I have to say; before I began these projects I had no former experience with the agencies involved that facilitate USDA sponsored contracts with commercial farms. Neither did I have experience with semi-arid climates prior to moving to this area known as the Columbia Basin.

Twenty four months into learning about the Water, Climate & Culture of our Koppen-Geiger Dry Climate environs Brad Bailie, of Lenwood Organic Farms, offered me the potential to demonstrate my abilities. I owe my level of success to significant persons who advised me, Gloria Flora, Marc Flora, Deborah Berman and to Geoff Lawton for taking the risk of initiating the first international online course in 2013. All of these persons are deeply involved in Permaculture and for that I am forever grateful.

In this case, a steep slope is the best slope.

I had a lot to think about. Permaculture was a strange word when I first encountered it. Permanent Agriculture, a regenerative design process that includes humans as part of the natural relationship to nature – not lord & master over it. That’s why I still take exception to the term Stewardship. Semantics are everything. We can either get real and place ourselves in a reciprocal relationship or continue to flail as a species while telling ourselves nice stories about our Divine appropriated superiority. Good luck with that.

No matter what our opinions and perceptions may be about organic mono-crop farming methods we must consider the enormous pressures placed upon medium sized family owned farms within the context of  the petroleum dependent and capitalist cost driven paradigms that presently exist. Mid-sized family farms (between 100 – 500 acres) have disappeared exponentially in the US since the 1920’s. Lenwood Farms, under 1000 acres, cultivates just over the 500 acre mark, leaving the rest in CRP.

 The formal NRCS EQIP wind break presentation can be viewed and downloaded here: Wind break pdf

Here is the short version of what we accomplished

Step 1:  Till to a depth of approximately five inches to incorporate any residue and clearly define the area.

Step one

  Lenwood Farms is located in Connell Washington and is considered part of the Columbia Basin. The main source of water is pumped from deep ancient aquifers and the area receives less than 9” of annual rain fall, predominantly in the winter months from November to early March giving it a Koppen Geiger classification of Bwk (semiarid cold desert).

 

Step 2:  Applied 2000 lbs. of Perfect Blend 4-4-4 using a borrowed spinner spreader.

 

step two

Purpose of the Windbreak

The main purpose of this particular windbreak is reduction of laminar flow winds from the SW. The main benefits of impeding both summer and winter winds and their effects on the Lenwood Farms office and central shop area is the reduction of heating and cooling energy requirements, and reduction of wind-carried weed species into the parking lot. Additional benefits also include; increase in conservation area for bird and insect species, & shade for employees and visitors to the farm.

I had a lot to think about

For starters; learning what the USDA & NRCS programs were all about, the local Conservation offices, how they were split up and who they served, contact personnel, plant material centers, native nurseries and how they all interacted.

Then I had to wade  through the bureaucratic swamp of contract terms, rules and regulations. Along the way I discovered there was a name for what I was doing; Field Tech Provider

Fabric Mulch was part of the equation, in very specific terms, I had to use the right tensile strengths & thickness but not one single office could tell me where (or who) I could source this material from. Finally by digging through a dozen agency PDF’s on project examples I found two companies.

What the heck was Fabric Mulch? Turns out it’s a nasty product made from secondary Petroleum products.

 

Step 3:  Next we used a straw spreader to broadcast a thick layer of Einkorn straw over the entire area.

step three1

step three2

Why is Fabric Mulch used? Turns out that for now it’s the only way to insure that trees planted on most commercial farms in dry climates survive. Numerous wind breaks and snow fences deteriorate and fail over time. We made a point to visit one and saw the example of this at work.

Multiple factors are cited as to the reasons  why (in the USDA’s own words)  “In the past, only about half the plantings made ever survived in a manner to give good performance. Inadequate care caused most failures. Weeds, lack of water, poor planting practices, uncontrolled livestock, careless handling of farm equipment when planting, and spraying weeds in nearby crops are the main causes of windbreak failure. Other failures arise from poor planning, unforeseen circumstances, or an attitude that trees will take care of themselves once they are planted. Trees seldom perform satisfactorily without care.” (1)  Tri-state University Publication PDF (Trees against the wind).

