Jay Vinekeeper

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since Aug 16, 2012
Master Gardener, Master Woodland Manager. Specialist in research and development design.

Inspired by J. Russell and wild Bill Mollison.  Lived in an insulated Pacific Yurt for five Michigan winters in the snow-belt region.  Managed private lands and forests for over 25 years.

Married in to my childhood sweetheart.  She saved my life and became my lifelong best friend.

Educated at West Point and U-Mich.  Experienced in upper Great Lakes forests.
Northwest Lower MI
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Recent posts by Jay Vinekeeper


We took one bag of sawdust spawn (from Field and Forest, Peshtigo, WI) and put it straight away into a pile of mixed woodchips (fairly fresh) simply by placing spawn in thick sections of newspaper (Wall Street Journal was the best  - not kidding).  Placement was late summer in timing.

We got abundant stropharia (WINE CAP) in the very next season.  And we could also dig into the mulch, retrieve sections of the newpaper and move those pre-inoculated sections to new mulch piles.  They all took with vigor.

Stropharia seems to me to be an especially robust species.  Easy to spread as long as I had wood chips and newspaper.  And HUGE mushrooms !  Many as big as dinner plates.  Some two pound mushrooms.

The mulch of woodchips were almost always associated with the mulch system around trees.  I think the shade of the tree was an environmental benefit for the mushroom vitality.

The newspaper was a great way to multiply and spread the spawn.  I never bought but one small bag of spawn.  After that the operation was easy to grow without additional inoculation expense.  Add new newspaper to a producing mulch pile and it automatically became new inoculation material.
3 years ago
Torch Lake area ECHO Tree Farm   Northern Lower Michigan

A unique upland property north of Bellaire is offered for new ownership.

Consists of 80 acres with exceptional SUGAR MAPLE stands (35 acres) and highly managed pine plantations (14 blocks and 25 acres).
The pines were planted in 1969-1971 and now stand 60 feet tall and up to 14 inches in diameter. The size is ideal for log cabins or lodges with enough timber scheduled for prescription thinning to build a whole campus or village.

There are approximately 18,000 total trees of useful size with 7,000 currently available for thinning.  
All plantations have been pruned and thinned and cleaned of hardwood competition with harvestable mulch and compost beds yielding about 50 tons of compost a year on a sustainable basis.

Most pine blocks have been subject to a rake and low-intensity burn program to eliminate competition and to facilitate the introduction of "bio-char" and potash to fertilize the trees, improve and increase the soils, and produce the highest quality potting soils.  Proprietary techniques are included.

Excellent trails allow easy access throughout the estate with many potential building sites.  There is a new deep well and a 24' Pacific Yurt, insulated and with an Amish wood cookstove for cooking and winter comfort.

Located in Echo Township of Antrim County just east of Intermediate and Torch Lake on a SCENIC ROAD.  Has 1320 frontage feet on a paved county road with priority snow plow attention.  Sits on bicyclist preferred road with some 10,000 bikes passing the site each year.

Owners are retiring, but will remain in the area for consultation and caretaking if needed.

This site would hold many camps comfortably.  It has been used for research into perennial polyculture and permacultural systems.

The value of the pine timber to be thinned is estimated at $252,000 as cabin logs.  There is standing sugar maple timber worth approximately $50,000.  The pine timber includes high quality sawlogs and timber framing.

An operational natural gas well is on the property and mineral rights will be included in this sale.

Five miles from a jet class airport.  Terrific kayak and canoe country with 60 miles of the chain-of-lakes right at hand.  Lots of whitetail deer and wild turkey.  Wild herb and mushroom forage is the best.

Development potential for an ecological village.  Surrounded by farm, orchard and timber lands and crystal clear lakes.

Good for horses and humans too.

Come see it.  Questions are welcome.

All for $430,000.  May consider dividing.  Terms possible.

Contact vinekeeper@forestfarm.org
Trees as trellis?

