Paul Wheaton talks to Bill about Bill’s property and building a berm. Berms can affect wind patterns. Berms can boost property values. Maybe even a berm root cellar.
Privacy, and planting conifers on the highway side of the berm.
Making your own seed mixes, including mullein.
Sepp Holzer's bone sauce that discourages animals from eating fruittrees.
White worms in cherries...cherry trunk protector...problems with lollipop trees.
Growing trees from seed so you get the taproot.
Planting comfrey, dandelions, and nitrogen fixers like sweet clover.
Pear leaf blister mite.
Ash Jackson is The Scrollbard
Here is the transcript for this podcast. Thanks to Lori Voigt!
Paul: I am hungry.
Bill: For all of you fans out there in cyber world, he just is recording a podcast and he is famished.
Paul: I remember you said they had pie there. I didn't get any last time because I was full.
Bill: Huckleberry pie.
Paul: Well, they have blueberry pie there, but they only have huckleberry pie in season. But they have huckleberry milk shakes. I shouldn't eat the dairy and stuff. But that was so good. We are sitting here at your property and we are looking around and so I mean we've kind of run over some rough ideas for your property. What has been the thing that I have emphasized about 40 times so far?
Bill: The berm.
Paul: The berm.
Bill: Creating a berm.
Paul: The berm would be important.
Paul: What is the primary function for the berm for you?
Bill: Well, in my case some people might say it is hugelculture and no irrigation, but in my situation, it is to block the noise from the highway.
Paul: Right, because you have a sweet piece of property that is right on the lake. If you consider there are a few houses here but one is your folk's house and one is yours and if you consider this long strip. One is like right on the lake and then the second one is a little closer to the highway. And aren't we fortunate that you are having a little bit of a visit. I thought, you know what would be funny is to stand up here while you are planting this tree and I will turn on the recording and then all the semi trucks will go by and demonstrate the value that this berm will provide. Here one comes in the distance. All right. So any way the idea is that this berm will provide a little bit of a barrier between the little tiny car is all it is. A tiny car and there is a lot of wind right now. But to provide a little I think there is enough sound from that. When I come to a property usually one of the things that I think of first is how can this land be more of a sanctuary. My thinking is that you will rent a track hoe for like a day and you have a bunch of fruit trees already planted here, but with a giant size track hoe, all of these trees are transplanted and you will not get any of the tap root loveliness that you get otherwise from the seed. My thinking is that you will be able to pluck all the trees out and pull all the topsoil aside and spend one day building a freaky big berm. And probably for a year, probably something to the tune of 12 to 15 feet tall.
Bill: You mean about as high as this little bush right here?
Paul: Probably doesn't need to be quite that high. That bush. There is like a little bit of a dip right here and if you are building it flush to where we are talking about, ten feet would probably do it. Basically, it needs to go a little higher than the height of the semi trucks.
Bill: It gently slopes down to the lake. So the house is actually lower than what we are standing right now.
Paul: Usually the lake feature is lower than the house.
Bill: Except in New Orleans, right?
Paul: If you are going at least from the lake to the highway. From that slope, maybe I am wrong, just an observation maybe. Typical thing.
Bill: You are right.
Paul: I remember when Sepp Holzer was here last year, he had this enormous track hoe at work building hugelculture beds that were really big and I got a phone call and I could not hear fucking thing on the phone because the track hoe was so, so loud and I walked to the other side of hugelculture bed and it was instantly suddenly quiet. I could even whisper.
Bill: That is interesting.
Paul: I could whisper. The volume was suddenly way too loud on my phone. It eliminated probably 95% of the sound and so I was like I am going to plant a whole bunch of trees and shrubs and stuff like that, but they just don't cut the sound.
Bill: I know.
Paul: And I know that like with the great falls podcast I made some comments about the wind problems that they have and there are some concerns, and I realized that I should have mentioned it. There are some concerns with how the wind will move across the land based on the trees and shrubs. And it is possible that the wind will do a special effect where it does a little loop dee loop on the property as it goes by. If you have enough texture on the land, the loop dee loop will not form.
Bill: Is that loop dee loop sort of like a crashing wave in the ocean. Where it comes over the top and then sort of swirls. Is that what you mean? are you talking about something a little different?
