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.
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
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! (wonderpolis.com). “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. (https://www.brainkart.com/)
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
In St. Paul’s Epistle to the
Corinthians, he writes:
Love is patient, love is kind…
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 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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 – NYBG.org]
About 30% of fungi are mycorrhizal
and help roots do their job. Not all
fungi are mushrooms. [www.waldwissen.net]
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.
Two months and two weeks ago (July 20th) I posted
my last blog about what is going on here.
The temperatures were up to 102° and the Williams Flat Fire, the biggest
of the year, had just started. Unfortunately
life does not play out like the plot of a cheap novel. There is no beginning, middle or end and no
way to follow a consistent theme – though I usually try to do that.
9/3/2019 Northern Lights photo by an unknown local photographer (has nothing to do with rain or the rest of this blog).
Except maybe the theme is rain. There was a LOT of that. Within 2 weeks the Williams Flat fire was
under control due to a heavy rainstorm. From
there it has been a downward spiral until Saturday September 28th,
the coldest September Day since 1926.
Over 30 Inches of snow fell at higher elevations. We got 4 inches of rain here that
weekend. The grape harvest was a month
behind already because the grapes were just not building sugar in our live-in
So extreme measures are being taken to bring in the harvest
and make wine. (More about that later
since I’m just trying to catch up with August and September.)
In early August I put up my bird nets as usual to beat the
migration and discourage huge flocks from wiping out my grape crop. We did have a few warblers, but not
many. I was relieved to see that the pileated
woodpecker is back. He (I’m assuming it
is a he since he is colorful and makes a lot of noise) doesn’t get under the
nets but pecks through them to get to the grapes after pretending to be
interested in the wooden post he is sitting on.
Also he eats the whole grape and does not just poke a hole in them –
inviting bees, flies, mold and vinegar. So no real harm done.
There used to be lots of warblers and I bought lots of bird
netting to keep them off the grapes. But
every year there seem to be fewer. I am
contemplating just letting them have some to keep their numbers up. Another bird I love having around
the cedar waxwing. (This one obviously
had a bit of an attitude.) It learned to
get in and out of the nets and didn’t really do any damage. You can see in the picture that the grapes
are far from ripe.
Other critters in the neighborhood include this cougar
caught on a neighbor’s game camera. I
love how slinky it looks in this picture.
course you can’t talk about predators without mentioning bears. So a local game camera struck again with a
picture of one of our local bears. So
far we have not had trouble with this one, although it came up to visit earlier
in the summer. An orchard just above us
keeps the bears at bay by disposing of spoiled fruit outside of the
fences. But in orchards further north of
us there are piles of bear poop all over.
Bears can be very destructive if they climb the trees to get to fruit
but if they are able to munch on windfalls and plants, they would rather stay
on the ground.
of pesky scavengers, it has been an epic year for skunks. You could hardly ever drive the 22 miles to
Colville without passing one or two dead ones in the road. Of course we have our own local one that digs
holes at night for insects and occasionally must get excited and spray because
we smelled it on a few nights. I even
saw it early one morning heading toward the house and was able to convince it
(from a considerable distance) to go in another direction.
All that was okay until the night of August 30th. Cheryl woke up sensing that there was
something in the house besides our cat and dog.
We leave the doors open at night in hot weather to cool off the
house. She spotted the skunk heading
into the bathtub room with its tail high in the air. We became very quiet and got back in
bed. Wisely our dog Gretchen stayed in
the bedroom too although she did growl.
Not that we got any sleep. But
although we didn’t hear anything, by morning light the skunk was gone and “she”
didn’t spray thank goodness. (Female skunks reportedly don’t smell as bad as
males.) After that we put low barriers in the doorways and didn’t have
need prey and we have a big crop of fawns this year. They are usually not much trouble since we
have a high fence around the garden and vineyard. They do consider flowers as candy so we have
lost a few on that score. Here they are
checking out our old apple tree for downed fruit, or at least low hanging fruit. But being too familiar with us might have
been the downfall of one doe. On the
morning of Friday September 27th, both Cheryl and I smelled
something dead when we went outside. I found a dead deer in the brush near our
compost pile. I think it was Daring Doe. I got our
neighbor Vern to help bury her with his backhoe. He thinks she was shot with an
arrow in the gut and went there to die in what she felt was a safe place. There was no doe season this year, so whoever
shot this deer in the gut was doing it illegally. If it was Daring Doe, she should have been
more afraid and it would be partly my fault for not scaring her more.
have more stories of course about the night the cat brought 3 different mice
into the house, and we had to catch two of them to get them out (She got one on
her own), or the turkey invasion in the vineyard. But enough critters for one blog.
