Shane Kaser

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since Aug 29, 2016
Portland, United States
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Recent posts by Shane Kaser

15 years is still young in apple tree years.  They are very resilient trees.

Wood chips are an excellent idea.  Healthy soil mycorrhizae offer immense support for healthy trees.

I have limited experience with comfrey polycultures, but if there ever were a place for this tenacious accumulator, it's as a tree-crop understory plant!

1 month ago
In my experience (mostly apples and pears), fruit tree production often unintentionally turns to "espalier-like" structure as the weight of the fruit pulls branches down, and prudent harvesters prune off sucker-whips to keep the harvest (on short fruit-bearing spurs) within easy human reach.  Don't hassle with the circus of posts and wires, and just prune your trees every year like you should.  They may look funny/tortured, but hey it works.

2 months ago
Perhaps thinning the fruit so more energy goes into fewer fruits?  Also prune the tree so that it's not a thicket, and direct its energy where you want it to go?

Some ideas.

1 year ago
Not sure what a clay level is... but it doesn't sound like something that would help poorly draining soil.

The thing about water is that it always comes from somewhere, and it's always on its way to somewhere else.  Where is it coming from (uphill/roof); where is it ultimately going to (downhill)?  Once you have those two parameters identified, then your management options pretty much reveal themselves.  Whether your site is level or sloped, it boils down to shaping some simple redirection topography (and often it doesn't take more than a one-shovel swale/trench to make a significant difference!).  I find it to be really engaging landscape problem solving!

Good luck,

1 year ago
I second Nicole Alderman's post.

I vote for

evergreen huckleberry
oregon grape
sword fern
wood violet (viola adunca)
woodland aster
bear's breech
cornus ('kelseyii' is a 2-3' dwarf version of the native shrubby dogwood)
rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low' (non-poisonous poison-oak doppleganger)

You won't get much human-food from tree-shade, so focus on building the soil/plant community for the bugs/birds/etc.  Think nurse logs, stumps, wood chips, storm-water.

If you can, strategically thinning-prune the trees to allow more sun through.

Cover crop is whatever you and nature allow.

Good luck.

1 year ago
Done alotta sheet mulching, and never seen it affect an established tree... UNLESS you have a pre-existing water-management issue, or you let the mulch build up against the crown/trunk; then you can get crown-rot and/or adventitious surface roots which can girdle the crown and scaffold roots.

Though I think 8-12" is a little on the thick side.  Of course it depends on the material: hay will be bulkier than arborists' wood chips... Basically the paper/leaves are the primary weed barrier; everything else is either soil amendment or paper-weight.  It will rot down soon enough.

1 year ago
Water + Carbon. Together.

This is the secret.  Others have given you good advice to start with water redirection for increased infiltration.  The next level is to use coarse woody debris (logs/stumps, "CWD") to support your earthworks, so that water soaks into the wood (a better sponge than even the densest clay).

Prepare for a cascade-and-pool dynamic as you intercept water; on a slope it is easy for rodents to burrow-drain your swales.  So don't get your hopes up too much about your ability to control/contain water for long.  So it goes.  Or figure out how to become the bane of rodents.

Also, there's lots of talk of mulch, but really, plant roots live and die and inject more carbon *down in the soil* than mulch+worms.  And obviously there's the slope stabilization benefits.  So go low-disturbance, long-lived crop plants (tree/shrub/bramble/vine) if you can.  Yes mulch is great, but don't forget the roots.  Super important.  IMO, mulch's highest contribution to the system is hosting beneficial fungi that network plant roots and CWD.  Think how the internet is a bunch of dispersed users (plants) connected via fiber-optic communication lines (roots + fungal mycellia running through the humic (mulch) layer) and server nodes (CWD).

Have fun!  

1 year ago
Let your site's weeds lead the way.  Pull all the grasses and woody volunteers.  After that, you're pretty much left with the herbstory, which generally stays under 1' and is easy to keep hoed/chopped off of your crops.  Don't rule out annuals - they are perennial in their own way, springing up from seed in every gap of the canopy.  Here in Portland, I have clovers, prunella, veronica, violets, wood sorrel, chickweed, scarlet pimpernel, poppies, scotch moss, (yes) mints and strawberries, field madder, arugula, radishes, beets, cilantro, borage, quinoa/millet... all (near)self-propagating every year.  I keep a shaker of collected seed that I sprinkle on every bare patch of dirt.

