To Know a Fruit Tree

I grew up knowing what it is to pick fruit from a tree, to eat food from the garden. I knew one particular fruit tree intimately. As part of a sweat equity program for low-income families my father did the landscaping for what would be our new home. He tucked fruit trees and edible plants into what looked, to the average eye, to be a tidy and semi-formal landscape. He placed a apricot tree near our front door, a fig tree over here, and a guava hedge over there. Healthy treats for all of us "complex kids" -- ready-made snacks as we played in the shared grassy area and road our bikes and scooters in the parking lot. That's us in the photo below, the "complex kids", celebrating my birthday with the apricot tree in the background.

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My father taught me what it is to know a fruit tree -- it's character, it's cycles, and it's ability to provide. 

When I began to pursue formal and hands-on education in fruit tree care as an adult, some of my 'tree speak' and childlike curiosity had vanished. In it's place was self doubt and reluctancy. I didn't entirely trust myself. I had forgotten something fundamental -- that we all know trees deep down in our roots. It's my personal belief that trees are with us in the highest places of our most intuitive selves -- they are our kin. This isn't to say that scientific and technical knowledge isn't incredibly helpful in caring for fruit trees, it certainly is. Though, it's also helpful to remember that humans have been harvesting and tending to fruit trees for thousands of years. There are additional lenses that can guide our deep understanding of trees - intuitive, creative, and observational lenses that can also serve us. More often than not, my students and clients have an amazing 'sense' for fruit trees. It typically doesn't take much to get folks reacquainted to their 'tree speak' and on a good path to caring for their own trees long term.  

While there are some really fantastic fruit tree care and pruning books out there, I learned the most of what I know out in the field. In fact, the hands on learning was actually what made the scientific and technical information more accessible to me. Now I enjoy coaching and teaching fruit tree care in this same holistic way -- out in the field, with the trees, the people AND the science. 

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It's for these reasons that I offer Fruit Tree Pruning & Care Coaching sessions through Garden Ecology. 

During fruit tree coaching sessions I can cover any or all of the basics; tools & hygiene, why we prune, summer vs. winter pruning, tree types and shapes, the three D's, heading vs. thinning cuts, mulch matters, watering, and holistic pest & disease management. I work on the trees, pruning and caring for them, while sharing tips and knowledge with you. You can be as hands on or hands off as you like.

During these coaching sessions we go at your pace -- you get your questions answered in a site-specific and 1:1 learning environment. We get to cover what it's going to take to care for your specific tree(s), approaching each tree as the unique individual and adapting to how you learn best. It's really a good time! 

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And even now my father and I share this love of fruit trees. In the above photo, he's spotting a volunteer on a ladder at one of my pruning workshops held at Village Garden's, Fruits of Diversity Community Orchard as part of Portland Fruit Tree Project's Community Orchards program here in PDX. 

Caring for fruit trees is so incredibly rewarding. Experiencing the tree's cycles and harvesting the fruit is one of life's invaluable gifts. For me, harvesting fruit is grounding and uplifting in a way that connects me to nature's ability to provide and nourish. It's a feeling I had sorely missed in my modern, urban life. 

To know a fruit tree is, to some degree, to be tied to the cycles and rhythms of this land. Caring for fruit trees can connect us to the power of nature as well as our intuitive and creative selves.  With fruit trees, our 'tree speak' and our childlike curiosity can be born again. It's an honor to contribute to this journey in anyway I can -- a journey that each and every one of us can take on our path to better knowing a fruit tree. So, here's to our roots!  May they continue to guide us as we traverse this thing called life. 

Celebrating Decomposition, Darkness & Quite Transition

Fall into Winter

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As October comes to a close and November nears we are reminded of life's cycles in ways that contrast what we've experienced of Spring and Summer. The tree's take their path to slumber, the mushrooms awaken and we are reminded of the mycorrhizal networks that help decompose organic matter that support new life, and we watch as creatures prepare for colder and shorter days. It's a time to remember those who have passed on, celebrate the Summers end and prepare for Winter months ahead. In Celtic traditions this is called Samhain (SAM-hayne), meaning the "End of Summer," and is the third and final Harvest of the year. Celebrated on the sunset of October 31st to sunset on November 1st, it's an opportunity for us to go peacefully into winter's darkness. 

