Yes, we’re back on YouTube with a new channel contributing rich content for education and documentation at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our focus on holistic living in Western Washington will continue to feature experiential learning journeys in restoration and relationship with place, focusing on human tended ecology for multi generational wonderment. This landscape is vast and global, yet our efforts will take place on a very small patch of about 10 acres, with cultivation, including rotational grazing animal systems, and restoration agriculture techniques. Efforts in long term wildlife conservation through habitat restoration will direct the stewardship practices implemented in holistic cultivation throughout the landscape, and into neighboring properties, for the benefit of all within the greater ecology of our region. We hope to inspire through experience and story telling, reflecting in all aspects of this adventure in rewilding. Thank you for your interest, reflections, problem solving, surviving, and rejoicing. Gratitude for sharing in the learning, supportive suggestions, celebratory outcomes, and the wisdom of experience. As we head towards our 10th year in circulation, we hope that some of our philosophy, and the growth of our plantings, begin to take shape in a narrative that’s clear, and fun to engage.
Our blog spot here at EEC Forest Stewardship, hosted by WordPress, will continue with more detailed reflections and philosophy. We hope to focus more on the direct reflections of our readers- to better focus on helpful content, specifically learning experiences. As we begin this new chapter in sharing through social media, its also important to recognize how privileged we are to be capable of sharing this reflection and gain insight through the community response. Thanks to The People and The Land- who are one and the same.
See our new forest peeking out of the Salmon-berry? Young shore pine are settling in here at EEC Forest. We’ve planted them, along with Cascara and some Vine Maple, on a slope that was thinned of Red Alder last Summer during our barn build. It was also a grove slated for replanting in our Forest Stewardship Plan. Many of the groves here at EEC are Red Alder dominant, which means they were clear cut and then grazed like pasture long enough to prevent seedling evergreens from surviving into new forests. On a hillside, this creates erosion issues, even when the smaller deciduous trees, like Alder and Bitter Cherry do come back. By thinning out those initial pioneer species, we offer an opening in the canopy to assist the new young plantings in establishing for long term forest restoration.
Where are the Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Hemlocks, and Sitka Spruce in our replanting? Well, with summers getting so hot, more traditional native trees, especially Hemlock, which rely on wet soils, will not survive in the long run. It’s hard to comprehend that a Western Red Cedar would not be able to make it in a Western Washington forestscape, but this land has been so altered by continual clear-cutting and overgrazing, that the nutrient poor soil with no banked biomass for topsoil renewal prevents trees from fully maturing. That’s why we’ve folded in animal systems as part of our recovery plan, and have selected drought resistant trees that will better adapt to climate change. \I really wanted to put in Western White Pine, since they were the original dominant species of most western forests- not Douglas Fir (myth pushed by timber industries to justify replanting mono-cultures of the fast growing fir species). Genetically modified White Pines, resistant to a rust blight are now being developed. The blight which took out these Western giants was much like the blights which took out our East Coast Chestnuts. We’re still hybridizing and grafting chestnuts to produce nuts, but are still struggling to replant any native Chestnuts to reforest The East Coast.
We chose Vine Maple as our dominant under-story for this small stand- small in the sense that it’s less than a quarter acre in size. It’s also a great hillside species, as it happily lays over and spreads out over any angle. Here at EEC, this species, like most of the other mid-story shrubs and small trees, were completely eradicated by intensive overgrazing many years ago. In our stream buffer, established by laws back in the 1980s. That narrow area has Vine Maple, along with other species that would remain in a protected regrowth landscape. This is also the area where my oldest trees grow. Everywhere else on the land, under-story plants will have to be replanted. No trees on our land are over 60 years old. Only a few stumps remain to remind us of the original giants who once towered above, and the under-story layer still lacks the gusto of diversity an intact forest produces.
Though our landscape is degraded, it’s still supporting a verity of plants which still serve as food and medicine for their human stewards. While checking on my young plantings, I picked up a few fallen cottonwood branched with fat resinous buds. These sticky leaf buds are full of good medicine, which I draw into olive oil over a year, producing a topical antiseptic healing salve. Black cottonwoods are the fastest growing trees in our region, and often dismissed as worthless hazards. The poplar is known for shedding large branches in the middle of summer, without warning. These limbs can crush cars, puncture roofs, and even mortally injure people. Cottonwoods do drink up a lot of water, so they are great sponges in wet areas of the landscape. We have only a few maturing trees on the land here at EEC, but I don’t regularly plant them, as they are prolific enough, and given ample time to seed out on our land. Several young saplings are well on their way at this time, and a few are in need of cutting, as they develop too close to our buildings. I’ve already pulled many roots from under one of our garages, where it was literally lifting up the foundation of the structure, cracking the floor and letting in water during heavy rain events. Even with the challenges, cotton woods offer amazing habitat to animals, great water management, and medicine, so we welcome them on the land, with good oversight.
