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master steward
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I'm seeking a food tree that we can plant in excessively well-drained soil. 

It's part way down a West facing slope, on glacial tilth (rocks and silty dust).  There are large trees to the South-Southwest and to the West so that this space gets lots of shade in winter.  It gets mostly sun in summer, except in the late evening.  Having a late sunrise due to the ridge to the East, it gets quite a bit of dew in the summer, which is good because we get very little rain.  However, there does seem to be some soil moisture there because the blackberries grow quite well if we let them. 

This is also near the road so we are looking for something that can grow quite tall if possible.

It will receive no irrigation.

We live in a Mediterranian climate which means we get loads of rain in the winter and not so much in the summer.

This space will probably get human attention once a month.

It must be a food tree.

We're thinking nut trees.  There's enough space for about 3 rows of 6 large nut trees per row, 10 feet apart.  To add nitrogen to the soil, we are thinking of planting Siberian pea shrub between the rows.  Berry bushes on each end and later on, more food producing plants.  But first, we need something to help hold the soil.

The thing is, we've tried green manure to improve the soil over the last few years, but it won't grow!  It starts, then the weather either gets too dry or too cold.  The theory is, having something with deep roots like trees would help improve the soil enough and retain the moisture in the spring, that we can start growing smaller plants among them. 

What sort of trees do you imagine could grow in these conditions? 
 
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I'd try almonds - they survive here better than any other tree with minimal care.
 
r ranson
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I should add, when we plant the trees, we'll be adding lots of llama berries and other natural goodness to the hole.  Also, we're planning to mulch them with chipper mulch to help improve the soil.  Trees and perennials seem to be one of the few things that can handle being mulched on our farm.

Also, on the next two terraces up, I've planted lots of fruit trees on the edge of the terrace, then placed all the rocks from the soil in a wall to act as an airwell.  We expected a 10% survival rate and so far we've had less than 10% die in the two + years since we planted them. 
 
r ranson
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Burra Maluca wrote:I'd try almonds - they survive here better than any other tree with minimal care.



I'm fully in favour of almonds.  The others think it's not a tall enough tree.  They want chestnuts, but I don't think that they will survive in those conditions.  But what do I know?
 
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r ranson wrote:We're thinking nut trees.  There's enough space for about 3 rows of 6 large nut trees per row, 10 feet apart.  To add nitrogen to the soil, we are thinking of planting Siberian pea shrub between the rows.  Berry bushes on each end and later on, more food producing plants.  But first, we need something to help hold the soil.

The thing is, we've tried green manure to improve the soil over the last few years, but it won't grow! It starts, then the weather either gets too dry or too cold.  The theory is, having something with deep roots like trees would help improve the soil enough and retain the moisture in the spring, that we can start growing smaller plants among them.



Sorry if there is an obvious clue I missed in your post, but what is the pH of your soil? It might help figure out why you are having trouble growing green manure and also narrow down your tree choices.

---

I'd agree that almonds seem to be a perfect match for your climate. The only other one I could think of is jujubes, though they would have the same issue as the almonds of being short, 30ft high, so the others in your group may not like that. I haven't done much research on them, but they seem to fit the bill somewhat for you.
https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/jujube.html

Jujubes tolerate many types of soils, but prefer a sandy, well-drained soils and do less well in heavy, poorly drained soil. They are able to grow in soils with high salinity or high alkalinity. Irrigation: One of the outstanding qualities of the jujube tree are its tolerance of drought conditions.


FruitTreesandMore sells them, so maybe you can get more info from them about it.
 
r ranson
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The soil is on the acidic side.  We can always add wood ash or lime as needed.  That's not the problem so much as the inability to hold any moisture in it. 

When I plug the conditions into Plants for a Future, they suggest Mulberries as well. 
 
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Probably not right for your climate, but beach plums are supposed to handle poor soil well and dry times. It's more a bush/shrub than a tree; they're native to northeastern US on the coast and (from what I've read anyway) are fine with sandy and/or poor soil.  I don't have personal experience but I'm going to be planting some soon.
 
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Hybrid poplars grow very quickly, don't need much looking after, don't care about soil pH, make masses of roots to hold the hillside together and input organic material. downsides they drop leaves for winter, are very aggressive, will soak up all your water... prune them and it's all under control.
 
r ranson
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I was reading that chestnuts do well if in well-drained soil.  Funny, I'm used to seeing them in wetter conditions but some websites seem to suggest they would do okay here. 
 
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r ranson wrote:I should add, when we plant the trees, we'll be adding lots of llama berries and other natural goodness to the hole. 



You will get other opinions on this, but without fail, every time I have added amendments to the hole that I planted a tree in, the tree did worse than an identical tree planted in "unimproved" soil.  Every single time.  I no longer add any amendments to the hole when I plant trees.  I plant the tree, mulch it heavily and add amendments to the top.
 