Paul: I love the interpretive dance that came with the description and all. I don't think so. All right, now we are getting more traffic going by. And I just think if you had this berm I would think that your house, which is this close. From the edge of the highway down to the house it is about 200 yards. What do you think?
Bill: Yeah, I think so.
Paul: When you are outside playing and enjoying the garden, you can hear the cars on the road and I think that degrades the value of the property a little bit. I think when you add the berm in that you will probably spend like a thousand dollars on the track hoe, to do this and make this happen, and then I think that the value added to the property could be 10 to 30 times greater than that.
I mean, you know more about the real estate values this area and this property and what not. What would be your estimate?
Bill: I think that could be pretty accurate just blocking out the sound and even having the potential of putting in a root cellar within the berm. Now you have extra food storage that is easy to construct if you are already making a berm any way.
Paul: I like the idea of the root cellar in the berm. Let's wander down to the tree there. I think that the berm is going to be in fact I think the thing to do is I am a big fan of one of the problems that a lot of the homesteaders face is nosey neighbors that are up to no good.
Bill: Fortunately, we do not have that problem. Our neighbors are awesome.
Paul: All right. But you have these people driving by and some of them are not your neighbors and they might be bored.
Bill: These raspberries before you gave me the berm idea, they would kind of block the sound and the noise and the visual and the thing is that they would form a nice hedge. But I love your idea because you could still do that, but just do it on top of the berm and you get the double effect.
Paul: Next to the highway, the dominant feature is usually conifer trees and what I think you need to do is with your berm is that on the berm, the side that faces the highway, I think conifer trees. Nothing to see here. Boring, keep driving right on by.
Paul: That way if they see you have a shit ton of food or something. There will be a little more pollution on the highway side and it seems to me like some people see something interesting and they want to slow down and look and the next thing you know, somebody comes up with the idea of like hey, that thing right there, that is something that they aren't supposed to do. There is a law against that, or one time in 1940 there was a law against that. And so I better call that in.
Paul: And then the government agencies are complaint driven.
Bill: Right. You had a problem on Mount Spokane.
Paul: I did. I had a lot of problems with that on Mount Spokane. And then the complaint is something that they have to follow up on or anything. They have to process it. And so then when they process it, they might come down and give you grief. And maybe they will find something else because when they come down otherwise they would never have bothered you at all. All I am saying is if it is boring on this side. They don't care they are looking for interesting things.
Paul: From the permaculture side of it, let's put a bunch of food on this side. But of course, around here, there is orchards everywhere which, of course drives me nuts.
Paul: Monocrop of cherries.
Bill: These are not of course, these are all different types of trees. I am not ignoring your podcasts. These are peach, pear, apple, cherry, raspberries too.
Paul: All different. Well, you need to have the support stuff in here too. And hey, that is another conversation.
Bill: Yeah, and that was kind of my thought. And different types of raspberries in here too. And last summer we had some wild flowers in here too. They kind of brought in some things to pollinate this, but it was not the optimum because I am still learning what I am doing. Just putting in some of the different type of raspberries and wild flowers and stuff.
Paul: You need to get a seed mix in here. Whenever you turnover the soil, you need to be planting that in there. We need to talk about that.
Bill: Yeah. I honestly bought some the other day at one of the nurseries. It was like a wild flower seed mix with lupine and some of the stuff that Sepp grows. I thought it might have some of the stuff that would be good for the soil.
Paul: Yeah, you should probably make up your own seed mix that is going to contain a lot of good permaculture stuff.
Paul: Maybe a bunch of legumes, edible legumes. You know, some daikon radish and buckwheat. Things that make really good support plants. I was really thinking earlier today, skeeter was handing out his seed mix that he uses, a general purpose seed mix for anything and everything. And I was thinking you know what would be smart to put into every seed mix is mullein.
Bill: You know you mentioned that the other day. Isn't that like one of the martyr plants that basically improves the soil.
Paul: And as long as the soil conditions are good and other things are growing, it just doesn't do anything. It just hangs out and doesn't germinate or something.
Paul: It just doesn't come up.
Bill: I noticed that I have some of that in the back on the little terrace that I built.
Paul: You have bare soil and it is trying to cure that.
Bill: A bear mangled the fence and was protecting my pear tree here.
