Category Archives: Companion Planting

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

A Perfect Pairing (or Plant Polyamory)

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These two have been inseparable since germination.

We often think of plants as singular entities, selected for those virtuous traits we admire about them, like beauty or flavor. In the permaculture garden or any ecological design, we need to think of the relationship between plants (and/or other elements), not the individual elements.

You know that saying, it takes a village to raise a child? The same is true in the garden space. Each neighboring plant plays a role in the development or detriment of the neighboring plant. Understanding how these plants function can help you place them in roles benefiting their neighbors.

It can be as simple as inter-planting strawberries with carrots (the two exchange essential micro-nutrients and never compete for macro-nutrients, sunlight, or water at the same time/depth) or as complex as introducing animals and additional plants into the scene to maximize yields and resources, while reducing inputs.stacking

Determining those elements which may be stacked or overlapped to increase efficiency can be time-consuming at the start, but will create far smaller feed-back loops in the long run allowing for better management of a farm or outside project.

The chickens on our farm quickly adapted to life within the confines of the alpaca enclosure at night, because predators craving chickens had no interest in going to battle with a fully grown and enraged alpaca. The alpacas benefit by having natural pest control in the barn. Both animals create a rich manure which can be applied to neighboring garden beds. And egg collection now happens as I take care of alpaca chores in the barn (they’ve chosen to lay behind the barn door, the safest place in the barn).

We must also nurture our relationships withing the larger community. The perfect pairing may be great for wine or marriage, but there are other important relationships we must foster for the sake of maintaining our own sanity in the larger picture. Not only are these relationships important in helping us stay grounded, focused, and supported, but we can hopefully pass along some of the information that has been lost to time in the last 50 or more years, while gleaning other tidbits from those we know and love.

Garden flowers for my partner in this life.
Garden flowers for my partner in this life.

In the end, nature teaches us to surround ourselves with those elements that play an essential role in supporting and nurturing us. It also highlights the need for us to take a kinder approach to how we treat others, whether it be our neighbor or the land. I’ve often wondered what is whispered when the wind stirs the high canopies of trees. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s these two words repeated: “Be kind, be kind, be kind.”

Three Ethics, 12 Principles, a chicken, and an apple tree… and Zone 00

Permaculture is an integrative system design approach inspired by highly evolved, productive ecosystems. It’s not simply a spiral herb bed or layer composting, but about interactions that take place within the soil and bio-web within a space, and how those interactions relate to place, time, other elements within the garden, people building the system, neighboring community, wildlife, and the ecosystem surrounding the garden space. That makes not only for a dynamic food forest system, but also for some pretty dynamic external thought processes, and hopefully, a huge amount of introspection.

There are plenty of designs out there that are “permaculture inspired,” but permaculture, as described through the principles, is a process, not simply an implementation of design. When someone says (or when we say to ourselves), “I want a permaculture…,” we, as designers, have to pull back and examine the, “I want.”

While Zone 0 is centered on the place where we spend the majority of our time, Zone 00 represents intentions, ego, learned knowledge, intuition, dreams, etc. It envelopes all things us. And while most of us have no problem evaluating our zones and sectors during the design process, we’re not often asked to look within; to take time to observe our intentions within a space; to keep our ego in check and hold our designs accountable.

That would take time. RealTree-white-BG time.

And time is something our egos fight against in favor of immediate gratification. So, rather than work against ego, we need to inquire about the urgency. Is there a need that is essential and must be met? Or are we eager to see a certain tree planted, so we can enjoy the fruits as soon as we are able? Working with this sense of urgency, we can loop back around to those useful elements of the existing landscape, and highlight areas that must be addressed. Take one step forward, then look back and see how the system responds. Short, concise feedback loops.

While in appearance, working from Zone 00 out appears to take longer, in the long run, it requires fewer additional inputs and results in a system well-suited for participants, whether a helpful microbe in the soil, a cedar waxwing perched on the branch of an apple tree, or you, the budding permaculturalist seeking a better way of living. In reality, permaculture is a philosophy that doesn’t just work externally. When examining a site, we ask ourselves why certain plants and animals are thriving within that environment; it’s time to seek the same answers from within.