While wandering beneath the cottonwoods picking up bud branches, I also came across one of my other favorite plants on the landscape. Stinging nettle is often overlooked as a hazard species, much like cottonwood, but again, all plants have a purpose, and that endeavor may precede human needs. In the case of nettle, human needs are met in so many perfect ways- this plant is edible- and more nutritious than spinach. It is a medicine, both topical and internal for different ailments. The stalk produces workable fibers, and offers a great soil conditioner to build up great fertility in disturbed ground. In the Spring, it’s best to harvest the young top leaves of nettle. In Summer, harvest the seed and stalk, and in winter, cut the stalks down to condition soil. I often see this plant pushing up new growth in January, so its one of the earliest edibles to come on as the seasons change. The sting is also a blessing in disguise, offering a zing of pep to the nervous system, and easing arthritis inflammation. I picked a handful bare handed for lunch, rounding out my gathering venture with healing and sustenance. What amazing gifts the land offers to those who know what to look for.
When we take a step back and realize how much the ecology around us produces, all the roles it fulfills in its act of existing, we start to realize how much we loose when we remove that ecosystem. Even without removing them, we can still inflict great harm through our actions of carelessness with industry, nearby development, and human caused climate change. There is still a narrative of dismissing the environment as something outside ourselves, when it is still deeply a part of us, and will ultimately decide out fate on this earth. We can choose to put ourselves back in context, within that wilderness and encourage thriving environments for people, plants, and other animals, or we can continue to bring great harm to ourselves through its destruction. You don’t have to go save a rain-forest single-handedly, just get out and be in nature, learn from it, and beguine to rewrite your story as part of the living world, not separate, but deeply rooted, like the forest around us (what’s left of it) here in The Pacific Northwest. Seasonal planting and harvesting is a great way to give back to the land and receive its bounty with appreciation and sensitivity.
Winter rains reveal complex water systems within the landscape that are not always easy to see with the naked eye. I’ve been reviewing drainage around our chicken coop and problem solving some recent runoff spots forming around a very active space, causing mud and flooding around buildings and animals. It’s a very mild issue at present, and might be caused partially from the compaction and lack of ground cover around a summer construction area. The introduction of a trailer- rain barrier/catchment surface- which funnels the water into a concentrated flow does not help the space stay dry. Standing water on the ground’s surface is not great- though common in saturated sub-straight. I dug modest redirect ditches to keep the water out of our hay shed, and the flow only happens in flood stage rains- which are common enough in our temperate rain-forest climate to cause concern. Tracking other elements of this flooding, I followed the water in high flow and found it is also coming from the east of our property line, out of the neighboring land, where a gravel driveway was implemented without any drainage planning. This discovery, though unfortunate, did reaffirm the correct surface flow earthworks design that was implemented at EEC Forest Stewardship.
We studied the flow of water down the hillside, and recognized the benefit of digging swales to catch the surface flow, slowing flood waters as they moved across the landscape. Along our driveway, there is a ditch directing surface flow off the road down to our large catchment basin seasonal pond. The swales nearby catch most of the remaining surface flow from the hillside, preventing it flooding into the buildings below. However, there are still a few undamaged surface flow areas, which are revealing the need for more drainage design and vegetation planting to mitigate flooding. The lower driveway below our well house often catches a lot of water during heavy rains. We’ve created a wetland area with willow plantings to help, but there is obvious need for more catchment and redirect. We’re looking at french drains- directed into grey-water catchment basins or the pond. Uphill from these overflows, we are hoping to implements some more swales and plantings to encourage vegetation taking up more of the moisture.
To better understand how the water collects, I took some time to look at the landscape and pinpoint places the earthworks and plantings were weakest. In the picture below, you can see swales on the left, and driveway runoff ditch to the right, but a wedge of hillside without any mitigation created a channel for the runoff. At the top of this wedge you can see the pillow tank and a cleared future building site. These spaces are a combined surface area which catches large volumes of rain, sending it down the hill with little resistance. In future, we hope to build a shed and redirect all the roof water into that pillow tank. We’d also like to invent a way to catch the water off the top of the tank and utilize that as well- but for now, we need to address the landscape below these areas, which are not slated for improvement for a few more years. Currently, there is a struggling blueberry patch, which was established here when I purchased the land. I say struggling, because it’s part of our upper sheep pastures now, and the livestock have decimated the shrubs. One solution would be to plant out the area as a blueberry plot and fence it off from the sheep. We could also implement hugaculture in the planting to retain moisture and bank fertility in the soil.
There is an established tree nursery down hill, and eventually, some of those trees will help with runoff prevention, but earthworks speed up water management capacity by offering physical redirection and storage. On a hill, it’s challenging to store larger amounts of water by digging in- in our area, the substrate is mostly gravel, rock glacial till. This terrain does not retain water well, and requires sealing. It’s another reason the water flows quickly off the land- even once under the surface. It’s best to keep adding compost to create soil, which then acts more as a sponge, soaking the water in where it falls. This is how the original old growth forest managed rainfall, especially on the slopes. That resiliency can only return with the canopy, which is why most of our land is slated to be forest once more. In the few remaining clearings, where people thrive in the sunlight whenever possible, we design alternative water catchment systems to improve vegetation and prevent erosion.
