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.

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