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About planting yearling trees and (not) watering.

Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
So, for those who don't know me, I live in a farm/yoga ashram in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Last year I spent the whole dry season watching the others water every single plant in the orchard and every single fruit tree every afternoon. Watching... I was actually the dinner cook, but it really pained my heart to see them like that.

Now, I've had a relative success with hugelkultur and I have a small experimental field where I play with swales, hugelkultur, etc.

I was thinking of our fruit trees. They are all less than 5 years old. The person watering them had all kinds of guidelines on how much water, how often, based on the thickness of the trunk and the tallness of the tree.

I would like to take them over to the bright side of mulched, living soil, but I could use some strengthening advise from you guys.

How would you make the transition?
Myself, I would build a berm right above the fruit trees that are in a line along the contour of a slope, and a swale above the berm. Of course, it's a little late, because the rainy season will be over in 2 months, when all the others come back from California, and I'll have a chance to address these issues. Suppose they say ok, I could still do the swale and berm, and, as long as the water supply allows it, water the swale once a week, and by next year the trees will take care of themselves with the rain water collected in the swale?

Or what about a 2ft tall ring of mulch?

Anyway, any input is welcome.

Thanks,

Sergio


Writing from Madhuvan, a yoga retreat/organic farm on the West Coast of Costa Rica.
Perry Way


Joined: Nov 07, 2010
Posts: 65
I'm not with enough experience to certify your idea of 2 feet thick of mulch but I'd say a good 6 inches will retain the moisture in the earth to the point where if you really have to irrigate it will be easy with about 1 - 5 gallons water in a drip feed situation, or better yet a 5 gallon bucket next to each tree, and a 1/8 to 1/4 inch hole in the bottom and a nylon rope stuck through it and let it wick the moisture out. It will take several weeks to empty that single bucket and the tree will seek for deeper water on its own but survive long enough to find it.  I am currently gravity feed drip irrigating 30 trees between age 2 - 4 years old, planted this year, hauling my water so I know exactly how much I am using. 30 trees, 115 gallons makes 3.83 gallons per tree on average.  This is in 100+ degree farenheit weather for 5 months of the year.  1/3 of the trees were planted in spring, and the other 2/3 were planted in summer. Regardless of when they have all been subjected to 100+ degree days, and survived. Some are thriving actually (the ones planted in spring) and have new growth during the hot season which is kind of inappropriate so that tells me that what I'm doing is pretty good.  I've only got about 3 to 4 inches of bark mulch around them.  Earlier in the year I tested the dampness of the soil each time I irrigated.  I was surprized to see there was moisture on the surface just under the mulch!  Yes! In the super heat and dry desert like conditions on the Carrizo Plain.  I know I have to irrigate these trees the rest of this year and possibly some next year as well, but that is because they were container trees from a nursery.

What I wanted to mention when I went to post, is the Invention of the Year for 2010, the Groasis Waterboxx.  I can tell you this much, that it works even in the Carrizo Plain where my property is. In the hottest part of summer, I planted seedlings. They are thriving after one week even after the shock of leaving my apartment balcony on the coast for their permanent home in the ground in the extreme weather of Carrizo Plain! For a longer term strategy, consider buying some Groasis Waterboxxes! And you can plant trees by seed with roots that are deep and even go through rocks because they never get put in a container like the nursery trees are done. They also grow unimpeded in the soil with the capillary column still intact. So they hunt for the ground water easily this way. One year with the Waterboxx and you reuse next year with a new tree and the one year old sapling is already able to survive on its own. That's how you want to set up an orchard.   So you don't have to water.

Here's a blog I wrote about the Waterboxx: http://perrylandoffthegrid.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-most-exciting-news-to-date.html

There's a video in there too, and that's from Groasis. They have a bunch of videos and a great website full of information. http://groasis.com/page/uk/index.php

edited after the fact: I meant to mention I irrigate once a week. Except there were a few weeks where I went two weeks between watering, but the general rule is once a week, 3-4 inches mulch, 100+ degrees.
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Oh, so you're saying nursery trees will never be able to develop a tap root? I read about Growasis, but I always get on everyone's case here, because one side they talk of self-sufficiency, but then they readily buy plastic shadecloth instead of using companion planting for shade, or they get fancy plastic tomato clips... Maybe if I can imitate the waterboxx with stones... still, they won't grow trees from seed. North American enthusiasm and achieve-ism, you know. Gotta have everything now. Credit card mentality.
                            


