Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Fruit Trees – Part 2

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“Different” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Cherry trees are a tough plant in companion planting, the sticky sap commonly seen seeping from the trunk is a magnet for pests. Flowering plants that will attract predatory wasps can often be the only organic technique available. Alliums can also be effective as a general pest repellant.

This post and plant list is an extension of a past post that can be found right here – Planting Under Fruit Trees with more information and another list of companion plants… This post is meant to accompany it…

One of the most common mistakes made when making plant selections for under a fruit tree is thinking of the planting as the center of attention when in fact it is the tree. Permaculture plant guilds created under a fruit tree, though possibly created with selfish intentions, are actually incorporated to benefit the tree.. Not you…

The plants used underneath a fruit tree can serve a multitude of functions, it is not unfair to consider yourself as a beneficiary of your plants, but as far as permaculture is concerned, it is not the responsible primary function. We create a fruit tree guild for the purposes of pest prevention, beneficial attraction, scent masking, soil remediation and general beautification, but the common goal is generally the health and fruit production of the primary tree.

The dream of having a vegetable garden under a production fruit tree is more or less a pipe dream in all but the warmest climates. That’s not to say that some vegetables can’t be grown, but it is a very safe assumption on my part to say that a tomato or pepper plant will never reach the same production level as one growing in full sun. This is just one of the reasons I suggest putting your focus on the trees needs. Tending vegetables takes valuable time (and unnecessary nutrients) away from the tree, when in fact your efforts should be focused on the tree.

Perennial plants are typically the most beneficial as far as a tree is concerned, again I want to stress that the primary focus of these types of efforts needs to be on the tree, if you are stuck planting annuals every spring it will only take time away from your primary focus. A fruit tree can live for a hundred years, a properly planted guild under the canopy can last for a good chunk of this trees life. Armed with this knowledge the question now becomes what will not only grow under a fruit tree, but benefit it for the foreseeable future…

Dwarf fruit trees require a lot more maintenance than most people realize, I think many are led to believe that there tree will stay tiny forever. Dwarf fruit trees are very confused trees and therefore can take on a mind of their own, aggressive pruning is often required to keep them producing. Many dwarf trees will be nothing more than a single stem a few feet tall when planted, the tree will grow quickly if not pruned.

Dwarf trees will stay small for a few years, it is completely acceptable to plant annuals around them. It will be several years before this tree develops a canopy, therefore the space surrounding the tree will be considered full-sun for the foreseeable future. In sustainable agriculture “alley cropping” is a method where rows of fruit or nut trees are planted, and the spaces between are used for annual crops. This is done until the trees reach production size and shade out the alley, providing short-term income while the more valuable trees mature.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“Blue Borage” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Growing under a Kousa Dogwood… Perfectly happy in the shade and will come back for years to come through self seeding.

– Herbaceous Plants – For my Herb specific post check out – Planting Herbs Under Fruit Trees

Lavender – A flowering plant in the mint family, many cultivars of which are extensively cultivated in temperate climates. The plant is technically a perennial, though it is a short-lived one often losing vigor as time passes by. Lavender is extremely useful around fruit trees due to its repellant qualities, many insects and animals find it repulsive and will therefore avoid it all costs. Besides benefiting the fruit tree, lavender will benefit many other types of plants and should therefore be incorporated into any garden plan.

Tansy – Is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant of the Aster family. Tansy is commonly cultivated and used for its insect repellent properties, it is used as a biological pest control in organic gardens and sustainable agriculture. In England, Tansy is placed on window sills to repel flies, sprigs are placed in bed linens to drive away pests, and it has been used as an ant repellent.

Southernwood – A flowering plant native to Europe in the genus Artemisia, named for the goddess Artemis. The growing plant tends to repel fruit tree moths when grown in an orchard, the fresh plant can also be rubbed on the skin to deter other insects. This plant is commonly dries and used in the house to repel ants and other indoor pests, when burned the scent can remove many foul odors from the house.

