Current Currant Hormonal Situation

The roots are sending out new leaves which is not a good sign for the existing stems. It indicates a hormone imbalance of cytokinin over auxin. Auxin is greatest at the tips of woody-stemmed plants and travels from top to bottom. Its relationship with healthy buds prevents dormant buds from activating in the stem as well as the roots.

Cyokinin originates in the roots and is the hormone responsible for telling the undifferentiated cells in buds to start dividing. I’m not sure what mechanism is responsible for differentiating what those cells become. The process occurs when cyokinin from the roots is not kept in check by auxin: when plants are young or when the auxin flow is broken in the instance of a damaged stem.

Basically, new growth from the roots indicates that the stems are not producing auxin which in turn shows that they are dead (or at least extremely stressed) ūüė¶

Non-herbaceous plants fascinate me in that regard. Hormones act like logical conditions in artificial intelligence programming!

Well, except for the artificial part.

Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees are protected and tucked in for winter

To be honest, this should have been done early in spring as it would have kept the deer from eating the tender and vital leaves produced in the first season after planting the bareroot mulberry trees. Luckily Morus trees are about as bulletproof as trees get and can be expected to make a full recovery. However it does mean that one season of growth is lost or at the very least retarded.

Considering my tree planting tips I’ve published in the past, I don’t like using anything that contacts the tree bark whether it is stakes or pest barriers. The chance for fatal girdling injuries is just too high to take the risk.

The approach is relatively simple: put a physical barrier around the trees to prevent browsing by deer or rabbits- both animals whose food sources grow scarce in the winter. Deer need to be dissuaded from reaching over the barrier to reach the stems or leaves, and rabbits need to dissuaded from chewing on the bark.

My uncle is a invaluable resource with his knowledge, connections in the local agricultural community¬†and source of waste products for repurposing. Manure produced by his wintered animals has been used but for this post I have to mention the fence he removed that had divided his crop fields. From that¬†removal, I recovered about 25 steel fence posts.¬†Many of the rescued posts are 7 footers. If I had the tools, they would be cut in half as this purpose doesn’t require the stability of permanent livestock fences. Thus I could double the amount of tree barriers with the same materials albeit with weaker structural integrity.


  • Drive a pair of fence posts into the ground on either side of the tree
  • Cut 1/2″ 19 gauge hardware cloth to the needed length
  • Attach hardware cloth to fence posts


The half inch mesh of the hardware cloth is too small for even juvenile rabbits to squeeze through. Granted they could squeeze or dig under, but I’m hoping the…er, pokey(?)… nature of the hardware cloth will dissuade their efforts. If this is an issue, I can add tent stakes for extra anchoring.

However remember one of my main themes: energy management. It applies equally to wildlife as they want to secure as many calories as possible in a manner that expends as few calories as possible. Hopefully this barrier pushes the required calorie expenditure over the instinctual threshold of appeal to the animals.

Also of note, I attached the hardware cloth using zip ties. In an effort to reduce use of one-time-use materials, I switched to old, rusted electric fence wire that I found in the barn. Plus it yields the benefit of two quick twists of pliers to unlock the barrier allowing it to be raised for weeding sessions, neem oil sprays and mulch applications.

Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Preface: This series is 7 posts long. As this blog is pretty much my diverse diary of starting a sustainable farming business that attracts readers interested in many different subjects. Thus I will break them up over time so I don’t spend an entire week talking solely about bee trees.

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 6: Final notes, GIS map and honorable mention (will be published in future)

Having a successful farm enterprise on limited acreage depends on putting every nook and cranny to productive use. There are some areas where fruit trees cannot be grown or cannot be accessed for harvest. Spaces such as these can be put to use with nectar and/or pollen producing trees, both of which come from flowers so it is no surprise that the best producing trees are also quite beautiful. Thus either side of the entrance track is a prime location for planting the bee trees. A challenge is posed on the pasture side of the entrance track by the overhead power line. Fear not, this challenge just adds an extra fun layer into the planning.

