Cherry Tree Guilds

Cherry Tree GuildsToday I almost finished soil work and guild plantings around each of the cherry trees–still 1/3 to do around the second tree.  First I aerated the soil with our garden fork to a five foot radius around the tree. (The soil was already covered with mulch from last fall-wood chips, cut grass, sea weed, and dead leaves.)  Then I put down newspaper or cardboard along the outer half of each circle, and covered it with compost.  I planted the companion plants for each cherry tree guild.  Guilds are plants that work together so that each does better than if they were planted alone.  In this case, the primary focus is the health of the cherry tree.

The plants I used and their functions:

  • Comfrey is a nutrient accumulator–its roots go deep and bring up calcium and other vital nutrients, and then the leaves can be cut several times a season, and used as mulch. It also attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects.  It can be used in herbal medicine. It was recommended to plant it at least four feet from the trunk.
  • Chives accumulate nutrients, deter pests, are anti-fungal and attract pollinators… They bloom at the same time as the cherry will, and are also a culinary herb.  I had enough to do two per tree.
  • Oregano is an aromatic pest confuser, is anti-fungal, can take some foot traffic, and of course is a culinary herb.
  • Thyme is another insect pest repellant and culinary herb (my favorite.)
  • Chamomile accumulates nutrients, is anti-fungal, and attracts beneficial insects..
  • Rhubarb is another perennial food, and can be cut in place for mulch.
  • At the outer edge of the circle around the Lapins Cherry, I also planted a row of annual kale.  The cherry tree won’t reach that far for a couple years, so it works okay.  I mulched them with egg shells, which I understand will deter kale eating pests.
  • That guild also got one Sweet Cicely plant, which attracts beneficial insect predators to kill insect pests. Plus I hear it tastes like licorice/anise.
  • The other tree guild also got Lemon Balm, and maybe a Bee Balm plant–I haven’t planted it yet and I’m deciding if it will get too big–if so, maybe it will go nearby.  The Lemon Balm was from the plant swap, and attracts pollinators and repels ants and flies.  I just read that it will spread.  Bee Balm attracts pollinators.
  • Between all the other plants, I planted Red Clover seeds–they are a nitrogen fixer, and this variety is best for a fungally dominant soil.  It is a good ground cover to keep weeds away, easy to walk on too. I put some straw mulch on the seeds to get them started, but I think I will add wood chips over it all.

Later in the fall, I plan to add daffodils in a ring about 2 feet from the trunk, to deter munching pests.  I also ended up designating two paths into the tree for each circle–so I can get to the center easily.  Once again, I end the day with sore muscles, but so happy.

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Training the Cherry Tree

Training the Cherry TreeToday was a day for food forests! My friend Mihku and I went to a tour of Edgewood Nursery in the morning, and then later she showed me how to train the branches of the cherry tree so that it will grow into a good shape for growing and picking cherries.

Aaron Parker of Edgewood is so knowledgeable about perennial fruits and vegetables, and also has so many great permaculture plants to taste and buy.  I fell in love with Turkish Rocket, a perennial vegetable that tastes somewhat like broccoli.  More on that in a later post.  But I also got to see a grown up cherry tree, and get a sense of what they might look like and how they are shaped at maturity.  Back at home, Mihku and I used kite string and tent stakes to bend three branches on each tree closer to the ground, so they grow into a stronger shape–which means developing a wider “crotch angle.”  One branch was left in the center as the leader.  I am so grateful that Mihku and others are willing to show me how–it is so much easier to see it done, than to try to figure it out from books.

After that, because our new garden fork had arrived in the mail, I started aerating the soil around the trees–or I should say, I got 1/3 of the way around one tree–it was a lot of hard work.  Our soil is very compacted, so this is important for soil health, but my whole body is aching now.  In order to feel a bit more accomplished, I focused on that one section, laid down some thick newspaper sections over the soil, added compost on top, and then planted 14 (annual) kale plants, a patch of thyme, some chamomile, and a sweet cicely plant.  These were all plants we got at the plant swap, and the kale were getting pretty leggy.  I added a bit of mulch.  Still much more to do tomorrow.