Where the water does sit on the surface, we accommodate these mini-wetlands with the plants that thrive there- such as willow and dogwood. I have a long term vision of directing this particular flow from the hillside above into the pond, but it’s a long way from that catchment system right now. Trenching and drain pipe would be required, and we might go in that direction, but first I would like to see if establishing vegetation on the up hill earthworks will be enough. The challenge is about balancing out the extremes of flood and drought. We want to catch and hold water as far up hill on the land as possible, thus banking more into the soil throughout the property. However, there will continue to be overflow during heavy rain events, which are ever increasing in our area, so directing that sheeting water into the pond would maximize collection and distribution. Since planting vegetation and establishing our food forest above the pond is already a work in progress, I would like to finish that before starting in on another earthworks project, but if the funding and machines arrive at a given time- we’ll implement with gusto.
Organic straw is a major input here at EEC Forest Stewardship. Plant stalks are a great carbon source for soil restoration, many people mulch with it in gardens or on spread it as a cover on recent soil disturbance sites (usually related to construction). But amending human and animal manure compost is its most valuable use at EEC. For the “nigh soil” compost system, the straw provides an amendment of carbon to neutralize the nitrogen high solid waste through breakdown with sawdust in a bin. That wonderful compost is then spread in the hedges along the edge of the property where no edible food touches the ground (orchard and shrubs). This is important to note- human waste can be some of the most toxic, due mostly to prescription drugs and poor diet (lots of preservatives). Heavy metals often accumulate in human waste, and so, the night soil is given a long time (2-3 years) to breakdown before it goes into the hedge.
The sheep get to enjoy straw as bedding, where it mixes passively with sheep poop and pee, creating a rich mesh of compost to be turned into healthy topsoil for native replanting. But when I started putting the straw into the barn stall for the sheep, they went to eating it, rather than sleeping on it, and this was distressing because then they were laying in their muck. I tried putting the straw down while they were enjoying their alfalfa, but they’d still take to it when done with the prime feed, reducing the bedding to less than adequate cover- especially in a deep litter system. I was at a loss, and tried many solutions from stomping all over the fresh straw to moving the girls in circles around the pen until they had stomped all over the straw with mucky feet- and they still nibbled here and there. Then one day, I had put the sheep out and spread the straw in the empty barn. When I brought the sheep in at the end of the day, the straw had been mixed up and moved around evenly across the floor with some old straw enough to keep the sheep from considering it palatable. At first, I was upset with the culprits- yes, my chickens, but then I saw that the bedding was left to do its work, and had been fluffed up, making it extra soft for the sheep to lay in, which they did.
Instead of fighting the bedding, the sheep, and the chickens to get my straw in just right, I let the animals do their natural thing, and find the solution is the problem- my chickens can glean the straw and fluff the bedding before the sheep come in to rest in the afternoon. The bedding does not look pristine, but it’s clean, and the sheep enjoy a good rest while providing great compost for the landscape. Eventually, the forest we’re restoring will have enough biomass to fully root into the ground as they grow- hopefully into old growth giants in generations to come.
Early Spring here at EEC Forest Stewardship are we’re taking a peek into the gardens to see what’s good eating in the lean times of cultivation. Indeed, right before the burst of new growth in the landscape, the last of winter’s grip challenges us to seek out what mother nature has left in the pantry. Special shout out to kale- being the most continually prolific green in our veggie patches in the coldest dark times, through even hot summer bolting- even self-seeding through the seasons to ensure continual productivity and edible leafy goodness. Our Purple Russian verity takes the cake, having sprouted from its self for going on eight years. It’s a sturdy brassica with the most tolerance for slug predation, aphid attack, and general human browsing. Hats off to kale for being the staple of our veggie garden year round.
A close runner up would be our garlic, bulb species that has a modest base in Spring, but lots of them in the ground, with fantastic flavor in the green stalks too. These wonderful perennials will reseed with ease, continuing to spread at will and with thinning, will mature into larger bulbs for a great late summer harvest of garlic heads.
While similar to the garlic, chives are shy in winter’s darkness, disappearing during the cold months, then peeking out again in early spring, like the chervil poking up in the Allium sativum. Chives are also prolific, and help deter many pest species, so I plant it around the edges of my vegetable patches. I’ve also found this herb is best preserved in the freezer, rather than drying it like many other greens. It’s easy to divide up the root ball of this plant when spreading it. I find that larger greens appear when there is ample space for growth, they can rival nodding onion bulbs in size if properly spaced. All of these Allium species produce flowers for pollinator species too, though we usually pinch off the scapes from our garlic to encourage bulb growth in mid-summer. One other species of Allium we’re happy to be propagating in our vegetable patch is Allium cernuum. This wild onion- called “nodding” onion because of it’s unique flower, is a native of Western Washington, and we’re hoping to transplant them into our forest and surrounding edge spaces as it establishes.
Camassia quamash or common camas, is an important eating bulb across the west coast, but many of the once abundant camas fields were demolished when colonial farmers took futile bottom land for pasture and crop production after First Nation’s Peoples were forcibly removed from the landscape. In rural wilderness, you can still find camas fields of purple in early summer, but to find them in Western Washington now, you’d best start planting them in your garden to support re-propagation. One of the most challenging aspects of propagating this native species, is the memory of other native species who are craving this once prolific plant- I’m talking about a lot of insects, which seem to find and enthusiastically devour the supple green shoots of this flowering food before it has a chance to eek out any flowers or seed pods. I’ve tackled slugs with beer traps, but the few camas bulbs I’ve established continue to barely scrape by, and we’re not seeing any successful propagation (as of yet). I’d put this species into a growing plan without expectation of any edible crop, sticking to long term recovery in the landscape as a goal.
