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

Planting the Cherry Trees

Today was the perfect day to plant our cherry trees, May Day Eve.  I had figured out the locations, and marked them the day before.  Our friend Sylvia came to help with strength and muscles.  She dug the holes!  Thanks, Sylvia!

Our friend Mihku had given us compost from her garden (Thanks, Mihku!) and we realized we needed even more, so Margy drove to buy some, while Sylvia and I positioned the first tree.  I applied mycorrhizal inoculant to the roots (from the wisdom of Mihku), while Sylvia held the tree.  Then we filled in what we could.

Cherry Planting Hands in Dirt

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

When Margy returned, she took photos while Sylvia and I finished filling the hole with compost and dirt.  I placed the Lapins Cherry closest to the patio, and the Black Tartorian Cherry about twelve feet beyond. We discovered the soil under the Black Tartorian was darker and richer, so we used some of that to fill the first hole too.

It felt so good to have my hands in the dirt, to give good energy and nutrients to these young beings that will live with us in our home.  It also felt good to have help from a younger stronger friend, my aging body just not able to do as much physical labor as I used to do.  It felt really good to share the process, to create a celebration of earth and sun and soil and friendship and the fertility of the land.

More photos:Sylvia starts digging

Myke & Sylvia – Version 2

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Cherry Trees in the Ground

Sylvia and Margy

Plant Swap

Yesterday, Margy and I participated in the annual plant swap at the Resilience Hub.  We didn’t have plants to swap, but Margy gathered seaweed to bring, and I made some grain-free, sugar-free cherry brownies to share.  We were able to get lots of plants we need for our cherry tree polycultures–plants that we will place around the trees that help the trees to thrive and also have benefits for us.  Back at home, I put them in pots and set up a little “nursery” area near our water spigot, for them to live until we are ready to put them in the ground.

Plant Nursery – Version 2Some of the plants and their functions:

  1. chives–use in a ring around the base of the tree to deter pests, attract pollinators, provide anti-fungal support (cherry trees are prone to fungal issues), plus herbs for eating
  2. comfrey–draw up nutrients from deep in the ground, attract pollinators and beneficial insects, cut the leaves to create mulch, and use for herbal healing
  3. rhubarb–more mulch, and delicious eating
  4. oregano–aromatic pest confuser, anti-fungal, can handle foot traffic when harvesting cherries, and cooking herb
  5. thyme–aromatic, one of my favorite herbs for cooking and health
  6. chamomile–anti-fungal , attract beneficial insects, draw up nutrients
  7. lupine–nitrogen fixer
  8. kale seedlings–especially as the tree is growing, to use the space for growing my favorite vegetable.

We also plan to plant daffodils around the drip line, to deter pests, attract pollinators and have beauty; plant the perennial seakale for good eating, maybe some asparagus; and sow white clover in the spaces between other things, as a nitrogen fixer.

The plant swap was a lot of fun, meeting other permaculture gardeners, and learning more about some plants that I didn’t know about.  I also met someone who was using my book for teaching classes at her Quaker meeting. How great is that?

Plant Swap

Cherry Trees

Cherry Trees in potsOn Friday the 21st, Margy, our friend Mihku, and I went to Broadway Gardens and picked out two sweet cherry trees.  Mihku is a master gardener and her help was invaluable–in fact, the sales person suggested she should have a job sitting with their trees and telling people about them.

We purchase a Lapins semi-dwarf and a Black Tartarian semi-dwarf. The Lapins will self-pollinate, but the Black Tartarian needs another tree, such as the Lapins, to pollinate.   I thought about just getting the Lapins, but it seemed like they would enjoy having each other for company.  So it is beginning.  Our little permaculture garden in our back yard.  Starting with one of our favorite fruits–sweet cherries.

I have been sick for a few weeks with this horrible respiratory virus/flu going around, and really haven’t had energy to do much but keep work at church afloat–so no blogging, no gardening, not even taking my morning walk most days–it just triggers too much coughing.  So getting the cherry trees really perked me up.  We will plant them this coming weekend.  Mihku suggested that we need to get some mycorrhizal inoculant for the roots, some compost from her yard, and then train the branches with props to help them widen out while they are still pliable.  The semi-dwarfs can grow to 15-18 feet high, and we want to keep them more like 11-13 feet.  I will post more pictures as we plant.

In the meantime, getting back to the blog today is cheering me up too, though I am still not feeling great.  But today is the New Moon, and this blogging is one way to remember the beings and values closest to my heart.  May this day bring joy and sweetness to you too.