That road was constructed on fill dirt that more gradually¬†spans the grade¬†from the lower-lying pasture to the road. The resulting hill on the pasture side of the road has exposed rock and is un-plantable with¬†anything that requires harvesting. I’ve considered leaving it wild and utilizing the hill as a goat exercise pen, but the logistics of fencing such a rocky and steep drop off proved the idea unattainable. However the hostile terrain will not support many trees thus requiring a grove of¬†pioneer species, if anything. There is one pioneer species that produces abundant nectar and pollen and will be the first plant discussed¬†on the morrow.





Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees

I am a huge advocate of planning trees ahead of time, especially if they are to be established where turf dominates. By laying down a biodegradable barrier like cardboard and covering it with mulch, the turf is smothered while the mulch encourages the fungal dominated soil in which woody-stemmed plants thrive.

In regard to honeybees, the small volume of garden plantings of flowers sadly do little in the way of nourishing the hive. After all, a single bee visits 50-1oo flowers per day, and 2,000,000 flowers to produce 1 pound of honey of which 100 pounds are produced per healthy hive in a good year. Bee-attracting flowers still feed smaller native bee populations and lure bees to your valuable crops so there is still great value in a pollinator garden!

Trees on the other hand, are a different story. And would you expect anything else from me? With my passionate love of trees, I plan to use them instead of (well, in combination with) pasture to feed humans, animals and insects alike. Honeybees focus their foraging efforts on areas with a high density of blooms as evolutionary biology encourages as efficient behavior as possible. So blooming trees are an ideal nectar source.

The trait of cyclical production of trees that affects fruit yields holds true for nectar yields as well. Where fruit trees see bumper crops followed by small yields the next year(s), trees follow a cycle of 2-8 years between massive nectar flows. So like always, diversity is key. This resource produced by NASA is great for determining what is blooming in your region.

Take the basswood for example. A single¬†Tilia americana¬†tree can produce huge surpluses of top quality honey during a 2 week bloom in June or July. I’ve seen numbers of 20 gallons per mature tree, or 800-1,100 pound per acre of planting.

The next tree to consider is one I have fond memories of from college Dendrology class. The class was once per week for 4 hours outside in ANY weather. Finals week of the fall semester in the mountains of southwest Virginia is when the whether turns from crisp calm autumn to blustery cold winter. As it happened, our outdoor dendrology final was in the midst of a brutally cold freezing rain storm. People cried, hands were numb, scared mumblings of frostbite were uttered but only when the “Rain-proof” paper started dissolving did the teaching staff take action. The next tree was to be the last!

One of the useful traits for identifying plants is taste. Obviously with Toxicodendron radicans being one of our subjects, a compromise was made where we were allowed to ask the teachers if a leaf from the quiz subject was safe to taste. Carefully tiptoeing the line between an B+ and an A- in the class, the last quiz tree of the final exam was critical. And I was stumped.

Most of the other stumped students just wrote Black gum, which was our default for generic looking tree, in haste to return to the warmth and dryness of their vehicles. After milling around trying to control the nerves and adrenaline leaving me as the last remaining student, I finally asked the instructor if I it was safe taste the long, ovate brilliantly red leaf. With a smile that revealed the answer, I wrote Ericaceae Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood to secure an A- for the semester.

Once I started researching sourwoods, I found that they are quite beautiful when flowering and as I already knew, a brilliant red in the fall as this image from Oregon State university demonstrates:

Better yet, they are shade tolerant which will be an important attribute in my design. Even their slow growth rate is advantageous.

Sumacs are another tree that requires consideration for both honeybees and the native pollinators. For both types of pollinators, the three months of bloom supplies ample pollen and nectar. Here is a study that recorded bee activity on staghorn sumac stands in canada. It found that bees worked the male flowers for pollen in the morning and female flowers for nectar in the evening. For the native bees, the soft pithy stems of Rhus trees/shrubs provide nesting sites as the wood is easily bored. With aesthetics in mind, sumacs also turn a brilliant red in the fall.

