Why we’re planting fewer trees at Eastbrook
There’s a climate emergency. Trees are universally recognised to have a part to play in both mitigation and adaptation of climate change. I’ve been employed specifically to design and plant an experimental agroforestry system. It may seem odd then that at Eastbrook farm we are deliberately slowing down our tree planting programme.
Weathering the weather
For a tree to achieve its potential and do all of those amazing jobs like carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, food and fodder production and water filtration, it needs to stay alive and grow well.
In 2017, in our second year of planting, we put in many thousand trees. In the drought of 2018 we lost many of them. However:
- The ones we planted early (January and early February) mostly survived.
- The ones that got a good mulch of woodchip mostly survived.
- The willow trees that accidentally got a two feet mulch of woodchip, not only survived but grew spectacularly and are now more than 4m tall, with at least ten times the volume of biomass compared to the ones literally 2m away that had a 5cm mulch (and are only 1m in height).
That small group of trees may have sequestered more carbon, supported more wildlife, helped increase more water infiltration than the rest of the 4 acre planting put together, especially since we had to replant one third of the plants that initially died in the drought.
Species resilience - trial and error
Over the whole site we have planted many different species of fruit, nut, timber and browse species, but are still not really sure after only 5 years which will truly thrive in our soil and microclimate.
Our almond trees are growing more vigorously than I could have dreamed of, though have yet to produce significant crop. The quince trees on the other hand, which I have previously grown with no problem, are looking pathetic.
Should you get planting?
There is so much pressure to plant trees currently with huge government targets and offset money to fund it, but at the moment there is unlikely to be enough trees available. Even over the last two years there have been shortages of planting stock, and this is predicted to get worse.
So what is my point?
Plant trees, but do it one step at a time
There are too many examples of failed woodland planting, where enthusiasm and initial capital have got the trees in the ground, but without sufficient care or aftercare. Rather than plant 100% of our trees in one year, we are now thinking to plant 10% a year for 10 years.
My prediction, based on my observation at Eastbrook, is that we will end up with better survival rate, bigger trees and by year 10 we will surely know more about which trees will do the job we want them to do at the farm.
So I urge anyone thinking of planting trees. Definitely do it, but don’t plant them all at once.
Find out more
Our Agroforestry On Your Farm section includes
- Downloadable Agroforestry Handbook
- Agroforestry and Farm Woodland e-learning course
- Links to films explaining more about agroforestry
- Case studies and benefits of planting trees on your farm
Agroforestry is also one of our FABulous Farmer practices, which you can read more about here.