Paul: Well, I brought a couple of cast iron pots so I hope we can convince Sepp to make a little bit of bone sauce.
Bill: Does bone sauce work for bears too? I thought it only works for deer.
Paul: My understanding is that nothing wants anything to do with it.
Bill: I know that bears have a very sensitive sense of smell. So if it is that nasty. They probably will leave it alone.
Paul: Is this the tree in question?
Bill: It is a cherry, actually, I believe it is a sour cherry, although it is a very sweet tasting sour cherry. It produced prolifically. And this is one of the first trees that I think my mom had planted it years ago. We are a little upset that it is right in the middle of our football field, soccer field. In any case it produced prolifically. We noticed last summer that after it had be the cherries were getting ripe for a while we noticed that on some of the cherries, not all, but on some of them there was this little white worm. I ate some of them before I noticed that I was chomping on the white worm. And we talked to you and you said it is a fly and it waits like 30 days and pupates on the ground and then flies up and lays its eggs on the cherries. But I understand that once it starts it is sort of difficult to stop. So my question to you is what type of natural remedies could we initiate to help break that cycle and make sure that i'm not eating worms when I am eating my cherries.
Paul: All right, I think that the worms are an indicator that you suck as a tree care person.
Bill: That is probably true. This is a trial and error learning experience so I am sure that I am doing many things wrong.
Paul: I am trying to think of an analogy, but nothing is coming to my mind, I think it is because I am hungry.
Bill: Thinking about that pie.
Paul: Yeah, and so all right, I see a ton of problems here. And it is like it is one of those things where mother nature is saying Bill you fucked up and so I have to take this tree out to make things right. And so first of all tell me about the white stuff right there. I know what it is, but I want to get a verbal representation into the pod cast.
Bill: Why do I have a feeling that I am about to be a punching bag here, but for the people listening to the podcast, this is a tree that we kind of planted and forgot about more or less. Unless you grab a cherry. But what Paul is talking about is there is a white tree protector that was on the tree when we bought it. And we forgot about it, and the tree trunk has actually outgrown it and it is splitting open now and it has split open.
on top of that I know from talking with several people although they put these white trunk protectors on to kind of protect the trunk from getting scorched in the winter when the sun reflects off of the snow and hits one side of the trunk and not the other. I understand that we should not leave it on all the time because it can be a hiding place for bugs also. The obvious think is that the tree has out grown the trunk protector and it looks like a little bit of bark damage or trunk damage.
Paul: That's right the protector is fucking up the tree. I mean it is not fucking it up a lot, but it is fucking it up a little.
Bill: It definitely needs a lot to be desired. You can tell where the trunk has been and it is starting to split apart now. It looks the worst right there and down here it actually looks a lot better. That is my first clue
Paul: I suppose when it started it was all within 12 inches of the soil. How high is it up there?
Bill: I would say about 4 to 4 and a half feet or so.
Paul: Yeah, four and a half feet is what I would go with, yeah.
Bill: I am embarrassingly negligent of this tree, I guess.
Paul: I think the important part that I want to stress here is that the tree protector is fucking up the tree. That can't be emphasized enough.
I mean it is not like killing the tree, but it is making the tree sad.
Paul: And once you start to make the tree sad, it cries. And it is the dinner bell for all kinds of bugs and funguses and it is like once the tree starts to get a little sad, everything else is like it is time to chow down, let's move it and take this thing out. It is their job to notice when a tree is in stress. And it is the end of the trees life cycle.
Bill: Nature begins to break it down and do its work. So I guess you would say then that our neglect of this tree is basically invited the worms and the worms did not show up for any reason. To use a human analogy, the tree's immune system would be shot.
Paul: Your first thought I think is a normal human thought is that it has worms and I want those worms to fuckin' die and I will kill them. I am going to get little tiny machine guns and I will sit out here and shoot all the little fucking worms because I hate them so and they are my enemies. But actually, you know what, the worms are trying to help you out man.
Bill: They are?
Paul: Yeah, you made a mistake and they are trying to cover for you. They know that Bill is not around and they will try and cover for you.
Paul: Don't worry I will take this out and then nobody will know. You can call it a fluke or whatever you want. Now, how far out do the roots extend from this tree.