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Hi R.

I would suggest looking at shrubs first, to both help build a complex understory and to follow natural patterns of succession. I know that in lots of the boreal forest in northern Ontario, some of the first successors to a clearcut or burn are blueberries and raspberries.

With this in mind, I suggest you think about hedges of blueberry, which incidentally love acidic soil, with raspberry in behind (in terms of prevailing sun exposure). Even better than this would be various types of blue and raspberry, with various types of currants in their shade. Mulberry is an understory tree, meaning it will do well in shade. Hazelnuts are the only nut tree known to thrive in the shade. You could try black locust if you like, they should do well in a Mediteranean climate, and they fix nitrogen. Also, buckwheat is known to like acidic soils, and it also fixes nitrogen. This leaves you to pick your overstory fruit tree species, and the taller overstory nut tree, which you have indicated might be a species of chestnut.

I would suggest being mindful of the forest systems in your area. I don't know what hosts nitrogen-fixing bacteria there, but it may be wise to rely on natives where possible. This may be true where it comes to your selection of fruit tree species.

Finally, I also suggest that you consider the place of pioneer weeds in your system. If you do nothing, they will likely show up and fix the poor soil conditions. You could actively use these plants' natural tendencies to keep your soil in place, drop huge amounts of organic matter deep into the soil, dredge up and distribute mineral and nutrient resources, and either create mulch through a chop and drop of these native green manures, or if you are lucky enough to have willing animal help, fresh assisted forage.

So basically, go with fruiting shrubs and concentrate on your understory and the stuff underfoot that holds your soil together. Make that nitrogen-fixing and maybe food for animals or a green manure when you mow/chop it. I would suggest building a whole system, as I outlined, focusing on shade-loving understory food trees like the mulberry and hazelnut, but occupying every niche you can think of in a stratified forest system, even in miniature. Even if we're talking about a glorified hedge. Establish an interconnected web of supporting elements in a system that supports itself.

I think what you're seeking is a system for your particular poor conditions, and I think looking to natural systems of succession for clues is a wise idea.

-CK
 
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Todd Parr wrote:

r ranson wrote:I should add, when we plant the trees, we'll be adding lots of llama berries and other natural goodness to the hole. 



You will get other opinions on this, but without fail, every time I have added amendments to the hole that I planted a tree in, the tree did worse than an identical tree planted in "unimproved" soil.  Every single time.  I no longer add any amendments to the hole when I plant trees.  I plant the tree, mulch it heavily and add amendments to the top.




I totally agree with you on this.  I think trees do better if they are stressed a little to push roots, otherwise, you get the potted effect and the roots tend to stay in the amended area longer.  Seems to lead to a slower growing less vibrant tree.  I'm sure there are acceptions to this but generally, I agree.    I just throw wood chips down but I'd like to start using rock dust,   also started composting comfrey around the drip lines. 
 
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+1 to jujube and Mulberry.  Prosopis chilensis or chilean mesquite is pretty amazing and is cold hardy to zone 8.  Oikos tree crops sells a northern Pecan, Pecan are a bit more tolerant to adverse conditions than walnuts. 
 
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My smartie pants answer is for "poor conditions", a money tree of course.
My real answer is that as I was searching on Google for types of pine, preferably one's with larger pine nuts, I found this site: treenuts.ca
 
r ranson
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Todd Parr wrote:

r ranson wrote:I should add, when we plant the trees, we'll be adding lots of llama berries and other natural goodness to the hole. 



You will get other opinions on this, but without fail, every time I have added amendments to the hole that I planted a tree in, the tree did worse than an identical tree planted in "unimproved" soil.  Every single time.  I no longer add any amendments to the hole when I plant trees.  I plant the tree, mulch it heavily and add amendments to the top.



I wondered this.  Most amendments don't seem to make a difference when I plant trees.  Some seem to slow tree growth.  But llama berries seem to be really good for faster root growth.  At least, in my limited experiments. 
 
r ranson
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Chris Kott wrote:Hi R.

I would suggest looking at shrubs first, to both help build a complex understory and to follow natural patterns of succession. I know that in lots of the boreal forest in northern Ontario, some of the first successors to a clearcut or burn are blueberries and raspberries.



This makes a lot of sense...  It is after all, what all the books seem to suggest... and yet...

I've been very interested in this the last few years.  A lot of the things that 'should' work (like mulch) here, don't.  So I've been watching what our local nature does to build a forest.  We have an area of land that was disturbed 5 years ago and is now full of massive great pioneer trees.  But little else.  The first things to grow on cleared land here, to really get a foothold, seem to be trees.  5 years on, we are starting to get bushes and ground cover.  I suspect in the next few years we'll get some annuals in there.  Then, the conifers will start to grow.  During the first 10 years or so, mulch seems really important.  But after that, once the conifers take over, mulch plays no roll in the forest. 

