Barreca Vineyards

Barreca Vineyards

From Vine to Wine since 1986

Mother Trees

It all started with an account I was reading about a naturalist whose main job was taking care of displaced orangutans near Borneo.  He became curious about small trees that were thriving around a large tree of the same species that was dying.  He wondered if they were related and also why something that was killing the older trees seemed to be helping the younger ones.  That goes against our standard idea of disease as something that hurts everything and in turn must itself be completely destroyed.  He dug up the roots and traced them back between the trees.  They were connected and the old mother tree seemed to be feeding the young ones with its last bit of energy and creating space in the canopy to bring light to the young trees.

            I couldn’t find the reference again when I looked for it.  But then I came across a TED [Technology, Entertainment, Design] talk by Suzanne Simard about trees.  As a forest biologist Simard wondered if trees of different species shared information with each other.

Pine Forest floor – picture by Joe Barreca

            She concocted an experiment using a little plantation of trees set in an older forest. Trees produce sugar carbohydrates during photosynthesis.  She set up pairs of trees and covered a birch tree in clear plastic and a fir tree in black plastic so that the clear one would be photosynthesizing sugars and the other would be just using sugars.  Then she introduces radioactive carbon-14 carbon dioxide gas into the clear plastic tent.  She did that to 80 pairs of trees until a mother grizzly bear chased her back to her truck. She waited in her truck for an hour or so while the mother grizzly bear and her cub settled down in a nearby huckleberry patch and the birch tree under the clear plastic photosynthesized using carbon 14.

            Then she tested the trees with a Geiger counter.  The fir trees under the black plastic showed up as having carbon-14 that it could only have gotten from sugars created by the birch tree.

Rain Tree picture by Cheryl Barreca

            That was over 30 years ago.  Many tests on trees of the same species, trees of different species and trees near their offspring showed that most shared sugars, particularly if they also had the same DNA.  In fact fir trees sent sugars back to birch trees in the winter when the birch had lost their leaves.  So yes trees could be mothers to younger trees and good neighbors to companion trees of different species.

            Wanting to check this out in my own patch of forest, I walked up an old road.  I saw lots of young trees near old fir trees on the wet side of the hill.  As I got to the top of the grade a group of deer ran off with their white tails waving behind them.  They had been standing in a grove of pine trees.  But the ground underneath was bare except for pine needles, not even brush.  It was a good place for deer to wait with clear views and open escape routes, but not really a forest of mother trees or different species.

            Clearly more was going on here.  I contacted my friendly local foresters for some advice.  Jay Berube retired as a forest ecologist in 2003.  This companion tree line of thinking was not well known back then.  It was known that trees of the same species adapt to their local environment and matching seed stock to their locale was important for resistance to diseases such as root rot.  Jay noted that pine trees do better in dry ground than fir trees.  The fir trees were growing young to restock the wet side of the hill.  The pine trees depend on fire to regenerate but must resist it somewhat to survive.  So an open grove with no ladder fuels for fires but pine needles on the ground was a perfect for them.         Berube said that pine trees are allopathic and actually prevent other plants from growing.  There were younger pine trees growing in road cuts with some serviceberry trees for companions.   And just a few hundred feet away was a dense stand of young pine that had regenerated after a fire or farming disturbance with no other species underneath.

            Another finding from Suzanne Simod’s studies was that mixed species forests are more resistant to disease.  The reason for this is not simply that the bugs are more spread out between their preferred host species but also that they share signals that certain pests are around and the trees develop resistance to them.  The combination of spreading out the target species and help from the companion species must act a little like “social distancing” and give trees more time to “flatten the curve” of infection.

            But it is not just trees that are involved.  The pathway for this communication and exchange of material is not roots alone. ( Mycorrhizal fungi act as the highways between the tree roots.  Several species of the hundreds of possible fungi may work with each tree.  They live on the sugars from the trees but also bring water, minerals, sugars and signals from the rest of the underground biome to their hosts.

            So the take away is that “as below, so above.”  The plants in the air, like the millions of organisms in the soil help each other out.  The hallmarks of a healthy environment are not only diversity and abundance, but also cooperation.  Survival of the fittest means survival of the most cooperative.  Approaches to management that attempt to eliminate “pathogens” using chemicals and mechanics that involve massive collateral damage ultimately make plants even more susceptible to drought and disease.  Insects, animals and birds also cooperate in this biome. 

            Forester Bill Berrigan reminds us that “There is so much more to learn about tree’s interactions that we should not be making cutting decisions that may hurt the trees and the soils that they grow in.”

High Carbon Soil Diet

It’s been a tough winter so far.  Our small greenhouse cover collapsed and big parts of two elm trees broke under the heavy snow crashing into the vineyard.  Only one vine was hurt but there is a lot of cleanup to do. 

