Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees are protected and tucked in for winter

To be honest, this should have been done early in spring as it would have kept the deer from eating the tender and vital leaves produced in the first season after planting the bareroot mulberry trees. Luckily Morus trees are about as bulletproof as trees get and can be expected to make a full recovery. However it does mean that one season of growth is lost or at the very least retarded.

Considering my tree planting tips I’ve published in the past, I don’t like using anything that contacts the tree bark whether it is stakes or pest barriers. The chance for fatal girdling injuries is just too high to take the risk.

The approach is relatively simple: put a physical barrier around the trees to prevent browsing by deer or rabbits- both animals whose food sources grow scarce in the winter. Deer need to be dissuaded from reaching over the barrier to reach the stems or leaves, and rabbits need to dissuaded from chewing on the bark.

My uncle is a invaluable resource with his knowledge, connections in the local agricultural community and source of waste products for repurposing. Manure produced by his wintered animals has been used but for this post I have to mention the fence he removed that had divided his crop fields. From that removal, I recovered about 25 steel fence posts. Many of the rescued posts are 7 footers. If I had the tools, they would be cut in half as this purpose doesn’t require the stability of permanent livestock fences. Thus I could double the amount of tree barriers with the same materials albeit with weaker structural integrity.

Procedure

  • Drive a pair of fence posts into the ground on either side of the tree
  • Cut 1/2″ 19 gauge hardware cloth to the needed length
  • Attach hardware cloth to fence posts

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The half inch mesh of the hardware cloth is too small for even juvenile rabbits to squeeze through. Granted they could squeeze or dig under, but I’m hoping the…er, pokey(?)… nature of the hardware cloth will dissuade their efforts. If this is an issue, I can add tent stakes for extra anchoring.

However remember one of my main themes: energy management. It applies equally to wildlife as they want to secure as many calories as possible in a manner that expends as few calories as possible. Hopefully this barrier pushes the required calorie expenditure over the instinctual threshold of appeal to the animals.

Also of note, I attached the hardware cloth using zip ties. In an effort to reduce use of one-time-use materials, I switched to old, rusted electric fence wire that I found in the barn. Plus it yields the benefit of two quick twists of pliers to unlock the barrier allowing it to be raised for weeding sessions, neem oil sprays and mulch applications.

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Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Processing walnuts: removing the hulls

I’ve spoken before that a byproduct of processing walnuts can be used to tan animal hides. Walnut hulls are green when they fall from the tree and quickly turn black. Pulp in between the hull and nutshell as well as the hull itself all contain large amounts of tannic acid which is water soluble. Soaking hides with walnut hulls in water preserves the hides as well as providing dye of the beautiful deep brown common to all things walnut.

This is the step where nitrile gloves are required if you want to avoid tanning your own hide. Trust me on this, the dye cannot be removed and will persist until your skin naturally replaces itself. I tanned my own hands by using cotton work gloves that had been dipped in rubber. Clearly, they did not provide enough protection:

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Procedure:

To loosen the hulls, I use an antique corn sheller. Other methods commonly used are: driving over intact fruit with a vehicle or more dangerously, setting a vehicle on blocks and spinning tires over walnuts; manual removal with a nut cracker or vise; another dangerous method is injecting compressed air via a needle into the hull.

I chose the corn sheller because it is pretty easy, my uncle has one, it is only moderately dangerous and plays into my love of antique machinery:

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With my machine:

  • Load the hopper with intact nuts
  • Set buckets under the machine to catch hulls and another to catch dehulled nuts
  • Spin the handle to build up momentum in the gears
  • Let walnuts drop into the sheller one by one
    • Very frequently, I must turn the flywheel manually as the nut stops the motion and it is the only safe way to stick my hand into dangerous equipment to push the nut through
    • Every 5 gallon bucket, I use a screwdriver to reach in and clean the teeth of the sheller. With walnuts this fresh, they tend to clog the teeth with gunk.
  • Hand clean the remaining hulls from the nuts
    • put the hulls in a larger container for storage
    • do the same for finished nuts

A lot of people then wash the nuts with high pressure water. I just make an effort to move on to the next step soon after. That next step is cracking and extracting the edible meat of the nuts!

