I spent the first week of April, 2016 volunteering at Circle T Farms in Brooksville, Florida–a newly forming 10 acre Permaculture Farm which (among other features) will include a large market garden, education center, and Forest Garden. Since Circle T is still in its initial phases of design/implementation, I actually got to help plant some of the first fruit trees and companion plants in the Forest Garden; this was my main project and a wonderful learning opportunity. –And, I was lucky enough to work along side, and pick the brain of professional Permaculture designer Koreen Brennan.
I actually took one of Koreen’s Permaculture design courses back in 2014, and have been following her work ever since. When I heard she was looking for volunteers at Circle T, I jumped at the opportunity, and am so glad I did. In addition to learning more about the local flora and fauna, I got to play in the dirt and gain hands-on experience in creating a Food Forest from the literal ground up!
(Circle T is home to endangered, protected, and keystone species such as the Burrowing Owl, Fox Squirrel, and Gopher Tortoise, as well as an old growth Slash Pine forest peppered with (edible) Sumac, Wax Myrtle, Dew Berry, Blackberry, and Native Milk Weed)
Because the site is extremely sandy, with hot, humid summers, Koreen is taking care to select exceptionally hardy fruit trees, including: Pineapple Guava, Mulberry, kumquat, Tangelo, avocado, fig, loquat, blackberry, bluberry, and low-chill peaches (with more to come).
To plant each tree we first selected the best location (taking into consideration sun and/or shade requirements) and dug a hole twice as wide, and slightly less deep than the height of the root ball. We then filled the hole with water and let it drain twice. Once all the water had drained from the hole, we threw in a few cups of compost. Next, we removed the tree from its pot, used our hands to carefully loosen the roots (they were tightly bound from being in the pot) and then sprinkled the roots with MYCO GROW–a soluble blend of mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria that will form a symbotic relationship with the tree–helping to ward off disease while delivering otherwise unavailable sources of water & nutrience to the tree.
After applying the MYCO GROW, we placed the tree in the hole and replaced the dirt we had removed when digging–making sure to pack the dirt tightly around the roots so as to avoid leaving pockets of air (which can be damaging to the roots). Once the tree was firmly planted, we spread a ring of mulch around it–taking care to leave at least a six inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch (the trunk needs air, and excess moisture can cause rot and make the tree susceptible to disease).
The mulch will serve many functions, including: retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, increasing organic matter in the soil, and regulating soil temperatures. For maximum effect we laid the mulch 18 inches deep around each tree. The exception to this was citrus trees, which are susceptible to root rot; we laid the mulch only 3 inches deep around them.
We then watered each tree with compost tea (to boost beneficial microbes), applied liberal amounts of composted cow manure (within the mulch ring), and then topped the manure with half a cup of Azomite powder (for organic trace minerals).
Once the trees were planted and mulched we created guilds and did some companion planting. Companion planting is a form of polyculture which helps control pests, increases pollination and crop production, and also provides habitat for beneficial creatures. —Guilds are specific groups of companion plant.
To protect and promote the health of the fruit trees, we planted various aromatic herbs and flowers in the mulch rings that surrounded them. To do this, we created pockets in the mulch (the size of the plant’s root ball), filled the pockets with compost, and planted the flowers and herbs directly into the the compost.
Specific flowers and herbs we planted include: Rosemary, Cuban Oregano, Lilies, Society Garlic, Spider Wart, Marigolds, Ginger, Perennial Basil, Comfrey, and Sunshine Mimosa.-
Plants with bulbs (such as lilies and garlic) will help repel burrowing animals, like gophers; comfrey is a dynamic accumulator-which can be “chopped and dropped” to add nutrients to the soil and feed the trees and other plants; sunshine mimosa is a nitrogen fixer and a living mulch; the flowers and herbs will attract pollinators and ward off insect pests.