I think there must be many different ways to start a forest all over the world.  Places where the understory grows first, places where the trees grow first... and other variations.  I wonder what other medterrian climates (places with no summer rains) have for their natural forest growth pattern?


It might be good to mention that on a normal summer we have zero rain during what the rest of the world thinks of as "the growing season".  Last rain is before May first and the first proper rain is in October (usually between the 13th and the 15th).  Some parts of town get a few showers in that time, but it seldom reaches us.  So it makes sense why annuals and bushes don't grow well (or at all) without the trees to shade the soil and help gather dew from the ocean.  We've tried in other sections with more ground moisture to build a forest in the 'normal' way with understory first then trees, but it won't take without extra imputs like irrigation.  This will be a good chance to try it from the top. 

The goal here is to convince the family to let me plant a mixture of food trees that we all like to eat.  Then, some berry bushes.  Then some grapes and roses.  Then some... until the place is filled with a diversity of food.  Finding those first trees... that's the hard bit. 
 
Lori Whit
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I'm planning to plant at least six trees next year, and I'm VERY interested in this theory that it's best not to amend soil!  This year I planted two: one without anything special in the soil, and one with some mulch/compost underneath.  So far, the one without anything added underneath is doing better, but it's also been in the ground longer and was healthier to begin with.  Is the consensus here pretty much that it's always or generally better not to do anything underneath fruit trees (like mini hugelkulture, etc.)? 
 
r ranson
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Lori Whit wrote:I'm planning to plant at least six trees next year, and I'm VERY interested in this theory that it's best not to amend soil!  This year I planted two: one without anything special in the soil, and one with some mulch/compost underneath.  So far, the one without anything added underneath is doing better, but it's also been in the ground longer and was healthier to begin with.  Is the consensus here pretty much that it's always or generally better not to do anything underneath fruit trees (like mini hugelkulture, etc.)? 



That's a great question!

the answer is:  It depends.

So many things from the early life of the tree, to the kind of soil, to the part of the world you are in, to your individual microclimate.

You're on the right track experimenting.  Make small changes and try to have a small control group.  I love experimenting.  Growing things is a very localized skill - what works for one author may not for others.  What's worked in other properties for me, doesn't necessarily work here.  Experimenting is how I learn what works on my land. 

We've planted (and transplanted) nearly 300 trees on this farm alone.  The style we like best is to either dig a hole twice the necessary depth (and 4 times as wide) then mix llama (or rabbit) berries with the base of the soil, add the tree roots, add the original soil and top with some llama berries.  The other style we like is to dig a hole 4 times as deep (and 4 times as wide at the top) as needed, bury a bunch of compost and paper, then fill in the hole until its the right size, then add tree, fill in with soil.  Making the hole wide seems to be a big benefit to the survival of the tree, if the soil is compact.  This style seems to have a 90+% success rate with zero irrigation.  Better if the trees are grown here from seed
 
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How cold does it get there? You might try some hickories. Maybe some persimmons.
 
Chris Kott
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I don't know if I mentioned that mulberry trees can bloom/fruit for three months straight. That's three months of bee forage, and three months of, at very least, some prime distraction for any birds that would be eating your other growies. Also, mulberries are delicious.

And if my advice sounds bookish, then you are obviously reading the right books.

If the pioneers in your area are primarily trees, I would suggest you find out which of those fix nitrogen. That's probably your most successful pioneer. Why don't you just encourage some of those to grow? Then, even if they only get a couple of seasons, you can harvest them for hugelkultur.

Is there a reason why you haven't put a hugelbeet on the site? If you could get some fallen logs of the pioneer species in your area and bury them, you will have just created the next best thing to a nurse log. If you get lucky enough to find a fresh fallen hardwood, you could try innoculating it with mushroom spore before burial. Even with the drainage conditions you're describing, buried wood would enhance the area's moisture retention capabilities.

You seem to be eager to build the top of the tower without planning the base. If the only thing that grows in disturbed land in your area is your local arboreal nitrogen fixer, go with that. If it coppices well, let it get bushy, then prune it as often as it will let you; it will be your chop-and-drop perennial mulch resource. The corresponding root die-off will ensure lots of subsurface carbon and soil structure. You can choose other, non-native nitrogen fixing trees, but unless you find that it outcompetes the local alternative, what's there will probably do the better job.

Unless you basically want to follow the natural succession pattern with non-native analogs, I would suggest improving your soil first with every tool available to you in your permacultural toolbox. Hugelkultur, perennial nitrogen-fixing chop-and-drop, (edible) fungal innoculation of hardwood to promote better soil ecology, and pioneer green manure species for soil retention and soil improvement. Better soil will give you more options.

