What food plants shall I put under my Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) tree?
I have a big leaf maple in the bottom, North West corner of the old chicken run that I'm converting to terraced gardening. The tree is the corner post in the fence, so the area I'm looking at is a 90 degree wedge that spread out from the tree. It's a moderate to large size for a Big Leaf Maple, and produces copious amounts of mulch each year. Because the chickens were there for a few years, there is very little growing under the tree. Right now we have miner's lettuce, annoying white flower weed, sorrel, dandelions, chickweed, a few thistles, and buttercup. I'm guessing fairly acidic soil,
This area will receive no inputs from me. No water, no manure, no attention, no tilling/digging except to harvest. It may get a light dusting of wood ash and borax at the start of this project just to get the soil more friendly for clover. This is a low interaction space that is close to the road and far enough from the house I can't be bothered to go there daily. What it will receive is pruning of over aggressive plants, harvesting, and weeding. The weeds go to the hens that are at the top of the now terraced ridge (ridge runs more or less north south here).
I'm leaving the weeds I like to eat and pulling up the buttercup, thistles, and annoying white flowered weeds (shepherd's purse - because I really don't like it even though it's edible, and another one that looks suspiciously like miniature winter cress). As I pull up the weeds, I want to sprinkle a pinch of seeds in the disturbed soil.
This is our rain star.
As you can see, winters are wet and summers are dry. July has an average of zero rainfall. We do however, get a heavy morning dew most summer days, and the area under this maple is often moisture than the surrounding soil. Of course, that's relative. The surrounding soil is bone dry, whereas in the summer, the soil under the tree is sometimes very slightly damp.
It's full sun most of the winter (or it would be if it wasn't almost always cloudy), and part sun in the summer.
So what types of food, healing and dye plants would be worth growing here?
I have a big maple in my yard and I planted hardy kiwi under it because I heard that they like dry conditions and I'm thinking it will be pretty dry under that tree. I planted three last fall, but I don't know yet if they made it through the winter. We had a very mild winter this year, but the rabbits ate them to the ground. I'll let you know if they come back from it and how they grow if they do.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
Funny you should mention water. This side of the ridge is much dryer than the other side (which has underground springs). Most of the trees on the dry side, are dry loving trees, as the drainage is excellent. However, this maple tree grows vigorously. Scratch the surface of the soil under it in the summer, and there is almost always moisture. Even last year with the big drought, there was dampness less than an inch down.
I'm still learning about tree based systems, but either the maple tree is keeping the moisture there somehow, or one of the springs has leaked through the glacial deposit that makes up the ridge. I'm inclined to think the tree has something to do with it. All those leaves that fall each year, is making a rich home for worms. Considering all the donations made by the hens as well, I think it's a good time to start planting yummy things.
If I don't plant things, then the broom is going to take over.
Walnut trees are famous for producing a natural herbicide called juglone, present in the leaves, the nuts, and exuded from the roots as well. Some plants really hate juglone and just won't grow there.
But...walnut trees are not the the only ones to produce juglone and other similar allelochemicals. Maples for example. So, whatever else guides you to the right plants, you could also do a google search for plants that are resistant to the effects of juglone. Here's a quote from a handy site that talks about this issue in some length.
The production of juglone is a protective response by the plant to assure its survival. Many plants (e.g., sugar maple, tree of heaven, hackberries, sycamore, cottonwood, black cherry, red oak, black locust, sassafras, fine fescue, and American elm) produce allelochemicals to enhance their survival and reproduction by inhibiting nearby competition. The most common symptoms of juglone sensitivity in landscape and garden plants is the yellowing and wilting of leaves, especially during the hot dry periods during the growing season, ultimately resulting in wilting and death of the plant.
Berries and nettle! We have nettle happily growing under our Big Leaf Maple. It's actually the only place on our 5 acres where nettle grows. They must like it there! Our salmonberries, thimbleberries, native blackberries, red huckleberries, and blackcap raspberries all love growing under ours, too. We've got hazelnuts under some of our maples, too, and while they are still young, they seem very happy. Since these are all plants that grow there naturally and were not planted by me, I'd say they's all do well under yours, too. Or, any of their relatives, like domestic blueberries, mountain huckleberries, domestic raspberries and blackberries, etc. The taller raspberries and blackberries and hazelnuts would also take up the shrub layer that the scotch broom would inhabit. They are also all pretty low maintainence. You could prune the berries for more production, etc, if you want to, or just let them do their thing if you have less time.