowing the transfer of chickens into a new home through the summer (at least). The lean-to structure is large enough to accommodate all our animals while the old stall/coop structure can be completely torn down all at once, instead of in parts while animals still lived there too. It’s a huge upgrade for this shabby lean-to, and worth the effort using scrap material already on site.

This coop is basic, but for chickens, basic is just fine. As building begins, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a small shed to house birds- not a long term living space for me. Cobbled together construction works well, and with all the scrap lumber, metal roofing, and spare hardware on hand, we’ve built this coop without any additional expense beyond labor and time. This ability to create functional space without added cost is crucial to the survival of a small operation like EEC. We’ve looked at larger barn building plans, even a combination barn/home building, which ended up budgeting out of the ball park, so to speak. Though self-builds often turn into nightmares, and I’m personally not well versed in construction, I do know how to create space, and can operate a hammer with gusto- especially when it’s in the form of a nail gun.

An important point about our build was reinforcing the main structure. This lean-to is at quite a lean, and even though reinforcement happened a few years ago, the structure is still in need of additional support, and we had to move carefully in taking down some of the structural beams to build new, solid walls. The result is fantastic! The new walls are solid, and building this closed square structure on the corner of the greater building has anchored it firmly on the hillside. However, if you take a leveler to it, you’ll not find a square edge. This works for a chicken coop, and we’re thankful for that, because we cannot afford to hire a carpenter at this time. Luckily, we’re not building a house for ourselves (yet).

Small construction like this does offer a lot of building lessons. I learned how to put in a floor. Again, it’s not level, and sure to fall apart in about 10 years, but that’s more than enough time to get the other structure rebuilt. The birds move in at the end of the week (May 2020). Then we’ll start the real rebuild on the other structure. It’s an ambitious summer project, but with this coop almost completed, the challenge of construction becomes almost graspable. Try try again is our motto, and with each small success- construction of four solid walls, meshing in the ventilation, and hanging the door, we can see the slow evolution of this shed, into a well loved coop for our hens.

Some new items for the betterment of our layers includes a fine new roll out nesting box. This handy design allows the eggs to roll down into a safe catchment box for easy collecting. The protective shelf houses the eggs out of reach of any pecking beaks or careless feet hopping in and out of the nest box. There are also red privacy curtains, offering a dark and quiet space to lay without interruption. It might take the ladies a few days to grasp this new design, but it will now be possible to prevent egg cracking, and allow for easy sanitizing of the nests. The box is lined with removable mats, which fit nicely in the dishwasher. After the ladies settle in, I’ll give a more detailed report about the pros and cons of this nesting box type. Fingers crossed!

Off the back of the coop, there will be an attached, covered outdoor run, which will allow the birds access to outside, even when they must remain in the coop. The old coop used to have an enclosed outside space, but the old structure began to sag, and predators began pulling apart the mesh to get into the coop. After three repairs, we closed up the hatch to the outside run to protect our hens. The new coop will offer a better, reinforced run, as well as metal walls to prevent chewing into the coop. Rats are the worst offenders, though our barn cats have done well on the job, and we’ve not seen rats in a few years. Still, the new coop will surly be put to the test.

Finding the courage to step into the unknown is a huge part of living well. Construction is not one of my talents, but in taking on this coop rebuild, I find myself more than capable of completing the basics, which is more than enough understanding to produce animal housing. The new coop is stable, clean, well ventilated, and sure to keep our hens safe and comfortable. This structure is a vast improvement over the current old coop, but only the first attempts at coop building. The experience has given me the chance to rough out my own skills, and encouraged my confidence in understanding basic structural design. I’ve approached the build as a land steward- looking at overall function, need, and utilizing the resources already available on the land. What a wonderful reward to see this coop built, and structures improved upon.

Megafauna First at EEC

0000:010115:59F:2985:CAMERA1:3E[082:0947]G[048:0x003f]

Well, we knew they were around, but it’s the first time in 8 years (2013-2020) they’ve shown themselves on camera (date and time stamps are wrong). This beautiful specimen of Puma concolor has tracked through the EEC Forest Stewardship wildlife corridor by the creek. The cat came in the early light of dawn. It’s most likely checking out the sheep, who will be moved back up to the main pastures close to the house this week in response to the recent visit. Cougar are not rare in these parts, considering they are an apex predator of The Pacific Northwest. Why not a bobcat? Well, the tail is almost 3 feet long. That’s a big tail, for a BIG cat.