A more familiar garden green we’re continuing to cultivate here at EEC year around is Chard. If left in a cold frame overwinter, you’ll continue to have good harvests through the dark cold months, but keep after the plants in late spring or you’ll have bolting to contend with. I’ve started saving seed and planting out new rounds every season to ensure they don’t all bolt before harvest. My other stellar late winter to early spring favorite in the garden is spinach. We have an amazing verity of self-seeding goodness which has continued to spread happily around our vegetable beds through the years and always comes up in the hardest part of winter when we really need fresh greens. It’s pictured below huddled in with the chard, and you might not recognize it as a spinach if you did not know what to look for. The leaves are narrower, and you harvest the whole plant to really enjoy a good serving. This hardy green will leaf out through late May, then bolt when things get hot, but by then, your other veggies will be established and thriving, allowing the spinach to seed out for future fall and winter crops. I love this prolific salad smasher, and appreciate it’s independent growing. I’ve had good success in saving the dry seed from this spinach as well, and hope to spread it into other planted beds as a good cover crop and edible feast.
A less obvious over winter vegetable which is starting to establish in our gardens is collard greens. They were hopping through the winter into early spring and are the first to flower out- even with heavy frost on the ground. I must admit that our general culinary habits have not fully folded these greens into our weekly roundup of salad and stir fry menu, but after watching this plant evolve through the cold season, I’m hoping to save seed for next fall. Note that the cold weather varieties will eventually bolt (flower), often before you’ve got your first crop of typical warm loving salad greens. The best counter to this seasonal shift is planting a rotation of seed through the cool months so that you’ve always got young plants starting. I’m happy to see flowers out before April- it gives our pollinators a great starting food source when they awaken from winter slumber. These flowers make the leafy greens taste bitter, but in time, the flower will become seed for our plantings next fall. I could try for another round of collards now, but other more tasty spring varieties are coming online with the warmer weather, and our greenhouse will soon supply us with tender lettuces we’re all craving by winter’s end.
Neo-liberal capitalism and our cultivated consumer addiction is the root cause- are we ready to reinvent economy, society, and the very human soul? what an adventure! good luck to all!
I am an advocate of globalism, however- it will, in our present consumer mindset, cost us our environment, and ultimately will destroy humanity as a whole- even if only the top most economically wealthy nations continue to drive it. We have to care about the land (environment)- as one human race, not nation states divided by economic lies. Keep buying plastic wrapped individual comforts at the cost of humanity- this is where we are as a people, and yet, most of our actions to remain in “first world” privilege will destroy us and any hope of future civilization. The action to take involves shifting away from unnecessary comfort- to offer a little of our extra, to others in dire poverty.
Tomorrow, if we North Americans went fully electric, and think we’d be stepping away from oil and gas, we’re living in denial. The extraction of finite natural resources is a race towards death- but within one or two more human lifetimes, the generations will continue sustain this consumption, and continue to literally dominate in the top wealthiest nations- even during a pandemic. Look at our handeling of vaccine technology- let alone the shots themselves. While “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A” vaccinates and brags about stockpiling, many nations with much higher vulnerability to COVID-19, are ignored and shunned- “shit hole countries” we are happy to defend when it’s politically convinent, and just as happily ignore when we are cutting to the head of the line in pure entitlement delusion. Are we ready to give up driving? Flying? -whenever we feel like it? Transportation could be solved quite easily, if we-the-privileged-people were willing to let go of impulsive independence. We have to see our environment as our survival. It also means we have to start making sacrifices, mostly of a spiritual nature right now. We have to mourn- not just the loss of life in a recent pandemic, but in the loss of our quality of life, and the ultimate degradation of our natural world, which the future generations will inherit. Our water and air are not safe, and the worst way we perpetuate this pollution is to continue living in overabundance, without thought or care.
If you think you are taking enough time on this reflection, you’re not- none of us are, because we are still living the same way (single serving relentless consumption). Our consumer needs drive the destruction of our species. Oh wait- we’re jumping in the car to drive somewhere- several times, every day. When this is the expectation globally, our air will be toxic to breath. We can’t have it both ways in the current systems of human civilization. Our consumer culture will kill us. Stop and think, soul search, and ask what you should do. It’s not just economic, but also sociological. There is more disparity today, than ever before, and more and more people are being born into horrid living conditions. Let’s support our convenience at the cost of our world as a whole. Living in this continued denial, and fatal disconnect is optional for those of us who can sit in front of a screen like this.
Top 5 changes privileged people can make right now-
1. stop daily driving and fly as little as possible
Along with these challenging changes, work on your mindset- recognize that the current global economic system is broken and look at new ideas for global governance, the UN is a start, but not the perfect solution. We do have to work with all people, how are you working to open your understanding of world scale? What does “think global, act local” mean? How deeply political are you- beyond watching shows about current issues? Are you privileged enough to “walk away” from consumption habits? Are you aware of what those habits are, and how you condone them through your purchases? Since money is the game, how do you pay it? For me personally, living lightly within a landscape slated to return to nature is my way of halting the madness in one lifetime. It is such a privilege to do this, owning land, having financial stability, yet even this is a moment in time, with much unknown yet to come. If there is one thing humanity has to come to terms with, it’s change- may we all put the best foot forward, wherever the path takes us. Please remember, we’re all on the road together, no matter our destination.