Also, you could look at infrastructure. As the area isn't going to be irrigated, is there space for a dry-stack airwell for the condensation of humidity into useable moisture resources? Aside from providing moisture, they can also be habitat for predatory insects and arachnids.

What about gathering deadfall and covering the ground with it? The insects that break down wood waste have a beneficial effect on the soil, reducing compaction and distributing nutrient resources. The wood waste itself will also trap fallen leaves, which over time should lead to the kind of accumulation that promotes the creation of soil.

Trying to find the single correct piece in this type of puzzle is a great example of the sort of panaceic thinking that ruins us. There isn't one solution to every problem, or any problem. There is no panacea, no single universal cure. You have to look at the specific situation with which you are dealing, see what is going on, and what natural patterns govern the surrounding landscape, and work with it. Just because pioneer tree species are the only ones able to survive in disturbed land in your area doesn't mean you can't find out why they succeed and use that knowlege to better prepare your spot with a fruiting and soil-nurturing understory that will prove the value of your experiment to all involved that much sooner, and more completely.

-CK
 
r ranson
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I think you're right.  It's very important to customize to the specific location. 

This little plot of land is just one of several experiments.  The rocks from that soil have already been used for the airwell-tree experiment with great success.  We've experimented with some of the other techniques and they were less promising.  That's what we do on this farm, small experiments to see what works and then scale up the ones that we like.  What we've noticed is that the experiments that work in this location, are opposite to what most of the literature says should work.  I suspect most of the books are written in places that have very different conditions than we do.  That's why it's so important to experiment on the land before doing large scale projects.

But any experiment I do needs to win the approval of the family first.  The best way to sell them on something is to help them focus on the trees, not the forest.  So that's why I'm looking for a list of trees that might grow in these conditions. 

When it comes time to do the project, I'll probably start a separate thread about it.

When we've done enough small-scale experimenting, we'll take what we've learned and transform the back 2 acres into a food forest.  But first, I need a list of food trees that I can woo the family with. 
 
r ranson
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Ken W Wilson wrote:How cold does it get there? You might try some hickories. Maybe some persimmons.



Oh, persimmons.  I know they grow here, but could they grow in excessively well drained soil?

Do you think it's possible to get bitter persimmons in Canada, like thy use for kakishibu?
 
Chris Kott
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Okay. Food trees. Well, considering the soil conditions, I would start from seed if possible.

But my suggestions for mulberry stand. They are also a favourite ornamental. Hazelnuts stay too. And I neglected to mention that Sugar Maple is also an understory tree.

If you have birches growing wild in the area, I would try a variety of stonefruit. Make sure you have a variety of fruit sizes, from cherry to plum, potentially up to apricot and peach if you are adventurous, though that would only work if the area forms a suntrap, and you can shelter the area further. Also, apples and pears are worth a shot. If you're on a slope, perhaps you could employ terrain features to ensure that you don't get frost pooling in sensitive areas.

I am going to be called out for suggesting that you can grow some of the touchier fruiting trees in poor soil. To be fair, I wouldn't expect a nursery tree to adapt to anything but ideal conditions. If you want to experiment, though, I would start the stuff you don't think will ever grow from seed in your unimproved soil, or your improving soil.

These fruit I would consider your big talking points. They will be up to fruit production on the scale of a decade or less. True, the canes and berry bushes that you use to fill up the empty spaces between will bear much sooner, and the mulberries under your stonefruit might bloom before your earliest cherry, and they might bear fruit all season until your hypothetical peaches are done, but its easy to sell the idea of peaches, plums, and cherries, and not so easy to sell the idea of mulberries.

The issue of a nitrogen-fixing tree is a big one. Why the Siberian Pea Shrub? Are there any in your area? As I have asked in previous posts, do you know if there is a native tree that does this in your area that you might use instead, or that you might have growing on your property elsewhere, whose leaf mulch and fallen branches you might steal? Laying the branches on contour would keep the leaf litter and whatever else drops there from going anywhere, making your job easier, and jumpstarting your soil-building.

Have you thought about or looked at putting swales in on contour to trap organic matter and moisture?

Could you amend the area with clay to better retain moisture? I believe people are using bentonite clay for this purpose. Even if just added to on-contour swales, you could greatly affect the hydrology of your space.

I also haven't mentioned alpine strawberries. I should have. I don't think anyone mentioned them. If you've ever had them, I doubt I have to convince you that they're worth it. But they are not only another edible crop that you can have really soon after establishment, they are also bred from no-foolin' alpine-adapted strawberries, which would need to deal with lack of moisture and poor soil conditions by design. Even if the space were so bad that they didn't have enough to produce edible strawberries, they would most likely survive as vegetation, giving structure to the soil and enabling things like clover to get established, getting the whole ball rolling that way. Plus, Alpine Strawberries!