 

Guild Components

photo-mainPlanting an orchard is a major undertaking, but it pales in comparison with the understory plantings that make up the guilds surrounding each fruit tree. We’re currently awaiting a shipment of leeks, chives, borage, yarrow, hyssop, coneflower, butterfly weed, thyme, lupine, catmint, sunflower, clover, strawberry, and sage to jump-start each tree-centered polyculture. In addition to the plantings, we’ll inoculate with helpful nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and mulch to provide habitat for beneficial insects and network-driven, macro-nutrient dispersion helpers, mycelium.

Guilds, while offering medicinal and edible plant material for humans, provide habitat for birds, insects, helpful microbes, and mycelium, protect and build soil, and mine for nutrients unavailable in the topsoil. They also regulate soil temperature and moisture. Some of the plants act as deterrents or aromatic pest confusers, keeping “pest” insects at bay.

In addition to the plantings, you’ll find small piles of rocks at the south-east root edge of each guild. These rocks soak up heat from the sun, accumulate dew, and provide habitat for predatory arachnids which keep any infiltrating “pests” in check.

Like human communities, plant communities play a role in supporting one another, cycling nutrients throughout the guild as humans yield surpluses to meet needs. Want to learn more? Email the farm to join in with the planting!

Healing the Tree: the Science Behind Plant Distress Signals

Apple trees do not suffer in silence. The other day, my husband called from the farm to tell me one of our apples had been badly damaged by rodents. Before asking, I was certain I knew which tree. Last summer, when selling our house, I had transplanted three healthy apples out of dormancy (a horticultural and pomological no-no).

Two of the trees went into healthy soil, and suffered very waxhealingtreelittle. The third tree, my personal favorite, I planted at a point that represents the entrance to the future orchard. The soil in that spot had been tilled and was badly depleted, but I nursed the tree along with high hopes. I pinned this hope on the fact that the tree was a highly disease-resistant Liberty on standard root-stock.

“The Liberty?”

It was. The sweet disease-resistant apple had taken yet another hit from an impressive rodent population living at the farm. Having already suffered through intense winter cold and heavy snowfall, it was no surprise that the tree had attracted the attention of some common orchard grazers. I knew this, not because I understood the science, but because it’s a pattern repeated in nature. Even predatory animals hunt the weaker of the herd.

The Science Behind the Pattern

It turns out, the scientific community has long been interested in the phenomenon of trees and plants putting out distress signals. A more recent study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology concluded plants and trees emit an odor that attracts predatory insects and birds to help ward off infestation or future attacks long enough for the tree to heal.

According to the journal article published in Ecology Letters, scientists examined apple trees specifically, and found that damaged or insect-ravaged trees attracted more birds than their healthy neighbors.

The journal article abstract concludes:

Birds were attracted to infested trees, even when they could not see the larvae or their feeding damage. We furthermore show that infested and uninfested trees differ in volatile emissions and visual characteristics. Finally, we show, for the first time, that birds smell which tree is infested with their prey based on differences in volatile profiles emitted by infested and uninfested trees. Volatiles emitted by plants in response to herbivory by lepidopteran larvae thus not only attract predatory insects but also vertebrate predators.

Scientists hope to apply their research to developing better (and natural) pest management strategies in commercial orchards.

In the meantime, I’ve treated the tree with a small amount of honey, some cinnamon (a natural insect and deer deterrent), and wax tape, affording the Liberty a little time to heal and a good bit of hope.

Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung

orchardWe are pleased to announce we have entered into an agreement with the Leelanau Conservancy to farm a portion of the historic DeYoung Farm property located on Cherry Bend Road.

DeYoung has long been at the forefront of horticultural and civic innovation. We are excited to be a part of continuing that legacy of innovation with the installation of a fully-implemented permaculture apple orchard at the site.

This eight-acre orchard will be home to fruit-tree centered  guilds made up of many other food-yielding plants. The remaining acreage will support livestock and a tree and guild plant nursery with a portion being dedicated to a market garden.

We are trilled to be working with the Leelanau Conservancy in pursuit of inspiring a love of the outdoors, and an appreciation for those diverse and thriving ecosystems  that make up this unique farm property. Moreover, we will continue to offer (free) educational courses in permaculture design, workshops, and work-bees in pursuit of solutions to issues that impact regional farmers.

Please join us in support of our mission to foster a holistic approach to growing fruit trees. Contributions of ideas, wisdom, and inspiration are always welcome!