Monday, May 4, 2009

Notes on the tree planting

For those interested in details, here's the scoop on the tree plantings we did last weekend.

For the windbreak, we staked out an area approximately 22' wide by 180' long, at a distance of about 10' west of the back garden fence. Running the length of the corridor, we marked three rows, 11' apart, and staked them in 10' increments. Between these we marked two more rows and staked at 10' increments, offset from the first rows by 5', for a total of 88 tree sites.

The contour slopes gently down from south to north and from east to west, with a rise of a few feet. At the northern end is a low spot which tends toward the wet side, with sedges and grasses of that inclination; the soil there is rich, moist and quite dense. At the southern end, the soil is loose and loamy, almost sandy in places. The entire area is part of a field which has for years been mowed for hay by a farmer who lives down the road; two years ago it was disced and replanted in clover, field peas and rye, but many of the wild plants persist, including patches of yarrow, mullein and cinquefoil, many different varieties of wildflowers, timothy and other grasses. We gathered much red clover and yarrow in this area last season, for tea and medicine.

Staking, planning, marking and tagging took up the better part of the morning. Help arrived at around noon and within a short time all the holes had been dug, using a method devised by C Monkey which proved to work quite well: cut a small circle, bisect it, and flip the halves out of the hole. Planting took a few hours, with three of us working at it. In retrospect we might have gotten through it more quickly if we hadn't dug such nice holes or worked the soil to the extent that we did, but if the care we took ends up improving the health of the plants and increasing their likelihood for survival, I think it was time well spent.

Toward the northern end we planted a snaking line of eleven sugar maples, which we hope to tap for syrup in the years to come. The rest of the planting was comprised of fairly equal numbers of wild plums, chokecherries, pin cherries, highbush cranberries, juneberries, and hazelnuts, with some red osier and a few crab apples; all but the juneberries and hazelnuts were part of the 'wildlife package' we bought from Pine County SWCD.
The idea was not to build a classic farmstead windbreak but to provide a moderate amount of wind protection, bird and insect habitat, seasonal beauty, fort-building potential and perennial edibles. For our first design on this scale I think it worked out pretty well. I guess we'll find out in a few years.

Later that evening we planted a hedge to the east of the sauna, to create a bit of a screen between the road and the sauna and house beyond. This is a relatively flat area with a mixture of lawn grass and other common 'weeds', and the soil here is loose and sandy. The hedge consisted of two staggered rows of six shrubs, chosen for both utility and beauty: five juneberries, four hazelnuts, three wild plums, two red osier dogwoods, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ha ha. Actually we haven't gotten the pear trees yet...

Item of note: we didn't find out until Saturday afternoon that Carlton County SWCD shorted us all our juneberries and more than half our sumac, substituting wild plums instead. Nice of them to make sure we got their money's worth. Anyway, we left the holes for the juneberries and hope to find another source to fill those 18 spots. Kind of a bummer, since they were a central player in both designs. Bright side is that now we can choose a few different varieties that will best suit our needs and tastes.

So that was Saturday. Sunday we planted another grove of sugar maples in the southeast corner of the orchard and spent a few hours filling in open spaces in the southern fencerow with what remained of the other trees, plus some staghorn sumac. The fencerow is an old one, marked by piles of fieldstones, with some nice big oaks, a basswood, a few maples, a white pine, and various understory shrubs below. Here and there some baby balsam and pines have taken root. Along the ballfield end some raspberries are coming in, along with a few gooseberries--a nice surprise. (Also, a not so nice one: turns out there's still a fair amount of poison ivy in there, I found out today.) The soil in throughout the fencerow is rich and loamy, loose and full of earthworms.
Quite a lot of worms all around, actually.

Overall, digging was a lot easier than I'd expected it would be (granted, I didn't do most of it), and the planting went fairly quickly. As it turned out, the more challenging parts of this project were finding stuff (stakes and tags, mainly, which we might have easily avoided with a little better planning) and deciding what would go where (again, planning and also communication). Conditions were really ideal for planting, with soft moist soils in all areas and beautiful sunny weather to boot. With the exception of a few dozen we set aside to share with others, almost all of those 250 trees made it into the ground. Not bad for a couple days' work.

Much gratitude to all of you who lent your time and energy to this effort. I think it's going to be awesome. I'm already looking forward posting those 'after' pics a few years from now...

I'm grateful, also, for all I learned in just three days--maybe less about the land and trees than about how to plan and execute a project of this kind, and how (not) to do things next time. I'm excited about the next big thing. And all the small things in between, as ever.


JB aka JayBee said...

This sounds like an amazing undertaking. After all this you probably did not make it to MayDay in Minneapolis. You were even more in touch with the Earth than those of us in Powderhorn celebrating the return of the Sun.

fremenine said...

Ahh, thanks for that. I was sad to have missed the festivities but, as they say, we must make hay...