The other day while giving a farm tour, a good friend asked me how I name the sheep and then eat them. It’s a great question, and one that opens a door many fear to go through, mostly, for ethical reasons. We do not talk about ethics that often, which seems a real loss to the overall development of humanity. So, I’d like to take a moment now to address the above question, and delve into the ethics of food and farming here at EEC Forest Stewardship. This is my own interpretation of both my friend’s question, and an approach to raising livestock. I do not think this is the right or wrong answer, as though there are only two sides to any subject, but one of many ways to strive for better consumption awareness and action. Other opinions might strive for vegetarianism, as though the plant world and fossil fuel cartel running industrial agriculture are not still deeply attached to vegetable production and harmful pollution. But the real crux of my friend’s question, the ethical debate we often face, but do not want to address, is taking life to sustain our own.
We have to consume for survival. In this modern age, the military industrial complex runs our survival through economy, and those participating in the dominion over resources (financial service industry nations), adjusted to this routine frighteningly well, but the planet cannot support this structure for mankind globally. Until we’re ready to embrace new ideas about survival, playing within the confines of the current system’s legal framework seems a nessesity. Here at EEC, there is a great amount of privilege, offering alternative living for those who can. Within The US, economic disparities in food availability and affordability runs rampant, and because of Neo-liberal capitalism, the entire food web as we perceive it has been in tropic cascade. The cost of industrial food (the only way to sustain our world population and perpetuate it in it’s current form) remains hidden to most consumers. The world pays in agricultural subsidies, ecological collapse, and poor health due to eating food preserved with countless artificial additives. But when we’re faced with confronting our dietary habits, most of us don’t get past the whole meat vs vegetable debate.
(Below is a side by side of cattle feed lot and palm oil plantation)
Industrial meat is bad, and most commercial livestock production destroys the environment, the animals used in this production, and the workers (usually economically trapped) perpetuating it. Choosing to avoid industrial meat is a good step in wanting to help change the way food is produced, but avoiding meat all together still perpetuates industrial farming- soy, palm oil, corn, and sugar cane are just as destructive in their own way- it’s about economy, as I’ve stated earlier. Humans are designed to eat a wider variety of foods- and we should, we can, if we steward that food in a good way, with mindfulness. You are what you eat- and some are privileged enough to have access to mindful food- produced locally, organically, and whatever other ethical tag you’d like to put on it. But, it’s still only accessible to a few, and would not produce enough to feed the world- hence industrial ag- and there’s no way around it, unless we actively stop breeding like rabbits, or all start producing food. Mother nature is already stepping in with her plan, and it’s tragic for many. However, the current population consumes too much for Earth to support in our current state of evolution, so nature corrects.
At EEC Forest Stewardship, we are making our own correction to help restore balance. I am not reproducing- no future generation of consumer. That’s the greatest footprint you can leave as a privileged person, at this time on Earth. If you are craving kids- foster or adopt, and I know, that also takes a lot of privilege, but there are countless children in need of a good home. Source as much food as you can from local, small growers. When you do buy something at a box store- choose organic whenever possible. Choose to eat meat that is locally sourced from humane situations. Though EEC is not Humane Certified or USDA Organic (we are too small to afford such certifications) we follow standards of care for animals (domestic and wild), the environment, and people living here. We do not use any chemicals on our land and our animals are fed USDA organic feeds produced within our state. Our advertising is word of mouth, and farm tours are offered whenever possible.
Part of “standard of care” is relating and connecting with our animals. This is where naming comes in. The chickens do not respond or relate to their names, so we don’t name many, but the sheep do know their names, and it helps when working with them. Naming our food also helps keep track of the generations by using a different letter of the alphabet for each year’s lambs. Some farmers name their animals more abstractly, like “Thanksgiving” for a Turkey, or “Easter” for a lamb. Other livestock producers keep to numbers (usually ear tags), which seems a little too industrial for me. I name the sheep because they are beings with personality. At the same time, I do not think of these animals as pets, and do not cuddle and snuggle with them. Instead, I let the animals live as a herd- grazing in the fields and napping in the lovely dry barn we built for them. They are well fed, protected from predators, and together in an extended family unit. We strive to mimic wild ungulate action on the land and in the lives of the sheep.
These sheep have a great life on pasture together, and then experience one bad day before heading into the freezer to sustain our lives for the better. When I kill an animal for food on this land, I thank it for all its work, recognizing that I will sustain myself from its life, and that one day, my body will sustain the grasses and plants which will feed future generations. We are all connected, and the plants are just as alive and aware of their existence, though without fluffy faces we can relate to. Many people rank the importance of one species over another, and as a humanist, I would defiantly choose to save a person over a plant if it was momentary life or death, but in recognizing that one cannot live without the other, how am I to rank value? The plant, if living within an intact ecosystem, can survive without any outside inputs, and provides structure for a diversity of other species it co-exists with. Humans rarely do the same, and therefore, if we rank by productivity and sustainability, people are at the bottom of the list.
