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Will this work as a nurse tree?

 
Matt Tebbit
Posts: 35
Location: Cusco, Peru
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I'm probably not going to get a good answer as this tree isn't going to be on many peoples (anyones) radar.

I live in the Andes at over 3300 meters so my range of suitable species is a bit different - I'm thinking of growing a few of these Tara trees to plant along side my fruit trees. They are legumes so I'm guessing they'll fix nitrogen - what do you think?

Thanks

Matt.
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Hi Matt,
I'm going to guess this tree has thorns, right?

Anything with thorns next to fruit trees, in my experience, doesn't work so well. At least in the long run. I imagine you walking around your fruit trees, tending them, giving them nutrients, whatever -- and there's this nasty thorny tree always in your way. It kind of depends on the structure of the thorny tree, if you can work around it or not. Chop and drop with thorny things also is a bit of a challenge, because you might be walking on thorns. Here we have rain, which means plastic rain boots. Thorns on the ground make holes in the boots and then you have wet feet. So the pattern of <Fruit tree-Thorny N-fixer-Thorny Mulch-Rain-Holes in boots-Wet feet> is one that personally I'm trying to avoid. You can also substitute "hole in wheel barrow tire" for for wet feet and you start to see a pattern.

If you can find a non-thorny n-fixer, it might be better. Thorny stuff is good for windbreaks and keeping people off your property.

William
 
Matt Tebbit
Posts: 35
Location: Cusco, Peru
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From what i've seen it's not thorny. I've never got up close and personal enough with one to find out, from a distance of a couple of meters they don't appear thorny. There's a guy who tends the trees in the local plaza so I'll ask him next time I pass by.

What are the requirements for a nurse tree? Here's the wikipedia description: 'A nurse tree is a larger, faster-growing tree that shelters a smaller, slower-growing tree or plant. The nurse tree can provide shade, shelter from wind, or protection from animals who would feed on the smaller plant.'

Is nitrogen fixing just an extra and the main benefit is that the nurse tree provides protection? The range of trees here is small and apart from Tara in my OP they're certainly not fast growing - a non-native could be European Elderberry which grow like crazy compared to the local species.

It's switching tact here but I'm not sure what to do with the Californian (Peruvian as they should be known) Pepper trees on my land. I have 3 on my land and there are several close by. I'm not all that keen on them as they put out ridiculously long roots and are far more competitive than the other species I want to plant. I'm thinking to take all 3 out next year to replace them with fruiting trees, is taking them all out a good idea? I am considering leaving one in. They're grouped fairly close, a couple of meters between each one.

 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1304
Location: Central New Jersey
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On the OP, I Have nothing to offer knowing nothing about the tree in question or the needs of your environment. It is utterly different from mine - elevation approximately ten meters.

On your second question, removing the pepper trees, I have an opinion. This is a question that arises in all sorts of environments, where the only common feature is pre existing trees on the property. I think before taking trees out it is very important to give thorough consideration to whether they provide benefits that make them worth keeping, or at least not worth taking out right now. If they are native trees I feel it is worth some extra effort to examine how they fit into the local ecosystem and how best to take advantage of them. Even if they are non native, consideration should be given to what they offer. After all, taking out a tree that is several years old is, in a sense, giving up those years.

If the trees are allelopathic, look at what will grow with them and consider whether you can assemble a productive guild that takes advantage of the allelopathy to disadvantage unwanted plants among your guild.

Even if the trees offer no benefit for you at all, there is the question of what I the best he of your time. Do they need to go so that you can place other trees I. The spot they now occupy because that is the best spot for the other trees? Or could you work around them for now, planting trees in other locations unaffected by them. Eventually coming to a point where now itnintime to remove them.

I raise this because I see removing a tree or trees as a fairly major and time consuming operation. Why delay planting other trees by spending the time removing these?

It may well be in a given case that the best approach is to take certain trees out first thing and then work on planting. But where you can get a jump on planting, which goes much faster than removing, it might be more advantageous to wait on the removal.

And another thing about removal. Depending upon the variety of tree, it's size, other environmental conditions, the trees might have a potential further use as mushroom substrate. If that function might be in consideration, then it might be worth holding off on cutting them down until winter, when you can produce better muhroom growing bolts.
One of the things I find fascinating about all of this is just how complex and multifaceted pretty much everything is when you take a good look at it
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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MAtt,
I really like Peter's response when it comes to removing trees. Existing tall elements on the site should be kept unless you have a good reason to remove them. The reason mainly is the effects they have in mitigating the wind, water, fire, and other forces that can affect the site (this would all be in a sector analysis). If you start from the mindset of 'let's make a clean slate and start over', you'll be throwing away a lot of the benefits of just having things on site. If you need to carve out a bit here and there to get some light to some trees, that would be okay. Nature does this (designing with gaps). However, going through with a chainsaw, a weed-eater, and a knife means you'll be starting from square one, which is a pretty difficult starting point. It's much better to ease your design in over time, which also gives you time to observe and make some good judgements about specific spots and specific elements like trees and whatnot.

