A look back: The year and a decade in review

2017 marks a decade since we started our conservation projects in earnest.

How timely then, that we were scheduled for a review by the Forest Stewardship Council. The FSC logo you see on your recycled and green wood products indicates the product has been certified to actually be “green”. Members adhere to specific standards that make their forests more planet-friendly. An agency – in our case, the Northwest Natural Resource Group – holds the certificate for its members, shepherds us along, and makes sure we report pesticide use and generally keep to the righteous path. Every few years the FSC audits a portion of the properties that are members of NNRG. This year we were asked to compare current practices to our management plan and explain how we measure our progress. Short answer: mainly by looking, because our “crop” is conservation, so it’s pretty simple compared to an actual tree farm.

It was helpful to look back and see where we are. The original plan was to restore oak savanna and woodland throughout the property. Some areas needed to be logged, others could be sheared and mowed. We have stuck with projects laid out by the Conservation District which differ from the management plan done by a consultant because some of the steeper areas are just too difficult or expensive to access.

Below, a few reflections, photos and assessments.

Progress is incremental. Everything takes time. We will get the scotch broom corralled eventually. Some increments that I appreciate are:

The savanna (really almost a bald) is still savanna-like. Scotch broom was as tall as the tractor when we started but thin soil and hot exposure have slowed down growth.

In all parts of the property, legacy patches of native wildflowers continue to expand and I enjoy finding the odd new plant or population, which gives me great hope, even though there will always be weeds and non natives.

The woodland oaks have more space and continue to put on growth after being crowded for many years. These things are best seen in contrast with previous condition.

 

Maintenance is forever. Yes, it is. Scotch broom is not forever, but it seems like it.

Getting new stuff to grow is a challenge, but Roemer’s fescue has really been a friend. California oat grass was hanging on when we arrived, we’ve seeded more of it and it’s a lovely bunch grass.

In the absence of fire, a good mowing makes everything better. I would like to burn more. but we don’t have fire available for management (land area too small, too close to neighbors, too expensive, etc), so we must pick our battles and do what we can.

Early- or mid-summer is the best time to mow for our objectives, because this often will kill mature scotch broom. But it is difficult to find a mower operator who will do this when we need it. Tom’s walk-behind has been a great help to reduce the non-native grass thatch in many places and a get to some of the broom in a timely fashion after the natives are done blooming.

Some firs have died of drought in the last few years – a sign that they are not suited to this site and/or climate change in this location. Possibly the thinning took away some of their support system.

dying fir. 2017

Douglas fir dying from the top down from repeated drought

Trees that were girdled to make space in the Land of Moose and Squirrel are toppling over but the big snags live on, with their tufts of branches still green, for now. The plan was to make them last as long as possible and right now they pose little threat to the surrounding oaks while offering a perch and some cavities for birds and squirrels.

Some oaks will unfortunately be on the losing end as conifers outgrow them in the inaccessible areas. On the positive side, our steep slopes provide many niches that are home to a variety of species, and some prefer a mixed forest, or a more closed canopy and patchy landscapes are natural. The thickest scotch broom was even favored by common yellowthroats in past years, although that will not save it from the knife I’m afraid.

Our squirrel survey revealed that western gray squirrels were using some pretty dense vegetation, and we see them in conifers around the house. On moister lower slopes, birds like Pacific slope flycatchers and black-throated gray warblers prefer our damp, cool headwater streams, shaded by a mixed conifer/oak forest that protects the water table and is the source of our springs. Sword ferns and moss carpet the ground. Wilson’s warblers return to their low perches here every year. It is a cool and welcome spot during the longer, hotter summers.

2017-12-20 edge.wdlnd.mixedforest

Mixed woodland, young firs will overtop oaks in time. Dead scotch broom in foreground.

 

Current Projects

In partnership with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation DIstrict, we are working to get the broom under control so we can manage it better. The woodland areas have a more benign microclimate and deeper soils than the savanna. Hence more weed invasion. Removing tree cover plus soil disturbance, while beneficial to oaks, has had the predictable result of releasing scotch broom to grow rampantly and outpace our control efforts. Repeated mowing early on kept the broom short, but did not kill it and it rebounded in the last few years. We were able to hire a contractor to spray and mow the worst of it this year.

In one area there are a lot of native plants hiding underneath, including rein orchids. We tried hand cutting and painting first (at my request) to see if we could avoid broadcast spraying. But after a morning of slogging, with the prospect of even taller and denser broom to come, I relented and agreed overspraying was a better choice. Fortunately James, our contractor, was quite careful (he really liked the orchids, which were new to him), and by the time he came back to mow, the orchids and other wildflowers were mostly underground, post-bloom. The wintertime “after” photo below makes me so happy!

Next year we’ll go in for a cleanup to spray regrowth missed on the first pass and make a plan for the seedlings – likely a combination of careful pulling and spraying in the dormant season. One mistake we will not repeat is to keep mowing the broom when it is small, since that just grows bigger roots for growth the next season.

