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Artificial trees to jumpstart your system?

 
Chad Sentman
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This feels like a stupid question, but I'll ask anyway.

Trees provide a lot of benefits. Not all of them are strictly biological.

So say you get access to a piece of marginal land and you want to apply some permaculture.

Is there any value to creating artificial trees to provide some of these benefits now while things are getting established?

For example, in an arid desert, a big part of the strategy has to do with mitigating evaporation, so what if I built some fake trees and used them to shade the plants I was trying to establish? Or what if I was trying to attract soil nutrients in the form of bird droppings, or to provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects or other organisms?

Could I build a fake forest to achieve these and other benefits immediately while the real trees and saplings were still growing under them? Or would that be a waste of time, or even counter-productive?

Would love some thoughtful insight here.

 
Ethan Thompson
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Location: Vermont
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Hi Chad,
Sounds like the functions you're shooting for are like those of nurse plants/trees, which along with everything you mention also provide windbreaks and if they're a nitrogen fixer, soil enrichment. Seems like an artificial solution could take many forms, tree-like or otherwise.

The major downside I see is lack of feedback. Nurse trees are generally lower cost than fruit & nut varieties. If the nurse trees tank you'd know it's probably not wise to go in with the higher value trees.

the main benefit seems to be time savings; you don't have to wait for the nurse trees to take hold. No doubt there's going to be plenty of folks jumping on the permie train at the last second before (or immediately after) systemic collapse. That time savings could mean a lot to some of those folks.

If you're not wagering more than you can afford to lose on the experiment, go for it. And report back!
 
Myron Weber
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Never thought about it that way, but I guess that's sort of what I've done - but on a small scale urban lot, so it's pretty economical. I put up a fence for wind break. I have trellises for climbers to climb on. And I tactically use a pop up shelter to shade newly planted seeds. These are all functions trees can perform. The fence is intended to be permanent, but as some of my trees grow, I will need less trellising and less pop up shade. Interesting idea.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Chad, can you explain a little bit more about what you see as an artificial tree? In my mind I am seeing a bunch of those fake plastic trees .
 
Michael Cox
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I'm thinking the equivalent of a polytunnel hoop system with shade netting to give a more dappled light?

Really I don't see it as any different as using any other artificial aids to getting plants established - for example using a closhe and cold-frame in cooler climates, stone to balance temperature variations etc...

Lots of permaculture is about cleverly tweaking environmental factors to get the ball rolling so to speak. Once your real trees are established and forming their own microclimate you could move the system on to another section of land. Would we prefer a system that didn't need artificial manipulation, probably, but that doesn't mean we can't use appropriate aids to get started.
 
William Bronson
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I have begun "relocating" saplings from abandoned land.
Just box elder so far.
I have also been encouraging the offspring of my dying mimosa instead of removing them. Soon they should be transferred to the forest garden site.
I love building things but plants ability to build themselves is miraculous, and too awesome to ignore.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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You can utilize shade clothe material to create "umbrellas" and provide shade to saplings. Depending on the material you may actually harvest moisture from the air and have it drip onto the saplings.

http://water.usgs.gov/nrp/proj.bib/hawaii/SFC.htm

Check out http://www.groasis.com/en

Once shaded, you can also use mulch to maintain lower soil temperatures and diminish evaporation.
 
Peter Ellis
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I have to ask first, what do you mean by "artificial trees"? If you are talking about pulling fake christmas trees out of the waste stream and using them in your system, that is one thing. If you are talking more about simulating trees, rather than utilizing fake trees, that is another thing.

In the first case, you're bringing into the picture some possible toxins and contamination issues - I don't know nearly enough about the composition of artificial christmas trees to be comfortable having them sitting out in the weather possibly degrading into my soil. And while you have pulled them out of the waste stream for the moment, you have also bought yourself the problem of disposing of them when you no longer have a use for them. I do not think I see enough benefit there to make up for the negatives I perceive.

But if you mean doing things to simulate the benefits trees provide, then by all means, there are a number of techniques and mechanisms for providing some of the benefits that can be had from trees, as have been mentioned by others - row covers, fences, hoop houses all provide some aspects of benefits that trees can provide. Another possibility might be an arbor with fast growing vines. It could provide shade, wind protection, the vines would provide transpiration that could help with humidity and if nitrogen fixing vines were used, you could get that benefit as well, plus the vines could provide a yield.

Such an arbor could be built to stand for years, it could be made such that you could move it about. Potentially you could get all the benefits of nurse trees except for timber. And you could get them in a matter of weeks, not years.

So, I think an artificial tree in the system is not such a great idea, but I think using an arbor or trellis with well selected climbing vines could produce a tree analogue that would be tremendously beneficial.
 
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