William
 
Matt Tebbit
Posts: 35
Location: Cusco, Peru
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Thanks for the advice, they can stay put for now. The trees aren't that big yet, the biggest is about 2 meters tall, they grow to 15 meters if given time - how much time I don't know, I've only ever seen one that size. Hardly anything seems to be growing around them although to be honest nothing is growing at all in this moment, there's a nasty spiky plant growing amongst it and that's it.

The reason I want to take them out is that they've occupied the area where I want to plant my fruit trees - there's a ditch running along the back of my land and I want to take advantage of the water running down this, that's just what the pepper trees and a Eucalyptus have done though. My other concern is their roots are ridiculously extensive, I've dug up roots an inch thick a good 10 meters away from the trees. I'm worried that these trees are so well adapted to arid conditions that they'll outcompete less well adapted varieties and take up the bulk of water. The other issue is that both Eucalyptus and P. Pepper Trees are like Hydras, you cut down a Eucalyptus and you get 2 new trunks grow back...the Pepper trees have another method where they put out runners and more and more small trees keep popping up, even if you cut down the main tree you still haven't killed the beast.

I'm pretty sure that a hundred odd years ago the area I'm in would have had a much broader eco-system, it's very obvious that it's been cleared for production which has degraded it. Now you could look at Pepper trees and even Eucalyptus as pioneer species trying to re-establish an eco-system, maybe in the long run a functioning eco-system would emerge but in the short term I think they're acting like invaders and killing off the competition.

I'll give them a year (how long before I want to try and plant other varieties) of consideration before I make any decisions.
 
Mountain Krauss
Posts: 130
Location: Northern California
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Sounds like they can provide you with tons of free biomass. If you prune aggressively, that will slow the root growth. And the branches you prune will be great for the land-- whether as mulch, hugel beds, or animal feed.
 
William James
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As for Eucalyptus, it's the leaves right? They make the soil inhospitable to anything else that grows. You could look into what happens after they are composted and make sure they aren't on the ground. Leaf blower/sucker/shreader?

Do you have pics you could share? I'm curious as to what density the vegetation is. One solution to growing when the soil is taken up by roots is to go above ground in a raised bed. That would at least give a tree or other plants a fighting chance.

I wouldn't be too worried about your ability to destroy. It takes 100 years to grow something and a day to cut it down. I could commit ecocide on one hectare of land here in an undeveloped system in about a day. It's not hard.
The initial cut and the suckers that pop up are just more wood that you can decompose to benefit the system.

As for 'invasion,' it's just nature filling niches for you while you're away.
William

 
Matt Tebbit
Posts: 35
Location: Cusco, Peru
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Hi William,

The piece of land is small, just 330 square meters and the vegetation isn't dense at all. The land was cleared by a bulldozer (not by me) a few years back and nothing but the pepper trees and Eucalyptus made it. Practically the whole piece of land is barren right now barring the trees who just happen to occupy the spot where water accumulates (a ditch, obviously it's the best spot).

The area is pretty dry, it rains for about 4-5 months of the year and the rest are dry - as far as I can work out. Raised beds aren't going to be a good solution as they'd dry out. I'm thinking that the ditch is my best bet to trees established. I'm building a rock wall on my section of it which I plan to fill with compost and soil, I'm hoping that will catch a fair amount of rainwater and hold it for the dry season. I'm also thinking of burying some Eucalyptus logs that are left over from when the area was originally cleared. Once that is established I want to plant some trees like Peruvian Elderberry and Capuli (Peruvian Cherry), I have no idea if I'll be able to get them to be productive but I want to try and introduce some native fruit trees. I'm also thinking of planting some non-natives, I was reading Apricot is drought tolerant. Along with those I want to plant the Tara, the leguminous tree to help fix nitrogen. Tara is quite fast growing and drought tolerant, I'm also hoping that the seeds it produces may be useful. The area I want to plant is maybe 2 meters wide by 10 meters long, how many trees could feasibly be planted on an area that size?

No planting is going to happen until late next year unfortunately, there are other jobs that need doing to get the land up and running and there's a sheep problem that means anything I plant right now would most likely be eaten. I'm going to have to get the land sorted out first and plant when the rains come next year.

I'm heading back to my land tomorrow to try and knock up a makeshift fence to keep the sheep at bay, I'll take some photos then to upload.

Oh yeah, one final note. I'm not sure what makes Eucalyptus such nasty pieces of work, I think that they just take a lot of the water and nutrients from the soil, in and around the plantations (that are everywhere here) nothing else grows, they completely dominate the eco-system. Unfortunately (fortunately) they're loved by everyone here, they grow on degraded ground, need no attention, have the growth in 10 years that an Andean tree would require 100, can be cut down and they grow right back. The local forests in the highlands have all but disappeared.

