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significance of certain tree species in permaculture

 
Levente Andras
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Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Hello Permies !

I have been musing about this for a while.

There is a handful of tree species which seem to be favoured in some permaculture circles for populating "forest gardens" and similar man-made ecosystems. However, these same few species receive disparaging critique from the more "mainstream" circles (and not only).  Personally, I have been experimenting with some of them for the last few years, and I can already see some issues.

My list includes 3 such species: sea buckthorn, black locust, and Eleagnus.

I planted my first few sea buckthorn bushes 3 years ago.  Since then, I have learned that:

(a) Sea buckthorn's fruit tastes good and is supposed to be good for your health, but unless you are willing to mutilate your tree by cutting the fruiting branches, picking the tiny berries is an extremely tedious and painful process.
(b) as a thorny plant, it is unfriendly to people, animals, and plants alike.  Aside from the unpleasantness of pruning a sea buckthorn or mowing the grass around a bush with low branches, I'm concerned about the harm its thorns can do to trees planted close by when their branches lash the other (more tender) trees when the wind blows.
(c) They have started being extremely invasive only 3 years after I planted them - and the largest of them have barely exceeded 2 metres in height.  This year I have noticed (and mowed down) dozens of root shoots around each of my sea buckthorns.  The shoots that went unnoticed for more than a couple of weeks this summer, shot to a height of about 1ft in that interval.

And now about Black Locust ...

On one hand, given that my property had not one single tree on it when I bought it 3 years ago, I know that I badly need trees that grow fast, are not fussy about the soil I plant them in, stay green even during long periods of drought, are not too sensitive to vole attacks, and provide good quality fuel wood at maturity.  (That's why I planted quite a few of them, around my property. And they are growing fast indeed.)  On the other hand, I'm terrified at the thought that, in a few years' time, if I wanted to cut down one of these black locusts, I anticipate an endless war against countless invading black locusts sprouted from the roots of the felled tree. Will pollarding (instead of felling / coppicing) be the answer?

The third one, Eleagnus angustifolia, is still a question mark.  Of the 20 or so that I planted, about 6 or 8 are thriving. (Many have been killed by voles.) I read somewhere that they are recommended as "nurse trees" planted close to fruit trees; however, they too have thorns, so according to my logic they could injure nearby trees (the ones they are supposed to nurse) when the wind blows. 

So... I was wondering if anyone here had experience that they cared to share with regard to these species in a "forest garden" context.  How do they behave in the company of "domesticated" fruit trees?  What proven benefits do they offer in this context?  What can I expect of them in the long term?  What are your thoughts / experience around the issues that I described above?

 
Todd Parr
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I don't have a lot to add except that I also planted sea buckthorn.  They have been in two years I believe, and this year I have many little volunteers sprouting up around them.  Mine don't have berries yet.  They are planted in my chicken coop, so I doubt I will harvest many berries, instead leaving them for the chickens.

I haven't planted Russian Olive, but I do have Autumn Olive.  They have berries for the first time this year, but they aren't ripe yet so I can't comment on the taste.  I have yet to see if they try to invade everywhere now that they have berries.

I'm looking forward to hearing from others with more experience that I have.
 
Rebecca Norman
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We're in such extreme desert that those three species comprise a good portion of the shrubs and trees that do well here. We are in extreme desert, so none of these can spread vigorously away from the water.

We've got lots of sea-buckthorn. Unfortunately I don't find it to have an interesting flavour but others here seem to like it. It's so sour that we dry the berries or bottle juice, and then when we use it, we add lots of water and sugar.

We collect the berries by laying a tarp under the bush and beating it with a stick, as the thorns are so ferocious. We clean them by floating in water, hand picking, and rolling them down a smooth surface.

When sea-buckthorn rhizomes emerge as sprouts in nearby areas, I pull them up with a shovel and they don't seem to come back too quickly. Once a year seems to be enough to keep them somewhat contained, but to eliminate a well established patch takes whacking it back several times in one season. The rhizomes don't have thorns so I yank them up as far back to the desired area as I can and it works pretty well. They do get discouraged for a year or two.

Our russian olive is about 20 years old and didn't start spreading too much until there was construction next to it. The root damage caused a huge flush of big sprouts all around, which are becoming trees. I will agree that when I try to cut sprouts out of the canal where they are in the way, they come back extremely vigorously and have been hard to discourage. The "thorns" are not very thorny or problematic. The fruit is, well, "interesting" to try, but not something you really want to collect and eat or use. You can propagate it by cuttings just like willow: we use 2 inch dia sticks with about 5 feet above ground and 1 or 2 feet underground, and get almost 100% success.

Our black locust hasn't even started throwing out sprouts yet though it's about 10 years old. these thorns also are not very bad, not very long, and if you snap them off the lower branches and trunk, they don't grow back.

