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"Weeds" in the Permaculture Orchard

 
John Saltveit
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Hi Stefan,
I also run a permaculture orchard, but it's on a smaller scale and just for my family and community. I am interested in how you deal with what non-permaculturalists call "weeds". By that I mean plants that grow quickly and unplanted, and can go from seed to seed in say, 70 days. Since I'm growing for my family, I eat a lot of the weeds, but you're doing things on a much bigger scale. I leave horsetail, comfrey and dandelion because they're such good dynamic accumulators and I chop and drop. I leave umbelliferous plants because they're so great at attracting bugs that defend the orchard by killing plant attacking insects. Do you have a general plan for dealing with weeds? They're also by definition great botanic diversifiers of an orchard. I'd love to hear what you're doing with the weeds in your orchard.
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
Rob Read
Posts: 86
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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I'm really curious on this topic too. My current orchard is also pretty small (20 trees - a lot of them nitrogen fixer 'nurse' trees, most dwarf or semi dwarf).

At first, I was trying to 'weed' the orchard, but now just accept that Creeping Charlie (Ground Ivy) is beautiful, and as long as its not strangling something, it's a great ground cover, and also right now in full flower, an excellent pollinator attractor. Grass is harder for me to accept, but I've come a long way into just letting that be too, especially as the balance towards broadleaved plants is starting to emerge.
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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John Saltveit wrote:Hi Stefan,
I also run a permaculture orchard, but it's on a smaller scale and just for my family and community. I am interested in how you deal with what non-permaculturalists call "weeds". By that I mean plants that grow quickly and unplanted, and can go from seed to seed in say, 70 days. Since I'm growing for my family, I eat a lot of the weeds, but you're doing things on a much bigger scale. I leave horsetail, comfrey and dandelion because they're such good dynamic accumulators and I chop and drop. I leave umbelliferous plants because they're so great at attracting bugs that defend the orchard by killing plant attacking insects. Do you have a general plan for dealing with weeds? They're also by definition great botanic diversifiers of an orchard. I'd love to hear what you're doing with the weeds in your orchard.
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR

John great observations. 'Weeds' are not the problem but point to the problem (Sir Albert Howard, an Agricultural Testament (i think)). Weeds are great at indicating problems. Horsetail tends to show you have an impervious wet layer that could have been reduced or solved before planting by subsoiling or keylining. Dandelion is great to show calcium deficiency or compaction. You may do well to 'rip' your lanes to improve aeration and decompact. OR just add a lot of organic mulch and let worm do it for you. If you can add cardboard and 4-6'' wood chip mulch under all the trees to the drip line, do it. It would solve a lot of your problems. We use plastic because of the scale. We can't get enough material to put mulch everywhere. After spreading 30 loads did not want to repeat it the next year and over and over.
 
John Saltveit
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Thanks Stefan,
Great ideas. I had to look up ripping to understand what it meant. I have seen in a video a kind of a solid, tall, metal bar , 5' tall or so, that people step on and it acts like a plow, but it doesn't turn up the soil, just break it up. That might work well because I don't want to kill the mycorrhizal fungi I've been inoculating. Also all the microbial soil life gets exiled from its homeland. I can't get in there with a tractor because it's a suburban yard, and it is already extremely densely planted. I think I could use a bar like that as a kind of suburban equivalent.

I have already been spreading inches of wood chips and cardboard every year. The soil has gone from horrifying pure clay to fairly good clay loam, which is quite an improvement. We also are getting way more mushrooms than before, which should help make a spongier, more draining soil with more microbial life. I have been using the deep rooted weeds like dandelion and horsetail to help break through the heavy layers, and I think chop and drop/toss should bring the nutrition and microbial life up. I'm already at 10% organic matter and a TCEC of 15.4, so I think it's working.

Has anyone here used that kind of bar to break up compacted soil layers?
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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Rob Read wrote:I'm really curious on this topic too. My current orchard is also pretty small (20 trees - a lot of them nitrogen fixer 'nurse' trees, most dwarf or semi dwarf).

Rob
At first, I was trying to 'weed' the orchard, but now just accept that Creeping Charlie (Ground Ivy) is beautiful, and as long as its not strangling something, it's a great ground cover, and also right now in full flower, an excellent pollinator attractor. Grass is harder for me to accept, but I've come a long way into just letting that be too, especially as the balance towards broadleaved plants is starting to emerge.