Bill: I don't know, but (inaudible.)
Paul: We call that is the drip line. Here, let me show you. The roots come out to about here.
Paul: We are standing about 3 to 4 times out past the drip line of this tree. The other thing is what is the general shape of this tree?
Paul: Lollipop, so we have a lollipop tree and it has like five feet of trunk before it just has a shrub. And so basically when the leaves come out, it has to come up with enough sugar to support all of that trunk.
Paul: So let's talk about we are standing over the roots. So when the roots are out there and enjoying life. What is out there enjoying life with those roots?
Bill: Grass and lots of it.
Paul: And what else? let me help you out. Not fucking much else.
Paul: I am not seeing a dandelion, or any other plant in this grass, why is that Bill?
Bill: There is no guild, obviously the grass has taken over and there is no other support of any kind to help support the tree in the symbiotic environment.
Paul: I am a little more worried than that Bill. Why is there not a dandelion right here? why is it in all of this lawn I don't see a single dandelion? now earlier today I am just a few miles down the road, there is dandelions everywhere. They have gobs of species with the grass.
Bill: You know what? I think my mom did have this sprayed for knapweed because we had a big knapweed problem. Of course, this is a couple of years ago before I had heard the word permaculture and new anything about it. I think that is probably why.
Paul: That spray that kills broadleaf plants. The idea is that it kills the broad leaves and leaves the grasses.
Paul: Would you call a cherry tree a grass?
Bill: No, I wouldn't.
Paul: Okay. So what do you suppose is going to happen when you spray it with herbicides?
Bill: This is an syncretic
Paul: You are suffering aren't you? you asked.
Bill: No, I don't
Paul: You asked. You don't want me to come and tell you it is like what did you think was going to happen.
Bill: It is true and it is magnified that maybe if I spent more time up here I would notice some of these patterns.
Paul: I just had a very important recording moment.
Bill: What is that?
Paul: Are you still going to buy me dinner?
Paul: How long this goes on. I have lots more. You want to keep going? or do you want to leave it here?
Bill: I need to humble myself and we have to know the truth, even if it makes us uncomfortable. The truth is you are pointing out some obvious flaws and how I have treated this tree. So keep going. I will be the punching bag.
Paul: Here goes the next one. All right. Knapweed. Now here is the thing. When people say oh, look at that knapweed there and I better spray the knapweed.
Paul: I have a herbicide that is way better than that one, you don't want to spend your money on that one. I got a herbicide that is way better and if you spray it, it lasts like 5 or 6 years. You don't have to spray it ain't that a deal, don't you want some of that?
Bill: I am not even 100% sure that my mom ordered that, but I think she did because some of the neighbors
Paul: All you have to do is look at the ground and you can say yeah that was ordered. There is only grass here. It is nice lawn as a monocrop goes.
Paul: Here is the thing. Do you think your mom sprayed two years ago or last year?
Bill: Probably two years ago I think it was. I am not even a hundred percent sure that you know my mom even my mom was not comfortable with that, but you know all the experts
Bill: Were saying there was an organic farmer growing up. On the perimeter, okay.
Paul: I don't know how many places that I have been where they are passionate about organic, they are bonkers about organic, and they want to kill anybody that isn't organic. And then you ask them about what they have done for themselves and they say of course, I am organic, except when I spray stuff.
Paul: Herbicides and pesticides. Oh, I am organic to the core except when there are those hornets over there and I get that raid, spray them. I am totally organic, except there was that time that the hawk weed was there and I didn't know what else to fucking do and so I sprayed it. But I am organic. I swear, organic to the core. And it is like these yeah, and you know a lot of people it is like they didn't know what organic was and then it is like I don't care anymore. You know, i'm letting it go. But I do care Bill. I am here to care all over you until you weep. I will care until you weep.
all right, so basically here is the deal. You have got a persistent herbicide all over your property now and I know you are loving the permaculture and you are about to bust you are so excited about permaculture. And now I am here to bear the bad news. It could be hard. You will have some challenges. Because you are going to try and plant stuff in this soil and everything is going to die.
Paul: And so here is your cherry tree. It is like when did you say your mom two years ago. And last year this thing just put out shit cherries and it got all of these worms and shit and you know when you spray it. What kind of death do you think these plants have? granted most of them are compromised immediately and a tree is much bigger. So it got hit with the herbicides, but it was not enough to kill it. It is a bigger beast here.