Horseradish – Believe it or not, Horseradish is in the Brassica family. Although this plant is typically harvested and used, when left in the ground it will spread via underground shoots and therefore can become mildly invasive in many permaculture gardens. Horseradish is a broad-leafed plant allowing it to harvest sunlight even when planted in shade, this makes it a perfect companion for trees. Horseradish is said to generally be good for the overall health of a tree, it is not uncommon for old timers to tell stories of trees that were never productive until horseradish was planted below… Though others will claim it affects the taste of the fruit afterwards…

Borage – Also known as Starflower, is an annual herb that tends to self seed allowing it to come back year after year. Although this plant is edible, the leaves often being described as cucumber-like, its primary purpose in permaculture is as a companion plant. Borage accumulates and adds trace minerals to the soil and is a key ingredient in a complete compost heap. Borage also is one of the best bee and wasp attracting plants available, therefore it will benefit everything planted around it… Given the stunning blue flowers… It will even benefit you…

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium literally means “nose twister” or “nose-tweaker”, a reference to the peppery scent and taste of the flowers. Nasturtium is used in herbal medicine for their antiseptic and expectorant qualities. When planted under apple trees it is a powerful deterrent of the notorious codling moth, not to mention a whole host of other insect species not only damaging to the tree, but to other plants surrounding.

Hyssop – A herbaceous plant of the genus Hyssopus. Due to its properties as an antiseptic, cough reliever, and expectorant, it is commonly used as an aromatic herb. Drought tolerance makes this an ideal plant for underneath the canopy of a fruit tree, flowers make it a beneficial insect attractor. Hyssop shares many of the same benefits as mint since they are from the same family, though it is not as invasive so it is typically more suited to inter planting than mint.

Wormwood – Artemesia absinthium is a herbaceous, perennial plant with a fibrous root system. A powerful animal repellant suitable for plantings at the edge of properties. Wormwood is also a powerful insect repellant, it can be made into a tea or applied as a sporadic mulch throughout the garden. Wormwood produces a powerful poison and therefore should never be used directly on food crops, applications should be indirect.

Dandelion – Are tap-rooted biennial or perennial herbaceous plants, native to temperate areas of the world. Dandelions are thought to have evolved about thirty million years ago in Eurasia, they have been used by humans as food and herb for much of recorded history. Dandelions are one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and therefore are a very important source of nectar and pollen early in the season. Its tap-root will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to the soil. Dandelions are even said to emit ethylene gas which helps fruit ripen.

– Food Producing Shrubs – Will never produce the same as when field grown, but will still produce.

Currant – The genus Ribes includes black currants, red currants, white currents, and gooseberries and several other hybrid varieties. Currants do very well in shade, though an interesting trait I have observed is if even part of the plant grows into full sunlight only the part in full sun will produce fruit… The rest of the plant seems to go into a vegetative state.

Nanking Cherry – Is a deciduous shrub native to Asia, an understory shrub that has evolved to survive under the canopy of a tree. Will produce more fruit if planted on the outskirts of the tree, can even be used as a windscreen for more tender plants. This tree-like shrub can grow to eight feet tall, vigorous pruning can be required to keep it under control.

Serviceberry – Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, growing primarily in early succession habitats. Varieties differ so care must be paid during selection for under planting a fruit tree, the short multi-stemmed varieties are typically best. I personally prefer to plant the serviceberry in close quarters with fruit trees, the serviceberry attracts birds that after finishing your tasty berries will immediately turn their attention to the insects.

Raspberry – Named varieties are in the thousands, most are thorny… All are delicious.. The thorny varieties not only repel larger animals, they tend to repel thievery as well. After all, what’s a few lost raspberries when the apples are spared from the deer. Raspberries are very vigorous and when not kept in check can become a massive, and invasive headache. They will do a great job of keeping the neighborhood children from stealing the fruits of your labor. Likewise, they can also keep you away from your trees. I recommend the raspberries be planted outside of the drip line, being able to get a lawn mower between your patch and tree is paramount in keeping the patch in bounds.

– Vegetables – Though I stress, they typically do not thrive like they would in full sun, growing these vegetables is possible

Carrots – typically grown in full sun tolerate some shade. In order to avoid deformed carrots they are typically grown in loose soil, but for our purposes the uncultivated soil under a tree will work just fine. A carrot is like a stake in the ground, as it expands it will loosen the soil. Carrots left in the ground will eventually break down, adding nutrients it has harvested to the top layer of soil.

Chard – Typically grown in full sun, it is important to remember that broad-leaved plants are equipped with enough surface area to tolerate some shade. Bright lights chard will not grow as brightly as if it were planted in full sun, but it will grow.

Kale – Another leaf crop commonly grown in full sun, most food plants that do not produce a fruit or vegetable can tolerate some shade, kale happens to be one of those plants. I actually like to grow some Brassicas under a tree as a trap crop, bugs tend to be more attracted to the weaker plants as opposed to the stronger more vigorous plants grown in full sun.

