"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now." - Chinese Proverb
The Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY
April: after the Latin aperire, "to open"; or, after the Greek aphrilis, "Aphrodite's month." When daffodils started blooming downtown, it seemed that spring and Ithaca had finally reached some sort of agreement. It's easy to curse Ithaca's moderate continental climate--our substantial variation in temperature over the course of the year--in the dark depths of winter and the oppressively hot peaks of summer. But in the spring, most of us are thankful for our four distinct seasons.
The coming of April means the Ithaca Crop Mob is turning two. We're officially perennial! The coltsfoot, winter aconite, and snowdrops along the side of the roads are celebrating with us. The longevity of the crop mob is the kind of truth that astounds me while also being pretty unsurprising and mundane. Well, what did you think would happen? I ask myself, and I shrug. A year ago around this time, ICM's first mob assembled to plant a couple hundred trees at The Good Life Farm in Interlaken, a stirringly earnest investment in the future. Plant trees for those who come after you; plant trees when you're here to stay.
Some outcomes can be pointed out at the end of a hard day's work. 200 pounds of squash harvested, an acre of beets weeded, 2000 cloves of garlic planted. Then there are the outcomes that take a little longer to appear, are harder to measure, and are more easily felt than communicated. Every time I go to a crop mob, these outcomes sort of flicker around me: a volunteer who found a kindred spirit in a nearby farm; somebody teaching others something they themselves learned last year; friends who might never have met if not for the crop mob. These are the indicators of social change. It's something we rarely talk about as organizers of the crop mob- there are always logistics to talk about first, the wheres and whens. Only occasionally do we get a glimpse the what of it all. This year, for continuity, for a more holistic understanding, the Crop Mob came back to The Good Life Farm on April 9th for the second planting of apple trees.
The Good Life Farm is a 69-acre organic farm in Interlaken run by Garrett Miller and Melissa Madden, two young farmers whose farming philosophy is guided by principles of permaculture and energy descent. During the first few years, The Good Life Farm's focus has been season extension, growing greens under high tunnels for winter sale (you can find them at GreenStar), while starting perennial fruit and vegetable plantings. When the first group of volunteers arrived, shovels handy, Garrett shared some good news: the survival rate of the trees the Crop Mob planted last year was 100%! This could mean one of two things: either the Crop Mob is exceedingly skilled at planting trees, or we had really good teachers (or both).
Some of last year's happy trees!
The best time of year to plant trees is early spring or late fall, when it's not too hot (intense heat can do a number on them) and ideally when the trees are dormant (between when their leaves fall in autumn and when new buds form in spring, when handling them is least traumatic). More specifically, overcast days, like Saturday started out, are preferable to sunny or very windy days because they can dry out the roots. The trees were being planted in a contour shape to help prevent soil erosion, using loosened underground channels to redirect water away from areas where water tends to pool on their land.
Melissa and Garrett's tree planting primer:
1. Start by clearing the dead, dry oat and pea material (grown last year to add organic material and nutrients to the soil) from around the flags (markings for where our trees should go).
2. Dig your hole- about 16" deep and 24" wide (or about twice the size of the root system), being careful to pile nutrient-rich topsoil on one side of the hole and the claylike subsoil on the other side.
3. Wait for water to bubble up into the hole. The Good Life farm has a long-term goal to be as drought-resistant as possible without using irrigation, so this indication of a nice, full water bank below the soil is a good thing. Some of our holes were so wet they might have rotted the roots of the tree, so they had to be abandoned.4. Pick your tree! All of these apple trees were bare-rooted and kept in a plastic bag to conserve moisture around the roots. Apples are propagated not by seed (they don't "breed true," meaning the seed bears little relation to its mother plant), but by grafting, a process kind of like cloning, where two varieties of tree are fused together. The "scion"--the variety you want your apples to taste like--goes above ground and produces fruit. The rootstock--often a tree with superior disease resistance or other healthful traits--goes underground.
5. Lay down your board (or in the picture to the left, a shovel) level with the ground. The union--where the scion and the rootstock are fused together-- should be above the surface of the ground; otherwise, the scion wood will produce roots, and then the healthful benefits of the rootstock will be for naught!
6. Place the tree in the hole, taking care to make sure the union will be above the surface of the ground, filling in with soil if necessary. Roots should be stretched out, with holes widened if necessary to accommodate them; it's better to trim the roots than to have them curl back on themselves. Position the lead root--the biggest root besides the long taproot straight down-- to face north; the magnetic pull is supposed to affect the growth of this root. Make sure the rootstock sticks straight up; the scion wood will correct itself.
7. Sprinkle rock phosphate (1 cup), an organic soil amendment, and mycorrhizal fungi (1 tbs) on the root system; the phosphate encourages the growth of "feeder roots" and the inoculant will aid the growth of beneficial fungi on the roots of the tree.
8. Start filling in the hole, topsoil around the roots first (it's more rich in organic matter, better for the tree). Tamp down the soil around the roots to get rid of air bubbles- they can be deadly to a tree! Top it off with the remaining subsoil.
The planted tree- you can see the union clearly here.
Our lesson complete, we dispersed and got to work!
Everyone with shovels started out digging...
...then we paired up to plant.
Ann from Three Swallows and her son Isaac came to "pay it forward" after the Crop Mob visited them in March!
Students from the Ithaca Waldorf School came too!
Finishing up the row before lunch!
A big chunk of the pleasure of a Good Life Farm crop mob comes from the incredible feasts they make for lunch. Beans, greens, grains, sandwiches, tons of local veggie dishes, and dessert- they really take care of their mobbers!
Another great thing about the Good Life is how vocal Melissa and Garrett are about how much they appreciate the help. Melissa writes:
The Good Life orchardists- Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller- would like to extend a hearty Thank You to the Ithaca Crop Mobbers who came out and shoveled on April 9, 2011. As a farm just getting started, we benefit exponentially from your help- we are energized by your interest and enthusiasm. Thanks to you all, we planted over 180 new apple trees, adding to the 330 put in last year, also with your help. This year, our new trees include Gold Rush, Redfree, Honeycrisp, Liberty, Scarlett O’hara, Sweet 16, Akane, Ashmead’s Kernel, Freedom, Roxbury Russett and Hudson’s Gem. Our growing orchard- planted in 2010 and 2011 by the Crop Mob- will be certified organic with an emphasis on holistic, biodiverse management. For more information regarding The Good Life Farm, please visit www.thegoodlifefarm.org.
We had an amazing crowd on Saturday- 42 people in the morning, and 15 in the afternoon. Thanks to all who came out to the farm! Our next crop mob will be April 30th, 2011 from 9-1 at Kestrel Perch Berry Farm at Ecovillage at Ithaca (another highlight from last year!). More details coming soon! Interested in getting updates about future crop mobs? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll put you on our email list.
See you at the next mob,
Kate, Sam, and Rachel
More pictures from this mob are on Facebook here.