0000:010115:59F:2985:CAMERA1:3E[090:0669]G[040:0x0036]

In this beautiful image, we can see the legs have no spotting, as a bobcat would. The cougar is also wearing a radio collar, which is very exciting. This cat has been captures, sedated, and handled by people before. Wonder what the study will show? The puma in these pictures looks young, only a few years at most, and because of that, it’s wandering through human development looking for a territory. Adult cougars know better than to come into human scented places, but young cats are clueless, and often get killed for their curiosity, so to speak.

At EEC, we do not hope to harvest cougars, but we do not want to encourage them either. We’ll move our stock back to the front pastures to be safe. Electric fencing would not stop a cougar from jumping in to help its self to a ripe young lamb. A few years ago in 2015, a couple of high profile wildlife tracking friends took a look at a goat kill site on the farm- they said it was most likely adolescent cougar. I was skeptical, only because I had no trail cam footage of any such animal. Ha! I knew it was only a matter of time till we did see one, and here it is- 2020! What a year!

Bear Aware

On a long walk within a stone’s throw of EEC Forest Stewardship, I came upon this wonderful sign. Tracks are such exciting ecological intrigue. These were large, and other sign along the walk hinted at it’s presence along the trail long before these clear signatures. If you’re looking at the picture above and wondering what the heck I’m talking about, you’re not alone. Here, try the pics below-

front foot
hind foot

Most of us will only ever see a bear from the safety of our living rooms, watching an epic video of one catching a salmon in its great jaw. Some might catch one at a trashcan, but very few of us will have the chance to see one in the wild. Bears are such amazing creatures, and so close to humans in diet, size, and mammalian practice. Often personified as lovable characters like the teddy bear, and Smokey, the bear has become a shadow in living memory, almost mythic. However, these thriving animals are alive and surviving in what’s left of our global woodlands, though threat of habitat destruction still threatens most wildlife around the world.

Here at EEC Forest Stewardship, the cultivation and restoration of native habitat is crucial to any plan for long term sustainability- abundance of the resources all life needs to survive. Several mega-fauna species inhabit our bio-region, which speaks to the overall health of the ecology. But the numbers are not stable, and one, the wolf, has already been driven out by man’s struggle to control the environment to his advantage, at the cost of a fragile natural balance already woven in place and evolved over millions of years. Nature has an auto-correct button for species like this, and 99% of all life on earth till now, has gone extinct. Why not live lightly while we can?

Meanwhile, the bears capitalize on our gluttonous ways, raiding human refuse piles for untapped treasures in caloric gain. At EEC, we make sure our food scraps are properly composted and buried to reduce scent temptations. But sometimes, we set up a trail cam with a few bones to see who is cruising the neighborhood. This Spring (2020), a large female black bear and her two yearlings have shown up. We’re thrilled to see these majestic giants looming out of the darkness- and recognize that we’ll continue precautions around our orchards and livestock.

This beautiful image was captured a few summers ago, along with some great tracks in the mud nearby. I’m wondering if this is the same adult bear. We thought it was a male, because of size, but the female in the night photos above is impressively large, like the day picture above. In the eight years I’ve lived on this land, there have been no bears near the house or barns. We’ve made sure to upkeep a low profile, especially when it comes to manure smells and grain. The land also hosts a dog, who’s sentinel bark is a sharp reminder that approaching the farm house is unwise. In our area, there have been bear problems- trashcan raids, livestock predation, and human encounters. One man fired his gun into the air to scare a bear out of his goat’s paddock. The bear stood its ground, and the man went back into the house and locked his door till the animal moved on.

The post you can see this momma bear leaning against in the still shot above is about 2 1/2′ high. This means the bear is about 3′ at the shoulder. This sow (female bear) seems to have short legs- but that’s only due to her bulky body being so round and full- a great sign this she-bear is getting plenty to eat. Her broad head is also a sign of maturity. If she didn’t have cubs with her, I would think she was a boar (male bear). So far, the family has kept out of sight, coming out at night to forage along the stream- which we encourage. But as the fruit season sets in late summer, the aroma of fresh fruit will become great temptation. At EEC, we harvest apples as they come into season, making sure to pick up any fallen fruit from the ground to prevent more smell buildup.

