mike mclellan

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since Nov 13, 2011
Helena, MT zone 4
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Recent posts by mike mclellan

Yes, James, I have had to irrigate the trees for the first several years- oldest trees in the ground 5 years and youngest 3 years.  I used irripans ( aka tal-ya) around the trees to funnel extra water to the trees/shrubs and reduce grass competition. I use large diameter soaker hoses strung along both sides of the trees.  I do have a high water table in the orchard area. I believe it was used for hay when this place was a dairy farm some 60 years ago and it appears that the land is subirrigated.  Distance to water is about 4 to 5 feet depending on the exact location. This past summer, it appeared that the oldest trees in the orchard really took off growth-wise, both in crown diameter and height. Those trees were an Evans cherry, two Adirondack gold apricots, a Brianna apricot, and a couple of the bush carmine jewel cherries, and the Ely pear.  I have in not fertilized them nor really have done the best job in reducing grass competition but these trees really hit the accelerator anyway. My hypothesis is that they have gotten roots deep enough to tap the top of the capillary fringe of the water table. I estimate that to be around 28-30 inches deep. When we excavated for an addition to our house, we had standing water in the footing trenches at 48 inches.  It is my hope and general expectation that most of what I've planted will eventually get to this same  point and not need much in the way of added irrigation but I'm just now really getting the hang of this orchard growing and my trees need more TLC than I have generally provided to date.

As for reaching the capillary fringe, I have tried numerous haskap/honeyberry varieties and most have not thrived at all, many have died. They are reputedly shallow rooted and again, I wasn't the best at consistent watering their first couple of years in the ground. I would not consider those a success at all to date. I have planted haskaps in a raised hugelkultur bed and they have absolutely thrived. The bed is seven years old and the plants have come to dominate  their space in it- heights generally about a meter ( 3.5 feet) and spread easily that wide as well. I rarely water the hugelbed, about once a month, and everything growing in it has done very well in terms of growth, spread and producing luscious fruit (raspberries and haskaps). Generally, extra watering is an absolute must almost everywhere in the interior West (crest of the Sierra/Cascades to east slope of the Rockies). It's just too dry for far too long in the growing season. This season, the trees will get a great start based on all the snow we've got on the ground, but come mid-June or even a bit earlier, we will need to water them on a regular basis. That will depend on the May/June rainfall, which usually is our heaviest precipitation season.
4 months ago
I am located in west-central Montana, in the Missouri River Valley,at 4,000 feet elevation just north of Helena , Montana. We are in zone 4b,and based on the last two winters and this totally insane February of 2019, zone 4b is dead on.  Getting enough chill hours is not a problem here but late frosts can be. We have experienced as little as 6-7 total inches of precipitation in a year to around 14 inches last year. Three of the last  seven winters have seen very little snow cover, the last two winters have had 90 to 110 consecutive days of snow cover, and this one had virtually no snow cover until mid January and now we are buried as deeply as 20inches (45-50 cm) of snow and most nights below 0 F. We clearly have a great deal of climatic variability.

We are growing about 10 cultivars of apples: Sentinel apples-varieties red, golden, and North Pole, dwarf honey crisp, yellow transparent, Carol, wealthy, liberty, sweet 16, and a few others I can't think of at the moment.
I have had decent success with the "prairie cherries"developed at the University of Saskatchewan: Evans (Bali) Romeo, and carmine jewel bush cherries so far with Juliet on order for this spring (assuming we have Spring). Local nurseries sell the Juliets and say they do well and I see no reason why they won't. I do have one. Traditional pie cherry- montmorency. The oldest Evans came into production last summer and have thrived in spite of abuse their first couple of years in the ground ( deer browsing and psychotic late winter warm spells followed by Arctic freezes  causing die-back)
Pears include Summercrisp, gourmet, Ely,Patten and a few others. The Summercrisp, Ely and gourmet have thrived and the others have poked along the last four years.
plums- the prune types have done well and started producing well after three years in the ground. They are tough as nails in terms of putting up with wicked north winds and poor original soil. The cultivars ar Stanley, Santa Rosa, and Italian prune. I have surrounded these specimens with Bocking 14 comfrey and these plants have done wonders to suppress grass and provide mulching fodder.  
I am growing hybrid plums as well. Six varieties all in the ground two years and still establishing. I lost the black ice cultivar to who knows what. Survivors with hope for good growth include: superior, Alderman, Waneta, and three others .

