Summer/Fall – 2017 (Article #1)
Have you ever gone out to the garden or orchard only to find that someone or something other than you is eating the fruit of your labor? Maybe it’s a sneaky neighbor, or maybe it was that squirrel that stole my peaches when I went on vacation a few years ago and left me feeling like the pits. But, could it also be something else? Whether you’re farming hundreds of acres or just tending a few trees in the backyard, we want these plants to perform as they should. Getting them to “gimme whatcha got” isn’t always easy.
When my wife and I were living in New Zealand working on a farm, we studied holistic farming practices. Let me tell you, it was hard work, but very rewarding. Some of that reward was learning a system of orchard management and tree care, which helps trees produce better fruit. Trees can get sick, just like people, but they can also be very healthy. It just takes a little knowledge, and effort, to stay in good health.
Part of this tree care system involved learning how to supply two essential tree nutrients – nitrogen and potassium. This can be accomplished through certain mineral applications, but the farm in New Zealand specialized in using companion plants to feed the trees. It’s important to know the “how” and “what” of this system in order to take care of the trees properly. What you need are plants that supply nitrogen and potassium to the soil, and you plant them around the trees so the tree can “feed” on this nitrogen. Numerous plants can fix nitrogen in the soil, but plants that specialize in supplying potassium are limited. Comfrey is the potassium powerhouse that you’re looking for to do the job. This plant is incredibly versatile and it’s worth getting some good information to read about its many benefits.
The “how” is a little more complicated. You need to know how much nitrogen and potassium a tree needs. Some trees are “high demand” and need a lot, and others require less, so you need to know what kind of tree you have in your orchard. The other “how” you need to know is how many companion plants to put around those trees. You can determine the amount with two pieces of information: 1) There is a math formula which uses the canopy size of the mature tree to calculate the amount of nitrogen and potassium that the tree will need, and 2) Once you know how much of those nutrients are needed, choose the companion plants according to how much nitrogen or potassium they produce. After you have your numbers and know your plants, then you design your orchard layout. If you’re interested in knowing more about this process, I’d be happy to meet with you to share some resources to get you started.
There are numerous great books out there to help as well. If you want to get started now, you should read the book “Creating a Forest Garden” by Martin Crawford. As the weather begins to cool and we roll into the fall season, I hope you find some time to relax and warm-up near a cozy fire with good company. I’d be happy to join you for a good “fireside” chat if you’re interested in more resources for plant and orchard health. – Cody Kerr, 509.944.5071