Asparagus – Opposite the fact that broad-leaved plants ability to absorb more light makes them more shade tolerant, thin leafed plants do not require as much light making them also tolerant of some shade. Asparagus is an ideal food plant for under fruit trees, the primary harvest season happens at a time when many fruit trees have yet to leaf out. Because of this asparagus is one of the few vegetables that are not affected negatively when grown under a tree.

Beets – Beets in general can handle some shade, in really hot weather they actually benefit from it. Beets in full shade will grow beautiful foliage, but the energy is rarely ever there to produce a sizeable root. Beets are nutrient accumulators and therefore there is absolutely no harm in leaving the plants in the ground to rot. The benefit of the beet is for the tree, not the gardener.

Beans – Beans are another vegetable that does not seem to be affected by some shade, in the hottest months the shade provided by a tree is actually preferred. Beans accumulate nitrogen, when the beans have been harvested the remaining plant should be left in place to decompose.

Peas – Another tasty biddle that is perfectly at home when grown in the shade of a tree, typically only grown in the cooler months, a tree can often provide a third late summer harvest. Peas are in the Legume family and therefore accumulate Nitrogen, after harvest the plant should be left in place.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Advertisements

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Soil Conditions

© chriscondello 2013

“Sunset Clover” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA – Clover growing in the lawn of a local community garden… Clover is often one of the first plants to take root in a recently disturbed lot… If it is not… Then you should be planting it… A nitrogen accumulator that benefits the topsoil through decomposition…

Soil conditions

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

When guerrilla gardening in urban environments, all soil should be considered contaminated fill until you have a good reason to believe otherwise. Lead has been banned from household paint since 1978, all homes built before this time are possible sources of contamination. For this reason I always recommend testing your soil before breaking ground. Empty lots typically had structures on them at one time, the way the building came down can affect the level of contaminants left in the soil. For example… A wood frame house that burnt to the ground will have a greater effect than a brick building that was professionally demolished.

When a building is built, or a road bed laid, the extent of the excavation extends well beyond the actual perimeter of the building or road. The excavation will be considerably larger to facilitate construction. The subsequent soil that is used to fill this hole back up is never black compost-gold, it is always the cheapest material available. Therefore all of the “no-till” concepts are pretty much thrown out the window. Soil structure less than 50 years old, in my mind, is exempt from the idea that tilling will disturb the existing layers of soil.

Much of the soil I find in my neighborhood is a mixture of yellow and red clay, shale, slag, coal and sand… Only occasionally do I find black topsoil deeper than a few inches, and the places I have found topsoil deeper can often be explained by a past homeowners love of gardening. Tilling is often necessary, and amendment required.

Oftentimes, the brown spaces near streets and sidewalks are only filled with stone and sand. Plants will often be seen growing in these desolate spaces, but they are only growing in a thin layer of garbage and debris that has broken down at the surface. Cut the weeds to the ground, cover them in newspaper, and fill it with as much rich, organic material as you can fit. Plantings go right in this layer, when putting this bed to rest do your best to mix your new layer with the existing one… The following year repeat…

R-Room

“Forget-Me-Not” – Lamar Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Growing in the decaying garage at the end of the alley behind my house… Freemasons began using the flower in the 1920’s as a symbol not to forget the poor and desperate… Perfect flower for Wilkinsburg…

If food is in your garden plans, get a soil test done regardless of cost. If you are reading this and thinking it is not really required, Google “lead poisoning” before reading any further. Plant roots often reach much deeper in the soil than you would think, a few inches of compost placed on top of 12 inches of heavy metal contaminated fill does nothing to protect you from the possibility of lead poisoning. If the space is relatively small, you could always excavate by hand and fill the hole with organic material. The issue of what to do with the soil is typically the bastard of the situation, there’s really no good answer… Phytoremediation would be my answer… Read my post about it here

The urban areas targeted by the average guerrilla gardener are commonly vacant lots that at one time contained a structure. Demolition contracts typically go to the lowest bidder, and corners often have to be cut. In my neighborhood, the second and third floors are typically ripped off and placed in a dumpster. The rest of the structure is then pushed into the basement, and covered over with a few inches of the cheapest fill available. Brick buildings are the worst, they can make the tines on even the best rototiller look like butter knives.  The only advice I can give you is get a shovel, mattock, and pry bar, and start digging… Remember to save the bricks for borders later!

The good news of the soil situation is, you can always build up. Raised beds with a barrier between the existing soil and the bottom of the bed are often the only choice. This will effectively stop the plant roots from accessing contaminated soils below, as well as keeping the edible leaves high enough off the ground to stop contaminated splash.

