The Moroccan Food Forest That Inspired an Agricultural Revolution

By Eric J. Wallace
These ancient forest gardens may be more relevant than ever.

Before modernization, food forests were a staple of indigenous communities in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and beyond. Though most have vanished, vestiges have been identified in places as diverse as Tanzania, southern India, Indonesia, the Amazon Rainforest, Central America, and the Caribbean islands.

“This method of agriculture was used throughout the world, but particularly in tropical regions, where multi-species food forests were once the dominant method of production,” says John F. Munsell, Virginia Tech professor of agroforestry and co-author of 2018’s The Community Food Forest Handbook. Though little is known about their early history and adaption, Munsell says forest gardens began with villagers seeking to make their lives easier.

“They settled inside or along forest edges and relied on them for food,” he says. “Naturally, they started managing and altering the environment to their advantage.”

Useful plants were cultivated. Those that weren’t got weaned out. As space opened up, new species were added.

“Say you find bananas growing a mile away,” says Munsell. “That’s great. But it takes time and energy to harvest those resources. Planting them in your backyard is infinitely more convenient.” If you apply that thinking across centuries, “the region’s indigent edible plants became aggregated in one spot.”

Villagers mimicked natural relationships and planted certain species closer to others. Trade introduced non-native plants. Trial-and-error brought horticultural knowledge. Techniques were passed down and steadily improved.

In time, conditions supporting helpful or edible bugs were encouraged. Ditto for mushrooms and medicinal herbs. Gardens came to include plants and nuts that fed livestock such as pigs or goats. Waterways were diverted and rainwater impoundments installed. Domesticated birds including chickens, guineas, and pheasants ate unwanted insects. Restricted to given areas, goats cleared brush. Pigs rooted in the soil, preparing it for planting. The animals’ manure served as fertilizer.

“The goal was effectively to create an agricultural ecosystem that was as self-sustaining as possible,” says Munsell. As a result, advanced region-specific methodologies emerged.

Source: The Moroccan Food Forest That Inspired an Agricultural Revolution – Gastro Obscura, 2019-04-01

‘If we don’t burn it, nature will’: Georgia blazes old fears, leads nation in prescribed fire

By Samantha Max and Maya Miller
As wildfires ravage the West, environmentalists and landowners in Georgia and the Southeast are preventing uncontrolled blazes and preserving the environment with prescribed burns.

Mark Melvin lit a match and dropped it to the forest floor. He then lit another and another, blazing a circle of flames around a towering pine tree.

Soon, a bright orange glow swallowed 113 acres of brush, radiating a skin-piercing heat. A thick fog rose from the ground, casting a shadow on the amber tree trunks looming above.

Lighting fires is like playing a game of chess, Melvin said. You always have to be one step ahead.

“I can see the fire before I light it,” he said.

Melvin is no arsonist. He’s a forest manager, responsible for about 18,000 acres of woods at the Joseph W. Jones Center at Ichauway Plantation in southwest Georgia. The expansive range, once the quail hunting preserve of Coca-Cola’s former president and host to distinguished guests like former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is now a living laboratory for some of the country’s leading environmental scientists.

Each winter for the last two decades, Melvin has set fires to cement that legacy. On days when the weather and wind allow, he makes a detailed plan, applies for a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission, and suits up in a mustard jacket and brown leather boots for a few hours of fire and smoke.

For him, fire is not just destructive — it’s an agent of change. The flames lick away layers of pine needles and fallen leaves, clearing a path for sunlight to seep in and sprout fresh shoots of grass.

Forests need fire. Without them, plants die, animals leave, and mounds of flammable undergrowth pile high. Rather than wait for a lightning strike or cigarette butt to spark an uncontrollable wave of flames, Melvin conducts controlled burns, also known as prescribed fire.

“Just like a doctor prescribes medication to keep their patient healthy, we prescribe fire to keep the forest healthy,” Melvin said.

Read more here: https://www.macon.com/news/state/georgia/article230380414.html#storylink=cpy

Source: ‘If we don’t burn it, nature will’: Georgia blazes old fears, leads nation in prescribed fire – The Telegraph, 2019-06-11

A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth

By Andy Kubis
The relatively new technique counters what had been traditional practice. But, one forester said, “It’s more natural — the way it was supposed to be, the way it was before mining.”

Deep in the Moshannon State Forest in Elk County, there’s a sloped, barren patch of land surrounded by an otherwise healthy forest. It looks as if a tornado has torn through here — the earth has been churned up, with tangled roots and jumbled rocks.

In the late 1800s, this area was deep-mined. Later, it was strip-mined. When the coal companies left in the mid-1990s, the land was abandoned. Then about twelve years ago, the site was reclaimed. Trees were planted, but didn’t take, as often happens on reclaimed minelands.

