R Spencer

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since Oct 24, 2016
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What was that the tree said?
Interested in: mass reforestation; temperate climate agroforestry; ecosystem restoration; alchemy; building a better world instead of being angry at bad guys; "be a ladder, a lamp, a lifeboat!"
Skilled in: communications; IT; electrical; forestry; ecology; philosophy; wilderness skills
Working on more skills in: tree propagation; agroforestry; gardening; natural building; underground building; entrepreneurship; resolving dissonance; restoring humanity's mutualism with trees
Looking up to: Mark Shepard, Sepp Holzer, and many more.
Eastern Great Lakes lowlands, zone 4/5
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Recent posts by R Spencer

Is there a seasonality to well digging? Specifically for shallow hand-dug wells. I'm thinking of digging one in an area with quite a high water table and an abundance of relatively clean water, so buckets or pumps could draw water out of the well to be boiled potable or used as if coarse-filtered rainwater. I'm wondering what time of year would be most appropriate or inappropriate to do this, or if any time is fine.

Well specs I'm thinking ~18' something like in the following video. This would supplement rainwater and be used as a camping-like water source for...camping, and some plant nursery support. If/when I scale up to more substantial farm enteprises, I'd probably plunge into a higher pressure deep well, but I feel like a hand well has some wholesome potential.

Lots of work but I could do it bit by bit. For comparison, a modern well in this area is generally dug ~200' and total including lining, pressure tank and all is estimated to cost $6,000 - $9,000. Pretty good motive to dig to get a cheaper water source until more substantial pressure is needed.
3 months ago
Thinking in terms of restoration agriculture: what large fauna are native to the Eastern Great Lakes lowlands of NY, who are or have domestic relatives who are appropriate colleagues in agroecosystems? I extend that to fauna of Appalachia, as this region of NY is the northern range of many Appalachian species and I anticipate those ranges may creep northward (or at least I want to design for diversity around that possibility) if average temperatures rise here.

I'm interested in finding domestic analogs for naturally occurring animals. Turkeys are a great example. Land in this region tends toward swamps, marshes, meadows, and mixed hardwood forests. Turkeys are a natural participant in those ecosystems, and they are also a potential colleague on farm. Deer are a common large animal in these ecosystems but I have a harder time seeing a deer grazing operation as sensible, though admittedly I haven't done much research on that!

What other animals are or were once here, who are naturally inclined to enjoy life in harmony with meadows and mixed hardwoods, and who are potential colleagues in ecological farming enterprises? I'd like to find species I can work with so 1) fossil fuels are not needed for mowing or nutrient management, assisting with meadow stewardship while reforestation succeeds; and 2) basic needs are met in mutually beneficial ways for all creatures involved.

Turkeys, pheasants, ducks, rabbits mainly come to mind. I intuitively think of sheep and cattle for their pasture potential, but I'm not sure about their history here. Sheep seem fitting for similar ecotypes at least.
3 months ago
You can think of basal area that way. I've usually worked with it as a single number to describe all trees in an entire stand: this area of forest has 80sqft/ac stump surface area if we cut it all at 4.5ft high (standard height, 'breast height', to measure tree diameter). Some foresters use a single number describing only the marketable trees in the stand, merchantable basal area. You could also find that number on a per species basis with forest sampling methods, but you can probably get by without that much detail. It's more to figure out overall density and desired density (e.g. basal area of 70sqft/ac total is generally considered a good density for growing timber, so when density gets up to 100 and higher it's a good time to cut it back to 70). That sets the medium-level goals for silviculture prescriptions.

As for how you change the density, those low-level details are the prescription, and seed tree approach is good for creating a savanna feel. It's less forgiving than shelterwood, but the fact that you're a landowner-operator working on a small-scale makes up for that as I presume you'll take more care in what you cut vs leave.

Sounds like picking the seed trees is what you're most unsure of. Prioritize good genetics and species composition for what you want the future forest to look like. Make an effort to remove the bad genetics. This is the opposite of greedy logging: short-sighted folks will take the good stuff and leave the bad, but the best forestry is taking as much of the bad as you can and just enough of the good to pay for the operation, limiting yourself to ensure enough good genes are around for regeneration. Also think about spacing of those genetics, that's where basal area comes in. The change in basal area you desire can translate to how many trees are kept or removed in a cluster of say 5 or 10. That way you walk around and 10 trees at a time decide which to leave or take, then walk away and decide for the next cluster, do that systematically and eventually you should have an evenly spaced distribution of good selections getting you to the overall desired density.

Those old huge trees are great. Some standing dead wood is good for wildlife too, but that needs to balance with the need to mitigate hazard trees.

Lastly for deciding what to take or leave, consider if you want more even-aged or mixed-age future forest. It will be mixed-age unless you really try to even it out. But in seed tree you could be selecting an ancient tree to keep in one cluster, a middle-aged one in another cluster, a young adult in another etc. so the woods will develop into quite a mix over time until the next major disturbance.

As for regeneration with seed tree, I don't know how silvopasture will affect the regeneration from that cut. I've done seed tree cuts and seen results of past seed tree cuts, it can be really nice. One beautiful tree over here, a small cluster of great genes over there, pouring seed out on top of an existing seed bank now released - like a much sparser 'shelterwood' cut, as shelterwood has strips or larger clusters to reseed rather than seed tree's sparse individuals or small groups. Thing is with silvopasture, livestock might hinder natural regeneration or affect the seed bank somehow. Probably if you're hands on about it, planting trees and protecting them from livestock during establishment, it's a nonissue. Just something that comes to mind. Wildlife have an impact on natural regeneration for sure, but I bet it's a different kind of pressure on the new trees in intensity and timing than silvopasture.
3 months ago
Hey Kadence, best wishes on your efforts. Some techniques from conventional forestry that could be helpful:

- Think in terms of basal area (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_area) in planning and in implementing plans. This makes it easier to see the forest through the trees. I get stuck doing silviculture because I think about every tree, but with a prescription based on species and basal area for a forest stand (area of homogeneous characteristics), it's much easier for me to walk through and apply a prescription: if basal area is 100sqft/ac and I want to bring that down to 60sqft/ac, I can figure out what kind of trees translate into what amount of basal area (using wedge prism as in "variable plot sampling", very quick and requires simple tool), then walk the stand systematically considering clusters of trees and removing X trees to drop basal area as desired, making selections based on the silviculture prescription.