I don't know much about persimmons, but honestly, I don't think that choosing the perfect fruit-bearing tree is a problem, except that you might find yourself with an embarrassment of choice.

I'm not sure, because I haven't seen the spot, but what I think you might have there is the bones for a really great food forest. All you need to do is fix the infrastructure to not lose organic matter and to keep moisture where it falls (contour swales, perhaps a minor terracing effect produced by laying deadfalls on contour). Add to that your mulch-dropping nitrogen-fixing bacteria-hosting trees/shrubs, introduce your herbaceous understory support team (your nitrogen-fixers, nutrient accumulators, stuff with shallow root mats that will keep your glacial tilth from going anywhere, etc.) and fungal activity (that you may choose to harness by innoculating root systems or potting mediums with culinary fungi) and you have a system that will make the soil you lack.

I also haven't seen any one ask if you have talked to your neighbours. Does anyone around you grow food-producing trees of any kind? That kind of information might have a bearing on your decision making.

Oh, and you had said that you were thinking of nut trees. Honestly, as others have pointed out, that's realistically a medium to long-term goal from the perspective of the establishment of your food system, except that, as with a number of things, you need to take them into consideration for planning purposes. My suggestion for a hazelnut understory stands, and visions of homemade hazelnut spread could be a big seller. That still leaves room for a tall nut tree species like chestnut. Why not? As to the specific choice, I would say that it really depends on what you find out looking around the area. It would really help to know what grows locally, and in what conditions.

It is also interesting to note that olives are being grown on Canada's left coast. I think that I read that they are using something like 3 different cold-adapted olive species. But I don't know what an olive-based food forest would look like, or if it is even possible where you are.

Getting back to holding the soil in place, though, I think that a physical means of retaining material on the slope would really help. Like logs on contour.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Oh, so I didn't mention, but not only might you want to consider Sugar Maple to tap for maple syrup, they also act as hydraulic pumps, drawing groundwater up into the soil around them for use by other plants. I am not sure as to the mechanism, but that might be a good choice for your particular climate.

-CK
 
Ken W Wilson
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I've seen persimmons on dry slopes but also on flood ground.  I think they'd be worth a try. 

I go for maximum variety but plant more of the plants most likely to succeed.

I don't think you responded about high cold it gets there.  If it doesn't get too cold figs might do well. They're very drought tolerant. I'm in western MO. My hardy Chicago fig is still dying back to the ground every winter, but this year it grew 9' and produced 20-30 great figs. If I can just get the trunk through one winter it should be much hardier.
 
Lori Whit
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r ranson wrote:
So many things from the early life of the tree, to the kind of soil, to the part of the world you are in, to your individual microclimate.
...
Making the hole wide seems to be a big benefit to the survival of the tree, if the soil is compact.  This style seems to have a 90+% success rate with zero irrigation.
...



Thank you for your answers, thoughts, & advice.  I haven't dug a wide hole yet so I'll definitely have to try that & some other things! 
 
r ranson
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So many questions.  I'll see what I can do.  I would much rather post this to a separate discussion, but I don't have the photos gathered yet for that.  So here you go, a very basic outline of the conditions. 

General background about our farm:
We've been here almost 10 years now and already have a healthy supply of fruit trees (about 50 in production, another 100 or so just getting started) so we're not worried about things taking a while to produce.  There's no rush. 

The farm is divided into several smaller patches, where we do experiments.  By experiments, I mean we have a control group and then we have one or two variables we change.  Observe, repeat.  Take what works, scale it up.  Observe, repeat.  Our focus is on systems that work with little or no human maintenance and includes earthworks, using animals for soil building, other soil building techniques, and plant breeding. 

In the family, we have two naturalists, one of some local renowned, so we are pretty well acquainted with native species and how these forests work.  What we do know is that there are very few native nitrogen fixers and these require moister condition than this little patch. 


Weather:
On our little island, we have many microclimates.  My house is on the boundary of three so we can look out three different windows and see three different extreme kinds of weather (drizzle, hail and bright sun).  Microclimates are the keystone to growing anything here. The patch I'm looking to plant these trees is generally colder (due to the sun exposure I told you about and being so low down the slope) than the rest of the property.  It's right on the edge of a microclimate that gets some rain in August but it's hit and miss if the rain makes it that far up the slope.  It also has considerably less precipitation in the winter than upslope.   On a 'normal' year - by normal I mean what one can expect over the last 20 to 50 years of weather pattern - our first official frost date is early November (I'm expecting frost in that patch any day now).  Our rains start any day now too and will go through until the end of April.  Cold, one can expect frost at nights and 10 to 15 degree Celcius days for most of the winter (on a normal year) with the possibility of two or three weeks of a daytime freeze in Jan or Feb.  Frost ends in April and we can expect an average nighttime temp of 10 degrees C at our spot for most of the summer, with a daytime high of about 25 to 30 during the height of summer. 