There were a couple of other times that our neighbor Vern
helped us out with his tractor. One was
in unloading a pallet of rotten (but non-GMO) feed that Red Bridge Farm gave me
to add into compost.
Another was helping move a heavy mortar mixer onto a stand
in my soil yard to mix compost for the vineyard and for potting plants.
There will be more about that later. I still have a few stations to add to the soil
yard to make it fully functional.
What I am not able to do right off is write about everything
that happened in the last two months without taking another two months to do
it. So this is a wrap for August and
Most of us are very glad that this year’s fire season has
been relatively mild. But if you are a
member of a fire-fighting crew like Alan McKee and his Northern Columbia
Reforestation team, it’s been a tough year financially. Fire Fighting pays well, is recognized as
necessary, is regulated to provide sustainable working conditions and gets a
lot of attention. To stay employed and
productive while not fighting fires, the crew pooled resources to equip
themselves for forestry management. A
lot of their work involves forest restoration and fire protection and often
boils down to thinning overstocked forest stands, chipping up those smaller
diameter trees (up to 8 inches) and broadcasting the chips back on the forest
The chipper crew at
While this might sound like fun in a noisy macho go-getter kind
of way, it is hard work, needs serious ear protection and wears down your
body. The crew is younger, 20-40 years
old. (Of course at my age, 72, almost
everyone seems younger.) The equipment
is expensive to own and operate. Most of
the projects are either on government land or subsidized through government
cost-share arrangements on private land.
So funding can be minimal and difficult to obtain.
Timber markets are down “In the second half of fiscal 2018…shipments swamped the
market, plunging prices by 50 per cent…The outcome is that higher-cost mills in
western North America have been curtailing production to contend with
below-cost prices.” (woodbusiness.ca). This makes timberland owners more
reluctant to plow money back into increasing production. In short, it’s been hard to stay chipper
On the up side, chipping is very good for the forest. Most land owners will look at it as fire prevention. Spacing trees 14 feet apart on average, cutting off limbs up to 8 feet above the ground and spreading out green wood chips on the ground does make it unlikely that a fire will reach the crowns of the trees and spread rapidly in the wind. Having an open forest floor makes fighting fires much easier.
But there are
many other advantages. The chips retain
moisture in the ground and promote the growth of soil-enhancing microbes and
fungi. The spacing lets big trees
accumulate more water and sunlight which “releases” them to grow bigger and
Ecologist Jay Berube, explained to me that historically big pine trees were
spread thinly over a typical acre and the underbrush was kept in check by
frequent fires burning up pine cones and needles every 5 to 10 years. He had his property thinned and the debris
chipped 3 years ago. Before that you
could not see through the woods more than a few feet. Now you can see hundreds of feet.
historic forest in terms of diversity and vitality Jay noted that mule deer,
elk and moose could see a long ways and roam easily through a historically open
forest. As timber was clear-cut or
burned and grew back thicker, smaller white-tailed deer became predominant.
When I first
heard about Alan McKee and his chipper, it was described as chipping up slash
piles. I thought this would be a great
thing. We have all seen huge slash piles
along forest roads and the plumes of smoke from them when they are burned. Slash piles release smoke if burned and
carbon into the air while they rot. Carbon, especially biochar, when
sequestered in the soil can promote vitality and diversity. It is a valued resource that is wasted in
does have a winch that can drag in material up to 8 inches wide. But forest land treatment projects don’t deal
with slash from commercial logging. This
seemed like a big resource issue so I stopped by some government offices to
learn more about forest management.
from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) agrees that big slash
piles left from logging are a wasted resource.
NCRS does not deal with commercial logging although it does support
fuels reduction projects. He recounted
how a lawsuit to limit smoke from crop residue fires had resulted in NCRS
not recommending burning as an alternative.