- Plan out a silvicultural prescription and stick to it. Even better if you can mark trees for a prescription in a separate time than cutting, so you can focus on doing each process well, each one deserves careful attention (silviculture for forest health, cutting requires full attention for your own health!)

- As you mark out your plan in the woods: think about access, light and seed bank. Natural regeneration forestry is a lot about using logging to manage light and soil exposure. Think about how cuts will change what plants and soil get light. Also it can be worth marking out your trail in a thoughtful way, as it will do damage skidding logs out of the woods and you want to be strategic about that damage. The way I used to do it with a company was to mark all trees to either cut or not to cut in a stand, then we lay out trails to access all the cut areas, making trails high and dry and strategic about what trees will get banged up when dragging logs out.

I would guess shelterwood cuts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelterwood_cutting) are appropriate for Ohio's mixed hardwoods, but that's a very rough guess lacking lots of important details. Reading up on good conditions for the silvopasture you desire, and appropriate cuts for the forest you're working with, is where I would start. Trying to find where those two converge: what change to the forest (e.g. reduction in basal area, species and age composition) suits the silvopasture, what cuts are appropriate to get the current forest there.

Eventually that all becomes more intuitive. But starting out if you can I think it's wise to be more systematic about it, to minimize long-term mistakes and build that intuition more thoroughly.
3 months ago
This is very inspiring Jay! My mind's been veering in this direction in northeast USA: shepherding sheep or cattle to manage meadow, and managing a tree nursery while reforesting fields.

Is the sheep your main business, at least paying for the cost of these land enterprises (having the animals, tree nursery and reforestation efforts)? How much land are you working on?

Your reforestation methods, so great to see!

Do the sheep harrass the trees or are the tree tubes sufficient?

How do you start the thickets of trees? I saw the potted nursery parts, that's more like what I have going on then I plant out 1 or 2 year old potted or bare-root trees. The thick groves of saplings seems like a nice way to get more mature trees for transplanting, though that transplanting can be hard work.

What's your mowing regime like for the nursery, new saplings, and sheep pastures?

Thanks for this work you're doing!
3 months ago
I agree both habitats are good. This helps me see there's really three different water management goals going on here:

1) facilitate access with minimal ecological harm. So for the 2 ephemeral pools in the middle of a hard-to-avoid path, I'll probably improve the path (or those patches at least) to drain the wet spots into a different area. Water bars, filling in with coarse then fine gravel, that sort of thing. Much more to learn before I do that though.

2) Select prime areas for ponds. The top of the property is the beginning of a new catchment at a road, so not a great place for a pond. The property is long pretty directly downslope with ~1% average slope. Somewhere midway through it where there are solid ephemeral ponds with convenient natural in- and out-flows, I'll probably try damming it up a little, digging it down, planting it out. Gonna take it slow at first and see what a shovel and time does before I bring in heavy equipment.

3) Dedicate and enhance areas of ephemeral ponding to become the habitat nature is tending toward. Basically 'do nothing' management, except planting some appropriate species and setting up surroundings so the areas can be left mostly undisturbed.
3 months ago
Thanks Mark, that all makes sense. I have a decent amount of experience forest gardening with trees in this area, and managing mature forest stands (thinking of light and silviculture). I think I got blinders on when a) thinking of a nut orchard which is sort of in-between the two areas I'm experienced in...part of what excites me about it! and b) it's on my own site now, which I've heard makes it harder to design in general than working on someone else's property!

I'll space the chestnuts and all a bit more. to leave room for inter-planting and equipment.
3 months ago
Throwing this in the mix since a CTRL+F search didn't bring up the word "indigenous".

I have heard a lot of push back against the permaculture movement because of many prominent permaculture people advertising techniques without citing their origins in Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

From the beginning permaculture is bad at properly citing things, I think by design, which is why it's gotten flack from academics who otherwise appreciate its ideas. The 'last straw' for many I know is the fact that ideas are advertised as permaculture ideas when really they are repackaged indigenous techniques. This is not true across the board, many permaculture people do acknowledge indigenous sources and stewards but too few.

Thing is, permaculture is a bit of anarchy, it's whatever someone decides to call it and it sounds most like whoever speaks loudest about it. Good to stay flexible about opinions I think.
3 months ago
Good points Tyler and Bryant, thanks.

I guess I'm thinking, what I see as a puddle in a field probably wants to be a wetland as Bryant said, but a puddle is not a wetland as is. How to make it a wetland? Not messing with it and letting it be is a good point, ponding it in some cases might make sense, setting up riparian edges around it is probably the best go-to option if any action.

The areas of most concern to me are those puddling spots that are the most natural access lines. There are two puddling spots in particular that wouldn't be easy to avoid traveling over: both near natural obstacles, artificial (property boundary) obstacles, and long-term land cover I wouldn't want to change (forest or creek nearby). So it seems like some kind of drainage and nearby pond + improved road is the best way to go in those cases. A tangent from the original question about ponding areas in general, thinking out loud on the topic.
3 months ago