So here it is, the whole deal, rather epic shit…a syrup tree grove in the desert


The Syrup Tree Project

Columbia Basin Permaculture is located on a 21 Acre property 5 miles south of Ritzville and 5 miles north of Ralston in the eastern portion of Adams County. Part of the Columbia Basin system, the CBP property shows evidence of Basalt outcropping, Calcium carbonate and variations of soil depth which indicates it is part of the Channeled Scablands formation.



Is it possible to grow tree species Native to the North Eastern US in this climate using Microclimate techniques?

For three years, the primary consideration for choosing plant species for inclusion has been selection based upon the ability of the species to survive the Bsk Climate. Now it’s time to experiment using species that normally would not be a good fit for this area.

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Species normally found in their native ranges; from Ontario and Quebec south to the mid regions of Appalachia and west to Ohio are the subjects of this experiment, specifically sap producing trees; Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Black Birch (Betula lenta), and Butternut ( Juglans cinerea).


Native Conditions

These species are normally found in locations of high relative humidity, over 25” of rainfall, in deep soils with pH of  < less than 7.0 in varying slopes and elevations of mixed deciduous forests. The question is (thus the experiment); can we provide the necessary microclimate by proper placement through altering and amending the soil, water and wind & solar gain affects?


Location Selection

Considerations are; Sun Aspect May – September, soil depth, avoid planting near apple trees, protection from the hot dry SW winds, and availability of supplemental low pH water.

While working around the new Green House structure I began to ask if the location to the east of this structure could be a proper placement. What are the features of this location?

  • Removal of some caliche has already occurred in the area
  • Close proximity to supplemental low pH water (tank on hill, tanks receiving GH rain water)
  • Close proximity to well water from drip irrigation
  • Deep soil (under caliche)
  • Protection from SW winds from the green house
  • Protection from deer because fencing is already present
  • Chickens in close proximity to help condition the soil
  • Far away from any Malus plantings.
  • Close to the greenhouse


The best timing for planting Sugar Maple, Butternut and Black Birch trees is in the fall, when they are dormant.

Three Nurseries have been identified to purchase these trees from. The deadline for purchasing these trees is November 14th. The deadline for getting the trees into the ground is no later than January 1st. Bare rooted trees will be temporarily potted and held in dormancy.


  • Dig out large area down to the caliche with the back hoe. Set aside topsoil.
  • Direct runoff from the GH into the new pit.


Break caliche using a jack hammer


Then start removeing all that caliche with the back hoe…repeat many times…



keep going…


Now remove large and small stones by hand. Dump stones on the other side of the topsoil berms. This took a while  as in many many 5 gallon buckets of stones. Using a rake, hoe and shovel to unearth any loose stones left behind by the backhoe.


I used the pick ax to make sure it was caliche soil I was looking at – not caliche stone.


Caliche ‘soil’ is dirt heavily saturated with calcium carbonate CO CO3 that is in the process of hardening to form the impermeable rock – the stuff trees have NO chance of growing roots through. We had the soil tested (at different levels) and it’s what we expected – very alkaline and loaded with calcium carbonate.

  • Establish a basin below soil grade with these dimensions 30’ diameter
  • Mark where trees will be planted. I used extra lids from the 50 gallon cherry juice drums we used in the GH to mark the spot.


Next up for today the following list:

  • Fill basin with; compost & native topsoil. Mix a little horse manure and comfrey leaves in.
  • Top dress the entire large area with more compost, Sulphur and horse manure.
  • Plant cover crops; vetch, clover and alfalfa.
  • Place 1” straw mulch
  • Cover area with all bark material from wood chopping

OK, gotta go…