Imagine you could eat 3.5 ounces of something and get 28% of your daily protein, 30% of your calcium, 17% of your potassium, 14% of your daily fibre and 62% of your magnesium requirement. Oh, and also 670 energy supplying calories. Bonus: you get to pick it off a tree, which will continue supplying this bounty for the next 25 years or more.
Pine nuts can do this for you. In all there are about twelve useful nut producing pine trees found across Asia, Siberia, Europe and in the Southern United States. While all of the 100+ pine trees found around the world produce seeds, approximately 20 species produce nuts large enough for collecting however, as I mentioned above, only about 12 are important nut producers.
In the US nut collecting from native species is done exclusively with pinyon pines. The bulk of commercial pine nuts sold are collected in the wild.
In the northern sections of North America pine nuts are collected from imported varieties, with the Korean species, Pinus koraiensis, probably being the most popular because of the size of it’s nut. The Korean Pine can be grown in Zones 2-9, so it is extremely tolerant of cold climates.
You can find a great round up of the various species of pine nut trees typically available for purchase here on Rhora’s Nut Trees web page.
For a great round up on pinyon pines and harvesting their nuts try this article by Hank Shaw.
Pinyon pines are slow growing so the likelihood of you harvesting from your own tree are slight. However, if you are on property you expect to stay on for a few years, you might want to consider starting some Korean Pine. As mentioned on the Rhora’s site, hybrids are now becoming available which can bear fruit in as little as 6 years, and they bear nuts that are up to 30% larger than non-hybrid types.
If you are establishing a homestead, whether rural or urban, you should consider planting some of these trees. They do reach a considerable size, but so do the pine and spruce that I see growing beside many a suburban ranch style home around town. And if you have a couple of acres, not only are you able to provide a tasty and nutritious product for your family, you could also be creating a small supplemental income. Pine nuts are selling for up to $40.00 a pound. At a farmers market, where you can advertise “locally produced,” and offer 4 oz packages, you could be making a lot more than that.
Pine nut trees are definitely multi purpose, providing shade, wind protection and landscape interest as well as a tasty and nutritious food product. They fit in perfectly with the Survival Harvesting principle of work once, harvest many.
I’ve dropped the nutrition table I gleaned the opening paragraph information from down below. Consider pine nuts. Remember, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.
I like the idea of working once and reaping benefits for an extended period of time. That is why mushrooms are appealing. Whether you find them in the wild or on your property, you can expect to see them popping up again in more or less the same place year after year. Search once, reap many.
Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms present you with a similar situation when you cultivate them yourself. If you have a little bit of space in your backyard, or a small bush lot, you can inoculate some hardwood logs and expect to reap a mushroom harvest for 3-4 years.
I am not going to go into the details of hunting for and picking wild mushrooms. There are a ton of varieties and sometimes the differences between toxic and okay to eat are subtle. I will provide a couple of guides. The Canadian one is suitable for a lot of the US, from the east coast to the west. Of course, the Eastern Forests guide is as titled.
I had a lot more trouble finding a large, comprehensive guide to US mushrooms than Canadian. Since there are a ton of agricultural research stations, university agricultural extension services and local groups, I suggest you try a Google search with your location and “wild mushroom education” in the search field. I tried it with “ohio wild mushroom identification” and got lots of results. Try a similar search and add the words “guide” or “class.” I am sure you will find something useful and worth your time.
What I want to focus on in this post is raising edible Oyster and Lions Mane mushrooms. These are two of the easier ones to cultivate. And I want to focus on doing it out of doors using logs.
Basically you need to find the right type of logs, fresh enough cut that they are still holding ample moisture. You have to inoculate them with mushroom spawn and place them in the right locations, or so arranged that they get the right amount of shade. Depending on the weather you may need to water the logs periodically. But essentially you walk away.
You maximize harvest by creating the right kind of log environment and using the spawn efficiently. In the wild, mushroom spawn may find the right environment to reproduce or it may not. If it does, it may be in competition with the spores from some other type of fungi. If there isn’t ample shade, then as the seasons progress, it may get too much sunlight. If there is an extended dry spell, then the small struggling mushroom may just dry up and blow away. By lending a hand to Mother Nature, we help ensure survival, and many meals for the future.
One of the simplest ways to get a harvest of mushrooms is to use the Oyster mushroom Totem Method of cultivation. Click on the picture to get a concise two page explanation of the complete process.
The same method can be used for Lions Mane. Select fresh logs about 2 feet long and around a foot thick that were cut before the trees leafed out. Keep your cuts at right angles to the length because you are going to stack the pieces on top of each other.
Cut the logs in half again (about a foot long) and slice a 2″ disk from the outer end of one of them. Put a sharpie mark on the logs where the cuts are going to go so that you can put the pieces back together as exactly as possible. This will make secure stacking more likely.
Put a piece of cardboard on the ground to keep the wood from being contaminated by native fungi and put some spawn on the cardboard. Now stack the longer piece of log on the cardboard. Put more spawn on the upper end of this piece and stack the 10″ section on top of it, lining up the marks. Place more spawn on the upper surface of the second piece and then top it off with the two inch disk.