Soil should look, smell and feel alive, the living organisms are what work to eliminate contamination. The incorporation of organic material is often the starting point of remediation. If your soil is lifeless and dead, add organic material… It is the key ingredient to a healthy garden.

Organic material is available from all kinds of sources, I often just rake

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – The Art Of Planting A Fruit Tree

Plum

“perfectly Plum” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans… Three of the most abundant cultivars are not found in the wild… Only around human settlements… Plums have even been found in Neolithic age archeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs…

 I have touched on the subject of planting fruit trees before…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/practical-permaculture-planting-and-early-care-of-fruit-trees/

That is the article if you are interested in reading it. This post is meant to be a detailed description of all of the steps involved on the actual day that your tree will be put in the ground. Given the popularity of my last couple of tree related posts, I figured a new post about trees would be a suiting 20,000 views celebration.

So when is the right time to plant a tree? I typically answer with 10 years ago… But the second best time is right now… That statement is surprisingly accurate… Though there are “best”, or recommended times to plant trees, it is always best to put a tree in the ground instead of letting it sit in the pot. I am a realist, I recognize that not everyone is able to purchase, yet alone plant a fruit tree in February. I want to be very clear here, you can plant a tree anytime of the year… There are times of the year that are better than others though… But regardless of season… You can plant trees…

Trees come from the nursery in three common forms, bare root, balled and burlapped (B&B), and potted.

Bare root trees are commonly purchased through the mail to facilitate cheap shipping. I have found that when you order a bare root tree, they will only ship it early in the spring in accordance with the proper planting time. If you happen to receive your bare root trees before you can plant… You can put it in a bucket of water for a short period of time… Like a week or two… Any longer than that and I would recommend potting it up… Or burying the roots in a temporary mound of soil… Don’t leave it to long though as it will take root and become very difficult to remove…

Balled and burlapped trees are dug from a field taking care to not damage the roots, afterwards the roots and soil are wrapped in burlap for transport. As long as the rootball is kept moist they can be held for a year or two… Though I don’t recommend that, it is possible. Balled and burlapped trees can be planted anytime of the year, anytime you plant a tree with leaves on it you can expect some stress… Every effort should be made to ease the trees transition when planting off-season… Or anytime other than spring before the tree has leaved out…

Potted plants are probably the easiest way for the home gardener to buy trees, when the roots slip out of the pot easily, stress to the tree is at a minimum. Often times, nurseries will run sales on trees during the middle or end of the summer. For me to tell you to hold that tree in the pot for the entire winter would be a joke… No matter what form you buy your trees in, just plant the thing.

Choosing the proper location for your fruit tree is a relatively easy process, though much of the literature available tends to convolute the shit out of it. If you follow a few general rules, you will plant it in the right spot each and every time.

Start your observations early in the morning, pay attention to where the sun rises in your specific location. In urban environments, all day sunshine is at a premium, the choice is almost always between sunshine in the morning or sunshine in the afternoon. Morning sunshine is always better as the heat has a chance to accumulate all morning, then slowly dissipate in the afternoon and night. Afternoon sunshine on the other hand only starts heating the surface around lunchtime, this results in solar warmth affecting the tree for the latter half of the day, this energy is then quickly zapped from the earth after the sun goes down. Whenever it is an option, always choose morning sun… Always…

A common question I am asked is whether or not a tree can be planted in shade, and as always my answer is yes. But it is extremely important to remember that a tree intended for sun, will never produce as much fruit as that same tree would produce had it been planted in full sun. Some permaculturist would argue with me until the cows come home, but many old-timer farmers would agree with me 100%… In my own personal experiences with gardening and farming… When given the choice between “old-world” and “new-age”… Always go with the old-world… They knew their shit…

I was at one time going to write an article about how to dig a hole, believe it or not, people google it all the time. Well, you start with a shovel, and you end with a shovel… Depending on location, you may need an axe for roots, or a pick mattock to remove stones and bricks. Either way, you just stick a shovel in the ground and move dirt… Remember… Manual Labor is not the president of Mexico… A little old-timer advice for yah…

Tree planting depth is another common question, although the answer is simple… There are a few variables to consider. Seed grown trees will develop a root flare where the trunk meets the soil. Regardless of how deep you think you should plant that tree, if a flare is present, that needs to be at the surface of the soil.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“DogLeg” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is a photo of the graft union on a pear tree… The bottom is the root-stock and the top is the scion… This union needs to stay exposed for the life of the tree… As this tree grows… This union will eventually look like a straight trunk… But it will still need to remain exposed…

Grafted trees are a little different though, they have a special requirement that is absolutely detrimental to the overall survival of the specific tree. A grafted tree is made up of two distinct parts, a rootstock and the scion, or top of the tree. The rootstock is an entirely different tree than the top part on a grafted specimen, typically a tree that does not produce good fruit… But instead is dwarfing, disease resistance, or a combination of the two.