This transition from Fall to Winter is a time when I share quite gratitude for the soil beneath our feet, for stillness and hibernation, and for the seeds that are offered in good faith -- a boundless faith in the future and in new life to come. It's also a time to continue to reflect on how our own lives are supported and tied to the other creatures of this land -- the migratory birds, the pollinators, the fish and the deer. As the fruit trees in the orchards become dormant, I begin to prepare for winter pruning season. But am also reminded to conserve my energy and welcome more stillness into my life.  That said, there's still lots to do in the Garden so I've laid out four areas of focus for the coming weeks and months.

Planting Fruit Trees

Fall is the ideal time to plant fruit trees. This time of year is when most fruit trees begin their most active root growth, and planting at this time allows just enough time for the roots of a tree to become established – getting them accustomed to the soil and preparing them for fast growth the following spring. Trees established in fall are better able to survive the heat of the following summer. Plus, fall is also the best time to obtain the largest selection of fruit trees, many of the most popular varieties and rarer fruits are sold to early buyers, so it pays to be an early bird when shopping for fruit trees. 

If you haven't done the proper species research, planning, and site prep, the second best time to plant your fruit trees is winter... so hit the books and get sheet mulching -- there's still time! While Spring is an option for fruit tree planting, it's not ideal. With summer right around the corner, your newly planted fruit tree won't have much time to settle in before the onslaught of those long and hot summer days. Now is the time to plant your fruit trees and make new additions to your home orchard. 

My preferred Nurseries to source fruit trees are One Green World, Raintree Nursery & Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards. They source a wide variety of healthy, pest/disease resistant, PNW tried-n-true varietals, including heritage species that are flavorful, nutritious, and lesser-known. Plus, they don't douse their stock in Herbicides and/or Neonicotinoids. NOTE: Neonicotinoids (Neo-nic-uh-tin-oids) are systemic pesticides that are shown, across many scientific studies, to cause serious harm to bees, caterpillars, earth worms, and other wildlife and last for YEARS. Regulation is slow to catch up here in the US, so it's up to us to tell nurseries that we care about this topic. Your voice is powerful. 

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Plant Pacific Northwest Natives

Fall and winter are also great times to focus on adding Pacific Northwest Natives to your garden. Planting the Native Trees and Native Perennials in Fall will similarly help them get rooted before they show off in spring and summer.  Planting Natives is THE way to go when working on a Garden's beauty, function and ecology. Understandably, it can also be hard to know where to start. There are TONS of native plant resources online, but here are a few that I really love.  

Pollinator Parkways (click on "Converting your Parking Strip" for a fun design workbook pdf.) 
Backyard Habitat Certification Program 
Metro's Willamette Valley Booklet
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My favorite Native Plant Nurseries are Boskey Dell Natives, Humble Root Nursery, Echo Valley Natives & Naomi's. Though, for a more comprehensive list of 'non-neonic nurseries' follow this link to the Pollinator Parkways website. 

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Collect & Store Seed

Seed saving is a lost art that seems to be making its way back to popularity. Seed saving will not only save seeds but also save you money. It's also a fun garden activity to do with kids! It's time in the garden that is truly relaxing and rejuvenating.

The bountiful seeds remind me of nature's abundance, her giving spirit, and her faith in the future. The seeds are small and powerful symbols of fertility, strength, and new life. Gathering seed can connect us to this energy in our own lives outside of the garden. 

Collecting seeds can vary widely based on the plant's distribution system. Start with something simple like onions, chives, sunflowers, lupine or other native flowers. Dry the seed on a flat surface and store them in glass jars (or ziplock bags) in a cool, dark and dry place. And remember to label them... you may forget where they came from come spring. :) 

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Mulch your Mitts Off

I know, I know... this again? Mulching is so critical to a garden's soil and ecological wellness, I can't overstate the importance of finding time and energy for this laborious task. Fall and winter are great times to do mulching for many reasons. First, it's easier to do hard labor when the weather is a little cooler. Second, the moisture helps cardboard breakdown if you are sheet mulching and will allow the mulch to settle and begin breaking down into top soil immediately (making spring planting and/or weeding a breeze). Third, there is lots of product available for free via Chip Drop.  