Huh

Client Needs

Farming is a business that demands multiple considerations; profitability, weather, labor, equipment costs, fuel costs, timing, purchasing, world markets, soil health, and additional associated costs. Any private business person, who is approached with a new idea, has to be assured of the following in order to reasonably consider his/her options – the project must;

  • Not incur additional costs
  • Not spend additional time beyond the initial ground prep and installation
  • Be Successful

From my permaculture corner of the world I could begin to define “successful” as:

  • The goal of the design and definition of “successful planting” is specific: The windbreak system will require less outside resource input each year over time for the life time of the planting.

And I might hope, if the design is well thought out, the small acre plot would begin to establish as a self functioning system while reducing water and weeding input over time.

Wind Break Design

 Concepts: Windbreaks and living snow fences can be thought of as micro forests. Diversity, soil health, access to water, micronutrients and fungal activity are the basic elements required for a healthy forest.

Themes: A successful design creates more abundance and complexity within the system over time and requires less energy input (labor, fuel, water) from the client over time.

Design: The design is based upon understanding the climate, building soil (humus layer), employing methods to reduce evaporation over precipitation, and increasing biodiversity. The reduction of weed species (within the conservation planting areas) that directly impacts crop production in a negative way is a natural outcome of a successful design. Selecting climate appropriate species that represent a diversity of plant Families helps to reduce potential infestations.  Plantings that integrate Family diversity show evidence of reduced infestation. (12) Selecting tree species proficient at producing biomass (leaves) assists in rapid building of soil, and reduces evaporation. Jump starting fungal activity by inoculating each tree at the roots and mulching perimeters with straw increases the ability of trees & shrubs to cope with stressors associated with Bsk/h climates. Seeding the alleys with Native grasses and forbs, introducing comfrey, yarrow, worms and other soil biota at stations within WB area aids towards de-compacting the soil. Ceasing the use of heavy soil compacting machinery after Spring 2015 seeding of alleys will support the design.

Step 4:  Passed a flail chopper over the straw which served to evenly distribute finely chopped straw residue.

step four

Know your sectors

Wind, Sun Aspects, Slope, Elevation, Orographics

That means really read the pages on wind breaks and design in Mollison’s Permaculture Designer’s Manual.

And understand how Ekman spirals work prior to planning the row design and placement of tree species. It’s always hard for me (personally) to visualize how tall a tree is going to ‘look’ in 5, 7, 10 years, but this is the critical component of stacking functions over time.

 Wind

Maximum wind reduction occurs from 2 to 5 times the height of the tallest row. This reduction is often represented by the formula:  5H=X’, where H is the height of the tallest tree or shrub row and X is the linear maximum distance that can be expected for wind reduction. To provide the best protection, the windbreak should have a density greater than 60%. This density level can be achieved using three to five rows of different tree and shrub species. (2)  Wind disturbances occur as Ekman spirals, at approximately 7x the height of the tallest object.

Commonly, evergreens achieve less height growth than deciduous trees and shrubs during the first 10 years. The difference is most noticeable in the first 5 years.  Austrian Pines on average will attain a height of 17’ in ten years. (11) Populus idahoensis hybrid can grow 6’ – 12’ per year reaching full heights of 60’ by year ten.  As Rows 1 & 3 mature, the wind reduction will move north gradually, from protecting the parking lot to full protection of the Farm Shop.

This should be expected to occur from 2020 – 2025.

Step 5:  Next we used our Imants rotary spader to deeply and thoroughly incorporate the Einkorn straw residue to a depth of approximately 12 inches.

Step 6:  Once the entire residue was incorporated we used a 5 foot Celli spader to make beds.

step six

 Row Design

Row spacing according to NRCS recommendations (15’ on center) was followed in the initial phase of design as a minimum standard requirement.  Individual plant spacing was determined based upon recommendations from NRCS Tech notes 612 provided by Kara Carter – Chase, USDA/NRCS – Snake River Team, with a slight modification for the Rocky Mountain Juniper.

Five rows were selected and numbered, row one being closest to the shop and row five located on the southern side of the planting. The rows are set on an East/West orientation. Laminar and predominantly SW wind noted as a function of species selection for row placement.

Next, I selected the species and confirmed spacing requirements.