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Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Harvesting the fruit of Juglans nigra, aka Black Walnut



Harvesting walnuts is a very easy process. The fruit will simply fall from the tree when it is ripe. Creepy crawlies that get into the fallen fruit before they can be gathered don’t penetrate the shell of the walnut, thus do not ruin the fruit. If those nuts gross you out, let them lie to nourish the wildlife!

Even in years where the trees produce only a modest yield, the ground beneath a mature walnut tree looks like a hastily abandoned tennis court…especially after windy days:

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Luckily I have so many native mature trees that competition with squirrels is not an issue. Last week I was gathering nuts along side a fox squirrel that might have been bigger than my parents’ small breed dog.

Actual harvesting process:

  • Grab some containers keeping in mind that they WILL be dyed by the hulls of the walnuts
  • Similarly, grab a few pairs of nitrile gloves
  • Head out to a walnut tree and gather the fruit that has fallen

This year, my average time spent harvesting is filling a 5 gallon bucket in 7 minutes. I enjoy the workout of carrying 2 buckets at a time 100 or so yards back to the barn for storage/processing, but it does cause my arms, shoulders and trapezius muscles to burn intensely.

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My favorite part about harvesting walnuts is that I get to directly observe the variations in tree genes. I have two trees that look like twins, but one produces walnuts that are so large (between a baseball and a softball) that they don’t feed well into the corn sheller I use to dehull the nuts. The other produces nuts that are close to a golf ball in size. So while harvesting walnuts, I can identify trees to propegate, or if I want ot get more involved in breeding, harvest pollen to be applied to another tree that produces large nuts.

The same information helps me identify trees to focus on human consumption, while the rest are perfect candidates under which to put hogs when they come to the farm!

Basically walnuts tap into my deepest levels of tree nerdom.

 

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Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Harvesting and processing Walnuts

Many of the productive native trees in the pasture are American Black Walnuts, Juglans nigra. Harvesting and processing is quite a physical, labor-intensive process. If edible nuts were the only goal, taking on those processes may not be too attractive. By making use of the the fruit in its entirety, the process makes more economical sense.

As yesterday’s post demonstrated, walnut husks are extremely effective and permanent dies:

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While I dyed my own living skin, the same process can be used to dye and preserve animal skins. By utilizing the water-soluble tannic acids present in great proportions in the hulls, animal hides can be preserved as well as tanned. This process is better known as tanning!

So in an upcoming series of posts, I’ll show my process of harvesting and processing the fruit of a Juglans tree. The tanning parts will have to wait until I have an animals skin to experiment with.

I am also working on creating a video series for the farm activities, but I have a lot to learn when it comes to shooting video, capturing the audio and all the work that goes into processing that data into a good product. I’ll keep you updated!

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Bees, Forestry, Silvopasture and Agroforestry, Wildlife

Farm overview of my favorite time of year: Fall

Fall has always been my absolute favorite time of year. If it were socially acceptable, I’d disappear into the mountains until the amazing holidays promised by that fall fell upon us.

The first signs of autumn are the “THUNK, THUD, THUD” that occur roughly every few minutes or so as the walnuts fall from the trees. Following a windy day, I can fill a 5 gallon bucket with walnuts in about 2 minutes. After removing the husks, they are used to tan deer capes ensuring minimal waste when I kill the animal. Similarly, most tree crops are harvested in the fall including most pome and stone fruits as well as almost all nuts. Fall is when my foraging skills are best utilized mostly because my knowledge of trees is much greater than that of fungi and herbaceous plants. Plus I can plant garlic, salad greens and my favorite brassicas into the garden.