Watching the patterns, I'm expecting the weather to change quite drastically over the next 20 years or so- or less - to one where we have cold winters were salt and brackish waters of the inner harbour will freeze enough to build skating pavilions and refreshment stands on the ice (like they did here at the second half of the 19th Century) and hotter summers with some rainfall.  Other climate predictions forsee a much warmer future.  So, on the farm, we plant trees from both ends of our official climate zone.


The neighbourhood:
This is a long ridge that runs pretty much North to South.   The ridge is glacial tilth and the well is over 700 feet deep to reach the water table in the summer.  Glacial tilth in this instance, is basically no-nutrient silt/dust with a healthy helping of rocks (about the size of a squash - so, lots of sizes).  This makes for amazing drainage and along the ridge, some pioneer families had planted apple trees, but these were planted when the climate was quite different - a time when they had harder winters and actual rainfall in the summer.  But very little else grows there where it's open.  Even grass and weeds have major trouble dealing with these conditions.  One neighbour imported over 100 yards of soil to try to grow veggies (with irrigation and all that), but found the drainage was just too much.  Where the larger trees provide shelter, some grass and weeds grow.  If anyone does grow anything on that slope, they do with the help of irrigation and chemicals.  Neither of which we are keen to use.  Where's the challenge in that?


Why pea shrubs?
1. because I have seed and part of getting to know these plants is to see if they will grow direct seeded in our location (we are also planting some in a cold frame and some in the house as part of the experiment). 
2. because we've tried other nitrogen fixers and they won't grow there. 
3. because there are few native nitrogen fixers and those aren't food crops. 


The patch:
Is the lowest terrace before the road.  Like I mentioned up thread, the lack of sun in the winter is a big thing.  Large ridge to the East means late sunrise, Douglass fir forest across the road means early sunset.  On the other terraces above that patch, we planted nearly 100 fruit trees closely spaced together, in the summer, just before a hot dry spell.  We expected 10% to survive at best.  We made an airwell experiment with the rocks and so far three are dead.  It's been That was two or three years ago.  Our control group we planted at the base of the patch we are hoping to grow these trees on and we had two out of nearly 30 survive.  The other terraces we've managed to grow both annuals and perennials without irrigation (I don't know if people who have this thing called rain in the summer know quite how hard this is) through soil improvement and plant breeding. 

So the main earthwork is already done.  We've tried improving this soil with chickens, manure, green manure, cover crop, and several other methods.  The other terraces improve, this one does not.  Now it's time to try trees. 

So far they  have approved:

Mulberries - I have a few extra from another project so no problem adding some of these in.  I'm happy for lots of these so I can grow different kinds of silkmoths as well as yummy berries. 

Olives - we've been experimenting with these and they grow well in the more sheltered locations.  I don't know how 'cold hardy' our varieties are, but the ones I planted last fall survived a rather harsh winter (by our standards) and my friends from the Middle East say that the climate here is gentler than the olive groves of their ancestors, so we're adding this to the mix.

Almonds are a must - I can get 10 trees for the amount of money we spend on almonds per year.  We use almonds for milk, flour, nut butter, snacking, cooking, baking, and all over the place.  I would much rather have organic local almonds than the moth riddled ones we get from California. 

Chestnuts - we can never have too many of these.  But can they really handle those conditions?  I've only ever seen them thrive on forest edges with lots of ground moisture or on the very coast where they get loads of dew. 



The biggest thing is to sell the family on trees they can eat.  For that, I need a list of trees that might be able to handle these conditions.  They pick a few they like and I sneak in more.  But their biggest concern is that if annuals won't grow there, why invest money in trees?

Another interest is the value of the wood.  If we have to sell the property, having timber that can be harvested for high-profit margins adds a lot of value to a property.  Fruit and nut wood are very desirable. 


The final plan is that these trees can be used to grow more trees.  Once we have enough trees to get started and enough experiments to know what works on this farm, we have 2+ acres that need to become a food forest garden that can also provide firewood

There you go, drew it out of me.  An entire big project thread abridged and crammed into one post.  There's a lot missing from this, but hopefully this will be enough to get a big list of trees that might survive in poor soil.  There's some great trees already mentioned.  Thank you to everyone who posted.
 
Chris Kott
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Wow. That's a great bit of background info, thanks. I would love to see pictures.

Based on your reasoning, I would say Pea Shrub, then, as your nitrogen fixer.

I was also wondering if you had any clay on your property, and if it would work to dig some up, let it dry, and then amend the spot with it.

Expanding on what I was saying about the benefits of Alpine Strawberry, maybe one approach is to compile a list of alpine food trees compatible with your climate. I am thinking that you need those capabilities in your plot, unless you somehow increase the area's moisture retention capacity another way, or employ deep-taprooted plants and trees that act as hydraulic pumps, bringing water up towards the surface, or both.