Cleanup for me means lopping off the smaller branches and sledding them out to a pile near the shredder.  Branches about the diameter of an arm are stacked in a rack where they can be cut into smaller pieces to burn for biochar.  The pieces big enough to make firewood are cut to length and stacked to dry.  So eventually the whole tree is ready to recycle.

Figure 1 Rack for cutting branches

I was surprised one morning to see a doe standing on the edge of the woods watching me take our food scraps out to the compost pile.  As I walked back by, there she was chowing down on the budding tips of the elm branches I had piled up to shred.  It got me to thinking about the whole process of digestion and nature. 

One of my mentors in understanding natural farming is Youngsang Cho.  In his book, JADAM Organic Farming, he has a lot to say about the philosophy of farming.  (JADAM is an acronym for a Korean phrase meaning “People that Resemble Nature”.)  I’m sure there is a better translation but his advice is rooted in the 16th Century BCE admonition of Asian Philosopher Laozi Dao De Jing who said “The wisdom is always found in nature.” 

An example is that nature lays down a carpet of leaves and grass before winter snow sets in.  Therefore late Fall is the right time to put a layer of mulch on your growing beds.  You will notice that in the Spring after the snow melts and before grass springs up the flattened leaves and dead grass have a web of fungus on them.  I noticed that canes, pine needles and stems that I shredded and left out in tubs earlier in the winter had a similar white fuzz on them.  Fungus is uniquely suited to breaking down the complex molecules of wood.  It can work in the wet cold of winter preparing the way for microbes that like warm earth and old fungus.

Browsing on Elm buds

That doe was part of the continuous cycle of digestion.  Her dung is a rich gold mine that will add to the microbial feast in the soil.  Youngsang Cho says that all microbes are beneficial, especially if local and especially if found under leaf mold.  This goes against some conventional wisdom that fears the rotting parts of plants left on the ground will spread disease in the Spring.  He points out that the minerals and other nutrients most used by a particular plant will be most abundant in the rotting remains of that plant itself.  Sure there will be mold or insect eggs but he further notes that “one mold spore can produce 1 billion in 10 hours.”  In fact he uses that multiplication through microbial teas to fertilize plants and also fight disease. You cannot eradicate mold, weeds or other organisms.  You need to manage the soil to promote health and out-compete disease. 

Weeds fill a vacuum.  Find what the soil needs and fill that need.  Cho admonishes that “The good and bad are one.”  Too much of a good thing can be bad and visa versa. Planting the same plant in the same place is what Nature does all the time.  Having just that one kind of plant in a place is something nature never does.  Cover crops and a rich diversity of organic matter are also what nature does.

Getting back to the deer and the elm tree, I tend to think of nature as one gigantic digestive system and the soil is a big part of it.  Looking at it that way you can think of good soil management as a kind of diet.  Running branches through a shredder or having them trampled by cattle is a bit like chewing your food.  Getting the ground wet is like adding saliva and sending food to the stomach and beyond.

Any of you who have made bread or made wine, know that a tiny bit of yeast given some water, warmth and sugar can become a roiling mass of microbes in short order.  Components of a soil diet mimic the components of a healthy diet in many respects.  You can pretty much guarantee that the microbes will be in the ground already including some yeast and fungus (which are closely related).  Water and warmth come naturally in the Spring when rapid growth occurs.  To carry the analogy further we can group soil components like food diets as carbs, proteins, vitamins, minerals, sugars and probiotics. 

Minerals are the rocks or soluble elements in the dirt itself.  Although a great deal of fuss is made over the proportion and availability of minerals in sand, gravel, clay, acidic and alkaline dirt, the bottom line is that microbes move these minerals into organic compounds and balance out their contributions to overall soil health.  Reducing descriptions of soil health to a periodic chart seen through a spectrograph without acknowledging the trillions of microbes, 99.9% of which we cannot replicate in a lab or identify (JADAM Organic Farming, page 59) misses the fact that each kind of bacteria is a tiny chemical factory that makes these minerals available to other microbes as organic compounds, all of which by definition include carbon.  Adding boron, lime and other refined minerals can have lasting good or bad effects.  “Good and bad are one.”

The biggest proportion of a good soil diet is carbon-rich cellulose – straw, wood chips, shredded branches and leaves.  These take a long time and many transformations to build the soil.  But if you want long term organic matter and microbial life, start there even if you don’t have anything else.

Downed Elm Tree

For the protein part of this diet I would suggest the really rich components of manure, rotten fish and spoiled grain.  These give a quick boost of nitrogen and a healthy source of probiotic microbes that can leap into action with a little warmth and water.  Like protein, a little goes a long way. “Good and bad are one.” Too much too soon will burn your plants. (In humans too much protein can increase inflammation.)

For vegetables I would add, well, vegetables.  Basically fresh cut green grass and other plants that feed worms and larger biota.  Rotting green material takes up some of the nitrogen from manure etc.  So it can be used as a buffer.  It works from the bottom up so crushing a cover crop and planting through the debris can feed the crop and suppress competition too.