NRCS SPECS

Step 7:  A second layer of Einkorn straw is applied to the tops of the beds. Step 8:  Once the straw was placed we came through with the fabric layer.

step seven

step eight

Step 9:  With the fabric in place we went straight to planting trees.  Holes were cut in the fabric at different intervals depending on the species in the row and seedlings were placed into the well aerated soil.

step ten

 

Species Selection

Initial irrigation methods will be overhead watering, to be transitioned to drip irrigation in 2015. The species were selected based upon the following criteria:

  • Drought resistant (as possible) after year three of initial planting
  • Native / Endemic to Columbia Basin & Great Basin areas
  • Fast growing
  • Nitrogen Fixing
  • Final Height
  • Family classification (for purposes of diversity).

 Planting Design

Starting from the South side of the main shop building:

  • Rows one through five will be spaced 16 feet on center.
  • Row 1: Alternating Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) planted 20’ apart on a 10’ set back from the gravel driveway located to the south of the main shop building.
  • Row 2: Buffalo Berry (Sheperdia argenteus) for nitrogen fixing capabilities and Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) planted 4.5’ apart. As the windbreak matures Row 2 will serve as under-story species.
  • Row 3: Alternating Idaho Hybrid Poplar (Populus idahoensis) and Drummond Willow (Salix drummondiana) a Great Basin Native found in mountain and riparian dry land regions.
  • Row 4: Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) planted 9’ apart, also a native and the most drought resistant juniper.
  • Row 5: Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens), Snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus), Buffalo Berry (Sheperdia argenteus) planted 6’ apart, 4.5’ apart, 4.5’ apart respectively. All chosen for hardiness to climate zone and nitrogen fixing capacities

These are the main infrastructure species listed in order to comply with the EQIP terms of the contract, and additional species have already been interplanted to increase diversity; wood rose, mallow nine bark, sitka alder, wax current, saskatoon serviceberry.

Step 10: Trees and shrubs were inoculated with Bio Organics Mycorrhizal and planted.  Irrigation lines were set out.  The area was irrigated several times in the first few days to insure that the seedlings would have plenty of moisture for quick establishment.  Step 11:  A straw bale wind break was installed along the south side of the tree planting area to reduce laminar flow and encourage tree establishment.

step eleven1

 step eleven2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the USDA & NRCS are now looking at fungal interactions in regards to soil health, transitioning Bacterial (higher pH) dominated soils to Fungal (lower pH) and their role in overall health of successful tree & shrub establishment (5) Fungal interactions have been shown to reduce tree stress by increasing available phosphorus uptake which is necessary for maturing species later in life.  (8) (9)

All of the trees were inoculated with Bio Organics Mycorrhizal landscape inoculant product, which includes a combination of 17 species of Ecto and Endo Mycorrhizal spores, during the planting process. Any mushrooms emerging from the Einkorn straw bales will be considered “naturally occurring” and encouraged to go to spore. Beneficial nonnative plants, not associated with directly affecting crop production i.e. Salsify Tragopogon porrifolius, and T. dubius will be allowed to propagate within the conservation plantings. (15)

Straw Mulch & Windbreaks

Lenwood Farms has a naturally occurring surplus available: after harvesting Einkorn, straw bales are produced.

The surplus was used in the following ways;

  • Initial ground prep
  • Protective barrier against strong SW laminar low winds
  • Placement of flakes 3” – 4” thick along edges of fabric mulch to inhibit weed seed growth adjacent to tree rows.

Additional benefits

  • Provide shelter to beneficial beetles and earth worms
  • Mitigates evaporation over precipitation equation for Bsk/Bwk climates by holding moisture in the soil
  • Promotes fungal growth in soil by retaining moisture and limiting direct sunlight.
  • Acts as a soil barrier to inhibit seed establishment.

Step 12: The area was trapped for Northern Pocket gopher ( Thomomys talpoides) to reduce tree mortality.

Step 13: After a few weeks of frequent watering the alleyways were rototilled to prepare a seed be for the cover crop.

Step 14: Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea) was planted as a cover crop in the alleyways in order to improve soil quality during the summer months and provide some shading to the new plants.

step fourteen1

Step 15:  Once the Sunn Hemp had grown to maturity it was chopped and dropped using a front mount 10 ft flail chopper.

Step 16:  Spring of 2015 the alleys were seeded with the Native Grass & Forb Mix provided by Western Reclamation.

A few final pics of the results as of September 2015.

best

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

second best

Now we’re busy completing the other three of four  Beneficial Insectary corners.

thanks for reading,

sheila