Rob Creeping Charlie has proven to be a beneficial insect powerhouse. 6 weeks of bloom at a time of year (early may to mid-June) when it can be too cool for insects to work the trees. This ground hugging creeper provides food especially important at those times and on nice days. I used to dread it now I Love it. Patience with a plant rewarded!
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Hey John. I think your magical google term is "broadfork". It does what it does, essentially physically fracturing soils to 12-18 depth. I liked doing it in late winter, to create pathways for spring root growth (or so I imagined having not spent much time underground.) I suspect it might be a good treatment for a few years, but become less necessary, as root mass occupies that strata. There are starting to be local manufacturers.

Your soil parent material (as expressed in the sub-soil) may drive species composition toward a particular mix in a way that may not entirely be manipulable. Because I have rich moist soil, I suspect I will always have buttercup looking for a foothold. It makes my site the kind of place where you need to be a thug (big fast growing) to survive, OR I do work to protect the smaller slower species.

I have donor sites for biomass (mixed meadows that I cut in May) that I pile on site (where I want a future planting site), and use through the season to selectively mulch. This has ramped up my ability to shift composition beyond just chop and drop.

I am increasingly organizing my understory into units with different purposes. Some places are purely for mulch production (cut and carry or chop and drop), other patches are occupied by plants that require mulch import to be competitive (dryland herbs on my site). Other sites are mixes of plants that are competitive,

I just got a net fencing so I can move my egg flock anywhere on the property. I am excited to see what chickens do at broadscale (I bet timing has an effect) or when concentrated and combined with mulch import.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Broadforks work well on a suburban scale. Not on a commercial scale unless you have slave labor.

Something like daikon planted in the fall could also do the work for you.

 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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John Saltveit wrote:Thanks Stefan,
Great ideas. I had to look up ripping to understand what it meant. I have seen in a video a kind of a solid, tall, metal bar , 5' tall or so, that people step on and it acts like a plow, but it doesn't turn up the soil, just break it up. That might work well because I don't want to kill the mycorrhizal fungi I've been inoculating. Also all the microbial soil life gets exiled from its homeland. I can't get in there with a tractor because it's a suburban yard, and it is already extremely densely planted. I think I could use a bar like that as a kind of suburban equivalent.

I have already been spreading inches of wood chips and cardboard every year. The soil has gone from horrifying pure clay to fairly good clay loam, which is quite an improvement. We also are getting way more mushrooms than before, which should help make a spongier, more draining soil with more microbial life. I have been using the deep rooted weeds like dandelion and horsetail to help break through the heavy layers, and I think chop and drop/toss should bring the nutrition and microbial life up. I'm already at 10% organic matter and a TCEC of 15.4, so I think it's working.

Has anyone here used that kind of bar to break up compacted soil layers?
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR

Wahoo John 10% OM is fantastic. You have already seen the changes. Keep it up. 6''-10" of shredded leaves have completely mellowed a friends heavy clay in an area that once was a brickyard.
 
John Saltveit
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Thanks guys,
Mother Earth News has a diagram and article about building a broadfork from John Jeavons (Grow more vegetables than you thought possible).

http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Magazine%20Articles/1980/03-01/Make%20Your%20Own%20Broadfork%20Garden%20Tool/062%20broadfork%20-%20diagram.jpg

It looks like it might be fun to build.

I may use a pitchfork until I build or buy one.

I forgot to mention that I also usually gather free diverse leaves from trees not in my yard in the fall to add to the soil.

I often mix gravel and old wood into the soil when I plant a new tree/shrub, to improve drainage, mineral content and fungal life. WE have heavy clay. When I have moved them afterwards, they are doing really well.
John S
PDX OR
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
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John Saltveit wrote:Thanks guys,
Mother Earth News has a diagram and article about building a broadfork from John Jeavons (Grow more vegetables than you thought possible).

http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Magazine%20Articles/1980/03-01/Make%20Your%20Own%20Broadfork%20Garden%20Tool/062%20broadfork%20-%20diagram.jpg

It looks like it might be fun to build.

I may use a pitchfork until I build or buy one.

I forgot to mention that I also usually gather free diverse leaves from trees not in my yard in the fall to add to the soil.

I often mix gravel and old wood into the soil when I plant a new tree/shrub, to improve drainage, mineral content and fungal life. WE have heavy clay. When I have moved them afterwards, they are doing really well.
John S
PDX OR

Broadly speaking I don't give a fork about using such a tool. I would much rather let the soil life do it. Worm and ant will both tunnel, aerate, mix in organic matter and generally do wonders for your soil.
 
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