Saturday, July 23, 2016

JULY "News from the Woods": Invasive species, Learn forestry & fungi, Tradd Cotter

News from the Woods
a monthly digest of resources, events, and people
in forestry & agroforestry

July 2016


Welcome to the July edition from Wellspring Forest Farm and School. Each month, we share useful information about methods for improving forest health and increasing productivity and diversity, along with the happenings of our farm and educational programs.

What a dry summer it’s been! We in fact are in severe drought, and our little town is the driest in all of New York. We’ve had a very poor year in the mushroom yard, and our sheep have been working hard for their forage.

We have gotten a lot of interest from folks in our short courses and we were hearing that many found the price and timing challenging – so we’ve responded by shortening our Forestry & Agroforestry course to be three days (August 13 – 15) and just $300.  This is a chance to learn from some of the most experienced foresters in the Northeast. See the schedule, posted below!

Our Fungi Cultivation & Foraging Short Course (September 16 – 20) will still be the full five days, as we want to accommodate the travel of the amazing and talented Tradd Cotter. This is one of the only appearances he is making in the Northeast, so don’t miss out!

Tradd was recently featured in a National Geographic video disussing the wide range of ways fungi can help solve some of the worlds most pressing challenges.

For the trees,
Steve & Elizabeth

In the Woods
As we teach and continue to learn from the woods, a common question that arises from students is, “what about invasive species?”

This is a complex and complicated issue, one that requires a multitude of approaches specific to a given place and time in the development of a forest. But, was is intriguing is that many scientists are starting to see that pesky plants and critters may achieve a balance over time, even the one many forest owners love to hate, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata):

These new discoveries encourage us to pause and take a longer view of ecological succession over time. Forest decisions happen over multiple generations, not over a few years. Its part of a much larger cycle.

A highly recommended book toward a deeper understanding of these concepts is called A New Wild by Fred Pearce, which draws upon scientific research along with many real-world examples of how the dynamics so-called “invasive” species change and find balance over time.

Part of the conversation has to do with how we construct out views of what is “natural” and “native” to the forest. With all the changes in the land that have taken place (many at the hands of humans and through climate change), there is really no “original” or “primeval” forest type we can seek to exemplify.

Instead, one might consider the concept of novel ecosystems – which better describes the composition of so many of the landscapes around the world. Novel ecosystems according to one paper are, “…a unique assemblage of biota and environmental conditions that is the direct result of intentional or unintentional alteration by humans… sufficient to cross an ecological threshold that facilitates a new ecosystem trajectory and inhibits its return to a previous trajectory regardless of additional human intervention.”

Access the full paper here:

In other words, “there ain’t no going back!” – much of invasive species talk, and forest management is considered in terms of the original species, composition, and structure of what was – instead, we might do better to look forward to what could be, as we manage forests for the future. 

On the Farm

In dealing with the incredibly dry conditions, we’ve been getting our sheep into the woods, and this month ask the question on our blog:

“40% of New York is in Drought, What do the trees have to say?”

READ the article here:

Upcoming Events

Forestry & Agroforestry Short Course
August 13 – 15
Mecklenburg, NY

3-day course - Learn forest ecology and management techniques for eastern woodlands by exploring old growth forests and visiting farms and nurseries practicing agroforestry, forest farming, and silvopasture in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Our instructors have spent decades studying forest & fungi ecology and developing skills to share with students through woods walks, hands-on demonstrations, and storytelling:

Steve Gabriel, co-author of Farming the Woods, will present forestry principles, tree assessment/measurements, and mushroom cultivation

Mike Demunn, renowned forester and conservationist for over thirty will lead forest walks share the ecology, history, and managing for wildlife.

Sean Dembrosky of Edible Acres nursery will teach us how to grow and maintain the next forest through tree planting, seed saving, and propagation techniques

Brett Chedzoy, extension forester and beef farmer will demonstrate methods to integrate regenerate livestock and forest management

Cost: $300 plus $50 if you wish to camp onsite, includes lunch each day.