Of the three, seabuckthorn is the only one whose thorns are really nasty, and Eleagnus angustifolia is the only one that has spread somewhat invasively (though we needed something green in that area so we don't mind).
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Michelle Bisson
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We are in the process of planting 120 or so sea buckthorn (seaberry) plants.  91 plants are already in the ground & the rest will go in once they go dormant in a month.   I am trying to propagate them with various methods.

Some sea buckthorn varieties have less thorns than others.  By cutting whole branches, every two years, the thorns are not as bad than if they are 5 years old.  Of course care must be made when pruning and harvesting. 

We'll see how that goes in the future since our plants are still young (3rd summer).  I plan to propagate the young shoots into new plants, since this is an easy way to propagate them.    One day we'll have extra to sell and trade.   Because we planted our's as a hedgegrow layout, we will have plenty of pruning to do since our plants are closely planted at 3 feet apart with 9 feet between rows.


See my posts  Go Permaculture Food Forest - Our Suburban permaculture journey to follow our journey.
 
Levente Andras
Posts: 150
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Michelle Bisson wrote:


We are in the process of planting 120 or so sea buckthorn (seaberry) plants.  91 plants are already in the ground & the rest will go in once they go dormant in a month.   I am trying to propagate them with various methods.

Some sea buckthorn varieties have less thorns than others.  By cutting whole branches, every two years, the thorns are not as bad than if they are 5 years old.  Of course care must be made when pruning and harvesting. 

We'll see how that goes in the future since our plants are still young (3rd summer).  I plan to propagate the young shoots into new plants, since this is an easy way to propagate them.    One day we'll have extra to sell and trade.   Because we planted our's as a hedgegrow layout, we will have plenty of pruning to do since our plants are closely planted at 3 feet apart with 9 feet between rows.


See my posts  Go Permaculture Food Forest - Our Suburban permaculture journey to follow our journey.


That's a lot of sea buckthorn ! 

I have questions for cases like yours, where sea buckthorn is a key species in the design. Namely:

(1) What is the bigger vision that guides this design? What guided your choice to plant this number of bushes of this species? E.g., was it because little else grew in your environment? Or because you deemed it a valuable species among others? Or you wish to grow for commercial purposes, i.e., selling the fruit?  What role will the species play in the bigger picture? 

(2) What yields do you expect to / could you obtain, other than the fruit?  

(3) And above all: How do you envision the ecosystem at maturity - especially knowing that quite soon your bushes (their root shoots) may start to take over the surrounding space? With what other species do you combine sea buckthorn? How are they likely to interact?  Will they mutually benefit from the cohabitation?  Are you okay if sea buckthorn will squeeze out all other tree species?

In my case, the number of sea buckthorn plants is much lower - about 20.  The main intent was to fill out a 300 metre hedge of mixed species, some thorny some not.  Interestingly, while sea buckthorn has been thriving, some of the other shrubs and trees in the hedge have performed poorly or have died (to the extent that I'll need to replant some sections of the hedge).
 
John Polk
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Sea Buckthorn seems to be really gaining in popularity - probably because of its ability to survive (even though nobody seems to really enjoy the fruit).  In countries where it is actually grown for its fruit, the usual method of harvesting is to physically yank the entire plant out of the ground.  A once in a lifetime harvest.

In parts of Canada, it is getting a reputation as too invasive. Farmers are feuding with neighbors who are planting it.  Besides the suckering, the real problem is the fruit.  Few humans harvest the fruit for their own consumption.  The fruit remains on the plant all winter, where it is devoured by hungry birds.  These birds then poop out the seeds all around the area.  Soon a handful of bushes will become a thorny jungle that may last for eternity, expanding each year.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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The issues brought up by the OP are the tip of the iceberg to me.
When you go around planting only 3 or 5 species you have effectively made more of a monoculture instead of striving for greater diversity, which is what is actually needed for success.

Just because some plant does well, does not mean it is or should be the right plant for your space.
Invasive qualities are great, if you want a sea of a certain plant or tree, then go ahead and make them the primary planting.
Black Locust is one of those trees that in nature it is held in check because of the taller, oaks, hickories, etc. that shade it and thus make it hard for suckers to really get a foot hold.
If you go to the areas that it naturally grows in, you will not find vast quantities of these trees except, perhaps at the forest edge. Same goes for seabuckthorn.
Most forests do not have vast areas of seabuckthorn, blacklocust or others that are normally found in nature as understory unless human hands were involved.

A food forest should be extremely diverse, so that everything works just as it would if human hands were never involved.

Just my thoughts on the subject.

Redhawk
 
Michelle Bisson
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Location: Quebec, Canada
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There are many questions worthy of a reply.  I will have to respond next week as we are going to our Go Permaculture lot this weekend.  It is an intensive long term weekend project.

 
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