Where the rootstock joins the tree is known as a graft union, it will look like the knee of a dog. It is absolutely imperative that the graft union be planted a few inches above the soil line, and do not mulch above this line a few years down the road. The top of a grafted tree does not necessarily enjoy having to suck its water and nutrients through a foreign body, when given the opportunity, the top of a grafted tree will almost always attempt to root itself… If it happens to be successful… The tree will ultimately reject the rootstock… And all of the traits of the rootstock will be lost… An example would be a dwarf apple tree that is only supposed to get 11 feet tall… Could possibly grow to 40 feet… I have seen it happen on more than one occasion…

A common permaculture practice is to plant stuff under trees, a fine practice though I do have a caution to consider when planting under your fruit tree. Any plant that gets close enough to the trunk to touch it has the ability to cause great damage. Not only does the shade and moisture created heighten the possibility of fungus, disease or rot, it also greatly raises the possibility of your tree sending roots out from above the graft union. groundcover and thick vegetation will act the same as if you simply mulched over your graft union, this will almost always cause your scionwood to root… Ultimately rejecting your dwarfing root-stock…

If you are having issues sighting your tree planting depth, place a branch or board across the hole, then place your tree accordingly. Take into consideration mulches that will be applied in the future, you can never cover the graft union… ever… It is important to remember that a rootstock is just a rooted cutting, there is no root flare. As long as the roots are underground on a grafted tree, it will grow fine… You could technically plant a bare-root grafted tree with the union 12 inches above the soil line… As long as the roots are buried… Also a grafted tree does not send out a tap-root… So temporarily take that word out of your vocabulary…

When you put your tree in the hole, do your best to spread the root out around the inside of the hole. If all of your roots grow to one side of the tree, and that side takes on a heavy load of fruit, the tree will probably topple. I personally like to fill my hole with as much original material as possible, I may amend slightly, but never more than 20%… And I really wouldn’t do more than this unless it was completely stone.

My thinking behind this is simple… Lets say you are planting in 100% clay and stone… Extremely lifeless stuff… If you refill your hole with black gold… When the tree hits the clay it will go no further… Would you?.. I feel it is much better to only mix in a little bit of organic material to your fill, and let the tree get used to the conditions at hand. In the long-term, work on your soil with organic mulches and phytoremediation…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/practical-permaculture-plants-and-phytoremediation/

A young tree should not be overly nursed, it should be allowed to settle into your location. If your soil is clay, then replacing the soil in the small hole you are planting it in is really doing your tree no favors.

Another scenario worth mentioning, I actually observed recently. A local nonprofit planted 500 trees in Wilkinsburg, many of which are planted in the hell strip next to the road. They actually brought in heavy equipment and excavated these areas, replacing the soil with what I believe to be the 40% manure to 60% topsoil mix available at Ag-Recycle in Pittsburgh… At first I thought this was absurd, then I remembered I could only manage to dig about 9″ into our local hellstrip… Then I hit solid slag gravel… Or fill… I then realized they had absolutely no choice but to do this… Moral of the story… If you can excavate and replace a large portion of the soil with an ideal replacement, then by all means… Dig away…

But for the rest of us, replace with what you have, and slowly add to the soil… occasional leaf mulching during the summer… Comfrey and other legumes… Yarrow… Hell… I already made a list…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/practical-permaculture-planting-under-fruit-trees/

When you have finished planting your tree, water it immediately, and thoroughly. The tree will be entering into a period of stress, the simple act of moving a tree is enough to put it into shock. You see… Conditions in your yard are rarely the same as at the nursery, wind speed, temperature, sunlight and humidity changes will affect your tree negatively… Every attempt should be made to ease the transition from nursery to yard… A good rule of thumb is to consider your tree extremely vulnerable until it resumes active growth… When you see new leaves… You can expect equal root growth… A good sign that your tree is beyond the stress phase of its eventual journey to a pie on your table… Or as I like to call it… Fruit tree Nirvana…

