Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Forest....

Happy Holidays dear friends and family; we wish you goodness and love for 2018!

Before the deep freeze set in, we enjoyed a super balmy December walk and wanted to share the beauty we discovered on this particular hike made more poignant because we are digging deep into some thoughtful reading material this winter (listed below) and are reconnecting with our solid rooting in nature. What a JOY to remember it's all about the know, instinctively, we are not separate from this planet that we live on and that we are bound by visible and invisible threads uniting us to all life. The immensity and grace of this remembering continues to reshape our thoughts and feelings and all we previously learned to be true. It's time for a reckoning, I believe.

American Holly makes me so darn happy every single time I see it - those festive berries and brilliant evergreen leaves lend such artistry to winter landscapes.

As many of you know, both of us have a complete and thorough love affair with vast wilderness and mountains and alpine lakes and clear streams and sunshine and any and all things rocky and ancient and that we also have this innate, homeland love of Eastern Deciduous Forest. What you may not know though, is that this love of these Eastern forests is really hollering at us lately and when I say hollering, I mean HOLLERING.

I think somehow growing up where we did (IN) we loved the trees, but took them for granted in a million ways and forgot to talk to them and to listen to them. We didn't use the right language to talk about them and we didn't always see that trees want to grow in forests and that forests are different than trees and that the forests' elegance is in their unity, in their inclusivity, in their binding of threads. Trees give us so much and spending time amongst them is such a gift. I mean pinch me! Do I really get to live amongst these beings? Walking down the trail, I can hardly keep my hands off their trunks in total and complete reverence of their lives as plants, their longevity and fortitude, diversity, beauty....

Because these trees share so much with us, we want to know them and to speak of them not as "its," but as kin (thank you Robin Wall Kimmerer). Part of knowing them is listening to them, but also paying homage and observing.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) grows bark similar to all other Flowering Dogwoods, but unique to that species so we can begin to know trees by looking at the architectural masterpiece of cork cambium. Steve is the true master of bark id and I owe my knowledge on this topic pretty much solely to him. (This love of trees rooted deep in that boy at a very young age!)

These small round plates always introduce Flowering Dogwood.

The sinewy Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) shows strength in the bark sinuosity.

Dead and decaying wood and organic matter is without question the foundation for all future growth in forests. With overwhelming gratitude, I thanked this Turkey Tail for the noble work of decomposition. Where would we be without it? (Yes, I do this. Yes, I am eschewing much of my learned science-without-heart crap.)

The dark coloration and thin ribbons of bark acquaints us with American Redbud (Cercis canadensis).

This particular tree tells us not only who ki is, but also a story of the past - a time when an American Beaver attempted to utilize this tree located near water to help dam the water. The wound is now scarred and healed so that the tree continues to live and photosynthesize and offer food and sustenance and shelter to so many others.

This tree grows very tall and straight, with furrowed bark, often tinged with white amongst the furrows....the spectacular Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Forests hold and clean water and offer that water to us and myriad other life forms in so many ways, including as places to breed for the spectacular Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander and all the other vernal pool (seasonal wetland) dwelling life. Vernal Pools are my heart.

Somehow their pulse is my pulse and if you are someone who knows about vernal pools, you know my heart is shattered routinely as I pass plowed fields with scars of destroyed vernal pools or witness humans digging out these seasonally wet areas for their big pond, which destroys the life that depends on their seasonality. (I love big ponds too! Just not at the expense of a vernal pool.) These vernal pools are synonymous with forests because many of the species that inhabit them need both....the pool briefly for breeding and upland forest the rest of the year for food, water, shelter and room to live.

This is what we see right now on I-71 North of Columbus on the East side of the road. Another forest for sale that is filled with vernal pools. What will go there? Something that can replace the irreplaceable?

This forest and all the vernal pools are now completely gone. When we first moved here in 2010, the forest had been mostly destroyed, but the vernal pools left protected somewhat by laws and regulations. What those laws and regulations failed to consider is that vernal pools are not isolated places; they function within the relationships of the forest. Now, due to more lax laws and the questionable practice of mitigation, these vernal pools are forever gone unless some dear soul buys up this giant chunk of land, breaks the tile draining away the precious water and lets the forest heal.

And this, my friends, is where my mind and heart go daily - the goodness of the forest, the awfulness of a society based almost solely on consumerism, the goodness of people and the magic of this planet. So, we hold hope close and we put our feet forward as part of the planting revolution and part of the choir singing the praises of respecting life and one another.

Books we are reading:

The Living Forest

The Lost Language of Plants 

Finding Peace through Spiritual Practice

Songs listened to while writing:

Future People

Meet Me in the Woods

The Obvious


Steve's video on drainage tile. How ironic! Listen till the end....