“The technology back then was to just re-contour the land,” explains John Hecker, a forester for the state who manages this track of land. “But the bulldozers, as they ran over the land, they compacted the soil. Trees don’t do very well on compacted soil. This site is a good example of that.”

What few trees are here are extremely stunted and thin. But now this — and hundreds of acres of formerly mined land in Pennsylvania — are getting an ecological do-over. ‘Reclamation 2.0,’ you could call it.

That’s why the ground is ripped apart. A jumbo-sized bulldozer with a 3-foot blade came through here earlier in the year and criss crossed the area with deep furrows. As the dozer went through, it blended the materials together to make what looks like very healthy soil: a lot of shale, pre-mined and native soils and sandstone.

“Now the tree roots [can] grow down into that loose soil where it’s moist,” Hecker said. “Those trees will really grow well.”

This aggressive form of bulldozing is a relatively new technique; it’s only been used for the last 10 years or so. It’s called the Forestry Reclamation Approach.

Source: A new strategy to regrow a forest on abandoned mineland: Start by tearing up the earth – StateImpact Pennsylvania, 2019-06-07

Trees talk to each other and scientists have mapped the network

By Robert Dalheim
Scientists discovered that trees talk to each other through the Wood Wide Web. And now, they’ve mapped it.

Do trees actually talk to each other? And if so, how do they do it?

Just over 20 years ago, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees do communicate with each other, and it’s through a fungal network scientists have nicknamed the Wood Wide Web.

And now, an international team of scientists has created the first global map of the vast underground network. They did this by creating a computer algorithm to analyze a database from the Global Forest Inititiave, which includes 1.2 million trees in more than 70 countries.

The algorithm takes into account the different fungal species that associate with each tree species. It also takes into account local climate factors – which the scientists say has the biggest role to play.

“It’s the first time that we’ve been able to understand the world beneath our feet, but at a global scale,” Thomas Crowther, an author of the study from ETH Zurich, told the BBC. “Just like an MRI scan of the brain helps us to understand how the brain works, this global map of the fungi beneath the soil helps us to understand how global ecosystems work.

“What we find is that certain types of microorganisms live in certain parts of the world, and by understanding that we can figure out how to restore different types of ecosystems and also how the climate is changing,” he said.

Source: Trees talk to each other and scientists have mapped the network – Woodworking News, 2019-05-16

What it feels like … to work with trees

By Susan Swarbrick
Ben Quarcoo, operations forester for Forestry and Land Scotland

I HAVE worked in forestry for 14 years and cover the central belt stretching all the way from South Lanarkshire up towards Stirling.

My area includes Whitelee Forest at Eaglesham Moor, the Kilpatrick Hills, Lennox Forest, the Campsie Fells and into the Carron Valley. Most of the land isn’t within high population areas, but there are some woods in or around towns or cities such as Cardowan Moss in Easterhouse, Drumchapel Woods and Greenoakhill near Glasgow.

I was born and grew up in Ghana. It is in the tropical belt and the persistent heavy downpours – there is only a short dry season – help to create broad-ranging diversity. The trees grow almost year-round, but here in Scotland we have two distinct growing seasons: spring and summer.

Before moving to the UK, I worked for the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi where I researched forest management, soil civilisation, tree establishment and water catchment quality. I completed a master’s degree in environmental forestry management at Bangor University in Wales and joined Forestry and Land Scotland, formerly Forest Enterprise Scotland.

My role involves everything from ensuring ground conditions are well prepared to managing drainage. There are utility services across the forest estate with gas pipelines, underground cables, water supplies and overhead powerlines all criss-crossing, so you need to know what you are doing and where you are digging. We construct firebreaks – clearing a strip of open space at least five metres wide – so that if wildfire breaks out it can’t quickly ravage the forest.

Source: What it feels like … to work with trees – HeraldScotland, 2019-05-14

How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S.

By Matthew Wills
The dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of the longleaf pine helped build up U.S. cities. But most of the native stands have already been logged.

If you’ve ever been to Brooklyn Bridge Park, you may have seen the sturdy, wooden-beamed benches facing the harbor. The wood for the benches was salvaged from the old National Cold Storage Warehouse complex, which was demolished for the construction of the park. It timber comes from the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, some of which was cut in the decades before 1900. The trees themselves might have been up to five centuries old when they were felled.

The Brooklyn Bridge itself had caissons—essentially enormous, upside down boxes—made of longleaf pine. The foundations of the bridge’s two towers were excavated by men working inside these caissons on the bottom of the East River. Once the excavation was done—at terrible human cost, due to caisson’s disease, AKA decompression sickness—the caissons were filled in to form the frames of the foundations of the bridge.