Second, the morning cadence of sounds shifts. Instead of songbirds chirping their morning wake up alarm, migrating birds dominate with a more steady and droning rhythm that closely resembles the sound of rain falling on the metal roof. Every day this week I awoke thinking more rain was falling.

Thirdly comes the autumn favorite of everyone: vegetative changes as plants harvest back mobile nutrients in preparation to winter. Black gums and sourwoods seem to catch on fire turning a ruby red followed by similar colors in maples and viburnums. Walnuts then turn gold then lose their leaves all in one swift action. White ashes usually turn yellow with a few extraordinary specimens turning burgundy. Elms (well… hackberries in my case), birches, hickories and beeches turn a similar gold. Lastly, the oaks will turn a rich, deep burgundy that signals peak autumn color season. Similarly, the undergrowth and herbaceous plants die back for the year making outdoor adventures all the more fun and accessible.

Fourthly, fall seasonal beers are my favorite as long as some balanced specimens survive the craft scene’s gold rush to put out the most heavily spiced, bitter or over the top beers. Similarly, autumn contains my favorite holidays either celebrating harvest or appealing to my morbid curiosities.

Most favorably, bugs start dwindling! ***

Finally, If I had to pick a singular activity as my favorite, there is not a shred of doubt that it is deer hunting. Sourcing healthy and clean meat in a humane, sustainable manner is very important to me. Last year I reached 85% of my meat consumption sourced from white tailed deer. That figure of wild game consumption would be 100% if American Buffalo had not been extirpated from the region. Since that is the case, my cattle will fulfil the ecological niche of the extirpated Bison while chickens fill the niche of Buffalo Birds, now called cowbirds since there are no more buffalo. I personally fill the niche of controlling population numbers to ensure species survival/health formerly held by wolves and mountain lions; both of which have also been extirpated.

Bam… You just learned why I hunt and why I farm in one, uncharacteristically concise paragraph!

***I have to qualify the bugs statement after this year. Those in power in our society will never cease to amaze me at their sheer stupidity or stubbornness or greed in globalization that is destroying our natural resources. They haven’t learned from chestnut blight, dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, white pine blister rust, hemlock wooly adelgid, Ailanthus aka Tree of Heaven infestations, Royal Paulownia infestations, kudzu and wisteria infestations, Autumn Olive, asian citrus psyllid that could end citrus production in Florida, mimosa trees, japanese beetle, stinkbugs, avian flus and many many more.

Holy moley the bane of my existence is out in force this year: brown marmorated stink bugs. I get swarmed by these pests constantly while deer hunting. Last night I was drawing my bow on a mature buck when one landed on my nose and one on my thumb. I’ve even taken videos in my treestand of the pests with their thunderous and clumsy flying skills. I know they are harmless to my person and I even have zero fear of bugs with a fearsome reputation, but try to sit still and not startle a herd of deer when what sounds like a cargo plane [or less hyperbolic: a hornet) flies into your face! If I have to find a silver lining, it would have to be the constant scent cover provided by these foul pests. Furthermore, there is a new biting stink bug invasion on the horizon following the spread of a [surprise surprise!] another invasive species. 😦

Similarly, my bees are complete assholes now. Sorry for the language, but there is no getting around it. Understandably, they are in full defensive mode to protect their vital winter stores which is a great and beneficial behavioral habit. However, this also means they shoot at my protected face like bullets and have taken to following me and my truck hundreds of yards away from the hive constantly trying to sting which prevents me from being able to de-suit! Luckily, I really only have to feed them until it gets cold which is not invasive to the hive. Once it gets colder, I’ll put some newspaper in the hive, give them a pile of granulated sugar to munch on, then seal the hive up for the winter and hope for the best until spring.

In the end, I’ll happily take the bad with the good. For the bad, the USDA has put its top minds on the stinkbug issue and has even identified an attractant. In regards to my bees, their defensiveness helps ensure that they can defend the hive from invading robber bees. Plus I have some of my favorite beers to knock back and calm the nerves after the peace of deer hunting is compromised by stink bugs!

 

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