Amazingly, food grade sugar itself can be used as a fertilizer.  I have read of molasses diluted in water as a crop stimulant.  As with any sugar I would proceed with caution.  I’m imagining hordes of ants and flies with overuse.  Nevertheless bacteria and fungi get sugar from the roots of photosynthesizing plants so it is a part of the soil diet.

In a related news item, eating charcoal reduces flatulence in cows ( Cattle ranchers tell me that cows will eat charcoal  when they feel like it (not briquettes that have binders etc. in them).  In Australia a farmer added it to cattle feed as a way to incorporate charcoal into the soil.  It is known to retain moisture and provide shelter to keep bacteria and other microbes from being leached out by rain.  As a bonus charcoal (biochar) sequesters carbon. 

Although that was the main objective for the Australian farmer, Doug Pow, adding biochar to feed can also reduce up to 20% of methane released by cows.  Methane is 25 time more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so it is a big deal.  ( Part of Pow’s breakthrough was that he imported cow dung beetles that immediately bury cow pies and stop further release of methane as well as adding the carbon to the soil.  So, yes, add biochar to your soil’s diet.

I tend to think of this mixture as a mulch rather than a compost.  As a top dressing the hyphae from the fungi can grow without being broken as they would be when compost is worked into the soil.  But timing is also a factor.  Richer feed in the spring, some special snacks before harvest and a lot of cellulose before winter: sounds like a healthy soil diet to me.

There are also a number of “herbal” remedies for soil problems, but this is probably enough to digest for now.

Hopewell Vineyard

This is not an ordinary blog post. I recently became aware of some other vineyards that use regenerative agriculture techniques. I am providing this link to Hopewell Vineyard near Salem, Oregon Although there are many good reasons to check out this vineyard, what put it over the top for me was a link from that website to a podcast interview with the owner, Mimi Casteel, in a series called Tractor Time on Acres USA. Here is a link to that podcast. It is an hour long and I encourage you to listen to it because Mimi Casteel expresses many of the viewpoints that I have come to see in regard to what it means to manage land and make wine.

Her talk is number 38. There are other great podcasts on this list and I encourage you to listen to number 37 with Zach Bush about the gut effects of Glyphosate (Roundup Weed Killer) and its ties to soil sterility and the entire food chain.

Feed Your Head

Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head, feed your head

White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane, 1967

I graduated from college with a degree in philosophy in 1969, two years after this song was released, I’ve been joking about never finding a job as a philosopher ever since.  But now as a farmer, I might have found it.  My studies back then focused on the history of western philosophy, concepts like everything is composed of earth, air water and fire (Aristotle) and  these ideas will explain everything: the  ‘Mechanics’, the ‘Physics’, and the ‘Organic Physics’ (Hegel).  Missing from that education however was any recognition of Asian philosophers. 

I did a little catching up by reading Alan Watts who assured me that I am one with everything.  This was one of many books that have changed me. I spent a more transformative time learning Vipassana meditation where I maintained silence for a week and focused on my breath.  What you really end up doing in that kind of meditation is becoming aware of what you are paying attention to.   I realized that controlling my “monkey mind” was not at all that easy. Just as disturbing however, was beginning to notice that our whole marketing-based economy is trying to grab our attention.  In fact I am trying to get some of yours right now.

So I bought another book, The Attention Economy by Thomas Davenport.  It boiled down to something I had heard of before, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, typically illustrated as a pyramid with dominant “Deficiency Needs” such as food, shelter, safety and love as big attention-getters at the bottom and needs for growth: knowledge, beauty and spirituality, making the narrower part at the top.  It made a lot of sense at the time but as I will propose, things have changed.

Another influential book was The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler which (along with ruining my back while working at a log mill) convinced me that computers were going to be a big thing.  Years later having learned to program and securing a job programming in Dbase II, I was unhappy to realize that I had to reprogram all my work in FoxPro.  Seems like you used to be able to learn a skill, welding for instance, and stick with it.  Not any more. It began to dawn on me that there was no end to this.  One new programming language or platform would replace the next year after year.  Similarly all my years of schooling had taught me “facts” that became less true and valuable as time went on and basically all I accomplished was learning how to learn.

I’ll get back to Maslow, but first I want to introduce another illustration, the Tree of Life.   A simple look at living things we can see and imagine as the branches of evolution leaves us with a picture that harkens back to my college education.  Since then scientists have been mapping the complete DNA of earths trillions of creatures.  A more complete picture of the results of 4.5 billion years of evolutions looks like a giant fan.   As the anthropocentric picture of mankind at the apex of evolution begins to dissolve, we find the vast majority of life on earth is microscopic “According to a new estimate, there are about one trillion species of microbes on Earth, and 99.999 percent of them have yet to be discovered.”  (NYTimes)  To bring that figure home, Scientists concluded that the average human body contains approximately 37.2 trillion cells! ( “An unfathomably vast array of invisible life – bacteria, protists, archaea, and fungi – thrives on us and in us… Their cells outnumber our own cells by at least three to one. (The Hidden Half of Nature, Montgomery)

So here we are, right up there with slime molds and fungi as the apex of multicellular lifeforms. Not too glamorous really and those inscrutable single cell microbiota make up the majority of what we think of as our own bodies.