I like the idea very much ... especially as it relates to the cost of production for Actinidia species ... specifically, the hardy kiwifruit.

We have many thousands of acres of conifer plantations,  mostly red pine, but also white pine, spruces, and firs.  Many of these stands are now overstocked and overgrown with deciduous trees (especially Sugar Maple) growing underneath the conifer canopy.

Meanwhile, trellis system for vines like Actinidia will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 - 15,000 per acre.

In our tests of trees as trellis, we thinned and pruned our red pine plantations as high as a pole saw can reach.  Then we rigged surplus wire cables to run from tree to tree at a height of about 2 meters or about 6'6" from the ground.  This would allow most folks (not YOU Emil) to walk comfortably under these wires and be in a comfortable position to harvest fruit growing on vines trained to go up the tree and then along the wires.

Actinidia are fairly shade tolerant and do not need full sun to produce fruit crops.  SOME sun will do just fine.  In our managed conifer plantations there is increasing sunlight underneath the canopy of pines now reaching some 40 or so years of age.  Kiwis love a partial shade, it turns out.

Lots of pruning of young vines, to be sure, but once up the tree and on the wire they are easy to work.  Females are trained to the wire while the male pollinators are trained UP the tree rather than the wire.  The elevation of the male plants may help in the pollination process of the female, fruit bearing vines.

This all appears to be a fairly workable system.  Since it SAVES the cost of trellis by other means, this is a huge advantage.  
4 years ago
Wow, Catie ... there is a lot here to try to address.

Can't help you with the poison ivy.  I don't have PI on my upland conifer sites.  Thank goodness I do not have to deal with it.

But the slow conversion from all conifer to a mixed forest?  Maybe you can benefit from our experience here.

From the picture and from your description, it sounds like the conifers need thinning.  Good for you to have the hugelkultur plan.  You will have lots of wood for HK.  
Your site is probably quite similar to my own in northern Lower Michigan.  Conifers such as spruce or pine are most often planted in plantation configuration on a 6'x8' spacing.  This close planting shades out competition like grass in a few years and forces trees to compete for sunlight by growing straight and tall ... making for good saw logs or cabin logs.

Shade tolerant hardwood species like maple, beech and chestnut will colonize under the conifer canopy, making thousands of new seedlings ready for any opening in the conifer canopy to shoot up and take their share of the sunlight.  It looks like you have a lot of spruce.  If it were my ground I would start pulling individual trees out of the stand for use in building, biomass (chips, etc), and hugel construction.  Take "the worst first" with the thought of releasing some of the spruce for improved growth with less competition.  Maybe I would take half or two/thirds of the spruce out over an extended time.  This will create the micro openings volunteer hardwoods need to take off as well as micro/garden spaces for food plots.

"Cut more trees" ... it sounds terrible to many, but the more space you can create by removing conifers, the more diversity will enter the equation.  Do not worry about cutting too many conifers.  If you are working slowly and without massive machinery, it will take you a long time ... and GIVE you time to mull and consider your options as you go.

By approaching the project as one that is creating biomass that will be useful in a number of ways, your "worst/first" approach will begin to open small spaces that will give you new ideas about how to use that space.
Avoid the temptation to call in the loggers or pulp cutters to take large masses of material all at once.  Sixty acres is a lot for one person to handle, but you sound young and may have many years to shape your space.  Take your time and enjoy the work if you can.

You may have to take 20-60 trees for your cabin and out buildings (wood sheds, stock shelter, etc).  This alone will give you a start.

In my pine plantations I have already thinned the stand by removing some 10,000 or so trees out.  Many went as pulpwood, but hundred more have been used in buildings and gardens.  And I STILL need to take almost another ten thousand to give the remaining pines room to fulfill their own genetic potentials.   In time, as the original plantings of nearly 1,000 trees to the acre becomes reduced to perhaps 100-200 per acre the conifer plantation become more "garden/like" with lots of space and light within the stand to establish new gardens.

