Tuesday, August 18, 2015

tender young trees

This past late spring, I attended a workshop on foraging wild edibles. I'll do a post on it later. One of the points stressed for many foods was to harvest when young and tender. The young shoots, leaves and stems all will have milder taste, are easier to eat and digest, and are easy to pick. 

It turns out that we were being informed of a fact that every herbivore on the planet already knows.

And so it goes here in Wisconsin, where the deer, rabbits, mice and voles all look forward to the tender new plants we humans grow with seeds, or poke in the ground as seedlings. Of special concern to me are all the trees I have been planting. Most are bare root seedlings, which are only one year old when planted. A few of the nursery purchased fruit trees are older, but still tasty apparently. 

I'm no expert, but it is obvious that at some point, the bark is sufficient barrier and no longer attractive to these animals, as once trees get beyond a certain size, they are not girdled or killed ( no beavers around here).

Until that time, I have been protecting my young charges with various methods. 

This apple tree is getting the deluxe package, with hardware cloth protection against rabbits and mice down around the first 16" (400mm) of trunk, the reinforcing wire cage to ward off deer, and cardboard mulch weed suppression. I even have the rainwater drip irrigation strung to it now, but it's not quite functional. I'll describe that another time.

This oak, started from acorn, had the sod flipped, placed around the hole to form a depression so watering will stay and soak in, and the small cage for deer and partial rabbit protection. It is getting watered occasionally this summer till its roots can develop below all the annual grasses.

Other trees I've planted don't get quite this nice treatment, and many don't ever get watered. 

All the hazelnuts and chestnuts from 2012 were planted dormant bare root with a mechanical seedling transplanter and got the spiral plastic trunk wrap for winter mouse and vole protection . No watering, but are mowed next to several times during the summer.

Since there are well over 2500, in rows out in our field, the time and cost to do more protection:  tree tubes ($) or weeding ( time, aching back) or watering (equipment, heavy well use) have made the low input, low effort management style an easy choice.

I planted some more chestnuts ( 120) this spring, but they were tubelings from Badgersett, and would be more vulnerable to dry times, so we have been watering and hand trimming around them as the summer rains slowed down. We did no cages though, so have had some deer predation. They were planted similarly to the oaks. We'll put on plastic spirals before winter sets in.

I also planted the start of a hedge experiment ( why are there no hedges in the U.S.? Any info I've found is from the U.K.) The osage orange and hawthorn were bare root seedlings  and got planted with a dibble. I've weeded a couple times, but no watering. They are far from the house. I'll do an update on the hedge next spring, when I see how many make it though one winter.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Very impressive stuff. Predation is a real hassle from hungry herbivores. I have to put young fruit trees in similar but higher cages as the wallabies are ferocious browsers. Incidentally, you have a huge number of fruit trees. Out of interest, do you plant them in groves or randomly? It is interesting here to watch which fruit trees enjoy the company of which other fruit trees and in what locations on the farm. I can't water the trees much - if at all - over summer either and most of them survive.The trees here need to be at least 10ft before predation slows down and the impacts of grass competition is less noticeable. Nice to see some flowers in your herbage too as the bigger diversity of plants, the better.

    Cheers. Chris

  2. I may not have been clear on what kinds of trees we've planted the most. We only planted around 20 fruit trees so far, but ~ 2500 nut trees. The fruit trees are in a rather traditional orchard layout. The nut trees are in rows ( on the contour, with swales along key locations), to facilitate potential mechanical harvesting, but also to make mowing and alley cropping feasible. We're doing hay between most of the nut tree rows. We've also planted ~60 oaks and 30 maples, more random, but in areas further from the house and in less managed areas. ( Timber, wildlife food, maple syrup and firewood for the next generation).

    Many more trees to come! There are still around six hectares of scrub and weeds that will slowly be converted to food forest, timber, more fruit and nut trees.

    Thanks for the comments.