Fruit Tree Polycultures: Summer Pomona Feature

POMONA
The Member-Written, Quarterly Journal of North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX)
Vol. XLVI, No. 3, Summer 2013

Fruit Tree Polycultures
Trevor Newman
tnewman92@gmail.com
(P) 248-535-9419
(F) 248-625-7676
The Fruit Nut | http://www.thefruitnut.com

Unlike monocultures, polycultures contain diverse mixtures of species growing together in symbiosis. Creating polycultures around fruit trees can reduce the need for offsite inputs, increase biodiversity in the orchard, and provide various secondary yields such as medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables, and much more. Establishing polycultures around fruit trees is all about analyzing the needs of the tree and matching those needs to the functions of various support species or ‘companion plants.’ The aim is to provide the basic needs of the tree (fertility, pest management, weed control, etc.) by using biological
resources. Instead of ‘planting a fruit tree,’ we can think of this integrated approach as ‘planting an ecosystem’.

Dynamic accumulators are plants whose deep taproots mine hard-to-reach minerals from the soil and deposit them in their aerial parts. These plants can be grown around the base of fruit trees and managed on a ‘chop-n-drop’ basis whereby their aerial parts are occasionally cut and spread as mulch directly beneath the trees. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a great example of a dynamic accumulator that is high in calcium, phosphorus, and manganese. I put at least one comfrey plant at the base or around the
drip line of each tree and generally cut them back for mulch 3-4 times throughout the growing season.

Nitrogen-fixing plants are commonly used in organic agriculture as cover crops and green manure. The same principles can be applied to the orchard by using nitrogen fixing trees, shrubs, and herbs to act as nurse crops for young fruit trees. A great multi-purpose nitrogen fixer is goumi (Eleagnus multiflora), which produces an early-season berry and provides an abundance of nectary flowers which honeybees
love. When goumi and other nitrogen fixers are cut down, their roots respond by releasing a plume of nitrogen into the surrounding soil. Fruit trees and other crop plants can tap into this fertility source.

Groundcover plants are excellent weed suppressors and should be integrated throughout the orchard understory to act as living mulch while excluding any potential for weeds to grow. Applemint (Mentha suaveolens) and white clover (Trifolium repens) are two groundcovers that can be effectively integrated with orchard grass to create a dense mat. Creeping comfrey is an excellent groundcover that spreads
indefinitely, can tolerate shade, and also serves as a dynamic accumulator.

Another class of functional plants are known as insectaries. These are plants that provide fodder for beneficial and predatory insects. By attracting these ‘good guys’ to the orchard we can increase pollination and limit pest outbreaks by encouraging a balance among predator and prey populations. Plants in the Apiaceae family (carrot, lovage, etc.) and plants in the Asteraceae family (yarrow, coneflower, etc.) are especially good at attracting predatory insects like parasitic wasps, lace wings, and lady beetles. Having insectary plants flowering at different times throughout the year ensures that beneficial insects will have a plentiful supply of food and reason to stick around.

The core of good polyculture design lies in a basic understanding of ecology and plant functions. Polycultures mimic functional interconnections found in natural ecosystems while producing an abundance of yields and reducing off site inputs. Visit www.apiosinstitute.org to see numerous case studies and find out more about designing fruit tree polycultures.

photo

 

Fall Closure, Garden Update, & New Podcast

Winter is coming and you can feel it in the air. While Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc on the east coast Michigan got hit with serious winds, heavy rain, and some hail. That storm swooped away the remaining tree leaves bringing a conclusion to the beautiful display of fall colors. Now the bareness is kicking in. I’ve been struggling to find time to write amongst the busyness of closing down the gardens and getting everything ready for winter. You have to make hay when the sun shines- soon enough we’ll be snowed in.

A LOT has been going on, though. Many renovations  have been made in the garden/orchard as well as some new plantings. My company has been doing well this fall and we’ve hosted some exciting workshops and secured some enthusiastic new clients that are ready to take on and transform their own landscapes. The elections have just passed, thankfully, and obviously everybody has their different views on voting…but we can all use this time as a reminder that perhaps the most effective way to vote and cast your voice is with your everyday actions. ‘Vote with your dollar’ is a powerful saying. We all have an opportunity to be the change we wish to see. Make positive changes in your own community, small or large.

Thats a wrap for my political rant; this is after all a website about fruit and orcharding, not politics. I vote for apples. Speaking of apples, I just finished the latest episode of the The Fruit Nut Podcast with Michael Phillips, the author of The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard. It was a great conversation and Michael shared so much valuable information. We talked about holistic fruit tree care, community orchards, and more. CLICK HERE to listen to the interview. Unfortunately the past three episodes have been recorded with a low quality microphone so the audio on my end breaks up a lot and doesn’t sound that great. HOWEVER, I am investing in a new recording system to produce much cleaner audio. Look forward to episode 4 with Lee Reich.

Here are some recent photos of field trips, events, and happenings in the garden…

Spacing out blueberries for the new blueberry bed. 10/9/12
Planting potted blueberries in the ground. 10/9/12
Vibrant blueberry fall color. 10/17/12
Sheet mulched blueberry bed complete…ground level rose some 10″. Organic matter is the name of the game when it comes to blueberries! 10/27/12
Golden raspberries are best when the weather gets cold and sugar levels increase. 10/27/12
Giant daikon radish doing it’s work building soil at a client’s site in Plymouth, MI.
Mike Levine of Nature and Nurture sharing the remains of his hardy kiwi crop.
This was my first time eating fresh hardy kiwi…I’ve hard store bought but these put ’em to shame!
These little kiwis are extremely sweet with a complex flavor. They have smooth skin and can be eaten whole…much tastier then fuzzy kiwis in my opinion. Plus they can grow in zone 5!
Ken Asmus of Oikos Tree Crops shares a lovely presentation at a recent Roots To Fruits edible forest gardening weekend intensive. 10/20/12

 

Ken talking chestnuts and explaining the benefits of ‘rough mulch’ in an orchard setting. This means leaving pruning in place beneath the tree they came from. Nutrient cycling at it’s finest…
Ken and I feeling accomplished after leading a successful edible forest gardening workshop. Beautiful hickory color in background. Photo courtesy PJ Chmiel
‘I-94’ American persimmons tree ripening at Nash Nursery in Owosso, MI. 10/13/12
Ripe ‘I-94’ American persimmons…this variety comes from the breeding work of the late James Claypool.
Beautiful stand of pure American chestnuts growing free of blight in Owosso, MI. These were planted some 30+ years ago. 10/13/12
Elegant variegated silverberry, E.pungens… 11/7/12
New seedling persimmon planting from a seedling tree grown from ‘Morris Burton’ fruit. The parent tree had lovely deep red, very sweet fruit. 11/7/12
Latest persimmon planting featuring several grafted D. virginiana varieties. More on this later…