I was pruning some fruit trees for a friend in Eugene, Oregon the other day and they asked me, “Is there anything that I can do besides throw the prunings in the chipper?” After a short pause and a lean on the ladder, I exclaimed: “Yes, and one of the things is even edible!”
Fruit tree pruning is one of those things that you either love or hate. Spending frigid mornings on slippery ladders with an array of sharp tools in the rains of the Willamette Valley isn’t exactly on everyone’s to-do list. Especially when the alternative is a warm cup of tea and a book or video game! Nevertheless, the pruning of trees and shrubs helps to establish a functional structure and control the growth or fruiting of the plant. Many pruning jobs can be quite beneficial, but there are some that make me want to cry for the sake of the tree or even the homeowner. Nevertheless, whether you are pruning fruit trees, shaping up some ornamental shrubs, or doing some storm cleanup in your backyard or neighborhood, here are five things you can do with the trimmings.
1. Build a Hugelkultur Bed
Hugelkultur is a raised bed built with rotting wood. This can be done simply or elaborately and on a small or large scale and it can even be flush with the soil grade if you are willing to dig a trench. Why would you want to do this? Let’s think about it - what happens to wood that is left to rot? Fungi start the decay process when the wood becomes wet, and that can mean mycelium networks forming within your raised bed, creating a dynamic nutrient highway within your raised bed. What about water? Wood has an amazing tendency to hold onto water - and lots of it! A ‘hugel bed’ will catch and hold so much water that it is becoming a common practice in regenerative agriculture to build these on dry farms - drastically reducing the amount of irrigation needed! The key to longevity is using big, intact logs. If you have hugel beds made that are the same size, one with logs and the other with ramial wood, the ramial pile will decompose and shrink much faster due to the increased surface area. The same goes for wood chips, so remember - the bigger the better!
If you are interested in learning more about hugelkultur, check out this lovely webpage dedicated to the topic, and if you want to build one, call us and we will schedule a free estimate! Just be sure to mention this blog post :)
2. Build a Wattle
A what-el? Wattles are woven fences, typically used to set up temporary fencing for sheep. Now, I’m not suggesting that every gardener has sheep - I won’t stop you, though! [link here to future livestock gardening post) Wattles can also be set up as a privacy screen, a low wall, a trellis, or even used to create a compost bin.
How to weave a wattle:
1) Fix a number of stakes at set intervals.
2)Weave flexible branches in-and-out of the stakes
3)Tuck and trim any ends
4)Pat down with a mallet every couple of rows and give it a final pat at the end
5)Stake your wattle in place, and enjoy!
Here is a good video of a fellow weaving hazel hurdles in the UK. The practice is the same.
3. Smoke Some Food
This only works with fruiting hardwoods, so don’t use it on your viburnums or hedges! (Unless you happen to have an edible Belgian Fence) What all can you smoke? Meats, cheeses, eggs, cookies (yes, cookies!), potatoes, salts, spices, veggies - feel free to create and explore here - and let those nutrient sensors on your tongue guide you! Each of the edible fruit hardwoods has its own unique flavor - experiment to find what you like most and with which foods! Some popular woods include Cherry, Apple, Alder, Mesquite, and Oak. Plum and Hazel will have their own flavors as well, although I have yet to try them. Let me know if you do!
4. Weave A Basket
Weaving baskets is such a nice craft and one that can be both beautiful and useful. Many weaving patterns exist, and every culture in the world has its own unique materials and techniques.
Two quick guidelines for choosing branches:
- If you can wrap it around your wrist, it is flexible enough to make a frame
- If you can wrap it around your finger, it is flexible enough to weave through the frame
This doesn’t have to be limited to fruit tree prunings. Pruned grapevines, cut ornamental grasses, or whatever. If it is fibrous and flexible, it can be woven! If you are interested in learning how I recommend the book “Earth Basketry” by Osma G. Tod, and here is a link that provides a great how-to for beginners.
5. Build Your Soil
As a person who has dedicated their life to stewarding life on land, this one gets me more excited than anything else that can be done! Why is that? Because it’s soil - the thing from which all terrestrial life arises and the source of all of the things that we find beautiful, useful, and necessary. Think about it - how many things do you have that don’t come from the ground? And how many of them directly grow from the soil, or at least did at some point? It’s a pretty big list, and a particularly large one if you try to live a sustainable lifestyle. A hugel bed will create soil in an easy way, but so will chipping your prunings or storm damage cleanup and using them for mulching your woody perennials. Having an organic ‘armor’ of mulch such as leaves, clippings, or wood chips protects our precious topsoils from compaction and the heavy rains we get here in Eugene. The wooden armor slowly decays, getting eaten up and returned to the soil food web from which it grew. A word of caution, though - do not do this with diseased branches. Instead, chip and compost them thoroughly and cure for at least one year, or bury in hugelkultur somewhere else. If you are in doubt, give us a call and we will be happy to help you come up with a solution.
Now, armed with some new knowledge of creative ways of using your fruit tree prunings before recycling them back into the soil, what will you do? Make a fence? Smoke some cheese? Maybe you will be lazy and ‘chop and drop’ the healthy branches right onto the mulch ring. Getting one or two more uses from the branches after pruning your fruit trees maximizes their usefulness before they return to the soil, and if they just go right back, then so be it! We all return eventually, and sometimes a shortcut is a better choice than a detour. As long as your yard waste is returned to the soil instead of burned or thrown away, your soil will improve and your landscape will thank you.
Now get out there and prune those fruit trees! Or if you’re feeling just cozy enough, call Sustain O Scapes for your fruit pruning, storm cleanup, or a consultation today. If you call and mention one of the things in this blog post that you would like to do before spring 2020, I will give you a 20% discount on all work that we do this season.