July 8, 2022
Mountaineer News | The Editors
Farm Life Friday's
The BBC recently published an article about afforestation, that is, planting trees to make a forest (the opposite of deforestation). The article discusses two recent scientific papers suggesting that large tree planting projects are actually not very beneficial for the environment.
Their first reason is that government-sponsored tree plantings will reduce biodiversity (based on a program in Chile where they didn’t follow the rules and cut down established forests to plant new ones). Second, because these new trees don’t sequester as much carbon as originally thought.
I don’t think you have to be a scientist to realize how stupid this is on a practical level.
"The best time to plant a tree was yesterday. The second best time is today." - Anonymous
Plant Diversity Increases Animal Diversity
We do everything we can to get more trees on our land. We have set aside about 40 acres of our quarter section that we would like to see in forest. While we can't afford to hire a company or buy trees en masse to do an actual afforestation project, we experience nature taking its course in gifting us with a satisfactory number of trees.
Most of the trees coming up naturally are poplars. I think this is a great start, though we would definitely like to see more diversity. Growing a large variety of different species creates resilience to diseases and parasites that could decimate a single species of tree.
The diversity of our wooded areas should also include shrubs, wildflowers, and groundcovers to create a complete ecosystem. One of my favorite areas on our farm is the wild rose patch (I mean, we are Albertan after all), which grows in harmony with the surrounding trees.
Plant diversity increases animal diversity by attracting a wide array of wildlife. The trees and shrubs provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for birds, small critters, and large mammals.
Diversity In Our Gardens
Trees also create diversity in our gardens. There are always "unusable" places, like a grassy corner, or a spot with poor soil that we fight with every year. Planting a tree in these places turns these wasted spaces in a spot of diversity.
Each variety of tree will bring different benefits to your garden. Trees in your garden will:
Provide fruits or nuts
Attract birds that hunt undesirable insects and are a pleasure to watch
Hold moisture in the soil
Some trees will fix nitrogen into the soil
And all of them will provide shade for you to rest under for a well deserved break while shielding your plants from a burning summer sun.If you are worried about the trees shading your plants, remember that many vegetables and flowers that require full sun really only need 8 to 10 hours of sun each day.
Trees on Our Farms
In our grandparents’ days, every farm had a thriving woodlot to provide firewood for the long winters. These woodlots were well taken care of, since they were literally a matter of life and death. When natural gas made its way to farmhouses, the need for a woodlot dwindled, and these plots fell into disrepair. Many were removed altogether to make way for more profitable crops.
But these small forests provided far more than firewood. Tree roots on arable land store water that would otherwise wash away with important nutrients. These patches of diversity not only keep themselves healthy, but they disrupt the cycle of disease and parasites that infest endless rows of corn or soybeans. And many of the parasites that decimate a mono-crop could be eliminated by the menagerie of birds that take up residence in these forest havens.
The tree plots also allow wild animals to roam safely across the country in natural movements, instead of exposing themselves to the dangers of open fields or being forced to move their migration paths thousands of miles.
But whether it is on a farm or in a backyard, the benefits of trees are immeasurable, and we can never have enough.
Grow With What You Have
The easiest and cheapest way to get more trees is to dig them from somewhere else and move them to your plot. Many counties permit you to dig trees out of rural ditches, since it saves the counties from having to remove them. We have a few areas that have a heavy concentration of dogwoods, willows, and lilacs on our farm, and we have started moving these around to different areas so they can spread and increase diversity.
Many trees (and shrubs) can be grown from cuttings. To grow a tree from a cutting, you cut a piece of a branch and put it in water or potting soil to take root. The result is an exact duplicate of the mother plant.
When you prune your greenery, you can sometimes put the branches in water and this is enough for roots to develop. Some varieties require more particular care to take root, so it is best to research the particular plant’s needs beforehand.
This year is the first year that I successfully produced cuttings from our willow tree by putting the hardwood cuttings (1” in diameter and 12” long) in water so their roots could develop. The roots of these little guys established enough to plant them around the ponds and wet areas in our hay fields.
Take a Deep Breath
Maybe (probably) scientists’ calculations of carbon sequestering are inaccurate. But isn't any amount of carbon being absorbed a good thing? Even if the science shows that it isn’t financially viable for governments to sponsor tree plantings, each of us on a small scale can make a huge impact by protecting and planting the trees in our own backyard.
I remember as a child being fascinated by the fact that trees breathe in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and we do the opposite in a perfect symbiotic relationship. We depend on trees to breathe! What an amazing bit of knowledge for my little mind that was. As adults, we get so caught up in the "science" that we forget the simple truths that we learn as children.
Trees are good. Don't hurt them, and plant more.