Cover the whole structure with the kind of brown paper bag used for garden waste and loosely tie it in place. The bag will waste away but you can remove it in six months or so if you wish. You want your logs to be well shaded so that your log sections don’t dry out too much. If your logs are surrounded by evergreens you can be sure they will receive shade summer and winter. All you have to do is check back in the fall or the next year and start picking. This type of setup will continue to produce for up to four years.
Shiitake mushrooms are a little more complicated, but not much. I will examine how to grow your own supply of Shiitakes in another post.
What feeds people, horses, cows, pigs, sheep and goats, produces a by-product of wood, anchors soils, preserves moisture in the soil, creates plant material that breaks down into compostand creates microclimates with shade and windbreaks? Nut trees, in particular the chestnut tree, according to J. Russell Smith in his 1929 book “Tree Crops – A Permanent Agriculture.”
Smith championed tree crops used in a planned and integrated way long before Robert Hart stated talking about “Forest Gardening” in 1980.
Low Work Feed for Livestock
In his book Smith describes the efforts of Georgia farmer R. O. Lombard who eventually had a wide variety of nut trees and other fruit producers including”two hundred everbearing mulberries, two hundred hog plums, two hundred wild cherries, three varieties of haws, and mock oranges.” In all he had twenty-six crops growing wild and cultivated on his three hundred acres. In addition to those mentioned he had huckleberries, blackberries, acorn bearing oaks, hickory nuts, chestnuts, chinquapin nuts and hazelnuts.
These plants required little care from him and they kept him with a continuous supply of food for forty hogs who fed on the fruits of these trees throughout the year. YOU don’t need three hundred acres to take advantage of tree crops. A lot can be accomplished using a regular suburban lot. With some research, some careful thought and planning, you can start taking advantage of the space above the soil. This is a broad topic but in this post, as I suggest in the first paragraph, I want to narrow our focus to nut trees because of their special nutritional attributes.
Nutritional Values of Common Nuts
There are a wide variety of nut bearing trees and bushes. Stretching from northern lands down into southern latitudes nuts have provided food for man and beast alike. There are about a dozen nut trees that have become important from an agricultural point of view.
For a technical paper on the impact of nuts on cholesterol and cardiovascular disease see this.
First Steps in Raising Nut Trees
No matter where you are you can probably find at least some these trees and their hybrids available from local nurseries. By crossing different cultivars growers have produced varieties with a wide level of tolerances to varied climate zones. Your local providers will be a big help in making the correct choices. Most areas, provinces or states also have nut tree growers associations. Meeting and talking to other growers right in your locality will give you a strong start with nut trees. In my province of Ontario, the Society of Ontario Nut Growers has a host of information that is directly applicable to me. You can find local or regional associations by doing a simple Google search for “<your region> nut tree growers” or some variation.
Smith referenced the Georgia farmer Lombard who wisely diversified his plantings. You should consider doing the same to the best of your ability. Most nut trees need two varieties for best production, yielding hybrid vigour in offspring and in nut production. Some trees come in male and female types, so you will need to pay attention to this after having selected what nut trees you want to raise. Talking to local nurseries or growers is an important way for you to receive advice tailored to your local conditions.
No Land, No Problem
Don’t forget to assess trees off your land and in your immediate area. You may be able to harvest from neighbours trees. Coming to an arrangement with the folks next door or down the street in which you gather some of their tree’s nut harvest and you give your neighbours some of your tomatoes or the use of your rototiller each spring is good for everybody. It might be worthwhile to encourage neighbours to plant nut trees of their own. Increase varieties, diversity and the likelihood of produce in any given year. Some trees produce large harvests once every two or three years, as opposed to consistently on an annual basis.
Are you close to crown or state or federal land? If there is open access land near you, what are the requirements around harvesting. Most jurisdictions are very liberal if your harvest is for personal use. What about empty lots or acreage? If you spot some nut trees on land that is not currently occupied, the absentee owner might be willing or even happy to have you harvesting nuts from his trees. Possibly you can exchange some kind of labour for the right to harvest.
Nut trees are infrequently thought of when people look at the “fruit of the soil.” But they were an important food crop in earlier times, in advanced societies as well as developing ones. They could be again. I highly recommend you consider downloading Smith’s book, “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.”
Note: Let give you some information about the source for this download. Here is a statement from their “Home” page:
“This website provides free downloadable e-books about radical agriculture, natural hygiene/nature cure and self-sufficient homestead living. There are secondary collections involving social criticism and transformational psychology.
There is no fee for downloading anything in this library.
The library’s topic areas connect agricultural methods to the health and lifespan of animals and humans. A study of these materials reveals how to prevent and heal disease and increase longevity, suggests how to live a more fulfilling life and reveals social forces working against that possibility.”
They do accept donations. For a one time payment of 9 Euros, through Paypal, you can download as much of their library as you like and you can avoid future requests for donations. Certainly a fair request. I paid without thinking about it.
When talking about “tree crops” there is a lot more to cover, especially if we also include shrub and bush providers of fruits and berries. We will be covering some of these topics in future posts soon.