Friday, March 20, 2015

Planting trees from Seed

(This is from a presentation I was asked to do for our local Seed Savers chapter. I have been sitting on this for a few months and it is time to release it. It is tree planting time!)

Apple and Black Locust seedlings. Tap Roots!

Hi I am Blayne Prowse. I am a local family man with a passion for sustainability, and food security. I am sick and tired of eating Round Up, and seeing our resources depleted as an astonishing way. We have so much opportunity as a species to live a complete. right life. Mother Nature can provide all we need, for eternity, if we work with the natural cycles of her. As a Permaculture designer, I have learned how to do just this, wishing to help our species transition to a system of utmost abundance and to break free of the cycles of control leashed upon us by those with the most to gain. Air, water, food, fire and shelter are the five elements that we need to survive, and a wise Permaculture design can create all of these in perpetuity, for generations, if we can break free as a society from the convenience of our normalcy bias. Planting trees from seed are key, in my opinion, to creating these systems. Seeds are less expensive, they can be gleaned for free and make for healthier specimens. We can keep control of our food security by planting perennial systems that only need one time installation and can last for decades with little care and attention. I will explain all this as we carry along.

Deforestation is a huge problem. HUGE. Humans are chopping trees down at a blazing pace. We are scraping the forests away in the boreal regions for tar sands and natural gas extraction, burning down rainforests for palm oil, soy beans and corn, which products are sold as commodity to the processed and fast food industries. Several places in the developing world are destroying the rain forests, which have sustained man for centuries, to grow GMO crops for animal feed in CAFO operations. Still in other areas, such as arid desert regions, the slow growing trees are being removed for cooking fuel. The Wests interference in many African countries have thrown their traditional herdsman lifestyle into one where they rely on conventional cropped annuals, and created a more “in place” lifestyle. The land can’t maintain this type of settlement.

Following along with deforestation we find erosion by wind and rain, stripping once deep fertile topsoil. De-nuded slopes have nothing to hold precipitation. Rain quickly following gravity down slope, creating silted water ways(ring a bell), mud slides, and eventually, without new trees to quickly pioneer the area, will contribute to desertification. Deforestation removes vital habitat for all plants and animals, and often removes bio-diversity. Most re-forestation plans follow a conventional farming model, mono-cultures of the most economically viable crop, that doesn't follow Her plan. Ever wonder why there are pest problems, like pine beetle? That has little to do with climate, and more to do with mono-cultures and un-healthy ecosystems(if you could call it that)

So what can we do? I am in the processes of re-foresting my small lot in Cumberland. A dozen and a half alder trees, two Douglas fir, three nut trees, a couple maples, a dozen fruit trees, 18 nitrogen fixing, food producing trees and bushes as well as many fruiting shrubs and ground covers. A huge diversity of species, stacking time and function into the design. Nitrogen fixing tree, like Black Locust, will support an apple tree, eventually successing out and becoming fire wood, or fence pole material. The nut trees will not have a yield for a decade or more, but the blueberries and huckleberry produce in the first year. This is a design of a food forest. I am not re-foresting in a the native species of my biome, however, I am using the design of Nature to mimic a system that will produce the five elements that humans need to thrive. Add in some mixed annuals a small lot can, in time, produce a huge amount of food, with little need for maintenance and care. Weeding sucks, eat your weeds!

That brings me to my main topic of this talk. Trees from seed. I am no expert at this process, but I have listened to many pod casts on the subject, watched videos on You Tube, as well as taken 2 Permaculture Design certificates, so I feel like I am knowledgeable enough to share some of this information with you.

I have heard over and over again when I tell people about starting trees from seed, especially apples. I cringe every time waiting for the response….”but your not going to know what kind your going to get, it isn't worth it” I am so tired of hearing that. My response it “So what!” Yes, it is true, an apple doesn't prove true to type. A Gravenstein apple seed probably would not grow a graven stein apple tree. I don’t care! One of my mentors, the always out spoken Paul Wheaton, states “20% of apples from seed will be spitters, 20% will be awesome, and 60% will be just fine to eat” Apples have gone the way of every other crop. We have removed diversity from the varieties for conformity and grocery store displays. I would love to see more diversity brought back to the apple world. The best way we can find new, exciting varieties is to grow from seed. Let it happen naturally, and see what appears. In my mind, any apple tree that produces fruit is a keeper. Even if the fruit is not great for eating off the tree, it could make decent preserves, cider, vinegar or animal feed. If nothing else, the fruit makes great food for worms and wild bird in the winter. And if the fruit is that horrible and you would rather make space for more trees, chop the offensive tree down, using it for heating, meat smoking or Huglekulture. The hesitation to grow apple trees from seed needs to disappear. This is basically a free method for producing root stock, to be grafted with known varieties of apples. A tree from seed will send down deep roots, and will produce a tap root, and that is a good thing. Bare root, or root bound potted grafted trees have a root crown that it close to the surface when transplanted. These trees are susceptible to drought, low nutrient accumulation, and less strength in the wind. This fact is true with all trees, not just apples. Since apples are the most widely orchard grow and sprayed fruit tree, these are a great species to get into a more home scale, organic model that all people can produce. Plus the seeds are free! In my opinion, we should be filling parks, parking lots, and other decorative landscapes with edible trees and shrubs, at least with some inclusion of them. Food security issues would quickly drop, and our reliance on mono-cultured conventional, annual grain crops would recede as well.

To start growing trees, first we need seed. I generally pull all the seeds from any organic apple that has plump, healthy looks seeds in the core. I store them in a small open container for a few days so they dry, them move them into a sealed vessel, to avoid a spill. That would be a big mess! I have found apple seeds in very good shape most of the time. Pears are different story. I find most pear seeds to be very small and skinny. I have saved some, and mixed them in with apple seeds, so there could be a few pear trees in the mix, and I am OK with that. My grandpa once grafted pear to apple and created an interesting flavoured pear, so I doesn't really matter.

Cold stratifying is something that has to happen with all tree seeds, from my research. This mimics the natural cycle of the dormant season. Either we can use a fridge or plant the seeds directly outside in the fall. All seeds have various cold chilling times. Apples I stratify for thirty days in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a zip lock bag. I did this with the Black Locust seeds as well, after soaking them in hot water for a little while. I am not going into specifics on each seed in this talk, as there is mountains for information in the internet about this topic.

This year I plant in experimenting with more apple seeds, Black Locust, white mulberry, Russian olive, hazelnut, peach, nectarine, and seaberry. Seaberry is a shrub rather then a tree, but it can grow very tall and produces bright orange berries, high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

Along with planting trees from seed we can also grow shrubs and some trees by cloning and rooting. Cultivating more and more edible species for free is a tremendous way to slow the issues facing us. It costs basically nothing and can be done by anyone!

I urge you to stop listening to the negative Nellies! I don’t care what kind of tree you plant. I prefer it to have some function for the eco-system, food for us, food for animals, forage for bees or livestock. Regardless put trees in the ground. Your home, your rental, a park, a vacant lot, a beautifully manicure commercial parking lot. Gorilla some trees, its free and it beautiful. Leave a legacy. Get started today! Go do it!

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