When humans are following their original instructions as stewards of the landscape they are deeply a part of, they tend to thrive and develop hand in hand with the nature they rely on. But in a world of scare resources due to over-consumption, and a push towards apocalyptic pulp fantasy with guns blazing, it’s hard to see a future of thriving humanity. Intact “native” living is often romanticized by privileged “developed” populations as garden of Eden situations. But nature is not all abundance and pleasure, she is often brutal, harsh, and demanding, which is why man has set himself against her and fixates on transcending Earthly form for yet another romanticized place like heaven. We have caste off our attachment to nature, cementing her down, and building palaces of opulent wealth upon her chest. Industry desperately digs into her body and continually takes from her for profit and power. I’d like to reflect on this abuse of life- all life. This is the root cause of suffering in our world today, and makes Mother Nature really look like a story book in comparison.
The rosy glasses are easy to look through when we become distracted by the naming. I don’t name my food to make it like me, nor do I shy away from relating to it by calling it something removed from my world view. I just want to remember each animal- and some do get names like “Freckles” or “Stripe”, which sound more pet like. For me, naming the animals is a simple way to track them, and I love getting to come up with new names each Spring. Our first two lambs born in 2021 were ewes, and I named them “Madonna” for the Arles Black Madonna (and the singer) and “Mariah Carry” for the singer. Their Mother, “Ubah Hassan” named after the Canadian-Somalian model, had a pair of boys last year which I named “Lenny Kravits” and “Louis Armstrong”, so I’m following my own tune- so to speak, with entertainment names. If you have not already picked up on the alphabetical track- 2020 was “L” names and 2021 is “M”. One gal last year came out with a swirl on her nose and I called her “Lickity Split”. I do not look at my sheep and feel any guilt for what’s coming. I look at how they are thriving on the land, adding long term fertility for the ecosystem, and keeping my dollar purchasing out of the industrial meat market. Thank you livestock!
We’ve got a new face in the flock here at EEC Forest Stewardship. “King” is a 2018 born St. Croix ram from Yelm WA. What?!- not a Katahdin? Well, the Katahdin breed came out of St. Croix genetics, so reintroducing them to our flock through this ram for a few years is a fresh boost of genetics to reaffirm certain standards we’re going for. King is still a hair breed sheep- meaning he sheds each Spring. He’s also naturally poled, like the ladies- we avoid horns for safety. Though I did embrace it with my goats, I’ve begun to shy away from such risks as I am usually handling my animals alone, and don’t want another potential hazard if I can help it. I’m not a fan of disbudding or docking– which seems counter productive to good old domestic selection. Luckily for me- the Katahdin and St. Corix are both naturally poled (no horns) and have tails which do not need docking. They are also naturally resistant to parasites and hoof rot. These are all great characteristics of a domestic livestock breed.
King is showing great promise in another stellar feature of La Corix sheep- he’s got a chill attitude. Just watch how he handles hanging out with our Kangal (Anatolian Shepherd) Gill for the first time. Many sheep would panic and seeing such a large carnivore at their heels, but King takes it in stride, though he’s never been with an LGD before in his life. It’s amazing how quickly their instincts arrived at a mutual agreement to live and let live- at least for now. It is not recommended to introduce rams to young pups- in fact, it’s recommended that Anatolians not begin working with livestock directly until they are two years of age. If a pup gets introduced too early, he’s libel to rough house with the sheep, and potentially get killed by a ram who will not tolerate harassment of his harem. Timing is crucial with any introduction, and livestock are no exception. I’ve learned over the years to take new relationship building on the farm very seriously, especially inter-species socializing.
When King arrived Saturday afternoon, I started by putting a thick collar on him for safe handling, and then tested a tether right outside the house where I could keep an eye on him. Gill was alert barking from the barn down below, seeing a new animal on the land and showing good concern for the new animal. King has never been tethered before, but stood patiently, enjoying his fresh grass pasture and paying no mind to the barking. He was hesitant with my approaches, but I brought some treats and did not pressure him into an encounter, I let him come to me, sniff, lick, then allowed him to back away and return to grazing. Every time I engage with the ram, I remain facing him, use his name, remain respectful of his body language (when he backs away, I keep my distance to respect his space). Gill offered the same respect, and when he did start to come too close, King stamped his foot and lowered his head, sending Gill away. It was amazing to watch these two species pick up on each other immediately.
The introduction to Gill came on day three. Day two, King was invited into the barn, to his own small enclosure, to meet the ewes and Gill behind a safe fence. He was calm and curious, bright eyed and brilliant. The ladies sniffed and cooed over this new stud, and he was eager to meet and greet through the fence. Gill was relaxed and happy to be in his den, and got a good smell of King when he came in to know it was just another sheep in the herd. After a successful two nights of pen acclimation, we put King out with Gill on his tether with supervision. The ewes were let out on the other side of the fence, and you can hear the bell ringing nearby in the video above. Gill checked the area and hung out with King for a bit, then went about his business making the rounds of his territory while King enjoyed some Douglas Fir branch tips. St. Croix are browsers, like Katahdin. Yet another quality we’re selecting for here at EEC. Blackberry is not grass, so we need animals that like shrubs as well as grass. Most wool sheep are strictly grazers, so they would not take out blackberry on this farm- and we’d have to shear each spring.