In the third year of the project I plan to spray out non-native grass in several otherwise “clean” areas for a broadcast sowing of native plant seed. Non-native grasses are the second most vexatious problem we have. Burning a few smaller piles of slash works well to pave the way for broadcast sowings of California oat grass and Roemer’s fescue plus wildflowers. Checkermallow (Sidalcea spp) is still germinating from sowings more than a year or two ago, and slowly we are increasing the ratio of native to non native. I will be keeping an eye out, especially in the woodlands for new populations of natives(like the mystery lily below) and hand-weeding life rings around them .

Finally, aside from weeds, one of the challenges in the last few years has been unusually heavy winter rains that scour our small headwater streams. Adjacent land that formerly was covered with forests in various stages of regrowth has been cleared for agriculture, or just cleared and gone to broom. This means rainwater doesn’t get intercepted and soak slowly down to the water table like it used to. A rain drop takes hours, instead of days, to reach the creek across the road. We do what we can to slow it down, but as you can see, there is a large watershed area off the property. Our little paths have undersized culverts where they cross the streams, so the culverts get plugged up.

Again the Conservation District came through to quantify catchment areas and re-size some culverts that will be replaced, to handle the increased water volume. Eye opening views of our hydrology came to light in these maps. Ouch, no wonder there’s such a torrent.

We are slowly making some progress to bring back more native habitat and native plants. The weeds will always be with us, but we continue to make headway and enjoy our animals, birds, and plants through the seasons and the years.

Oyster Yard 2013

It’s oyster mushroom season here in the Pacific NW. This is the domestic variety on our Oregon white oak logs. Soon it will be time to cut and inoculate a new batch. I think the next one will be combo logs of both shiitake and oyster. Should it be warm or cold weather shiitakes? Vote early and often using the contact form!IMG_4609 OystersOct2013 OysterYard2

Thanks everyone, for a successful day at the McMinnville market!

Thanks to everyone who came by, purchased a log, and praised the mushroom logs today at the market.

We had a group of excellent, enthusiastic, and fearless log lovers pass by our booth today. Thank you for purchasing logs and liking the whole idea of raising mushrooms in your own gardens!

Please stay in touch and send tales of mushroom growing, questions, recipes, and photos of your logs to the blog. We’ll be back at the Mac farmer’s market in a few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to send your comments via the contact form here in the sidebar.

The mushrooms go to the farmer’s market

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We packed up mushroom logs, table, signs and market canopy and went off to Mac for our inaugural market Thursday.

It was a pleasant afternoon sitting in the shade of the tents, amid quiet chatter of market goers. We enjoyed meeting neighbors from Gopher Valley, citizens of the burg of McMinnville and points nearby, vacationers from Florida, Georgia, Arizona, California (presumably getting away from the heat and humidity) who could not possibly put a log on the plane or keep it in an RV, and listening to all kinds of stories.

Each stroller occupant, couple, family, and individual provided a fresh opportunity to find out what people think of this whole mushroom log thing. Questions about the logs were remarkably similar, but the range of individual reactions to our invitation to try growing mushrooms were instructive and surprising. One sees the spectrum of approaches to life in general through the prism of log-buying decisions.

People were mostly adventurous enough to taste a morsel  – sautéed in olive oil and butter, they were aromatic and exquisitely flavorful.

Kids were fascinated or appalled by the mushrooms. Young men often find them very cool. Some people hesitate because this whole mushroom growing/pet log sort of thing seems a bit arcane, or entails responsibilities akin to adoption, or it’s just weird or maybe too science-y. It’s an opportunity for knowledge-sharers to expound on their own mushroom experiences, preferences, and general outlook on the whole subject, not intending to purchase. Others embrace the idea gleefully with open minds.

Quite a few people approach this small thing (buying a log inoculated with mushroom spawn that will produce something akin to a tomato or an apple) as if it were a major investment – like buying a car. “Well, I don’t know… ” Even gardeners seem to have a hard time with the idea that you just need to KEEP IT MOIST BY SOAKING IT IN WATER EVERY 10 DAYS OR SO AND PUT IT IN THE SHADE. Really, it’s only a log! If you can water a houseplant or a shrub, you can deal with this. If you somehow mess it up, at least it was an adventure. I just want to say, “Here’s a conversation piece, have fun – don’t worry!”

A few of my favorite moments: the young woman with two little girls and a baby in a front pack who bought a log as a surprise for her husband, having missed an earlier opportunity on his birthday or Father’s day. I delivered it after the market closed and the kids’ were just bubbling over anticipating its arrival.

Once, I returned from an errand to see my husband completing a transaction with a young guy who had come by to look earlier; he brought a woman, who was absorbed in cradling the log and looking intently at all the mushrooms growing on it. They were smitten with the whole idea.

People who said they would come back later in the day to buy mushrooms or a log, actually did.

Clearly, mushroom logs engender a very intense food raising experience that tomato plants do not.

Maybe next week I will press a mushroom log on the timid and doubtful and they will take one home and it will be the best experience of their whole year. It will open their eyes to the world of trying new things, and finding out it actually works!