Bill: What can I do to remedy the herbicide situation. Is there anything that you can do to purify the ground once that crap has been sprayed on there?
Paul: I think you start with a lot of weeping. You just cry. It does what they advertise. It persists.
Bill: What if I move the
Paul: The things that you can do to try and remedy it are pretty devastating. You could till all of this and utterly destroy the roots on this plant. You could till it several times like 20. It does succumb to u v radiation. It does the trick, but if you go and till, you expose one percent. And if you do it again you will expose another one percent. But every time you till you will lose 30% of your nutrients. You will turn all of this into cement. It will be like cobb. Like building a little cobb house. It will be like lightning or thunder.
Bill: There it goes.
Paul: I don't know.
Bill: But you are taller than me. So it will hit you first.
Paul: How tall are you?
Bill: 6'' 2'.
Paul: Yeah, you do look kind of small from here. You're a football player, right?
Bill: Ex football player.
Paul: Yeah, right. Now I was asking you about what all is growing around the roots of this tree and you were on to something and then I kind of I did have a higher priority. But let's suppose, let's pretend. We are in mr. Roger's land of make believe.
Bill: No. I didn't watch mr. Rogers.
Bill: I watched the Eddie Murphy skit on "saturday night live" on it.
Paul: Oh, okay.
Bill: I never watched the actual show.
Paul: The Eddie Murphy skit on this is not going to cover it. Let's pretend for a moment that you didn't already kill the tree with herbicides.
Bill: Are you saying my tree is unsalvageable?
Paul: No, I think it is possible that it is salvageable, but it is going to be sad for a few years. Because the herbicide could have a half life of any where from 7 to 11 years. They say it lasts five years because you are supposed to spread it just the right amount. What they really want you to do is spray it and then come back and do it again.
Paul: So they don't tell you to put down the tiny amount because it is dropped down that low. And then after about five years you will see some weeds coming back, but not the full arsenal.
Paul: And then they want you to come back and buy more. Don't buy more okay?
Bill: Right. I am glad that you are here.
Paul: Let's try and save the tree. Let's get rid of that white stuff. Now look at the bark under it. That is just disgusting. Don't like the bark protectors ever.
Bill: Yeah. I wish the podcast people could actually see a picture of this because the trunk is actually pretty solid where the protector wasn't and where the protector was it just looks sad in your words.
Paul: This is not good.
Bill: Is that another branch going coming out there?
Paul: If it is let it come out because this needs some of that stuff.
Paul: Now first of all you are started down the path of guilt. First of all, I think one thing is like let's suppose right here where we are standing. We are a little ways from the drip line. What if you build a hugelculture bed here?
Paul: If you were to build it too close, you would suffocate a lot of the roots of the tree, but if you build it far enough away, then the tree's roots could go up inside the hugelculture bed and go awe. Now I feel so good that I think I will fight the fucking worms myself.
Paul: Now you were starting to talk about a guild. You're right. Because basically grass and trees do not get on well. Because you transplanted this tree, you killed off the tap root. So it doesn't have a tap root anymore. All of the roots are out close to the surface where all the grass roots are.
Bill: Where all the poison is from the knapweed spray.
Paul: You killed its guild and poly culture. Even the knapweed was not going to be very good for it, but the dandelions and stuff. I think it would be funny for you to tell your mom. Mom, guess what, I planted dandelions all over the lawn. [laughter]
Paul: I want to be there when you do that.
Bill: My mom is actually on board with this stuff. You are talking to city slickers here that just have 0 knowledge and that is why, you know, why we are listening to your stuff trying to get up to speed. You know, it is kind of like my brother and I took this wilderness survival course once, and after about a week, my brother looked at me and said you know what? before I took this course I thought I would probably be dead in about three days in the wilderness and now I would be dead in about five days.
Bill: Basically, that is where we are at. We are not as bad as we used to be, but we have a long way to go.
Paul: All right. So you want to plant your nitrogen fixing plants and you want to be have mix of stuff.
Bill: Legumes, what would you recommend for that?
Paul: You know, everybody wants me to make a list and it gets hard. I see ants on the tree too. No that is an earwig.
