Notes from Windward: #69


Spring Sylvaculture Notes

Lindsay's notes on diversifying our forest

April 6:

Planting Ponderosa Pines

     In many ways, the future of Windward’s life support systems lies in the health and growth of the forest—a unique combination of drought tolerant Ponderosa Pine, moisture loving Douglas-fir and Oregon white oak woodlands. Trees, however, are a long term investment. The forest resources that are currently available to us as lumber, fire wood, grazing materials, substrate for Shitake mushroom and so on result from decade after decade of trees storing the sun’s energy by converting it into biomass. As part of our endeavors to ensure that we are not taking too much, depleting the forest’s capacity to regenerate and provide for the future, we have started to help the forest regrow.

volunteer pines growing in the pasture

     A portion of the land that was cleared for pasture before Windward located here, is now being reclaimed by the trees. Since this area is fully exposed to the sun and the soil gets quite dry in the summer, Ponderosa pines are the only tree we really see surviving there. So we ordered two hundred Ponderosa seedlings from the Underwood Conservation District (which promotes sustainable forest practices in Klickitat County) and are planting them to supplement the natural regeneration.

Jon planting a new pine seedling

     We are also looking into other methods to help give back to the forest. We can regenerate the conifers through cuttings to essentially create our own seedlings from existing trees. We can propagate the oaks by planting acorns or if we thin a few of the individuals in a clump it will encourage new sprouts to come up.

April 12:

Diversifying the Conifers

     In honor of Arbor Day, the Underwood Conservation District recently give away trees. Since we too celebrate trees every time we put a log on the fire, gather fruit for the kitchen or acorns for the animals, we were very excited about the prospect of bringing home more trees. We are endeavoring to manage pur forest so that it can meet a diversity of human needs, and so a diversity of tree species is an integral part of accomplishing this goal. So Walt and Opalyn brought home three species of conifer trees that currently do not grow on site but that are native to the Pacific Northwest—Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Western Larch (Laris occidentalis) and the Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantean).

     To allow the plants to develop a larger root system and to grow a little more before transplanting them into the forest where they are more vulnerable to the deer, I potted up the trees in containers and am keeping them in Vermadise. Each of these trees likes moisture, so when the time comes for transplanting them into the forest, they will probably grow best in places that naturally accumulate water and retain more soil moisture.

new conifer trees

     Western Red Cedar grows abundantly on the western side of the Cascades and along the Oregon and Washington coast reaching up to 200 feet height and 6 feet in diameter, but is less common on the eastern side of the mountains where it is drier. Cedar is a rot resistant wood, and the Native Americans living near the Columbia River Gorge used cedar as a primary basket making material.

     Western Larch is one of the few species of deciduous conifers (meaning it looses its needles every fall similar to an oak or maple) and is the only deciduous conifer native to the Pacific Northwest. A mature tree can reach heights of 150 feet and 4-5 feet in diameter. Since the wood is both tough and flexible when in thin strips, it is commonly used for making boats.

     The Giant Sequoia, or Sierra Redwood, is the largest known species of tree and currently grows in a corridor along the western slops of the Sierra Nevadas. However, about 4 miles from us down in the Klickitat River Valley, there is a petrified Redwood tree, indicating that the Giant Sequoia did once live here thousands of years ago.

April 18:

Next Step for the Paw paws

     Amazingly enough three months have passed since the paw paw seeds started resting in their bed of cool, moist moss in the refrigerator, just enough time for them to complete their winter’s rest. So I took them out of the fridge where they had been stratifying so they can start their next phase—germination.

     It can take several more weeks into months for the paw paw seeds to germinate and send out roots and shoots. Shoots may not emerge from seeds that over-winter outside until July or August. So I wanted to create a squirrel-safe space that could support this long germination. I decided to plant the seeds in a large plastic container, placed it near the germinating chestnuts and covered it with a (hopefully) squirrel-proof wire mesh left over from the disassembly of the satellite dishes.

paw paw seeds under cover

     Paw paw seeds apparently like slightly acidic soil, which we have, so I mixed forest soil with Vermadise compost and placed the seeds under a few inches of the mixture. The soil will need to be kept moist throughout the spring and summer to allow the seeds to germinate properly.

May 4:

Things that worked; things that didn't

     Throughout January and February, I tried various methods of propagating some of the perennials we have already established here. Being able to propagate our plants and essentially increase the number of fruit/nut bearing individuals without needing to buy them is a key part of creating an entire forest of edible plants. Some of these methods were successful, and some were not.

     I’ll start with what worked. The bush cherries planted several years ago needed some pruning this winter, so I thinned their branches and in the process cut some of the younger shoots coming up from the root. I was able to cut them low enough that the daughter plants had a few good roots still. I dipped some of them in rooting hormone and potted them up in soil, and some of them I placed in a bucket, filled with water, some soil and some rooting hormone. All of them seem to have survived the winter, some with buds and flowers now forming. The potted plants appear to have new roots forming, but no active buds, while the plants in water have buds and flowers but no new roots. Since the daughter plants had been stored in Vermadise, their buds appeared sooner than the mother plants still outside, so I waited until the outside plants had formed buds before transplanted the daughter plants outside. It is possible that the budding and flowering is caused by sap still left in the plant from the mother plant and not an indicator that they have a viable root system of their own. But only time will tell for sure.

     Raspberries that were creeping out from their original planting spot were also growing in and under the bush cherries. While from a propagation perspective it is great that raspberries can be such prolific spreaders, sometimes they need help spreading to where we want them to be. So, in February I dug up some of the plantlets that were growing in inconvenient locations and transplanted them, root and all, to along the edge of the nursery area. They seem to have taken nicely to their new home, leafing out in time with the undisturbed plants.

     Now the various experiments with hardwood cuttings from the bush cherries and from naturalized plums growing down along the river didn’t work so well. I took tip cuttings (last season's growth, turned woody after a winter) from the desired plants, dipped them in rooting hormone, placed them in soil and covered the container with plastic to create a mini greenhouse. In a few weeks they started to leaf out, but then those leaves died away as no roots had developed to take up water and minerals. From what I have read, neither cherries nor plums propagate well by hardwood cuttings (taken in winter). Commercially, most plums and cherries are propagated by grafting or budding, but softwood cuttings (taken in summer) can also be successful. So, I will try again this summer to take cuttings from the new, more fleshy growth and maybe will have more success. I found a Washington State University website that provided good information, explainations and pictures about propogating plants through cuttings.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69