These are still early days of introduction, but I have confidence in the characteristics of these breeds and what they are selected for- ease of handling, multi-purpose, and resiliency. King will most likely become more protective of the ewes when he is in rut, which is just the nature of breeding. When working with any ram, you have to remain vigilant. Rams got their name for the physical action of ramming others. It is a grave mistake to turn your back on a ram, even a gentle one, as they could intellectually charge for any number of reasons. By remaining face to face with the animal you are telling it that you are aware of his presence, and respectful of his “majesty”. In return, the ram will form trust with you, and be more at ease. I’m sure King will teach me many more lessons. He’s been a pleasure to work with so far, and I look forward to getting to know his personality and behavior with the ewes later this summer. For now, as a precaution, he’s being kept separate from the ewes who are still heavily pregnant and would not welcome a love sick ram on their backs. Stay tuned for lambing updates, and ram work ahead.
Towards the end of winter, the larder is emptying out, and many of the more adventuresome food stuffs are eagerly awaiting my culinary experimentation. Organ meats can be fun, but I think my favorite challenge this year has been a fungal friend. Laetiporus sulphureus is a wood eating mushroom, and in The Pacific Northwest, it prefers evergreen trees. The taste of spruce was certainly present in this mushroom, even through it’s texture was more like chicken. I wrote a blog last fall about processing and storing the “chicken”- cook the mushroom before freezing if you can’t eat it all in the moment. Often, you come upon many pounds of this species when it is fruiting.
Reaching into the freezer, I pulled out a gallon bag of the sauteed CotW to thaw out for a tasty winter meal. I had planned to pulverize the mushroom into a soup, and began cooking the fungus down in a large pot. Then I took my hand mixer and began transforming the fruit into mush. The “meat” mashed right up, but rendered into a mousse like consistency. I added a bit of milk, hoping to “soup up” the sauce. Instead- I began to have the feeling I was stirring a batter. The pancake inspiration came, so I added a few eggs. The seasoning already on the mushrooms was garlic and herb, so I pictured savory latkes. Because these fungal fruits had fed off an evergreen log, they had that slightly bitter taste of pine tree, so I knew I had to put a little more salt and oil in to cut that taste. Onion was also a great addition, though I used flakes to save time. I will caramelize some first before adding next time.
The cast-iron pan was hot, and I used some fantastic bacon grease to round out my savory pancake flavor. By now, I had enough mix to make a flock of cakes, so I planned to refreeze some for later. The consistency and flavor of my new food was fantastic! What a great way to offer up mushrooms. My partner loved them with our dinner, and the next day I shared leftovers with another friend who also gave high praise. A few weeks later I took out another batch of Chicken of the Woods and repeated the recipe- this time I left out the milk completely, and added less oil. The cakes were even more light and fluffy, and still held their meaty flavor. I still left out the caramelized onions, so I know batch number three will be the best so far. There’s still another gallon bag in the freezer for continued experimentation. I love the amazing diversity of mushrooms, how they are a food group, and what wonderful fungus flavors I have yet to discover.
The recipes out there are endless- here’s one from a guy I’m a big fan of in the fungal family. Paul Stamets is the Pacific Northwest mushroom expert, and I appreciate the way he approaches mushroom learning. Note his advice about potential gastric intestine discomfort, which can come from under-cooking your mushrooms. There’s a lot to learn about identifying, harvesting, and cooking up mushrooms. In this blog, I try to stick to the safe species that are found locally in my area, but please, if you are new to mushrooming, please take a class and make sure you forage with someone who knows mushrooms well in your area. What I am sharing relates to Chicken of the Woods from Western Washington. There are eastern verities which look very similar, but might have very different properties. Mushrooming is a great adventure, please remain safe and do not explore the pallet of fungus without expert guidance, many species can make you very sick, and some might even kill you. Here at EEC Forest Stewardship, we love sharing our mushroom experiences and introduce our readers to new species, but this blog is not a mushroom teaching tool so much as an inspiration. Please be excited about mushrooms, learning about them, foraging, and, with the right mentoring- eating some of the most delicious, well kept secrets of the woods.
The weather has been wild and wintry this weekend. We had over 12″ of snow in a two day period, which required some roof shoveling and a lot of snow day enjoyment. We even had time to build a snow man or two. The sheep stayed tucked away in the barn with plenty of hay and water. Breaking ice out of water buckets was a constant task too- for the temperatures dropped into the 20s. But the snow was beautiful- soft, light powder- something we rarely see in these parts. Though this snow is “rare”, it will continue to grow in frequency for us, as the climate continues to shift. We’ve planned accordingly, building all new structures on the land with metal pitched roofs to shed the snow readily, so we won’t have to shovel them. The success of this design is evident in the picture below. While the double cabin roof is self-clearing, the house roof further up the hill, with little to no slant asphalt shingles, was hand shoveled by my devoted partner before we got another 3″.
This is the future of winter weather in The Cascadian Foothills. There’s an old homestead (over 100 years) near me, with the original farmhouse. It’s age is evident in the small, multi-pained windows, and very slanted roof pitch. Though historic in settlement, recent renovations of the dwelling added french doors off the mudroom, giving the early American settler image a tragic garage addition feel. One could transcend the nature of the refurbishment and recognize the complete destruction of forest and wetland thanks to colonialism. But I digress. The highly sloped roof is a reminder that about a century ago, it was much cooler in The Pacific Northwest. Heavy snow was a given in the winter time, and the build of this homestead reflects the winters that are starting to return.