I would love to see what you come up with.

-CK
 
r ranson
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The clay is 20 feet down from the lowest point on the property - so, no.  Clay's not an option at this time.

I'm going to deal with soil building later based on which trees are chosen and what pattern we are planting them. I know, I feel it too.  Soil and earthworks are the most exciting thing about this project.  But it's also the most complex.  When I've got more photos and have finished documenting some of my other experiments, I'll start a thread on the project as a whole.

Right now, I just need tree ideas. 
 
Ken W Wilson
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Have you tried figs yet? It seems like they should do fine there.
 
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David Hernick wrote:+1 to jujube and Mulberry.  Prosopis chilensis or chilean mesquite is pretty amazing and is cold hardy to zone 8.  Oikos tree crops sells a northern Pecan, Pecan are a bit more tolerant to adverse conditions than walnuts. 



We do plant Pecan trees, even in the Karroo, which is a semi-desert to Steppe climate. That's if there is water available for irrigation. Walnuts I wonder about, but should work as well. What makes a walnut tree more sensitive to adverse conditions?
 
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Being from western Pennsylvania I'm afraid to respond. But I have to say that you seem to have an open mind and the likely candidate to succeed at what your doing where your doing it. As far as trees go the only suggestion I have from experience here is the locust. As mentioned before. In this area we have a lot of strip mines. The locust is known to grow on those moon like conditions. But its not a food producer.

I'd also like to say that I'd keep an open mind about soil amendment. There's a whole range of soil conditions. There isn't only one solution to any problem. I always add sand, peat and manure to my clay. Along with some lime and wood ash if I have it. I just can't imagine planting a fruit tree or my veggies in the clay I have here. When I moved here I moved two pickup loads of black top soil from my last location which was being excavated for a sub division. There was an excavated cliff about 10 feet from the house. I backed my pickup between the house and the cliff and hand shoveled the topsoil. I value the little topsoil we have here. That became about 30 percent of my small garden. Over the last 12 years I'm amazed at how the other 70% is improving . Tilling in the maple, oak, and mixed leafs that fall each autumn.

One suggestion I do have for you is to put a chipper on the top most part of the ridge with the output pointing over the slope. Allow neighbors to haul in brush and limbs to chip there. After each load move the chipper. Beware of those who'd use it as a dump.

Good luck with your project, I'm rooting for you.
 
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Below is a list of plants that I would recommend.
Apricot
Filberts
Oregon Myrtle
Almond
Jujube
Wine Palm
Date Palm
Autumn Olive
Mulberry
Pineapple Guava
Bay Tree
Pomegranate
Beautyberry
Gooseberries
Strawberry Tree
Eucalyptus
Grapes
Pistacios
Figs
Olives

Dont forget that to get a fruit/nut, you have to plant a tree and to get a good tree you have take care of the soil
https://permies.com/t/73258/Fruit-Trees-Clay-Soil#612532
1) Wood Chip to promote soil life that then keeps the mineral bio-available. (woodchip+winecap, straw+oyster mushroom)
2) Biochar keeps mineral bio-available due to its structure, it also provides housing for microbes
3) Amend the soil with rockdust/azomite/minerals
4) Inoculate the plants when you plant them
5) Dig the hole at least 3ft wide and 3ft deep so that the immediate area is aerated (dig a million dollar hole for that $18 tree)
6) Dont amend the backfill soil so that the new roots are encourage to leave the "hole" to seek minerals vs becoming rootbound )
7) Surround the plant with alot of nitrogen fixers(dutch clover?) 75%-90% of a starting food forest should be N-fixers a mature one should at least be 25% N-fixers
8] Don't forget the other plants: onion family, mint/thyme family, and the carrot family, personally I should do some more dynamic accumulators.
9) water flow/earthworks  raised bed/mounds/hugelkulture works very well in swampy are. (dont plant a tree on top of shrinking/decomposing hugelkulture), A swale might pool water during a rain and thus keep the plant "dry" and also store water for the plant in the dry season v
 
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Todd Parr wrote:

r ranson wrote:I should add, when we plant the trees, we'll be adding lots of llama berries and other natural goodness to the hole. 



You will get other opinions on this, but without fail, every time I have added amendments to the hole that I planted a tree in, the tree did worse than an identical tree planted in "unimproved" soil.  Every single time.  I no longer add any amendments to the hole when I plant trees.  I plant the tree, mulch it heavily and add amendments to the top.



I agree with this.  You have to treat the tree a bit mean to get it to put out roots and explore the surrounding area.  Otherwise it just sits and stews in its little planting sump, and when drought or high winds come it is a goner.
 