Finally, I put together a holistic spray that I learned about from The Holistic Orchard book, but was presented in a simple recipe at Fedco Seeds.  Fedco actually sells all the ingredients, but before I knew that, I had searched around and got Neem Oil at Lowes, and ordered two more ingredients on Amazon.  I didn’t have exactly what they recommended, and I didn’t “activate” the EM-1, but as I understand it, this spray will help to colonize the trees with helpful microbes so that they can resist pests and disease, just like probiotics for humans.  Margy had already purchased a sprayer for other yard uses, so all I had to do was mix it up, and spray all over our new trees; and then I also sprayed what I could reach of our ornamental cherries which have been very neglected for years. Here are the important ingredients of this tonic:

Fish Hydrolysate: Feeds soil and arboreal food web.
Neem Oil: Contains Azadirachtin compounds that deter pests and disrupt their life cycles. Neem also is said to stimulate the tree’s immune system, give nutrients to foliage and feed the arboreal food web. …
Liquid Kelp: Promotes growth and helps trees adapt to stress.
EM-1: A probiotic inoculant that colonizes the branches and fruit with beneficial microbes to promote fruit growth and disease resistance. Click here for info on fermenting, or “activating,” EM-1.

Cherry with new underplantings

[Cherry with branches trained, and thyme and chamomile below, plus if you look closely, you can see kale at the very bottom.]

Composts & Mulches

Who knew that there were so many kinds of compost?  According to Michael Phillips in The Holistic Orchard, tree fruits prefer a fungally dominant compost, which you can get by using lots of leaves and not turning your pile.  So that is the kind we’ve accidentally been making at home, since we use lots of leaves and hardly ever turn our pile.  Vegetables prefer bacterially dominant compost, which likes to be turned a lot.  To quote:

Orchard soils ideally contain a fungal presence ten times higher than that of bacteria…. Fungi respond to surface decomposition, whereas bacteria prefer soil disturbance.  We are building a fungal duff of organic matter where the biological action desired is going to take place.  Compost, deciduous wood chips, seaweed, and raked leaves can be added atop [the soil.]

So, last fall, when we spread the wood chips from the old maple tree, we were beginning to create this fungal duff.  Margy topped the wood chips with cut grass and seaweed and leaves.  But when we planted the cherry trees, we had to dig a big hole, so all of that was disturbed, and we put regular compost as part of the soil back fill in the holes; I guess that is not actually recommended so much.

I also learned that the type of mulch matters.  Margy had arranged for us to get some free wood mulch, (hurray!) which turned out to be from evergreen trees.  She had put some of that mulch, along with straw, around the newly planted cherry trees.  But I learned, in The Holistic Orchard, that fruit trees especially love mulch made from wood chips from deciduous trees–most particularly “ramial” wood chips made from twig wood less than 7 centimeters in diameter–because that contains soluble lignins.  The evergreen mulch actually contains compounds that suppress other plant growth.  Who knew?

Fungal DuffSo the very next day, I went out and moved that evergreen mulch away, and dug up some of the starting-to-decompose deciduous wood & leaves mulch, piling it up in a six-foot diameter circle around each tree, careful to leave open space around the trunks themselves.  Next time, Margy can ask our wood chip supplier to save us some of the ramial chips.

All this to say, we just got 4 yards of compost delivered today from Wilshire Farm, composted manure to be exact, which we hope to use for creating growing medium for companion plants for the trees, some surface feeding for the trees, and for Sylvia’s herb garden.

I learned about The Holistic Orchard and Wilshire Farm from a workshop on fruit trees by Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery, held at the Resilience Hub.  It all seems much more complicated than just planting a tree and getting fruit a few years later.  I am trying to take it one or two steps at a time.Composted Manure

Rain Barrels

Rain BarrelsThe Portland Water District offers inexpensive rain barrels each year, so Margy and I ordered four barrels to supplement the few we already have.  We picked them up amid dozens of barrels at the East End Water Treatment Facility.  These are repurposed olive oil barrels so we’re glad to recycle rather than buy something created with new plastic.

One of our projects for our permablitz will be to create wooden stands for the rain barrels, so they are high enough to fill a watering can from the spigot, or get a little pressure for further away in the garden.  We plan to install them under all of our gutter drains.  In fact, under the drains closest to our gardens, we are hoping to have two barrels side by side, with one feeding overflow into the other.

It is also possible to construct your own barrels, with olive oil barrels, and parts purchased separately–I helped to do that at another permablitz maybe last year.  But these were easy, and installing them on stands and adjusting the down spouts will be enough for us to try to accomplish.  Each time it rains, I wish they were already installed.

Rain barrels are one way we are honoring the water on our land, using what we can that falls from the sky, rather than needing to buy more city water for our gardens.