The snow is a wonderful gift to our region, despite causing disruption of normal routine. It’s insulating coverage of young bulbs helps to encourage their survival and successful flowering later this Spring. Slow melt means slow, deep watering for the landscape, something our increasingly hard rains abate. In future, we’ll be grateful for more snow as a protector against Summer drought. We’ll also get more rain, but in a sheeting off the land sort of deluge- causing more erosion and less replenishment of our aquifers. These more extrema environmental changes are happening all around the world, so stay tuned! In another 50 years, Cascadia could be heading back into another Ice Age. However, the pendulum keeps swinging us into much hotter, more extended summers, so I don’t see the cool arctic air winning in the end.
Within the next few decades, there will be a continued threat of both horrific earthquakes, volcanic eruption, and fire. Drought already stalks our water table, along with more wells being drilled for private home development, and the clear-cutting of forest, which removes the protection of topsoil on our hillsides. This fertility loss is happening across the nation and around the world. Snow gives us an opportunity to slow some of that erosion and get an aquifer recharge. Shade from forest can also prolong snow on the ground. The pile formed behind our barn did not finish melting away for over three weeks. Part of that miraculous length of ice cold was supported by shade being thrown from a southern grove of Western Red Cedars. Life’s web of intricacies goes far beyond any human developed system of land management- that word, management- is part of the issue. We want to control, rather than cooperate with nature- steward what’s already in place, rather than augmenting it to perpetuate world consumption at an unsustainable rate. This shortsightedness has led to breakdown across the natural world, and humans are deeply reliant on these systems to survive.
Our best response to these changing times it to restore as much natural habitat as we can, stewarding place with the understanding that our lifetime is only one of many to come, and to have those future generations, we have to have a thriving environment for all to live. It’s such a simple concept, yet the balance has already tipped so far, we have a great shift in the opposite direction to look forward to- and severe weather is a herald of difficult times. While we experienced a few hours without power, other parts of our country experiencing this same cold front were left in dire straights for weeks. Many people, Americans, froze to death in their homes. Power grids failed, potable water was compromised, and many towns and cities found themselves stranded in what some called a living hell- especially when they received that month’s power bill. The weather extremes will continue to directly effect economy, as well as ecology.
After the snow subsided, we received thick coatings of ice across the landscape. This sudden refreeze can greatly affect budding shrubs and trees, not buried under the great snow insulation. The pear tree above is completely encased in ice, and this image will become a common occurrence, into Spring. With that, our increasing hail storms, bringing pea sized ice pellets to the ground- often covering the land in a strange white blanket of frozen grit. These weather events will also stray into Spring flower season, harming our ultimate fruit production and orchard health, no to mention the wild species that flower early in the season. Our native Anise humming bird, which overwinters in Western Washington thanks to human feeding over the decades, relies heavily on this species flowering in early Spring, along with Big Leaf Maple, which offers bees their first crop of honey. Hail will bruise and batter the flowers, knocking off petals and crushing delicate stamens. If the storm comes in Summer, your fruit will be bruised and perish sooner on the tree. EEC Forest Stewardship is planting a lot of fruit and nut trees on the land. The weather may put these cultivar species out of service, or at least render them less productive. Though are ultimate plan is to reforest the property in native growth, fruit and nut trees are still mixed in for human enjoyment and survival- should the grocery store shelves go empty during a cataclysmic disruption.
Being mindful of our location in foothills, with The Pacific Ocean not far, the arctic just a Canadian Provence away, and climate change continuing to rev up, EEC will keep evolving to pair well with the seasonal swings. Ice and Snow, drought and fire, wind and hail, all these elemental shifts give our environment crucial signals of adaptation. As a whole, our species is incredibly adaptable to environmental change, as so, people will survive the big shifts. But as nations and cities, we will have to redesign entire infrastructure, and at least here in America, we are refusing to see the writing on the wall. Even with the extinction of fossil fuel, our demand for a stable grid with 24 hour electrical consumption at extreme levels will topple- in a day, week, or even months, but more like brown-outs rolling into black-outs, seasonally, like Texas in the winter of 2021. Grids will come back online, only to be lost again in another extreme weather event yet to come. Through this slow destabilization, humanity will be forced to reckon with its limitations, and plan within the finite resources of Earth.
On a small acreage here in Western Washington, we are privileged to heat our home with wood, hold deed to property with a spring fed creek and recovering forest, with livestock, adequate shelter, and enough food production to give minimal support in chaotic times. Every small piece of the survival puzzle you can be aware of helps. Even recognizing the weak points in your basic survival needs can prepare you for when they fail- if you already have time and resources to devote in this thinking and planning- many more people do not- as they are already just barely getting by. We played in the snow, enjoyed the work, and knew it was a short lived weather event. Gratitude to this land for keeping us warm, fed, watered, and stewarding. Appriciation to weather for continuing change in our day to day lives and offering subtle, and not so subtle hints about our evolutionary process and adaptation.