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?
So 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.