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]

Permablitz!

We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!