Wisdom with Time

Our cherished windbreak of mixed mimosas is in ruins.  More than 90% of them were simply pushed over in April as if by an elephant. It took seven years to grow this barrier against the northern trade winds. I was going to plant fruit trees this year but now, once again it’s too windy in the garden for such things and I must start afresh.

Panic pruning during the storm, but it’s already too late for most of the trees.

Clearly though, these were the wrong trees for the job.  They were okay against the relentless northerlies because those summer winds never go above Force 8.  I didn’t, however, properly take into account the occasional Force 10 southerly, even though when we planted them we’d just had such a storm. I want to think I was badly advised, but was I, really?

Planting in 2010

I think I remember asking for something fast growing and perhaps I ignored advice that ran contrary to speed. I wasn’t so philosophical about time back then; I wanted everything now, quickly, trees fully grown in my lifetime, please, let’s go! And at face value, mimosas didn’t seem so very foolish.  They use them all around us for dune stabilization.  They seemed to do well and are pretty. Plus, they fix nitrogen so are good for the soil.

I’m taking this on the chin, though.  It has forced my hand to do it properly before any more time is lost.  Half the trees were being attacked by the acacia beetle and ironically it’s only the sickest trees that survived the storm, because they had so few leaves. Lesson: if deep down you know that you must take a step backwards in order to make something good and strong for the future, then best you just get on with it. I should have ripped them all out three years ago when the beetle first struck.

The windbreak in 2014. To pull it out then was just too much to contemplate.

Our new windbreak kicks butt, or will do, I hope. We’ve gone back to ancient history in how to plant and irrigate for the strongest possible trees with the least water.  Out go all the plastic pipes everywhere, out go all the drippers that were constantly blocking up.

In come amphorae. Each little sapling has gone right down into the bottom of a deep hole, so that some are entirely below ground level. Beside each one in the hole is a 20 litre amphora, an unglazed, clay water jug.  We’ve infilled soil only to the top of the root ball, as is usual practice, but the main difference here is that there is only 5cms of soil between the tree’s roots and the subsoil.  The little trees are right down on the bottom. The rest of the hole is filled with alternate layers of straw and manure mulch leaving only a small air gap around the trunk. Lastly we filled each amphora with water and put a stone on the top.

A 60-70cm tall, carob (grafted female) in her new home.

I think this solution is elegance and genius in equal measure. That I have high hopes for it is understating things. Every three weeks to a month the amphorae are filled up by a man with a hose.  There’s nothing to break or go wrong, no need to disturb the mulch to check drippers.  Over about five days the water seeps very slowly out through the clay into the soil and mulch. This replicates a heavy rainfall.  The water can’t evaporate upwards due to the 60cm thick mulch but it will eventually drop away into the subsoil below the tree.  This helps loosen that subsoil and from the very start encourages the young tree to chase it downwards as the upper soil dries out.  All this is happening below the reach of all those surrounding weeds that would otherwise steal our little trees’ water.  Over a year or two the mulch will, from bottom to top, turn into a rich compost and, keeping up with that metamorphosis, the point at which the roots turn into the trunk (there must be a name for this part, but I can’t discover it) will slowly rise until it gets to ground level.  By that time we’re going to have some very strong little trees, with deep roots. I expect they’ll eventually break the amphorae but by that time they won’t need them anymore.  But we could always put in more when that happens, further away from the trunk, as an insurance against particularly long droughts.

And what trees this time around? The first echelon is a line of casuarinas (she-oaks) at 2m spacing.  Then 4m away is a second echelon of grafted, female carobs at 3m spacing.  Both these species have proved themselves elsewhere in the garden, albeit that they grow slowly. This is tighter spacing than normal but our conditions are so harsh that with larger gaps these trees might never close ranks against the wind. And if they ever do start to crowd each other out we can always just prune for firewood, or remove every second one.  That’s going to be my children’s decision. Hopefully though, I’ll get to experience a wind-free garden before I get my own little hole in the ground.