I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance.  It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes.  Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient.  I haven't had much trouble with it overtaking my plants, but I'm also wandering around with a hoe and clippers most evenings of the growing season... And I don't expect too much from any given foot of bed; they should actually be categorized somewhere between vegetable and herb beds...  Herbs are much more at home in this kind of situation, so don't be shy with kitchen herbs; they are the best bang for your DIY-buck compared to supermarket prices.  Sometimes, for a little extra care, I cut a slot to a hole in the center of a piece of cardboard (1-2' square), and slide that onto the crown of a plant - pretty quick and easy root-zone weed-barrier mulch.

To get big, juicy vegetables takes a more active disturbance regime of soil amending and irrigation.  But the ones that had to fight the ground-cover and search deeply for water, they may be smaller and blemished, but I wager they carry at least as much (and probably much more) flavor/nutrition as the equivalent big-juicy (water-filled) specimens.

1 year ago
Don't go into this with the expectation that you can eliminate and outcompete grasses. Grasses are naturally a part of the "seed-bank", both in the soil and with what blows in on the wind. Grasses are specially evolved for high-disturbance high-exposure sites, such as an open wild-flower field. I highly recommend you select native/well-adapted grass-species to include in your wildflower mix. I am not familiar with the grasses of Kentucky, so you will have to do your own research there.

Also (you're probably already good on this, but it's important): make sure you include at least one bomb-proof nitrogen-fixer in your mix.  Around here, that is White Clover.  Perennial, deep-rooted, drought-tolerant, beneficial-insectory, nitrogen-fixer.

Yes you will need to mow it once or twice per year, or you'll probably start getting tree/shrub saplings overtaking. Get some sheep/goats?

It'll look real nice. Tall meadow is very beautiful. Try mowing corridors and rooms into it. That's fun.

1 year ago
I think you're headed in the right direction.

As long as a dense, multi-story canopy is lacking, grasses will be a major part of the plant community.  They will come up through and around cardboard mulch.  Especially if you are irrigating.  The only really effective thing to do is to plant trees/shrubs/vines/etc. and wait for the canopy to close.  Focus your cardboard/paper-mulch around the bases of your young trees to relieve competition, and help them get established. Once they are established, they will out-compete the grasses naturally. Yes the transition period will be awkward - but that's puberty for you...

Plan your trees and shrubs in dense rows that you can reach into from both sides.  This makes management/harvest much easier than 1.5 acres of solid thicket.  Chop-and-drop pruning debris and undesirable woody volunteers into your alleyways as a weed-suppressive/soil-feeding mulch.

Seed is hit-and-miss.  It works great if you are dealing with a highly-disturbed site with lots of exposed soil.  Seed-to-soil contact is important.  Seed-balls can help you there, but again, you are also fighting an established/competitive turf, so I would recommend transplanting and dividing established plants as much as possible to start with plants that can compete out of the gate.  In the PNW, Alder should definitely be at the top of your list for easily-propagated coppiceable nitrogen-fixing pioneer trees. Maple locust hazel willow dogwood are also very obliging.  As for herbs, a nitrogen-fixer is the most important component, and here, white clover is king (Lupine is also a pretty good N-fixer, though slightly less resilient year-to-year).  Everything else is just icing.  Definitely use what is already growing on your property as much as possible. Burdock and comfrey are very useful herbs in orchard systems; their broad leaves and deep roots work wonders from several angles.  Deep-rooted radish is also a good self-sufficient soil-builder (and in the PNW, it is high probability you will have mustard family coming up all over anyways, so fight fire with fire ya?).

If you have clay soil, the worst thing you can do to it is rototill it.  Number One: Add organic matter.  Number Two: Don't ever ever drive on it, and don't walk on it if you can help it.  Regarding organic matter: Plant roots are constantly injecting carbon into the soil as they live and die, so let them be your primary source of terrestrial carbon.  All you have to do is take a deep breath and let go of controlling the process.  They do it without compacting or destroying soil-aggregate structure.  Their residue acts as a glue to hold soil aggregates together, and preserve pore space.  As old roots decay, they leave perfect channels for air/water.  Progressively mulching the surface helps too, but not as much of it makes it *into* the soil (thank you worms).  Roots are where it's really at!  Cover crops are the "next level" of mulching.

Well that's all for now, though I'll think of another dozen things in the next five minutes. Back to work!

2 years ago