Enough of my rambling. Would gladly discuss other fruiting plants later.
4 months ago
Sherry,  in another life long ago, I worked in the dry, high desert of northern Nevada around Humboldt and Pershing counties and eastern Washoe county so you've piqued my interest a bit. What currently grows in the surrounding area? That can give you some clue as to how alkaline/saline the soil is. Is your 5 acres of lakebed an actual playa that floods seasonally? If so, that will be extremely tough to establish anything as the salinity of the soil is extreme in those places.  Does greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) grow around you?  Also look for salt grass (Distichlis) growing between the greasewood hummocks. Both plants indicate a high water table and saline soil. If you have big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) you may have a few more choices as to what you could establish for forage as it does not survive in the higher saline soils greasewood indicates. In any case, your natives will give you some indication of what your site is capable of producing. Good luck. That is some beautiful country but tough as far as growing conditions go.
4 months ago
Dina, a couple of thoughts on the protection of new plantings.  Have a look at the bone sauce made by Sepp Holzer. There's a great video on permies showing you how to make it.  It is quite simple to make and a little goes a long way and lasts a long time. I have used it on most of my new woody plantings and it seems to be deterring nibblers. However, we had a vole explosion three winters back and they tried to chew anything that I hadn't protected. I use 1/2 inch hardware cloth cylinders around all new fruit trees. Only lost one tree to girdling after I started using these cages when the snow was so deep the little beasts burrowing under the snow came out above the top of the cylinder. UGH! The cylinders take little time to cut out and I use baling wire to tie the ends together or you can even use twist-ties. I also use a similar mesh made of heavy duty plastic. It's easier to cut out and seems to be as effective in stopping the nibblers. Bought that at a local big box store. I used cement reinforcing wire to make large cages around several fruit trees to keep the deer off of them until they got large enough to hold their own against deer browsing. These worked well in keeping the deer away.

As for grasshoppers, consider Bill Mollison's approach- you don't have too many grasshoppers, you have too few turkeys. I don't run turkeys myself ( just chickens, so far) but I understand turkeys will gladly eat grasshoppers whenever/wherever they are found.  I don't mean to complicate getting your system going but just food for thought. I know hoppers out west can really go through population explosions some years. Turkeys or other birds could turn that surplus into food.

My suggestion for starting, based on my own experience of starting basically from scratch, concentrate your efforts on a given area within a larger design framework. I spread myself far too thin in the early couple of years here (now in year 7) and have been concentrating on smaller areas since.  Beware, not all techniques identified as permaculture will necessarily work for you in your context.  I still like Geoff Lawton's advice to develop your water systems in place and access before mass planting of vegetation.  I flunked on that one too and am still playing a bit of catch-up five years later. Think zone 1 and work outward.  That way, hopefully,  implementation of your plan won't seem so overwhelming. Slow and steady wins the race. Good luck.
11 months ago
John,
Your efforts on behalf of this amazing planet and so many good people have allowed thousands of us learn how to be kinder and gentler to our earth home.  Thank you for making it possible to learn so much from this website. Peace and blessings to you and your family.

Mike McLellan
Scott,, My berries sucker in all directions, both uphill and downhill. My Annes stand very upright between a meter to meter and a half or so tall. They are strong enough canes they don't need trellising. Transplanting suckers is pretty easy. I cut whatever root I can get about four to five inches from the center of the crown. They almost always come up . Don't transplant too deeply. The "new shoots must be exposed to sunlight early after emerging from the crown of the plant. Yes, I grow two other varieties of red raspberry. One I have no idea the variety, just called Rocky Mountain raspberry by the person who gave it to me. The other is called Mammoth from Gurneys. They are delicious,upright,sucker aggressively, and have a harvest period of five weeks or so in midsummer. These only produce on second year wood. I hope this helps.
3 years ago
Scott,
Well this is try # 2. I grow Anne raspberries in west-central Montana in the dry Helena valley. The berries have survived -25F with mostly dry, cold winters with little snow cover. I usually cut the canes back in late winter so that I only get a fall crop. Last year I let the canes stand and they did resprout and flowered some but I got a very poor spring crop. I don't think it was worth the effort ( or lack of it as I didn't go to the trouble to cut them back.) I have mulched them to the depth of an inch or so with leaves and wood chips and they've done well except for my attempt at a spring crop. I don't plan to try that again any time soon. The berries themselves are delicious, sweeter than any I've ever had from any store. They, to my eye at least, are a pale salmon pink when ripe. They are only in the sweet spot for four days or so. The canes sucker freely so my original 25 plants are now in the hundreds. I've transplanted a lot of them and they take pretty easily. I do irrigate them probably once every ten days. I hope this answers at least some of your questions.
3 years ago
Douglas, you may want to look into forestag.com. They sell Korean pine in bundles of 25 for $150/bundle. They advertise it as Pinus koraiensis. I ordered from them them last year and was pleased with the condition of their stock when it arrived and had good survival of hazelnuts and sea berry. Good luck.
3 years ago
I tried to follow Sepp's recipe as closely as possible and found the results matching what he claimed. The sauce was a very thick black gummy tar. It is solid at cooler temperatures and I leave it in the sun if I'm going to use it so it will liquefy. the only thing I did differently was to let the whole system of covered pots sit for two days instead of one. I applied to shrubs and trees. I had a couple of cherries nibbled last year after being treated the Year previously (2013) but the damage was superficial. I noticed a bit of rodent gnawing on some Aronia after this winter but again not anything close fatal. I have hundreds of trees unprotected by fencing of any kind. Not one was nibbled by rodents or browsed this past winter. My sauce is unpleasant smelling, kind of like uncleaned barbecue grill. the pyrolized bones look like charred wood and were crumbly. I scattered the chunks and powder on my garden bed. They were originally fresh beef soup bones I bought at the grocery store. I sure agree with using bones with lots of marrow. I wonder how many negative Nancies still haven't tried making this stuff. It works if you follow Sepp's advice/recipe.
4 years ago
Matthew, I seem to recall Sepp Holzer mentioning placing them at least roughly perpendicular to the prevailing wind. You might want to factor that in as well. I am located far enough north that orienting the hugelbeds north-south solved the wind problem and maximized sunlight for the beds.
4 years ago