Note:  I have no problem letting a trimmed tree trunk lie on the ground and rot for several years before moving it into a hugel situation.  And even if I do not use it in the garden or for building and it just rots where it lies I feel good about the soil it is making as it melts back into earth.  I also burn a good deal of brush and trimmings in order to make soil amendments like wood ash and charcoal for the hugel beds.

I also like to prune up the remaining spruce to create cleared working spaces BENEATH their canopy.  This kind of space usually receives "side/light" while also providing overhead cover from frost and hail ... making a good space for protecting nursery stock.  I grow a lot of walnut and chestnut nursery stock, and these young trees shelter well for a year or two while they toughen up enough to go out into the open.
    I would prune your prize remaining spruce up from the ground at least 6 feet or so.  Rule of thumb for pruning?  You can take about one/third of the growing branches off to the great benefit of the tree.  Pruning usually stimulate strong new growth in girth.

Need fruit tree light?  There are always the sunny edges.  Or you can open smaller spaces within the conifer plantations in order to establish young fruit trees .. then gradually remove any additional conifers as the fruit tree grows.  The young trees will love the shelter of having big spruce wind/shelter while they establish.

I look at the 30,000 or so pines planted on my site as unnatural interlopers.  Left all alone from this point, the maples, beech and chestnut will move into the conifer stands and become a MIXED forest.  In a hundred years or so it will be more hardwoods than conifers ... closer to a "real" forest.

I think of your work as something like that of a sculptor, taking away excess material (trees) in order to produce a more useful form.  Ironic that in order to produce a mixed forest you must cut down so many existing trees.  Not all at once, of course, but over the long haul of your relationship with an evolving woodlot.

You were "given" 60 acres of forest land?  How sweet is that?  Where can I go to get in the way of a gift like that?

Nature invites your participation in the evolving dance on your acreage.  Do not be shy about converting those beautiful spruce to materials you can use.  Working slowly and mostly by yourself means you will have time and space to figure it out as you go.

I bet if you open the conifers a little at a time, the hardwoods will begin to come in on their own.  Where I live, sugar maple volunteers will quickly take over a pine plantation planting once a few trees come out.  Funny to think of sugar maple being problematic, but they come in so densely they can seriously retard to future growth of the conifers if not controlled.
4 years ago

What kind of people?  I'm not sure I can answer that one very well.

Folks who are keen to grow good food and swap good food with good neighbors?   I'm old now.  They say the tastebuds are the last to go.

Seriously ... gardeners and wanna be gardeners ... people with enough sincere interest in an immediate and lush environment to generate their own very steep learning curve ... and then perhaps be willing someday to share their knowledge with others?

People who probably want to build their own camp/cabin/homestead.  Creative people with lots of common sense too.

People without drama and who do not suck the air out of a room or conversation.  Good listeners and story tellers are always valued.  

Honest folk who can think and talk straight.

People with kids ... people with great grandkids.  Retired teachers, and those just getting ready to teach.  Single folk, retired folk ... maybe even a musician or two.  

How about someone who knows what the word Chautauqua means and who may have an itch to recreate a similar camp experience.




Academics might be tolerated, but accepted only after they produce their own garden or build their own treehouse.

But mostly gardeners.  Havng food and health in village common is a powerful unifying factor.  I don't care about the political, religious, or philosophical views of my nearest neighbor.  I care what he thinks about the soil he walks on and tends and what kind of eggplant she might be growing.

VISION?  It is a big space surrounded by big space here.  Room for lots of vision.  
My own?  A learning community.  A place for tending human potential and cradle to grave learning.
A healthy place.  A fair and honest place, and a resilient place when the chips are down.
A retreat and a haven.
A laboratory for an organic, Earth connected life.

Matt, I told you I would not be good at the answer to such a huge question.

What would you most like to know?