But what if we move away from picturing the kinds of DNA to weighing biomass?  Surely our position at the top of the food chain makes us the rare royalty of evolution.  There is some truth to this in the original terrestrial ecosystem.  But a closer look at the top predators, eagles, lions, bears, coyotes, wolves etc. shows that they get a lot of their food from carrion and tend to die off quickly if the supply of herbivores dwindles.  So it surprised me to learn that in an aquatic ecosystem the top predators, (basically sharks) have much more mass than the fish they eat.  (   

What makes the difference is that in water they don’t have to spend much energy hunting or keeping up their temperature.  You might also conclude that they don’t pay as much attention to finding food.  It turns out that we are a lot like sharks that way now.  “Thanks to the mind-boggling scale of factory farms, 70 billion animals now exist as objects for human consumption, including 60% of all mammals on earth.” (Wired Magazine)  So there are about 10 animals out there to eat for every human. 

Yuval Noah Harari in his bestselling book, Sapiens, explores the evolutionary explosion of a limited number of plants and animals that have accompanied humankind to its massive position in earth’s ecology.  He writes: “Egg-laying hens, dairy cows and draft animals are sometimes allowed to live for many years. But the price is subjugation to a way of life completely alien to their urges and desires.”  This is one of the many ironies he finds in a science-based look at who we are.

Science itself is almost an oxymoron.  “Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.” (Harari)  So my classical education faces continual upsets from evidence-based scientific discoveries, which brings me back to Maslow’s triangle.

In a world where the pressure to just survive predicates our very existence, focus on food and safety is helpful and necessary.  Maslow’s triangle mirrors the eastern concept of chakras.  Food, sex and fighting for safety are necessary.  But in a world of abundance there has been an explosion of information and communication more in resonance with mind and spirit.  Like sharks in a less stressful ecology we can afford to pay more attention to the thoughts of others than to merely surviving.  Microbes and plants in the soil feed on organic matter that in turn becomes the feedstock of other lifeforms.  Our life experience is built with attention. Increasingly that attention feeds on media and information built from the thoughts and desires of other people.  In many ways that attention is being farmed to feed views of the world that may be only self-serving and will be overturned eventually.  We need to spend more time sorting fact from fiction and to pay attention to what we are paying attention to.

There is hope and fear in the realization that these revolutions in thought portend the probability that there are realms of being and knowing that we have no clue about.  Maybe they will arise from dark matter, artificial intelligence, native cultures, quantum entanglement, psi energy or from realities for which we have no words.  The admission of ignorance opens the gates of knowledge.  Feed your head.

Home on the Range

If you met Chris Wujek on a mountain trail, your attention would immediately go to his companions: 2 Llamas, 22 Goats, 4 Sheep and a Yak. Technically these are “pack animals” which are allowed to graze on trails and certainly do, but more realistically, this is a coherent group that depends on each other for survival. They follow Chris without being tied with ropes or being fenced at night. During the summer months and into early fall, goat milk provides the majority of the daily calories. Wild vegetables including onion, nettle, biscuitroot, and yampa are cooked with milk over a fire. Fruits, nuts, grains, and berries are eaten fresh and dried for winter use. Chris can live for months on the trail without packing much more than some simple camp gear and spices for himself as well as salt and kelp for the herd. But he loves coffee and wheat more than he should, so some extras usually come along, especially if he’s close to town.

Surviving in this style is human tradition going back thousands of years. Doing it with animals whose ancestors come from around the globe is a more modern twist. Each animal has a role to play. The toughest characters in terms of what they will eat and how long they can go without water are the llamas. A member of the camel family, llamas can extract more nutrition from their feed than even the thrifty goats or sheep. The yak prefers grass but will eat in a similar matter to the goats, eating Oregon Grape, young fir bark and needles, and dry grass seed heads when more palatable forage is covered with snow. Goats are the least hardy of the animals because of their lack of wool, but are the most personable and curious. Ironically, the llamas are afraid of the goats and given the chance, will stay at the back of the pack train while the goats stay right behind Chris. Llamas are also the most protective of the group when it comes to warding off predators. So bringing up the rear while Chris is in front suits their role.

Chris’s role is much more than meets the eye. He picks out prime places to graze and camp. Although he doesn’t carry a gun, he protects the herd. Cougars have killed a couple of his goats but he also drove off a cougar by throwing an apple at it. He kept the carcass of one goat for himself, the other went to the cougar. Especially in cool weather, he can hang goat meat and eat off of it for some time. He has trained the herd to be wary of fire but also to take advantage of its warmth at night. He sleeps with the animals carrying only a felt blanket and a tarp for cover. He also has some chickens that ride in cages on the llamas when they travel, hang out around camp eating scraps, bugs etc. and roost in the trees at night. So you can add eggs to Chris’s diet.

