Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Planning for an Edible Landscape

My husband and I have been debating what to do about a few trees on our property. With only 2/3 of an acre, you'd think we wouldn't have much to consider in that department, but we do. We have more than a dozen mature hardwood trees on our property, and three smaller evergreen trees.

The problem child is a black cherry tree, about 40 feet tall, that's causing concern while also shading both the garden and the old apple tree. Despite its name, the black cherry is not a productive fruit tree. It's an ornamental, with tiny, not-very-tasty fruits, so there's no crop to put on the positive side of this tree's register. It has split itself into three main trunks very low to the ground, and two of them are not in good shape. Any of them could come down on our garage in a bad storm. In other words, this tree is a prime candidate for being cut. I feel somewhat badly about this. I don't relish the idea of cutting an older tree. Nor do I look forward to paying an experienced professional to take this tree down. But given its height and its situation close to our garage and structures on the neighbor's property, there's no question we need someone who knows what they're about.

While we have the professionals out, we're also going to have them take down a sickly mulberry, which looms over our back fence. It's also in bad shape, and it also shades the garden early in the morning during the summer. If it came down it would destroy a large section of our fence, which works very well at keeping the deer out of our garden.

Since cutting has been much on our minds, we've also decided to take out two overgrown shrubby plants by ourselves. The first is an old white lilac, which occupies a prime sunny space in the backyard. The second is a snowball bush, which neither of us has ever appreciated. It's currently next to the black cherry tree. With the black cherry gone, the address of the snowball bush would become another prime sunny location. After having these stumps pulled or possibly just ground down, we'll be putting in two cherry trees in the spring.

Edible landscaping is something we're moving more and more strongly towards. It's the experience of eating what we produce ourselves that motivates this impulse. The forsythia is probably the next candidate for replacement with berry canes. I have mixed feelings about stocking our property with edible plants. It makes perfect sense to me, if we're going to be living here for another ten years or so. But that's a mighty big if. Even if we pay more to plant trees that are already 5 or 6 feet tall, they probably will not bear much of a crop for at least two to three years. There's some appeal in the Johnny Appleseed role, sowing fruit trees for others to harvest from. But if I'm honest, I have to admit to self-interest being a much bigger motivator for me. This dilemma takes me back, unpleasantly, to my decades of being a highly mobile tenant with no land to invest in for my own benefit.

We own farmland, and we harbor dreams of building a home and moving there. We've already begun planting fruit and nut trees on that property. Planting cherry trees where we're living now seems like the right thing to do, and yet it also seems likely that we'll never see the benefit of it ourselves. I would prefer to know for certain where we'll be living, so that we could narrowly focus our time, efforts and money on that property.

So I'm trying to justify the expense of $400 to have the fully licensed and insured tree trimmer come out and cut down two trees. We'll be keeping the wood for firewood, even though we don't have a wood burning stove - yet. And cutting the trees will increase the amount of sunlight hitting my garden and the apple tree. So we should see a marginal increase in production quantity, and perhaps slightly better tomatoes next year. The roots of the cherry tree would also eventually, probably, undermine part of our paved driveway, so that's a likely savings. The financial benefit of replacing these non-productive trees with cherry trees just seems rather far away and uncertain at this point. I'm very doubtful that two additional fruit trees would increase the value of our home when it's time to sell. Unless of course we have a total meltdown of our economy involving the breakdown of our current food distribution system, in which case we probably wouldn't be selling at all.

I suppose we'll take these steps as a hedge against uncertainty and rising food costs. If we end up unable to move onto our land, we'll have two cherry trees that provide fruit to eat out of hand as well as fruit to can or make shrub out of. My husband would also probably find a way to make kriek beer out of some of the fruit. I just wish the big picture were clearer.


MeadowLark said...


Sunlight is important and wouldn't you feel terrible if they came down in a windstorm?

I say this because we have 3 or 4 hideous giant juniper that Husband refuses to let me cut. They are not every coming down in a windstorm, but I feel a 'tree sickness' coming on ;)

Chris said...

I totally understand your ambivalence about cutting down mature trees . . . I'm going through the same thing concerning an ornamental pear (one of three) in my backyard. It's shading most of the yard (i.e. the place I want to put garden), and I know it's nearing its expected lifespan. But it's still a difficult thing to do!

And wow, $400 for two trees? Either that's not a bad price or I got ripped off when I had to have a tree removed a couple years ago!

Kate said...

Meadowlark, yeah, you're right. The trees need to come down. Juniper, eh? Juniper can be a valuable wood in the proper hands. I believe it's one of the woods used to make the casks that *real* balsamic vinegar is aged in. Also, you need juniper berries to make gin. I've also had a few dishes seasoned with juniper berries. Game stews, wild mushrooms, and so on. If you did some research on who wants to buy juniper, you might make some cash out of that!

Chris, I think we are getting a fair deal, though it's just an estimate, of course. We live in a relatively cheap area too, compared to other places we've lived in the past.

MeadowLark said...

Since probably 85% of the trees in this area are juniper, the value kinda goes out the window. We have a small piece of property (1/3 acre) and at last count 13 juniper on it. UGH.

I am a gin drinker, but not hard working enough to make my own :)

PS. It cost about $125 a tree here if they cut it down and chip it up (they then sell the chips).