I’m excited to begin a new life elsewhere, but we’ve all grown attached to this place and it will be difficult to leave. It occurred to me that since I have not yet planted the bulbs from Holland, I should do so in ceremony. It’s neat to think that long after we’ve moved on, they will bloom each spring and summer. Like notes planted no the page, they will sing our song.
The bulbs arrived minutes before we left for the Carolinas, so they’re still sitting atop my counter waiting for the rain to stop outside. Our journey south was educational. We stayed in an 18th century farmhouse near Columbia, SC for three days where the lack of rain is evident. While the diverse plant-life thirsted for a hint of water, it rained daily in Michigan (and is raining still). Meanwhile, the California wildfires rage on. We’re out of balance, Folks.
In a quiet moment down south, I stood at the edge of a forest and was amazed at all the activity. Up here the leaves whisper, but in the Carolinas, there’s a flurry of activity on all levels from the little lizards peaking their heads around branches, to birds jumping tree to tree and all kinds of creatures, vines, nuts falling and fungi to fill in spaces and sing a noise or two. It was kind of creepy really, but nothing you couldn’t grow fond of over time.
And so for now, we’ll be thankful for the rain and the bulbs and the peaceful quiet whisper of leaves falling softly over the Autumn landscape.
We’ve had yet another week of delays for our bulb shipment, but I promise I’ll post as soon as they arrive. I called the company yesterday and they assured me the bulbs were on their way up from Grand Rapids, MI and should arrive tomorrow (today).
The rain is nice and will keep the 14 guilds out back nice and moist through winter and into early spring. At the moment birds are scurrying around the deck and through the grass searching for food. Judging by the birds’ behavior this fall, I’m expecting a harder winter than last.
In the meantime, it’s time to enjoy the fall harvest and the sights and sounds of Autumn.
Once we have allowed for ample decomposition and the accumulation of multiple nitrogen/carbon-rich layers of biomass along with a healthy number of lively microbes, planting may begin. Really, what you plant within your guilds is completely up to you, but there are some general guidelines to consider and you may go as deep into these as you’d like. Permaculture can be quite the scientific endeavor, but it need not be overly complicated in your first attempt. Grow and learn with your guilds.
If you’re planting a fruit-centered guild, think of the tree as your centerpiece. Everything around the tree should compliment the tree. I don’t mean aesthetically, though it will naturally assume a beautiful pattern all its own, but rather compliment in the sense that those things growing around the tree either work with the tree or do not interfere with the tree during major growth cycles.
Cat mint works to attract beneficial bees and insects; comfrey accumulates nutrients and mines for water from deep within the soil and offers medicinal value to humans; grass-suppressing bulbs act as a deterrent for deer and other scavengers while attracting beneficials while the tree is blossoming. One of the most important things these plants share in common is their lack of competition at root level with the fruit-tree. Another is that they supply a food or medicinal source for humans and none of them require much upkeep other than the occasional watering.
In certain cases, there is a very specific and “magical” relationship between plants. Blueberry roots feed off of a specific microbe found in the rhizomes of certain members of the Rhododendron family. Since both of these prefer a lower pH, blueberries and azaleas, for example, may be planted side by side and will establish a harmony all their own over time.
A tree that takes in more nitrogen, might do well with N2-fixing plants such as clover or wild blue indigo. Our mulberry guilds will contain some of these lovely blue accents to benefit the tree, offer some diversity in the guilds and attract insects. The mulberry itself is an excellent food source for both birds and humans and will keep birds interested in the mulberries over your apples or cherries.
I’ll suggest some specific plantings in a future installment. Email/comment with questions.
Yellow and orange foods are prominent in the fall. And a favorite for children of all ages: Pumpkins!
A friend of mine suggested I contact MSU for their satellite programs in Horticulture. They currently offer Plant Sciences Certification for students interested in turf grass management, landscape design or horticulture. It requires an internship and some of the required classes may be taken through NMC (which would save on tuition). I think this would be a great opportunity for me to become better acquainted with current trends, pest management and most importantly general botany.
In other news, the bulbs are not yet here, so I contacted the company and they said they are being shipped from Holland and it will likely be this week. There was some delay. I’ll keep you posted. The weather today turned chilly, but no matter, the bulbs will be cozy in their nests of straw until spring blows in some warmer temperatures.
This week we are still awaiting our bulb order. The bulbs should have arrived late last week, but they did not (which gave us an excuse to farm-hop, hike and enjoy the summer-like weather). In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about wild things: Wild grapes, asparagus, fungus, mint, apples, herbs, etc. I’m also thinking about how we can better connect people accustomed to purchasing food in the grocery with wild spaces in a way that is fun and adventurous. And in addition, which resources Healing Tree might collect to lend to people interested in farming and permaculture.