While the role of plants feeding the herd is obvious, the benefit of the herd eating the plants is not. Deer eat down the Oregon Grape plants on my farm when the snow gets deep. But Oregon Grape is very tough. It bounces back in the spring, survives from just its roots when dug up and pops back in the forest after the ground is covered in wood chips. Similarly,  grass rebounds after being eaten but less so if eaten repeatedly. The nitrogen and other nutrients in animal urine and manure promote healthy soil and nutrient cycling.

He was not born into a nomadic herding family. He studied the lessons of Andre Voisin, Joel Salatin, Allan Savoy, and Greg Judy. Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer, originated the Holistic management system. His methods have helped to turn extensive acreages in Zimbabwe and other overgrazed desserts around the world into thriving grasslands that support large herds of livestock. Wujek did something similar to an overgrazed ranch near Umatilla, Oregon with a group of friends using rotational grazing. Rotational grazing is the practice of moving livestock between pastures (often called paddocks) as needed or on a regular basis. (Wikipedia) Over the course of 7 years Chris and his partners turned land that an agricultural agent had written off as having no legumes but a lot of houndstongue and poison hemlock (poisonous invasive species that the agent suggested be killed with herbicides) to a lush bottomland pasture. They did this by moving cows and sheep every day using two lines of electric polycord.

This experience gave Chris a keen sense of what animals would graze on in a given amount of time. In the right-sized paddock they will eat down thistle and other weeds. Too big a paddock leaves weeds behind, too small and you move animals twice a day. After they are moved, the grasses bounce back and eventually crowd out the weeds. Unfortunately bringing the ranch back to life also brought its value back higher in the real estate market. It was sold out from under the young herders.

Having experience is one part of the formula for surviving as a herder. Having the right animals is another. Chris likes long-haired cattle with significant horns, like Highland Cattle. They can protect themselves and ward off the cold. He wants to reduce the number of goats and increase the number of sheep for similar reasons. This is not an occupation that needs mountain trails to exist. Chris sees endless opportunities in the lowlands. Overgrazed and undergrazed land both exist in abundance. Animals are born on the trail from equinox to equinox so there is plenty of milk. But winter pasture without baled hay also works.

On private land, Chris deploys a solar-charged electric fence. This keeps the animals concentrated in an area, often just a fraction of an acre, so that they eat both the plants they like and those they don’t prefer but will tolerate. It also gives Chris a chance to attend to other business such as looking for a shepherdess.

The herd enjoys a wide variety of grass, shrubs, and trees (including the bark during the winter), Himalayan blackberries, all thistles, knapweed, and many more that Chris doesn’t know. Many toxic plants can be eaten in smaller amounts, including houndstongue, poison hemlock, and hoary alyssum. Nettles can be found in the right places at any time of year. Fiddlehead Ferns and Bracken Ferns are good for both herd and herder. Chris is familiar with a wide range of edible wild plants. For instance he collects Wapato, also known as “Indian Potato” from shallow waters of Lake Coeur D’Alene in Idaho by dancing barefoot in the water until the tubers rise to the surface. Biscuitroot, bitterroot and wild onions are all part of his meals seasonally. Groceries are not a big expense. He has a small truck and trailer to move his animals and a cell phone, but not much else.

From an environmental point of view, this is a fantastically good lifestyle, good for the health of the herd, the health of the land, the ecological economy and Chris’s personal health. But what struck me most dramatically about his work is how much he enjoys it. Chris is one happy dude. Living without a lot of media, money, possessions and projects really means that “seldom is heard a discouraging word” and you really can be at home on the range.

If you want to get in touch with Chris looking for animal management services, see

Eulogy for Joseph Barreca Sr.

Preface: This is the eulogy that I gave on December 6th, 2019 at the funeral mass for my father, Joseph A. Barreca Sr.  I wrote it with the intent of speaking to and for my brothers and sisters but there were many more who came to the funeral because they also wanted to pay their respects.  I am grateful that they also thanked me for this eulogy and wanted access to a written copy.  I am especially grateful to the rest of my family for each contributing to that celebration and sharing the load that comes with the death of a loved one.


Thank you all for coming to help us celebrate the life of my father, Joseph Barreca Sr. I’m glad to be up here in the pulpit where I don’t need to worry about anyone throwing  tomatoes. But it also has nowhere to hide if I choke up while speaking.

The last time I spoke at an event like this was 10 years ago at Mom’s Memorial when I got up to say we all carry on her love of plants and animals in our hearts. This talk is a little like that.  We are carrying on for Dad.

Our Father loved his, his family, his faith, his food and singing, pretty much in that order. He would have totally loved to be here now.  And I’m sure he is.