He knew of some landowners hiring contractors with wood cutting machines
to recover firewood from the piles.
Others were making use of the Waste to Energy plant in Spokane. NCRS does allow some slash to be piled in 10’
by 15’ wildlife shelters which help porcupines, quail and skunks among others.
at Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) identified piles of
freshly cut pine as a possible source of pine beetle infestation. The DNR has a program to cost share 50% on the
work associated with fuels reduction and forest health that requires a
prescription from their forester. Slash
generated from the program is required to be treated. It can be removed, hand
piled and burned, “masticated” (brush
hog like treatment) or chipped. Jay
Berube worried that mastication can disturb the soil to he chose chipping. Burning
has its own issues and permits but can be done in a way that adds biochar to
the soil. Removal works well for fence
posts and firewood. DNR also does permitting for slash piles left by commercial
logging and for burning slash.
Both of these
agencies often recommend that forest landowners contract a forester to write a
land management plan. DNR has a cost share program to help with that. Historically land was put into a low timber
value classification for property tax purposes if trees could be seen on an
aerial photo of the property. More
recently guidelines from the Washington State Department of Revenue look for a
“copy of the timber management plan for the land, prepared by a forester or a
person with adequate knowledge of timber management practices.” New landowners need to be aware that county
assessors are looking for these plans, though implementation varies.
Nicole Vaillant writes in a National Forest Science
Update on Fuel Treatments that “The current level of fuel treatment and
beneficial fire is not keeping pace with the level needed to fully create and
maintain resilient landscapes, especially in frequent fire rotation
areas.” This reflects a national
attitude that emphasizes a strong response to forest fires once they are
started, but neglects preparation and prevention with fuel reduction and
controlled burns. A nice wet summer like
this might be a good time to feel a little more chipper about chipping in the
I was driving north on Williams Lake Road. The woodland on either side had been managed
in a variety of ways. Some was left
alone to fill in with underbrush. Some
had been grazed into uselessness. Some
of the most interesting had been selectively logged and the ground was covered
in chips. That technique minimizes the
threat of wildfire. I was headed north
to visit Theresa Everest. She and her husband Eric were managing their 130
acres to raise cattle.
Unlike the Williams Lake Road, Everest Ranch is on a
west-facing hillside in dense forest that supports a wide variety of
trees. There is some open pasture, but
the majority is forest on a slope, not the kind of acreage you would typically
envision for cows. With a background in farming,
logging and service in the Navy, this was Theresa’s dream ranch that she had
been planning for 20 years. She is
deliberately initiating development of the property into silvopasture. Silvopasture is the intentional combination of trees, forage plants
and livestock together as an integrated, intensively-managed system.
sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. To get it started is intensive. The Everests have invested in over $100,000
worth of machinery. That includes a
small sawmill, a Kubota Track Loader and a forest management grade brush hog
that will turn pieces of wood up to 8 inches in diameter into chips. The payback is a piece of property that the livestock
can almost manage by themselves, rich soil with a large carbon reserve, lush
grass and a lumber-producing forest that can be sustainably logged for
Finnish family that homesteaded their property in 1889, the Everests are taking
it one step at a time. They want to see
their work survive and still be sound 130 years later like the hewn log
buildings that they still use and live in.
Just as having the right tools is critical, so is having the right
animals. Highland cattle are one of the oldest registered cattle breeds in the
world. They eat
brush as well as grass. Their double coat of hair sheds water and insulates in
the winter. When it comes to hardy
animals, Scottish Highlands rule.
Paired with the
cattle are Icelandic Sheep. Another pure
ancient breed, Icelandic sheep are tough. They also have a double coat of water
shedding outer hair and light warm inner wool.
The two are often woven together and knitted into lopapeysa,
the distinctive traditional Icelandic sweater of concentric rings. These sheep will graze on bushes and grass,
so they are perfect for the transition taking place at Everest Ranch.
The first step
is Fuel Reduction. In practice this
means clearing out small trees and underbrush.