Fungi Cultivation & Foraging Short Course
September 16 – 20
Mecklenburg, NY

With Tradd Cotter and Steve Gabriel

Sign up by Friday, August 5 for a $50 discount on tuition

Explore the wondrous world of fungi and learn how to grow and forage mushrooms with Farming the Woods co-author Steve Gabriel and special guest instructor Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain and author of Organic Mushrooms Farming & Mycoremediation.

During this 5-day intensive course participants will identify wild mushrooms and learn tree ID and forest ecology, inoculate logs, straw, and grain, learn low-tech propagation techniques, build a stormwater biofilter, create a styrofoam substitute, and, of course, cook and eat mushrooms.


Featured Steward

The steward of the month is Tradd Cotter, a visionary mycologist who spends his time growing, researching, and teaching others about the wonders of fungi. Tradd is a passionate person whose love for mushrooms and enthusiasm make learning about fungi both enjoyable and accessible.

Tradd began like many mushroom growers, fascinated by the beauty and allure of fungi and interested mostly in culinary and edible uses. This started a learning journey over the last several decades where Tradd has perfected his craft in many aspects of cultivation and use, including developing new products like mushroom-infused beers, exploring the ways mushrooms can help clean our environment, and using mushrooms instead of pesticides in treating pests like fire ants.

He and his wife Olga run Mushroom Mountain, which in the past few years moved to a new facility and offers a variety of mushroom products and classes. He grows and sells edible mushrooms, mostly to help fund the research he really wants to do. He is constantly curious and playing with fungi, seeking new discoveries and new answers

Watch Tradd give a TED Talk about mushrooms:

Tradd will be the featured teacher of our Fungi Cultivation & Foraging Short Course from September 16 - 20.

Quote of the Month:

"Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health."

Paul Stamets


“News from the Woods” is brought to you by:

Wellspring Forest Farm & School
leaving forests in our footsteps
Steve & Elizabeth Gabriel
Mecklenburg, NY

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

40% of New York is in a Drought: What do the trees have to say?

Areas in brown are classified "moderate drought"

Drought conditions really shine a light in the dark corners of the farm, illuminating the aspects of our systems that are most vulnerable. At our best, we can learn from the lessons presented before us, and at our worst we crumble in fear and let our daily anxiety overwhelm us.

Droughts, floods, and crop failure are nothing new for humanity and especially not for farmers. The choice we have is to be better prepared to anticipate these inevitable extremes the next time around. With all the incredible and innovative people getting into farming I have a lot of hope – yet we must have the difficult conversations and daylight our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as celebrate our strengths.

Farming teaches us that there can’t be a single catch-all solution to a problem, but instead we must draw up a range of strategies to keep things moving ahead. And while our farm has its fair share of tanks, pumps, and infrastructure to store, hold, and move water where we need it, we always go back to the biological systems, to examine and explore the stories they have to tell us.

It’s remarkable that trees and woody plants hardly look different this year. Sure, there is sometimes some wilting, and new growth is certainly diminished – but overall the trees, and especially the forest, look remarkably the same whether it’s a dry, normal, or wet year.

There is a lot of research, along with human experience, to back up the benefits of trees and forested ecosystems in the context of a more dynamic climate, and one has to go no further than their local woodlot or preserve to see it firsthand. Our fields are brown and parched, our gardens wilting were it not for the irrigation, and yet the forest stands true and tall, doing its thing.

We planted trees in our pasture when we first arrived four years ago. We’ve seen over decades of tree planting that a proper hole, along with more intensive care (water, reducing weed pressure, nutrients) during the first three years gives most trees a foothold to thrive and take care of themselves. Considering that these trees could live for decades if not hundreds of years makes the investment a good one.

This season, the Willows, Red Alders, and Black Locust were finally above browse height so the sheep could graze amongst them. The trees were like a magnet; the sheep spend time digesting their forages in their shade, and they put extra effort into grabbing onto the lower branches and stripping the leaves with their teeth. The woody plants provide good nutrients and extra tannins, which can help reduce parasite issues in our flock. 

