Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time to Till?

This soil has been broken up and loosened
by winter freezing. All it needs is a good
weeding and it will be ready to plant.

So spring is come and your first thought of gardening is to get out there and till. After all, what is more fundamental than breaking up the soil for a good seed bed?

Or is it? The list of why we till includes: loosening the soil for planting and bed shaping, mixing in amendments, and annual weed removal. Lets take a closer look and see what we really need to till for:

Loosening Soil 
As long as the soil is not compacted, roots move through it with relative ease. Yes they will grow quicker with fluffy soil, but they will also burn through nutrients quicker and the tops of the plants will grow faster. You might say this is not a problem until you see your corn or prized flowers tip over after a wind or rain storm.

The real issue is if the soil is loose enough for you to plant your seeds and transplants. If you are adding a good organic mulch every year, the soil will be nice and soft without having to beat it up.

Bed shaping also does not require tilling if the soil has been taken care of. I find that I have fewer problems with garden beds slumping and shifting if I skip the tilling and keep up on the mulch.

Mixing Amendments
Most amendments will trickle into the soil or get stirred in by small critters. A layer of mulch on top will help this by giving the critters reason to move around to different layers in the soil. 

If you have to add a large amount of lime or gypsum, you may have to till to keep the them from hardening into a layer of concrete. Also, treating a sodic soil is a special situation that requires many unusual practices to correct.

Weed Removal
There is nothing like getting out there and ripping weeds apart with a power tool. This is very effective with annual weeds. But for those weeds that hang on for more that a year it is only a delaying tactic. All those perennial weeds that get cut up will root back down and send up shoots leaving you with more weeds than you started with. To really kill the perennials, you will need to remove all the plant bits or till every two weeks for the next three years.

Tilling will also bring buried seeds to the surface where they can easily sprout on a soil that has been prepared especially for their liking.

A much more effective and long term remedy for weeds is to remove as much of the individual weed as you can, then use a fully biodegradable weed barrier (read cardboard, newspaper, or craft paper) covered by a thick layer of mulch.

Reality is that tilling is a fine tool for extreme situations. But for average soils on the standard home garden it simply isn't needed. Good soil maintenance with liberal applications of clean, good quality mulch will get you much more now and for years to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Elisabeth Sladen, Doctor Who, and Permaculture

When I talk too much about the environment jefe
gives me this mower. What a relationship!
Yesterday, as I mowed a particularly nasty lawn I reflected on the recent passing of Elisabeth Sladen. Sladen played Sara Jane Smith on the science fiction series Doctor Who, back in the seventies. 

What struck me the most was an interview related by NPR where Sladen talked about how drama in science fiction didn't come from the gadgets, it came from relationships, people and groups of people.

I realized then that permaculture and gardening are not about plants, sustainability, or even food. It is about the relationships of those people involved. Sure, those relationships interact with plants and food, but those are just props to allow us to interact with each other, and help each other.

Permaculture allows us to make greater connections, not just with the people near us, but with all the people of the world. I guess the biggest question we should ask ourselves is, what are we doing with that connection? Are we truly focused on the people, or the mulch? The family we are eating with, or the dinner itself?

People, relationships, groups, people. 

Thank you Lis.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rootstocks for Apple Trees

Dwarfing can be achieved by pruning rootstocks, 
or by limiting a needed resource. This tree is 
dwarfed by a lack of summer water.

Attaching a favorite fruit tree to an unrelated root has been a standard practice in growing apple trees for centuries. Besides being the easiest way to grow that favorite apple, rootstocks can also affect the way the tree or the fruit develops.

The most noticeable effect of a rootstock is the size of the tree it forms. Placing the same apple variety on different roots can create a tree anywhere from a normal 30 foot tree to a tree seven or eight feet tall.

This tendency to be smaller anywhere in the natural world is called dwarfing. Of course it doesn't matter how much smaller it is, even if it is only two percent smaller, it will be called a dwarf. For this reason, most pomologists and horticulturalists will use a term like 'semi dwarf' for the dwarfs that are closer to full size.

Dwarf fruit trees have become the standard in the orchard business because they are easier to pick, prune, and spray. The homeowner has the added benefit of having a fruit tree that doesn't take up most of his yard. And he may be able to fit in a few varieties instead of just one.

The following is a list of some of the more common rootstocks that you are likely to find:

Apple Seedling  
    Highly variable, but most often produces a full sized tree. 
    Low suckering.
    More tolerant of differing soils and water conditions.

MM 111  
    Best named rootstock for most conditions. 
    70% to 90% standard tree height, maybe taller. 
    Well anchored with a good root. 
    Tolerant of wet and dry soils.
    Low suckering. 
    Resists wooly aphid and collar rot.
    Susceptible to burr knots.

MM 106
    65% to 75% of full sized tree.
    Well anchored.
    Bears early.
    No root suckers.
    Fruit matures late in the season.
    Trees grow late in the year making them prone to winter damage.
    Crown and root rot susceptible.

M 27
    20% to 30% standard hight.
    Early and heavy fruit bearing.
    Good for pots and planters.
    Few suckers.
    Likes well drained soil, but constant moisture.
    Smaller than normal fruit.
    Small root system needs staking when young, maybe longer.

M 26
    40% to 50% of normal tree size.
    Few suckers.
    Collar rot resistant.
    Cold hardy.
    Early bearing.
    Needs staking.
    Needs regular irrigation.
    Susceptible to crown rot and fireblight.
    ELMA 26 is the same rootstock, but virus free. Reliable dealers will have all virus free stock no matter what the name.

M 9
    20% to 30% standard size.
    Increases fruit size.
    Ripening accelerated by one week.
    Does well in clay soil and wet conditions.
    Not drought tolerant.
    Susceptible to fireblight and wooly aphid.
    Shallow root system.
    Brittle roots require extra support.

M 7
    55% to 65% normal size.
    Early and heavy bearing.
    Resists fireblight, powdery mildew, and some collar rot.
    Winter hardy.
    Adaptable to many soils.
    Likes rooting deeply.
    Abundant suckers.
    Will usually need staking.

    25% to 35% normal height.
    Phytophthora and root rot resistant.
    Good anchorage.
    Few suckers.
    Heavy bearing, thinning is a must.
    Needs fertile soil and constant moisture.

    20% to 30% standard size.
    Similar to M 9.
    More winter hardy than M 9.

Geneva 30 (G 30)

    40% to 50% standard height.
    Similar to M 7.
    Good anchorage.
    High production.
    Weak grafts with some varieties of apples.
    Needs support.

Look for more of the Geneva series, as well as the Vineland, as the Cornell and Vineland programs becomes more widely known.

Also remember, that good, well informed pruning can bring any tree down even further with a little work.

Have a great time choosing this years apple trees