On My Walk

Turkey VulturesOn my walk yesterday, I followed the brook trail by the Hall School. Then, as I was going along the road that crosses over the brook, I happened to look through the chain link fence to my left, and saw these huge birds resting in the underbrush near the brook.  They had not been visible from the trail–in fact I went back to see if I could get a closer look, and they were completely hidden.  Turkey vultures.  I had never seen them in the neighborhood before, but while watching for several minutes, another bird emerged–looking scruffy like a juvenile.  So maybe this was mama and papa’s protected home for raising their baby.

Turkey Vulture Juvenile

You never know what you’ll see in the little thickets and woods along the brook.  Further along my walk, I cross over another branch of the brook.  (My neighborhood is situated between two branches of flowing water that both feed into Capisic Brook.)  Stopping to see what I might see, I almost missed this tiny bird. I want to guess that it might be a black and white warbler–I saw one of those last year on the warbler walk at Evergreen.  But I am not sure.  Anyone?

Black & White Warbler?

American Redstart

American Redstart

Yesterday, Margy found the binoculars, and I walked to the Evergreen Cemetery to join in the Audubon Warbler Walk.  During the walk, this American redstart flew right up to where our group was standing next to the pond.  I had never seen one before.  How amazing that I was able to take photos of a warbler with my small camera!

I love the warbler walk because wise folks will identify and point out birds that I might not have noticed–tiny, and often hidden in thick brush, or in high branches.  I am getting better at spotting them and moving between using my eyes alone and switching to binoculars. I can’t keep track of too many new species, though, so after seeing a wood thrush, a pine warbler and this American redstart, I made my way back home.

American Redstart 2

Loud Machines and Climate Silence

The other day I read an article in the Guardian, The Great Climate Silence by Clive Hamilton.  I found it easy to agree–no one is really talking about or dealing with the coming catastrophe of climate change.  Having had these issues on my mind for a while, I moved on to other things that day.  But sometimes it is the little things that break through to our hearts.

This morning, I was planning to walk over to Evergreen Cemetery for the Warbler Walk sponsored by Maine Audubon, but though I searched everywhere, I couldn’t find my pair of binoculars. So I left the house feeling that sense of frustration I am sure we all feel when we can’t find something.  As I walked, I opted to forego the warblers, and go by Capisic Brook near the Hall School.  I wrote previously about the cutting of trees that is going on for construction of the new school.

Hall School Tree Cutting 1The big loud machines are still there, but today I was startled to see that they have also cut trees between the school and the brook, a whole section that I thought should be safe. The wide swath of trees that made for a little wilderness in the city, is being narrowed so that the sanctuary is no longer as much a sanctuary.

I am not in on any of the planning or decision-making, so I feel very helpless and sad and angry about all of this, wishing there were someone I could yell at, like, Really, you have to cut those trees too?  Isn’t it bad enough that you destroyed the trail on the other side of the school?  Meanwhile the big machines kept digging up the earth near the pathway, now widened to a road, that goes over the brook.  As I walked back over that pathway, I heard the plaintive chirps of a woodpecker that I have often seen in this little ecosystem.

On my way home, I thought about the article about climate silence.  But this time, my frustration and grief and anger were open, and I felt for the earth as a whole what I had been feeling for my little brook and its trees and birds and newly blooming trout lilies.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve already caused extinctions, and destroyed so many ecosystems?  Why do we just keep on destroying more and more?  We’ve got to get out of our denial, face our grief, and break our silence.

And for some reason I also thought about the proposal to borrow money to re-build four of the other elementary schools in Portland.  Most progressives I know are in favor of that proposal, but when I think about climate change, I have misgivings.  It is not about particular trees or construction damage, or not wanting the best schools for our kids.  But just as Clive Hamilton suggests, no one takes into account the coming catastrophes as they go about making plans for the future.  The new Hall School is slated to be a “green building.” So yes, that is good.  But there are other issues, too.

The one that came to my heart today is debt.  I think about cities in Michigan that are under “emergency management” because they went bankrupt from debts they could not repay.  Those managers, with no democratic accountability, can close school districts, sell off common resources like parks and museums, and change public water systems, such that the children in Flint were poisoned by lead.  If we take into account the coming climate catastrophes, wouldn’t it be wise to get our cities and ourselves out of debt?  So that we can preserve local control when things get worse?  Do we really want the banks to be in charge when everything gets more chaotic and difficult?

Everything shifts when we include climate change and the earth ecosystem in our conversations about the future.  What questions might you start asking, that you haven’t been asking up until now?

Loud machine

[Forest City Trail sign, with big machine digging up the earth]