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Little Hoop House That Could

By Steve:

After many years of dreaming, scheming and research on various forms of hoop house design and construction we got tired of "analysis-paralysis" and just did it the easy way (small, cheap and simple):

So how did we do it? Well, first we decided to solve a number of problems simultaneoulsy. We had some raised beds in the back part of our garden and that area had proven too wet so why not use the soil and boards from those raised beds to create the base and growing beds for our hoop house? We could then move the garden fence to just behind the hoop house and transform the back (wet) part of the garden into what it wants to be (wetland). Below is the completed base with part of the planting beds being solarized and part planted to long-season sweet potatoes. Behind that you can see some prominent yellow flowers - those are Jesrusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) - great for pollinators, great for people (tubers are edible and delicious)!

Fast-forward and here we have the frame up, the ends framed and the door and window installed. The door was pulled from someone's trash, the window was re-purposed from our house, the plastic was a gift from our brother-in-law. We had to buy hardware and hoops. We opted for PVC to do the hoops to simplify the process. We don't anticipate strength issues as we are not in many-feet-of-snow-per-storm country and, for wind-abatement, we can tether it to the garden fence if need be. 

At the last minute, we consulted our handy Polytunnel Handbook and opted to hold down our plastic on the sides by digging a trench and burying the plastic in that trench. For good measure, I added some gravel to the trench bottom to act a bit like a French drain. We like this trench method because, if you need to tighten the plastic, you can simply walk on the backfill a bit. 

Here is the finished interion complete with gravel floor, small hoops for extra protection using row covers and lots of greens!

So we've gotten the old raised beds moved and transformed into a hoop house. What about that garden fence that needed moved so that we can restore our wetland behind the garden? 

We did that too!

Back to the main point - we now have our easy, simple, cheap hoop house after all these years. Our advice to others with similar desires: go for it, keep it simple and have fun!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Seriously Cool Red Cedar

Today is the day to write about one of our favorite native Ohio trees: Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). This fabulous tree grows throughout eastern N. America and is a true pioneer of recovering lands. Luckily, it is growing its beautiful self all over our recovering old field.

We practice some serious gratitude when witnessing a native, beneficial tree able to grow quickly, strongly, in all sorts of soil and in sun and shade.

Apparently this tree is difficult to grow in pots. but it sure transplants easily and with almost no shock. We moved more than ten around our property in places where we wanted windbreaks and privacy with zero issues. We planted them densely on the NW corner of our house for winter winds; soon this area will be nicely filled in and offer a great buffer.

Leavin' the magical leaves! One of nature's best gifts....

When we moved here, we initially planted Colorado Blue Spruce and White Pine because our local SWCD offered them and these native Cedars are hands down superior in every way. They outgrow these other conifers every year and with almost no mortality. If we had known this would happen, we would not have planted those other species, which aren't native to this area and are telling us they are not nearly as happy (except for one anomaly White Pine, which is happy as a kitten).

Red Cedars sometimes get a bad rap because they "invade prairies and pasture lands," but it's really all about management and the land's current hydrology, browse factor, etc. Keep them out of the prairies so the prairies can be prairies and pasture can be pasture, but let them grow in old fields and fencerows and yards and recovering forest. Eastern North America had a magnificent, spectacular forest once that we can only dream of and yes, we feel overwhelming grief for what was carelessly destroyed, but we don't dwell in that part of our knowledge because we can't. Instead we plant and plant and plant.

Reforesting a piece of land takes a long time so those trees that are early successional are key to foster slower growing species and to give one hope that the forest will return. That's what Steve and I are called to do...plant. I don't think we've ever been so drawn to anything like this other than hiking and exploring this infinitely interesting and beautiful natural world. There is redemption in such a hope-filled and important act like planting trees. We humans can't turn back the clock, but we can go forward with respect for each other and all life and take significant action to do what is right and to fix what is broken.

Red Cedars provide us with soul-satiating green in a season lacking this life-filled color, while also offering important food and shelter for all sorts of wildlife. We have Cedar Waxwings frequently feasting on the berries, American Robins nesting in them in the warm season by the DOZENS, and potentially Saw-whet Owls resting in them during migration. (Thanks to Stanley Stine with Twinsburg Parks and Recreation for this sweet little tid-bit.)

There are all sorts of little grass nests under these trees from different mammals and beautiful Bagworms hanging from limbs here and there (no they have not ever killed the trees here or ever caused significant damage and even if they did, the trees would most likely recover. One of our oaks regrew all new leaves after complete defoliation by native Datana caterpillars last year.)

The wood smells fabulous and is long lasting. The beautiful, blue, berries (actually, cones) are medicinal, edible and used to flavor gin.