Some of it can be used as lumber or firewood. Other parts can be charred for use as
biochar. Much of the rest is ground into
mulch. Limbs are cut up to 10 feet off
the ground so no “ladder fuel” is left in the forest. While fire prevention is important, creating
a rich soil that will support forage grasses is the goal.
soil recover and develop a stand of grass takes time. So cattle are not introduced for the first
year while the second step of recovery takes place.
animals are allowed to graze down the grass, but only for a week. Then they are moved to another area and not
returned for a month or more while the first area recovers. This technique of rotational grazing keeps
the habitat healthy in more ways than one.
The cattle trample small trees and bushes so those are returned to the
soil. The grass flourishes in the manure
and urine left by the cattle. Because of
the constant rotation pests and parasites can’t proliferate. Having long sight-lines also limits cover for
potential predators. The Everests did
lose some sheep to a mountain lion when there was dense brush to hide in, but
have not had problems since opening up the pasture. The sheep come back to a holding pen at
The ranch has
many springs; some that were developed by the original homesteaders are being
re-developed for the grazing operation.
But the gullies where water runs free are fenced off to prevent
erosion. In fact an entire 20 acre field
is not being used as pasture because it is essentially a wetland and grazing
cattle would destroy it.
planning, attentive management and strategic investments, Everest Ranch will
become a model for sustainably raising cows in the woods.
of a healthy environment are diversity and abundance. The Everests are responsible for their income
and the future health of their property.
To understand silvopasture practices in the National Forest, I met with
Tim Coleman, from the Kettle Range Conservation Group to tour the Lambert Creek
watershed in Ferry County where private cattle are permitted to graze on public
The cows in
this watershed were Herfords. They are
much larger than Highland Cattle, 1200 to 1800 pounds. I have also seen Angus Cattle of about the
same size grazing in the forest along the South Fork of Sherman Creek. The
two scenes were very different. Along
Lambert Creek road the ground had barely enough cover to be green. This was especially apparent where a fence
separated the public grazing land from private property. Grass and brush stood two to three feet high
on the private land and barely an inch on the public land. The cattle were grazing lush green grass in a
logged area along Sherman Creek.
looked bad on Lambert until I consulted with Brandon Weinmann, grazing and
invasive species coordinator for the Colville National Forest about how they
manage rangeland and saw it from a different perspective. The Forest Service manages grazing allotments
on the “pasture level”, that is they look at the overall health of the plants,
water and soil in the whole pasture.
There are usually several “pastures” in a grazing allotment and the
Forest Service will determine the timing, duration, intensity and frequency of
how they are permitted to be grazed. The
condition of one spot at one time does not necessarily indicate the health of
the whole pasture.
me around an allotment on Deadman Creek where the riparian area was in good
shape despite use by cattle, elk and bears.
What I kept learning was that there are lots of variables.
bulls and steers of different ages, breeds and personalities behave differently
at different times in different areas. It
is hard to prescribe a set of guidelines that works in all situations. The Forest Service uses an allotment
management plan developed through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) which is tailored to each allotment.
have in common is an aversion to wolves.
Tim Coleman is a member of the Wolf Advisory Board (WAG), a group he
appreciates because although coming from different perspectives, they speak
openly about their opinions. All members
admit that pressure from wolves is moving the cattle in many areas to lower
parts of their range. This depletes the lower part sooner and leaves burnable
fuel on the higher pastures (grassoline).
beginning forage and the amount available at any point after animals are
introduced will indicate how much forage has been used and when cattle should
be moved, thus gauging the health of the ecosystem in terms of diversity and abundance.
Grasses have evolved to
bounce back from being eaten when young.
In his book, Holistic Management, Allan Savory advocates
rotational grazing as the most natural way to restore health to overgrazed
lands but cautions that it takes thoughtful planning and attention to actual
conditions on the whole property to make that work. That “whole” includes the plant and animal
community; the water cycle; the mineral cycle; and the energy flow. It is an economy that includes but does not
equate with money.
is that one size definitely does not fit all.
A variety of ungulates once ranged in the forests: deer, elk, moose and
herds of caribou. (According to Sinixt elder, Marilyn James, caribou herds were
once so large that they posed a threat to villages. The natives learned to
spook the caribou away from villages by hanging antlers in the trees.) Perhaps cows are a viable replacement for
those herds. But whether you can afford
an industrial-scale brush hog or just a chain saw and safety equipment,
promoting diversity and abundance takes attention and intension. It’s not as simple as putting cows in the