The promise of trees. These days signs of impending spring are all around us. Daffodil flowers are
just days away from opening on the south side of our house, and the columbines under our windows are starting to sprout out from beneath leaf mulch under the big leaf maple that stands in front of our house. And birds like robins, chickadees and sparrows are starting to sing their breeding songs as the longer days wake up their hormones to tell them they need to start thinking about the upcoming nesting season. Those of you that know of Woody the sapsucker, a perennial visitor every spring to Big Leaf Farm, will be gratified to hear that Woody is once again performing his annual rite of pounding on any piece of sheet metal he can find at all hours of the day, in the hopes of attracting a female friend.
Trees, too, are starting to show indications of awakening from their winter rest. Our Asian plum tree (one of the earliest to bloom) is on the verge of opening its pink flowers, and buds on Asian pears and even figs are starting to swell and develop a little. This is the time of year when I think about planting trees, because if I wait much longer the saplings will be more susceptible to drying out during the seasonal drought of summer if I forget to water them.
This spring is no exception to that activity, and in recent days I’ve planted a February blooming pussy willow (for Molly), a Cascara tree, an English walnut, a Persian mulberry and some Asian persimmons. These trees will provide beauty, shade, habitat and food for wildlife, and perhaps a little extra food for this farm’s human residents.
Spring is an optimistic time of year, especially for farmers who see a whole growing season spread out before them and perhaps that’s why planting trees fills me with so much hope. Whenever I plant anything, from tiny seed to small tree, I try to envision the plant in its mature state. For some reason this is especially fun with a tree, perhaps because they grow to be such a larger and permanent part of our landscape. Also, because they take much longer to mature, at the moment of planting there is a pathway that extends beyond the forthcoming season in the planter’s eye. For something as long-lived as a tree, this pathway extends years, even centuries beyond planting. Trees leave a legacy like no annual vegetable ever can.
But there is also a bigger cost to planting trees than annual vegetables. Because trees are longer lived, they potentially take more care. Some of them require long-term protection from pests, and they take more thought to place in the landscape as one tries to imagine the space they’ll occupy over time, the shade they’ll cast, and how their presence will affect access on the farm and how they’ll interact with nearby buildings. We’re still planning an orchard of a few hundred trees on our place, but in the meantime, we’ll plant a tree here, a tree there, imagine what they’ll look like in years to come, and then observe them as they grow.
In recent years I remember hearing the story of an aged gentleman in his 90s planning, and then planting an orchard of over 100 trees. This fellow knew that he would probably never see his trees mature and bear fruit. His planting was not only an optimistic act, but one of faith that his trees would grow and bear fruit in his absence for future generations. I hope I’m still around and interested in planting trees when I’m his age!
Have a great week, enjoy your veggies, and say hi to a tree or two.