The girls recently made a model of an apple blossom. At six, my oldest can already describe how an apple is made by the tree. This is more knowledge than most adults currently hold, but I think it’s an invaluable part of understanding the larger system. If a farmer would prefer to reduce the number of chemicals applied in the orchard or he/she wants to produce a higher, healthier yeild, they need to understand how fruit-trees function optimally.
Just as stress causes human immunity to lessen and makes us more susceptible to disease, so does stress experienced by fruit trees. A bad pruning, an accidental knick down to the cambium, or grass planted all around the tree, stresses the tree and makes it more susceptible to disease. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that trees on a vigorous root stock do better when left alone than those grafted onto a dwarfing variety.
So what does this have to do with wild things? Observing how plants interact in the natural world is the best education for the “budding” orchardist. If you want to mimic a mature ecosystem, you need to take the time to observe a natural ecosystem. Wild apples are easy to find in Michigan, but in general, fruit trees like edgeland. They like the edge because they require ample sun to produce ample fruit. Beneficials like bees are more common along edgeland and flowers which attract these beneficials thrive in meadows near the edge.
When observing in the wild, ask yourself:
- What kinds of native plants grow here.
- Notice which plants are thriving and those that seem to be struggling
- Examine the roots of plants, if possible/permittable
- Walk the land and make a mental note of where water might collect in a heavy rain
- Are they’re any natrualized or “invasives”
- What sorts of insects/animals are present
Answering these questions on your own and coming up with additional questions is a fantastic and organic approach to learning about permaculture. Better, it’s a great way to spend some quality time in wild spaces. Feel free to share your comments/observations below!
We went out and toured Rex Dobson’s farm yesterday. The Dobson Farm is located north of M-72 west in beautiful Leelanau County. The farm on Center Rd. stretches all the way to Lake Leelanau Dr. and across to Lake Leelanau. Along the way we passed wild grape, mint, ancient apple trees long forgotten, willow and barbed wire fences which were held taught now by the trees growing up around them. The trees swallowed the fence and ended up making a well-preserved artifact stronger than the day it was built.
At the lake, we made whistles out of reed grass and watched as rays of light danced over the smooth textures of the lake. It was quiet and peaceful and helped us imagine life on the farm before cars and motorized equipment, and before jet-skis cut paths into the shallow swells of the water.
On the way home, we ate apples off of trees gone wild and tried to identify these heirloom varieties by taste and texture. A few years back Rex established the Rex Dobson Ruby Ellen Farm Foundation as a way to preserve the value of the family farm. The land at Dobson Farm was offered in the form of a land grant in 1865 to Rex’s great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War. It has remained in the family for generations and now, thanks to Rex’s vision, it will survive as an example farm for generations to come.
I’ve never really talked about Healing Tree and what it represents to me personally. As a child, I was surrounded by orchards. In Elk Rapids, MI, you can’t drive a mile without seeing at least one commercial orchard. Often it is only the road which divides them. Within them are trees; rows upon rows of evenly spaced trees. They form small tunnels with their outstretched branches. And despite my concerns over conventional farming practices, I still love the spaces between rows that appear infinite.
When we chose our current home, we did so not based on the house, but on the beautiful old maple (half of which resides on our land) that was here long before us. That tree was alive while Mozart wrote his first concerto; it was here long before the first airplane flew overhead and it may very well outlive us.
While I underwent treatments for cancer last winter, some old friends were visiting along with some new friends who had become welcome supports during some difficult times. I made the comment that my close friend’s last name, Baum, is German for tree. It seemed fitting, I explained to the group, for my love of trees. Slowly, each person revealed the meaning of their last names. There was an Anishinabe man whose name means Red Tree, an old family friend whose name is French for Green Tree, and a fourth friend whose name includes Baum. Our family name, Courchaine means Heart of Oak. It seemed I was surrounded by trees. And as strange as it sounds, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something.
When my husband and I sat down not long after my treatments ended and I told him I wasn’t sure about where my life was heading and what I should be doing, he suggested I make an example of my life; that I pursue what it is that makes me happy. I established Healing Tree Farm shortly after not only for the value I hope the project offers our community, but also for the cathartic value of the project for our family.
Healing Tree Farm was established with the hope we might heal land that has been overworked, reestablish trees and plant new trees while replenishing the tired soil. I see so many similarities in what the typical orchard endures each summer (chemically speaking) and what I recently experienced. And so for both of us, this project is about taking the time to heal, to teach, to inspire.