Bill: Is that good or bad?
Paul: I wouldn't want them. I have seen only one, but there may be a bunch of them. You know, I would want to just observe the tree when the leaves start to come back and see if you can find out where the ants are going.
Bill: Put some diatomaceous earth there or
Paul: First of all I would just observe and see what is going on. What is happening? what is going on? what are you doing here?
Bill: By the way you see how luscious these cherries were? they were so moist and sweet and that is why there are still some seeds on here from last year. Can I start a cherry tree from seed here?
Paul: You could. You might not like the taste of the cherries, but it would be a cherry tree. All right, the legumes, all right. Sea berry. A shrub, I would go with a shrub or two. Comfrey, it is just going to shoot down a tap root, which this tree doesn't have and hopefully in fact, I would even think about a little bit of wood chip action or even branchs on the ground around it with the idea that build the fungal soils in there.
Bill: The matter is going to break down and go into the soil.
Paul: Yeah. And maybe smother some grasses. You know if it starts to rain, I have to shut this thing off and tuck it away. All right. So we would want to plant lots of dandelions and comfrey and then of course the nitrogen fixers.
because the tree is already so high up and there is so much grass here. I wonder maybe about planting some sweet clover and because it will like go up high.
Bill: Has a natural kind of base around the trunk.
Paul: And then you can chop and drop and it will eventually lay itself down. There it is, does that seem like enough information about your tree.
Bill: It gives me a nice little guild to play in. And then make a hugelculture bed around the baseline.
Paul: I firmly place the blame on not nature, not me.
Bill: You think if I did these things, basically, the tree's immune system for lack of better terminology, would protect itself and I wouldn't have to do anything else?
Paul: Just the vibrance in the tree, a good healthy tree would not get bugs and stuff.
Bill: All right.
Paul: I want to ask you one last question. Before it starts to rain.
Paul: It is raining now.
Bill: I know you want your huckleberry milk shake, but this tree, it is kind of dense. Would you recommend thinning it out a little bit. Getting a little more air to the trunk. Or would you recommend leaving it as is?
Paul: There is some branch crossing in there, but right now the tree is already stressed. I would attempt to not stress it at this point with something like pruning. It is really a young enough tree and there is not a lot of branches to begin with. That is it with a lot of these trees, they are old, but they are not particularly large. So I think it is a lot of what we discussed.
Bill: The same thing that we talked about here can apply to these trees over here. Put little guilds around it.
Paul: You will be working to make the best of it. Good luck. [laughter] anything else?
Bill: Have you seen instances where a tree has been a little sick like this one and people add the guilds and the beds around it and then if you have seen it improve, how long did it take?
Paul: I would say yes and at the same time, yes, yes, yes and yes. The first thing that pops into my mind is that pear tree that I had. I am always experimenting, I had two pear trees and I just moved on to the land and they both had pear leaf blister mites really bad. And this was long before I heard the word permaculture and I looked up the organic solution and it was sulfur. Spray sulfur was the organic solution. And I kind of thought, I want to I thought I want to do the vibrancy thing, so I did the sulfur treatment on one of the pear trees and on the other I gave it a foliage feed and mulched it. Just some haymulch. And the tree with the foliage feed and the mulch it was like a week later I could not find a pear leaf blister mite and the other tree continued to suffer.
Paul: So, you know, it seems weird. Because with the pear leaf blister mite there is a blister on the leaf so it was like where did the blister go?
Bill: We had a little bit of that fungus on one of the pear trees that we had. Just a little bit on a few leaves and I just cut the leaves off. It stops pretty easily, but I have to address the problem.
Paul: It is mother nature saying you are not giving me what I want.
Bill: Yeah, you are not giving me something that I need.
Paul: You are screwing something up somewhere and I am here to fix things because that is what I do. I am mother nature and you push the button and I arrived. You said mother nature take this tree out so I showed up and I am taking it out.
Paul: Here is an idea, don't push the button. Can we go and eat now because I am hungry.
Bill: Thanks for the advice.
Paul: You can thank me with pie. If you like this sort of thing come on out to the forums at permies.com where we talk about tree care, homesteading and permaculture all the time.
Bill: What a bad gardener Bill is. [laughter]