Wow! We are smitten, I guess. Well, really we are smitten with just about everything wild and free and functional.

Thanks to Stanley, again, for sharing a film we want to watch that is completely relevant to this post: Call of the Forest.

We wish you all a joyous harvest season and some significant time outdoors.

For fun since you might have some extra time over Thanksgiving or just need to jam while cooking, here's some tunes I've enjoyed while writing this post:

Lera Lynn Wolf Like Me

Indigenous Things We Do

Mandolin Orange Old Ties and Companions

Samantha Crain Equinox

Joni Mitchell Woodstock

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fall Happenings on the Farm: Produce, Late Flowers, Bumble Bees and Mother Trees

Tonight will be our first fall frost for growing season 2017. This is almost a full month later than we frosted last year. We had a super warm spring, cool summer, very dry summer and fall and everything is confused: we have strawberries flowering and fruiting right the end of October! The chickens are dealing with the cooling temperatures by hanging out on our porch pooping everywhere. They just want to be near's endearing and quite comical.

Beautiful autumnal colors are showing up daily here on our farm. The Asters and Goldenrods continue to feed the bees and the migrating Monarchs and Painted Ladies. We are incredibly grateful for these hardy natives whose seeds travel through the air and germinate all on their own and can somehow compete with aggressive and invasive European grasses. A friend gave us the new Goldenrod guide out from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and we highly recommend you get yourself a copy. It's fabulous and gives much deserved attention to the importance of goldenrods.

Interestingly, we have some Asters, Fleabanes and even Tomatoes that germinated on the North side (no sun side) of our house and are all flowering and setting fruit. Here you can see the shade shadow:

and the blooms:

Arrowleaf Aster (we think), Fleabane & Tomato:

and yes, fruit! Indeed, we have a happy tomato plant flowering and fruiting in FULL SHADE. This observation fits with the one we so often make: there is usually no one right way for anything, ever.

Our right way for acquiring winter squash this year was to visit the Owl Creek Produce Auction since our homegrown winter squash were killed by the Squash Vine Borer Moth. If you've not been to a produce auction near you, we say seek one out. The deals are incredible - we got oodles of winter squash all for less than $0.50 ea. and these will keep us through winter and the next growing season.

Finally, we made two really interesting observations this fall and made short videos to share.

Soon we will write about our high tunnel, lean-to greenhouse and one of our most favorite native trees: Eastern Red Cedar. Thanks for keeping up with us. We feel like our network of friends and supporters are like the Mother Beech roots and our lives are so much richer for your presence.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Grayson Highlands State Park & Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

We headed to SW Virginia at the beginning of September to meet up with dear friends to camp and explore in Grayson Highlands State Park and the bordering Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. (Thanks to Jen S. for the tip to head this way!)

The area is famous for its Wild Ponies (used to keep the created "balds" open) and we met some right away. No, we didn't feed them or touch them, but we sure did enjoy hanging out with them.

The entire area is very scenic and we so enjoyed meandering amongst flowers, fall colors, mountain views and of course, taking time to sit and just savor. We've known Beth for years and were so excited to meet Pete, her husband. You know you are kindred, when everyone wants to sit and learn knots together! Check out Beth's blog here and a past outing we shared that inspired us all.

All you Appalachian Trail people know this white blaze well. (If you love this trail, these beautiful landscapes and healthy ecosystems, please take action! I had no idea a pipeline was about to go through; it's time to say NO!)

Sneezeweed growing along a fence made us all smile. What a happy plant! This is one we are already growing in pots at our home in OH to get a population started here since: we love it, it's a late bloomer, it's native and loved by bees.

Blue Ridge Mountains are such an appropriate name for these blue mountains.

This young wild pony just had to say hi!

After spending two nights camping with our friends, we headed into the backcountry for two nights. The freedom a backpack with all we need to survive is a feeling we will never underappreciate. It's completely empowering and simplifies life in a way nothing else does for us.

Nights out in wilderness are sacred to us and put our physical and mental selves in such a place of sanctuary and refuge.

Hurricane Irma arrived in VA on our second to last day and told us to head on out before inches of rain and crazy winds kept us in the mountains longer than we had provisions for.

To be on the far, far, far, far edge of a storm like this tests us and ties us to the power of nature in a way sunshine does not. It's exhilarating and we are just as grateful for these experiences when we have the opportunity to leave. For those in the middle of these terrible events, we cannot even imagine the horror. (This quick video is so loud with wind so be prepared with your computer speakers or earbuds. It's so worth watching though to see the wind and rain.)

When we parked to hike in, this parking lot was packed but the weather apparently sent everyone home. It's a busy, busy place in fair weather so be prepared, but it's also a really spectacular place to experience.