 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1304
Location: Central New Jersey
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Not having walked the land makes this harder from your description one of my first thoughts is move the water not the trees. Sounds like you need a proper swale and berm to provide a good tree growing situation. I would still hesitate to take out the trees that are there. Undesirable as they appear to be in your view, they still represent several positives. They are reducing erosion, helping to hold water in the area by casting shade, improving the soil ( just their being there is better than nothing there) and while transpiration puts water into the air,not heir leaves provide condensation surfaces to recapture it.

You might want to look at some of the research about how fungi and trees interact. It appears that trees of different species will share nutrients via the fungal web. Competition is not quite what we expect it to be among plants.

And sheep coming through and eating everything would be a disappointment.ndefinitely need to sort that out
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Matt Tebbit wrote: Practically the whole piece of land is barren right now barring the trees who just happen to occupy the spot where water accumulates (a ditch, obviously it's the best spot).


I was going to suggest swales too. Obviously the land is water starved and you could go a long way harvesting water via infiltration swales. Putting a drought tolarant species below a swale means that it will probably do well.

Matt Tebbit wrote: The area I want to plant is maybe 2 meters wide by 10 meters long, how many trees could feasibly be planted on an area that size?


Mass select down to what you feel is right. If you were to put 200 saplings, that's only one plant every meter. That's really tight, but you could go even tighter. Then you let nature work out who wins. I get a large amount of cheap trees and try not to plant two of the same kind next to each other, but that's about it. I'll shape what is growing with a pair of pruning shears when I actually have something to work with. On the sheep, yeah, definitely want to keep them out.


Matt Tebbit wrote:Oh yeah, one final note. I'm not sure what makes Eucalyptus such nasty pieces of work, I think that they just take a lot of the water and nutrients from the soil, in and around the plantations (that are everywhere here) nothing else grows, they completely dominate the eco-system. Unfortunately (fortunately) they're loved by everyone here, they grow on degraded ground, need no attention, have the growth in 10 years that an Andean tree would require 100, can be cut down and they grow right back. The local forests in the highlands have all but disappeared.


Sounds like black locust here. Everybody hates it and wants it eradicated, but on the other hand they lust after it for firewood. Most people only want black locust in their fireplace, but for some reason they don't like to see it growing anywhere.

Yeah, the raised beds would dry out, your're right. You probably need sunken beds. Make a hole and throw biomass into it. Look into banana circles, as the concept is the same.

You should do some research on N-fixing trees. The point about choosing a tree in any case is it's ability to be multi-functional. How many yields are you getting off of a Tara tree? If there are better trees (coffee trees are leguminous, and there are surely n-fixing fruit trees where you are)

For example. this seems like a great tree to plant: It has tons of functions.
http://www.ingafoundation.org/the-inga-tree/

Book: Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-known Plants of the Andes
Might be something you'd be interested in.

Oh, and n-fixation is more related to dynamic nutrient accumulation rather than a function of 'nursing'. The plants are n-fixing to give the next wave of plants the nitrogen they need. Permaculture mimics that and tries to speed it up via overplanting n-fixers and chop and drop.

William
 
Matt Tebbit
Posts: 35
Location: Cusco, Peru
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Forgot my camera yesterday so no pics.

Looking at the land I'm wondering if there is an underground stream, I walked up the ditch yesterday and the trees continued the in the same general line even once the depression had petered out. I think there was a riverbed in the area in the past as about 80cm down I hit a layer of grey clay and small stones.

Yesterday I made a start at fixing two of my problems, sheep and water. I'm building a small rock with clay mortar wall in the ditch to catch any water that runs down, once it's high enough it should also be a deterrent to sheep. I also started digging a trench perpendicular to the contour of my land, the water will run down it in to the ditch. I know it runs against the idea of a swale but I need to build a fence along that edge of the land, I'm going to lay upright tires in the trench to act as a barrier to sheep. To make it look a little less unnatural I'm also going to put Eucalyptus branches and clay on it.

William and Peter - thanks for the recommendations, I don't think there's much chance I'll get 200 saplings in although it's good to know there's plenty of space. I grow most of my trees from seed, I can take cuttings of Elderberry. There simply isn't any mass scale production of trees here so saplings can be quite pricey, 200 saplings would cost about 10% of what the land cost in the first place . Another treeish shrub I am considering planting is Fuchsia Boliviana - they produce small fruit, a bit like a small flavorless grape. The benefit is that I can grow them on mass without too much difficulty, one fruit contains several hundred seeds almost all of which germinate.

The Inga tree looks interesting, it's not one I've come across. It looks like it grows on the jungle side of the Andes, it may do well up here as well. I'm pretty sure coffee won't grow up here, if it did people would already be growing it. Coffee is grown about 5-6 hours drive from here in the jungle region.

Taras produce their seeds year round, I'm not sure if they'd work as a source of food. I haven't heard of people eating or giving them to animals but that may be because there are alternatives.

Would shrubs work as a nurse environment? There is a type of Lupin that grows here, they grow about a meter tall and produce edible seeds.
 
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