Well for market gardeners, its the time to rest, winter (at least physically). For me, being a manager of a 40 acre (16 Ha) native food forest and steward of the total 60 acres (24 HA), its the time to work here at Treasure Lake in Petersburg, Kentucky, USA. I think back to my forest management doings in the summer and recount the sweat everywhere; head to toe and puddles in my boots. You still sweat at this time of the year but the work must continue on and its much easier to do with the lack of humidity and leaves. It’s the main work of the winter for me, steward the abundant resources of the forest so in the warmer months I can work on other things. There are many yields to be harvested, but indeed, you must help the forest along through energy cycling and accelerating succession. The aim is the many facets of non timber forest products, which some we are yielding now and others doing the work and planning for the future.
One of the classic yields of a food forest is fuel. The bar at Treasure Lake has become one of my homes as I still don’t have any housing there yet. It is in the works for the spring but for now I transient myself around the tristate area. But when I am there I prefer to heat with firewood than the diesel heating oil. It is very expensive and with the large size of the space and inefficiency of our wood stove and the building itself, I have been blowing through stacks of firewood. If it wasn’t for the ash trees dying out I wouldn’t have any firewood cured and even they aren’t perfect. So this year I need to be on harvesting firewood for next winter. It is really sad to see a tree so common in our forest, the ash (Fraxinus spp.), succumb to an insect attack after something weakened its immune system so much that it fell susceptible. At least thats my theory since I see in holistic models rather in linear lines. But the pock marks of the larvae moving up and down the tree reveal the cause for its death. I am trying to not take all the ash out of the forest as they will become great habitat as standing dead timber and a huge carbon resource for building soil. This winter does remind me to plan ahead and we really need to insulate this 3000 sq feet building much better. I can burn wood for 14 hours and in the middle of the night wake up freezing after falling asleep very comfortable. It has been a lot of work but with Holmgren’s principle of Observe and Interact, the interaction has given me key insights into the limitation of access and the equipment we have. Basically I need an ATV with a trailer or a donkey with a cart to really be able to move materials around this 60 acre (24 ha) property.
Annie Woods, the resident farmer with Dark Wood Farm here at the lake, also has a deep love for the forest. Since she has some time off from the field working in the market gardening (not from the computer of financial stuff and preparing for the coming growing season), we have been able
to hike much more together. She does enjoy her non timber forest products as well and one she has been committed to over the last years since being back in Kentucky is tapping maple trees for the eventual syrup. So with some of my mates in town we went to the forest on a cold wintery morning in January to implement the process of yielding this amazing resource of maple water. Evaluating the sugar bush (a cluster of sugar maples), measuring the tree, drilling a small hole in the tree, inserting the spile, hanging the bucket, putting on the roof cover of the bucket, and well waiting. Then later that day we made our first harvest! It does take harvesting everyday when the sap runs making it another work task over these weeks. However over the last weeks, we have harvested gallons and gallons of this water and Chris and Annie have been making some maple syrup. It is incredible how much sap water it takes to make a little bottle of maple syrup. The raw water is also very pleasant to drink alone, a count water alternative, and makes a great cup of coffee or tea.
The centerpiece of the property visually and business wise is the pay fishing lake. We are plagued each year by muddy waters in the spring (and sometimes other seasons when heavy rains come)
and too many nutrients in the lake. Thus I took an approach with some hired help, my American friends Michael Beck and Loren Heacock, that I actually know from implementing in Portugal. They bought land a couple hours south near Berea and they came up to work hard and help me out with this massive project. Upon observation, I decided to implement a multifunction approach to this problem I like to call Restoring Natural Stream Hydrology. When observing the creeks feeding the lake, they are quite incised but there is a bit of meandering and pool habitat especially where large woody debris has made it into the creek. Plunge pools can be seen and you can see how the natural layout of rocks does help to trap material and form pools. I had already started this process in other minor drainages throughout the winter but this indeed was a big push.
