Experimental Homestead

An Experiment in Using Winter Bulbs to Create Fruit Tree Under-Stories



Every spring in most parts of California, the rains come to a stop and a long hot rain free period begins.  In these regions summer rains are very rare and, in the rare event that one occurs, it is usually not substantial enough to soak more than a useless 1/2″ or so into the soil.  I live in such a region at the headwaters of a creek which feeds the Russian river.  Like most california creeks in the coastal ranges it is a spawning stream for Salmon and Steelhead.  Any water that I don’t use goes to feed the creek and keep the baby Salmon and Steelhead alive.  If someone doesn’t suck up the water which I conserve here when it gets further downstream in order to water their lawn, flush their toilet or irrigate their wine grapes it keeps the Russian River full and cool and livable for these and other fish.  I have planted over 100 fruit and nut trees and more are on the way, but there is no way I can irrigate them all.  Not only do I like to conserve water but I also don’t have much to work with as the spring we use drops to a modest, but so far adequate, 1/2 gallon per minute by the end of the summer in a normal year.   A small percentage of trees that require extra water for one reason or another might be irrigated in the future, but the rest will have to make it through the long dry summers using whatever moisture is stored in the soil from the winter rains.

I’ve conceived an idea for a dying mulch system using perennial flower bulbs under fruit and nut trees.  If it works the system would provide a permanent solution to soil moisture conservation with a minimal amount of work investment.  In addition it will have the added aesthetic value as well as bulbs and flowers which can also be sold to provide additional income.

Imagine this:  as the fruit tree loses its leaves in the fall and the rains begin hundreds or thousands of Narcissus bulbs start pushing up leaves from the ground.  The leaves grow rapidly with the benefit of the stored energy of the bulbs choking out slower growing weeds completely.  In the middle of winter sometime, the ground beneath the tree is a sea of fragrant flowers.  In the early summer as the tree is growing rapidly off of the moisture stored in the soil, the Narcissus leaves are withering up and dying in the increasing heat leaving a thick carpet of dead leaves which will protect the surface of the soil from the baking sun and the evaporation of moisture it would bring.  Narcissus and another currently favored candidate Amaryllis, are long lived plants dividing into crowded colonies that endure for decades and not unlikely even hundreds of years, so this could be a fairly permanent system. Continue reading

July 16, 2010 Posted by | Food and Drink Making, Food Trees Fruits and Nuts, Garden Stuff | , , , , , | 9 Comments