The first summer we lived here (2014), life was pretty easy. Throughout most of it we had at least an inch of rain every week. Toward the end of it I started thinking about adding to the apple, peach, and fig trees we brought with us. Next spring, we added a mulberry, a pomegranate, three jujube, two Chinese chestnut and two almond trees. (No partridge, and the pear trees would come later.)
The summer of 2015 was much drier. In case you don’t know, we are not on the water grid and therefore water everything by hand. No drip irrigation system to flip on and off whenever the trees need a drink. And fruit trees are thirsty animals.
It was a lot of work keeping them alive, and I was about to give up on buying more trees when I learned about the Back To Eden method.
Long story short, this is a method of gardening using several inches (even up to a foot) of wood chips as mulch. This supposedly eliminates the need for fertilization, and significantly reduces the need to water. So I eagerly purchased more trees, and J and I got at least eight inches of wood chips put around all the trees.
But I had a choice to make. Howard Garrett, the guy famous for teaching organic gardening in the state of Texas – and also an arborist – says not to put mulch right up against the tree bark. I’d learned to respect his advice and knowledge over the past few years, but Paul Gautchi – another arborist and the dude who put the Back To Eden method on the map – says to go ahead and shove the mulch right up against the tree bark.
By the way, did I mention that the area where Paul lives gets way less (like one-sixth) of the amount of rain that we do here in southeast Oklahoma?
You would think that – plus my longer acquaintance with “the Dirt Doctor” (as Garrett is known) – would have made my choice obvious.
Well, congratulations for thinking. Wish I had.
A few weeks ago, I blamed our high humidity for the blossom end rot on my apples, the sooty canker on my mulberry trees, the fireblight on my Asian pears (which are supposed to be resistant to that disease), the black rot on my grapevine, and the peach leaf curl on my peach trees.
And then, the leaves on my one cherry tree started turning yellow and falling off. I knew it had contracted a fungus. A brief search online offered four possible diseases. I went outside and looked at the trunk near the ground. Sure enough, sticky black goop was oozing out if it.
The tree had phytophthora root and crown rot. The remedy? Pull all the soil away from the crown and roots at the surface, and maybe the fungus will dry up and not kill the tree. Disgusted, I dutifully pulled all the mulch away from the trunk of the tree.
And this is what I saw:
J and I promptly pulled the mulch back away from all the other fruit trees. I hope it’s not too late for the cherry and Asian pear trees. The others will be all right, but as far as a fruit harvest I’ve lost all but one apple and probably more than half the mulberries we could have had. Not to mention every single Asian pear that I so painstakingly thinned out about a month ago.
And it’s all Paul Gautchi’s fault!
Or…maybe it’s my fault. Possibly I should have used my noggin a teensy bit better.
Well, I’m using it now, and it’s telling me to take food-production advice from someone who lives in a very different climate from you with a grain of salt.