Thus we went for it, three days of work although I missed a half a day to plug into a meeting on Boone County Planning proposals. We spent one day on the northside and two on the southside to cover as many major and minor stream ways as possible. Thus we implemented a network of rock dams, similar to gabbions but without the fencing to tie them together, and woody debris. Basically the lake receives to much sediment, too much organic material, and too many nutrients. So by creating these edge elements the water will be slowed, material trapped, and hopefully nutrients tied up as well. The carbon resources of leaves not flowing into the lake will help with the nutrient problem and along with them and the large logs we threw into the stream, it should help to balance the carbon to nitrogen ration of the lake. All of the logs were quite rotten, completely inoculated with lots of different types of mycelium. This should act as a mycofiltration system and eventually run into the leaves as well. This helps to clean up inevitable toxins floating around in the air and sources within the watershed and soak up nutrients. It is a very forested watershed but we are stewarding the streams themselves to help with these stated problems.
Along the way of this work, we of course hammered away at the invasive bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose to promote the further growth and expansion of paw paw and spicebush patches, native understory shrubs. It is incredible to see their proliferation and I am enthused by the feedback loops. It is such a big property that I am still stumbling into new patches or ones even forgotten about. Just the other day I went into one where I had seen signs of a pollarding I did with hand tools some years ago, probably three, and did a coppicing this time. There was so many paw paw and spicebush but I really hammered it hard this time to let that canopy break happen and even more fruiting occur. It is very fun work to cycle through all the patches and energy cycle these non natives down to the earth to build soil and see the native fruit and spice plants come into the sub canopy and be productive. I am constantly thinning the paw paw patches as they even number too many trees in a small space. Taking out small box elders, hackberry, and other natives like sugar maple has also been happening with my mates and on my own. This gives even more light and sub canopy space. When working we even were looking at the still lingering effects of the 2012 logging we did when my grandfather was still alive and calling the shots. We did take some very large trees down, sadly, but it did open the canopy up for these trees to take off and other bigger trees have more canopy space. I did walk to one of the very large stumps of a Shumard Oak, a type of red oak here, and looked up at the canopy gap that was present from it. But then looked closely as the stump and realized, probably a raccoon, had come to the stump to eat a paw paw and left all the seeds there. In this decomposing wood along the banks of the streams, the seeds had then germinated and about 9 little paw paw seedlings were springing out of the stump itself. This shows just how resilient nature is and an important piece of ecology one must always understand when stewarding natural resources; the vector in which a plant spreads. The raccoons I am sure love my mission of paw paw paradise.
Meanwhile as winter seemingly drags on, I am busy doing the vast amount of work that it takes to move from conceptual ideas of a place to a real design. I have been observing this piece of land my whole life and 17 years with the lens of ecology. And I am making bigger steps to realizing this places evolution into an agrarian community. Thus I am mapping, designing, researching and working on the project management plan to create this momentum forward. It is a lot of inertia of stagnation around the place with the history of it, the culture around, and it being owned by my family not myself. But ideas one day come into fruition. Just like the idea of having a market garden at the lake took off into a real manifestation. It took Annie Woods and Chris Pyper and their community of the Dark Wood Farm brand to push it forward and make it happen. Now the next agricultural expansions are in that next steps phase as the design process unfolds. From the overall design map to the patch designs for different spaces and elements, its a massive undertaking ripe for winters theoretical slowing down. I am glad I have this balance, few hours in the freezing winter conditions and hours upon hours on the computer, in meetings, and dialoguing on the buildup. Annie Woods has been a big help, it feels like a true partnership of collaboration. And although Chris is leaving back to his native Utah, I do look forward to the next wave of people joining in on this magical piece of land.
We do have one major event to announce that is coming up which is exciting and ties into our educational and non timber forest products missions. Its called Plantwalkers, hosted by Treasure Lake and produced by Ande Schewe of Wake the Farm Up. We will be dropping in some forest medicinals during a workshop I will be leading, which is just one of many walks or talks happening that day. This will be a great event held on March 31st!
Next steps include keeping going with all of this and planting more trees in the hedgerow started last year. And decision are to be made on mushroom cultivation, bees, tree crop zones, a well, outdoor kitchen, housing, business structure and my goodness, so much more! Stay tuned please!