Is there room?  Plenty.  Come camp and look around.  Risk free.  It speaks to a lot of people who visit this big lake country for the first time.  Maybe it will have a whisper for you!

Vision?  A place where there is room for the genius ... the Light, in everyone.  A place to learn and grow.  A laboratory for Life.
4 years ago
SPRUCE? I've seen the same here in the Northern Lower Peninsula.  Heaviest seed crop I can remember seeing.

We were breaking limbs on apple and chestnut trees.

Other anomalies?

How about NO TOMATO CATERPILLARS?   We've never had a season without picking dozens of fat-fat worms off our heirloom collections.  In fact, there have been fewer insects here all around.  Few MONARCH BUTTERFLIES ... indeed, few butterflies of any kind.  Did not use any insect repellent at all this year.  Fact is, I cannot recall a single mosquito bite this year.  

POTATOES?  I'll do some asking around as I do not grow my own spuds as a rule.  I have limited garden space, and with the presence of several large potato farms in the area have chosen not to use space growing something I can buy or trade for so easily.

Tubers?  Root crops in general?  Turnips seem smaller, but plant tops are plush with fat green growth of substantial size.  And JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES are the tallest I've ever seen.  Normally six feet or so on average, we have many over 12 feet tall with stalks significantly heavier than normal.  

But how about that groundwater?  I know ground water levels can be obscured because they are out of our site.  Any noticeable changes in well levels?

NO ... I'm not "afraid" of seasonal differences.  Just amused with how varied seasons and plant performance can change for reasons so poorly understood at times.

HOW IS THE ACORN CROP IN YOUR AREA?  How about a nut report from your region.  Walnuts?  Butternuts?  Chestnuts?  How about Pecans?
4 years ago
Erica, this is simply one of the finest and most practical descriptions of a region I think I have ever heard.

Congratulations on knowing a place so well ... and thank you for applying such clarity and intelligence to the task.

I will point others to this post as an example of "new native" intelligence expressed by a thorough understanding of their place and surrounds.

Well done ... well done indeed
4 years ago
Just fishing for any folks who might be asking, "IS SOMETHING GOING ON WITH THE SEASON"?

Is anyone seeing really unusual happenings in plant growth and performance in your area. ---  I know, every season is different from every other, but we have folks talking here in the northern Great Lakes and wondering if something is going on with the sun, or some other element than mere seasonal differences in precipitation and temperature.

For example:  Trees that have not borne a single fruit in decades ... or ever, this year have not only a bumper crop of fruit, but of very large fruit as well.
There are almost no black walnuts to be had, but the chestnuts are fantastically laden with not only a HEAVY crop, which usually means smaller nuts, but a HEAVY CROP of ESPECIALLY LARGE NUTS.

We have large tomatoes still setting fruit and heavy fruit still ripening some 30 days beyond our historic average date for first frost.

Here is another seasonal weirdness:  "PEAK COLOR" in the sugar maples and hardwoods of this region is right around Oct.1, plus or minus a few days.  In some years, the leaves are already down or nearly so by this date (Oct 15).  And yet the color change almost has not even started yet.  The color season is almost a month LATE.

And just to throw in a wildcard, ground water levels are up several feet with dry lake beds now full of water.  The Great Lakes were recently approaching historic heights and nothing in the regional pattern of precipitation can account fully for this rise from recent historic lows.  Radical lake water reactions?

So ... weird stuff.  But is anyone else seeing anything really unusual or odd about what is or is not happening in Nature?

One fellow is suggesting the plants are reacting differently due to changes in the nature of the sun light itself.  Can anyone with better knowledge comment on this theory and what it might mean?

Is water being driven up from the interior of the Earth?  Is this a prelude to "the Big One"?

Life would not be as fun without the occasional paranoia ...
4 years ago
How about a winter with the Ojibwa and Odawa tribes of the Upper Great Lakes?

4 years ago