One of the principles of permaculture is to observe, and then adapt. So last year, we had planted a mulberry tree in a particular spot, but it was not doing very well, not getting enough sun. (I got fooled by the fact that it is called an understory tree–but our tall trees are at the south of our property, and this one was getting shaded by them.) So with some advice from Mihku, Margy and I found a new spot, on the other side of the back yard, and carefully measured the ten foot radius a mature tree might need. It feels like a great spot for the tree, especially since one of our goals for the tree is as a gift to the birds who might otherwise eat up our future cherries, blueberries, and peaches. This spot is next to the undeveloped land next to our yard.
But the whole project has taken days to finish! First, we had to deal with the ever present bittersweet whose roots run through our soil from the undeveloped edges all around. Asian bittersweet is an incredibly invasive plant that can spread by any roots, or by its seeds. At this time of year, there are hundreds of small plants popping up out of the grass. Margy has been the primary bittersweet warrior for our land, going round the undeveloped edges and cutting vines and freeing trees that have been almost strangled by them. (Some were already lost.) We don’t want to use any poison, so it’s a constant process of depriving the roots of active vines, and pulling up any new shoots. (Someday, I might reflect on the parallels between invasive plants and colonization. I certainly have been thinking about it this week.)
In any case, because of the bittersweet, we couldn’t just dig a hole and plant the tree–we had to dig a much bigger hole, and pull out several huge orange roots. Then we had to sift through all the soil that we’d taken from the hole, to remove any tiny orange roots. I have been doing this for so many hours that when I close my eyes I still see tiny orange bittersweet roots. I think I could identify them by feel in the dark as well. Here is what they look like when they are tiny:
For most of our yard, I’ve tried to use a no-till sheet mulching/lasagna gardening method. This is done by layering a mix of brown and green organic matter on top of the soil. So even though we had to dig a huge hole for the mulberry tree, I used the sheet mulching method as I began to fill it. The soil was pretty barren and sandy below the top few inches, so adding organic matter would help to enrich it. I used layers of soil, compost, dried grass, seaweed, coffee chaff, and included the broken up grasses from the sod I’d removed from the top. Here is the hole after some layers had already been added.
For the past week, I’ve put in a few hours each day alternately sifting soil from around the edges of the hole, adding the soil to the hole, or adding other layers of compost, dried grass, or seaweed. Margy took turns sifting soil as well. Some days it seemed like it would never be completed.
Finally, today, the last soil was sifted, and the hole was transformed into a mound. I dug a smaller hole in the center of it, and gently moved the small tree, still in dormancy from the winter. (Last year it didn’t wake up until the end of June, so we were trying to finish before it woke up.) I tucked it in with water and more soil and more water.
To finish it off, I covered the mound with thick layers of newspaper (to prevent weed growth), and then wood chip mulch. We were expecting rain in the afternoon today, and tomorrow. It’s good weather for a big move. I offered a blessing to encourage the small tree to prosper in its new sunnier location, near the crabapple tree and the blueberry bushes. May it be so!
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