By continuing our bear aware actions and keeping the farm low profile, we’re teaming up to support the bear, and other wildlife, from becoming a “nuisance” animal. It is encouraging to see the bear population sustaining its self on the edge of human development. Luckily, this sow and her cubs have kept their distance. In return, we get to steward the land and offer a corridor of habitat along our creek for all wildlife, with the intention of continuing to plant more forest of native habitat to cultivate future generations of all walks of life.

Mountains Out of Mole Hills

What are those mounds in the pasture? If you tend grass in any form, you know who these visitors are and what the dirt is all about. Many struggle to keep such “blemishes” off their perfect lawns. I have a neighbor who actually shoots them on the weekend when he has time to sit and wait for one to pop it’s head up out of the ground. Sad, but part of a wider trend to poison, drown, or use any force necessary to remove the lawn “ruiners”. If they only knew how important these little tunnelers were for the soil, grass, and greater ecology of nature’s web.

Moles are in house tillers and moisture retainers. They move soil around, loosening hard pack to let roots take hold, and scavenge for insects, eggs, and larva underground, where we humans cannot see. They do not eat plants, though many are blamed for garden raiding which is usually the result of voles. Mole tunnels let in water, and allow it to slow seep underground, where the sun cannot quickly evaporate it. This very slow watering process and water storage is crucial in grasslands, and The Great Plains are suffering now because of the rapid decline in prairie dogs, who once connected underground aquifers to the sky, allowing moisture to rise into rain bearing clouds.

Moles are active everywhere, though we tend to notice them more often on our lawns. In the forest, I took a moment to spread out a mole hill to show you the rich soil brought up from deeper below, where nutrient dense material comes to the surface, feeding your plants and nurturing the aeration of the ground. I’ve watched the mole hills around EEC Forest Stewardship coming up, usually in areas recently grazed by my animals, where flies and other insects lay eggs into the poop. Moles gravitate to these areas of recent activity, often pushing up the most soil in areas the sheep were most impactful. The burrowers seem to know instinctively where the ground need turning most.

Here in The Pacific Northwest, we have a very special mole known and The Star Nosed Mole. Here’s a fun comedic video about this strange looking earth mover (who also swims).

Since we don’t use lawn mowers on the land, or wish to keep the ground flat for a nice putting green, the moles are no issue. Again, they are carnivores, eating insects, not your decorative flowers or the vegetables in your garden. They are aerating the soil, removing pests (like slugs and their eggs) and opening the ground for new plants and water. Without moles, the ground would be a lot more compacted, and unable to direct water deep underground to keep the soil moist and habitable for all the plants. Please remember this the next time you become frustrated with blemishes in your lawn. Perhaps it would be smarter to embrace the moles and begin turning your lawn into a food forest to produce food?

On another note- I use mole hills to plant wildflowers and pollinator species. The ground is freshly turned, moist, and easy to plant into. I don’t have to break sod (a real hassle), to get seeds in the ground. I can also take a wheelbarrow around with a shovel picking up all the mounds as fresh soil to put where I wish. With all the mole activity, is takes little time to fill the barrow for a good replenishment of a raised bed, or the root stalk native plants I’m establishing around the landscape. When you make moles an ally on the land, you’re embracing smart natural systems that have been put in place for good reason. Please remember to take note of the larger holistic system nature already has in place. You’ll find an answer to any stewardship problem in the way nature already works.

Next time you find yourself near a mole hill, take a moment to look more closely at the pile of soil resting on the surface of the lawn. It’s a symbol of healthy grassland. If you don’t like the hill, take a shovel and scoop up the dirt to put in your garden beds, or plant something in the loose soil. The more we fight with natural systems, the more frustrated we become, and the disruption of nature’s systems will ultimately be a loss for all of us. I am grateful to the mole for turning my soil, removing pest insects, and keeping water in the ground longer. I can’t imagine how much work it would be for me to turn all my soil like that, not to mention to disruption to the ecology of my fields if I had to bring in a large tractor to do the work my moles do year around. Thank you for all your work mole!

Patterns

Nature is full of dazzling pattern. The golden spiral, Fibonacci number, nature’s mathematical order within chaos. This surrounding language of creation heavily influences health and happiness. In the current time of pandemic, when many people are “caged” within their own home, apartment building, or for some, the streets; recognition of place in pattern can at least offer some belonging, a glimmer of reason in this dark time of insanity. On the land here at EEC Forest Stewardship, spring is a fantastic time to look deeply into this recognizable order. It’s a reminder that all life is so interconnected; one breath, one exhale at a time.

