The trees came in last week! Of course they came 22 hours before I was set to leave on a 1300 mile trip to marry off my best friend, so time was of the essence. I was able to get them in the ground with a modicum of marsh hay mulch before we left for Missouri, and was distracted most of the trip praying for rain while we were gone (unanswered, though the wedding was almost canceled due to tornadoes!). Upon our return I spent the next day sourcing materials to finish the beds on my back-hauls from delivering Rain Barrels to clients. The picture above shows the prep work as I left them last Thursday: on the right is the Speckle Pear with a Paw Paw on the other side of the bed and a pair of Hardy Kiwis on the fence. Edible Landscaping was unable to meet my order on the Paw Paw and only had 1 gallon trees on hand-hence the 18″ tall “tree”. What is impossible to see in this shot is the 3 French Sorrel, 2 Russian Comfrey, 2 perennial Clovers, 2 New Jersey Tea’s, and 2 Hazelnut Shrubs that are also part of this polyculture. The grass surrounding this planting will be sheet mulched this month in preparation for more plantings next year.
At left is another of the tree guilds, this time anchored on an Asian Hosoui Pear Tree. This guild butts up against a 300 sq ft native planting that will provide a significant degree of diversity in both soil and insect life. This picture was taken after I had added a 3″ layer of 9 month old leave compost from our village yard. The pile was steaming when I forked it into my trailer so the soil ecology will get a nice jumpstart of microorganisms! This bed includes New Jersey Tea, Comfrey, Nodding Pink Onions, and Garlic Chives in the understory, with another dozen or so prairie plants within 10 feet. In the background can be seen some of my compost bins and the tandem rain barrel set I am moving from the front yard to make room for a new, larger system I installed last week.
The bed at right has the second Paw Paw mini tree and the usual suspects in the understory. This demonstrates about how the beds look “finished” with another 4″ of wood chips from the village yard on top of the 3″ of compost. In the front yard I have the 2 peach trees in similar guilds, though one gets a mulch more elaborate understory complete with multiple nitrogen fixers and a bastion of beneficial attractants from still more native plantings and our large rain garden. I am lavishing plants on these guilds in my respect for the impending pest pressure that the peach trees will undoubtedly experience.
A few more thoughts on my prep. I took the unusual permaculture step of ripping the sod off. This is typically a no-no as you deplete the soil of its organic layer and much of its ecology. However, my sod is rife with quack grass and I had no interest in giving it a leg up in my forest gardens. Their rhizomes laughed at the 1′ overlaps of 4′ pallet sheets under our play system with shoots coming up in a nice 4′ checkerboard. I have a strong dislike of that plant that borders of hatred, but I cannot deny its evolutionary chutzpa. So the rhizomes were removed leaving only the subsoil back-fill.
Without a year to add a topsoil layer through sheet mulch, I purchased 8 yards of a topsoil mix (Peat/Sand/Topsoil) that I layered on about 18″ thick and then lightly tamped (ok I walked on it) and into this I planted the trees. I did break up the subsoil compaction considerably with a mattock (it scoffed at my digging fork and fancy imported spades) before planting. My intent was to mirror a forest soil strata as much as possible, so starting with my subsoil back-fill and placing topsoil on top of that, I then applied the 3″ layer of mostly decomposed leaf litter from last years leaves. This simulates the micro-organism rich layer immediately beneath the surface in a true forest-the layer that feeds 90% of the plants in the forest. On top of this, the wood chip layer mimics the carbon rich mulch found in any forest-consisting of fresh leaf litter, twigs, and fallen branches. This is the layer that will provide the fuel for future generations of my soil ecosystem, while also protecting the soil from compaction and the suns rays. All trees were also inoculated with mycorrhizal fungus spores prior to planting to give the beds a more balanced soil system.
Next steps will be ensuring that the trees survive the ordeal of being shipped half way across the country and transplanted, and then to sheet mulching the rest of the lawn in this section to prepare the way for next years plantings. Only other additions planned for this year are some gooseberries and perhaps some strawberries as ground-cover and fungus inoculant to encourage decomposition of the mulch layers.
Will it work? Can I grow a suburban orchard “beyond” organic-with virtually no future inputs besides mulch? The next 3-5 years will tell!
Filed under: Gardening, How To's, Permaculture, sustainable agriculture