Early Spring

mamahenThis is one of our BIG Buckeye hens.  She’s sitting on at least 15-18 eggs for about 4 days now.  We’re so excited to see if she’ll stay and hatch out our next batch of chicks!  Have I mentioned lately how much we love our Buckeyes?!  They are so gentle.  They follow us around the yard like puppies!  The giant roo could really do some damage if he chose to, but he is such a sweetie!  He takes care of his hens, but is gentle with us.  We had 4 too many roos this winter and it started to take a toll on our girls, so we dressed them out and sent them to the freezer for table meat.  Each one of these boys cleaned and ready still weighed in at just over 5 lbs. each!  This breed did very well with the winter weather, very cold hardy; even venturing out of the coop in 8″ of snow when the Wyandottes were snuggled up in the warm, dry coop.

We have more new furry additions to our little farm:  we took in a stray female cat that someone had rescued.  She was pregnant and gave birth in this lovely woman’s care.  We now have her (spayed) and one little girl of hers.  They are gray tabbies and their names are Mama and Bitty.  We’ll get pics of the two of them and our other tabby, Grimm soon.  (It’s raining here today and they’re all in hiding!)

And now on to news of our new plant ‘babies’!  Last night we put in 3 semi-dwarf apples: a Honeycrisp, a Gala, and a Johnathan.

appleguildSo here’s where we’ve headed ‘off pattern’ a little.  Most permaculture and food forest sites seem to be planting understory trees almost as specimens, singly.  They may have lots of fruit trees, but not in groupings.  Or you will find a more traditional orchard with tons of trees simply underplanted with other beneficial things.  Jason and I have spent many hours walking in the local old growth forest nearby.  What I’ve observed is that even the trees grow in groups, usually small groups, but groups.  So we’re modeling after that pattern and planting our fruit trees and bushes in groups of 3 or 5 with common understory plantings shared by the whole group.  This particular planting will be a 5 specimen group; we’ll be adding a Fuju and a Winesap as soon as they come in.

Now for the ‘apple tree guild’ (a grouping of plants that mutually benefit each other) that we’ll be building:

dandelionSee the dandelions already sprouting within what will be the drip line of the trees?  These will stay!  They are part of the rhizosphere layer and help combat soil compaction in our overused, clay soil.  Bonus:  we’ll harvest some of the leaves for spring salads and the flowers will be harvested for jelly.  Over time this season we will be adding: 1.dill and carrots to the area for their roots as well as to provide a food source for caterpillars and food for our table, 2. beebalm and catmint to attract pollinators and for tea and medicinal uses, 3. nasturtium and sweet allysum as ground cover, pest control and table food, 4. onion, chives and garlic for pest control and table food, 5. daffodils to absorb excess nitrogen in the spring which can be detrimental to fruit trees, and 6. comfrey and nettles which are super-dynamic accelerators (they are superb at absorbing nutrients and returning them to the soil).  These will be used medicinally and will also be chopped and dropped right where they are to add their nutrients back to the soil for the other plants.  Eventually we should also add a shrub layer to this area as well:  maybe a berry bramble or a butterfly bush.

trimbranchesHere is a closer view of one of the new trees.  In the coming days (when we can find time and weather permitting!) we will clip off all of those small, lateral branches down below the main branches.  They won’t produce fruit and fewer branches makes it easier for the tree to put its energy into putting down a great root system.  We will also pinch off most of the blooms this first year for the same reason.  A tree stressed from transplant cannot concentrate on making good fruit and putting down roots at the same time.  Even though we’re all so excited for the fruit, waiting for any tree to establish a root system will result in a tree that will live longer, provide better fruit, and be better able to fight off pests and diseases!

Here is a link to a site with a simple explanation of the layers in a food forest for anyone wanting more information.

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