Both Dad and Mom were part of what Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation.

They met at a time when the whole country united to fight a war. Dad loved participating in that and had faith that we would prevail.


Faith was a virtue that he had from an early age. As editor of the Pattonville High School paper in 1938 he encouraged readers to “not get out of step… keep two feet on the ground and two eyes toward the stars.”

A few years after the war with a law degree coming; one child born and more on the way he renewed his commitment to the Catholic Church. Ironically none of his children are practicing Catholics today. But that doesn’t mean that we have left his values behind.

Dad was a man of the Catholic Faith.  But he considered himself more of an Evangelical Catholic and belonged to the Full Gospel Businessmen.  It didn’t bother him that the two belief systems were not exactly the same. A favorite song that I sang with him in an Indian village near Oaxaca in 1988 was

It Ain’t Necessarily So

Jonah he lived in a whale
So goes the Bible Tale
The things that you’re liable
To read in the Bible
It ain’t necessarily so

I think that often faith is assumed to be the same as belief.  Although we don’t all believe everything Dad believed, we have faith that the world is basically good; that the sun will come up in the morning; that living beings eventually die and that humans don’t write the laws of nature.


Whether it came from his faith or fostered it, Dad was incredibly optimistic.  The cup was not half full for him.  It was overflowing.  He always hoped for and expected better things for himself and his family. My daughter April told me of a saying by Charles Swindoll: “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” One of his favorite Bible sayings was “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”

Throughout his earning years Dad hoped for a better life for his children and made that a reality by sending us all through college. He hoped that Marc would become a judge and he did.  He hoped that I would become a priest and I didn’t.  I’m sure that he prayed for both outcomes and accepted them both equally.

You often get those two together, hope and prayers.  I think that muddies the waters.  Hope is embedded in action.  If you lose hope, you give up.  Prayer is more like bargaining. “I’ll give up chocolate for Advent and pray that my credit cards are paid off.”  It voices our desires. Buddha attributed all suffering to desire. It’s hard and probably not even helpful to not have desires but with pure hope, prayer would sound more like: “God, lay it on me! I know I don’t call the shots.”

Dad never gave up hope and neither do his children

Children: Joe, John, Jeff, Jeannette, Rosalie, Marc, Anita


Another one of Dad’s favorite bible quotes is “God is Love.” Even when he was no longer working at an office, Dad was working at love. His total devotion to taking care of Mom in her dying days is a good example of that.  Making sure to call each of us once a week is another.

Love is often equated with charity.  Dad was big on charity.  He gave generously to charitable causes.  For years he took day-old donuts that bakeries gave him to shelters on First Avenue.  That probably contributed to his diabetes in later years and it points to a fundamental pitfall with charity.  The recipients often get the impression that they are lesser people; that the folks doing the donating are feeling like they are the hands of God.  Charity can backfire.

Love is more about accepting and enjoying people for who they are, even if they are not like you or even like you would want them to be.  Dad loved people.  He had no problem meeting and greeting strangers.  That mostly went well but sometimes people were taken aback.  I think Dad passed that on to us too.  His kids feel that people are created equal.

The hardest people to love are those who don’t agree with us.  In his later years, Dad was one of those.  None of his children agreed with his politics. But we all loved him and knew that he loved us.

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, he writes:   
Love is patient, love is kind…

Love never fails…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  (It’s a long and beautiful passage that I’m sure you have all heard.)

We inherited from Dad the love in our hearts that we have for all kinds of people and with that love we are carrying on an old family tradition.

A Death in the Family

A lot of things happen when someone close to you dies that bring life into focus.  One is that things you were worried about or in this case intended to write about, were not all that critical.  Another is that writing is pretty safe and controlled compared to getting choked up and wanting to cry.  So this is a late, controlled and safe blog, but tomorrow is Wednesday and my 97 year old father won’t be calling me as he has done almost every Wednesday for the last year or more.  He died on Friday November 15th, 2019 at 12:30 in the afternoon.  I was there.

Joseph A. Barreca Sr. was quite a character.  You won’t really pick that up from his obituary.  Still it is worth reading.  ( He and my mother Evelyn (Jones) Barreca were part of the “Greatest Generation”.  Each enlisted in different services from homes far from Palm Beach, Florida where they met.  The obituary is short.  The biography I wrote for Dad is longer, 170 pages. (  Even then the African saying is true, “When an old person dies, a library burns.” 

Dad in middle of bottom row

My sister called him “Singing Joe”.  He loved to sing, mostly religious songs but often old songs like Jambalaya, In a Town in Old Missouri and My Blue Heaven.  Maybe that played a part in his passing.  My daughter, April, brother John, sister-in-law, Nancy and three people from hospice services were there.  He looked terrible.  I have pictures but won’t post them.  He was only half there really, his mouth open and his eyes staring blankly.  Rita, the same hospice worker who ushered my mother out in 2009 was there.  She warned us that the time was close. His breath was irregular, quick breaths, followed by no breath and then another series of gasps.

