The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Raising trees out of wet soil with mounds

Fig mound

This wet summer has proven to me that tree mounds are even more essential than I'd thought in the high-groundwater area of the forest garden.  We have five baby figs ready to go in the ground...or, rather, above I've been figuring out the easiest way to produce good soil that will stay high and dry.

Tree moundMy current method is a modified kill-mulch/hugelkultur mound.  I lay down a sheet of cardboard as a weed barrier, layer on three or four wheelbarrow-loads of weeds from the garden, and toss in any punky firewood I find lying around.  In a year or so, I could plant into that as-is, but since I want to plant sooner, I make a depression in the middle, pour a baby tree out of its pot with all of the soil intact around its root ball, then add a bucket of horse manure around the edges of the potting soil.  I top it all off with a straw mulch, and I'm done...for now.

Ripening figThe trees will be able to grow into the partially-composted manure nearly right away, and will reach the woodier organic matter around the time it starts to decompose.  I suspect the weeds will rot down to become just an inch or two of humus, but hopefully the addition of punky wood will keep figs out of the groundwater longer.  I'll continue adding either hugelkultur or weed donuts around the plants, though, to give the plants dryish ground to grow into over the years.

Last year, figs proved themselves to be one of our easiest and most productive fruit trees, so it's good to have some new varieties join the club.  I'll let you know if Black Mission and Dwarf can survive our winters with protection like Chicago Hardy and Celeste did.  Stay tuned for details next spring (and for ripe figs in a month or so --- the photo above is from last August).

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to chicken manure in your flock's drinking water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I'm assuming you don't get really strong winds. I'm curious about the implications for stability during wind storms of planting into mounds and encouraging the roots to avoid the water logged areas.

I've read that figs do tend to want to go deep and that actually boxing in the roots in some way is good for them. I think I heard this on the british show, Victorian Kitchen Garden, that at times they would even use very large stones, lining the planting hole (larger area for room to grow) and at times even use tombstones to ultimately contain the roots. I think they were talking about a 6 foot or 8 foot deep and equal side hole, not a typical planting hole.

I've been curious about root and tree stability during wind storms when planting into mounds.

Comment by Charity Thu Jul 18 11:17:05 2013
Charity --- Wind is an excellent point. We barely even get breezes back here in our holler, and probably see wind only once or twice a year, so I don't really worry about it. That said, I did have to stake one of our forest garden apples this year because it blew a bit sideways in a strong wind this spring, so people with windier locations should definitely consider that. Mounds would probably still be worth it even in a windy climate, though, if you have high groundwater and want to plant trees since the trees will just die otherwise.
Comment by anna Fri Jul 19 13:04:29 2013

Hi Anna. We intend to plant similar varieties of apples and figs on our Brandywine, WV homestead, but also intend to plant some other guild plants. Do you use this permie method? (adding nutrient accumulators. green manures, fruiting manures, etc. to the same parcel of space?) I'm just wondering if we should allow a the fruit trees a few years to gain some girth before overwhelming the space with other competing plants?

Thanks! Karen

Comment by Karen Sat Jul 20 19:54:15 2013
Karen --- I started out trying lots of interplanting in the forest garden, but I found that in our poor soil, the trees couldn't afford the competition. This post sums up my thoughts on the issue.
Comment by anna Sun Jul 21 08:09:37 2013

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