To sum this post up briefly… Plant your trees when you can… Spring is best… But any time will do… Likewise… Sun is best… But shade will do… Just expect to alter your approach a bit… Dig your hole twice the size of the roots you intend to stick in it… And fill it with as much of the original soil as you can… Remember to keep the graft union exposed… And water immediately after planting… And until you notice fresh growth… Fertilizers should never be applied… If a tree or plant is absorbing high levels of nutrients during a time it cannot process them… They will build up and could eventually cause damage or death due to toxicity… And that is really all there is to it… Until next time…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Plants and Phytoremediation

epiPlant identification is an art in itself and honestly has to be taught by physically seeing the plant, I have been to a million lectures with someone flipping through slides and talking about different plants, and I can say without a doubt that I learn very little. I prefer my plant introductions to be in person, I like to be able to touch, smell and when applicable taste the plant. Just as with humans plants have a first and a last name, the first part of the name is the genus and the second part the species. Common names I feel are just as important due to the fact that I find when I am asked questions, they usually go something like “Ever hear of cheeseweed, if yer chickens eat it it’ll make er eggs taste like cheese” really… Learn as much as you can about each plant you come in contact with, if nothing else Wikipedia the hell out of your garden, know what makes each plant tick.

Plant selection for permaculturists is really an art form that not only encompasses, but embraces biodiversity. Plants are the multi-tool in the permaculture world completing tasks such as attracting beneficials, repelling pests, soil remediation, soil stabilization, tillage, moisture control, living trellis, and as companions to one another often just simply enhancing flavor or improving one another’s health. An entire family of plants noted for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil are the Legumes which include beans, peas, alfalfa and lupines as well as trees like locusts and redbuds.

I find that one of the most commonly mis-understood tools is the role of the legumes. Most legumes are sort of nitrogen hoarders in a way, fixing nitrogen for themselves and storing it for use inside the plant. Legumes don’t really “fix nitrogen in the soil” as much as they “fix nitrogen in the plant”, the green part of the plant is the key to nitrogen fixation. In order for the nitrogen to be fully utilized, the entire biomass of the plant needs to de-compose in place replacing the nitrogen into the soil. Another one of the commonly mis-understood ideas is that legumes fix nitrogen through out the entire life of the plant, this is simply just not true. Plants have changing nutrient needs as they progress through their life, plants use the most nitrogen during vegetative growth before flowering. Once a plant starts flowering, potassium requirements spike followed by phosphorus during fruiting. In order to maximize the nitrogen potential of legumes cut them before they go to seed and let the entire biomass of the plant break down in place.

Green manure is a cover crop grown to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Green manure is almost essential in a sustainable annual cropping system often being grown during the fallow period in winter and then tilled into the soil in the spring before flowering. Heres a quick list of plants used in green manure cover crops – clover, vetch, fava beans, mustard, buckwheat, lupin and alfalfa. Time energy and resources are required to grow and use these cover crops effectively, timing is everything and the window for planting is easily missed. Make sure that your planting dates allow enough time for your cover crop to get well enough established to over-winter.

Just in case you weren’t familiar with this next term I would like to introduce you to a guilty pleasure of mine called “fruit porn”. Oh you know you are into it, in fact, i’d be willing to bet your mailbox is filled with it during winter… Mine is! I sort of have a little problem with fruit porn, hoarding it, often finding old issues hidden in boxes for no good reason. All that I am going to say is be carefull, it is super easy to get “the bug” and order one of everything. I have seen this happen more than once and the end result is usually one or two absolutely perfect plants and a whole bunch of dead stuff. Instead pick one or two types of plants and get a bunch of one variety of each, this will allow you to familiarize yourself with that variety.

Urban lots are tricky in that they offer little space compared to a food forest or permaculture farm. When growing for more than just personal consumption you won’t be able to fill every square inch with every type of fruit tree, berry bush and vegetable you can get your hands on, instead pick a cultivar of apple and buy a few of them, and do the same with say blueberries and raspberries. This doesn’t mean you can’t plant a few specimen plants here and there and have a little fun with design. I am just trying to stress how nice it is to grow enough of one type of berry to be able to share or sell it.

I want to stress the importance of planting things other than food bearing plants and trees… I’m talking about bio-diversity here people, permaculturists work with EVERY facet of nature. Large trees create bird habitat and shade for the plants and people underneath them as well as something for the vines to climb on. The list of herbs that benefit other plants is absolutely enormous, common sage Salvia officinallis is one of my all time favorite herbs to use in the garden and landscape, when it blooms in early summer you can not get close to it because of the bees and is considered a companion to rosemary, cabbage, beans and carrots.