Trees and woody vegetation, though, have a slower recovery time. We certainly need pasture with its fast growing grasses and forbs as the mainstay of our sheep’s diet. Yet as we make our second rotation around the farm, those forages are almost non-existent in these conditions. We’ve taken to carving paths through our field edges and hedgerows- mostly packed with thick shrubby vegetation like honeysuckle and multi-flora rose – and the sheep love it! Most remarkable is the mutual offering of food and shade these marginal spaces offer. Plus there is a labor savings for us – we haven’t moved our portable shade shelter in six weeks, because the sheep don’t need it.

There are even more unseen benefits of trees and woodlands on our farm – most notably in this dry time the difference in air humidity from pasture to forest. Mature trees cycle hundreds of gallons of water per day, though their roots and our their shoots, a necessary release that is part of the photosynthetic process. Our sheep shelter doesn’t provide an ambient cooling system.

In a time of stress and vulnerability, trees are showing us the way, and providing our animals shelter, food, and air conditioning. They offer us a signpost of a way forward; we just have to figure out the kinks of how trees can be integrated into our farm in a way that still allows us to move fence, machinery, and animals efficiently.  For instance, we began planting trees on contoured rows about 30 feet apart – only to realize that our sheep prefer wider alleys more like 45 – 60 feet apart. Part of planting trees is letting some go – recognizing that this process of growing, dying, changing is all part of the dance.

As we evaluate our choices, systems, and preparedness in the wake of this very hard year for land and farming, one element has become clear; trees and wooded areas will continue to become more and more a part of the farm. We continue to see the benefits, not only in dry times but also in times of excessive rain – the climate change phenomenon some say we are more likely to experience.

Related to all this is a discovery that the marginal edges of the farm – the overgrown hedgerows and thickets of thorny brush – offer respite and a largely undervalued resource. These areas haven’t been maintained in the past because the land was managed with a tractor – and this vegetation persists where it’s awkward or unfeasible for the tractor to go. When we traced the lines of these spaces in Google Earth we found that we have several more acres of pasture available – we just have to begin managing it.

The intentional management of trees in a farm setting is known as Agroforestry.

As we continue investing in trees, we are expanding our palette of species, to match the various areas of the farm and continue our process of reforesting the farm for the multitude of benefits offered. IN addition to the early success stories of the locust, alder, and willow, we are bringing Hybrid Poplar, Sycamore, Birch, Elderberry, Aronia, Paw Paw, and more into the wet riparian areas of the farm, so that we can support healthy water ecology both in times of dry and wet.  We are clearing brush and leaving behind the native White Pines, Hawthornes, Maples, Oaks, and Hickories that persist, thinning them only enough so that we can establish and understory of grazing forages on the woodland floor.

In this way, each time we experience extreme weather, our farm will be more ready to respond. Each year, as the systems grow, there is more invested in that stable, reliable character the forests and its trees offer. And we are confident that any farm producing any range of products would benefit from the addition of trees to its layout – we just have to work out the details.

See agroforestry systems in action at several farms, along with an in-depth study of forest ecology in some of the most diverse forests in North America during the Forestry & Agroforestry Short Course at Wellspring Forest Farm August 12 – 16. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Forestry & Agroforestry Short Course Aug 13 - 15

Wellspring Forest Farm & School in Mecklenburg, NY is pleased to offer a 5-day short course in Forestry &Agroforestry this August 13 - 15 in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York.

Our instructors have spent decades studying forest & fungi ecology and developing management skills to share with students through woods walks, hands-on demonstrations, and storytelling.

Students will learn the overarching patterns and processes of forests and fungi, as well as take home practical skills they can immediately use on their own acreage or projects.

Courses are hosted at Wellspring Forest Farm & School, a living example of productive and restorative agroforestry farming that features forest and indoor mushroom production, rotational grazing of ducks and sheep, and production of forest products including maple and elderberry syrup.