A Lesson

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There is a weeping cherry tree in our front yard. Sad sappy wounds, thinning foliage, and dry brittle branches speak of it’s decline. There used to be two small evergreens under it. One got crispy and died in a year’s time. I took both out. We were debating whether to cut the dying cherry down or not. My thinking was “Well, it’s going down anyway; lets finish it off,  put in a useful tree, and install some new gardening beds.” I get like that…more often than I’d like to think. Another line of thinking was that the neighbors enjoy this tree, it still puts on a beautiful flower show in early spring, it casts just the right amount of shade for respite from the sun, and it will take years to get another tree to satisfying maturity. We decided to hold off from cutting the tree. That was the turning point. I began to do some renovation by pulling up the ground ivy that had taken over the space under the tree. I found the soil to be quite eroded around the root mound of the tree and down the slope to the road. It would have been a mistake to plant a young tree, just to have it repeat the cherry’s struggle with dehydration and malnourishment. Building the soil now will make everything else work better. Maybe it will lengthen the life of this tree. Certainly, it would be an action of thoughtful preparation for any new tree that will be planted in the future.

I started with getting a truckload of horse manure. I looked at the site, over and over, and from every angle. I brought in shrub prunings, tree cuttings, weeds, rotting logs, and all the kinds of organic material that tend to pile up around here. I created a curving berm to keep water and soil from, quickly, flowing down the ruts and grooves and into the street. My nephew, Hunter, caught sight of me as I hosed down the berm layer. “Watering your debris.” It wasn’t a question; rather, an observation which invited, not demanded, explanation. Nice! I gave him my story and went on my merry sheet mulching way. I covered the material with manure and then began to “draw,” with manure, how I envisioned the additional beds. As I did this, I had in mind the possibility of planting a new tree, paths for access, and creating a cool, comfortable space for relaxing and socializing..in the front yard! As you can see from the photos, there is much more to be done. I need to complete the sheet mulching. I want to put on deep layers of manure, leaf mulch, and straw on top of the cardboard. I’ll leave those layers for a month or two. That will give a little time for the beds to compost and settle in and it will, also, be better timing for planting perennials. I, also, want to get some woodchips in for the paths. Meanwhile, I’ll work on representing my planting ideas, electronically, with Google Sketchup. You’ll see!

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5 Responses to A Lesson

  1. Pingback: Lots and Lots of Magical Trees | Danroberson's Blog

  2. Pingback: Lots and Lots of Magical Trees | My Blog

  3. Pingback: Plant Guild Update | Elkins Park Front Yard Farm

  4. Peter Wilson (Kiwi Pete) says:

    I just read the Inquirer Article on what you have done at your home over the last few years and am most intrigued, so have signed up to follow your blog. I am an old engineer off work on disability right now and would love to start implementing some of the things that you have done. I am actually in the middle of a sheet mulching project in my front yard (North side) right now which I planned as a flower bed over poor soil – acidic and mossy. But I can see so much more opportunity with what you have done. I have a large backyard, we are on 1/2 acre and would most likely start there. I would love to get chickens too.
    However, it is all a little overwhelming for an old dog like me. Is there any chance that you could do an article on beginner steps and tips for newbies? Maybe save some time and avoid dummy mistakes?
    Thanks, Kiwi Pete

    • micvel says:

      I wish I could avoid the dummy mistakes too! I’ve been meaning to post a follow up to my Lacy Phacelia/garlic patch experiment which ended up not so good but I do have more information than when I started! I like your idea and will give it a shot…
      Meanwhile, sheet mulching is a wonderful way to start to take back some land toward productivity bit by bit. It is easier and faster than double digging and one of my favorite methods. You will find that it takes a while for the soil to mature and heavy feeders may need a little help that first year or two. Where do you live? What are you using for the material resources? What are you reading? OK to email…velickym at comcast

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