My Silver Buffalo-berry (Shepherdia argentea) seedlings are coming up. The first ones have 6 leaves now. So far I have 7 little shrubs in the pot, but will probably have more. Two stuck their heads up yesterday.
Buffalo-berry is a native shrub and has nice berries to eat. It is a wildlife attractor and I will plant all but two up the hill for the bear, mule deer, mammals, birds, butterfies, bees, and me. It is an enrichment of my Food Forest and will increase the carrying capacity for humans and wildlife… including meat sources for humans. If I harvest a deer, for example, I am less likely to over harvest and lose the deer altogether if I have enough deer browse to attract more deer than 5 acres will support alone.
I will plant two in my pear tree triangle as a bird diversion because birds prefer it’s small fruit to pecking at larger, harder pears.
I have already planted an elderberry, three Oregon Grape and a Sargeant Crabapple near the pears. They will also attract and divert wildlife. The variety of blooms keep the pollinators in house and these keep my circular economy healthy.
Mule deer preferentially graze wild edibles’ smaller twigs over thicker fruit tree limbs and I have not lost any young market economy fruit trees to the mule deer. Once they are established, the mule deer might nibble lower branches, but I have not seen that yet.
I will plant another cherry tree or three. They fruit with Mulberries and birds prefer Mulberries over cherries so to reduce bird damage, I will plant Mulberries at the same time, but will grow them from seed. I love Mulberries as did my children, and there will be plenty for all living in the Food Forest. I will plant at least two near the cherries and more uphill.
Many of these plants will be lost during the next long term drought, but in nature, trees and shrubs sprout during wet years and survive drought years because they have deeper root systems than annuals and herbaceous perennials. If they live long enough to fruit, they increase my living seed bank by staying dormant in the soil until the next wet winter encourages them to sprout and start the cycle again.
I give them an advantage by creating stone berms to hold better soil and catch water. In their extra large planting holes I create a mini Hugelkultur environment. I collect smaller pieces of dead wood lying around my site in a five gallon bucket, then fill the bucket with water and let the deadwood soak for a day or two until they are heavy and waterlogged. I bury the soaked wood just below the tree/shrub roots. The deadwood creates a damp sponge to hold water for the plant roots and becomes moisture retaining humus as they break down.
The second thing that helps my Food Forest plantings is that I try to plant right before a good rain so that they are watered in well. I berm the trees with rocks placed in a half circle several feet across on the downhill side to catch water. As I check back on my trees, if I see evidence of water leveling of the surface soil and sand catchment against the stones, I know that the tree/shrub is benefitting from a little better than my 16 inches annual rainfall.
The third thing that helps during drought is that trees and shrubs have deeper root systems than annuals, and once established, are drought resistant.
Even when I lose a tree, I open the bed and find an enriched pocket of soil. I add more Hugelkultur mix and plant again. If the soil did not show increased water, I plant a native shrub in that spot, and know it will benefit from the soil pocket.
This is basically how I am creating my food forest. I catch supplemental water, put a water sponge underneath, berm to slow runoff water, mulch with pine needles, divert animals with nearby snacks, and leave them to the Food Forest.
Up hill this week, I was checking under a group of oak trees that have been kept short by deer browsing. The group is about six feet across and has created some rich black soil that is well mulched from oak leaves. Because it is steep, they have caught soil laden water from uphill and it has bermed about 8 inches deep and 4 feet by 6 feet above the oak trees.
I am thinking about what I could drop into the center of that hedge of oak trees to use them as nursery plants. The oaks seem to have come up in a prior berm created by three Banana Yuccas, which they are now shading out. I want to transplant the Yuccas into another spot, but they enrich the current group. Whatever seeds I drop in the center will be deer protected. If I leave it alone, it will probably allow one of the oaks to dominate. They are long lived and slow growing, so would eventually overtake a short lived wild plum tree, for example, but I might have wild plums for 15 to 20 years before it happened.
Note that burying deadwood in Hugelkultur beds, however big or small, is much better than burning it in controlled fires or wildfires. Its water retention helps the surrounding trees stay plump with water and they do not burn as well as dry forest. If there is a wildfire, the trees have a higher incidence of regeneration afterwards. It makes a healthier forest.