The idea of soil remediation or “phytoremediation” is nothing new, mankind has been using plants to repair soil for thousands of years. I always get a kick out of people referring to permaculture as “new” when in reality it is the cutting edge of a 10,000 year old idea… What we call organic, natural or sustainable was at one time simply called “FOOD”, it wasn’t until recent decades that we started having to specify the manner in which it was farmed. I have problems with the fact that foods are labeled organic as I feel the term is getting watered down as farmers test the limits of the rules, makes you wonder whats next… Morganic – Our veggies are morganic than the competition. Plants have been used to remove heavy metals and toxins from soil for years and a lot of research is currently being done on the subject.

Phytoremediation of leaded soils is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart, out of 10 lots soil tested last year here in Wilkinsburg I found only two that were within reasonable lead levels. Under 99 ppm is acceptable for lead levels in gardens growing veggies, we had samples test as high as 1558 ppm. Lead is commonly used in water and sewer pipes, roofing, cable coverings, paints, gasoline, insecticides, gold production, hair dyes, stained glass and photography to name a few. Lead is a moderately active metal that dissolves slowly in water and most cold acids, it does not react with oxygen in the air, and does not burn. Lead causes both immediate and long-term health effects and should be avoided at all costs. Lead is commonly remediated using indian mustard, ragweed, hemp dogbane and poplar trees which sequester the lead within its own biomass. Phytoremediation works as a multi-year tool for toxin extraction requiring a little planning, every effort helps though.

Here is just a small example of hyperaccumulators…

Arsenic – Sunflower or Chinese Brake ferns both store arsenic in their leaves.

Cadmium – Willow which is also an accumulator of zinc and copper, willow has a high transport capacity of heavy metals from root to shoot coupled with a huge amount of biomass production.

Cadmium and Zinc – Alpine Pennycress is a hyperaccumulator of these metals at levels that would be toxic to other plants, although the presence of copper will often inhibit growth.

Salts/salt tolerant – Barley and Sugar Beets are used for the extraction of sodium chloride to reclaim fields flooded with sea water.

Caesium 137 and Strontium 90 – Sunflowers were and still are being successfully used in the phytoremediation of the land around Chernobyl to absorb the radiation in the soil…

It is important to mention that phytoremediation is not an overnight solution to your soil woes but with some carefull planning and consideration of time constraints, soil can almost always be remediated using plants… I could ramble on and on about plants so this may have to turn into a multi-part section of this series, we will see…

peace – chriscondello

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Plants and Phytoremediation

epiPlant identification is an art in itself and honestly has to be taught by physically seeing the plant, I have been to a million lectures with someone flipping through slides and talking about different plants, and I can say without a doubt that I learn very little. I prefer my plant introductions to be in person, I like to be able to touch, smell and when applicable taste the plant. Just as with humans plants have a first and a last name, the first part of the name is the genus and the second part the species. Common names I feel are just as important due to the fact that I find when I am asked questions, they usually go something like “Ever hear of cheeseweed, if yer chickens eat it it’ll make er eggs taste like cheese” really… Learn as much as you can about each plant you come in contact with, if nothing else Wikipedia the hell out of your garden, know what makes each plant tick.

Plant selection for permaculturists is really an art form that not only encompasses, but embraces biodiversity. Plants are the multi-tool in the permaculture world completing tasks such as attracting beneficials, repelling pests, soil remediation, soil stabilization, tillage, moisture control, living trellis, and as companions to one another often just simply enhancing flavor or improving one another’s health. An entire family of plants noted for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil are the Legumes which include beans, peas, alfalfa and lupines as well as trees like locusts and redbuds.

I find that one of the most commonly mis-understood tools is the role of the legumes. Most legumes are sort of nitrogen hoarders in a way, fixing nitrogen for themselves and storing it for use inside the plant. Legumes don’t really “fix nitrogen in the soil” as much as they “fix nitrogen in the plant”, the green part of the plant is the key to nitrogen fixation. In order for the nitrogen to be fully utilized, the entire biomass of the plant needs to de-compose in place replacing the nitrogen into the soil. Another one of the commonly mis-understood ideas is that legumes fix nitrogen through out the entire life of the plant, this is simply just not true. Plants have changing nutrient needs as they progress through their life, plants use the most nitrogen during vegetative growth before flowering. Once a plant starts flowering, potassium requirements spike followed by phosphorus during fruiting. In order to maximize the nitrogen potential of legumes cut them before they go to seed and let the entire biomass of the plant break down in place.