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You will get other opinions on this, but without fail, every time I have added amendments to the hole that I planted a tree in, the tree did worse than an identical tree planted in "unimproved" soil.  Every single time.



Bryant Redhawk has covered this ground in many prior posts. Having undecayed organic matter deep in the soil in low-oxygen conditions will cause anaerobic decay. I know there are some older studies out of Oklahoma (I think) where they dug a big hole and amended it. In light of the demise of so much research in even hard sciences, I am skeptical this is not in the same category, there may have been some issues with the study design, and positive findings get published.

What seems right to me based on what Bryant has written (trying to keep that poor guy from having to be in twelve places) is that deeper roots are generally for drought water and new mineral seeking. shallow roots are for recapturing nutrients from dropped leaves and decreasing competition by absorbing smaller rainfall. When I am looking at my trees I think of how I amend and plant in that light.

In this climate/soils we have very low infiltration clay soil, which means the trees are more reliant on shallow roots and benefit from wide mulch until they can drill down, which takes years. They are prone to inundation if at all low. So burying organics in an anoxic area will cause stinky fetid nastiness in the hole, and what tree wants that? When the stuff degrades the total material will be less, then the  roots will be in a hole, making inundation likely and leading to rot and disease.  Like Todd, I put organics only on top. I do amend the hole with rock dust, for sure. I am thinking of using gypsum as well to try to break the borders of the hole a little but haven't yet.

In R Ranson's situation, this is totally reversed. The infiltration is high and risk of inundation seems low. This seems like Zai pits or similar would be effective. The structure of the soil with large particles would mean oxygen would be available much deeper, and mycorrhyzal fungi could possible play a role much deeper, gaining minerals from the glacial deposits. I would not at all be surprised if organic amendment would be beneficial in that area, making the winter moisture available for longer times into the dry season. No answer is right universally.

That being said there are several reasons the trees may not be thriving:
1) moisture/sunlight mismatch- if you are growing things that only transpire during the summer, they can't use the water when you have it. Evergreens (not just conifers, just stuff that holds leaves and is metabolically active in colder temps) can be the answer. Stuff that drops leaves late/never in this climate (which sounds similar to your temperatures but not rain patterns) would be goumi, medlar, loquat (although the deer have HAMMERED them, not sure they will ever produce), caragana, and raspberries. The pomegranates held leaves until we got to -8C. Not sure what your low temp is but maybe that will give you some ideas. I think jujubes will always drop leaves completely at around first frost, mine sure did but out first real frost here was -8C. Figs will be dormant with a mild frost. Blueberry might be an option. Ironically the southern lowbush seem to keep leaves longer and are metabolically more active in winter- but they are bog plants and I would be surprised if they would thrive in that soil (maybe with high organic amendment). Deer pressure is a big concern with anything holding late leaves! Maybe people have some ideas for this type of plant in your climate. Olives if you could grow them are perfect, I am actively searching for some frost tolerant Mission-types.

2)  Drought-tolerance- your Mediterranean species list. Whatever grows in that climate with well-drained calcium-rich (I am betting this is true in your hillside strata) soils. Zero experience with this list. But your rock mulch/air well idea sounds right to get some moisture in summer and retain it. Some species may appreciate the added organics. Wish I knew more. Persimmon is relatively so, but it prefers pretty inundated soil by nature. Mine are only thriving in pretty damp areas.

3) Low sunlight- sounds like this is a big problem and you intend to add more shade. So understory stuff as people have suggested. Mulberry seems to grow anywhere, berries, goumi. That kind of stuff. If you have things active in the winter they may be able to achieve growth while the other trees are bare.

4) Deer pressure- you have said this is an issue in other posts. They will not eat figs, and haven't touched the pomegranates. They nibbled the jujubes. They haven't been an issue with goumi or raspberry/blackberry. They don't seem to be interested in the nut trees. They devour mulberry (but it doesn't mind in this climate when established). I have some other exotics they seem to hit every so often like che berry and strawberry tree. I purposely overplanted mulberry (they are cheap from our forestry service) because they will eat those in preference.

The more categories that your plants fit, the more likely they will grow, I think. If I were planting stuff there I would bet #2 is your biggest issue (although being at the bottom of a hill makes it somewhat less likely), and would make those a priority.
 
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i think i would go with - plum and hazelnut....

plums are the very easiest of any fruit trees, i think they tolerate just about everything. cherry/wild/smaller plums even more so, but even the bigger plums are super easy.

and hazelnut inter planted cause it sounds like you want a hedge. so yeah lots of hazelnut, inter planted with plum...and then add in small stuff after that makes it or breaks it...
 
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i love Jujube

one not mentioned is Carob ?
i think it might be a nitrogen fixer also ?
most legumes are, but, not all.

lots of other legumes too
acacia... some have edible pods and leaves

all are drought tolerant.
 
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