The quest to transform our 1.5 acre yard continued over the weekend. All the preparation you read about in my three-part Outer Transformation series proved to be worth the effort. Something I wasn’t sure I would be able to measure until the middle of next summer.
But, let’s back up for a second. Early in June this year I received a survey from the National Arbor Day Foundation. It was a rather large packet, complete with a catalogue of trees and shrubs that I could order by mail. The letter in the packet instructed me to complete the survey that included questions asking how I felt about nature, wildlife and trees in general. If I completed the survey I would be sent a tree, for free.
Obviously, I’m not your typical red-blooded, manly-man from Indiana because I got way too excited at the prospect of getting a free tree. I’m okay with that. I also did not hesitate to send in a $20 membership fee to the National Arbor Day Foundation because with that membership they would send me ten more trees. Ten trees for twenty bucks? That’s a no-brainer.
The apple trees we purchased to plant in our yard were thirty plus dollars a piece. Not really expensive, but the idea of getting ten for less than the cost of one tree was awesome. All that I had to do was wait for them to come in the mail. According to their shipping schedule, that would not be until late November or early December after the trees had gone dormant for the year. No problem! I had a lot of planning to do between June and their arrival date anyway.
Fast forward to this past weekend when our trees arrived in the mail! That’s right, in the mail. When the Foundation said baby trees, they meant it. All of them shipped in a sleeve similar to that which you receive a newspaper delivery. They were all bare roots, and so coated in a protective gel that would keep the roots from drying out. Trust me when I say that again, I was way too excited.
Then, reality set in. I had ten trees in my hand and they had also sent two “bonus trees” as a thank you for my membership and survey. Now I had twelve. In June, when I read ten trees, I didn’t think much of it. I’ve got an acre and a half, plenty of room, right? Well, yes, but there’s more to it than that. Until they arrived in the mail, I didn’t know what kind of trees I was getting. Turns out it was an assortment of:
Red Sargent Crabapple
and last but not least, Crapemyrtle.
All of these trees have the potential to grow between fifteen and thirty feet tall, and be as much as ten to thirty feet wide. It wasn’t about having room to plant them, it was about where to plant them so they would grow and be healthy. Not to mention, all of the digging I did in October was intended to prepare the ground for annual and perennial vegetable gardens.
So I did what any inexperienced guy trying to get a handle on permaculture would do. I built a fire in the fire pit, put on some thermal gear, grabbed a cup of coffee and went outside. It was spitting snow at 10 a.m. this past Saturday. There was a slight breeze, which really made it cold. Gray and overcast. The trees, according to the instructions, needed to soak for a couple of hours in some water before planting anyhow. I had some time to think.
I pondered as the not-completely-dry wood popped in the fire pit and smoke swirled around me. How could I strategically place the trees so they didn’t block the sun in gardens in the summer, but still received enough to grow? I wanted to take advantage of any natural resources they would pull from the ground if they could benefit gardens in their vicinity. I had to consider the fact there is a very large oak tree that will probably need to be removed in the spring. No point in planting anything close to that, it would only get ruined later. It was hard to visualize, particularly because all I had to go off of were some photos and some sticks in water.
Luckily I have a pretty vivid imagination. And, as if the pieces had suddenly fallen into place, I set down my coffee and went to the shed to get my shovel. Since I’d read, repeatedly, in Gaia’s Garden about how to build fruit tree guilds I started there. Staggered with the peach and two apple trees, I decided I would put a crabapple, white dogwood and a hawthorn. The crabapple and hawthorn are very beneficial for wildlife, and will attract healthy insects near the fruit trees. All three trees are good at pulling potassium, nitrogen and other nutrients from deep in the ground. When they drop their leaves they naturally deposit all of those elements back into the guild and compost down over the winter.
I was elated at the first few shovels of dirt because I could see tiny ice crystals in the ground where I had directed all the water retention for the tree guild. Even better, there were worms everywhere! That meant my crazy plan to retain more water had worked! And, worms were dropping fresh castings all over the place. Happily I deposited the three trees into their new homes.
The remaining redbud and dogwood trees went along the west part of our tree line. In the spring we’ll allow that to grow out and not mow the grass so much on that side. Hopefully, eventually, it will grow in and we can plant additional decorative shrubs, as well as ground cover that will fill in that side of the yard, but not look like “woods,” so to speak. That will drastically reduce the amount of mowing as well.
The crapemyrtle found a home in the front yard to provide decoration. And the last hawthorn, because they’re great for catching water, went off the end of one of the swales we dug to catch additional rainfall and provide a resource for wildlife, as well as decoration.
Thankfully I have a near endless supply of shredded paper that I get from my office. Each day I take home a thirteen gallon trash bag with freshly shredded paper. The folks I work with are pretty agreeable, so I don’t end up with plastic or glossy paper, which can have a lot of heavy metals. I mulched around my new baby sticks, gave them all a drink of water and went back to the fire pit.
I was really nervous in October after all the prep work we did. Television shows and “how to” books make it all sound so easy. Truly, it isn’t. It’s a lot of planning, thinking and waiting. I’m not as nervous now, knowing all the swales are retaining water the way they are supposed to. That alone is a big relief. For now, I’ll have to keep myself occupied composting in the garden and building up the bedding.
If you want to check out the plants offered from the National Arbor Day Foundation I highly recommend it. If you pay your membership fee you can get trees too. Even if you don’t have room to plant them all, share them with your friends or possibly donate them to a local park. Their catalogue is helpful, and they often offer cheaper rates. But don’t stop supporting a local nursery just because you can save five dollars.