I like sourcing wood chips/mulch from the local arborists not only because it's free, but becuase the product is usually better than the stuff you can buy on the market. Remember to note in your request that you don't want Tree of Heaven, Ivy, Knotweed, or Blackberry. If you get more than you need you can always post the extra to Craigslist and share with neighbors. Getting more is better than less since you will be laying it down thick -- 5-8" is ideal. Keep that core strength in check so you don't hurt your back, use a pitchfork and rack when possible, and get to it friends!

May our gardens continue to bring us closer to ourselves, one anther, and our 'Sense of Place' here in the Pacific Northwest. 

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Gardening with Ecological Succession

Connecting with natural cycles, working with plants, and growing food for my community has always been a healing, empowering, and revolutionary practice in my life -- an act of both love and defiance. I hope that you too can find some solace and healing in these turbulent times.  

June 20th marked the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It's a really exciting time in the garden as greens, berries, and fresh foods start really piling high. The flowers liven our senses, inspiring us to be more active in our own lives.  And it's a good thing too, because there is lots to do in the garden.

Many struggle with the persistence of "weeds" in the garden, but today I want to share a different possibility with you -- A possibility where we let go of perspectives that have been culturally handed down to us and look to the natural systems for new perspectives and guidance.

By definition, a "weed" is simply a plant growing where it's not wanted or where it's in competition with other purposely cultivated plants. By this definition, no one specific plant is a weed, as we are often taught. Plants only become weeds when the individual defines it in that way. Liberating, right?

In fact, in ecological terms weeds are simply hardy species which are the first to make a home in previously disrupted or damaged ecosystems, starting a chain of ecological succession that ultimately leads to a more biodiverse steady-state ecosystem. These species are often called "pioneer species" and they are the first in a process of ecological succession. I prefer not to use the term "pioneer species", so I will use the term "early succession species" from here on out. 

  After the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980, lupine was the first species to take root in the ashes of that massive disturbance event, followed by fireweed, and other early successional species that helped create evermore habitable conditions for other species of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees over time.  

After the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980, lupine was the first species to take root in the ashes of that massive disturbance event, followed by fireweed, and other early successional species that helped create evermore habitable conditions for other species of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees over time. 

Early successional species thrive in adversity and disturbance. Disturbances can be major, such as a forest fire, flood, or volcanic eruption, or they can be minor, such as a falling tree, a grazing heard, or a burrowing animal. And humans are just as much a part of this cycle as any grazing heard or falling tree. We are truly the ultimate disruptors - more than any volcano or forest fire.

In our urban environments, large-scale deforestation, industrialization and development have created the perfect environment for vigorous, early successional species as well as what are often called "invasive species", such as blackberry, knotweed, and ivy.  The land's history with both geomorphic, biological and human disturbance is complex, but luckily our impact when weeding or gardening is not. 

When we till the soil, weed, or do anything that exposes the soil to sun, wind, and water, we are creating tiny disturbances in the soil surface. This is important because we often think we are making good headway. We are out there ALL DAY in the hot sun "weeding", but in actuality we are creating the perfect conditions for early successional species to take root again and again. This is why the weeding can feel frustrating, the cycle continues in an endless loop if we don't take further action. 

So, what do we do now? How do we transform our practices in a way that works with nature and creates less work in the long run? We look to nature!

The truth is, every site and garden will be unique and will require adaptations and adjustments. That said, there are some tips that I hope will help you be able to work with ecological succession to heal the land and create a garden ecology that serves your life best. 

TIPS:

1) We work WITH the weeds. Building a relationship with the plants and utilizing their unique gifts is an option

I know, I know, this is a really extreme option and it's not going to be for everyone. However, I want to share it as a possibility. We can utilize the early successional plants that are here to help us. As I've mentioned, these plants often transform the land into what's called a "steady state" with increased biodiversity and a wide variety of ecosystem services.  For instance, we can let the dock, chicory, dandelion, and burdock bust through our compacted clay soils with their deep taproots.We can "Chop 'n' Drop" the organic matter to help build nutrient-rich topsoil over time. This option requires that there is an appreciation for these plants and a pretty good understanding of their functions, habits, and distribution methods for optimal ecological outcome.  