April called some family members and they spoke to him over the cell phone that April held up to his ear.  April and I each held a hand.

Unexpectedly, hospice provided a musician with a guitar.  (I wish I had asked his name.) He started singing a series of songs that included one of my mother’s favorites, I’ll Fly Away.  Dad’s breathing became smooth again.  No more gasping, just even breaths.  Toward the end he sang a song I had never heard called Higher Ground.

Musician and Rosemary

People keep on learnin’

Soldiers keep on warrin’

World keep on turnin’

Cause it won’t be too long

Powers keep on lyin’

While your people keep on dyin’

World keep on turnin’

Cause it won’t be too long

I’m so darn glad he let me try it again

Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin

I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then

Gonna keep on tryin’

Till I reach the highest ground…

I remember thinking how fitting that last line was.  Dad definitely worked hard at reaching higher ground.  After the song, a woman chaplain asked that we join her in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  As soon as we finished, a hospice care-giver, Rosemary, got up and said she thought he had just passed away.  She tested his pulse in a couple of places and adjusted his head and covers.  It was very calm and peaceful. Dad was gone.

After some time in silent reflection, we realized that there were things to be done.  Phone calls went out. Arrangements were made.  Announcements were posted.  I remembered that Dad’s best friend toward the end was Richard Percival who lived in the same assisted living complex in a more self-sufficient area.  I went to tell him the news.  He was watching the impeachment hearings with captions on and no hearing aids in.  I wrote the message on a piece of paper.  He read it and started sobbing.  I held him for awhile and then got his hearing aids and walker so he could visit Dad one last time before the funeral home took his body away.

On the way back to Dad’s room I got a call from Donald Young, my mother’s sister Ruth’s son who lives back East.  He called with his condolences and we caught up a little on each other’s lives.  It seemed surreal.  Soon relatives from Sicily were mourning his death on posts in Facebook.

My three brothers, the wives of the two who live in Seattle, April and I had dinner together in The American Diner, owned by East Indian People in West Seattle.  We talked about the Seahawks, TV and movies.  Small talk. 

Then we walked back to my brother Marc’s house, got out some wine and got down to business.  In an hour or two we had divided up the work that needed to be done.  Judge Marc Barreca would handle the will; accountant Jeff the finances; manager Anita the obituary; genealogist Jeannette the announcements; artist Rosalie the music and eventually much more. John, Jeff, Marc and my sister Jeannette would start clearing his room. I would give the eulogy and assemble pictures for the reception.

This might seem remarkably smooth and organized given horror stories from other families.  It was.  I have a great family.  We get along well (mostly).  The burial, funeral mass and reception will be December 6th.

But it wasn’t the only death in the family.  On October 23rd my wife Cheryl’s sister-in-law called from Atlanta to tell us that she had just found out that Cheryl’s brother, Dennis Craig Pulver had died on November 17th 2013.  We don’t even know where.  We might learn more but if any Ancestry sleuth out there wants to take it on, we can tell them what we know.

Normally there would be a lot more about the vineyard and winery this time of year.  It’s almost fitting that other events have made talking about the harvest late because everything else about the harvest was late too.  It is nearly Thanksgiving as I am writing this and I am very thankful for the help I received at harvest from my friends, neighbors and wife Cheryl.  I’m not sure I have permission to put their whole names on the Internet, but I want to give a shout out to them anyway.

Thank you Amber for helping pick Lucie Kuhlmann grapes on 10/7; thanks to Joe G. for helping bring in a big field mix of Baco Noir and Léon Millot the next day; thank you Tom for help with the bountiful Baco on 10/11 and to Ty for even more Baco Noir on 10/14.  Tom chipped in again on the 16th for Maréchal Foch. And Cheryl brought in the late Lucie Kuhlmann on the 17th.

In all my wine making this year I have enjoyed using a new toy, a bladder press.  I know, it sounds like a sick old man joke.  But a bladder press uses water pressure from a hose to inflate a heavy duty rubber balloon inside a stainless steel perforated drum to press juice from grapes.  I’ll be using it for apple cider too.  It saves a lot of work and does a great job.  This year it was especially important because I wanted to get the juice away from the skins and seeds sooner than usual.

Wood (Pack) Rat

Another tool I am thankful for is a Havahart critter trap.  I enjoy the pine squirrels we typically have here (except for the one that ate all our filberts before they were ripe.)  But when some squirrels and a pack rat chewed their way into our storage shed, I had to draw the line.  I hope they find new digs miles away from here where I released them.  And I hope the old license plates I screwed down over their holes keep them out.

Thanks also to everyone who came to Cheryl’s big 70th surprise birthday party at the Backyard BBQ on November 21st .  Getting older is worth celebrating and having a lot of friends to celebrate with makes life worth living.  I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for too and that you have even more to celebrate in years to come.