Even dead, the dense, resin-saturated, rot-resistant timber of longleaf pine survives a very long time. Many cities in the U.S. have nineteenth-century buildings that were built with the “good bones” of longleaf pine. They’re harvested to this day, but not in the volume they once were. There’s a simple reason for that: There just aren’t that many of them anymore.

Geographers Garrett C. Smith, Mark W. Patterson, and Harold R. Trendell track the demise of the longleaf ecosystem. When Europeans arrived in the southeast, the pines covered the coast plain from what is now the Virginia/North Carolina border into Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Estimates of the total size of this pine savannah range from 60 to 147 million acres. There are far fewer of the trees now, and only a tiny proportion of the remnant is old growth. An example: in 1607, there was an estimated one million acres of longleaf pine in Virginia alone; in 2005, there were some 200 individual trees.

Source: How Longleaf Pines Helped Build the U.S. – JSTOR Daily, 2019-05-16

How Trees Fare in Big Hurricanes

By Amber Dance
Forests are resilient, but researchers wonder if climate change will outpace their adaptations.

Trees bowed to 45-degree angles and flying leaves crisscrossed the sky as Hurricane Florence ravaged North Carolina’s coast and inland regions in mid-September 2018. The storm, which peaked as a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall near Wilmington as a Category 1, deluged parts of the state with nearly three feet of rain. It stripped the leaves off black walnuts, crape myrtles, and their entwining wisterias, especially on the north and northeast sides of the trees, which bore the full brunt of the 100-plus-mile-per-hour wind gusts. An estimated 1.25 million acres of timber, valued at nearly $70 million, suffered varying degrees of damage.

Whoppers like Florence are a reality that North Carolina—not to mention the rest of the Eastern seaboard and the Caribbean—may have to get used to in the near future. Historically, a given location might only see such destructive hurricanes every few decades. But with global temperatures on the rise, the risk that a fledgling storm system will grow to “major” status, defined as category 3 and above, is likely to climb. Warming oceans mean more water vapor in the air, and that vapor is what fuels the storms. “One of the signals that we expect from climate change is that the strongest hurricanes will get stronger,” says Gary Lackmann, an atmospheric scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

What does that mean for trees? The scene in the woods after Florence was one of seeming devastation. In every direction, trees, branches, and brush littered the ground. Yet just a few weeks after the storm, the stripped trees sprouted fresh leaves and flowers. It may have been autumn, but the trees already had leaf and flower buds in waiting for the upcoming spring, explains Jim Slye, assistant regional forester with the state forest service in Goldsboro. Re-leafing after storms helps keep the trees’ circulation going, and flowering allows trees to drop seeds in case they end up succumbing to storm damage. The trees won’t necessarily die, though; tree ring studies make it clear that many survived past storms.

Source: How Trees Fare in Big Hurricanes – The Scientust, 2019-02-01

Woodland Revival: Rehabilitating Japan’s Forests with Small-Scale Harvesting

By Satō Noriko
Japan’s forestry industry has long suffered from low timber prices and a dwindling, aging workforce. Today loggers are increasingly letting woodlands revert to an untended natural state. Small-scale logging is gaining attention as a way to revive the timber industry and better manage the country’s forests.

Forests account for some 70% of Japan’s land area. Intimately tied with the nation’s development, woodlands since ancient times have provided residents with timber for building, raw materials for crafting tools and everyday utensils, and fuel for cooking and heating. Forests have also had a vital role in agriculture, with farmers plowing leaves and brush into fields as fertilizer. However, dependence has frequently resulted in overexploitation, and governments throughout Japanese history have struggled to balance demand for timber with the need to conserve forest resources.

Source: Woodland Revival: Rehabilitating Japan’s Forests with Small-Scale Harvesting – nippon.com, 2019-01-31

Explore these maps of North America’s blooming timber industry

AN has mapped the schools, organizations, and manufacturers across the U.S. and Canada that are powering the domestic timber boom.

The timber industry has long thrived on its small-scale, local nature due to the sourcing of its materials as well as the limits on project size set by the building code. With this has come a good deal of fragmentation and disorganization, so we decided to map out the different schools, organizations, and manufacturers that are leading the way in the research and development of mass timber across the United States and Canada.

Source: Explore these maps of North America’s blooming timber industry – The Architects’ Newspaper, 2019-01-24

The Emerald Ash Borer is Coming!

The emerald ash borer is known by entomologists by its acronym: EAB. If you’re an insect aficionado or a tree lover, you likely already know this name. For the rest of you, it’s a name you will know soon enough. It is the cause of arguably the most catastrophic current tree death events in the history of North America.

Source: The Emerald Ash Borer is Coming! – Untamed Science, 2018-11-04