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
you have to be more precise. which fruit trees you have and which you would like to have? if you live in climate with hot summers without much rain, you should plant trees that adapted to this climate. i lived in farm with similar (mediteranean) climate. theres no drop of rain for july and august usualy. still this is no problem for grapes, figs, almonds, olives, pommigranates, carob.... ofcourse you will have to water them first two years during summer. than is less and less work for them. there is thousands of abandoned farms here (ex-yugoslavia), expecialy after war in '90-ies, i wisit them all the time and get tons of food from fruit trees that still give fruit in spite of fact nobody takes care of them for 15-20 years....
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 326
    
    6
sergio, i think your idea is ok, but no experiences here with that kind of climate.
question from me... if there is dry and wet season, it's not good idea to put trees into the swale, or? wet season will drown them?
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
The trees I have in that particular area are orange (local variety), guanabano (soursop), mango, and other citrus. My idea was not to have the trees IN the swale, but rather basically amass all the weeds I mow in a line above them, then dump all the manure I get, and further up on the hill along that berm, dig the swale. This way the trees will have water and nutrients constantly.
Why water for the first two years? How do trees grow naturally? I guess many die, and those who make it through their first summer are those that survive.
                            


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
every plant in nature found place for itself and way to survive by adapting to conditions, otherwise it woudnt exist. even most extreme conditions like no rain for whole summer is not problem for some plants like grapes or alfalfa - they can grow roots 15 m long and find water whereever it is in the ground. with domestication man changed some of them to produce more fruit, but this weakened them because in order to produce more fruit plant has to speed up metabolism, more water needs to flow around and cells must grow bigger, which makes plant woulnerable in many natural conditions like drout or heat. so those without man's interferrence cant make through crisis periods.
if you want to have friut trees for which you dont have to interfere first you would have to create natural environment for those, something like fruit forest. and those would give you small amount of fruit that you probably wouldnt like much - oranges would be small and bitter, and so on.
your idea of swales sounds good but note that in so hot place like yours water in swale can easily evaporate before soil soaks enough of it. type of soil here plays important role, clay holds water very good and sandy soil not.
but anyway i would make this just to give it a try. you will need years and years of experimenting before you get to know all the otimal ways to produce food eficiantly...
i would also adwise you to plant much more kinds of fruit. some of those i mentioned previously for sure.
citrus trees are relatively drout tolerant. biggest problem i had with those was with crossing of lemon and tangerine - dont plant different citruses close.....for other species you mentioned i dont have much idea, we dont have them here.....
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Our soil is indeed clayy, and what if I have a ground cover in the whale? All that vegetation will reduce evaporation, especially if I mow it down periodically, so the roots don't have to take water to feed the plant above graound, and whatever I chop will serve as mulch. I can't afford swales that constantly filled with water anyway. What about mosquitos? They wouldn't allow me.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
depending on the mulch you could possibly kill the trees with 2' deep mulch, as they might not be able to get the water..it could all just roll off..

make sure the mulch is permeable to water..and that it can get to the roots of the trees


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
                            


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
if you have clay soil maybe this can be good idea - to make bigger waterponds between fruit lines. theres place in south croatia which is 1m below sea level, very hot in summer but they dont have problems to produce enourmously big fruit (peaches are half kilo, plums are big as apple and so on), because they created system that looks like this:



part of fruit tree roots is all the time in water and other part is not (this is very important otherwise tree dies), those beds with fruit trees are maybe half meter or something above water surface. this system exists for long time and works perfectly, so i adwise you to try.
for mosquitos - yes, i also had lots of problems with those, once they discouraged me from digging pond in garden. i can only give you recipe for effective repellant - mix eucaliptus, lavander, lemon, geranium and citronella oils and put on skin.....
Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Hmmm... I don't know, I'd have to be covered in oil the whole time, and it would be expensive for all of us. Plus, if we get bitten by mosquitos here, we don't just get bites. Mosquitos here maybe carriers of botfly eggs. I just extracted one larva from under my skin on my ankle. The pain when the larva eats you (fortunately only twice a day) is excruciating.

Here's what I'm talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV4fDVcmfNc
                            


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
yep, nasty stuff. here theres nothing like that, my problems are more like minefields, bears and killer-priests...
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
We don't seem to have any problems with mosquitoes since we got mosquito fish (Gambusia).  But I guess there's some controversy about their effectiveness and they might out-compete native species if they escape into the wild.