Stranger than fiction may be the way of the world, but at home on the land, seasonal shifts compel a growing, thriving ecology that could out-compete any stock market through abundance and diversity. Sound planting returns in truly necessary dividends of fruit, vegetable, meat, and mindset. It is this cerebral gift that I wish more people had access to in these challenging times. No matter how much humans attempt to reproduce nature, she manages to hold her own as an irreplaceable part of our psyche. As soon as we step outside, out brain patterns begin to change, finding those familiar patterns scattered all around, in natural “order”, without forced symmetry, like square rooms, cars, and flat screens.

The difference between ridged formality and the organic curves, seeming chaos of nature, are critically important to recognize. While civilization hails its self as the great modernizer, order, safety, reliance, predictability, and stability; it is a dangerous false claim. Right now cities across the world are experiencing shortages. When there is a disruption in any one of our supply lines, the seeming abundance rapidly dries up. We’ve not been taught to layer our necessities in a rich tapestry of interconnected harmony. Instead, we’ve compartmentalized our needs and wants into uniform measurements of output. Each chain of industry is suited to its self. Even academia teaches separate disciplines, withholding the possible fertility of shared research and design (I have heard this is changing though).

What would an holistic economy really look like? Though my understandings come from working with the natural world, not financial, the concepts of growth and loss easily cross through these two disciplines. It is by arguing against natural order that we continue to crash as a species. What will it take to learn from these patterns? How do we raise our consciousness, becoming more in tune with the land we stand on? No army can stand without food. No human endeavor works without sustenance (including clean water to drink).

Routine is a blessing and a curse. In every perfection, there is imperfection, so watch out for habit forming- it can lead to deep ruts. We’re in one now as a society; trying to ignore the patterns to force an outcome. Exponential growth is a fantasy, brought on by gluttonous abuse of finite natural resources. Taking continuously without ever giving back leads to desertification. No matter how much this truth hits home, man (and I mean men for the most part) continue to take, take, take. Could it be a general faulty wiring in the male ego? I think so. The pattern there is undeniable. Since written records began, man’s struggle to dominate and oppress has dictated civil development into passive consumption.

When people begin to put there heads down and graze away, not bothering to look beyond the ass in front of them, we fold right into another pattern of human undoing- complacency. We have become a species of consumers, grazing along at a predicable pace, expecting more grass to keep growing in front of us. But then fences went up, pastures were divided into mine and yours, and we were told to breed for the economy of debt slaves needed in these modern times. Wealth is consuming us now, like cancer, and we’ve fallen under the spell of capitalization for too long. It seemed to put more grass in our pasture, but in reality, is was laying down AstroTurf.

How to shift the paradigm? GO OUTSIDE! Even sitting at an open window can influence your brain patterning, allowing connection with your senses, relaxation, and healing. Looking more deeply into natural patterns brings down blood pressure, relieves stress, and strengthens the immune system (read more here). Can’t say enough about looking past the screen and into the lush world of nature. Even while living on Manhattan Island in New York City, I was still able to look out my fire escape window or climb from said fire escape up onto the roof for sun bathing and pigeon watching. Night time in a city is the wildlife action hour. Watch raccoons, coyote, rats, and more moving through the cover of darkness to capitalize on all the refuse of urban decay.

In the long run, nature wins, but right now, for her to revive, many of our old habits and patterns must evolve into more sensible action. When you take, give- even if it’s just a little time picking up trash along the edge of the lane, walking or biking instead of driving, or even just taking a moment to smell the flowers. These pauses in our busy lives allow nature a chance to connect. Imagine all the patterns that are constantly reforming all around us, and take heart in knowing each of us has a place in the greater pattern. Please join me in embracing stewardship of self and place.

