Slow Growth Creates Resilient Plants

You will not see much growth on your new trees and shrubs the first year, because they are spending their energy on growing a strong underground root system instead. Like a baby that is growing amazingly fast in its brain and nervous system, while seeming to us to simply be eating and sleeping, we can't always see what's happening at first.  

Assuming your tree or shrub was planted well, with proper care and soil amendment, it should start to grow in its second year. 

We like to say: "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap!" - Meaning that you should see some above-ground growth in the second year, and you should see the tree grow quite a lot in the third year. This is also true for larger trees or shrubs that have been transplanted - it takes them some time to regrow parts of their root system that may have been cut in the transplanting, and to establish themselves in their new home.

It is very smart for the new or transplanted plant to work on establishing a strong root system first. It is ensuring that it can find resources from the soil and local water table for the years of growth to come. The healthier the root system, the less you have to worry about your plant in dry, hot summers or especially cold winters. (This is why we encourage watering new plants especially well during their first years, because their root systems are still quite small.)

If you want your tree or shrub to grow quickly, the best thing to do is pick off the flowers before they become fruits. This can feel quite sad, if you were looking forward to early fruits, but if the trees don't use their energy to create fruits, they can use it to grow their root system, height, and branches. For the plants, this can be a very useful helping hand.

Unseasonably Warm Weather and the Benefits of Peastone

Thanks for your well wishes. I share the hope that the fruit trees will not be fooled by February's unseasonably warm weather. We put a lot of mulch around our fruit trees to keep the ground around the trees frozen longer, and thus the roots dormant and the buds quiet. But of course, even that fails sometimes. I think the older trees, with deeper roots that don't thaw as quickly, tend to get fooled less often. They are wiser.

 

Which brings me to your question. It is very true that, if you follow the advice above and use mulch rings, there needs to be diligence about not letting the mulch close to the trunk of the tree, where it will almost certainly cause rot and disease. Many of our clients don't mind checking once a month or so, or after they water (which is especially a time when the mulch can move around), but if you have a lot of trees that can become a chore. The 2' pea gravel ring recommended by the Holistic Orchard, inside a larger mulch ring, is a nice alternative. Holistic Orchard recommends the pea gravel be 2"-4" deep for weed management.

 

We've never used or installed the pea gravel so if you do use it, I'd be interested to hear how it goes.

Winter Prep: Young Fruit Trees

It's snow season again, signaling the beginning of winter rest. The snow is falling just before winter holidays, and I am grateful to be able to relax and celebrate, since I no longer need to tend to my trees or garden.

Or do I…

Actually, I haven't yet put up my tree guards. And I thought, this is a good time to remind you all about them, so that voles aren't nibbling on the bark of your young fruit trees over the winter! As the snow piles up, the voles make tunnels through the snow (rather than along the ground) searching for young trees and shrubs. They then eat the inner bark as a tasty winter snack.

Although many trees and shrubs can bounce back from this kind of treatment, fruit trees cannot (or not as well), in part because bark damage sets them up for disease, and in part because, if they do bounce back, it might be by sprouting again from below the graft line. This won't be helpful to you, since it will give you a totally different variety of tree.

We suggest the Fruit Tree Guard found at Hadley Garden Center: a white roll of plastic that's easy to get around low limbs. Make sure it goes all the way to (or into) the ground and stretches up to above the expected snow line. Avoid that moment in the spring when you realize it was just a few inches too short!

We also recommend checking-in on your trees over the winter. Anything nibbling? And once the spring comes, take those tree guards off! It is vital they are not left on after winter, as they will trap moisture and become a breading ground of diseases and pests.

If you would like something that you can leave on all year, try a circle of hardware cloth attached to a stake. Here's a great video showing how.

One thing I have done (phew!) is insulate my fruit trees' roots with coarsely-ground woodchips. This protects the roots from extremely cold temperatures, and will keep the trees from waking up too early in the spring (when they could flower and then lose their flowers to following frosts). If you don't have access to woodchips, you can use straw as an insulator. For young trees, we do not recommend leaves - voles love living under leaves! Just make sure the straw wasn't treated with roundup or another herbicide before using.

Local Native Plants

Folks often ask us, where do you get your plants? Well, some we grow here at our homestead. Those are the ones we are able to offer at the cheapest price, and we hope to keep growing that capacity. Our eventual goal is to share, rather than purchase, all of our plants.

Meanwhile, we also shop locally. We shop anywhere the nursery can guarantee us that the plants are grown without the use of herbicides, especially neonicitinoids. Neonicitinoids are just what they sound like - a "new nicotine" chemical that confuses and kills insects, including native bees, honey bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. And it can be found in any of the following insecticide ingredients: 

  • Acetamiprid
  • Clothianidin
  • Dinotefuran
  • Imidacloprid
  • Nitenpyram
  • Thiocloprid
  • Thiamethoxam

 

Neonicitinoid-free Nurseries

- Nasami Farm in Whately, Kohl Gardens in Wendell, Wing and a Prayer Nursery in Cummington

 

Other Excellent Local Nurseries (Not all of the plants sold at these nurseries are neonicitinoid-free, so please ask!)

- Hadley Garden Center, Greenfield Farmers' Co-op in Greenfield, Amherst Nurseries. The Amherst Nurseries Grow Bag Production System is awesome! It is a great place for larger trees and shrubs.

 

Vibrant Healthy Soil

We named our business "Broadfork Permaculture" because we wanted to emphasize our work with the soil first. We do a lot to increase the health of the growing medium: incorporating local materials, setting up an easy and aerobic composting system, adding organic amendments, and, when needed, bringing in healthy ready-made compost to add to the soil.  

So where do we bring this soil in from? There are two high-quality local providers: Bear Path Compost in Whately, and Martin's Farm in Greenfield. Both offer friendly, helpful service and an excellent product.