Tulip poplars produce so much nectar that it stains concrete walkways beneath urban plantings. The beautiful cup shaped flowers of the Liriodendron tulipifera give bees a nice platform to land and drink from as they resemble tulips, hence the common name. It blooms early so it helps feed colonies and pollinators as they build up their nests and populations in the spring.

Black locust are already all over my pasture and the surrounding woods. In fact the time that my bees lost interest in the provided feeder coincided with the locust bloom. No additional considerations will be made for locust plantings as they are already numerous on the farm. I also let most locust trees grow because they fix nitrogen into the soil as they are a leguminous tree and they provide wood that is incredibly hard and rot resistant. On my land at least, the black locusts commonly lose limbs and break apart negating the need and labor required to fell them. Out of the local natives, locust wood makes the best fence posts and firewood.

I’ll expand on these trees and my plans for them in the near future!

Garden, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

My slightly passive watering system in use on trees and blueberries

Note: I meant to publish my solar wax melter design today.  However the pop up thunderstorms prevented the completion of a batch of wax!

I use this system whenever I need to water my trees or blueberry bushes. But the little jets of water don’t penetrate crops that form stands with many vertical stems like my buckwheat.

But for trees and blueberries it is perfect. I just set up the buckets then haul a pair of 5 gallon buckets of water by¬†hand. Over the next ~10 minutes or so, 5 gallons of water is slowly dispersed into a wide arc of the tree’s root zone. I like aiming the jets beyond the stems of the trees or shrubs because as the water pressure lowers as the water drains, the jets will retreat back in front of the stems more evenly covering the rootzone.

For blueberries, this system proves even more valuable as I can direct the arc to water two bushes at once, thus providing 2.5 gallons to each. I can add my normal 2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water in order to ensure the soil pH is not brought up by alkaline (or even neutral) irrigation water. I would not be able to do this with hoses or drip irrigation, at least not without an expensive system. Plus this avoids dampening foliage which is important for crops susceptible to mildew diseases like grapes or asparagus.




Experiment and Advice Needed: Fruit tree woes

I want to put a productive plant in every unused inch of my farm as I possibly can. Vegetables, berries, fruit trees, bamboo, feed crops and anything that can provide food for me, the animals or the bees would be considered. I desperately want a small apple (or other fruit) orchard, but since humans have significantly reduced the genetic diversity of most commercial fruit tree species, I am not confident I could grow them without chemicals or at the least in a low maintenance/effort manner. Cherries are out as they host tent caterpillars. Admittedly, I have a lot more to research to conduct. As such I encourage anyone and everyone to leave their suggestions or experiences!

In terms of research, here are my highlights:

Just about anything from Michael Pollan. I greatly enjoy his writing style and exploration of earth-friendly foods.

The Home Orchard: Fruit Trees Without Chemical Sprays? It Can Be Done. By Adrian Higgins at The Washington Post. This was an enjoyable piece that contained information specific to my location.

From my forestry classes, I am considering many native species: Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), as well as other trees in the Amelanchier genus (serviceberries, shadbushes, juneberries), Persimmon although I have a few stands in the pasture and forest already, elderberry, paw paw, and American Hazelnut. I want to particularly note the Virginia Tech Dendrology program in the Forestry Department as the most fun yet frustrating and time-consuming 1 credit class I ever took. Particularly this PDF from Virginia Tech: Native Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs of the Virginia Mountains and Piedmont

Here is where I stand:

Its already been established that blueberries, blackberries and raspberries will be an integral part of the farmstead.

Mulberry trees are the front-runner for newly planted woody species for my area. They bloom for bees and provide fruit for both me and chickens.

Maybe currants near the barn where they would get afternoon shade.

Paw Paw for tasty, interesting fruit.

And a random consideration as I adore avocados, a self pollinating, cold hardy variety.


Thats it for now! Again, Please don’t be shy with suggestions or comments!