Future blueberries

Blueberry bed complete.jpgThe last few days I have been working on a garden bed for two future high bush blueberry plants.  This was the toughest project so far, in terms of physical stamina.  I was following the guideline of Michael Phillips in the Holistic Orchard.  His first step is to dig a bed one foot deep and 3-4 feet in diameter per plant, (so for me that meant about 7-8 feet long and 3-4 feet wide).

Blueberry bed-bittersweet rootsOnce I had dug the hole, I came upon bittersweet roots, so then spent some time strategizing about what to do for that.  I eventually decided to clip them off where they emerged, and then line the sides of the hole with cardboard. Since I was also making paths around the bed, I bent the cardboard so that it covered the path as well.

Then, the next steps are to fill the hole with 50% peat moss, 40% soil from that you had taken out, and 10% compost.  Peat moss is somewhat controversial (because of environmental questions raised about its extraction), but I did some reading and learned that the percent of peat moss taken in Canada is very tiny compared to the amount of peat moss bogs they have–so in that context it might be considered renewable.  I had to go back to the store to get more stuff, because it was hard to estimate how much I would need.

Blueberry bed-half doneAnd it is a lot of work to dig out a hole, then fill it with other stuff, and then “stir” it around, which really means turn the soil over and over.  I am glad I only have to do it once.  So I would do what digging I could, and then stop and rest for most of the day, and return to it in the evening if I could.  After the peat moss, soil, & compost mix was in, I added 2 cups elemental sulfur, 4 cups green sand, and 2 cups rock phosphate, all organic nutrients.  This whole mix is meant to create the type of soil that blueberries love, with an acid leaning ph, and the nutrients they need.  (You may notice that I purchased more composted manure, because we used up our big pile.)

I topped it off with a few inches of pine bark mulch that is also good for blueberries, and then some pine needles that Margy had collected last year.  After that, I hauled the rest of the unused sandy soil over to our materials area, and did the paths around the bed with more cardboard and hardwood mulch.  And watered all of it well.  Now it is all ready to do its own thing for several months:  the plan is to plant blueberries in the spring.

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Bittersweet Basket Weaving

Bittersweet Ugly Basket

My first “ugly” bittersweet basket.

What does it mean to make a relationship with parts of the natural world that we ordinarily think of as trouble?  I am wrestling with this question as we wrestle with the bittersweet vines that surround our yard.  Asian Bittersweet is classified as an invasive species, because it takes over an area and can wipe out other species.  It is very hard to get rid of it.  This has provoked some places, including Falmouth, Maine, to plan to use horrible pesticides in its eradication–which seems to me an even worse problem–and a never ending one, because they admit that they won’t be able to ever completely eradicate it.

Some folks are taking a different approach however.  Yesterday, Margy and I attended a workshop led by Zack De La Rouda about weaving baskets with bittersweet vines.  I loved  Zack’s attitude–since we brought this plant here, then we need to find ways to deal with the consequences.  And with climate change and other pests threatening species like ash and willow, which have traditionally been used for baskets, we need to keep looking for options.  So he brought us into his experiments with making useful items with bittersweet. Which, as he said, is everywhere. The vines had been cut, dried, and then soaked in water for a couple days. I have to say it was not an easy material to work with–hard to bend and shape, at least for a beginner.  But Zack assured us that everyone has an ugly basket–when our first attempts to learn the skills result in less than usable outcomes.  So I took a pic of my ugly basket.

Another presentation in April got me started on this question.  Tao Orion, author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration spoke at the Resilience Hub.  We might think of getting rid of invasives as important to promoting a balanced eco-system.  But what she discovered is that in the professional world of land management, what usually happens first is a complete destruction of the “invaded” area with powerful pesticides.  She helped us to look beyond “the war” and explore other options for dealing with invasives.  For example, we can look at the function invasive plants are playing in the ecosystem where they have taken root, and address imbalances in the soil and other factors that may need attention.

Bittersweet shoots

Bittersweet vine shoots.

Orion was from the west coast, and didn’t specifically address bittersweet.  Margy started cutting off huge vine stems that are surrounding other tree trunks, to try to save those trees from choking.  But the vines are so resilient.  Tiny shoots start coming up in the lawn, from root networks spread beneath the soil. Non-pesticide ways to deal with them include pulling out what you can, cutting off what you can, and ongoing cutting, to keep the roots from getting the nourishment they need.  (Even people who use pesticides have to do all that, by the way.) In the final analysis, there is no way to completely eradicate them, so you have to learn to manage them.

On the plus side, bittersweet is a remarkable example of resilience.  They propagate by seeds, by roots spreading through the soil, and can re-grow from small root segments. You’ve got to admire that multi-functionality. And birds love the seeds in winter.  There are dozens of birds who live in the uncultivated area just west of our yard–which is overrun with bittersweet, as well as raspberries and blackberries and grape vines growing wild.

But on the other hand, I can’t help but compare it in my mind with the European peoples who invaded this continent, including my own ancestors from France and Scotland in Quebec, and my Germanic ancestors who came later–as immigrants being used to settle the west. Just like an invasive plant, the European invaders took over the landscape, wiped out other communities of people, and destroyed the balance of the eco-system.  On an even wider scale, modern human beings as a whole species have overrun our planet and are destroying our ecosystem.

So perhaps the most important lesson bittersweet might teach us is to look in the mirror, at our own invasions, and together we might learn about how to live within respectful boundaries with all of our siblings on this planet.