Dawn Chorus

looking east down the driveway

First light creeps
slowly reaching over my shoulder
recalling her warm caress
then whispering a lulled breeze
twisting soft curls
gold spun memories, a wide open plane
horizon lines running endlessly away
why I fled the heartland- decades ago

echoing robin’s song fills atmosphere
anywhere a bird can sing on open wing
animals quietly grazing across green velvet
bundles of white flock, drifting clouds
gently culminate into thunderheads
undulating sway of ruminant wonder

pear trees flocked in blossoms of fine white lace
do not compare themselves to sheep
looking only to the stars, reaching up
diamonds shine brightest in blackest night
then alighting gently like glossy dew
refracting deftly along briar’s edge
hands bleeding from holly prick
black pearls on wounded palm

obfuscated colors stick to grey hues
as gasping constellations fade
cold damp loam beneath bare feet
soon warming, like the sky
orange hues streak across heaven
backlit forest sighs into the day
swallow darts from grey to blue
in a flash, dawn erupts into morning

Pruning Paradise

It’s a race to get the fruit trees pruned back before they start budding. Usually, I would do this earlier in the winter, but the weather, lambing, and covid-19 happened. The established orchard on the land is a hectic mess, being in serious rehab after almost a decade of neglect. The branches tangle in chaos, and I’ve spent the last seven years trying to address the overgrowth. After studying and observing these elders for a few years, I started hacking away with little awareness of how to really shape the trees. Now, after a few more years of observation and gentle regenerative care, I’m taking off the last of the larger branches these trees should not have to support.

Fruit trees are all about producing fruit right? Well, to keep a tree fruiting nicely year after year, you have to keep them pruned up, otherwise, the tree puts all its energy into branches, growing new wood instead of food.

The plum tree pictured above has been left to it’s own devices for a few years now, and the branches have gone crazy. We’ve had no fruit for three years now, and I’m ok with that, because this is a rogue plum, and I’ve got enough trees to tend as it is, so I let this one go for now. I can always cut it back into shape as it matures. That’s part of the beauty of younger trees, they bounce back. With older wood, you have to do a lot of slow removal to let the tree recover. A good rule of thumb is take no more than a third of the tree in one pruning.

Getting pictures of these trees so you can see the transitions is very challenging. In the picture above, I’ve just finished pruning. You can see a pile of woody material on the ground. It’s definitely less than a third of the tree’s mass. My finger is hovering over the height these trees used to tower at. Fruit trees tend to grow up and then shoot out a new level of branches. These trees were two stories high, and now they are one. You should be able to harvest the fruit easily from a ladder. If you can’t reach the branch to prune from the ladder, you won’t be able to pick the fruit either.

This frost peach is already blossoming out. I managed to prune it and put in another tie back to continue encouraging it towards the wall of the building (late espalier plan). Stone fruit trees can be pruned any time, but taking off branches after buds have formed is going to knock off a lot of your future fruit before it has a chance to develop. Be mindful of your timing. The apple trees were still dormant, and I caught my pears just before blossoms opened, though it was risky, and I might have deformed many of the buds any way. Fruit trees are most vulnerable as they are budding out, so always take care with late pruning.

This photo shows a better perspective of cutting off the second story level of these older apple trees. The tree on left is still sporting it’s upper canopy, where as the trees to the right have been reshaped to a single story. The tree far right is throwing up a tall leader branch, and I’m leaving that 1st year growth to give the tree a crown. All trees naturally reach for the sky, trying to be the tallest thing in the area to receive the most sun. Pruning forces the shape of fruit trees to human advantage, giving us easy reach and many more fruits. However, when you take an entire second story of branches off a tree, it’s natural response is to put up a lot of first year growth the next year, trying to reform a crown. By leaving one or two first growth leads up, I trick the tree into thinking it still has the upper crown started, and hopefully less first year suckers will shoot up.

What’s wrong with first year growth? Well, you don’t get fruit off newly formed branches (first year). Second year wood will produce flowers, but first year only produces new wood and leaf buds, no flowers. On a well maintained fruit tree, you’ll only have suckers (first year) and some minor shaping if larger branches are rubbing or damaged from extreme weather. Pictured above are two frost peaches that have not been checked for three years. They keep going up, not out, and the energy to put on any fruit is hindered by the continued first growth.

The apple tree pictured above has been maintained to produce buds. Suckers are pruned back, and the young tree is tied to maintain certain growth shape against the bush behind it. You can see many 2 inch stubs coming off the upper branches. These are flower buds, and will hopefully produce fruit again this year. Last year I enjoyed a modest crop of large apples from this heirloom verity. This year, I hope to enjoy even more. The rewards of stewarding fruit trees is worth it’s weight in gold. Only this month did we eat the last of our apples. It was the first year we saved enough to enjoy through the whole winter. Several more pounds are stores away as dried fruit too, but there’s nothing like biting into a crisp apple you grew yourself.