Mushrooms in the Chips

The rains came and don’t show any sign of going away.  If you are anything like me, you noticed mushrooms popping up all over in this weather.  Since I have imported a lot of mulch into my vineyard over the last couple of years, I am seeing more and different mushrooms than ever before.  To understand these mushrooms I visited Joe Petrucelli who has done more with mushrooms on his farm, Lakeview Organics, than anyone else I could think of.

King Stropharia under Comfrey near apples

Joe told me last year that he had spread some wood chips from cottonwood trees in his orchard.  We looked over a swath of chips that had many different kinds of trees and plants in it. I noticed probably the biggest and healthiest clump of comfrey that I had ever seen.  Joe told me that it had grown back in just the last couple of weeks.  He had to cut it off because it was so tall previously that it was shading a young apple tree.  Some of the young trees, on this strip were so loaded with apples that they were bending to the ground.  Clearly this was a very fertile strip of land.

But if you looked at the ground itself, it was still covered in wood chips.  Grass and weeds were not filling in.  But mushrooms were popping up in many places.  Whatever was going on here was more than meets the eye.  And that is the basic mystery of mushrooms, they are the fruiting body of a network of mycelia, the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments (hyphae). (Oxford Dictionary) We mostly think of them as either edible or not, psychedelic or poisonous etc.  But in most ways they are the tip of the iceberg – so to speak – of a vast underground biochemical process that is transforming wood chips and other cellulose materials into the fertile ground we were seeing the results of on the surface.

So what exactly went on here?  Joe gave me a dried King Stropharia mushroom like many that were given to him.  To propagate it you first wet some corrugated cardboard.  That will loosen it up so you can peel back one layer.  Put the dried mushroom inside that layer and fold it back.  Then lay the cardboard on the ground and cover it with wood chips.  Keep it moist and the mushrooms will start to grow.  This was Joe’s technique laying down the chips.

You might not notice them at first since all the action is underground.  What you will notice is that if you lay this cardboard and mulch over quack grass and other weeds, they can’t grow back through it.  Joe put some 10” plastic lawn edging down in the ground around the outside of the cardboard/mulch layer in his garden to prevent the roots of the quack grass from creeping back in.  If you have ever tried to rid an area of quack grass by digging it up and sifting it out to plant a garden, the beauty of this solution will become immediately apparent.

Joe explaining fungus growth in a pile of wood chips and pine straw.

The beauty of the King Stropharia is not so immediate or totally unique, but there is a lot to know.  Not only is it delicious cooked in butter. The king stropharia can grow to 20 cm high with a reddish-brown convex to flattening cap up to 30 cm across, the size leading to another colloquial name godzilla mushroom. [The Complete Mushroom Book, Carluccio] It also is known for making a good companion to corn, partly because as a 2006 study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, found the king stropharia to has the ability to attack the nematode Panagrellus redivivus; the fungus produces unique spiny cells called acanthocytes which are able to immobilize and digest the nematodes. [Wikipedia]

So now we are getting in over our head – or more accurately – under our feet.  What do nematodes have to do with it?  Many of us just know of them as causing damage to crops, but again that is an extremely limited understanding.  There are about 40,000 species of nematodes, a kind of flatworm, that inhabit every area of the land and sea. “About 90% of nematodes reside in the top 15 cm of soil… Nematodes can effectively regulate bacterial population and community composition — they may eat up to 5,000 bacteria per minute. Also, nematodes can play an important role in the nitrogen cycle by way of nitrogen mineralization.” [Nyle C. Brady & Ray R. Weil (2009). Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils]

Pine Bolette

As it turns out some nematodes can eat fungi, others can be eaten by fungi and others can eat other nematodes.  It goes on and on.  Not only King Stropharia but all mushrooms and apparently nematodes interact with the soil in multiple ways.

Wanting to stick to the role of fungus in the soil, I called USFS soil biologist Sarah Brame.  She confirmed that mycelium can stretch for miles under the forest floor.  Their super power is that they excrete enzymes that can break down the complex molecules in wood.  Bacteria can’t normally do that.  They release sugars which feed bacteria and when fungi die, they also become food for bacteria.  Fungi feed off of roots.  Sometimes this parasitic relationship is harmful to the roots.  But more often than not it is beneficial.  Mycrorrhizal fungi bring water, minerals and other nutrients to the root.  In exchange they get sugar manufactured in the leaves of the tree. [Mycorrhizal Fungi and Plants –]

About 30% of fungi are mycorrhizal and help roots do their job.  Not all fungi are mushrooms. []  Yeast is a member of the fungi family.  If you have made bread, wine or cheese, you have seen how quickly fungi spring into action with a little moisture and warmth.  But all mushrooms are fungi.  They can react quickly to soaking rain and moist mulch. So the next time you see mushrooms popping up don’t just think of them as a possible dinner.  They might be helping other possible dinners grow.