 Burdock is not only a delicious food and potent medicinal plant, it's a "nutrient accumulator" and pollinator beneficial. It's deep taproot busts up clay soils, while it's large leaves produce lots of biomass for building nutrient rich topsoil. Chop 'n' drop to avoid it's burs. 

Burdock is not only a delicious food and potent medicinal plant, it's a "nutrient accumulator" and pollinator beneficial. It's deep taproot busts up clay soils, while it's large leaves produce lots of biomass for building nutrient rich topsoil. Chop 'n' drop to avoid it's burs. 

2) "Sheet Mulch" with woody or "Ramial" mulch

Sheet mulching can be as complex or simple as you want to make it. It can be many layers of materials, like an organic matter lasagna, but my approach is typically very simple. I collect non-waxed cardboard, with minimal ink if possible, and remove as much of any existing tape as I'm able.

While I'm collecting cardboard, I submit a request for mulch on "Chip Drop" (https://getchipdrop.com/). Create an account and make sure to read and follow the directions and recommendations closely. Also, make sure to identify trees/plants you might not want to bring on site (Tree of Heaven, Blackberry, Pokeweed, Ivy, Knotweed, etc.).

Please understand that Chipdrop is a FREE service that mutually benefits gardeners and arborists. This is not a typical service/consumer relationship. You get WHAT they bring you WHEN they bring it to you. We have to be willing to go with the flow here, but it's well worth it. It's really the best! If they bring more than you can use, put it up on Craigslist or Nextdoor. It'll go fast. If they aren't bringing you anything, try offering a financial incentive. Your home might be further from their work sites than other households, throw down a little honey to sweeten the pot. 

Now that you have your materials (cardboard and woody mulch), lay the cardboard down in the areas where you want to build soil and suppress "weeds". If it's summer, water the cardboard until moistened. Otherwise, let the rain do it's thing. Now, cover the cardboard with 5-8 inches of mulch. Pile it high, it'll settle and break down. Go big!

 Note: Typically native gardens will prefer an evergreen or pine/conifer tree's wood chip mulch, while fruit trees prefer a deciduous tree wood chip mulch. If you can manage, try to give these plants what they would experience in their "natural" environment. 

Note: Typically native gardens will prefer an evergreen or pine/conifer tree's wood chip mulch, while fruit trees prefer a deciduous tree wood chip mulch. If you can manage, try to give these plants what they would experience in their "natural" environment. 

3) Planting Perennials & Living Ground Cover

For many gardeners, getting to the stage where your soil is protected and covered with luscious, delicious and beneficial plants is ideal. This is that "steady state" we keep talking about. However, this can also take some time. It's best to work towards this goal in phases. 

Start by making a commitment to nurseries who say NO to Neonicotinoids (Neo-nic-uh-tin-oids). Below is a comprehensive list of local nurseries that choose NOT TO CARRY TOXIC "NEONIC" PLANTS or SEEDS. Please check it out -- for the bees! 

 Pollinator Parkways LINK HERE (http://pollinatorparkways.weebly.com/bee-safe-nurseries.html)

Second, plant selection and placement are key. Choose regionally appropriate plants to build out a well-rounded canopy and garden ecology that looks beautiful and functions for YOUR LIFE. Always be realistic about how much time, money, and resources you are able to put towards your garden when selecting plants. 

Get to know the plants and the conditions they need to thrive (sun, soil, water, etc). Do your research and make sure your site and placement will be that ideal condition for them to thrive in. If it's not, find other plants that will be better suited for that site. It's all about observing, planning, and learning to adapt with vision and creativity. Maybe just as important, make sure to "tuck them in" with a woody mulch and keep them watered, especially in their early years.

Over time, they will "naturalize" and provide the soil with cover, organic matter, and other services if holistically managed and maintained correctly. Check out local planting guides for more information, or call me for a site visit and estimate for a full planting plan and site design. 

There is so much to explore in the garden, but I hope that this alternate perspective towards early successional species will help to shape a more enjoyable gardening experience for you, and that these tips on Gardening with Ecological Succession will help you improve your garden's ecology over time. 

Remember, it's inside ALL OF US -- growing and sharing food, and building relationships with the land, the plants, and one another.  It's in our nature. Let's keep growing!