Green manure is a cover crop grown to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Green manure is almost essential in a sustainable annual cropping system often being grown during the fallow period in winter and then tilled into the soil in the spring before flowering. Heres a quick list of plants used in green manure cover crops – clover, vetch, fava beans, mustard, buckwheat, lupin and alfalfa. Time energy and resources are required to grow and use these cover crops effectively, timing is everything and the window for planting is easily missed. Make sure that your planting dates allow enough time for your cover crop to get well enough established to over-winter.

Just in case you weren’t familiar with this next term I would like to introduce you to a guilty pleasure of mine called “fruit porn”. Oh you know you are into it, in fact, i’d be willing to bet your mailbox is filled with it during winter… Mine is! I sort of have a little problem with fruit porn, hoarding it, often finding old issues hidden in boxes for no good reason. All that I am going to say is be carefull, it is super easy to get “the bug” and order one of everything. I have seen this happen more than once and the end result is usually one or two absolutely perfect plants and a whole bunch of dead stuff. Instead pick one or two types of plants and get a bunch of one variety of each, this will allow you to familiarize yourself with that variety.

Urban lots are tricky in that they offer little space compared to a food forest or permaculture farm. When growing for more than just personal consumption you won’t be able to fill every square inch with every type of fruit tree, berry bush and vegetable you can get your hands on, instead pick a cultivar of apple and buy a few of them, and do the same with say blueberries and raspberries. This doesn’t mean you can’t plant a few specimen plants here and there and have a little fun with design. I am just trying to stress how nice it is to grow enough of one type of berry to be able to share or sell it.

I want to stress the importance of planting things other than food bearing plants and trees… I’m talking about bio-diversity here people, permaculturists work with EVERY facet of nature. Large trees create bird habitat and shade for the plants and people underneath them as well as something for the vines to climb on. The list of herbs that benefit other plants is absolutely enormous, common sage Salvia officinallis is one of my all time favorite herbs to use in the garden and landscape, when it blooms in early summer you can not get close to it because of the bees and is considered a companion to rosemary, cabbage, beans and carrots.

The idea of soil remediation or “phytoremediation” is nothing new, mankind has been using plants to repair soil for thousands of years. I always get a kick out of people referring to permaculture as “new” when in reality it is the cutting edge of a 10,000 year old idea… What we call organic, natural or sustainable was at one time simply called “FOOD”, it wasn’t until recent decades that we started having to specify the manner in which it was farmed. I have problems with the fact that foods are labeled organic as I feel the term is getting watered down as farmers test the limits of the rules, makes you wonder whats next… Morganic – Our veggies are morganic than the competition. Plants have been used to remove heavy metals and toxins from soil for years and a lot of research is currently being done on the subject.

Phytoremediation of leaded soils is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart, out of 10 lots soil tested last year here in Wilkinsburg I found only two that were within reasonable lead levels. Under 99 ppm is acceptable for lead levels in gardens growing veggies, we had samples test as high as 1558 ppm. Lead is commonly used in water and sewer pipes, roofing, cable coverings, paints, gasoline, insecticides, gold production, hair dyes, stained glass and photography to name a few. Lead is a moderately active metal that dissolves slowly in water and most cold acids, it does not react with oxygen in the air, and does not burn. Lead causes both immediate and long-term health effects and should be avoided at all costs. Lead is commonly remediated using indian mustard, ragweed, hemp dogbane and poplar trees which sequester the lead within its own biomass. Phytoremediation works as a multi-year tool for toxin extraction requiring a little planning, every effort helps though.

Here is just a small example of hyperaccumulators…

Arsenic – Sunflower or Chinese Brake ferns both store arsenic in their leaves.

Cadmium – Willow which is also an accumulator of zinc and copper, willow has a high transport capacity of heavy metals from root to shoot coupled with a huge amount of biomass production.

Cadmium and Zinc – Alpine Pennycress is a hyperaccumulator of these metals at levels that would be toxic to other plants, although the presence of copper will often inhibit growth.

Salts/salt tolerant – Barley and Sugar Beets are used for the extraction of sodium chloride to reclaim fields flooded with sea water.

Caesium 137 and Strontium 90 – Sunflowers were and still are being successfully used in the phytoremediation of the land around Chernobyl to absorb the radiation in the soil…

It is important to mention that phytoremediation is not an overnight solution to your soil woes but with some carefull planning and consideration of time constraints, soil can almost always be remediated using plants… I could ramble on and on about plants so this may have to turn into a multi-part section of this series, we will see…

peace – chriscondello

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.