Idle dreamer

Aaron Wallace


Joined: Apr 30, 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Wilmington, Delaware, Eastern Piedmont, USDA 7a
Yeah I would think without a tremendous aquaculture to go along with the pond systems I think the mosquito pressure would be too intense, but perhaps a local fish would just love itself some mosquito larva. In a Past life I would have suggested bacillus thuringiensis israelensis but it is not selective enough of a biological agent. Dragonfly mortality concerns me.
Peter Ingot


Joined: Sep 06, 2011
Posts: 50
I noticed that self seeded trees survive drought a lot better than transplants. My guess is that transplantedtrees suffer transplant  shock.Also maybe, the seelings are growing where they want, not where we want them

Salkeela Bee


Joined: Dec 02, 2010
Posts: 101
Off The Grid wrote:
There's a video in there too, and that's from Groasis. They have a bunch of videos and a great website full of information. http://groasis.com/page/uk/index.php



This is very interesting - thanks for putting the info up for all to see.

A small bit of plastic, re-used a dozen or so times to start trees in an inhospitable environment.... probably no worse than using diggers for berms and swales.

Here in Ireland water tends not to be such a problem, but I can see how this Groasis could be a really useful bit of kit in hotter harsher climates.  It seems it can be used for seed planting or for small transplants.  Anything that encourages the re-greening of desertified areas should be encouraged.....

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I like the Groasis concept, but the cost is severely limiting.  Does anyone know of a DIY version of this thing?  I am thinking like 2 buckets joined with a big rain catchment lid, or something similar.  I also want to know what the daily water rate is with one of these things?


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Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I'm thinking something similar might be achieved with pits in the earth, mulch and sheets of plastic.... and maybe a tube into which one pours irrigation water....
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
@Ludi - you might be right.  I do like the concept of having a reserve of water, but the size of these things isn't much, so I don't know that the reserve would last long.  We usually have at least 9 months without rain, so having water reserves for trees can make a big difference.

I wonder, though, if it the success is more due to the planting of seeds/seedlings (avoiding shock) rather than the device itself.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I should think the reserve could just as well be in the soil, if it is protected from evaporation.  I tend to agree with you about the seeds/seedling idea, vela.  Not saying the Groasis doesn't work or isn't helpful, just that the expense might possibly outweigh the benefit for some people. 
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
the expense is definitely prohibitive.  Storing the water in the soil would work here, mostly because we have a clay loam, but for sandy areas, it might not be as easy.

I do think the concept has a lot of benefits, and I have been watching this idea for some years, now.  I have also been expecting an open-source solution that works just as well or maybe even better.

Swales and/or basin would be very similar, catching and storing water near the plant roots.  But, what if you don't have any rain for the spring/planting season?

For our area, March-June is the driest part of the year and the most difficult for starting trees.  If some sort of method could be developed to achieve similar success rates as the Groasis system, it could be a revolutionary advance for the majority of the southwest US and Northern Mexico.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I wonder if the water reserve could be made of sheet plastic in the basin, sheet plastic being less expensive than molded plastic. Similar to the wicking bed idea.  I have some mental images of something that might be tried.  Someone has probably figured this out already, we just don't know how to search for it...
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
yeah, we have a few wicking beds, and they work amazing in our climate.  We average less than 1 gallon per square foot of garden per week when most folks are using 10 gallons or more per square foot, just to keep the plants alive.  We also shade the plants some during May-August, and that really helps with water conservation.

I have seen a wicking bed in an orchard.  It was basically a long trench that had plastic sheet in the bottom and up one side.  The trench was filled with gravel and or mulch material, and then it wicked side-ways through the open side to the tree roots.  Add some biochar, worms, wood chips, etc, and you have a really awesome nutrient/water reserve.

I could see a swale system set up in a similar way, with plastic sheeting to create a reserve and direct the water towards the plants that need it.  You could even extend the plastic above ground to act as a rain harvesting mechanism.

This year, I'm having trouble keeping trees alive, even with drip irrigation and lots of mulch.  I've lost about 1/2 of our trees this year, mainly due to heat/drought.  Last year, almost every tree thrived, but we had a normal rain season (we've had less than 1/4 the rain we had last year).
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
We're also in a killing drought.  Most of my fruit trees have died. 

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
yeah, I've lost a lot, and what the drought and heat didn't get, the plague of grasshoppers is finishing the job.

apricots, plums, mulberry, quince, cherry, peach have faired well, but apples, pecan, figs are just sticks, now.  It is really sad.

I think next year I am going to aim for more dryland species, like the mulberries, almonds, etc.
 
 
subject: About planting yearling trees and (not) watering.
 
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